Words and photos by Mercedes Lilienthal unless otherwise noted.
Sliding on ice, bone-chilling temps reaching to -40, and almost hitting a wolf on the Dempster Highway near the Arctic Circle equates to an epic Arctic adventure! Rally competitors signed up to do this grueling winter Arctic rally.
They experienced unexpected challenges, thousands of miles of snow- and ice-covered severity, and a rally that’d reveal their inner strengths and weaknesses.
This was the 2020 Alcan 5000 Rally—the Mother of all winter rallies.
- We all lineup pretty excited for a photo at Dawson Creek Mile “0” Alaskan (Alcan) Highway.
Alcan 5000 Rally Specifics
Boasting over 5,120 total rally miles, this year’s rally spanned from Kirkland, Washington due north through all of Canada (including Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic Ocean located in the Northwest Territories). However, that was just a small section of the Arctic winter competition. Contestants ventured from the top of the Earth back down to Whitehorse and rallied over to Fairbanks, Alaska in order to finish in Anchorage the day before the famed Iditarod dog sled races started. It made for a true Arctic adventure contestants won’t soon forget.
Who’d be crazy enough to combine severe snow-induced travel with lack of sleep, constant concentration, vehicular woes, and 10 draining days of long hours to compete in the Alcan 5000 Rally? Couple that with multitude of mini-TSD (time, speed, distance) competitions, an ice race in Dawson City, and optional jaunts to Tuktoyaktuk, NT Coldfoot, AK or Aklavik, NT via a legitimate ice road on top of it all?! Over 40 teams said yes to the Arctic-inducing adventure (including well-known Ultra4 guys like Dave Cole and Loren Healy and other racers or industry folks like Ray Currie and Mel Wade). Additionally, ralliers Johan Cardenas and Joe Salvadori even traveled from New York in a 2015 yellow Jeep Rubicon for this epic expedition. The team was thankful to Chris Corbett from Nitto Tire USA as they rolled on 37x13.50 R17 Exo Grapplers. That in itself was an adventure to cross the country before even getting to the starting line!
All-wheel-drives, front-wheel-drives, and 4x4s took part in this rally. From Subarus to trucks, Mini Coopers and unique vehicles like a ‘70s Mercury Capri or a 1991 diesel right-hand-drive Mitsubishi Pajero rallied their way to the end.
After 41 vehicles signed up for the Alcan 5000 Rally, 38 started the late February rally. Of them, 37 teams finished in Anchorage (car #17 had issues with their alternator and brakes but ultimately their Subaru Impreza developed rod knock and seized). It was towed the last 100+ miles to the finish line, but they indeed finished … a true testament to the spirit of rally and its competitors.
The legendary Alcan 5000 Rally started in 1984 and runs every two years (summer, then winter, then summer, and so on). Still a grass-roots rally, the Alcan 5000 puts man (and woman), plus machine to extreme tests of longevity, rough terrain, and stamina. Whereas races typically take place on closed courses or trails, rallies or TSDs are competitions are driven at or below posted speeds on open public roads where other traffic is often found. Adding to traffic is the extreme variety of wildlife that was witnessed. Bison, moose, caribou, and wolves were discovered along the way. Birds, big-horned sheep, and also random people trekking in the middle of nowhere made ralliers keep a constant look-out.
- driving thru Dawson we encounter a lot of Bison’s on the road Bison.
Broken windshields, busted out fog lights, driveline failures and torn CV boots also played a role in the Alcan 5000 Rally. Failed alternators, bumper damage, and even a rear-end collision between two vehicles still didn’t deter competitors in helping each other and making it across the rally finish line. That is the true spirit of rally.
- Driving the Dempster Highway. It's a funny anecdote, but there's a moral to that story. The Dempster is no joke.
The Alcan 5000 Rally is a beast of a competition, especially in the winter. However, those who organized it, managed it, and competed in it continually came together to help each other out. Constant communications via radios, daily updates, and tips/tricks helped even the most novice contestants. The sense of comradery during the Alcan 5000 Rally was outstanding. People checked on each other, loaned equipment or tools to each other, and lifted each other up when things went wrong. That’s the way to compete, to help ensure everyone was safe, happy, learning, and healthy.
- We had to pulled out the Tim’s Raptor on -40 temps and the most insane snowdrifts.
.The Mother of all winter rallies showcased a team atmosphere not experienced anywhere else. It was a unified, traveling community whose memories will far outshine the challenges that happened along the way. The formidable bond between the 2020 Alcan 5000 Rally group will be forever long—flat tires and oil leaks included.
Every trip poses challenges and rewards—but the common theme is getting out there to enjoy the world. Vehicle-based overlanding or adventuring is the backbone of Gomammut Expedition Tents. So much so that team Johan Cardenas and Joe Salvadori already signed up for the 2022 summer Alcan 5000 Rally.
- Alan Bowman waving at the camera and having a blast on this epic expedition.
- Find my New York license plate at the sign post forest (Watson Lake, Kilometer 980).
- Of course I had to drink the SOURTOE Cocktail with the crew at the Downtown Hotel. “YOU CAN DRINK IT FAST, YOU CAN DRINK IT SLOW, BUT YOUR LIPS MUST TOUCH THE TOE”