At 512 km, Day Five was the shortest drive of the event, and we were now off the Alaska Highway. Heading down the Tok Cut-Off (part of the Glenn Highway), this stretch of Hwy 1 passes through Gakona Junction and Glennallen, then Eureka, Chickaloon and into Anchorage (Juneau is the state capital, even though Anchorage is 10 times its size).

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Arctic Drive, Part II
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Arctic Drive, Part II. Click image to enlarge

We stopped at Mentasta Lodge about 75 km out of Tok for coffee and found that the cinnamon buns there, while formidable, did not match the magnitude of Fast Eddy’s. Just as well.

Behind the counter, the affable proprietor Scott Schafer served coffee and talked about the devastation brought to the Mentasta area by the 2002 Denali Earthquake; at 7.9 on the Richter scale, it was the most powerful earthquake recorded in the interior of the US in 150 years.

But history buffs will know that while this event wreaked havoc in the area – opening fissures on the highway and damaging local homes – it was much less severe than the 9.2 magnitude Alaska earthquake of 1962. The distinction is that its epicentre was offshore – as opposed to being an inland event – although its effect was much more devastating.

Mr. Schafer’s establishment still has pictures on the wall of the highway fissures and felled trees caused by the earthquake. These make interesting viewing, but also of interest are the arts and crafts items produced by local First Nations people. These included intricate beadwork, a full wolf pelt, and a traditionally tanned moose hide hat made by Ahtna tribal elder Jenny Sanford, among other things. These were the first items of this kind we’d seen on the trip, and were a welcome diversion from the usual goofy postcards and mass-produced tourist mementos.

The big news, however, for our group, was that the skies had finally cleared and now we could enjoy the fabulous mountain environment through which we were driving. En route to Glennallen we sighted the Matanuska Glacier, the almost perfectly triangular King Mountain and Mount Drum (3,658 metres), looming ever larger as we approached Glennallen.

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Arctic Drive, Part II
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Arctic Drive, Part II. Click image to enlarge

Continuing along Hwy 1 into Anchorage, we were met with some heavy construction as crews blasted into the rock face beside us. Here you’re actually driving on a road hewn out of the side of a mountain — rock on one side, precipice on the other. The problem was that the road, in places, was disintegrating at the precipice side. The challenge for the road workers was to shift it laterally, moving traffic away from the edge, which is no small feat. There was some slow going, therefore, on the twisting section between Chickaloon and Palmer as we had to scooch by the heavy equipment without tumbling off the road. This construction is apparently ongoing; the views, however, were spectacular at this slow pace.

Pulling into the Anchorage Sheraton Hotel was a major contrast to the small, back-country establishments that provided food and lodging on our trip. It’s a major urban centre, the biggest in Alaska, and downtown it could have been any small city in Ontario, except for the mountain views! Almost half of Alaska’s population live here. Apparently bears and moose are a common sight in the city; Sprinters, not so much.

We were done.

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