National Geographic Society

  • Connect:

Dr. Oakley, Road Warrior

Turning mileage into memories.

Dr. Michelle Oakley travels far and wide to treat the animals of the Yukon.

Published

Between her long drives to work at various satellite clinics in the Yukon and her international travels, Dr. Oakley racks up a lot of mileage. "I’m afraid to add up the mileage," she says. In a typical month, she estimates that she might spend six to 10 days a month on the road.

Much of her travel is in the Yukon and nearby Alaska, where the rough terrain, snowfall and often brutally cold temperatures make driving a much more arduous experience, one that requires caution and presence of mind. "When you have to drive 160 miles through a mountain pass, along stretches where there’s no one around, you can’t drive out and forget to fill up," she explains. The snow piled up around the road in the pass can be higher than the vehicles. "These are not California freeways," she laughs.

But the countless hours on the road also give Dr. Oakley a break from the rigors of her job. When she’s in the middle of nowhere, out of the reach of cell phone towers, she’s got a chance to tune out distractions. "Sometimes the driving is my only down-time," she says. "I listen to music, do a little car dancing. I listen to a lot of books on tape, if the girls aren’t with me. If they are, we get a chance to chat."

On the occasions when her husband Shane is traveling with her and doing the driving, Dr. Oakley will take the opportunity to catch up on veterinary journal articles, or to read a book. "I just read aloud a biography of Annie Oakley to my nine-year-old while we were travelling," she says. But there are some downsides, she jokes. "He drives like a grandpa, and he likes to listen to recordings of old-time radio shows like Gunsmoke." But she still enjoys his company.