Be a good road trip passenger
Not good,” Pat said as we added our brake lights to the standstill on Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque. Semis surrounded us, idling. “Is there a way around this mess, Navigatrix?” he asked. I was already tapping my phone to check Google Maps while simultaneously flipping through the New Mexico atlas on my lap for the corresponding page. On our road trips, it’s partly my job as “Navigatrix” to find the most efficient, scenic, or interesting route. When we’d checked the app earlier, we’d seen the red section, meaning traffic delays, but figured we’d give it a try anyway, as there really wasn’t another good way to head toward our next destination. While it took us nearly two hours of driving down alternate side roads (even passing one called Alaska Loop) and then backtracking because everyone else had the same idea, I discovered one last option I hadn’t noticed at first that would lead us back to the slab, where we could, finally, see wheels slowly turning.
Thankfully, road tripping in Alaska is much simpler. With few highways and even fewer alternate routes, it’s virtually impossible to get lost on the road system here. And travelers will likely see more moose than semis. Delays do happen, but most of the time, lonely lanes beckon.
Safe vehicle handling, staying alert, and stopping for fuel before running out are all responsibilities the driver bears. Good navigating requires studying maps and other detailed resources that make the trip memorable. Planning ahead to find a good lunch spot or dog walking trail is always a good idea, as is checking restaurant hours, mileage charts, side roads that lead to historic sites, wildlife viewing opportunities, and scenic viewpoints with roomy pull-outs. Of course, the pre-planning can be done together so no one resorts to pouting or fisticuffs.
Keeping a handful of useful apps on one phone screen makes checking things like fuel prices (GasBuddy), construction schedules (511 Alaska), and weather (Windy) a snap. Just remember, cell service isn’t available in much of rural or mountainous Alaska, so gather information when you can, record necessary details, and remember to look around and enjoy the adventure.
Photo Caption: For a richer, more meaningful experience, research the places you plan to visit. Google “Byers Lake old cabin” before your next trip on the Parks Highway, then take time to visit my parents’ first home together, built in 1959, at Byers Lake. It’s a short walk from the campground, and a long way from ordinary.