I was in for a pleasant surprise when I turned off the Alaskan Highway at Watson Lake and headed down the Cassiar Highway. In Richard’s blog, he tells about the terrible condition of the road, filled with frost heaves and dips so bad that he was only able to drive 35 mph a lot of the way. I was dreading the road conditions of the 400 mile drive to Hyder, AK, and reconciled in my mind that it would be a long, slow couple of days.
A lot can change in 10 years. Almost all the Cassiar Highway now is new. It is still narrow in places, but the first 100 miles were smooth as glass. After that there were a few gravel spots that were being fixed but no badly damaged areas at all. The road is narrow in places with sharp dropoffs so I took it easy and still made good time.
I realize that I haven’t talked much about the condition of some of the awful roads up here, and I want to chronicle my opinion before I forget the punishment poor Minnie and I have gone through. The joke is that the Yukon and Alaska get 9 months of winter and 3 months of road construction. Roads up here are always in battle with the brutal temperatures of the north, and Mother Nature will make you pay when you try to put a road on her frozen ground.
I’m not sure why they call them “frost heaves”, they are more like “frost sucks” in my mind. To me, a heave is something sticking up, and these imperfections are mostly dips and holes. It happens when the black asphalt heats up from the sun and melts the frozen ground, causing the asphalt to sag into a depression of great depths.
To be fair Minnie has a couple disadvantages over other vehicles driving the Alaskan highways. For one thing, she has a short wheelbase. I guess someone designing Winnebagos figured it would be easier to drive an RV if you could cut corners like a car. The trouble with that theory is that it leaves a long section cantilevered behind the rear tires to bounce and swing like a dinosaur tail. Now add a motorcycle hanging on the back and you have even more instability.
When you hit one of the frost damaged sections of road with a little too much speed, the first thing that happens is the front end falls as if the road has disappeared into an abyss. Then you are rocketed up with bone crushing force into a brief instant of zero gravity, before being slammed back to the road in a test of the integrity of your tires and front suspension.
And as all this is going on, your back tires have already entered this dip to mimic the front end in a much less graceful way. But it’s not over yet! Imagine several dips in a row! When you finally come out the other side, you have been on the roller coaster ride from Hell, and you probably have a mild case of whiplash.
I think the worst road damage I have seen is when one side of the lane has sunken, causing Minnie to drop wheels on the same side and set up a side-to-side rocking. At first you feel like you might roll over and you overcorrect to bring the rig back to a straight line. In the next second, the tires on the other side hit the dip while the first side is bounced back up, tossing everything back the other way. When you stop for the night, you find out how secure things are in the cabinets.
There has been no cell signal along this highway. I’m camped just off the highway in a nice, hidden campsite. I should be in Hyder tomorrow.
I made it to Hyder. Staying at the Camp Run a Muck RV park. I paid for two days and may stay longer. Little bit of Wi-Fi.