Today … you get a little story from my past.
When I moved to Anchorage in August, getting off the plane was actually my 3rd visit to Alaska. The 2nd was a super secret 24hour interview layover. The 1st was a 10-day vacation of a lifetime in August of 2006. I flew into Anchorage, rented an RV, and drove 1300 miles going to Denali, Fairbanks, Valdez, then back to Anchorage. Well … it wasn’t actually an RV, it was heavy pick-up truck with a camper strapped to the back.
As much as that truck was designed to haul heavy loads, the camper was heavy heavy for that truck. It was all within design limits, but it made for a rough ride and what turned into a real panic on the first day. I picked up that camper the morning of the first day and planned to grab some supplies and ride around town a bit before hitting the road to Denali National Park for the night. As I was leaving Anchorage, I looked down at the gas gauge seeing that a quarter tank was already burned. I had driven maybe 2o miles by then, and I knew well enough that rental cars don’t always get topped off so I didn’t sweat it so much. But at the edge of Anchorage and the whole of the vacation ahead of me, I wanted to makes some miles before I stopped again. I stopped at the Wal-Mart in Wasilla, which was another 45 miles along the road (about 65 to 70 all together). The tank was down to about half by now, and I was scratching my head a bit. I decided at that point I would stop at the next gas station to “top off”.
I drove another 120+ miles before I found the next gas station.
About 60 miles outside of Wasilla I realized that I was definitely not in the lower 48, where there is a gas station every 10 miles or 10 feet – I remember lowering my speed to a level where I thought it was the most fuel efficient. This truck had two tanks, burned through one tank shortly after I started slowing down. About 20 miles later I flipped the switch on the second tank and could watch the needle move down. I did the math and figured out that I couldn’t turn back, either I was going to find gas or I wasn’t. Just short of 40 gallons of gas in that truck would get me just over 200 miles. Luckily, I came across a station at some place that seemed to be nothing but run down tourist shops closed for decades. The road from Anchorage to Denali was 244 miles, and I would have never made it without a stop. To this day, I ran through my head how could I have missed any gas station between Wasilla and Denali. I thought I could make the 15 mile detour to Talkeetna (about 50 miles outside of Wasilla, and 120 out of Anchorage) could have been my oasis, but I didn’t take that thinking I could just press on.
Today, I threw the pup in the back of the car to see how he would like a longer drive, expecting to turn around on a moment’s notice if he seemed to not enjoy it. I actually made it to Talkeetna and back – 240 miles all together. Remembering that story from 2006, I topped off on gas in Wasilla – but my car now, a much smaller Toyota RAV4, can get 300 miles of open road for its 12 gallon tank without causing alarm.
Thing is, I counted seven gas stations between Wasilla and Talkeetna Junction. Including three pretty big stations, and a massive car/truck stop right at the Talkeetna Junction. Granted, it looked new, most of them did, but I couldn’t help thinking “Where were you 7 years ago when I needed you?”
Things definitely seemed to be developed since then along that stretch, though the real open wilderness didn’t really start until just after I turned around. There were many shops and restaurants not to mention plenty of cabins, houses, and signs of life. Heck, I had cell coverage (4G Internet Signal) every time I checked. That doesn’t change the fact that the land out that way is rugged. Bears are probably lurking just over the ridge, watching moose hang out in glacial lakes. But I thought I would less likely see a moose grazing in a lake, and more likely seeing it yell at it’s youngin to put down the IPad and enjoy nature.
Take away from this trip though, I want to spend a weekend in Talkeetna now … any of you locals reading this have thoughts?