Friday, July 23, 2010

Alaska Trip Day 10B: The Seward Highway

Alaska Trip Day 10 (Sat Jul 3): 128 miles; 2 hr 30 min


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After Seward sea kayaking, we immediately left town and headed north to Anchorage. Anchorage is going to get its own post, so that I can talk at length in this one about how freaking crazy drivers in Alaska are.

Okay, so...it's a different kind of crazy than what you see in, say, the Northeast US. Alaska drivers don't really have to deal with much in the way of rushhour traffic. Instead, they have to deal with something even more aggravating: long lines of people going 20 mph under the speed limit on a two-lane road with almost no passing zones. Bah! For crying out loud, why won't that RV just move the @#$% over already????

Maybe crazy isn't the right word. Just impatient. Alaska is big, and it takes a while to get from Point A to Point B. Even the Seward-Anchorage drive down the Seward Highway, which on a map looks like practically nothing, takes a good 2½ hours. To offset the distance, the locals drive fast, and the laws accomodate: the posted speed limit on many two-lane roads is a generous 65 mph.

Now...a 65 mph speed limit on a two-lane road in the middle of nowhere is one thing. Alaska may seem like the middle of nowhere - most of it certainly is - but the Seward Highway is actually quite civilized, and it was busy when we drove it. This is one of very few roads I can think of where I think the speed limit is too high. Given the traffic volume, it's unrealistic to expect to drive the posted speed limit on this road. If you could do 5 over the whole time, you could probably do the Seward-Anchorage jaunt in 2 hours or less. But...you can't. There are too many cars and RVs driving below the speed limit, and there aren't enough long passing zones for you to be able to pass all of them. But that doesn't stop the locals from trying! You see...I think all the 65 mph speed limit does is encourage dangerous passing maneuvers, and believe me, we saw plenty of those along the Seward Highway. Hence my opinion that Alaska drivers are "freaking crazy", or maybe just impatient.

The combination of high speed limits, slow tourists, impatient locals, and few and far between passing zones makes the Seward Highway one of the most dangerous roads in the state. But don't worry, because the Alaska DOT is on the case...sort of. The most dangerous stretch of highway (south of Anchorage to Girdwood) has been designated a "Safety Cooridor". (Well, whoop-dee-doo.) They also have public service announcements discouraging unsafe passing, and there are signs encouraging slower drivers (read: tourists) to use pullout lanes. In fact, according to the signs, it's ILLEGAL to have more than five cars behind you at any one time, and you are REQUIRED to use a pullout if a line develops behind you. This law probably isn't ever enforced, but at least they're trying, I guess. But really, aren't they just passing the blame onto the slow-driving tourists rather than dealing with their own aggressive drivers? (Disclaimer: not everyone in Alaska drives like a crazy person.)

I'm guessing that given the prevaling attitude towards government in Alaska*, if they simply tried lowering the speed limit to 55 on roads like this - not all of Alaska's two-lane roads, just the ones with lots of traffic - the residents would riot or something. How dare those left-wing nuts lower the speed limit! So, I guess this is the best they can do.

(* - Alaska is mostly conservative, but not completely. There is actually a good mix of "don't take my gun" types and hippie tree-hugger types, especially in Anchorage. I guess that makes sense. Alaska is a great place to be if you a) like nature, b) like shooting things, or c) hate government but still want all the benefits that come with living in the United States.**)

(** - More on that thought...Alaskans aren't very fond of Washington telling them what they can and can't do. "How dare they make this part of the state a National Park! How dare they prohibit us from drilling for oil up here! Only Alaskans know what's best for Alaska, so Washington better back the @#$% off!!"***)

(*** - Okay, okay...maybe that's an unfair generalization of the Alaskan attitude. Granted, Alaska is a great place to be if you want to live your life in isolation with as little government interference as possible. I'm sure that's why some people choose to live here, especially in the really isolated parts of Alaska. But it's also a great place to live in general, I think. The quality of life is high, the economy is solid (for now), and a Southern Alaska winter really isn't that bad. And, only 600,000 people live in the entire state, so you can get just about any personalized license plate you want!**** To be honest, I'm surprised more people don't live in Alaska.)

(**** - To give proper credit...we met college friends Craig and Rachael for dinner in Anchorage that night. They told us all about life in Alaska, including the little tidbit about personalized license plates. They moved from Tallahassee to Anchorage four years ago because, well, they felt like it! That might make them the exception, though, because I feel like most people move to Alaska because their job or career choice dictates it. For example - and these are real-life examples - let's say you want to work for the National Weather Service, but the only way you can break in is by starting your NWS career in Fairbanks. Or, you have a Bachelor's degree in archaeology, and the only place you can find employment with one of those is...in Fairbanks. Hmm...maybe that's just Fairbanks, though. Does anyone ever move to Fairbanks by choice?)

Okay...back to the trip. Here are a few pictures from the Seward-Anchorage drive:


We stopped for lunch at Portage Glacier, located a little north of halfway up the Seward Highway. It's my understanding that you can't see Portage Glacier from the visitor center anymore, and that you had to take a boat tour to see it. I think we did see a glacier of sorts from the visitor center parking lot, though (not pictured). Either way...Exit Glacier was way better.


I don't know what inspired me to pose for this picture. I think the 20-hour days were finally starting to get to me. Or maybe the crazy Alaska drivers. (I also put my hand in a rather suggestive location on his leg, but that didn't make the picture.)


Hey, where'd all the snow go?

We intended on stopping in the town of Girdwood on our way up, because "The Milepost" said it was "worth the drive" (but didn't say why). Problem was, there was some kind of parade or festival going on there that day, so it was basically impossible to get into town. Oh well. Why is Girdwood "worth the drive"? We'll never know.

1 comment:

Spartangoogle said...

As you know the speed limit on I-10 in TX is 80. When we got off in Ft.Stockton we expected to have a lower speed limit on two-laned US 385 and we did - 75 mph. When we came to a "Reduced speed ahead" sign your Dad had to slow down - to 70! But there was no traffic. Dad finally passed someone (with no cars in sight coming from the opposite direction) and it was the Sheriff doing 65.