August 16, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 17 Comments
This is the first part of a two-part article, No. 32 in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska
Until you actually get on the road and enter the Canadian Northwest and Alaska, you can’t appreciate the distances involved — or the grandeur. We made this trip knowing there was a lot to see, but maybe just as important to us was to check “Alaska” off our list of states we’ve visited as RVers. Boy, what an eye-opening experience! It’s a long way up there with lots of rough driving, but we now know we have to return.
As I drove over the past two-and-a-half months, Monique jotted down a few thoughts to include in our articles. Here are some that we haven’t mentioned or didn’t emphasize enough.
Taking Pictures — I wrote an article about photography for RV.net earlier this year called “Keeping a Visual Record of Your Travels.” [http://blog.rv.net/2010/05/keeping-a-visual-record-of-your-travels/] In it I asked, “Why take pictures? Are you looking to keep memories alive? Are you planning to give a talk to the Kiwanis Club when you get home? Or is there a big bodacious dream of having your pictures published in a tabletop book or in magazines? These are all good reasons to keep a camera with you and snap pictures.”
During our Alaskan trip, I took about 10,000 pictures, which I downloaded into my laptop. Then I deleted about a third. Then I looked again and deleted about a third of those. The remainder is the collection we want to keep as memories of the adventure.
A year ago, I bought a good camera that uses interchangeable lenses, having been spoiled from my days of using my company’s camera before I retired. A few weeks before this trip I “invested” in a real lens to capture what I expected to be exciting wildlife, scenery and cultural experiences. It undoubtedly has been worth the cash outlay.
Last week we met what locals called the biggest black bear they had ever seen.
He’s a monster
We estimate he’s seven feet tall, and we found tree scrapings 8’4” off the ground. This is not a fellow you want to get close to, but you also don’t want to miss the shot. With a 300-power zoom, I stood 75 metres (we are in Canada) away and we now have a clear digital memory to look at when I’m too old to hitch up the ol’ Bigfoot trailer.
We still use our little camera, especially when the “big lens” monster is too much for a situation; however, Monique won’t let me forget that one of my favorite, most scenic shots of the two-months in Alaska was taken with that little camera. Additionally, I took one shot with my cellphone camera so it would look very touristy. Unfortunately, it also came out looking professional.
I need to mention one more important thing concerning photography. An external hard-drive is not expensive. It plugs into any USB port and allows you to copy files, including pictures, onto a hard drive to keep separate from your computer. I backup everything twice onto external hard-drives: one for the trailer; the other to keep in our truck. It does take resolve on my part to spend a few minutes copying everything, compensated by the peace of mind it brings.
Cash — Visa, MasterCard and cash are the most accepted forms of payment throughout British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. Even many of the U.S.-based chains don’t take American Express and Discover Card. Banks with ATM machines are easy to find and eager to dispense Canadian currency from your American account.
One disadvantage (or advantage) of relying on plastic in Western Canada is that the businesses don’t always have electricity, so when you find an ulu you just have to buy, maybe you’ll have to try to find it in the gift shop in the next village … that gives you extra time to think about your purchase. At cafes you might not have that option, so if eating is important to you, it’s a good idea to have cash available. The exchange rate is close enough now that it’s not worth the time thinking about it.
In the past week we have stayed at two B.C. provincial parks that did not have a host/facilities operator. We didn’t see anything about writing a check, so we ended up putting cash in the envelope – all Canadian $ except a $10 U.S. Plus, $4-$5 for the “sani-dump” charge (in loonies and toonies)
When we arrived at outposts that put a higher than usual price tag on everything, I gladly paid the tab and told them “Thank you.” After all, we were happy it was them living 200 miles away from everywhere and not us. Having services available where and when you need them is worth a few extra dollars.
Music – Having music available is important to us, particularly on those 200-mile treks through the wilderness. We have XM in our truck, giving us a great variety of music, news, comedy and talk programs. However, as you get further north and the mountains tower higher and higher, the XM/Sirius satellite is left behind over the horizon. There’s programming for 20 seconds and then lost signal for a minute, and it gets worse until there is no signal at all.
Local stations are sparse except in major cities, and even then music choices were not to our liking when we did get reception. My preference is classical, which I never found on our trip, even on public radio, but we’re open to just about any music. We mainly kept the radio off and didn’t want to play a recorded book that would distract us from the scenery.
If you want music, we suggest having your MP3 or I-Pod by your side, or if you have room for CDs, stock up for the duration.
Fishing – I haven’t had a chance to try out my new rod & reel; thus, I’m not the person to write about fishing. I can say that our caravan group went out three times on charters, of which two were duds. The other time they maxed out.
While in a First People community in B.C., we were nearby when we saw a well-appointed fisherman buying salmon from the local natives. “I got a flat tire on my truck, broke my rod, got a cracked windshield and didn’t get a bite. At least I can take something home,” he explained.
Scenes from a Hike In British Columbia
We’ll have more of these random thoughts when we have internet again.
From the “Never-Bored RVers.” We’ll see you on down the road.
17 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XXXII-A Some Final Thoughts”
▪. Lynne schlumpf on August 16th, 2010 10:19 pm
We like to use debit cards instead of credit, and unfortunately the Canadian banks gouge you with a fee for using them. We experienced this in both the Yukon and B.C.
And there’s no XM or Sirius in Alaska, either.
▪. GK on August 17th, 2010 7:34 am
Lynne: when I use my debit card in the US, Europe or Asia, banks there gouge me with fees too. This isn’t unique to Canada, it’s pretty normal anywhere in the world.
▪. GK on August 17th, 2010 7:35 am
This has been a fantastic series. Very informative and very entertaining. Up until this, I didn’t really know what to expect going North, and this has piqued my interest. Thank you for having along on your adventure!
▪. Bryan on August 17th, 2010 4:47 pm
We like to use debit also but the US banks gouge you with a fee every time you use it. We have experienced it in almost every state in the USA.
We have enjoyed your blog on Alaska and our country. We Thank You for taking us along and being so informative.
▪. Tom Smith on August 17th, 2010 4:48 pm
Gouge…gouge….gouge…. Was what they did illegal? No it was the cost of doing business. We have become a society of whiners.
If you don’t like the charges from banks…start your own
As pointed out in the article, when they came to a place that was expensive, they paid the bill, said thank you, and moved on.
▪. Bill Amick on August 17th, 2010 4:56 pm
I want to go too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
▪. Dick Boak on August 17th, 2010 5:26 pm
I too have enjoyed your blog very much, I have travelled extensively in BC as I am a resident and want to make one small clarification in this part and that concerns your comment about “Western Canada communities not always having electricity” I think you mean Far North-western communities, as I have yet to come across a BC or Alberta community without electricity, they may not take plastic but that is because of the expense to the business in small communities.
I think the best way to describe a Canadian experience is to say that you won’t notice a big difference from an American experience of which we have had many.
Cheers and many happy travels.
▪. Lynda Begg on August 17th, 2010 6:13 pm
Thank you for sharing your trip experience with the rest of us. As Canadians, we love to have you here, even if you are passing through. We, in turn, like to frequent your country in the fall and winter to get away from rain (here on the Coast) where I live or snow (in the other parts of BC). It would be great to follow you on another trip, so keep us in mind as you travel! Good health and safe driving.
▪. Lynne Schlumpf on August 17th, 2010 6:27 pm
@GK: We live in Alaska, and I’ve never seen these fees here, but when we travel across the border, we start getting charged for them.
@TomSmith: Not whining. Just letting people know they might see some extra fees if they use a debit card in Canada. Illegal? I have no idea.
▪. Tom Smythe on August 18th, 2010 7:55 am
We enjoyed reliving our experience last year, as well. Also, the part where you said you would be going back is exactly how we feel
Fees from the banks has been a sticky issue with me for a VERY long time. If you think about it, ATM’s save banks money since you’re not talking to a teller and the machines are available 24 hours a day (some locations). Yes, the machines cost $. But, it’s the price of remaining competitive. Even so, they find it in their hearts to charge us extra to use them. Still, there are still a few banks that don’t gouge their customers.
Likewise, spending US dollars via credit card in a foreign country should be a plus for the banks since they make money on the exchange. Still, they find a way to charge us again – for the ’service’. Cost of doing business? Maybe. From our experience, we’ll go elsewhere to do money exchanges (since our BoA exchange carried a pretty steep fee for the service) and carry local cash whenever possible. It requires planning ahead – something we’ve gotten better at.
All-in-all, Alaska was the best trip we’ve ever taken. We loved every minute of it!
▪. William Robinson, Jr. on August 18th, 2010 9:02 am
How does one, in these days, carry 5K in cash. I now worry when I carry more than a hundred bucks !! I’m serious, how do you do it? There are RV fires, thieves, and general paranoia on my part. Robbie
▪. Duane Mattocks on August 18th, 2010 9:27 am
I have enjoyed your experience. My wife and I made a similar trip in 2004. We did not go with a caravan, we soloed. It was a trip of a lifetime. I too had recently retired and spent 2 years planning our trip. We pulled a 19′ travel trailer with a 2002 F250 Truck. We had only small problems, a tire to replace, and a valve handle that broke on our black tank. Helpful people along the way helped us when needed. I would like to go back again; however, doubt if that will happen as each year we get older our strength decreases. I had a small digital camera, but have several beautiful photos, I found that taking pictures of wildlife with this camera was a waste of time as only you can tell where the animal is in the photo. We were gone for 3 months with a whole month in Alaska, the rest was in Canada and the lower 48. We live in PA with family scattered in Wisconsin, Kansas, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
▪. Suzanne McWhirter on August 19th, 2010 3:54 pm
What about bringing your dog with you on a trip like this? Would it be a problem?