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Clutchless - but not clueless - on the Alcan

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When I was 17, my dad taught me a good lesson. I was headed to California from Anchorage, Alaska, by car. I was to work for my step-dad that summer in the almond orchards. My younger brother had flown up for the adventure of riding along on the 3,300-mile trip.

Any drive that long will present challenges to kids that age, but at that time the Alcan highway was largely unpaved for about 1,500 miles. As we loaded the last of our gear into the car, my dad said firmly that I was not to call him if I had any problems; I was only to call him if I needed help with a solution to a problem. Kind of a cool twist of phrase that has proved to be a valuable perspective for me to this day.

The Alcan (Alaska-Canada) highway was hastily built in one season during World War II as the first overland supply route to Alaska. There were battles being fought in the Aleutian Islands, and the historical supply lines of air and water were too limited to assure the security needed for the war. The highway followed the route easiest to construct and had gradually evolved since World War II into a pretty decent two-lane gravel road.

There were some bright-eyed tourists using the road by the time I drove it in my Volkswagen Rabbit, but it was still primarily a supply line for the small towns scattered along the mountains, rivers, and tundra of the Yukon Territory and British Columbia.

When we crossed the border I was barely able to fulfill the Canadian requirement of having enough cash to assure them that we would not become involuntary teenage settlers.

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