Road trip to Juneau is all part of the political experience

Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2010

Most state lawmakers will be making a short flight to the capital this weekend to gavel in the legislative session on Tuesday. Most will be flying from Anchorage or elsewhere in the state, but many staffers - and journalists - got on the road earlier this week for a trip unlike any other.

Experienced drivers say you can make it to Haines in a day's drive. We're taking our time. First night in Tok, second night in Haines: we should be in Juneau two days from now.

Whether you think it's inconvenient or a true adventure, this is the only road to Juneau. We're leaving Anchorage on a Monday morning and pulling into Tok by nightfall.

It's at our bed and breakfast the next morning where we meet Sharon Long. She works for Sen. Charlie Huggins and is making the drive too.

"It's a great adventure to get to your job," Long said. "I think you have to plan for the worst. We've got some survival rations in the car, and a plug for the car."

The thermometer in her car only goes down to minus-22 - but in Tok, it doesn't make much difference. The temperature here, a few miles from the Canadian border, is 35 below. And if you think that's bad, you should have been here yesterday morning, when it was 60 below.

Don't forget your passport, because you'll need it for customs. Yes, we're leaving Alaska to get to the capital.

The only way to Haines is through a rather treacherous mountain pass in the Yukon Territory. Too bad we came through past sunset - we hear it's an amazing drive.

"Very remote, stunning, jaw-dropping beauty of Alaska," said Lori Stepansky at the Haines Visitor Center. "You just can't beat it."

Haines is the end of the road. You cannot drive any farther south, so from here, you've got to take the ferry.

On this day, the MV LeConte is at capacity, with more than 30 vehicles and a few hundred passengers. The ride to Juneau takes just under five hours, and gives us a chance to catch up with fellow traveler Long for some final thoughts.

"You know, I love it," Long said. "I think it's a great Alaskan trip. I think it's just fine - it's not like driving to Olympia or Sacramento, obviously."

Looking back, the journey pales in comparison to what the next 90 days will hold.

"Let's see: is the Legislature the easy part? I think we just did the easy part," Long said.

A little advice to anyone attempting the drive: bring extra food and water, pay attention to weather reports and keep that gas tank topped off.

Otherwise, you might want to go in the summer.

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