The Alaska Highway attracts hundreds of visitors each summer from all over the world.
This year, Liv and Tove Dahl are joining them, but the purpose of the trip for the mother and daughter is a little different from most.
“I work at the world’s northernmost university,” said Tove Dahl.
She is working with her mother on a two-part psychological study about the nature of “long road trip experiences.”
This first part involves distributing questionnaires, conducting interviews and photographing signs on “both sides of the ocean to understand the nature of long road trip experiences.”
This summer they are tackling the Alaska Highway, while next summer they will be travelling a comparable drive in Norway. These women are part of a team of 50 researchers from six institutions contributing to a study that’s goals are to “improve tourism in Northern Norway,” the “nature of the tourist experience,” and “how to manage resources of all kinds.”
“Northern B.C., the Yukon and Alaska have many similarities to northern Norway,” explained Tove. “We’re a relatively sparsely populated place.
“We have some small cities and large towns dotted here and there with big spaces in between,” she continued.
“If you think of a vacation as going from destination to destination, those spaces can be awfully big.”
She said they’re looking at how to “engage” someone “behind the wheel in those big spaces.”
“We’re curious about how people experiences those spaces in between, and the question down the line is how do we enhance those spaces in between so they become even more engaged in the area they’re in,” explained Tove. “Travelling, in some sense, is time, and in another sense, is space.
“A drive can just be a number of hours where you’re listening to your book on tape or your pre-programmed music and you become oblivious to the space and two hours later you’re at your next destination,” she said.
“Or the space in between can be something that catches your attention, gets you interested, maybe get you to focus on things that maybe you wouldn’t have before.”
She said they’re looking at things that may get people to stop their cars, maybe even get out or “extend your stay in a way that you hadn’t originally planned.”
“Although I’m talking about the Alaska Highway (and) northern Norway, I’m actually talking about a concept of interest – How do you arouse it? How do you sustain it?”
She said the questionnaire focuses on how people feel while on their long trips.
“We ask them about their emotions,” she said.
Tove is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Tromsř.
She said they will be stopping at “campsites and RV gathering places, gas stations, truck stops – (places) where people are stopped anyway.”
Tove noted that her mother, who is a professional photographer, is along to photograph various signs.
“What kind of invitations are there on the road for people to stop?” she questioned. “We would like to be taking stretches of road and documenting all the signs on that particular stretch.”
She said this will prove to be one of their biggest challenges.
“To take those pictures, you have to drive slowly, which is very dangerous,” she said.
She joked that a “police escort would be nice.”
She said the Alaska Highway was chosen because it “has lots of really interesting places and landscapes, has a history, has a geology, has the people, the cultures, the ethnicities (that you just don’t see) if you’re just whizzing through unless you stop.”
It was also chosen because people travelling the highway predominately speak English.
“We can do our first pass with all materials in one language,” she said. “(Plus) there’s some mystique about the Alaska Highway.”
She also noted that Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon have been “really good about telling the story of the road.”
“It’s also well visited,” she said.
Upon their arrival in Alaska, the mother-daughter team will take a ferry to Naniamo before returning home.