More Coldfoot

Road trip: Canada-Alaska (Welcome to America)

Riley Riley

Okay. We were wrong. It took only 6250km to get from Seattle to Fairbanks in Alaska, not the 7000km predicted, travelling on the Alaska Highway, known locally as the ALCAN.

The good news, financially at least, is that we scraped in 160 miles under the 4000-mile limit that we’d paid for — any further and we’d have been up for 49 cents per mile.

Not only did we make it all the way to Fairbanks, but another 407km to Coldfoot, which is 100km inside the Arctic Circle and arguably the coldest place in the United States — a place where temperatures have been recorded as low as -82 degrees Fahrenheit (-62C).

Once a gold mining town and now little more than a truck stop, Coldfoot has a population of 34 residents reports that last census and has been featured on the cult TV show Ice Road Truckers.

We were not the first Aussies to grace its restaurant however. 

Scanning the walls revealed a plaque left by a bunch of Tasmanian trucker drivers who visited Coldfoot in 2017. Good on’ya fellers.

From there we travelled another 117km north to the Atigun River, crossing both the Arctic Circle and the Continental Divide that separates the rivers that flow into the Pacific from those that drain into the Arctic Ocean.

Talk about remote.

Accompanying us all the while on our trip through Canada and Alaska was the 1290km long Trans-Alaska pipeline which carries crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez on the shores of Prince William Sound in south-central Alaska.

You might have heard of Prince William Sound.

It’s the place where the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred back in 1989 — one of the worst environmental disasters in the world — but not one which involves the pipeline directly.

The road from Coldfoot follows the infamous Dalton Highway 666km to Deadhorse further down the road near the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.

It’s reportedly the richest oil deposit in the world and the Russians must be rueing the day they sold what is now Alaska to the United States in 1867 for the sum of $7.2 million  (about $11 million Aussie dollars).

Just 85km and the Bering Strait separate the US and Russia today and the Americans tend to get a little nervous, so it’s hardly surprising Fairbanks is home to a huge Airforce base.

The 122cm diameter pipeline follows the road off and on, mostly above the ground to reduce the environmental impact and perhaps to make maintenance easier.

Interestingly, in 2001, a drunk shooter named Daniel Lewis (I know a journo of that name) shot a hole clean through the pipe with a .338-calibre rifle, causing the second-largest mainline spill in pipeline history.

He was later found guilty of criminal mischief, assault, drunken driving, oil pollution, and misconduct.

Not sure if he went to gaol or was fined?

About 6144 barrels leaked from the breach, of which 4238 barrels were successfully recovered.

A one hectare section of permafrost had to be removed.

Anyway, enough of the history lesson. 

Canada Alaska 3 13
Snowing at Beaver Creek


The ALCAN is not the most challenging road to drive in the world but it is certainly one of the most scenic, with the chance to see plenty of wildlife and the opportunity to chat with the locals is absolute gold.

Just before you cross from Yukon into Alaska, there’s a little place called Beaver Creek where we had an interesting encounter.

Arriving towards the end of the day we decided to go for a walk around town, what there is of it.

Stopping to take a photo of what looked like the best houses in town, we were approached by a couple of locals in a side-by-side who wanted to know what we were doing?

“They’re Federal buildings and we don’t like people taking photos of Federal buildings,” the driver warned.

“Hah? I’m a tourist. I’m from Australia,” I offered.

Turns out that’s where the border patrol guards live.

The Canadian customs station is located a couple of Kay’s down the road and separated from the US border by about 28km of no man’s land. Weird ha?

After crossing into Alaska, just before you get to Fairbanks, you pass through a little town you might have heard of with one very famous resident.

We’re talking about the living, breathing market exercise called North Pole, complete with Father Christmas and the Reindeer Academy.

We had been warned it would be closed for the season and it was (what season you might wonder), but we returned the following day to find it open.

What a magical place. The kids will love it. We even got to talk to Santa himself and have the video to prove it.

Fast forward to Coldfoot and we’d like to say a big hello to the entertaining Trish in the restaurant who pretty much told us her life story over a breakfast of pancakes, ketchup and black coffee.

The ketchup is our twist.

After several back surgeries Trish decided God had a different plan for her, packed her bags and left her home in the southern state of Georgia behind.

That included two daughters and her grandchildren — not sure about Mr Trish?

She laughed that one daughter thought she was an ATM, the other had her pegged as a full-time babysitter.

An advertisement brought her to work in Alaska, initially to Yukon River Camp and then to Coldfoot where she has obviously become a mother figure to the passing truckers.

During the winter months when the temperature plummets and the sun doesn’t shine for months at a time, she travels overseas, reeling off a list of countries to which she has travelled.

Like the pancakes, Trish is a sensation.

Then there were our two tour guides for our journey beyond Coldfoot — Claire and John.

Claire hails from Minnesota, John from Arizona (John is still in training).

Chatting about this that and the other, they revealed the finer points of dealing with roadkill.

Claire told us the State troopers have a list of people they call when an animal is killed and recounted the intricacies of butchering a moose that had to be put down.

They had to quarter it, just to get it up the embankment and back on to the road.

Claire still has the head sitting in a shed and plans to boil it down for the skull and antlers.

Because the weather is so cold, it’s just like putting it in the fridge.

John on the other hand kept the skin which he is in the process of tanning, but he’s not sure what he’ll do with it yet.

I kid you not. 

The ALCAN is one for the bucket list and while we missed out on seeing many places along the way that were still closed for the season, we’d like to return sometime. 

The lure of the “old” Alaska Highway which parallels the new one has huge appeal.


CHECKOUT: Road trip: Canada-Alaska (First Blood)

CHECKOUT: Road trip: Canada-Alaska (Monster trucks)



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