You Know You’re on the Alcan When …

1991 Mitsubishi Pajero, Terra Tractor Rod Hall tribute vehicle

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost one year since Andy and I competed in the 2020 winter Alcan 5000 Rally. Who would have thought an old 1991 Japanese Domestic Market right-hand-drive diesel Pajero would be competing in temps that reached -40, much less finish strong in a rally that lasted 10 days and over 5,120 miles?

Ice Road to Aklavik, NT Canada
Ice road to Aklavik, NT Canada

We had a lot of time to think during our grand excursion on Mother Nature’s frozen tundra. Along with buddy cars #38 and #40 (#38 Jeep JK with Judy/JR Russell and #40 with Lexus GX470 Garrett and Kristen Arendt), our Pajero created a trio named “Team Back of the Bus.”

It was through this experience and our radio comms where we laughed a lot, talked a ton, and shared stories as we rallied our way through two states, one province, and two territories of frozen ground.

Buddy cars, Team Anyway 38, us 39, Garrett Kristen Arendt 40_web
Left to right: Mercedes and Andy Lilienthal, Judy and JR Russell, Garrett and Kristen Arendt

It was here I decided to record random thoughts that were blurted out from our vehicles as we drove thousands of miles to the finish line. I bring to you a collection of opinions that form, “You know you’re on the Alcan when …”

Thanks to Garrett Arendt and JR Russell for chiming in. Hope you enjoy!

Judy Russell post breakfast
Judy Russell from team 38 finishes a quick breakfast before another day of competition.

You Know You’re On the Alcan When …

1. Eating one meal a day is optimistic.

2. Driving 160 miles means you’re close to getting somewhere.

3. 4° F is warm.

Alcan 5000 traffic jam Dempster Hwy
Rally traffic jams were a regular occurrence as competitors helped each other get out of ditches or with mechanical problems.

4. The only vehicles on the road other than semis are white Ford Super Duty trucks or road graters (or other Alcan 5000 Rally competitors).

5. You see “watch for specific animal” signs and you see every animal the signs say (except for bears).

Driving the Dempster Hwy before it closed
Road graters are everyone’s best friend in the North. Not only do they keep the roads clear of snow, they can pull even the biggest vehicles out of ditches.

6. A 450-mile drive day is considered short.

7. You get gas at every single stop; we had stops that had no power, were closed for no reason, or more.

1991 Mitsubishi Pajero, aka Terra Tractor
The Pajero’s turbo loved sub-zero temps, it ran like a champ during the entire rally.

8. You see “snow machine crossing” signs in all cities.

9. A 617-mile day that would normally take nine hours, takes us almost 13 in our “slow-but-steady” Pajero.

Yukon Territories sign, Team Crankshaft Culture
The Yukon Territory sign and us, team Crankshaft Culture

10. You cross the Yukon border, take photos of the old sign, and pull a fellow Alcan 5000 Rally competitor out of the ditch on the highway—all within 10 minutes of each other.

11. The road goes on forever and never ends. (JR)

Driving the Dempster
The Dempster Highway goes on, and on, and on …

12. One spare tire just doesn’t seem like enough. (Garrett)

13. A river crossing sign says closed but it’s not and it doesn’t slow you down a bit.

Arctic Circle Alaska jerry can fill-up
JR Russell fills up the Jeep at the Arctic Circle sign, Alaska

14. You never pass gas! (JR)

15. You’re on a first-name basis with the gas station fuel guy in Inuvik, NT Canada!

Team Crankshaft Culture, in outer gear
Temps plummeted to -40 during the 2020 Alcan 5000 Rally.

16. It’s -15°F outside and you think it’s warmed up quite a bit (major heatwave from -39°F).

17. Brown is the new black. (Referring to road color)

18. You look over and see a frozen body of water zooming by you at the same eye level as you are.

Pinky swear to not kill each other
Morning ritual of pinky swears to not to kill each other during competition

19. A 12 hour drive day is a short day. (JR)

20. After 12 hours of driving and the sun never gets about 15 ° off the ground. (Garrett)

21. You’re driving 75mph and you’re the slow one. (JR)

Team 38 Jeep JK
Judy and JR Russel with their Jeep JK

22. You don’t see an Amazon Prime van delivering goods. (Garrett)

23. Halfway to “almost there” equals 200 more miles.

Team Anyway 38, team 40, 39 Pajero plus others for TSD
Team “Back of the Bus” awaits the next TSD rally.

24. You don’t remember the last time you switched from 4WD to 2WD.

25. You bring along your own porta-potty when ice fishing.

Team 40 Lexus GX470
Kristen and Garrett Arendt with their team 40 Lexus GX470

26. Snow- and ice-covered roads are more common than dry pavement.

27. You spend more time driving in the center often road than in your own lane.

29. You get back onto roads that have painted stripes on them and it feels weird.

Team 40 Garrett Arendt filling up Lexus
Garrett filling up team 40’s Lexus—never pass gas!

30. Fuel stops that HAVE fuel still may not.

31. You measure “almost there” in hours, not minutes.

Post Klondike Hwy ditch dive
Loads of vehicles needed to be recovered from ditches, including our Pajero.

32. On your only day off you decide to drive 500 more miles to conquer another Alcan 5000 Rally “extreme challenge.”

33. The groomed ice is nicer than the pavement you’re driving on.

Sour toe cocktail time
We all completed Dawson City Hotel’s famed sour toe cocktail challenge! Yum.

34. You know what “Coldfoot” and “sour toe” mean.

35. Wearing one layer of pants feels weird.

36. : You bitch slap a ptarmigan [bird] with your front grille. (Rod Sorenson)

37. A doggie bone equals a moose leg.

Alcan 5000 Rally TSD route book
Learning how to calculate TSD rallies are a challenge when you’re in kilometers per hour, have a different tire size, and are new to the game.

38. Driving normally without resetting odometers, giving odometer checks, and lack of constant radio communications feels weird.

39. When the last bit of pre-Covid normalcy was rallying the Arctic wonderland with a right-hand-drive diesel Pajero in the dead of winter!

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