U. S. North to South: Seattle WA and Portland OR, welcoming Bob

1. Bob Seattle 3Bob will be my ride for the next three weeks. 

If you thought I got lost somewhere in southern Alaska, you thought wrong! After last stopping in Ketchikan Alaska, we are now hitting Seattle in Washington state and for the remaining part of this U.S. North to South series I have the privilege to drive a 2015 Ram 2500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 Turbo Diesel. I baptised last year’s Ram 1500 Albert, and this year I will follow the letters of the alphabet, just like for hurricanes. My ride for this U.S. North to South drive will be named Bob. First impressions below, where we also elucidate the mystery of Ford Seattle license plates 2.000 miles up north in Barrow, Alaska…

2. Bob Seattle 4

But first, I hear you ask: why a male nickname? Here’s the thing: in France where I am from, everything is sexualised (nothing new here) and everything has a gender. Trucks, including pickups, are male, while passenger cars are female. So even though I have now called Australia home for thirteen years, naming my truck Barbara is just wrong, very wrong to me. So Bob it is. This Ram 2500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 8′ Box Turbo Diesel retails for $48.565.

Bob is a Heavy Duty Turbo Diesel

A little bit over a year ago when I took the wheel of Albert the Ram 1500, I was surprised at how car-like nimble it was. Bob is a whole different story altogether. Even though it is part of the same family of pickups and counted together in the monthly sales charts, stepping up from a Ram 1500 to a Ram 2500 is exactly like going from a car to a truck. Last year I would have liked Albert to sound more manly: as astoundingly frugal as it was (I reached 30 mpg), the 3.0L Ecodiesel did not sound like I was driving an actual truck. With its 6.7L Cummins Turbo Diesel engine, Bob is every bit of the truck I had always dreamt of driving across the United States. Sounds like a truck, and feels like a truck to drive too.

3. Bob Gearbox

Being European I am used to handling manual gearboxes, I have done so all my life to the point where automatic feels eerily unnatural to me. Here too Bob is a step-up though. Contrasting with the automatic rotary shifter featured on the Ram 1500, Bob’s manual lever is gigantic and lodged on the dashboard – not the floor – feeling like a good old-fashioned truck – or bus for that matter. Giving away its primary function as workhorse, Bob’s first three gears are very short, making for interesting starts at red lights and a full contrast to the Tesla Model S I drove earlier this year!

4. Bob Seattle 2

Bob sits very high on its wheels, requiring a windshield-side handle and muscled legs to jump in. Its 8′ box makes it a longer vehicle than most in the city, so I feel taller and bigger, and I also take a lot more space on the road. All this combines very nicely to give a quintessential U.S. truck experience. It took me a day to get used to his little quirks, but Bob and I are now ready to roll! First stop: downtown Seattle. Navigating this monster in the (very) steep and narrow Seattle streets is a baptism-by-fire akin to my Manhattan experience with Albert last year. Parking on the street is no option: there are no (free) parking spots large enough. My only way out was the outdoor oversize section of an underground parking lot. Full-size pickup trucks are definitely frowned upon in green-obsessed Seattle…

5. Seattle Chowder queueOnly in Seattle: two hour-queue for a chowder.

5. Seattle Elephant Garlic

Now onto Seattle as a city. I had no expectations, but wasn’t thrilled either. Healthily grounded after two full weeks spent in mostly remote Alaska, I was somehow looking forward to a more “sophisticated” experience for lack of a better word. But the town’s crowd of latte-sipping hipsters, suit-wearing buskers and queue-making chowder-eaters have left me unimpressed. Pike Place Market is a must-see but nothing out of the ordinary for a Frenchman. It was however nice to enter the very first Starbucks coffeeshop ever built, located nearby. I think it’s time to hit the road.

4. Toyota Prius Taxi SeattleToyota Prius Taxi in Seattle 

But before we do so, a word on the best-selling cars in Washington state (See all the sales figures for the ten states visited here). With Seattle as the main population hub, it’s a passenger car-dominated state with the Top 3 sellers belonging to that segment: the Toyota Camry, Corolla and Subaru Outback. Although less prominent than in Alaska, the Subaru craze is still raging here indeed, as is the case the entire Northwestern part of the United States. A healthy amount of privately-owned Subaru Outbacks can be spotted all through town and outside as I witnessed during a day trip to Snoqualmie Falls. In fact, the best-selling “light truck” in WA and 4th overall is the Subaru Forester, outselling the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado in a rare achievement.

6. Toyota Prius SeattlePike Place Market in Seattle

Seattle is the kingdom of eco-friendly cars. The tone is given as soon as we leave the airport with a Tesla depot in full view housing dozens of Model S awaiting delivery. A multitude of Toyota Prius can be seen streaming along its streets, with the majority of the town’s taxis being Priuses too. All recent launches in the category are well represented, including the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and three BMW i3 spotted in a matter of hours.

7. Ford F-150 Seattle2015 Ford F-150 in Snoqualmie Falls.

Compared to Alaska, the car and truck landscape is definitely newer: there are no more old F-Series on the roads while they are still legion up north: I only spotted one 1980s model in two days. I also saw my first Scion iA and new generation Hyundai Tucson of the trip. On this last point, Hyundai is grabbing a much higher market share on the Washington car market than it was in Alaska, with a constant flow of Elantras (#4 passenger car here so far in 2015) gracing the Seattle roads.

8. Chrysler 200 SeattleChrysler 200 in Seattle

Seattle may be green, yet it is still socially awkward: while the traffic was at a standstill for miles on all lanes of the highway on the way back from Snoqualmie Falls, the two-people vehicle lane was totally empty…

11. Plymouth Seattle

Just miles south of Seattle in Renton near the Seattle Tacoma airport, I was able to elucidate a mystery I mentioned while still in Barrow in Northern Alaska. There I spotted a number of Fords with a Sound Ford license plate. According to the Sound Ford website, it is about to celebrate 40 consecutive years as the #1 Volume Ford dealer in Washington. A quick chat with Derek, salesman at Sound Ford Renton, tells us why we can find cars from this dealership all the way up northern Alaska 2.000 miles away: “Yes we do ship a lot of cars to Alaska indeed. Here around Seattle you have a dozen Ford dealers in the area, so the competition is intense. Our retail prices are much lower than what Ford is able to charge in Anchorage, Alaska. Customers purchase their cars on our website, give us instructions as to which port and barge to drive the car to, we unload the car in the barge and they pick it up in Barrow. Barge transport to Alaska costs around $1.000 and even when factoring that cost in, these customers end up saving $5.000 to $10.000 per vehicle by purchasing it here instead of in Anchorage.” It all makes sense now, and looking at the most frequent cars in Barrow I would guess a lot of Ford F-150 pickups have made the leisurely 3-week barge trip around the Bering straits, waving at Russia on the way.

10. Bob Optimus PrimeBob and Optimus Prime

It’s now time to take Bob on the road and for his first day of highway we are headed south to Portland, Oregon. On the way and thanks to a tip from fellow TTAC writer Cameron Aubernon I got Bob to meet with Optimus Prime from the latest Transformers blockbuster movie, keeping him on his toes and showing him that even though he was a monster on the road, he was still no match for the modified Mack truck…

12. Smart Fortwo PortlandSmart Fortwo in Portland

According to the Lonely Planet, Portland is “an up-and-coming destination that has finally arrived and a can’t-miss stop on your adventures in the Pacific Northwest”. Once again and I’m sorry I feel this way, but I found it to be an over-rated snobbish town. This is not what I am doing this drive for, rather big skies and National Parks. The car park in Portland however makes for interesting observations: more Smart Fortwos here than in the rest of the U.S. combined (only a slight exaggeration), Teslas Ecocab taxis and customers that have fully embraced the revived Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickups.

11. Subaru Outback PortlandFavourites in Portland: the Subaru Outback and Forester.

Looking at the official car sales figures for 2015 in Oregon, we find an eerily similar picture than that of Alaska: the overall best-seller is the Ram pickup, so Bob feels right at home, followed by the Subaru Outback, Toyota Camry and Subaru Forester. The Ford F-150 is knocked out to 4th overall, with the Toyota Tacoma at #4 light truck confirming the taste of Oregon customers for mid-sized pickups.

I won’t spend the night here but will drive a further couple of hours east to sleep in The Dalles, at the border between Washington and Oregon, in the first of many Motel 6 hotels I will stay at during this trip. The good news in this part of the country is the low gas prices: from $2.729 a gallon of diesel in Anchorage to $2.299 Seattle and $2.599 in The Dalles. That’s up to a full dollar per gallon less than what I was paying last year, and will make up for the weaker fuel economy of my Ram 2500, standing in the low twenties for now.

Next we cross Idaho to reach Glacier National Park in Montana. Stay tuned!

U.S. North to South 2015: Wrangell and Ketchikan, Alaska

1. Ford F-150 WrangellFord F-150 in Wrangell, Alaska

Leaving Petersburg to continue on our way south requires a ferry as Petersburg’s road network only reaches 30 miles out of town and does not cross any water along the way. Next we visit Wrangell and Ketchikan before leaving Alaska for good. As well as analysing the car park in these two tiny towns, this is an opportunity for me to try and convey to you how it feels to take the most common means of transportation in Southeastern Alaska: the ferry.

“This is our highway, this is how we transport stuff” said one of the boat stewards during one of our trips. It really does feel that way on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry.

Wrangell street scene 4Our ferry posing in Wrangell, Alaska

Slow, convoluted and expensive as soon as you need to transport more than just yourself, the Marine Highway is your bloodline if you are one of the 95 percent of Southern Alaskans that don’t own a personal floatplane. I saw locals drive into the car deck, drop their cargo and leave before the ship set sail as someone else would be picking it up the cargo at its destination. Visit times for pets on the car deck are regimented and religiously respected, and the snack bar is open 22 hours per day.

The ferry allows life to go on uninterrupted here.

Ford F-250 KetchikanFord F-250 in Ketchikan, Alaska

The Alaska Marine Highway takes you either way from Skagway in Southern Alaska to Haines (1 hour), Juneau (5 1/2 hours), Petersburg (10 hours), Wrangell (4 hours), Ketchikan (6 hours) and finally to Prince Rupert in British Columbia, Canada (13 hours) or Bellingham in Washington State, USA (39 hours). The ferries operate almost daily during summer and all but stop in winter. Twice a month during summer the ferry crosses the Gulf of Alaska from Haines to Yakutat then on to Whittier near Anchorage.

Wrangell Alaska

I took the Juneau to Bellingham arm of the trip, meaning I never left U.S. territory and the various ferries I hopped on all stayed on Alaskan time (one hour behind Pacific time). Being that the ferry is a service provided by the State of Alaska, onboard personnel are public servants which creates a rather interesting anomaly: it is illegal to tip waiters! The times to reach places are obviously longer, but it does make you re-evaluate car transport as the default option for everything.

Ford F-Series Wrangell

This slower pace and unique route also gives you access to completely unscathed huge swaths of wilderness. Literally thousands of miles of forests, fjords, glaciers, snow-capped alpine peaks, and — to my relief — a very calm sea, are what you’ll be met with on this journey. If you think you were lucky spotting one humpback whale on your last touristic outing, the waters in this part of the world are literally streaming with them to the point where I can’t remember how many I spotted, especially between Juneau and Petersburg. Sometimes two or three of them do a simultaneous tail wave. Sailing Alaska’s waters is an absolutely unforgettable experience and one I highly recommend over flying if you find yourself in this part of the world. As the weather is highly unpredictable, chances are you won’t see anything from a plane anyway.

Wrangell street scene

My most eagerly anticipated crossing during my ferry trip was just after Petersburg: the Wrangell Narrows passage — a.k.a. ‘pinball alley’ — which requires the vessel to negotiate 46 turns during a 22-mile section that is only 300 feet wide and 19 feet deep at times. I was expecting steep cliffs on each side but the landscape was actually quite flat and made the crossing a little less impressive from the boat. It would be quite a sight from shore to see the ferry towering over its surroundings.

We then arrived at Wrangell, one of the oldest towns in Alaska and the only one to have existed under three flags and ruled by four nations: Tlingit, Russia, Britain and America.

Toyota Tundra Wrangell

During the gold rushes up the nearby Stikine River between 1861 and 1897, Wrangell was described as a “lawless, ruthless pit”. With the timber industry crashing in the 1990s, Wrangell has been struggling to find its balance, though it seems now to have turned a corner as the town is gaining residents (as opposed to Petersburg) according to the 2010 census. Cruise ships are only a once-a-week occurrence, so the town is less gentrified. Welcoming locals take pride in making sure you don’t miss the ‘elephant head’ mountain across from town, even if you just stop for the 15 minutes the ferry allows.

The car park of Wrangell is a collection of middle-aged, full-sized pickups such as 1980s Ford F-150s and early 2000s Ford F-250s, as well as a few mid-sized trucks like the Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma. SUVs follow while passenger cars are rare.

GMC Sierra Ketchikan

From there I went to Ketchikan. Once known as the “Canned Salmon Capital of the World,” Ketchikan now settles for the “First City” tagline as this is the first Alaskan port for northbound ferries and cruise ships. Fishing still accounts for roughly one-third of the local economy, but tourism is what makes this town’s heart beat. Somewhat sadly, Ketchikan is now a major cruise ship port-of-call, though no ships were denaturing the landscape while I was here. Another (sizeable if you ask me) handicap of Ketchikan is its unbelievable annual rainfall.

Ford F-350 Ketchikan

Looking up the Ketchikan section on the Alaska Lonely Planet reads: “If you stay in Ketchikan longer than an hour, chances are good that it will rain at least once if not several times.”

Correct.

Note that local residents have given up using umbrellas and go on with their life as if the sun was shining at its fullest. Ketchikan’s cruise-ship-induced wealth is noticeable on the street: brand-new Ford F-250s and Ram 2500s are a common occurrence. The larger the better as far as Ketchikan inhabitants are concerned. You can see all Alaskan sales figures here.

Ketchikan street scene

Next we leave Alaska to hit Seattle, Washington.

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U.S. North to South 2015: Petersburg, Alaska

1. GMC Sierra Petersburg AlaskaGMC Sierra in Petersburg, Alaska

After stopping in Juneau, we now take the Alaska Marine Highway — the ferry in simple terms — on a little over five hour sail to reach the next town in our journey: Petersburg, definitely the most picturesque fishing station I got to visit in Alaska. Nicknamed Little Norway and founded in 1897 by Peter Buschmann, who gave the town its name, Petersburg still displays a very strong Norwegian influence, with many buildings decorated with flowery Norwegian rosemaling paintings. In fact, many of Petersburg’s residents can trace their heritage back to Norwegian ancestors and there was a time when Norwegian was still commonly heard on the street.

Home to less than 3,000 inhabitants, Petersburg gets all effervescent around 5 p.m. when everyone is out to buy dinner before falling back into sleepiness. Fishing is the backbone of the economy here, with 123 million pounds of catch landed in 2013. Renting a car for the day allowed me to explore Mitkof Island on which Petersburg is located and tick one of my goals for this trip: spot a bear in the wild!

2. Ford F550 Petersburg AlaskaFord F550 in Petersburg, Alaska

The main reason behind Petersburg’s picturesque status is the fact that no 2,000 passenger-cruise ship stops here: the passages to reach Petersburg from the South are way too narrow for this type of vessel. They’re called the Wrangell Narrows for a reason. Only the Alaska Marine Highway ferries come here, and that’s how we reached this secluded spot.

But back to what we’re here for. What are the most popular vehicles in Petersburg?

Chevrolet Silverado Petersburg Alaska 2

As opposed to Juneau, there is no car dealership in Petersburg and the road network only extends to the island on which the town is located — Mitkof Island — but no further! This means all vehicles here had to be shipped here by boat. Travelling to Petersburg can only be done by boat or plane, with flights to Anchorage or Seattle.

3. Ford F150 Petersburg Alaska 3

Petersburg inhabitants hold on dearly to their cars, as evidenced by the solid number of 1980s Toyota Tercel wagons and hatches spotted in town. However, the most endearing vehicles were 1970s and 1980s Ford F-Series and Dodge Ram pickup trucks valiantly cruising the town and logging roads around it.

Toyota Tercel Petersburg Alaska

According to the State of Alaska, 1,728 passenger vehicles, 1,444 pickup trucks, 167 snowmobiles and 1,437 boats were registered in the Petersburg Borough as of 2013. It sure seemed like nearly all those passenger vehicles were hidden somewhere I couldn’t find them as 75 percent of vehicles on the road were pickup trucks. This is the highest percentage I have witnessed in all of Alaska.

10. Dodge Pickup Petersburg Alaska

7. Petersburg Pickups 2

If a pickup truck was on sale in the U.S. at some stage in the past 30 years, you can be sure at least one example of it still survives in Petersburg. Even the slow-selling pickups that were destined to be discontinued enjoy a second wind here; Ford Explorer Sport Track and Honda Ridgeline, I’m looking at you. The Nissan Titan, about to be relaunched in December year, has also enjoyed a very satisfying career in Petersburg as opposed to the rest of the country.

Toyota Tacoma Petersburg Alaska 2

Mid-size pickups have also been extremely successful here, rivalling the full-size ones in number. The most successful of them is the Toyota Tacoma, distinctly more frequent on Petersburg streets than the full-size Tundra. Accordingly, the Dodge Dakota was also very popular looking at the number of them surviving now, and I have spotted a solid number of Nissan Frontiers (all generations) and Chevrolet Colorados (previous generations) as well as one new-generation Colorado.

6. Ram 1500 Petersburg Alaska

Onto the full-size pickup category: the Ram should honour its #1 Alaskan title (see all sales figures here) in Petersburg as well but it is not clear-cut. The Ford F-Series is giving it a run for its money. I spotted a multitude of workhorses all through town, mainly Ford F-250 and F-350 heavy duties, and even one F-550 on the harbour! I also spotted one shiny new 2015 F-150 belonging to the State of Alaska.

9. Ford F350 Petersburg Alaska

Yes, there are vehicles other than pickups in Petersburg, but they are rare. The first different type of vehicle I noticed was, logically, full-size pickup-derived SUVs such as the Dodge Durango — but no current generation examples. There are also passenger cars. Subaru is strong here with the XV Crosstrek well represented, but nowhere near as dominant as in Juneau or even Anchorage.

Chevrolet Impala Petersburg Alaska

One passenger car I got to drive around was our rental for the day: a 2010 Chevrolet Impala. Last year, when I took the wheel of Albert, my Ram 1500 Tradesman, I was surprised at how manoeuvrable it was for a full-size pickup. This time it was the reverse. I was expecting a relatively nimble car, but everything inside made you feel like you were actually driving a truck: the seats and steering wheel didn’t adjust well, the driving position is awkward with the wheel sitting way too high — even though I’m no midget. The brakes were weak; the wipers tired. Not impressed at all.

3. Ford F150 Petersburg Alaska 2

Our Impala nevertheless took us to the wilderness, with all logging roads on the island perfectly drivable during this time of year (early fall). Eerily majestic landscapes of endless pine forests, fjords, glaciers, alpine snow caps and quiet lakes await you here. And the drive was very fruitful with wildlife; bald eagles, beavers, deer and porcupines all spotted all in the space of a couple of hours, in addition to the much-treasured black bear cub I mentioned earlier.

Petersburg street scene 3

About bear encounters: there is a sign in one of the only restaurants in town that says “don’t feed the bears, no matter what they say”. And you better not because it is illegal in Alaska, as is harassing wildlife. Mitkof Island is populated almost exclusively by the black variety of bears.

8. Lincoln Navigator Petersburg Alaska

Even though the likelihood of being injured by a bear in Alaska is about 1/50th that of being injured in a car on a state highway, coming across a cub is particularly dangerous. Why? Because it almost certainly means you find yourself between the cub and its mother and that’s an invitation for her to attack. I may not be happily writing these lines if mother bear had shown herself. Fortunately, she remained hidden and allowed us a precious ten minutes of observation before the cub crossed the road back into the depths of the forest.

4. Nissan Titan Petersburg Alaska

On arrival late at night, in the middle of a raging rain, we were met by a rather taciturn hotel receptionist I had to wake up from his torpor for him to come pick us up at the ferry terminal as agreed (even though Petersburg is tiny, you won’t go far without a car). I soon learned that he was the exception in town: some of the most friendly and helpful people on my entire trip were found in Petersburg, with a sense of humour that never leaves them, as seen on the front window of one of the few hardware stores in town: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!”

11. Petersburg housePetersburg house

Without the very detailed explanations from the Scandia House receptionist upon picking up our rental, we would never have seen all the wildlife we spotted and probably wouldn’t have ventured so deep into the forest. Even the ticket controller on the ferry out of town stopped us to eagerly enquire whether we had fun in Petersburg. She wouldn’t take just yes for an answer, she wanted to know more. Did we see any animals? Her day was made when we proudly announced that yes, we spotted a black bear cub, among many others. High five to you, Petersburgers!

Ford F150 Petersburg Alaska 4

Next we continue down South via the Alaska Marine Highway to Wrangell and Ketchikan, our last two stops in Alaska.

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U.S. North to South 2015: Juneau, Alaska

Chevrolet Colorado JuneauChevrolet Colorado in Juneau, Alaska

After Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, we fly south-east to Alaska’s capital city, Juneau.

Juneau is continental America’s only state capital that cannot be reached by car — only boat or plane — as its road network does not connect it to any other towns. It is bound to stay that way as half its residents and its mayor opposed a plan to build a road that would. But even though you can’t drive anywhere, Juneau has a very dynamic car park.

First, a little more trivia on Juneau, which owes its existence to Alaska’s first major gold strike in 1880 and was the first town to be founded after Alaska’s purchase from the Russians in 1867. The Alaskan capital was originally Sitka on the Pacific Ocean coast, but after the whaling and fur trade declined and reduced Sitka’s importance, it was moved to Juneau in 1906 and remains so until today, despite many challenges to move it again as I described in the previous episode of this series.

Subaru Forester JuneauThe Subaru Forester is the best-selling new vehicle in Juneau, Alaska.

Flying from Anchorage to Juneau is like flying above an altogether different planet. The Bering Glacier, Kluane National Park, Tatshenshini Alsek Park (Canada) and Glacier Bay National Park unfold before your wide open eyes. You’ll see glaciers stretching for over 100 miles before breaking directly onto the Pacific Ocean as tiny-looking icebergs while turquoise waters meander between snow-covered peaks towering the clouds. Landing in Juneau is also an interesting experience, as the landing strip has a parallel waterway to allow take-off and landing of the multitude of float planes present in town.

Juneau street scene 2The main street in downtown Juneau.

Almost a million cruise-ship passengers unload onto Juneau each year, and the historic downtown area all but closes when ships sail away. There are a handful of new car dealerships in Juneau, and they naturally have a drastic impact on the car landscape in town. The most striking element of the Juneau car park is the outstanding domination of Subaru. Roughly one in every five vehicles in circulation in the Alaskan capital is a Subaru, which has to be a world record. Not even at home in Japan can Subaru boast such ratios, which were calculated on a representative sample of 400 vehicles in town.

Subaru Forester Juneau 2Subarus everywhere…

Subaru almost certainly does not command as much as 20 percent of the Juneau new light vehicle market. However, it looks like every owner has been clinging to their Subaru since the first ones hit the streets in the ’80s, resulting in a higher car park ratio. All generations of Forester, Outback, Legacy and Impreza are happily streaming the streets of Juneau.

Subaru Legacy Juneau

Leo from Mendenhall Auto Centre confirmed Subaru is the best-selling brand in town, with the Forester the best-seller by a very large margin. This particular dealership sells roughly five Foresters for every Outback that leaves their lot. Let’s keep in mind Mendenhall Auto Centre is also the official Juneau dealer for Chevrolet, GMC, Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda, but still sells more Subarus than any other brand. Subarus are particularly popular here due to their high ground clearance, safety record, six year warranty and fuel economy — a perfect mix of city driving practicality and countryside roads ability, even though the lonely roads around Juneau are all paved.

Ford F-350 JuneauFord F-350 Super Duty in Juneau, Alaska.

SUVs do dominate in town and outsell the pickups that account for only 25 percent of traffic. We will see this trend reverse as we go further south and the towns get much smaller. The Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V are perennial favourites, but Subarus hold their own against the newest entries. Mendenhall Auto Centre cites a lady customer who test drove both the Honda HR-V and Subaru XV Crosstrek, choosing to purchase the latter as a more able four-wheel drive vehicle.

Juneau street scene

Typically, Subaru owners in Juneau trade in their current two- to five-year-old car for a new one at the dealership. All Subaru models are popular in Juneau, including the XV Crosstrek, Outback and even the Impreza hatchback (I spotted many in town whereas the Impreza is typically rare in the U.S. landscape). The proof is in the pudding: Mendenhall Auto Centre in Juneau had – one – new Impreza left on their lot when I visited. All others had been snapped up already.

Ram Juneau

Logically, Leo also cited the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel as a favourite in town, and that’s in line with the State sales charts placing the Ram Pickup in the overall pole position. The other main dealer in town is Jeep, and there is indeed a definite skew towards more Jeeps in Juneau than in the previous (and next) towns I visited in Alaska. Other notable successes here include the Honda Element and Dodge Durango. Of course, the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado fill the streets as usual, and non-Subaru passenger cars are dominated by the Toyota Corolla and Yaris.

Saturn SL JuneauSaturn SL in Juneau, Alaska.

A special mention to GM’s defunct brand Saturn, showing a solid heritage in Juneau with a few SL models spotted in town.

Leaving Juneau by ferry (and not cruise-ship or plane) is the trickiest, as the town’s ferry terminal is out of reach Juneau’s sadistic bus network stops at the airport and doesn’t go all the way to the ferry terminal in Auke Bay, past the Mendenhall Glacier. Even in Juneau, like elsewhere in the U.S., you’re supposed to have a car. I can’t wait to climb onto my Ram 2500 in Seattle then!

Next we hit Petersburg, further south but still in Alaska.

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U.S. North to South 2015: Anchorage, Alaska

Seward Highway 2Along the Seward Highway, south of Anchorage.

After Barrow and Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, at the extreme north of the United States, we now fly south 620 miles (1,007 km) to Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska but not its capital.

As much as I would have liked to tackle the mighty Dalton Highway, an additional 230 miles and a 14- to 18-hour trip depending on the weather, time and budget constraints meant I had to fly instead, in a semi-cargo plane: the first third of the plane was cargo with the remaining two-thirds for passengers and entry only from the back of the plane. It was the first time I saw such a plane.

On the way, the bonus is sublime panoramas of the former Mt. McKinley, the highest summit in the whole of the United States at 20,320 feet high. Denali, the Indian name for the peak, appropriately means “The Great One”.

Seward Highway

With just over 300,000 inhabitants, Anchorage accounts for 41 percent of the total population of Alaska: only New York City has a larger percentage of residents of the state it is located in (8.5 out of 19.7 million or 43 percent). Anchorage beats New York City when counting the Anchorage metropolitan area which represents 54 percent of the state’s population, and the “railbelt” between Anchorage and Fairbanks at the geographical centre of Alaska contains no less than two-thirds of Alaska’s population. Accordingly, there have been numerous attempts to move Alaska’s state capital from Juneau in the Southeast panhandle to Anchorage or a city closer to it, and all have failed so far.

Ram 1500 AnchorageRam 1500 in Anchorage

After rejecting attempts to move the capital in 1960 and 1962, in 1974 the Alaskan electorate approved the relocation of the capital city to Willow, north of Anchorage, but later rejected it when faced with a $1 billion bill. Another plan to move the capital to Wasilla was rejected in 1994 as well as a plan to move the legislature to the Mat-Su Borough in 2002. Interestingly, however, Anchorage houses twice as many state employees as Juneau, making it the unofficial centre of state and federal government activity in Alaska.

GMC Sierra SewardGMC Sierra in Seward

The last bit of trivia on Anchorage is the one that intrigued me the most. Contrary to the perception of being a totally isolated city, Anchorage is within less than 10 hours by air to roughly 90 percent of the industrialized world. As such, it is a critical refuelling stop for many airlines and home to a major FedEx hub. The furthest main U.S. airport from Anchorage is Miami (4,005 miles/6,445 km), and here is where it becomes interesting: Beijing, China is closer at 3,979 miles (6,404 km), while Moscow, Russia (4,362 miles/7,020 km) and London, England (4,488 miles/7,223 km) are only a tad further.

Subaru Outback AnchorageSubaru Outback in Anchorage

Due to Anchorage’s overbearing demographic weight within the state, the best-selling cars here are defining the Alaskan ranking as a whole. You can find Alaskan sales figures by model for the first 6 months of 2015 here. The five most popular vehicles in Alaska are all trucks, with a surprise overall leader: the Ram Pickup, distancing the Chevy Silverado and Ford F-150, GMC Sierra and Subaru Forester. The best-selling passenger car is another surprise: the Subaru Outback, whereas it only ranks 33rd nationally so far in 2015. This is the start of a continuous home run all through the north-west of the country by Subaru, as I will detail in this series. The Outback outsells the Chrysler 200, the Toyota Camry, Dodge Charger and Chevy Cruze. The detailed sales figures are here.

Anchorage street sceneAnchorage street scene

Coming from the Arctic Ocean, the vicious rain and wind that welcomed me in Anchorage almost seemed mild. Downtown Anchorage has a double personality: during bad weather it seems like a city of big, bland and grey buildings, but when the sun comes out, suddenly a myriad of cute little wooden houses seem to appear out of nowhere. Giant Arctic-themed murals brighten up the town in any case. Friendly residents seem to be convinced you have to be insane to live in Anchorage, and even more insane to travel from Sydney, Australia to come here and enjoy the … cold? Unpretentious and curious would best describe Anchoragites (that is the correct demonym), and they know how to deliver a succulent halibut burger at Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse. I had all my dinners there.

Ford F-150 SewardFord F-150 in Seward

How does the Anchorage car landscape reflect Alaskan sales? Full-size pickups rule here, and mid-size ones such as the Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier are sparse. When Anchorites buy pickup trucks, they mean it: I spotted a very high ratio of spruced up, elevated and big-footed full-size pickups here. Rams and Chevys are indeed more frequent than Fords, and I fittingly only managed to spot one new generation F-150 in the three days I spent in town. That’s as many F-150s as in two hours in Prudhoe Bay! The GMC Sierra is clearly outperforming its national performance here in Alaska, and we’ll have official confirmation of this shortly at the Anchorage GM dealership.

Subaru XV AnchorageSubaru XV and Mazda CX-3 in Anchorage

There is a clear and strong Subaru heritage in Anchorage, including a rare Baja pickup, but the majority are starting to age even though the Outback is indeed the most frequent new passenger car downtown. The Toyota Camry justifies its third position in the Alaskan passenger car ranking with a solid presence of the new generation already, while we will need to drive out of Anchorage into the touristy fjords to understand the particularly high rankings of the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Charger in Alaska. I also spotted the first Mazda CX-3 of this trip as well as the first new-generatuon Volvo XC90.

The GM dealership in Anchorage displays a handful of Chevrolet Silverados with snowplows already pre-fitted! That’s a first, as far as I am concerned. I had to have a chat with someone there.

GMC Canyon AnchorageGeorge LaMoureaux from the GM Anchorage dealership

And what a character I met! George LaMoureaux, Sales Consultant at “the largest General Motors dealership in the north-east”, is an advanced mountaineer who has climbed neighbouring Mt. McKinley/Denali and … Mt. Everest! LaMoureaux estimates that roughly 70 percent of new vehicles sold in the dealership are light trucks — well above the 55-percent national average — and, confirming the sales figures and my observations above, the GMC Sierra over-performs with a 35-65 Sierra-Silverado mix instead of 27-73 nationally so far in 2015.

GM Anchorage

According to LaMoureaux, the Sierra and Silverado are interchangeable in the eyes of customers: if they find a model, finish or equipment in the lot that is what they need, they will drive out of the store in a Sierra even if they came in wanting to buy a Silverado, and vice-versa. This would mean there is very little brand loyalty to GMC and Chevrolet and more so to General Motors brands as a whole, a rather interesting find as far as I am concerned as the dual-branding strategy General Motors is using has always intrigued me. Positioning GMC as both premium and industrial is an oxymoron but it enables GM to hit price points with the Sierra that it wouldn’t be able to with the Chevrolet brand. Yet, with the GM full-size pickups outselling the Ford F-Series in the U.S. every month this year, this dual-brand strategy means GM is missing out on the title of best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Is it worth it?

Chevrolet Silverado snowplow Anchorage

On the subject of mid-size pickups, which surprised me by their rarity in town, I saw just two Chevy Colorados on the lot and no more than eight GMC Canyons. LaMoureaux affirms there isn’t enough stock to meet a very significant, pent-up demand that has accumulated during the two years these nameplates were discontinued. Given I have seen no new Colorado nor Canyon models in the streets of Anchorage, whereas I saw some further downstate where the population is much smaller, I would beg to differ. I drove a $41,540 GMC Canyon whose front space didn’t feel smaller than the Ram 1500 I drove last year. A refined interior and very solid boost at kick off would have been the perfect companions for our explorations outside Anchorage. Unfortunately, I visited the GM dealership at the end of my stay here and my ride was a puny Ford Fiesta. Gotta try everything that’s available, right?

Chrysler 200 Seward HighwayRental Chrysler 200 along the Seward Highway.

If you are thinking of visiting Anchorage, its surroundings are a lot more interesting than the city itself, so it is a must to escape the city.

North towards Fairbanks led me to rainy, sleepy and friendly Talkeetna, and eerie Eklutna Lake where I got to chat with a moose hunter/army officer that had just been in the wild for a full week. There, the 1987 Ford F-Series still dominates the vehicle landscape. The journey southbound from Anchorage on the Seward Highway is an uninterrupted panorama of snow-capped mountains, glaciers breaking into icebergs onto the sea, and picturesque fishing villages ending on the posh town of Seward. I have travelled a fair bit in my life but never before have I seen such a mesmerizing succession of unbelievably beautiful landscapes. Everywhere you looked could be the main picture of an annual calendar. And this is where I spotted a thick flow of Chrysler 200s, meaning its #2 ranking in Alaska is almost entirely due to sales to rental companies. It goes the same for the Dodge Charger.

Ford Fiesta rental AnchorageMy rental Ford Fiesta

On both these journeys I drove Ford Fiesta sedans. In fact, two different ones that each had their nagging defaults. The first, older one has a central console that features so many buttons that it’s a lot safer to just ignore everything and concentrate on the road. The second one — slightly more recent — had fixed the central console issue by replacing all the buttons with a touchscreen that was as confusing as the now-gone buttons. Both models were flimsy: I may or may not have dislodged the rear mirror command while stepping into the car (!), and during heavy rain such as what I endured on my way north of Anchorage, aquaplaning comes standard. On the plus side, the boot is enormous for a car this size, and fuel economy is so good it only cost $20 to refuel after each full-day drive.

Next stop is Juneau, the actual capital of Alaska.

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U.S. North to South 2015: See the Top-selling vehicles in each State visited

Ram 2500 Montana USA October 2015The Ram pickup is the best-selling vehicle in Montana so far in 2015.

* Click on title to see the Top 5 best-selling light trucks and Top 5 cars in each U.S. state *

Here you will find the Top 5 best-sellers in the light truck category – that’s pickups and SUVs – and the Top 5 passenger cars in all States I am going through for this U.S. North to South series. This means, in alphabetical order: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. Utah will be uploaded shortly. The data covers the first 6 months of 2015 which is the most recent data available for such a level of detail in the U.S.

Subaru Outback USA September 2015. Picture courtesy caranddriver.comThe Subaru Outback is the #1 passenger car in five of the states I am visiting this year.

We learn that the Subaru Outback is the #1 passenger car in no less than five states, the other winners in the PC category being the Toyota Camry (two states) Hyundai Elantra and Honda Civic (one each). No luck for U.S. manufacturers in this category: the best performing yankees are the Chevrolet Impala (best ranking: #2 in Montana), Chrysler 200 (#2 in Alaska), Chevrolet Cruze (#2 in Wyoming), Dodge Charger and Ford Focus (both peaking at #4).

In the light truck category, the separation of the Ford F-150, F-250 and F-350 Super Duty makes the ranking a lot more interesting – and realistic. Surprise: the Ram Pickup wins five states, while the Chevrolet Silverado and Ford F-150 each win two states. The Subaru Forester is an impressive best-seller in Washington.

See the Top 5 best-sellers for 9 U.S. states below.

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U.S. North to South 2015: Prudhoe Bay, Alaska

1. Ford F-350 Prudhoe BayFord F-350 in Prudhoe Bay, AK

After starting in Barrow, the northernmost settlement in the United States, our second stop takes us 200 miles (320 km) south east to Prudhoe Bay, again on the Arctic Ocean. As I detailed in the opening report, there are no roads linking Barrow to Prudhoe Bay, only barge transport during the summer (the barge season had already ended by the time I visited) and ice roads when the ice layer on lakes is thick enough to drive, generally only in March.

2. GMC Sierra Prudhoe Bay OversizeGMC Sierra in Prudhoe Bay, AK

Therefore, the only option right now is to travel by plane, which explains why there are no less than three flights per day connecting Barrow to Prudhoe Bay (two during the week) even outside summer, all operated by Alaska Airlines. Flight time: 35 minutes.

3. Prudhoe Bay AirportPrudhoe Bay/Deadhorse airport

To be more exact, I flew to Deadhorse, located 10 miles inland from actual Prudhoe Bay. I arrived on a cloudy, snowy day for a four-hour stopover and the sky and ground were uniformly white. In fact, it snows in Prudhoe Bay more often than not — about three-quarters of the time. Even if we are located south of Barrow, the climate here is even harsher because of its geographic situation at a crossroads between the Ocean on the north side and a mountain corridor to the south. Prudhoe Bay also gets one of the longest nights in the country. There are a total of 54 days between November 24 and January 18 when the sun doesn’t rise. Inversely, it also sees one of the longest daylights: 63 sun-filled days between May 20 and July 22.

4. Prudhoe Bay 5Prudhoe Bay AK

The mean annual temperature in Prudhoe Bay is 12° F (−11° C), with the warmest month, July, not exceeding a daily average temperature of 46° F (8° C). In the coldest days (rather, continuous nights) of winter, temperatures below −40° F/C are to be expected.

11. Prudhoe Bay 1Prudhoe Bay AK

Let’s shiver for a minute: The highest recorded temperature in Prudhoe Bay is 83° F (28° C) on June 21, 1991, while the lowest is −62° F (−52° C) on January 27, 1989. That’s lower than in Barrow. Where it gets really tricky is when you start calculating wind chill. Prudhoe Bay, due to its location’s heavy winds, recording an official wind chill low at a horrifying −102° F (−74° C) on January 28, 1989, when the air temperature of −54° F (−48° C) combined with wind speed of 36 mph (57 km/h).

7. Prudhoe Bay 3Prudhoe Bay oil fields

These beyond extreme conditions are suitable for only the hardiest wildlife. Prudhoe Bay is home to large herds of caribou and, if you’re lucky, you may spot Arctic foxes, grizzly bears and polar bears. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky. If it’s so harsh, why would humans want to live in such a forsaken environment? One word: Oil.

5. Prudhoe Bay 2Typical Prudhoe Bay prefabricated module

The permanent population of Deadhorse ranges between 25 and 50 residents. However, no household was considered permanently occupied during the 2010 Census. At any given time, up to 3,000 transient workers are based here to support the surrounding Prudhoe Bay oil field, the largest in the United States, as well as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) that transports oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in south central Alaska. The airport, lodging and general store servicing the oil field are all located in Deadhorse, with facilities almost exclusively consisting of pre-fabricated modules shipped here via barge or air cargo. The drilling happens in Prudhoe Bay itself.

8. Ford F-350 Prudhoe Bay 2Ford F-350 in Prudhoe Bay AK

Something very interesting happened during my short stay here. When you put a bunch of strangers together in such an inhospitable environment, they will look out for each other. It only takes 10 minutes to walk a loop from the airport and explore all of Deadhorse, but in that time three trucks stopped to enquire whether I needed a ride anywhere and if I was alright. Everyone driving past waves to you with the biggest smile they can muster.

6. Prudhoe Bay HotelPrudhoe Bay Hotel

Get inside the Prudhoe Bay hotel and customers and employees alike are fighting for the title of friendliest person in town. The hotel has a cafeteria where all food is included in the lodging price but also accepts outside diners, charging a mere $6 for a full lunch-worth of food and free drinks refillable at will. The hotel itself is rather unique, consisting of pre-fab units put together to form a very large structure criss-crossed by endless corridors, all on ground level.

9. Ford F-250 Prudhoe Bay 3Ford F-250 in Prudhoe Bay AK

As I was there toward the end of September, there weren’t many workers staying in the hotel as the high season here is winter. The only time the surface is hard enough to support heavy equipment is when temperatures drop low enough to strengthen the permafrost. That’s when full-time drilling occurs.

10. GMC Sierra Prudhoe BayGMC Sierra

Prudhoe Bay, unlike Barrow, is connected to Alaska’s main transport artery, the Dalton Highway. From here, it reaches Fairbanks 500 miles (800 km) south, a 14- to 18-hour trip. As such, Prudhoe Bay is the unofficial northern terminus of the Pan-American Highway, although this highway isn’t continuous all the way to Ushuaia at the southernmost tip of South America.

12. Ram 5500 Prudhoe BayRam 5500

As tempting as it is, I won’t be driving down the Dalton Highway for lack of time and budget (I would have needed to ship the Ram 2500 from Seattle to here during the summer). Also, there’s another element to consider: safety. As winter approaches, road conditions deteriorate and become only passable by road trains and large trucks, as featured in the first episode of the BBC’s World’s Most Dangerous Roads. I doubt the folks at Ram would have let me drive on this road…

13. Ford F-250 Prudhoe Bay 4Ford F-250

But before we get to the rest of Alaska, let’s have a look at which cars sell best in Prudhoe Bay. As was the case for Barrow, the best-sellers here are not representative of Alaska as a whole, so we’ll cover Alaskan figures when we reach Anchorage. In the meantime, you can check out the FY 2014 best-sellers in all 50 States here.

14. Prudhoe Bay PolicePrudhoe Bay Police

Understandably given the demographic composition of the area, there were no private vehicles that I could see. The entirety of Prudhoe Bay comprises of fleet vehicles in one form or another. I also did not spot a single car. Light, medium and heavy trucks were the norm. A handful of Ford E-Series and GMC Savana vans worked a route between the Prudhoe Bay oil field and Deadhorse airport. There were also a couple of Ford Expeditions, including one owned by the local police, and two Audi Q7s acting as “luxury minivans” to transport higher-ranking oil field officials. I also spotted two now-defunct Ford Excursions — based on the Super Duty line of Ford pickups — produced from 2000 to 2005. Coincidentally, the Excursion was dubbed the Ford Valdez due to its atrocious fuel economy.

Prudhoe Bay 6

Oil drilling companies are purchasing full-size pickups by the truckload (literally) for their workers based in Prudhoe Bay, a majority of them being the Flex Fuel variant repurposed to also use natural gas when needed. Very similarly to the situation in Barrow, Alaska, Ford is king here and accounts for no less than two-thirds of the pickup population in Prudhoe Bay. The F-250, F-150 and F-350 pickups are the most frequently purchased in this order, a few F-550s can also be seen roaming the lonely pair of streets in town, and I also spotted a new generation aluminium F-150, the very first one I’ve seen on this trip.

Prudhoe Bay pickupsPrudhoe Bay is the kingdom of full-sized pickups.

Ram comes second with a healthy count of Ram 2500 pickups and even a couple of Ram 5500. The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and 2500 pickups are markedly less popular with local companies than the previous two brands, followed closely by GMC Sierra pickups. Almost all pickup trucks feature the ubiquitous power plugs sticking out from the front grille we saw in Barrow, to which is added a front grill cover, all this to keep the battery and fluids in the engine from freezing in place at −40° F/C.

Ford F-250 Prudhoe Bay 2

I can sense your face starting to freeze just by reading this article, so without further ado we will fly off to Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska for the next stop…

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U.S. North to South 2015: Barrow, Alaska

21. Ford F150 Barrow 2Ford F-150 in Barrow, Alaska.

Last year, I crossed the United States from Coast to Coast — New York to LA — in a Ram 1500 Tradesman, happily nicknamed Albert. You can follow last year’s coverage here. This year we embark on another crossing, this time from North to South, albeit starting a little further North than you might expect. I’ll hop in a Ram 2500 Tradesman 4×4 in Seattle eventually, but for now, as the area I’ll travel through before Seattle has only an intermittent road network, it will be a mix of planes, rental cars and ferries.

Barrow location. Map powered by mapjam.comLocation of Barrow, Alaska in the United States.

So we start north. But how far north? The furthest North we can: Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost settlement in the United States.

2. Toyota Tundra BarrowToyota Tundra in Barrow, Alaska.

For each State we’ll go through I’ll detail the best-sellers locally, let you know if this is verified on location and speak to a few dealers to explain the variations I witness. For Barrow though, the best-sellers — although fascinating — are not representative of Alaska as a whole, so we’ll cover Alaskan figures when we reach Anchorage. You can check out the best-sellers in all 50 States over the Full Year 2014 here.

8. Welcome to BarrowWelcome to Barrow, self-proclaimed Top of the World!

Barrow, or Utqiaġvik in Inupiaq language, lies on the Arctic Ocean, 320 miles (515 km) north of the Arctic Circle and just 800 miles (1,290 km) south of the North Pole. It is the northernmost city in the United States, with a population of 4,373 as of 2013. Nearby Point Barrow is the U.S.’ northernmost point. And no, we can’t see Russia from our backyard here. Due to its location in north-central Alaska, Barrow is actually 480 miles (770 km) from Russia.

15. Barrow signpostFar from everything… 

4. Barrow centre townBarrow city centre

Due to its extreme geographic location, Barrow experiences the longest day and night in the country. When the sun rises on May 10, it doesn’t set again for nearly three months! That’s 85 consecutive midnight suns to be enjoyed. Inversely, when the sun sets around November 18, Barrow residents won’t see it again until around January 22. Yep, you read that right, over two months without seeing the sun! And on the winter solstice — December 21 — we’re talking about 21 hours of pitch-black darkness and a civil twilight of only three hours. Your (and my) first thought when reading this might be “Where is the alcohol?” Bad call, as alcohol beverages aren’t available in Barrow – a “damp” community. More on this later…

1. Ford F150 Arctic OceanFreezing Ford F-150 in Barrow, Alaska. Click on any picture to enlarge

It won’t come as a surprise to learn that the Barrow climate is classified as polar. Temperatures continuously remain below freezing from early October through to late May and snowfall can occur during any month of the year. The annual mean temperature in Barrow is 9° F (-13° C), with the average temperature in February, the coldest month, dropping to -19° F (-28° C). The highest temperature ever recorded in Barrow is 79° F (26° C) on July 13, 1993, while the lowest is −56° F (−49° C) on February 3, 1924. The Barrow landscape is tundra and we are walking on a permafrost layer that is as much as 1,300 feet (400 m) deep. All houses in Barrow are built on stilts to avoid melting the permafrost on which they rest.

5. Barrow scene

6. Barrow Arctic OceanThe rough Arctic Ocean was threatening Barrow’s main road as I was there.

I stayed in Barrow on September 28 and 29 while the average temperature during the day was 26° F (-3° C). The days were still long with the sun setting around 8 p.m. but it (logically) remained extremely low in the sky throughout the day and cast very long shadows at midday. Speaking with the locals, I learned that this type of weather at this time of year is dangerously mild, with global warming making its full effects felt in town: There was no ice at all on the Arctic Ocean, and the rough sea was threatening to break the levees, made of earth and sand, that protect the main road in town. Residents in Caterpillar trucks were working overtime to rebuild them. Bob Brouillette from the Top of the World hotel told us that the main road in town was washed out a month ago and had to be completely rebuilt. Later-forming sea ice means flooding risks increase and the Ocean eroding the shore is a totally new occurrence that is understandably worrying the local residents.

7. Whale cutting BarrowWhale cutting in Barrow

The population of Barrow is 60-percent Iñupiat Eskimo, an Inuit Alaska Native group that migrated from islands in the Bering Sea to what is now Alaska around 1000 B.C. For comparison, Alaska Natives as a whole represent 16 percent of today’s state population. Before 1940, Natives were still in the majority. The vast majority of the Iñupiat population, estimated at 19,000 across the United States, lives in Alaska. Alcohol destroyed many Native communities in this part of the world — the main reason why alcohol is not for sale in Barrow (thought it can still be personally imported). A fascinating fact about the Iñupiat (along with most Arctic peoples) is the fact they still rely heavily on subsistence hunting and fishing — harvesting walrus, seal, beluga and bowhead whales, polar and grizzly bears, caribou, moose and fish depending on their location.

9. Ford Whale BarrowWhale cuts in the truck bed.

No need to be alarmed here. Some of these species are endangered but their harvesting for subsistence purposes is allowed and regulated for Native populations. Case in point, I was in Barrow in the middle of whale migration season and, although there weren’t any whales being butchered on the day I stayed over, the cuts from the previous week’s harvest were visible on houses’ porches and in truck beds. Barrow Native residents are allowed to catch three whales a day during whaling season. A total of 67 whales a year are quotaed to Native communities along the Arctic Ocean, along with residents of Greenland.

3. Ford F150 Barrow 1Ford F-150 with one of the three daily flights to Anchorage taking off in the background.

Bob Brouillette from the Top of the World Hotel in Barrow proudly showed us the platform north of town where whales are butchered immediately after being tugged onto shore. “A 40-foot whale can be butchered in hours,” Brouillette said. Barrow residents are careful to then dispose the waste whale bones far away from town at Point Barrow as they attract polar bears, a nuisance for locals even if it’s the town’s main touristic attraction. I would have gladly left the bones there myself if it meant I could see a polar bear!

10. Barrow airportWelcomed by a Ford F-250 on arrival at the Will Rogers Barrow Airport

No roads lead to Barrow. The town is surrounded on nearly three sides by the Arctic Ocean, iced a large part of the year except summer, although the icing period is getting shorter and shorter. This means that cargo planes are the only – and expensive – way to ship things to this remote location for a good part of the year. While I was in Barrow, the barge season (July to mid-September) had just ended. During this time, a lot of items, such as cars, are shipped by barge either from Prudhoe Bay or further south in Alaska through the Bering Sea.

11. Barrow airport 2Barrow Airport. The only airline flying to town is Alaska Airlines.

In March only, when the permafrost is at its deepest, locals create ice roads through the bush to reach the Alaskan road network in Prudhoe Bay to the east. However, with warmer winters come thinning ice. This, in addition to the hundreds of holes from abandoned oil drills in the surrounding National Petroleum Area, makes ground travel relatively dangerous and more unpredictable than it used to be. No local would venture on such trips alone and convoys of six or seven cars are organised in order to stay safe.

12. Flex Fuel BarrowMany pickup trucks in circulation in Barrow have the Flex Fuel logo on the back.

Despite the nearby oil being drilled (there was chatter of Shell withdrawing from its Barrow offshore drilling operations while I was there), gasoline stands at an eye-popping $7.00/gallon, a staggering contrast compared to the $2.29 national average and $2.73 in Anchorage. The solution: natural gas, available very easily and cheaply in Barrow with open air gas pipes visible in each street. Many pickup trucks here have “Flexfuel” logos on their back, in this case a misnomer as the trucks are not fuelled with a mix of gas and ethanol, instead fitted with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) fuel tanks and fuel-delivery systems. At the equivalent of $1 for each gallon of natural gas, you’re looking at $10 at most for a full tank if you fill up from your home gas supply. It would cost over $100 with gasoline. Even if the CNG conversion sets you back $7,500 to $9,500, it’s a no-brainer for Barrow residents. Bob from the Top of the World Hotel wonders why everyone isn’t driving a natural gas-enabled vehicle.

16. Ford Escape BarrowThe Ford Escape is a popular choice in Barrow.

So what cars are so good that Barrow locals go to great lengths to ship them here and fuel them at extortionate prices or go to the trouble of installing a CNG conversion kit? It seems Ford has had a stranglehold on the market for many years now, with a continuous flow of private F-150s and Escapes streaming Barrow’s frozen streets. There is a long heritage of the two nameplates up to the current ones, although I did not spot any all-new 2015 aluminum F-150s. All F-Series generations are very well represented here, all the way back to the 1987 model that’s still present in large numbers.

17. Jeep Comanche BarrowJeep Comanche

There is also a relatively strong heritage of Jeeps. I spotted here the very first Jeep Comanche of my entire life. This is a Jeep Cherokee pickup that was on sale from 1984 to 1992. I also spotted a handful of new Cherokees and a few Wranglers. Also popular in Barrow: Hummers. I spotted four of them in just an hour of walking through town.

18. Hummer BarrowHummer in Barrow, AK

As far as fleet cars are concerned, the F-150 is the most popular, followed by a solid count of F-250 and F-350 Super Dutys as well as the Ford Escape and Expedition. The most common taxis are Honda CR-Vs, including one current generation.

13. Barrow parking lot 1Notice the electric outlets in front of each car (and the electric plugs coming out of the grilles)

A few other particularities in Arctic Barrow: People keep their cars running when they go to the supermarket in order to keep the engine warm, even in (almost) summer conditions like now. All outdoor parking lots have an electric outlet for each car. Block heaters keep fluids and the battery from freezing. Finally, I spotted a good number of Fords with a license plate from Sound Found, a car dealership in Seattle, 2,000 miles or 3,200 km away! I will try and crack this enigma when in Seattle…

This concludes our coverage of Barrow, Alaska. Next we are headed east to Prudhoe Bay, so stay tuned!

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