Getting to Alaska
Updated On: 10/16/2012 11:58:46 PM
For the adventurous, the Alaska Highway offers one of the most exciting routes north. For Soldiers, your PCS orders must specifically authorize travel via the Alaska Highway if you wish to drive. Often referred to as the Alcan (Alaska-Canada) Highway, the Alaska Highway weaves northwest for 1,488 miles from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Fairbanks. read more...
The Alaska Highway is now paved, but the pavement varies considerably in quality. Road construction in the north is limited to the summer season, so expect occasional long stretches of road under repair or construction. Depending on the weather, the routing around or through these construction sites can be very muddy or exceedingly dusty.
The dust situation is only bad after long dry spells. To keep the dust out, keep some air pressure in the car by closing the windows and turning on the heater, fan or air conditioner. Finally, take it easy and take your time. Stop now and then to relax and take in the rugged North Country; about 350 miles a day on the varying surfaces of northern roads is plenty. Your best source about traveling into Canada is the Canadian Tourism Commission website, www.canada.travel/splash.en-us.html Another good resource is the Canadian Border Services Agency website at www.cbsa-afsc.gc.ca/menu-eng.html.
It is important to remember that Canada has different import-export laws and regulations. You should check with the Canadian Consulate General's office at www.canadainterna tional.gc.ca/seattle/, or call (206) 443-1777 before your trip to see what you can bring into the country. Their address is 1501 4th Ave., Suite 600 Seattle, Washington, 98101.
HANDGUNS ARE NOT PERMITTED
WITH ENTRY INTO CANADA
It is highly recommended you ship all of your personal weapons in either your household goods or baggage shipment. A valid state driver's license IS NOT proof of citizenship; you MUST have in your possession at the Canadian border a valid U.S. or foreign passport or U.S. naturalized citizenship documents. In addition, any family pets must have complete shot records and a current health certificate.
According to the U.S. State Department Website (www.travel.state.gov), under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative: All persons traveling by air outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. WHTI compliant documents include:
• Trusted Traveler Cards (NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST)
• State Issued Enhanced Driver's License (when available)
• Enhanced Tribal Cards (when available)
• U.S. Military Identification with Military Travel Orders
• U.S. Merchant Mariner Document when traveling in conjunction with official maritime business
• Native American Tribal Photo Identification Card
• Form I-872 American Indian Card
For further information see the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection travel website at www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/ready_set_go/. Be sure you know what is required before you embark on a trip. Service Members, unless they are traveling as tourists, do not need passports under these new rules. Family members can get no-fee tourist passports if they are on official travel, but the Department of Defense encourages all Service Members and family members to get regular passports. No-fee passports are not accepted for unofficial travel (going home on leave, etc.).
United States citizens can visit the State Department's travel website, www.travel.state.gov, or call the U.S. National Passport Information Center: 1-877-4USA-PPT.
RE-ENTERING THE U.S.
Re-entry into the United States upon reaching Alaska is the responsibility of the traveler. Canadian immigration officers will usually caution persons if they may have problems returning to the United States. Re-entry can be simplified if you list all purchases made in Canada before you reach the border, keep sales slips and invoices separate, and pack the purchases for convenient inspection.
Once you reach Tok, Alaska, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson- bound personnel will turn onto the Glenn Highway for the last 328 miles to Anchorage or continue northwest on the Richardson Highway for another 208 miles or so to Fairbanks, then take the Parks Highway south for 350 miles. It's a long haul, but the scenery is magnificent and if you are traveling in the summer, the fishing opportunities along the way are almost limitless.
Extra cash should be taken when making the long drive north. When you reach the Canadian border, you should have at least $500 in cash, traveler's checks or credit cards, plus $75 for each adult passenger.
The major cities along the route, Fort Nelson, British Columbia; Watson Lake, Yukon Territory; Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; and Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory, are spaced at roughly 300-mile intervals.
In between these communities, various small businesses exist to provide gas, food and lodging.
Insurance coverage required in Canada is higher than normally required in the United States. You should check in advance with your automobile insurance provider to make certain your coverage is adequate for Canada and complies with all of that country's requirements. You should have a copy of the policy or some other proof of insurance in hand when you enter Canada. Normally your insurance company will fax you a sheet of paper noting that your insurance is adequate and in force for a trip through Canada if you ask them to do so.
Although auto repair is generally available along the Alaska Highway, it can be expensive and there can be delays if you have to wait for parts specific to your vehicle. It's always a good idea to carry a few common items made for your vehicle, such as fan belts and properly inflated spare tires.
Even if you don't know how to install these items, any competent mechanic you contact along the road should be able to help. In addition to those items specific to your vehicle, a repair kit containing some general-purpose items is a good idea, along with a toolkit of basic wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers, jumper cables and all-purpose tape (such as duct tape.).
Cautions for the Alaska Highway
Make sure your tires are in good condition and carry a mounted spare tire at least the equal of the tires on the road. The small, temporary donut spares commonly provided with small, lightweight vehicles are impractical on the Alaska Highway. During the winter months, from October through April, cars need cold-weather protection and gear. This may include an engine heater, antifreeze, thinner oil, studded snow tires and warm clothing for the driver and passengers. Tire chains are occasionally required for some stretches during the winter months, so be sure you carry a set with you and know how to install them. Temperatures may fall to minus 50 degrees in the winter. Remember, not all businesses are open all year, nor are they available 24 hours a day; plan ahead for gas, food and lodging. Although most highways in Alaska are paved, the freezing and thawing of permafrost (permanently frozen ground) in the northern three-fourths of the state and in Yukon Territory can cause the road to buckle. If you drive too fast on these stretches, you may lose control or cause severe damage to your vehicle. Slow down and proceed with care when this is the case.
Winterizing your car
Probably the only thing you need to do to your car before bringing it to Alaska is to make sure it is in good shape. This includes a tune-up, maybe changing belts and hoses that are more than two years old, and making certain your coolant is adequate to 50 below zero or colder. The decision to further modify your vehicle can generally wait until you arrive. The mechanics at the base service stations and local garages will be happy to advise you.
Many people with orders to Alaska wonder if they need to get new tires. Whether to do so depends a great deal upon your abilities as a winter driver. Obviously old, bald tires are a bad idea in the winter and regular street tires offer little traction. However, many people get along fine year-round with all-season radial tires.
Others feel more comfortable with snow tires or studded tires. There is no magic formula. Even a sport utility vehicle with four studded tires can spin out if the driver encounters black ice or is not driving cautiously.
Tips for vehicles in Alaska:
• An engine block heater is a must to fight off winter temperatures. Cars should not have to be plugged in unless temperatures drop below zero, but the state recommends plugging in your vehicle at temperatures below 20 degrees to help mitigate pollution. Portable interior car heaters are prohibited because they are a fire hazard and an extra drain on the electrical system.
• Another important thing is to change to an arctic-weight lubricant for the differential and transmission.
• You may want to include a northern (hotter) thermostat. A battery blanket may further aid in starting your car on cold winter mornings.
• The oil should be changed to 5W-30 or to special arctic oil. Check your owner's manual carefully before deciding on which oil to use. In the extreme cold, lubricants can thicken, so thinner oil is almost always the right way to go.
• The circulating/freeze plug heater and other mechanical modifications will probably be fine if left in place, but it's not a bad idea to check them out to see if they work come winter.
Winter driving tips
People who have never driven on ice and snow will need to rethink their driving techniques. Snow and ice on the road greatly reduce the traction of your tires so it takes longer to start, longer to stop and longer to get where you're going. Make sure you allow extra time for everything when driving in the winter. Speeds that may be safe in summer are not safe on ice and snow. The distance required to bring a vehicle to a safe stop on a slippery surface may be three to nine times longer than on dry pavement.
Always adjust your speed to road and weather conditions.
To avoid winter collisions, maintain a minimum distance of 50 yards between your vehicle and someone else's. More is better. When slowing down or stopping, don't slam on the brakes or you will probably skid and lose control. Pump the brakes gently, and shift to a lower gear if possible. In case of a skid, turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid. Cars with ABS brakes may specifically state in the owner's manual that you avoid pumping the brakes and allow the system to do its job in bringing your vehicle to a smooth stop.
Do not rely exclusively on this recommendation, as sometimes conditions are so slick that ABS brakes may lock your wheels. When you brush the snow off your windshield, take the time to clear the rear and side windows, too. In winter, vision in every direction is paramount and may help prevent an accident.
Marine Highway System
Far and away, the most beautiful way to travel to Alaska is via the AMHS ferries operated by the state. The AMHS ferries carry passengers and vehicles from Bellingham, Wash., and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, up the inside passage to the Alaskan cities of Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau, Haines and Skagway. The boats have parking decks, sightseeing solaria, staterooms and food service.
The ferry will not get you all the way to Anchorage. The most common debarkation point is Haines, Alaska, from which it is another 799 miles to Anchorage by road. This road requires crossing into Canada for a few hundred miles, so all immigration and customs rules (found in the "driving" section) should be adhered to.
For less of a drive during the summer months, you can get off the ferry in Juneau and catch a connecting ferry to Whittier, Alaska. Whittier is nestled between the glacier-capped Chugach Mountains and Prince William Sound.
The drive from the edge of Prince William Sound through the Chugach Mountains includes a drive through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel (North America's longest combined railroadhighway tunnel) and connects Whittier to Anchorage - only 45 miles to the north, or about a one-and-a-half-hour road trip. There is also an Alaska Railroad station in Whittier that provides train service to Anchorage. Plan ahead for this trip, as the Juneau-Whittier route is only scheduled May-October and runs three times a month.
Passengers traveling to Whittier are advised to check the Whittier Tunnel website at www.dot.state.ak.us/creg/whittier tunnel/index.htm for a schedule of when the tunnel is open to vehicle traffic. Bicycle and foot traffic is prohibited through the tunnel, and there are vehicle size and other restrictions of which you should be aware before traveling through the tunnel. For a recording of the schedule, call the Whittier Tunnel toll free at (877) 611-2586.
The trip from Bellingham to Haines takes about three days, and the Bellingham to Whittier route takes about five days, often requiring an overnight stay in Juneau. Remember, from Haines it's about another two days of driving to get to Anchorage. Reservations for travel via the AMHS should be made three to six months in advance. You or the Traffic Management Office (TMO) can book your passage. You will be reimbursed for passage and stateroom berths for all command-sponsored family members, as well as one vehicle.
Passenger travel, including a stateroom on the ferry, is at government expense. Your Transportation Office can issue you a Government Travel Request for passage or you can be reimbursed when you arrive at your new duty station in Alaska. If you did not ship a POV to Alaska, you can receive reimbursement for the cost of the vehicle placed on the ferry; the vehicle cannot exceed 800 cubic feet. If you have already shipped a privately owned vehicle through the government and decide to take the ferry and place another vehicle on the ferry, you may be reimbursed for the cost of transporting your vehicle on the ferry.
For more information about the AMHS ferry service or to make reservations, visit www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/ or call (800) 642-0066.
Household Goods and Privately Owned Vehicle Shipments
HHG movement and/or storage and personally procured move applications must be initiated via the Defense Personal Property System (DPS) at www.move.mil. DPS offers a full suite of counseling information and tools to assist members in the move process. First time DPS users will also be required to establish an account, and certain members are eligible to complete the Self-Counseling module and simply submit completed/signed documents foregoing the requirement to set up a counseling appointment with their local Transportation Office/Traffic Management Office.
WHEN SHOULD I START: Begin your DPS application as soon as you have orders in hand and keep in mind most TO/TMOs request three weeks lead-time ahead of the requested move pick-up date to process shipment applications. Additionally, most shipments are planned/offered to service 4,000 to 5,000 pounds per day. For example, for a 12,000-pound shipment, the carrier is given three days to pack and one day to load.
WEIGHT RESTRICTIONS: The Joint Federal Travel Regulation (JFTR), paragraph U5310 establishes household (HHG) shipping weight entitlements for all ranks. The authorized HHG shipping weights will be reflected in DPS. Since Alaska is a weight restricted area for in-bound single/unaccompanied Soldiers E-5 and below and Airmen E-4 and below, be sure to check with local origin Transportation Office/TMO to determine the restricted HHG shipping weight prior to shipping any HHGs to Alaska. DoD civilians are entitled to 18,000 pounds.
DRIVING THE ALASKA MARINE HIGHWAY: If you are using the Alaska Marine Highway System, you also retain the authority to ship one POV at government expense using the Vehicle Processing Center servicing the losing base. Reservations may be made via local Commercial Travel Offices, or via www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/index.shtml.
SHIPPING A POV: You must ship POVs to Alaska via your servicing VPC. More information is available at www.whereismy pov.com. If your POV is not delivered to the servicing VPC within 90 days of departing your last station, additional approval to ship your POV will be required after you arrive in Alaska.
MOBILE HOMES: If you are considering shipping a mobile home to Alaska, contact your local TO/TMO immediately for specific advice/information.
ON ARRIVAL: Check DPS and/or contact your HHG carrier to inquire on HHG shipment status and to arrange delivery. Stateside members should plan for estimate 30 days transit before HHG arrive, while overseas members should discuss transit times to Alaska with their TO/TMO. Authorized temporary storage is time limited and becomes your expense if storage extensions are not requested and approved.
OTHER HELPFUL TIPS:
Contact 673d Civil Engineer Squadron Housing Office at 907-552-4439 for questions regarding on-base quarters and accommodations.
Quarters are equipped with washer, dryer, stove and refrigerator; some have dishwashers; Drapes are not furnished. Some liquid items and canned foods are normally not accepted in HHG shipments between October and May due to freezing/damaging other HHG during transit. To avoid problems, if you are unclear on your entitlements, contact your local TO/TMO.