This week, I have been on a circuit called the North Highway circuit. That circuit consists of the communities of Haines Junction, Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek and is definitely the most beautiful part of an already beyond beautiful Yukon. That is, except for part of the Alaska Highway that I will forever refer to as Sphincter Alley. Why would I be this cruel to the land that I am so completely in love with? Well… let’s see if I can’t take you along for the ride.
Haines Junction – the start of the circuit – is truly the gateway into Kluane National Park. Kluane is home to most of the largest mountains in Canada – known collectively as the Monsters. These massifs include Mt. Logan, Mt. St. Elias, Mount Kennedy and other peaks that are well known to mountain climbers world wide. Prepare yourself, dear reader, for I am about to let you in on yet another crazy part of my personality. When I’m in the Kluane – I talk to the mountains. I greet them, ask how they’re doing, check to see if they’ve been scarred by avalanche or rock slide and generally tell them how good they’re looking. Yeah, I love them THAT much.
In my mind, the Kluane region is the most perfect piece of real estate in all the world. That is, except for Sphincter Alley. This is an approximately 200 km stretch of the otherwise fabulous Alaska Highway that begins before Burwash Landing and end at the Yukon-Alaska border. While the Alaska Highway should never be taken lightly, this particular stretch is not at all for the faint of heart.
The posted speed limit is 90 km/h. I recommend 50 – 60 km/h for prime sphincter safety. This is because this part of the Highway (known as the Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek Maintenance Sections) suffers from massive frost heaves. There are an awful lot of mufflers lost on that stretch of road and more than the average number of tow trucks. It’s a pity too because frankly, that stretch is some of the most scenic as well. It includes the Donjek River, the Slims, hints of the peaks of some of the Monsters, the Kluane River and the northernmost shores of Kluane Lake.
Because your sphincter is a very important part of your anatomy, I also recommend not tackling this part of the highway without an SUV or truck with high clearance, good tires, and the best suspension systems money can buy. It’s an isolated road and tows are expensive – I wouldn’t risk anything less than one of the vehicles described, unless of course you are wanting a sphincerectomy.
Because I’m so busy guarding against the damage caused by flying in a vehicle (or otherwise leaving the road), I’m also going to suggest some rules – based on the other drivers I saw today:
1. Driving down the centre yellow line is a bad idea, even on long straight stretches. The highway heaves throughout. The massive, roller coaster rolls in the highway are not caused by other traffic rutting the road so driving down the centre line is only going to give you or an on-coming driver an unnecessary coronary.
2. If you are hauling a trailer, obey the 50 – 60 km/h recommendation. Yes, I’m talking to you Angry Alaskan.
3. If you are hauling a trailer which is carrying an ATV, rule #2 applies equally to you. Still talking to you there AA.
4. If you are hauling a trailer which is carrying an ATV and you choose willfully not only to violate rule #2 but to travel at well over highway speeds (where the hell where you going that you needed to get there that fast??), don’t be surprised if you flip your trailer.
5. Secure your loads. Bouncy roads are no place for cargo that isn’t securely tied down. Hear that AA?
6. If you are the guy in #4 and you don’t secure your load, don’t be surprised or angry if you flip your trailer and your ATV lands in the middle of the highway, suffering what appeared to be a great deal of damage.
7. Don’t leave your damaged ATV in the middle of the highway, especially just on the inside of a blind curve.
8. Probably you shouldn’t park your vehicle and flipped trailer in the northbound lane around that same blind curve either. Here’s a hint – unhook your damaged trailer and push it to the side of the road. Then you can drive your truck onto the same shoulder so that the huge tractor trailers bringing goods and supplies to Alaska don’t run you down. You are much smaller than they are. Then put out flares or cones to stop traffic while you get the ATV out of the middle of the highway.
9. Your AT&T cell phone won’t work on Sphincter Alley so rent and carry a sat phone. You know, in case, while speeding over the roughest road in the territory, you flip your trailer and send your ATV flying. They would have taught that in Boy Scouts – something about being prepared.
10. When a kind stranger, who has many better things to do, stops to ensure other traffic doesn’t mow you down and offers to help get your various toys off Sphincter Alley, you probably should scream and swear at someone else. Screaming at the Good Samaritan only causes the said Good Samaritan to move further up the highway to ensure oncoming traffic is warned about the Angry, Foolish Man who is posing a danger further up the highway, leaving you to deal with your mess all by yourself.
11. For those who aren’t this guy, don’t eat a lot of bran while travelling the highway and keep your liquid consumption to a minimum until you get to a rest stop. You’ll be saving yourself a lot of pain.
I think these are good rules. I may just declare myself the Empress of Kluane and decree these rules or maybe I’ll just hope every other driver on Sphincter Alley applies more common sense.
Cheers from the road.