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The Greatest Adventure in the History of the World
June 15 July 24, 2002

Gazing back into the past, one might assume that The Greatest Adventure in the History of the World was conceived as a grand and epic journey from the very beginning.  However, if one could go back to late 2001, one would find that it actually began with much more modest aspirations, as merely "One of the Better Adventures in the Recent History of North America."  What follows is the tantalizing story of its metamorphosis from a humble, lowly caterpillar into a beautiful, soaring dung beetle.  Or something like that.

The two of us have always been fascinated by maps.  Our natural response to seeing a map is, "I wonder what that place looks like."  Unless it depicts central Kansas, we find it impossible to look at a map and not feel at least some desire to visit that place.  One day, while perusing Rand McNally's atlas of North America, we happened upon a map of Saskatchewan, Canada.  Noting the name of its largest city:

"Heh, Saskatoon's a funny name."

"Yeah... we should go there."

"Ok.  Moose Jaw too."

So, it was settled, after intense microseconds of planning.  We were going to Saskatchewan, and we were obviously going to drive.  The geographically astute reader will note that there isn't much exciting between Virginia and Saskatchewan.  However, the challenge of finding excitement where none seems to exist is one that any traveler worth his weight in snow globes can appreciate, and so we eagerly began searching for routes and destinations to liven up the trip.  Moving past obvious attractions such as the northern Rockies, the Great Lakes, and the minor league Medicine Hat Blue Jays, we spent the afternoon scouring maps and the internet for other potentially exciting spots to visit.

While the atlas may have been closed and re-shelved later that evening, it remained open in our minds.  Over the next few days, we began to mentally trace the routes that head further north and west into Canada.  In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul warns, "do not give the Devil a foothold."  Well, the same wisdom can be applied to travel-related curiosity, and in a matter of days we had followed the roads from the prairies of Saskatchewan all the way to the icy calm waters of the Arctic Ocean.  It didn't take long for the obvious-yet-unspoken conclusion to become apparent to both of us: We're going to Alaska.

As a trip to Alaska would require more time, effort, and money than our previous ventures, we had to engage in deep introspection to make sure we were up to the task.  A few minutes later, our plans intact, we began to consider dates for the trip.  We decided on a six-week stretch in the middle of the summer, in between the conclusion of our undergraduate careers and the beginning of our graduate studies - perhaps the last such block of free time we would have for many, many years.

With the start and end dates set, we began determining how many places we could cram into that timeframe.  A back-of-the-envelope calculation on our list of desired destinations worked out to roughly 20,000 driving miles, which seemed a bit optimistic.  Spread out over six weeks, this equated to almost 500 miles per day.  Such a distance is a relatively easy trip on an interstate highway, but factoring in slower northern roads, a few multi-day stops at friends' houses, the time we would spend visiting such important sites as the world's second largest ball of twine, and overall fatigue made 500 miles a day seem somewhat less attainable.

To deal with this uncertainty, we narrowed our list down to the must-sees, with the hope of visiting as many of the other places as time would allow.  The ultimate goal of the expedition was to drive the distance of the Dalton Highway in Alaska, from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, punctuated by a dip in the refreshing Arctic.  The secondary objective was to remove any state not named Hawaii from our personal lists of states we had not visited.  Beyond this, our tentative itinerary primarily comprised stops at national parks, major bodies of water, cheezball tourist attractions, and cities with funny names.

To keep costs under control on such a long trip, we planned to buy most of our food from grocery stores; find cheap or, preferably, free places to throw down our sleeping bags; and bathe in local rivers and lakes.  We knew the final item in that list would challenge our constitutions as our latitude increased, but we were determined to prove our vigor to Mother Nature, or, at the very least, afraid to look like wimps in front of each other.

Thus the stage was set for the Greatest Adventure in the History of the World.  Our journey ended up spanning 22 states, five provinces, one territory, five time zones, 19,263 miles, and about 90 degrees of water temperature.


Detailed trip log and photos coming soon