I Drove to the Arctic Circle!

Odometer:  167,763

167763

Day Distance:  391 Miles

arctic_map

tyson_arctic

It’s uncommon for me to get nervous about a road trip.  I’m a pro at this, or at least I think I am.  I’ve dealt with my share of road, weather, and traffic conditions and I’ve put several hundred thousand miles under my belt.  I’ve driven coast to coast multiple times, and now to Alaska twice.  But for some reason, the thought of today’s drive gave me a pit in my stomach and a feeling of uneasiness that I just couldn’t shake.  Maybe it was the fact that many of The Milepost guidebook’s instructions were in red font as a form of warning.

dalton_book_page

This is a direct quote from the book:

Despite recent improvements, the Dalton remains about 75 percent gravel, with tire-puncturing rocks, bumpy washboard, dust in dry weather, slippery mud in wet weather, and dangerous curves.  Services are few and far between.

This is not a road for the unprepared or for the faint of heart.  It’s straight out of an episode of Ice Road Truckers – literally.  The show was filmed there.

I told Jason last night.  “I’m 60% leaning toward starting our long drive home, and 40% leaning toward driving to the Arctic.”  He told me he was 85% for the Arctic.  So, I was swayed.  And we did it.  About a week ago, I was in Tucson, Arizona about 70 miles from the Mexican border.  And today, in the same car, I was so far north of the equator that on one day each year, the sun never goes below the horizon.  And one day each year, the sun never comes above the horizon.

The Arctic Circle is the southernmost latitude in the Northern Hemisphere at which the sun can remain continuously above or below the horizon for twenty-four hours; as a result, at least once each year at any location within the Arctic Circle the sun is visible at local midnight, and at least once it is not visible at local noon.

hilltop_gas

Locals had recommended that we fuel up at a service station called Hilltop in Fox, Alaska about 15 miles north of Fairbanks, so we did that first thing this morning.  Once again it was a “diesel or unleaded” gas decision with no variety of unleadeds to choose from.

We drove another 60 or so miles on the two-lane Elliott Highway toward its junction with the Dalton Highway.  Conditions seemed to get progressively worse.  In some spots, the road had completely caved in.  Road workers have done their best to mark the especially bad areas with orange cones for driver awareness until they can be repaired.  I was apprehensive about our weather, knowing that the cloudy skies meant that we may hit rain and thus be mud-bogging in our sedans.

dalton_sign

Pavement ended at the Dalton / Elliott junction.  The next sign we saw was “All Vehicles Drive with Lights On Next 425 Miles.”  And with that, we were off.  Headed northbound on the road that’s taken lives and obliterated vehicles.  We saw the carcass of a Mitsubishi Galant just a few miles down – crumpled and left by the roadside for some reason.

lights

The road surface was indeed wet and muddy but my meaty Michelin Primacy tires seemed to have a good grip.  More so than Jason’s, who reported from his walkie talkie that his Continentals were feeling a bit squirrely.  In some areas I was able to get up to 55 or even 60 miles per hour on the unpaved portions.  In other areas I had to quickly hit the brakes and pull evasive maneuvers to get around obstacles.  If ever there were a time to have both hands on the wheel while driving, it was on this road.

const2

In the 8 hour round trip, we saw minimal traffic.  Only two other “cars,” in fact – a Chrysler 200 and a Ford Taurus that were surely both rentals.  Everything else was a semi truck or construction related pickup.  At one point I was following a tractor that was doing some grading of the road on a gravel portion. It had left a huge berm in the center of the road.  I had to cross over it and scraped the underneath of my car pretty good.  Luckily it was pretty loose dirt and not gravel or larger rocks.

ilx_grade

In short sections, pavement did resume.  But Jason and I both found that the condition of the pavement was even worse than the condition of the gravel.  Huge frost heaves sent our cars lurching when hit just right.  I managed to forewarn Jason via the radio of a few particularly tricky areas but neither one of us avoided the potholes entirely.  Sometimes all I could do was grip the wheel strongly and grit my teeth.  I kept a close eye on my gauge cluster watching for any losses of tire pressure, just in case.

ft_hamlin_bridge

The countryside was beautiful as we made our way up and down steep 7-8% grades, across narrow bridges, and through various types of terrain.  For most of the drive, the Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline was visible from the road.  The pipeline is why the road exists, after all.  Eventually the clouds parted a bit and we saw a hint of blue sky which was a relief.  Our road sharply descended into a small valley with the Yukon River at the base.

We crossed over the wooden bridge and arrived at Yukon River Camp, a rustic lodge with a restaurant and a single gas pump.  To be on the safe side, Jason and I decided to top off there.  A man named Stephen who was running the store was kind enough to give us some tips and an update on road conditions up ahead.

yukon_camp_outside

Here’s Stephen.  Our gas was $5.49 per gallon.

stephen_yukon_camp

The next 60 miles were more of the same, and by the same I mean amazing scenery, rough roads, and a surreal sense of “Am I really doing this?” as we crept further and further northbound.  Pine trees cleared out and soon the terrain was more barren.  There was still snow on the roadside in various places.  The tundra up there is a rough place for any living thing to survive.  Temperatures can reach 80 below zero during the wintertime.  Somewhere along the way I managed to run over a rabbit that decided to cross the road at a very inopportune time.  Otherwise our wildlife sightings were nil.

arctic_sign

When we finally pulled up to the sign/marker at the official start of the Arctic Circle, I couldn’t believe we’d made it.  We were both a little giddy.  There was of course nobody else for miles around.  We took some celebratory photos and then enjoyed the scenery while having some snacks.  (Thanks Jason for sharing your Lunchables).

tyson_jason

A Ford 15-passenger van pulled up a little while later with 4 visitors from Pittsburgh.  They thought we were insane for having taken our personal vehicles on the Dalton Highway.  Their tour guide was unloading supplies to fix a bite to eat for his clients so I told Jason, “Perfect, we’re just in time for lunch!”  The guide laughed and said, “Yeah, did you bring some?”

tyson_jason_certificates

certificate

On the way back into Fairbanks, we stopped again at Yukon River Camp, but this time to stop in at the one-room log cabin that serves as a visitor center.  It barely opened for the season yesterday.  The worker there, Rob, filled out a certificate for each of us that acknowledged that we had in fact that we had “Crossed into the Land of the Midnight Sun.”  Awesome!  I might just have to hang that in my cube at work!

So it’s back to our cozy motel here in Fairbanks now for one more night before heading back to the Lower 48.

Thanks for coming along!

Pavement ending at the beginning of Dalton Highway

pavement_end

Speed Limit 50, Next 416 Miles

50mph

ILX at the entrance to the highway

ilx_at_dalton

tyson_dalton

Road conditions for part of the drive

road2

Distance marker.  Deadhorse is the end of the highway at the far northern end of Alaska, Prudhoe Bay.

road

Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline as seen on the roadside parallel to us.

pipeline

Distances!  Getting closer to the Arctic!

arctic_60_miles

Inside of the Yukon Camp.

yukon_camp_interior

Check out this rig!

ford_van

Jason fueling up at Yukon Camp.

jason_gassing

Ouch!

549_gas

Never before has a “You Are Here” arrow sticker had so much meaning!

map2

Sign on the door to the restrooms at Yukon Camp

bathroom_sign

Long (bumpy) road ahead

road_with_ilx

When one of these comes barreling at you, you close your eyes and pray for minimal damage when it peppers you with rocks.

semi

Speaking of rocks, I took a few from the area around the sign because a friend asked me to get him a souvenir.

rocks_for_tj

Tour van arrived just as we were about to leave.  Otherwise we’d had the place to ourselves!

tour

The arctic.

scenery

What do you think of my two-tone ILX?

ilx_arctic

Rob at the Yukon Camp visitor center.

rob_jason

Showing us our way around.

rob

The scenery is very beautiful and the pipeline is very prominent.

yukon_pipeline

Crossing the Yukon River.

crossing_yukon_river

Snow on the roadside.

snow

Hope you enjoyed!  Who wants to detail my car when I get home?

27 Responses to “I Drove to the Arctic Circle!”

  1. Adam Stewart Says:

    Congratulations! Definitely an accomplishment most don’t even take once, let alone twice!

    I do want to do this in the next few years; thanks for the inspiration! I probably won’t take my GT-Four to do it, though. 😛

    • Thanks Adam! Yeah it’s a great feeling to wipe this off my bucket list, though someday I do want to go the remaining 300 miles all the way to Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay. Maybe when I return in 2026 or something. The GT-Four would do well up here. 🙂

  2. Chris Green Says:

    You did it! I’m surprised and thrilled! I would have been so nervous about my car and probably would have turned back. Good for you, what an accomplishment!! So amazing that your ILX has been from nearly Mexico to the Arctic Circle in a short period of time. Safe travels for the rest and have fun!!

    • Thanks Chris! I know! I can’t believe we did it either, but I’m SO GLAD that we did. I wish I had even more time up here. I’d love to zoom down to Anchorage for a day but that’s another 7ish hour drive and we really ought to start making our trek back home.

  3. Wow! Congrats on making it to the Arctic Circle! $5.49/gallon? Ouch! Those road conditions would scare the heck out of me. I’d be afraid of getting stuck or something!

    • Yeah luckily our cars only took a few gallons each so that fuel stop didn’t break the bank. We gave that little busines quite a bit of money in souvenirs too. Picked up a sweet bumper sticker 🙂 and as for potentially getting stuck, that was only a concern if it had been raining heavily and the mud got out of control.

  4. I’ll pass on the detail…already will have my hands full with mine. 😉 Amazing stuff we saw/experienced today…woo-hoo!

  5. Did you also have an $18 ham and cheese sandwich at same place you got the $5.49 per gallon gas? 😉 I better make sure I don’t quit my day job before visiting Alaska one day. ☺️ Congratulations on reaching the Artic Circle.

    • Man I’ll be afraid to look at my credit card statement when all is said and done! Luckily Jason and I are splitting hotel costs so that definitely helps. Rooms have been running anywhere from $110 – 130 per night. Thanks for the congrats! Now begins the long drive home.

  6. You lived a piece of history with this trip today. I would have been happy to pay $5.49 a gallon if I needed it!

    • Agreed! Small price to pay for peace of mind on a route that’s so unforgiving. Enjoyed making a little bit of history on this trip. Now the ILX has been farther north than my Legend has.

  7. “They thought we were insane for having taken our personal vehicles on the Dalton Highway.”

    Why would anyone possibly think that, anyone!?

    Up to now I thought you to be a rational, pragmatic fellow Tyson but I’m beginning to have my doubts 😉

    So here is the real question knowing what you know now and if you had it to do over again what would have been your ideal vehicle choice to take on this trip?

    BTW, that was some gutsy decision to drive on that road, in your personal cars and under less than Autobahn conditions!

    I know I couldn’t have done that. Amazing journey guys!!!

    • It was definitely not a very rational decision to take our own cars on that road after all we’d read about it. But (3 spare tires in tow!) I felt a little bit prepared, so we bit the bullet. And I’m really glad that we did. Now to psych myself out for the remaining journey ahead. Hoping to be back in Scottsdale in 7 days. Very doable.

  8. FANTASTIC!! Just awesome, Tyson. Those 7-8% grades on gravel look like fun. I can only imagine what that would be like in crappy weather. Hat’s off for sure.

    $5.49 a gallon – that is very interesting. Is that the most expensive you have paid so far on the trip?

    Congrats man!!

    • Hey there, yes that was definitely the most expensive gas! (Though, admittedly I haven’t done the liter / Canadian dollar conversion yet on the fuel we purchased in Canada). Yeah I wouldn’t wish the Dalton Highway on anyone if the weather had been worse. I was ready to pull the plug on driving up there if it had started raining. Maybe if I had a 4×4 with higher clearance.

  9. So you went after all! Man, I don’t know if I could’ve dealt with those roads. What an accomplishment getting all the way to the circle though. And I like the ILX in gold! 🙂

    • Haha, Jason and I call that color “Dalton Brown.” We are actually hoping to take some of that dirt home with us. What will my coworkers at the office say when I roll into work in a car that looks like it’s been to hell and back? Can’t wait for the conversation.

  10. Wow. Just… wow.

    I don’t know if I would have tackled that with my old Subaru, let alone an ILX and a 6. I’m impressed.

    Also, those Michelins are worth every penny, apparently.

    • Yes! I felt so confident with those tires. Grippy as can be. Only a few times the ILX’s traction control system activated but that’s because the gravel was very loose and/or wet. Michelins all day long for me.

  11. […] Check out Tyson’s experience in his now 167,000-mile ILX here: Drive to Five – I Drove to the Arctic Circle! […]

  12. I still want to the the Legend all the way to Prudhoe Bay someday!

    • I was thinking of you as we did this portion! I want to go back (and so does Jason) and do the full stretch to Prudhoe so let’s plan on doing it. Now that we’ve been 1/4 of the way up the Dalton Highway already, I have a sense of what to expect.

    • No, Prudhoe was out of the question due to timing and preparedness limitations. We would have needed to make arrangements for a tour at the place in Prudhoe, better equip our vehicles, and overall just inform ourselves more about what to expect. Though I suppose we could have “winged” it.

  13. Very interesting to see Your photos from the Arctic Circle. In Finland, we have driven to there many times. Here are my winter photos:

    Arctic Circle in winter.

    This is just the point where our North starts.

    Happy and safe mileages!

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