We just finished our drive to Alaska and things are definitely different. I don’t know how many times I’ve done the drive through Canada, but I think this one won’t be forgotten. What was so different? How many bags of milk did we buy? Did we see some mooses (moose? meese?)? Where do we even start?
After our misadventure leaving Alaska in September, it was SO NICE to actually be able to drive to Alaska instead of spending a fortune on a ferry trip. Speaking of fortunes, it was even more expensive to go north than it was to travel south. My mom’s van was over twice as expensive to put on the barge and we didn’t even bother spending time on hold to figure out what small country I would have to sell in order to pay for our truck. No my friends, the Canadian border is open if you want to drive to Alaska!!
My experience involves the Washington area, so your experience might be a bit different if you are further east. Before you even start the trek to the Canadian border, you must have a negative PCR Covid-19 test within 72 hours. I’ve taken a lot of these in the past year and have had good experiences with CVS…which doesn’t exist in Washington state. We got to use Walgreens which actually takes the full 24-48 hours to get your results. We slept at a rest stop an hour from the border waiting impatiently for our results to come in.
The Drive to Alaska Process
As we approached the border, we were excited to see a lane with a big sign saying “Travelers to Alaska”! I didn’t take a picture due to some previous ill-advised situations. As soon as we got in this lane, we realized it was going to be a very long wait. The border agents are very thorough and not in much of a hurry. As I was waiting, an agent came and gave me a piece of paper I had to fill out (to save some time once it was my turn). It basically wanted your passport info, phone number, where you’re going, etc.
If you want to see borders/embassies work efficiently, take a picture of one! When I was in Nairobi, Qale decided to take a picture of his embassy to show his friends that one existed in Kenya. Those guards had him pulled out of the car and on the pavement in a heartbeat. He got a nice long tour of a holding cell in the embassy and a fair amount of pictures deleted.
Once it was my turn I talked very calmly to the border agent about why I wanted to drive to Alaska (going home). What route I was going to take (Stewart-Cassiar highway to Skagway). I had to show my negative covid test (thankfully the phone document was acceptable). Where did I plan to stay (in my camper). At that point I was asked to pull into a search area where they would inspect everything in my vehicle. My wife was right behind me (in my mom’s van that we decided to drive up for her) and she got to go into an inspection lane as well! It was at this point I realized something:
Every vehicle entering Canada is inspected…thoroughly
One of the great skills that my wife possesses is packing. She can fit 10 gallons of stuff into a 5 gallon bin. How? No clue. When border patrol decides to look through every bin in a vehicle, this skill shows its only downside. They don’t stand a chance at ever putting things back into place. When we were told we could pack up and leave, we realized that they hadn’t even tried. All of our stuff from 2 vehicles was spread out on the ground with lids askew. It looked like a tornado had hit with a ferocity hitherto unknown to man. They were very thorough.
It took my wife about 2 hours to repack everything in a way that would fit. During this time I was handed a couple pieces of paper and 2 covid test kits each. Everyone crossing into Canada is required to take a covid test at their point of entry then again on day 8.?.? I’m not quite sure about the second test since we weren’t in the country long enough to be required to take it. As the packing ensued (of which I’m really quite helpless) I got to create a health Canada account and register both of us for our exciting nasal invasion. We both picked our noses under supervision from a nurse (which I must say is much nicer than the brain probe swabbing I endured in Egypt).
Apparently we were taking too long to pack because one of the friendly border agents (they are Canadian after all) came over and asked us to move our vehicles.
I politely stared at them and gestured to the ground. How? I’m usually very agreeable with customs and border patrol. They have a lot of power and can make your life quite miserable if they choose. But if you want to aggressively unpack everything we have, you can’t get irritated if it takes a while to make it fit back where it came from. Eventually we did make everything fit (yay Alicia!!), and finally got on our way with a cool window sticker.
If you are transiting to Alaska (or from Alaska), they give you a piece of paper that you have to keep on your dash. It’s a way of letting everyone know that you are…unclean? You are required to make the drive in as little time as possible. If you break any transit rules, you risk up to a $1 million fine and 3 years in prison!!
They give you 3 acceptable reasons to stop on your journey:
- To get fuel for your vehicle (you must pay at the pump and not go inside). This was harder than I expected because almost no one had a pay at the pump option. We actually had to camp out at a gas station in Dease Lake because I couldn’t make it any further and the gas pump was only open from 8am-7pm. Go figure.
- To purchase food at a drive through fast food place. Absolutely no eating inside a sit down restaurant. They do actually check your food and water supply during their thorough inspection of your vehicle. They really don’t want you stopping anywhere at all. Our fridge and freezer were full so we didn’t need to buy any food at all. **
- To sleep at an approved lodging facility. All hotel reservations had to be made in advance (this was checked at the border) and there were only a few specific hotels you are allowed to use. Apparently our plan to sleep in the camper at rest stops was treading on very fuzzy ground. We thought it would result in less exposure for the locals since we are fully self-contained. That’s not how health Canada thinks.
**Our freezer was mostly full of butter. This was due to kerrygold irish butter being on sale at Costco and we decided to stock up. I’m curious if the border guy honestly thought we planned to survive on butter. Or maybe we like to use it for lotion or face cream or something.
Our drive to Alaska was very quick
I could easily take 3 weeks to make this drive. We finished at the border around 1pm on a Wednesday and had to be out of the country by Saturday. They really don’t give you much time to dawdle. We drove at a rip roaring speed of 89 km/h (55 mph) and only stopped for fuel and sleep. Food was sitting in my truck bed so we grabbed some and ate while we drove. When we finally hit Fraser (the Canadian border crossing near Skagway) on Saturday morning, I was ready for a nap. I usually love this drive, but this is not how you’re supposed to do it. At the border we were required to drop off a very fancy paper that listed all of our passport vitals and trip details. This had to be dropped off on time or they will issue a warrant for your arrest.
I am very happy that we were allowed to make the drive to Alaska instead of taking the ferry. It was much cheaper (about 1/10th of the cost) and I got to listen to a 23.5 hour book on Dietrich Bonhoefer (which was recommended by my brother in law). I have no clue what my wife listened to, but I got to learn more about world war 2 and details about the failed attempts to assassinate Hitler. And once we reached the border in Skagway, we got to watch the US border patrol inspect our vehicles again. Yay!
After making the trip, my wife and I feel that Canada (and the US) are purposefully making it a hassle. Why?
They really don’t want you there.
That’s about the only reason I can think of. The fact that every vehicle was getting a thorough inspection was the big tip off. I’ve done the drive to Alaska (and from) many times and I’ve only ever been inspected once. I think that inspection (on the border of Hyder) was mainly due to some agents being really bored (and not believing that I’m a professional jump roper…who does that?) I’ve never seen every car be torn apart. We were there for about 4 hours total and saw a lot of cars getting the treatment.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. The ferry from Skagway to Juneau was about $350 for our truck and boat trailer (which we picked up in Oregon). That same 46 feet from Bellingham? Closer to $7k-$8k! Yikes. I will take the no-stop, everyone hates me and thinks I’m going to kill them with my nasty breath tour.
Oh. During the drive, we saw 5 mooses, a ton of bears and caribou, 3 ptarmigans (one of which ran into the van and went up in a puff of feather) and 1 bobcat. And stopping to get a bag of milk was not worth a potential million dollar fine – I don’t like it that much.