The Milepost 2009: Alaska Travel Planner, edited by Kris Valencia
2009 brings the 61st edition of the king of highway guides. The Milepost 2009, edited by Kris Valencia, is the road trip bible for anyone driving to Alaska or through the four Canadian provinces along the way from the northwestern United States. As the name implies, The Milepost provides mile-by-mile descriptions of the roads and scenic attractions, making it ideal for all travelers to this spectacular region. (Megan Edwards found the 2007 guide to be especially helpful when she visited Anchorage and took a one-day road trip to Seward, so it's not just for thousand-mile trekkers.)
This is at least the seventh edition of The Milepost I've read and reviewed. The astonishing thing to me is that although the total page count stays roughly the same, the editorial group behind this guide manages to add several pages of new content each year. Flipping between the 2008 and 2009 editions, I was struck by the many new photographs in the 2009 volume -- well over 700 color photos and 100 maps. The hot news in this year's edition is the digital edition that is offered free of charge to all purchasers of the book. Formatted as a PDF file, the entire book is searchable by keywords. I tried several searches and got thumbnail views of the book pages relating to "24 hour gas stations", "motels in Tok" and "bear viewing." It was easy to zoom each page to a readable level, and all pages are printable. There's still no beating the printed book on the seat next to you when you're on a roll, but this new digital version adds wonderful flexibility when you have a computer available, and even more when you have Internet access: all the external resource links are "live" on the digital edition. In addition, a "turning the pages" sound effect makes using the digital edition seem more like leafing through a good old-fashioned book.
As in past years, The Milepost has four "special feature" topics. This year, they cover the role of the military in Alaska highway lore, Alaska's path to statehood, several native heritage sites, and driving along the coast of Vancouver Island. Each year, The Milepost's field editors drive all sections of the roadways described in the book and provide current information about conditions. This year, thirty major routes are profiled, and itineraries for sixty side trips are provided. The field editors also seek out new and out-of-the-way discoveries of the sort that make road trips so memorable. Every traveler to the far north ought to read the first forty-seven pages of The Milepost, because the detailed information provided there covers just about every topic needed for planning a road trip to Alaska and the Canadian provinces. Included are excellent overviews about vehicle preparation, insurance, road conditions, mosquitoes, bear and other wildlife viewing, time zones, sled dog tours, and just about everything else you might need to know.
One of the best things about The Milepost -- and an excellent reason to buy the latest version -- is that it includes detailed updates about changes in the roadways each year. Alerts printed in red provide information about truck lanes, caribou crossings, improved sections of highway, and changes made since last year. It could be my imagination, but it seems like there are far more photos of motorcyclists on road trips than in any previous year. The motorcyclists seem pretty adventurous to me, considering the stories I've heard about rocks and gravel so often kicked up by passing vehicles.
One place described in The Milepost that I would love to visit is the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Wrangell, which covers 13.2 million acres, is the largest national park in the United States. It features nine of the 16 highest peaks in the country, a 300-foot waterfall, and two canyons that are said to exceed the size and scale of Yosemite Valley. Wonders like that almost defy the imagination - even when you're looking right at them.
Up-to-date, well-written, and now digital, The Milepost remains the gold standard of Alaska road trip guidebooks.