Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

Riding the railroad into Alaska’s interior takes Jon Holmes on a journey deep into America’s last frontier, a land of earthquakes, bears, pepper spray, and new railway companions.

Alaska. Out here, you’ll find 700,000 square miles of beauty to contend with. It’s the perfect destination, on paper, for a road trip of epic proportions; the kind you spent long nights—and even longer school days—dreaming about as a teenager. But there’s one teeny, tiny issue: In some parts, there are no roads.

You might think traveling through a country without tarmac could be regarded as problematic and Juneau, the capital, does little to quash those doubts. It has no roads in or out: You fly, get on a boat or wait until winter when vast rivers freeze solid and become impromptu motorways for snowmobiles.

But if you really want to see Alaska, you do as I’m doing, and you take the Alaska Railroad—the mighty metal artery around which the country was built, as it snakes from the south coast up into an immense interior of lakes, forests and blue-white glaciers shuffling their lumpy, creaking masses down to an icy sea.

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.