Drive Alaska: 6,000 Miles to Home
The Road Home: After our Great Alaska adventure, we had another 6,000 miles to get our 1965 Mustang back home to South Carolina
After finishing up Rally North America, the 6,000-mile drive home became the next goal. You may have noticed a theme to the way I do things: it basically comes down to plan nothing, ever! Life on the road with an old car is a lot easier if you don't plan—you're never late, people are always surprised and usually happy to see you when you show up, and most importantly there's no disappointment.
I've found that the minute I start making plans is usually right about the time something bad happens. I know I'm going to sound like a giant hippie, but I let the road decide our path. Not once on our entire month long journey was an alarm set. The sun wakes me up and we hit the road early, then I drive until the sun starts to set or my eyes start to play tricks on me. We stop at anything that looks interesting and eventually we always seem to make it to our endpoint. It may sound crazy to take on a trip to Alaska with such little planning and research, but looking back it was the best "plan." Rally North America did provide us with some structure but it was kind of cool to have new surprises each day. Had we researched each day’s route, the road back from Valdez would not have been like Christmas all day long and we certainly would have avoided the Denali Highway, which is now one of my greatest accomplishments with my 1965 Mustang.
On that note, we started our journey home. Our drive to Alaska through Banff National Park and up the Alaska Highway was breathtaking, but taking it all the way back just seemed too easy and boring. I wanted to go straight down through Canada towards Seattle. The internet is full of horror stories of the roads not being paved and of people just disappearing. Many warned us about the route and expressed genuine concern for our safety and even found us another option with a ferry system, but we're cheap and driving always seems like more fun. So we hit the road for the Cassiar Highway. On our way out we stopped by Glennallen Fuel to switch out the shocks that we had ordered a few days before. If you ever go to Alaska, be sure to take their number. It’s a tow company that will come and get you and fix your stuff and not take advantage of your crappy situation when it comes to setting a price—that’s hard to come by anywhere and in Alaska is almost non-existent. And who knows, if this whole rally thing doesn't work out I could be your driver!
As we headed for the border it was crazy to see how much the scenery had changed in a week’s time. The leaves had turned from green and yellow to orange and red and lined the streets like a scene from the Wizard of Oz. It made it hard to leave but as quickly as the leaves were changing, so was everything else. The cold was coming fast and tourist season was coming to an end, and that meant places closed for the winter. We learned that the hard way when we pulled into the gas station we had stopped at on our way in right over the Alaskan border. All the pumps were dry and a big “Closed for the Season” sign was in the window. Luckily my 22-gallon tank from Tanks Inc. had enough in reserves to get us through Destruction Bay. And if the rude jerk that said something to Amie is reading this, consider yourself lucky that I wasn't there! (Normally we would pull over if we were slowing down traffic due to our speed on a rough dirt road, but you know that truck 10 cars up? It was a pilot car, so where the hell did you want me to go? I am glad Amie waited until he was gone to share that one with me. The dirt road continued so my attempts to catch you were futile but if you are reading this please message my page at Team Mustang Girls. I have some words I'd like to share with you!
We made it to Whitehorse for the night and got another fun surprise. Some big event was in town and the hotels were sold out. Over the years I have stayed at some pretty questionable locations to save a buck (or just for lack of options) but this one beat them all. The sad thing is the room didn't bother me at all—it was all about my car. The parking lot was full and I had to put her on the street just a block down from a bar that looked really sketchy. I kept walking out and checking if any spaces had opened up and then made the mistake of Googling reviews on the hotel and found some involving a bike being vandalized just weeks before. I started looking up how far it would be to the next town, over 100 miles in the dark with the rain as an added bonus. While looking at the car, the front desk clerk saw my concern and offered to let me park in the garage downstairs. Well hell yeah! Moving it to a locked parking garage was like someone just gave me a winning scratch ticket.
As I pulled around the back of the building my whole vision of a "parking garage" quickly disappeared as the women opened up these sketchy barn doors and then motioned for me to drive into the hole below her. My best way to describe the hole is to imagine the bulkhead to a basement or bomb shelter, just trade in the stairs for a really steep ramp and you have it! I figured anything had to be better than the street and we started for the darkness when the car protested. Scrape! The hump at the top of the ramp met the underside of my car and they weren't new friends. I slowly backed up while saying a prayer I didn't lose my exhaust, and then it was back to the street. Honestly I don't blame my car—that looked scary to me too! After all that I did my best to tuck my car in between some trucks and decided to just take my chance with fate. If we tried to make it to the next town I could hit a moose and be even more pissed. Sometimes you just have to say, “whatever happens is going to happen.” Luckily, this time nothing happened! Well at least not to the car. The things we found in the sheets may have done more damage to our minds than any vandals could to the car! Next stop the Cassiar Highway!
After our interesting night, I woke up the next morning and actually looked at our route for the day which is something I never do. Check out themilepost.com if you are ever planning a road trip up North. It literally has every stop on the road marked by the mile. We decided to aim for Dease Lakes for the night and made the turn onto the Cassiar Highway—screw the internet, it couldn't be as bad as the Denali Highway right? The road was similar to a roller coaster with giant hills that make you think you are about to drive off the top of the world, and then steep downhill portions that made the gas pedal unnecessary. It actually reminded me of the way my mom used to take us to the dentist when we were kids—funny how certain roads stick in your mind years later. But it wasn't that bad, even with some rain in the morning. The views were once again storybook-quality and we had no problem making it to the Arctic Divide Inn and Motel for the night. The pictures of the place on the internet do not do it justice, because the cute little log cabins were awesome and I parked 10 feet from our door with a view of the car and mountains from our window. After our questionable accommodations the night before we were literally in heaven.
We woke up the next day greeted by the sunshine and continued our journey south. Little did we know it was the day of the bear! Throughout the whole trip we were on the hunt for bears, any animals really. We had stopped at the Wildlife Sanctuary in Portage, Alaska but we wanted to see bears in their own habitat, just doing their bear thing. And it finally happened. As we turned a corner we saw a black thing in the middle of the road. As we approached it almost looked like a giant dog until we got closer. The gentle guy just looked at us and slowly finished his stroll across the street before moseying back into the woods. Amie and I were both giddy with excitement and couldn't believe we had finally seen one so close as we turned another corner to find two more on either side of the road, almost like they were holding an invisible finish line for us to drive through. As we slowly approached they just continued eating their berries. Don't mind us! One guy had to be less than five feet from the car—I'm pretty sure he liked our Kicker jams. For the next five miles we saw three more bears. While at least had the protection of the car, (granted, I did get out twice), it was crazy to see the number of bikers on our route. We saw two of them stop to take pictures within 15 feet of some big bears.
Eventually, we made it to Robber's Roost Motel in New Hazelton, BC for the night. It was another cute little hotel in the middle of nowhere that made me realize I had been going about picking hotels the wrong way. Everyone warned us to stay in bigger cities to be safe but I think the opposite is true. The little places you find along the road are all family-run and everyone knows everyone. More importantly, people still take pride in what they do and if “bad kid Johnny" was going to mess with a tourist’s car he would think twice because he knows it would take less than five minutes for his parents to find out!
The next day we found ourselves approaching Hell's Gate. I never knew the entrance would be so pretty. It was another one of those fun surprises that happened because of our lack of research. The winding road reminded me of the Tail of the Dragon back home and all the bikers on the road seemed to agree. The steep cliffs and rushing rapids below made for some white knuckle driving but it also made you want to go back and do it again, like a ride at the amusement park. We made it through hell unscathed and headed for the U.S. border—and they even let us back in! After that is was Crazy Daisy time.
My friend Dave from Stono Body Works, who helped me build Project Road Warrior, calls me Driving Miss Daisy since I don’t drive fast at all. I take it easy until I get my goals or event accomplished, but when we hit the road for home that all changes. I never even noticed it was my pattern until he pointed it out on the 2016 Hot Rod Power Tour, which he rode with me on. I also learned that different types of music affect the speed I drive. I'm pretty sure I was basically an experimental mouse to him on the Power Tour, but it is interesting once you see the pattern. Anyway, that pretty much describes our ride home—pedal down, windows down and music turned up, and Miss Daisy changes to Crazy Daisy!
Now the million-dollar question for those who didn’t read the buildup in the magazine and on this website—is the car stock? Oh hell no! I want to give a big thank you to all the sponsors and people that helped me build a 1965 Mustang that could make it on such an incredible journey. Thirty days, 13,377 miles, and the only problem was a brake line fitting. Not bad if I do say so myself!
First off, Kicker! Tunes are a must for any road trip. I used to just listen to the radio and when I was out of station range that was it. When Kicker first told me about installing their Bluetooth Controller, I was kind of scared—electronics and I aren't usually friends. Now I love the thing. And after this trip you'd have to pry it from my hands at Hell's Gate to make me go back to the stock radio!
My suspension that survived the beating of the Denali Highway is the Mustang Vector Series by Speed Direct paired with their Steeroids rack and pinion. I honestly still can't believe we made it over some of those bumps! Without Speed Direct’s parts, that would not have happened. Their bolt-on coil over set up definitely made that possible and saved my car, because you know I would have attempted the road even if I had stock suspension.
Next up the power, Ford sent a 347 circle track motor and I was their guinea pig to show the motor’s streetability. Well, if the HRPT and Rally North America weren't enough to convince you, I think our giant lap of North America should do it. Paired with the Pertonix Flamethrower, JBA Headers, and Holley 650 double-pumper carb, she never missed a beat. I did two oil changes on the road and kept all her fluids happy and only had to adjust the idle mixture once for the elevation and then back again. Even with 85 octane gas for several days in a row, the engine performed great and we managed to average 16 MPG thanks to our manual valve body AOD from FB Performance.
And guess who still has a full-size spare in the trunk? This girl! Thanks to BFG's Comp 2 tires we made the whole trip without one problem. That should be their next commercial—forget dropping a tire out of a plane, let me take you on a trip to Denali.
Big thanks to Scott Drake and National Parts Depot for being ready to send anything we needed on our journey, and our adventures show that they make good parts. Stono Body Works and Classic Speed and Custom, thanks for dealing with my random text messages about car noises. And CPP for providing great brakes to keep us from rolling too fast down the mountains; Old Air Products for keeping our toes warm, the car cool and the windshield clear; Magnaflow for that unmistakable rumble; Delta Lights for finally giving me the ability to see at night; Nectar Sunglasses for helping us see during the day; Tanks Inc. for helping us to go further and not look like morons stuck on the side of the road; Procar for the comfy seats that Amie and I’s backsides certainly appreciated; and finally Bert's Market for just being awesome!
Now, where should we go? We just got home and already have the itch for another adventure!