Long distance winter hitchhiking – From New York to Alaska

Route Trampen Alaska

Tomorrow I am going to hit the road for a 8000km long-distance hitchhiking trip from New York to Alaska/Prudhoe Bay. It will be my longest distance I have ever hitchhiked so far. I plan to make the route within 10 days (maximum 14). My 4200km testrun from Calgary to New York was done in 3,5 days, so it is definitely possible. But: Alaska is a different chapter. I have to be cautious. It will be deepest wintertime and extreme climate is awaiting me. I won´t rush as fast as possible in this conditions. But I also won´t take more time as necessary. I wanna enjoy the show on the road.

In my 10 day calculation is included, that I might rest 2 nights, if people invite me. Also I might be stuck somewhere for whatever reason. This route as a kind of masterpiece for me and I am really looking forward to it! I wanna have this delicious trip in one part, without stopping in between. I want to be fully into this. Because being on the road is what I love.

In the following article I want to talk with you about:

How to analyze and plan a long-distance trip like this? What strategy I chose for the winter hitchhiking and in general what to say about the New York – Alaska passage.

Let´s go together through certain characteristics of the trip and im gonna share my thoughts.

Building a strategy

First of all, and this is most important, what to do when going on a long tour like this: Make a plan! Think about the upcoming tour! This might go without saying, but I think that is something that we gotta be very aware of. And as I wanna approach this topic from the scratch, we better give some credit to this point.

If you wanna do a successfull hitchhiking trip, sit down and plan it. With a proper map. You have to create a game plan to make a good tour. Get an idea about tipping points and chances. When I went from Stockholm to my home base in Leipzig, I knew that behind Kopenhagen is a good place to catch something out during the night. I was there around 02:00 and got a lift to Hamburg soon after. Worked. When i approached Lima I knew it was a goddamn moloch and I had to avoid at any costs to get dropped in this city. So I consciously searched a ride before the city limit all the way to the other side. Worked well. Would never have taken anything different.

You can work on this also while you´re on the road. Thats why you need a map. It is the basis for a good decision making. When you are on the road for several days you need to keep the overall run in focus. You will have hard times, you will have easy times, but don´t slacken or you get in the real deep shit, that will cost a lot of time. If you have a run, stay concentrated. If you have a bad time, keep trying. Never give up! The next lift is near. Especially the night hitchhiking will be most crucial for a successful run.

Nighthitchhiking as one of the most important parts of our moving strategy. Here in British Colombia.
Nighthitchhiking as one of the most important parts of our moving strategy. Here in British Colombia.

Let´s have a look at the route together.

Route and Cities

I know half of the route already through my testrun and have also a full list of 24/7 gas stations between Calgary and Montreal. I know the Transcanadian Highway works well and I am not taking an alternative route through the USA, even if it might be a couple of hundred kilometers shorter. Rather watch out for long-distance lifts in Canada. Good experience I can count on in this case.

What awaits me further north in and around Alaska is something I can just guess and put together from conversations with locals and other hitchhikers. Definitely not much traffic. Last part between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay will be mostly trucks operating. I am aware of this. But, some good news for hitchhikers: In Alaska is even a law that you gotta stop, if someone is standing at the side of the road and might be distressed. So people will most likely stop. If there is traffic. And people won´t leave you in the middle of the shit, cause they know how dangerous those conditions are. I trust my drivers in this case.

Cities are always an issue. I got to cross some of them in Canada. All in front Winnipeg I remember as very unpleasant to hitchhike through. But also Regina, Saskatoon and of course Edmonton are on the list. The advice is quite simple: Don´t arrive in the late night, which will for sure result in stucking for a few hours and lose too much time. If this happens I necessarily got to be at a 24/7 gas station to have a little chance catching the next ride. Although not all gas stations might provide a good hop-out into my direction. Got to choose rides and drop-offs wisely here. Also commuter traffic in the morning is annoying and I would not count on it. Intuitive the worst time for hitchhiking, because it is a lot of traffic but no one wants to pick up. Anyway: Best is to be there during daylight with enough time to cross, or just shoot directly through the place.

Weather

It is pretty clear, that hitchhiking into Alaska during January will offer the experience of damn cold climate. I expect temperature down to -35° and a strong merciless wind in the Prairies of Canada. Wind is a considerable source of misery during the cold, if not the worst. The coldest temperatures will be expected in the Prairies, as well as during the last part North of Fairbanks. Beside that I can not say, if I will run into any Blizzard or other spontaneous weather phenomenas. However: It is gonna be fucking cold! This conditions are not fun and mistakes might be unforgivable. I am aware of this and will prepare myself.

I have to check the weather daily and also talk a lot to my drivers if mother nature is freaking out around us. I need to know, if certain roads are closed, especially when passing through the Rockies. Maybe the weather is forcing me to take 1-2 day break on the road somewhere. Hopefully not.

The right equipment will be another important aspect. I by myself work with layers. I got a windproof winter jacket, which by itself might be not warm enough, but my friend gave me a nice down feather jacket, which I will put under my normal jacket. Beside that some long underwear. Two pairs of socks (thin and warm), long-sleeve shirt, special insulated ski-trousers, some -100° winter boots and a trapper head.

From the archive. Three day long expedition with snow mobiles through the backlands of Longyearbyen. What a blast and lots of stunning, wild winter landscape.
From the archive. Three day long expedition with snow mobiles through the backlands of Longyearbyen. What a blast and lots of stunning, wild winter landscape.

I will get some high-quality mittens in Canada and also some cheap thin wool gloves for wearing under them. This is important. You can´t do shit with mittens, sometimes you will need gloves. If you touch steel with you bare hands in -40° you will burn yourself pretty quickly. I even heard stories about people who lost all their fingers, cause they dropped their car keys into the snow and couldn´t find it. Shit happens. So better have „some“ protection, just in case you need to take off the mittens. Avoid cotton in your equipment. If it gets wet, it stays wet and this can be very unpleasent in cold temperatures.

Another point, which especially on a long-distance tour is of importance, that the cold makes you more tired. I might be able to camp outside until -20° at least, but wanna avoid this if possible. But I know from my testrun: The cold is sucking your energy out of the bones. It is much harder to stay awake several nights in those conditions. In Colombia or Mexico I could just lie in the sun and take some rest, during the day. Easy. Not possible on this route. Gotta keep an eye on my well-being.

Another thing is: The cold itself is not the biggest problem, but waiting in the cold is what makes you cool down. But I can make some gymnastics whenever needed. Or how our Russian fellows say: Against cold it helps to move. Against tiredness helps to sleep.

Daylight

Something to consider, especially in the winter: The days are much shorter. When I leave New York we will have approximately 7,5 hours between sunset and -rise in Edmonton. In Fairbanks it will be less than 4 hours during this time and checking for Prudhoe Bay resulted in the information, that there is no sunrise at all. Can´t say how much work the twilight will do, but I rather expect nothing to not get disappointed. Why is this important?

You might expect daylight as an issue for finding rides, but that is not a real problem. On my testrun from Calgary to New York, around 60% of my whole distance was covered during the night. And I caught some very good night rides through Canada! Some around 700-900 km long. Moving in the night is a crucial thing on a long tour and it works. So I am not worried about it.

I am more concerned about the cold. Temperatures drop drastically in the night. It is a real threat. You don´t wanna be out there without cover. There is no way I can risk to stuck at an empty crossing during the night. Usually I don´t give a fuck where I am. Even dark places without any light are sometimes my choice for positioning, because I can catch lifts there more easy (sometimes). But in the far north might be very little traffic.

Strategy

You got all my thoughts on that. So, now is the question how to approach the route most wisely? It is quite simple. The last 14 months I mostly used classical hitchhiking, which means for me, standing at the side of the road and stick my thumb out. In Germany and Europe I am used to ask drivers, just because it is so successful and I can move almost as fast as going with my own car by this technique. And this will be the way to go for me on this trip.

I´m gonna stick with the 24/7 gas stations as a matter of safety and ask the incoming drivers. It is like hopping from checkpoint to checkpoint. Who is going around in Europe might know what I mean. This gives me a better opportunity for having control about my lifts and where they go. Sometimes when you thumb, you won´t have enough time to ask all information. Especially when you are miserable you take the ride blindly and find out, that it will put you in another difficult spot. I have to avoid those kind of mistakes.

Also I simply like the Canadians. Talking to them is great fun, they are usually much more friendly than the people in the US and this approach is definitely advisable here. If I won´t get a lift, at least I will have a nice conversation most of the time. Furthermore I can check the number plates and pick the long-distance commuters, which definitely exist in Canada. Hopefully I will find some post-Christmas/New Year people going all the way back home to Alaska from….let´s say New York. 🙂

I am not focusing on trucks until I am in Alaska. The success rate is just to small in the southern regions. Once I am in more rural areas, I will give it a try. Also I might use the chance during the day to thumb directly on the highway, but I´m gonna decide this spontaneously. But my main approach is „gas station hopping“.

I won´t write another roadtrip article about this tour, but if you want you can follow me on Facebook, where im gonna post regular status updates and positions. I wish you a Happy New Year and myself warmroads. 🙂

4 Comments

  • Love the posts! Best of luck! I gave your email to a friend in Anchorage. Not sure that will help you though. If you get stuck and think I can help, don’t hesitate to contact me. xxx-xxx-xxx. Happy travels!

  • Hi Stephan,

    Jillian here – we met at the Karuna Vipassana center in Youngstown in November. Read your last post, wish you well, and if you need any contacts in the Yukon, let me know.

    All the best, stay warm – though I see some fairly warm temperatures in Alaska, so you should be alright.

    Happy New Year.

    • Hey Jillian,

      I am stucked in Beaver Creek at the moment. It is fresh here, but I stick to warm places, so that I can escape from the cold. Got some local who offered me a place to stay for tonight, in case I won´t find a ride. Send me a mail to info at warmroads.de. Maybe I pass by your place on my way back South. Just forgot where exactly it was. My travel plans change constantly, but I might go around in BC during February/March.

      Happy New Year and Metta,

      Stefan

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