Our Alaska Trip Part VII Inspirational Moments

This entry is part 8 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

June 16, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 6 Comments

This is the seventh in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska

“Sit awhile and relax, enjoy the beauty that surrounds you:  Towering mountains, soaring birds, whispering pines and awe-inspiring waterfalls.  I am here in the essence of nature. So until we meet again, live life to its fullest for we are here but for a little while.”                                                     From a plaque honoring the accidental death of Barry George Wall at Lower Sunwapta Falls.

Parked by the Athabasca Glacier, an Arm of the Columbia Icefield

Parked by the Athabasca Glacier, an Arm of the Columbia Icefield

Okay, I’ve got to agree with Monique – “It’s all soooo gorgeous!”   I’ve been trying to focus in these blogs on what you might find helpful if you decide to make the trip to Alaska, but while you’re reading all that, we are here reveling in the scenery.

We spent last night in a parking lot; no hook-ups, listing to the left, snow flurries coming at us, NO INTERNET.  But don’t spend too much time pitying us.  The view from the left side of the trailer was spectacular, as the photo above proves.   Outside our window was a glacier only about 80 meters away – oops, we’ve been here five days and I already sound like a Canuck – 250 feet from us.

The Columbia Icefield in Alberta, Canada, is vast, the culmination of many glaciers that

Ice Explorers All in a Row

Ice Explorers All in a Row

produce the only triple continental divide in the world.  The run-off feeds the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans.  Ice 1,000 feet deep, but far less than in centuries past, slowly melts away as the climate warms.  You need to get here in the next 300 years to really appreciate its grandeur.  And throwing facts, figures and descriptions at you isn’t quite the same as seeing the pale blue ice from the “glacial flour” under your feet.  It’s another WOW!

And here’s a defense of signing up for a caravan going to Alaska.  The cost of the bus in

The Blue of Glacial Flour

The Blue of Glacial Flour

2010 and the Brewster Ice Explorer is $49.00 per person.  “Well, should we go?  We can see the glacier from the visitors’ center anyway.”   Had we been on our own, we would have hesitated before pulling out the plastic that would have enabled us to walk on the ice.  Had we saved the $$$, we would have missed a very memorable experience.  For us, we didn’t have to decide because it was included in our registration, along with the $16.90 for entering the National Park.

Oh, and a caveat:  We were up there on the glacier with a bunch of mostly juvenile retirees, many of whom seemed to have lost some inhibitions at high altitude.  And, from our bus/explorer drivers we gleaned some very interesting knowledge.

 

A member of our group takes an unplanned slide down the snowbank ... and enjoyed it.

A member of our group takes an unplanned slide down the snowbank … and enjoyed it.

 

It can only be another "Bear Jam"

It can only be another “Bear Jam”

“Bear Jams.” We were part of ‘em.  A bear jam is where a traveler sees a bear (could also be for a moose, bighorn sheep, anything wild) and everybody stops.  We see a parked car with its engine running, and so we stop.  In 30 seconds, there are dozens of cars and RVs strewn along the side of the road, interspersed with tourists’ cameras and binoculars trained at a moving bush.  Tuesday we saw two black bears and a cinnamon. Bigggg guys.

Grizzlies are best when far away

Grizzlies are best when far away

Then Monique and I stopped for lunch beside Bridal Veil Falls watching it jump, jive and wail down the side of a 10,000-foot Canadian Rockies peak.  Just another spectacular spot along our route.

We turned our RV in at stunning falls recommended by our wagonmaster.  While there, I chanced upon a couple from the U.K. coming off what looked like a no-big-deal trail, who told me, “You’ve got to go there.” Since there was so much enthusiasm in their voices, I ran over the pedestrian bridge crossing the river and grabbed Monique, telling her that we had to go.  “It’s only 2 km each way,” I told her.  I was thinking we were going two-thirds of a mile round-trip, but she corrected me – “It’s almost two and a half miles.”

It led to one of the most inspirational places we have visited in our 11 years of hiking

The Bear that Took Our Picture Said He Wasn't Used to Being on that Side of the Camera

The Bear that Took Our Picture Said He Wasn’t Used to Being on that Side of the Camera

together.  The power of the falls filled our bodies and souls with the richness of nature.  Being in this spot alone, surrounded by raging water and lush green trees and under blue skies and snow-capped mountains, cast a blanket of calm over us.  The plaque (transcribed above and shown below) caused us to give thanks for the opportunity of finding that sacred place.

No more writing for tonight, just some photos.

We Were Where Dorothy Wanted to Be

We Were Where Dorothy Wanted to Be

Young Elk - 7267

Lake Scene 7017

Falls-Plaque 7217

And when, as I look at the 360o panorama and say, “Oh, my God,” it’s just me giving thanks to the Creator for all the beauty around us and that we have the privilege to see.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

Comments

6 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part VII Inspirational Moments”

▪.  Carol & Wayne on June 17th, 2010 8:17 am  
Thanks to the comments on your daily blogs, and thank you for taking the time to do that… We have decided not to go to Alaska this summer as one of your followers said that August is the rainy season and it rained everyday and that a lot of campgrounds close 1 Sep. Since we are travelling across Canada to go to Kelowna, BC, for 14 Aug for our Granddaughter’s Ponyclub Nationals… . it would be too late.  I would think to continue on to Alaska so we appreciate reading your daily blogs. We have decided that BC is a spot that we need to explore more and Alberta.  We have been to both but just to really visit our daughter and have never taken our 5th wheel there, so the West Coast of Canada is going to be our stay for a month or more.  We will then hopefully venture down to Arizona for a month and home in time for Christmas.  I look in anticipation for your daily blogs and again, thanks for sharing!!!!!! Carol

▪.  Pam on June 18th, 2010 6:10 am  
I’m really enjoying your blog. Keep at it. What was the name of that spectacular falls? And what highway is it off of?

▪.  Sucie on June 18th, 2010 8:23 pm  
Hi, You Two,
We are enjoying your posts. I like the picture of your rig in front of Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Ice Fields. I can remember 37 years ago when we were there you could see the toe of the glacier from the road. We parked our car
about 100 yard from the toe and walked up to it and stood under a shelf to have our pictures taken. Now you can’t even see the toe.
 Happy Trails and Safe Travel,
Susie

▪.  Fred on June 18th, 2010 8:54 pm  
Pam, I would say the falls pictured would have to be crashing through the Maligne Canyon. I have been there many times, since I only live 4 hrs from them.
It truly is a beautiful site to see, both in summer and in winter when most of it
is frozen solid. If you get the time, visit them both seasons. My favorite, of course, is the summer months.
Carry on camping. btw, I love the updates on the trip to Alaska. That is a trip that I must do, but that will be in the next few years. / This year we are travelling to BC. to Christina Lake. Next year my wife and I will have a lot more time on our hands to travel. (We both retire June 2011) Woo hoo……… there is a light at
the end of the tunnel !!

▪.  susan on June 20th, 2010 8:15 am  
Great post, commentary and pictures! Thank you for taking the time.  You are creating quite a journal for yourselves.

Our Alaska Trip Part XV White-Knuckle Driving

This entry is part 16 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 4, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 9 Comments

This is the 15th in a continuing series about our trip to Alaska

NOTE:  For whatever reason, Part XV didn’t get posted, and since the Top of the World Highway is one of the real adventures of the trip, I want to make sure it is available.  By way of a weak excuse, we’ve had long days of travel and touring.  My energy level is eroded by the need to be alert for hours on the road, and these days with only three hours of daylight are confusing.  I think the problem was probably my fatigue.

Time Change sm - 8121

Did you even know there is Alaska Daylight Time?  Wednesday we set our clocks back an hour as we waited to cross the border from Canada back into the United States.  We entered Alaska.

Getting through the border checkpoint at Poker Creek was the easy part.  Getting to this remote outpost at the border and from there to the next town, Chicken, Alaska, was the part that many travelers dread.  The ride took us four-and-a-quarter hours from Dawson City to Chicken, a distance of 108 miles.  Some of you who have already made that trip are probably wondering how we made it so fast.  Well, road conditions were good, except for slow-going through the clouds.

The Top of the World Highway -- A Memorable Adventure of Our Trip

The Top of the World Highway — A Memorable Adventure of Our Trip

This fabled Top of the World Highway is torturous to vehicles — not more difficult than IMG_8130some other roads we have traveled, just a lot more of it.   Because of careful preparation, we and apparently all other 20 rigs in the caravan made it with no major damage.  When we weren’t socked in, we could see for at least a hundred miles.  What we saw were trees and more trees, creeks and rivers, and beyond it all were the mountains dressed in blue, grey, purple and emerald.  We were told that you can see Denali (a.k.a. Mount McKinley) from the road, but we didn’t take the time to stop at the overlooks except to get snacks from our trailer.

One other thing that helped speed us along was that Monique and I left Dawson Tuesday afternoon, catching the Yukon River ferry after only a three-minute wait, and driving six miles of washboard to the Top of the World Golf Course.  This 9-hole course carved out of the forest is rustic, particularly the greens.  I suspect that the same guy who made the roads around here also did the greens.

 

Having played in Key West, Florida, at the Southernmost Golf Course in America just six months ago, I had to play at the Top of the World in the Yukon.  Two other members of our group and their wives had a very enjoyable time, particularly since we didn’t keep score.  The tradition is to play at midnight, but since that’s a bit past our bedtimes, I proposed that we tee off at 8:30 and just tell our friends we played in the bright daylight of midnight.  Please don’t tell anyone we cheated.

Main Street Chicken.  An outpost in the middle of nowhere that's a welcome sight.

Main Street Chicken. An outpost in the middle of nowhere that’s a welcome sight.

The bustling city of Chicken is a hoot.  In addition to the no-hook-ups RV park with a restaurant, office/gift shop, gold-panning opportunity and the Pedro Dredge, there is the town.  It consists of one building about 100 feet long separated into another gift shop, a liquor store with reasonable prices, and a saloon.  We passed another RV park nearby.  After the drive up here, it is an oasis.

The reward for reaching Chicken was a chicken dinner prepared by the caravan staff.  Afterward we sauntered over to the restaurant for homemade dessert and to hear owner Mike’s talk about Chicken’s history and ability to survive despite minus-80-degree weather.  There are only four year-round residents; the rest (146) begin to disperse for less harsh conditions in the fall.

Two days before arriving in Chicken, I didn’t know what a gold-mining dredge is.   Now I’ve toured two of them, one in Dawson, the other in Chicken, which is probably my lifetime quota.

Pedro

Pedro

This morning I joined an expedition to find a mama moose that Larry had photographed standing in a pond just up the road from the camp.  By the time we made another excursion, she was gone, but the scenery made the hike a complete success.  So now it’s on to Tok, another rustic spot, before reaching Fairbanks for a five-day recovery stretch and rehabilitation of our RVs.

 

I called out to ask this bicyclist how his trip was going: "FANTASTIC!!!"

I called out to ask this bicyclist how his trip was going: “FANTASTIC!!!”

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

Comments

9 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XV White-Knuckle Driving”

▪.  Mike Busby on July 5th, 2010 12:06 am  
Sounds like you enjoyed your stay in Chicken at our park, http://chickengold.com. Even though you had no hookups, we do provide hookups in the lower park and soon will in the caravan park. Hope your travels are great. Nice blog! You will find more info on our Chicken life in our blog: http://chickengold-blog.com.
Mike

▪.  Lynne schlumpf on July 5th, 2010 4:19 pm  
Glad you made it ok!
Lynne,
Chugiak, Alaska

▪.  Alex Gendron on July 5th, 2010 4:22 pm  
It is quite interesting to get other views on the Alaska Trip as we just returned from a one month visit to the North via Dawson Creek, BC to Whitehorse, Dawson City, Top of the World, Fairbanks, Wasilia, Tok, and down HW 37 to Stewart and 16 to Prince George and South again. It was truly a wonderful experience in contrasting scenery. All I can say is the North is especially beautiful and its beck-and-call will take me back to some special spots in the next few years. Atlin, Dawson City, Dease Lake area to name a few that I thought were special.
I look forward to another RV venture up there.

▪.  Sharon Brandt on July 5th, 2010 7:37 pm  
We went over the Top of the World Highway to Chicken on the day the road opened. It was so very quiet at Poker Creek that we saw a hoary marmot taking a sunbath in the middle of the road. Though Top of the World was slow going (we stopped a lot to take in the scenery — no clouds), it was a much smoother ride than we had on our return through Destruction Bay.

▪.  Jerry X Shea on July 6th, 2010 4:52 pm  
It took us about the same time last year, going from Chicken to D.C. We made the trip on our way out of Alaska. Two days before our trip over the Top of the World Hwy it was all fogged in and raining. The day we made the trip it was between two storms and it was sunny and clear. One of the best and most beautiful drives we made in Alaska – the road however was the worst we ever drove on or ever will again. The next day in D.C. it rained.
My advice to those of you following this trip and planning your trip – check the weather. If it is raining or foggy, just pass, as you will see nothing. Go when it is sunny and it is beautiful – but bumpy.

▪.  Gordon and Martha Wagoner on July 7th, 2010 1:20 pm  
My what memories that picture of Chicken brought back. We went thru there in 2000–IT HASNT CHANGED A BIT! Ha.
Was the bearded lady[?] still working there running the place?
We traveled on a tour bus however, and when we left to start our trip up the Highway, it was a misty rain…by the time we got to Chicken is was completely raining. We were told then, that we were the last persons allowed to travel on the road as parts of it had washed away. We drove thru little rivers made in the gullies of the missing road and slid on the muddy road. Fortunately we had a truck spotter who traveled ahead of us to warn us of oncoming vehicles since there were very few places to pull over. Can’t say I got a lot of pictures as we were all holding on for dear life as the bus slipped and slid along … and our driver [who looked all of 17 yrs old] kept assuring us that she had it under control and had driven that road many times. Oh, yes what memories we had of our Alaskan trip, but that ‘highway’ was one experience we often relate to others. Enjoy your trip!!

▪.  marianj on August 12th, 2010 5:57 pm  
Boy you had a nice trip on the Top of The Highway. It has since been closed most of the due to washouts and rain part of the road is no longer there, it will take months to fix it.

 [It reopened in a couple of weeks, reportedly with a constant flow of traffic.]

Our Alaska Trip Part XVI Getting To Know Alaska

This entry is part 17 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 3, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 33 Comments

This is the 16th in a continuing series about our trip to Alaska

Maybe after today’s article, I can stop talking about the roads.  After what is known as the worse stretch of roads going to Alaska, The Top of the World Highway [see PART XV] we have arrived in Fairbanks, a fairly typical U.S. city of 33,000 and with 70,000 in the “interior” or non-coastal expanses of the state.

All the major retailers are here, and for us, we see a chance for relaxation in the days ahead – but not yet.  After nine hours of playing tourist today and another full day tomorrow, we’re on our own for two days before departing.

Statistics about the number of people who brave the harsh winters here probably aren’t important to you as an Alaskan traveler or a prospective one, and besides that, we hear lots of statistics that change depending on the teller or brochure.  Alaska, with its 1.2 persons per square mile, also has 3,000 rivers (or maybe 4,000), many of which we have already crossed in our two days in the state.  I’m even more impressed with the estimate of 3 million lakes.  Where does that 1.2 person stand?  Probably in water.

4 Rivers of Alaska

Here are some other interesting observations.  Monique and I think that at this time of year there are at least three times as many RVs on the highways as cars.  The wildflowers along the Richardson and other highways make the long stretches of roadway enjoyable.  The state flower, the forget-me-not, competes with fireweed and other colorful wildflowers for attention all along the way.

We also believe that here are 2.4 gift shops per tourist here with no sign of any having trouble staying in business for four months a year.   We encountered several of them in one of the most orchestrated tours we’ve seen since Disneyland.  The Binkley family has put a day or more of historic and profitable information in front of us, from the Riverboat Discovery III ride, which passes a world-renowned sled-dog training facility, gives very interesting information about the river and its history, and then stops at the replica of a Chena-Athabascan Indian village.  Definitely a place to see while in Alaska.

In the Athabascan Indian Village, Panning for Gold & Watching Campion Sled Dogs

In the Athabascan Indian Village, Panning for Gold & Watching Campion Sled Dogs

As an added memory, we met Dave Monson, who runs the training facility and husband of the late Susan Butcher.  Susan was the first woman to win the prestigious Iditarod sled-dog race in 1986 and went on to repeat the feat in 1987, ’88 and ’90.  Hence the saying, “Alaska, where men or men and women win the Iditarod.”  And on our way back to the dock, Mary Binkley, who fashioned all these events, came out into her yard and waved as the riverboat passed.

After lunch we took the gold mine tour and then all 300 people aboard the tram de-boarded and panned for gold.  Each participant found gold in his or her pan – real gold from real panning.  Our cache was appraised on the spot for $52, not exactly the mother lode, but gratifying.

Oh, and you may have heard that you don’t have to worry about where to stay at night … you can just stop on the side of the road for the night.  We haven’t really seen RVs doing

Three and a half hours of night ... but can it be night when it's not dark?

Three and a half hours of night … but can it be night when it’s not dark?

that, but, of course, most of our driving has been from 9 to 5.  However, we have seen “No Camping” signs at all the large pullouts.  It could work out to sleep in roadside pullouts during the day and travel at night.   Since there is no real night, you won’t miss any sights, but the museums and attractions will be closed.  There are no RV spaces available in our campground in Fairbanks now.

If you feel confident enough to drive to Alaska on your old tires, you can take advantage of no sales tax, but that’s true in Oregon and Montana, also.

It rained today, which is a very unusual occurrence since Fairbanks averages about 11 inches of precipitation a year, almost qualifying it as desert.  Our tour bus driver told us that going outside when the temperature gets down to minus-40 is akin to getting hit by a baseball bat.  We don’t want to personally verify that.

Smoke from forest fires that can burn in the buried vegetation for 25 years can be a

A spruce burl railing that caught our attention.

A spruce burl railing that caught our attention.

problem.   That smoke comes from Siberia as well as Alaska.  One more road alert:  the dreaded frost heaves, dips and humps in the pavement or gravel, can sometimes be expected when you see “drunken” or leaning spruce trees on the side of the road.  Growth of the trees is stunted by permafrost.  They can’t get a strong footing, so they lean.  This isn’t foolproof, just another indication that there may be problems coming up on you quickly.

While the lion maybe king of the jungle, the “doyon” or chief of animals in Alaska is the wolverine.  Truly a nasty beast.

Now for a few more pictures from the past two days.  There is so much to see that the sprinkling of photos I’ve included in this and past articles doesn’t even come close to telling the story.  I just hope it whets your appetite enough to brave the Top of the World Highway and visit the Last Frontier.

Caribou Land collage - 8170

 

The Famous Alaskan Oil Pipeline at Fairbanks -- A Few Feet of the 800-Mile Project

The Famous Alaskan Oil Pipeline at Fairbanks — A Few Feet of the 800-Mile Project

The afternoon rain has turned into a very rare thunderstorm.  We are celebrating the dim light outside, and maybe it will clear the air for when we reach Denali in a few days.

 From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

Comments

15 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XVI Getting To Know Alaska”

▪.  Wayne Cunningham on July 4th, 2010 9:24 am  
Last year we made that trip with our Class C with another friend and their little travel trailer.
Having come from southwest Florida we spent 10 weeks in Alaska.
We are enjoying every post about your trip, comparing notes and laughing as we recall the same things. We drove about 22,000 miles and were gone 6 months.
The trip of a lifetime.
Stay safe and there are three places we suggest for eating experiences.
Itchiban in Fairbanks
The brewery in Fox (can’t recall the name) but it is a very small town. Probably the best meal in all of the 6 months gone.
The Fresh Catch Cafe in Homer.
When they say fresh they mean it. I watched the fisherman bring in the fish and scallops right off the boat and into the kitchen.

▪.  ft-rver on July 4th, 2010 10:11 am  
What happened to entry # 15? Yes, we are keeping up with you with great interest and enjoy the blogs very much. I am keeping a full pdf library of your Alaska trek. Thank you.

▪.  bob west on July 4th, 2010 12:24 pm  
Yes I too am reading and wanted to hear your take on the TOW Highway as you seem quite sensible. I chickened out last year and didn’t go to Chicken. The road around Destruction Bay was no treat but I think better than the TOW.

▪.  Don & Irene Ritchey on July 4th, 2010 5:17 pm  
Yes please post #15 for us either you were to disgusted with the road conditions “over the top” or ???

▪.  Jim & Glenna Penny on July 4th, 2010 5:21 pm  
We missed XV as well ! Look forward to your installment daily. Thank you 
!

▪.  Brian Morris on July 4th, 2010 5:33 pm  
Thought for a minute I had missed your post XV but it appears many others did also. Looking forward to saving and reading it along with all of the others. Brian

▪.  Norm Bakemann on July 4th, 2010 5:49 pm  
So how long should it take to drive our 40ft Motorhome with tow car from Whitehorse to Tok , be there in a week

▪.  Jane on July 4th, 2010 6:00 pm  
I also missed your XV post…went to blog.rv.net/author/barry-zander but it was not on there…Can you re-post it? I also look so forward to your adventures and hate to miss XV….sounds like that might have been rather exciting…

▪.  Old Gray on July 4th, 2010 7:18 pm  
I’m also hoping to find out about Chicken: Blog post XV! Loved XVI. Great writing, great pictures.

▪.  macsly on July 4th, 2010 11:50 pm  
I’m a new RVer who lives in Tok. It is 392 miles and in the car we make it easily in a day. Most of the road is pretty good except from the border to here. The Top of the World would take you several more days, first to Dawson then down to Tok. We are headed down the road in September for the first time in 36 years. I expect some changes!

▪.  macsly on July 4th, 2010 11:50 pm  
That is 392 miles from Whitehorse to Tok. And I wish that Barry and Monique had stayed here for our July 4 celebration.

▪.  Garry Scott on July 5th, 2010 1:43 am  
Keep it up, fascinating reading, from Garry scott England UK

▪.  Dick and Cindy on July 5th, 2010 3:58 am  
We were in Valdez last year on the 4th of July. The town put on a free hotdog lunch and everyone was invited, even we visitors. Then later, before the fireworks, they provided, free, a giant fire and s’mores. Then some fantastic fireworks. Nestled down there at the foot of the mountains, just off the ocean, it was quite a sight. Some friends we met there took pictures of the fireworks and I was surprised you could see the display since it was still daylight! Wonderful memory.

▪.  Chris Clarke on July 5th, 2010 10:34 am  
Hi Folks, I’m really enjoying your driving diary and am happy to say that I found part XV. It was fascinating. Here’s a suggestion, open up Google Earth and you can “drive” along the stretches of “road” that you adventurous sorts are following. There are photos taken along the way just like in the cities and some other picturesque one taken by others who have travelled it before. However, the pictures that Barry & Monique have included are great, diverse, and really add to the experience.
Thanks for all that you have given us so far.
Chris

▪.  Margie on July 5th, 2010 11:51 am  
Hi Barry and Monique,
I live in Anchorage and have been enjoying your posts about your trip up to Alaska, especially since I bought my first RV a couple of months ago, became a full-timer, and will be heading out later in the summer for a two year trip around N. America. I just realized today after reading his latest email that we have a mutual friend in Sam C. How ’bout that?
When do you guys get down here to Anchorage? It would be great to catch up. I’d love to see my first RV Caravan! Please feel free to email directly.
Cheers,
Margie

▪.  Jerry X Shea on July 5th, 2010 12:10 pm  
Also want to see XV – Make sure you go to Pioneer Park and go in the -40 degree room. You only go in for about 4-5 minutes, but you sure get what it is like to be in really cold weather. Also to the Air Museum – it will surprise you what they have in there. Keep posting.
Jerry X

Our Alaska Trip Part XVII Going It Alone With the Group

This entry is part 20 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 5, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 12 Comments

This is the 17th in a continuing series about our trip to Alaska

Monday and Tuesday are free days for members of the caravan, a chance to drive or fly to the Arctic Circle or some other desolate spots, return to North Pole, Alaska, for a missed opportunity of hard-core shopping, or just resting.  We’re not doing any of the above.  Today we are catching up on routine RVing tasks, including laundry, rehabilitating our trailer and, of course, sitting at the computer.  As the weather clears, we will head to town to see what’s left.

We took off on our own for a few hours on a excursion that included a round of golf.

We took off on our own for a few hours on a excursion that included a round of golf.

At left is a photo of me holding two caps, the top one (appropriately) from the “highest golf course in the world” in Fairbanks, and from the “southernmost golf course in America,” in Key West.  I had already played the Top of the World course across the Yukon River from Dawson City a week earlier. As my golfing buddies can attest, I’m in the hacker class. [NOTE:  After this trip, we stopped by Death Valley, where I placed third in the 49ers Encampment tourney, played on the lowest golf course in America — all four in 2010!]

I’ll have some photos from a very busy day yesterday at the end of this article, but I want to digress in this issue to talk about caravanning as an unaccompanied driver.

Without a doubt the bravest of our tribe of RVers is Karen, who is driving with her bird Bobby at her side.  Karen drives a Winnebago View, a 23.5-foot motorhome without a “toad.”  From my conversation with her, she seems to have five obstacles not faced by most of us, but all of these would apply whether she were in the Lower 48, Canada or Alaska:

1)   She is single so she has to do everything herself, unless others volunteer to help

2)   She is not retired – the rest of us are

3)   She doesn’t have a separate vehicle to use on the road, like all but one other member of the group

4)   She is slightly disabled, a situation which got much worse when she injured the sciatic nerve in her back, and

5)   She takes care of Bobby.

Again, being on a trip to Alaska doesn’t pose many unique problems, except that our schedule is tiring.  We drive, we see, we meet, we socialize, we sleep, we drive …  Other than driving and sleeping, most of it is optional, but why spend the money for a caravan if you’re not going to participate with your fellow travelers?

Karen left Jacksonville, Florida, and drove 3,300 miles to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, stopping for a tire repair, then again when Bobby’s entry into Canada at Grand Forks, North Dakota, required the approval of an agent, who was on vacation for three days.  Bobby has a real passport declaring that he is legal and a protected species.

“I think I chose the right way to do it,” she said, referring to signing on with the caravan.  “I don’t regret my choice.  The idea of being in Alaska or on the Top of the World Highway with no phones and very limited gas scared me.”  She explained that she really joined for the safety of having the tailgunner following the RVers to make sure everything was okay.

Asked about the need to look at the Alaska Caravan Travel Log while driving, which outlines what’s on the road ahead, supplementing “Milepost,” she said she can glance down to see what’s ahead without a problem, and most of the roads and attractions are marked well enough.

Wildlife on the side of the road isn’t considerate enough to stand where there are places to stop for photos, so that’s a problem.  She has stopped in the middle of a lonely stretch once (as have we all) to get a shot of Dall Sheep.

The decision to make this long trip started when she and her husband began to talk about it.  Her husband passed away, but she continued to think about experiencing it.  Asked why go in an RV, she said that she doesn’t like the process of traveling – the packing and unpacking, eating out, etc. – but she did want to go to Alaska and see Denali.

As I said, she is the bravest of us all.  She actually started her Alaska trip with an earlier Adventure Caravan group, but the sciatica stopped her long enough to miss the next stops, so she waited for our team.  Having joined us late, she was concerned about being accepted.  Some offer to help, ask her to sit with them at restaurants or offer her rides.  But since some travel with others and others don’t have space in their cars, she may have to ask.

As for the Winnebago View, she likes the comfort of traveling in her own house.  “I’m an urban person.  I want to go to cities, but I want to see Denali.”   Since she is uncomfortable with the idea of towing a car, she’s considering other means of RVing.  These include getting over that phobia; buying a toy-hauler in which to carry a SmartCar; getting a stable-lift truck camper that makes leveling easier; or buying a small Class B van conversion.

Now for some sights from yesterday … and believe me, the pictures I publish and the places I write about are only a sampling of what we are actually doing and seeing. 

A Collage of our visit to the U. of Alaska Museum and the Ice Museum. In between, we went to the U of A Large Animal Research Station and had a buffet lunch.

A Collage of our visit to the U. of Alaska Museum and the Ice Museum. In between, we went to the U of A Large Animal Research Station and had a buffet lunch.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

Comments

12 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XVII Going It Alone With the Group”

▪.  GK on July 5th, 2010 10:22 pm  
A question I had: I’m assuming you have several types of RV’s in your caravan. Has any one type been better, or more of a challenge, given some of the road conditions and such? Are people with a motohome+toad having an easier time of it, or are people with travel trailers or fifth-wheels having fewer issues? Not looking to start a “this is better than that”, just wanted to see what people’s experiences were given what sounds to be a somewhat challenging journey.
If some kind of summary is possible at the end of your trip (don’t worry about it now, you have more important things to do, like enjoy the trip  ) that might be interesting to those of us who are about to be new to RV’ing, like me  .
Reading about Karen’s trip has got me thinking about what could be done to make using some of the supplementary material that’s been provided easier to use while underway. No solutions yet, but something involving Velcro is starting to come to mind. I’m only thinking about this because sometimes its a matter of someone travelling solo, and at other times it may be when the co-pilot/navigator might be incapacitated and the healthy driver still has to carry on. Being able to secure a map or other material in easy view but without obstructing it could be handy.

▪.  Jeff Glazer on July 6th, 2010 6:26 am  
I hope you were in Fairbanks on July 4 and went to their celebration in Pioneer Park. It was easily the best Fourth of July celebration we have ever attended. It was right out of an Andy Hardy movie. Military bands playing from the paddle-wheeler. A parade with marching bands and “Uncle Sams.” Lots of families having a good time. Crazy tubers in the ice-cold Chena River. And, of course, lots of good food. Just a magnificent day!
On a different note, my hat’s off to Karen. We had a single (male) on our last Alaska trek. It was a lot more work for him, and he, too, did not bring a toad. But he made friends with everyone, and he fit right in with the group. He was always invited to tag along with someone who had a car, and he had a great time.
I always admire people who overcome some adversity to follow their dream. We could all learn a lot from them. Tell Karen I said, “You go, girl!”

▪.  Jeff Glazer on July 6th, 2010 6:44 am  
One more quick note on Fairbanks on the Fourth of July. We were trying to find someplace where we could see fireworks. Duh! It doesn’t get dark on July 4th.

▪.  Full Timer Normie on July 6th, 2010 5:33 pm  
I am so loving every one of your posts…and I am so jealous…we are hoping to be able to do the Alaska trip in ‘11 or ‘12…depending on finances…so we are devouring your every word and picture…
You are doing a great job, but please enjoy your trip first, think about us second!

▪.  Melanie on July 6th, 2010 5:36 pm  
Way to go Karen! I admire you for braving the long haul to Alaska and back. Like you, I’m a widow, driving a Winnebago View, without a toad, with my dog for a companion. Soon I’ll be joining a caravan around the Great Lakes, which will be my first experience with a caravan. At least I can count on good roads!
I’ve been on the school bus traveling the road in Denali and two buses can’t pass on the curves. There were no guard rails. Hopefully there has been improvement since then,
Enjoy!

▪.  Jeff on July 6th, 2010 8:55 pm  
Great posts and I am really enjoying your travel log. Having lived in the Northwest Territories for 10 years and having also visited the Yukon, I plan to return one of these days. I live in Manitoba now, so it will be a considerable drive but not insurmountable. You never mentioned if you went to Diamond Tooth Gerties or if you tried the Sour Toe Cocktail! 
Not to quibble about little things, but Grand Forks ND is about 80 miles from the border and she would have crossed at Emerson, Manitoba (across from Pembina, ND).

▪.  Steve & Mary Margaret on July 7th, 2010 6:37 am  
You blog has been great. I log on every day looking for it. I’m making a map to track your route for OUR future trip!
Quick question: Have you caught any salmon with your new rod ?
Enjoy the trip and thank you for sharing your experiences

▪.  GORDON MILLER on July 7th, 2010 1:55 pm  
I am truly enjoying your Travels. My dream is for my wife and I to make this trip ourselves in a few years. We took a land and cruise trip last year and that embedded my need to travel Alaska with out 5th wheel. Keep up the great work. By the way what was the web site for you travel map?

▪.  James Bennett on July 7th, 2010 3:19 pm  
How is the trip with animals such as dogs? Are there many who are traveling with their dogs? And what do they do with them when on tours?
James

▪.  Marie on July 7th, 2010 8:22 pm  
I am thoroughly enjoying your posts. I can totally relate to Karen as I am also widowed, live in Florida, go RVing myself, and have traveled to Alaska on my own (not via RV, however), and abroad. As a ‘loner’, one has to join in and enjoy the group setting. Sounds like she is doing her best in this regard.
I considered a caravan and obviously, as a single person, there are additional supports and safeguards. Downers for me include: the price and not being able to stay for a while when enjoying a place. I’ve been to Alaska by myself (airline, ship, train, and rental car). My next trip there will be by myself or perhaps via a small caravan within an RV group for singles (Loners on Wheels). There is more opportunity to alter the plan with group agreement and it is far less costly.

▪.  marianj on July 12th, 2010 1:28 pm  
Great blog. We live in Alaska and have driven the Highway many times in our 5th Wheel and love it every time. Marian

Our Alaska Trip Part XVIII Audience Participation

This entry is part 18 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 8, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 17 Comments

This is the 18th in a continuing series about our trip to Alaska

First, a couple of observations.  1)  Don’t bother packing fancy outside lights for your summer trip to The Land of the Midnight Sun.  Nobody does that here, and 2) When we see the vast expanses of wild land surrounding us on the highways of Alaska and northern Canada, we appreciate being here.

In the Old World of Europe and in at least some of Asia, cities, towns and villages have dotted the landscape for centuries.  But here, there are lots of huge expanses of trees and sagebrush fading into the distance for miles until they reach a ridge of highlands.

Before focusing briefly on Fairbanks’ Pioneer Park, I want to ask the readers of these articles two questions:

One commenter asked about the best RV for the trip.  We see every kind, even some we’ve never seen before, and it’s our guess that whatever fits your lifestyle in the Lower 48 will be the same here.  While diesel pushers do have larger windshields to view roadside wildlife, they are also a larger target for getting dinged by rocks., but don’t make your decision based on windshields.  I think it’s still true that most of those cracks for our caravan came before crossing into Canada.

Now for the question, which I’d like experienced Alaskan RVers to give their opinions below to the question:   “Is one type of RV more suited (or less suited) to the Alaskan terrain than others?

And for this one I’m really interested in the comments of both previous and prospective travelers to Alaska.    Why spend the time and money, take the risk and endure long hours of driving to make the trip? We know what motivated us and we’ve talked to many others about their expectations, etc. What do you think?

To that I’ll add a reciprocal question:  Why would anyone want to leave Alaska?  Lots of people we have met came and decided to stay.

This afternoon the caravan arrived in a private campground outside Denali National Park, with Mt. McKinley hiding behind a highest-mountain-wannabe.  Tomorrow we have a 14-hour-day tour into the park.  I’ve heard that the mountain is visible today, Wednesday (or as the locals say, “the mountain is out”).  We hope that holds out through tomorrow.

Our truck managed to be in a group of cars, trucks and RVs led by an escort vehicle as it went around a construction area and followed the truck spraying water on the road. Our clean truck and trailer are now caked with mud.

(Clockwise from Top Left: An invitation to “chill;” a Steamshovel that helped dig the Panama Canal; A Fetish on sale in the museum; and Fairbank’s first artifact, the Wheel from the ill-fated Lavelle Young.)

(Clockwise from Top Left: An invitation to “chill;” a Steamshovel that helped dig the Panama Canal; A Fetish on sale in the museum; and Fairbank’s first artifact, the Wheel from the ill-fated Lavelle Young.)

Having heard many good things from you, our readers, about Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, yesterday we headed that way.  It is a delight, with numerous interesting gold-rush days cabins converted into shops and a museum that we wish we could have spent more time in, plus many other attractions.  In addition to the things to see and do there, we also enjoyed talking with fun, interesting shopkeepers.

Dioramas on the lower deck of the Nenana steamship were Monique’s favorite.  Intricate displays depict the turn-of-the-century villages in the Alaska interior, both native, forts and mining.  I was most taken with the unique high quality artwork and crafts in the shops.  We decided against going into the establishment that would allow us — for $8 each — to experience -40o temperatures.  Since our bus driver described that as like getting hit with a baseball bat, we didn’t see the point.

Our Wagonmasters, Ken and Carole Adams, invited the entertainers from the Bonanza Gold Mine train to play for us in the RV park Wednesday evening. Not long after they started, our own Jeff Totten tuned up his banjo and joined in the music-making, and then caravan member Ira Miller was handed the bass guitar by the visiting musician and joined in, caressing the instrument as he strummed it like a long-lost friend.

We invited every other visitor in the RV Park to come by and listen in.  That really worked!

The Caravan Gets an Unexpected Musical Treat

The Caravan Gets an Unexpected Musical Treat

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

Comments

17 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XVIII Audience Participation”

▪    Jeff Glazer on July 8th, 2010 1:41 pm  
There are two kinds of RVers, and we have been both. There are those who set up for months at a time and live in their RV. We are doing that this year workamping in Pennsylvania.
The other kind has a constant itch to see what is around the next corner. For this kind of RVer Alaska is an absolute must. You have to have a sense of adventure and be willing to take things in stride. You have to LOVE to drive. (The round trip from our home in South Carolina is 12,000+ miles.) But it is an adventure you will remember and talk about for the rest of your life.
I have only once met a person who was not happy that they made the trip. After talking to her for a while I realized that she is the type of person who is never happy about anything.
Why leave Alaska? There are two major reasons: the weather and the economy. There is often not a supermarket on the next block (or within 100 miles!). Jobs can be hard to find and low-paying. But there are several places in Alaska where I think I could be happy living. I think Fairbanks is a great town, and I am partial to both Seward and Homer down on the Kenai Peninsula. Just give me a good Internet connection!
What’s the best rig for an Alaska trek? The one you are comfortable in down south. We drive a 33′ Class A with a toad and were very happy. I have been in groups with everything from a small Class B to a very large 5er (full-timers) and no one seemed to have any more problems than anyone else. The trailers and 5ers did seem a bit more prone to tire problems and I would recommend carrying an extra spare. Those who drove a motorhome without a toad were almost always sorry.

▪    GK on July 8th, 2010 2:36 pm  
Good start on info about rigs suited to the trip. The only reason I was asking is because there are times when some types of issues appear on some types of RV’s in some areas. For example, I was reading about desert boondocking, and one point that came up in forums and blog posts was the issue of air filters on pushers: because the engine is at the back, and the dust kicked up goes to the back, you might have an issue with clogged air filters if you drive far enough into the desert (and back). Units where the engine is at the front had fewer issues, and some pusher owners had made mods to their unit to have the air intake further forward, or higher up with a second set of “prefilters”. Admittedly, this is a pretty specialized case, but knowing in advance can make it easier for others to avoid problems. Even just knowing “business as usual” is instructive.
If you don’t ask, you’ll never know  .

▪    Jeff Becker on July 8th, 2010 6:56 pm  
We traveled more than 60 days last May from Cape Coral, Fl. to Alaska…..about 15,000 miles. I’m a changed man as a result of this trip! We did it in a Class C with NO toad…..27′…..and it was perfect. We also brought along our 3 dogs; 2 Shar-Pei and a terrific Bull Terrier.
Had very few problems. Biggest was a double blowout in the Yukon. Now THAT was a trick to get resolved, but we got it done.
Greatest scenery! Greatest trip ever! I’m ready to do it again!
Here’s a problem that no one thought about: After returning to Florida, the idea of heading to Orlando or Tampa or ANYWHERE in the RV just seemed like it couldn’t measure up. There’s NO sequel. Result? We SOLD our RV! Give it a breather!

▪    David Campbell on July 8th, 2010 7:06 pm  
I think Jeff is right – whatever one is comfortable with anywhere else. Three years ago we traveled to Alaska in a 30 ft class C with a toad. That was the first time driving, but certainly not the first time to be in Alaska. Having a pilot’s license I flew up and around there both for sightseeing and as an occupation taking commercial aerial photography. That too, was enjoyable, but not as enjoyable as driving and being able to stop at many more places. 
Dings and cracks are inevitable wherever one travels. We had two windshield dings on the Top of the World Highway, but have had many more on roads all over the lower states. At least the smaller windshields on a ‘C’ are little cheaper to replace!

▪    Tom Funkhouser on July 8th, 2010 7:55 pm  
We made the 9,400-mile round-trip from Southern California in a 35′ Class A towing a Honda CRV. As others have said, it was the trip of a lifetime. We did not have any problems with the coach and it was very handy having the toad along. Two of the most memorable side tours we did were a Denali sightseeing flight out of Talkeetna – landing on a glacier – and the Kenai Fjords boat trip out of Stewart. We could not see the mountain from the valley when we were there but the flight took us over the clouds for a spectacular view. The boat trip featured glaciers, humpback whales, hundreds of dolphins, killer whales, puffins, and otters. Unforgettable. These side tours are very expensive so we bought a Great Alaska TourSaver booklet for $99. These tours as well as fishing trips and many other attractions were all 2 for 1 discounts so we saved our money many times over.
Our new RV is a 25 foot class C Sprinter. I think we would enjoy the trip to Alaska even more with this set up as we do not need a toad and it gets double the fuel mileage. We burned 1,300 gallons on our trip with the Class A and I figure we would use less than half of that with our Class C diesel. As others have said before me, whatever works for you in the lower 48 will work for you in Alaska.

▪    Peggy on July 8th, 2010 7:56 pm  
‘…Our truck managed to be in a group of cars, trucks and RVs led by an escort vehicle as it went around a construction area and followed the truck spraying water on the road. Our clean truck and trailer are now caked with mud…’
Want to say have thoroughly enjoyed your articles – has brought back many memories of which I’ll never forget…
The first paragraph is from your latest article – I have to comment on it:
We were 2 up on a Harley Sportster – we’d be in line waiting for the escort vehicle when the flag person would motion us to the front of the line… We were told that was so we wouldn’t get all the dust from the bigger vehicles… Then there was the ‘water truck’ – to this day I still don’t want to be near one…
As you said, the water truck would start out to water down all the dirt to keep down the dust – we were in the front so just imagine all the MUD we were covered with – yes, have the pictures…
After that, we’d shake our head no, and let everyone go before us and my hubby would just take his old, sweet time – most likely irked the other folks waiting to come from the other direction… Still was great fun and a wonderful experience…
Oh, that’s when I saw a guy standing on a ladder, with a long stick (squeegee) in his hand cleaning off his windows (an RV) – I said ‘wow’….
Sometimes what we rode over was not even a road, then maybe there would be a little red-flag sticking out of the ground on the edge of the highway – no guardrails and it was a long way down in many areas… So interesting…
Again, thank you for all your work…

▪    Barbara Mull on July 8th, 2010 7:58 pm  
I lived in Alaska for 18 years and traveled in a 20′ Minnie Winnie first and then a 27′ Jayco – both Class Cs. Though small, the tough old Minnie was just right for some of the roads we traveled. We told ourselves each year that this year could be the last one in Alaska and so what did we want to see before we left. The best of all trips was 3 weeks traveling the Top of the World, then to Inuvik (as far north as the road goes) in NW Territories, Yellowknife, Calgary, Banff and back home to Anchorage. What a trip! One road was built up across the tundra with gravel resulting in a barely 2-lane road with no turnoffs. We stopped on our side of the road after not seeing any other traffic for two hours, put the kettle on and set out the coffee cups. An 18-wheeler traveling the opposite direction stopped beside us on their side of the road and the couple driving it shared a cup of coffee with us for about an hour. Then we both went on our way, still seeing no other traffic for several hours. BTW, it took two ferry crossings to get to Inuvik.
Why leave Alaska? Only health issues forced us to move back to the Lower 48 near family. This southern gal loved the winters, Northern Lights, sundogs, ice fog, beautiful snow and I’m still homesick at times. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading about your adventures. Thanks for sharing.

▪    GaryM on July 8th, 2010 7:59 pm  
We pulled our 29.5 foot 5er to Alaska in 2006 – with our new (at the time) 3/4 ton Ford Power Stroke. The only problem we really had was getting in and out of some of the small out-of-the-way camp sites that we picked. It was probably just a fluke but we never got a ding of any kind although we did put some protection on the truck. We could park the trailer and take side trips. 4×4 was beneficial once in a while. We only had a month and would do it again if we had 2 or even 3 months. We had room for the cat and everything we ever needed. We were very comfortable once we figured out how to get it dark enough to sleep at night. Even the road from DC to Chicken was good.
We took the time and money needed to drive up because we just wanted to see it all. We enjoyed every moment and have most of the pictures as a slide show on the computer. We loved it.
Not sure why we came back except that the thought of the long dark winter day is a bit of a turn off. We like the sun and since we live in Montana, we love it here too.
It is fun to travel along with you on this trip. Enjoy every moment…

▪    Stan Zawrotny on July 8th, 2010 8:04 pm  
We drove up last year with a truck and 29 ft. travel trailer. When we got back, we immediately traded it in for a 31 ft Class C. We discovered that on the long drives, it would have been better if the passenger could have been able to get up and go back into the rig to get a snack, drink, take a nap, etc. We drove through all 49 states and 9 Canadian provinces with the travel trailer, but we find the Class C to be much more flexible. Yes, we do have a toad.
As for why anyone would want to leave Alaska, it’s too expensive for one thing. For another, Alaska is beautiful, but we have some other beautiful states in the lower 48. And you can enjoy them for more than just a few months out of the year. Most of the people that I met there live there for a few months in the summer then spend the rest of the year in Florida, California or Arizona.

▪    Tom on July 8th, 2010 8:20 pm  
Alaska will spoil you for any other trips. I remember the pullout with a sign that said you should see every place else you wish to visit before coming to Alaska. If not, you’ll never wish to go anywhere else. It’s true for us.
We spent the entire summer of ‘09 roaming throughout Alaska from Seward to Dead Horse back down to Denali and Homer and everywhere in between – even spending a week at Teklanika where we were blessed with 3 clear days. 
We came back because my wife doesn’t favor the thought of endless nights, the price of everything is very high, and my job called me into an office. 
We traveled in a 38′ class A pulling a Yukon XL (our garage) with our son (who wishes we could go back every day).

▪    Virgil Owen on July 8th, 2010 9:27 pm  
After several vacations and cruises to Alaska, my wife and I decided we wanted to move to Alaska. We bought a 34 foot Class A motorhome. It is a 96 Southwind so we decided to remodel it before we left. We spent a few months using it on weekends in southern California so we could get used to it. We sold everything we could before we left and put the rest in storage. We leased our house to friends for two years while economy recovers a little. We loaded up our four cats and headed north. It was the trip of a lifetime. We rented a house in Homer for almost a year and discovered that some places that are great to visit are not great to live. We ended up in Kenai where I now work at WalMart. I love it. We towed a Jeep Liberty here and I later went back and drove my car up to Seattle where I got on the Alaska Highway ferry for a four-day ride. I have not regretted for one minute the move. The cost of living is much higher and the wages are not high but it’s a small price to pay for world-class fishing. Our RV trips are short thanks to great fishing everywhere. The only thing I miss about Southern California is the fast internet. Alaska internet is not fast. The only thing that we have had problems with as far as the RV is concerned is Direct TV. Because we are close to the horizon, you have to have a much larger dish to use it. It works great in the house but not at all in the RV. The caravan may work for some people but we loved the freedom of being able to stay where we wanted for as long as we wanted. It was the trip of a lifetime. I hope to fulltime when I retire.

▪    Jim Taglianetti on July 8th, 2010 11:26 pm  
I have only been to Alaska once. Spent 3 days in Juneau and 1 day in Anchorage on business. I got hooked on returning to Alaska again. This time I want to take my wife. I could not get over the country, the pine tree covered mountains, the glaciers, and the eagles. It is truly inspiring. The reason for leaving is easy for me; I live in Hawaii. Can’t handle the cold weather. 
I read these articles each night and I am very curious about the caravan approach to traveling. We are novice RVers. Mostly renting now but plan to buy a 5th wheel. I’m also quite interested in the informal survey about the best type of RV.
Aloha
Jim

▪    Alpenliter on July 9th, 2010 7:40 am  
Barry & Monique, when you started this blog, you probably thought you were only going to share your adventures with the rest of us. While you have succeeded in doing just that, the comments section have grown to proportions that rival many forums. Thank you for starting this discussion and thank you all for your comments. We are caravanning with a few other couples in 2011 and your comments and suggestions are all being noted for future use.

▪    Dick and Cindy on July 9th, 2010 8:38 am  
We drove up last year with a ¾ ton van and 29 ft. travel trailer. We liked that setup because we could easily drop the trailer and take side trips. (For example, we dropped the trailer at Tok and went to Chicken and back. It was a little rough, but we heard the other side was a lot worse than what we had come through. And the uninhabited views are awesome.) Some new friends we met pulled a Casita (a VERY compact trailer) and by the time they got to Valdez they were ready to kill each other, even though they had been married for many years! So we don’t recommend that. We also met a couple who had an older trailer and their slide out broke from the frost heaves and washboard roads. So probably newer is better.
Why go? It was a life long dream of my husband’s, so when he was laid off, we went. We had heard too many “we were going to go when he retired, but then…” (Fill in the blank.) We went on our own and stopped and went as we pleased. The long drive is made so enjoyable when your driver has eagle eyes and points out all the fauna along the way. One highlight was a large mound in a large pond that moved and then raised its head as we drove past and we realized it was a huge moose that had been feeding underwater! And we were blessed with perfect weather. Mt. McKinley put on a fantastic display the day we were there. The tour bus driver said 2008 was a year when it was rarely seen, so we took a million pictures and realized how lucky we were. But someone mentioned a double blowout in the Yukon? We had a triple blow out. Are there tacks on the road??
Why leave? We talked to people who had moved there for work and found they couldn’t take the winter darkness. Seems that can really get to you. And then there’s family down south who would rarely be seen (but that could be a plus OR a minus  
It was the trip of a lifetime, and if you have an adventurous soul, go!

▪    Jim Sathe on July 9th, 2010 8:53 am  
We took 7 weeks in 2008 in a 26′ travel trailer pulled by a 3/4 ton Duramax Diesel truck. Round trip from Idaho was about 8,500 miles. It was the best RV experience of our lives. We now have a 34′ 5th wheel and are considering another trip. Our highlights were Denali, Homer, Seward and Chicken. We don’t travel far in a day so we spent 3 weeks in Canada going and returning. Canada is very expensive, much more so than Alaska, particularly fuel and alcoholic beverages. Another brief highlight was the ferry ride across the Yukon at Dawson City. I also wrote a daily blog of our trip. You can see it at
http://www.jimrosietravels.blogspot.com.

▪    Lynne Schlumpf on July 8th, 2010 11:07 pm http://blog.rv.net/wp-admin/comment.php?action=editcomment&c=96066 
What kind of RV is best suited to Alaska?
We first bought a Class C in 2006. We loved it, but we had a lot of problems camping with it in Alaska.
There are very, very few places to get fresh water out of the ground. This is because you have to dig a trench 15 feet deep to lay a water line in Alaska to keep it from freezing and busting up. (we know because we had to hire an excavator to dig such a trench in 2005 to lay a water line from our house to our garage).
We love to RV into very remote areas. We kept filling up our grey and black water, and we kept running out of fresh water.
                                                                                                                                                              Another problem: Though we had a Ford F450 as a cab, it just did not do well on the many mountain roads we travel. We also kept running out of gas in the most inopportune places. Our gas generator gulped it, and we would keep having to find places to empty our septic or grey, and to fill up our tank.
We bought a 40 -foot diesel pusher the following year. It has 90 gallons of diesel capacity, a much quieter generator that barely sips, and we never have problems filling up our tanks. We also have a 90 gallon fresh water tank that we usually fill up at home from our artesian well and never hook up to anyone’s fresh water hookup.
The 300 HP Cummins does the trick on mountains roads and once saved our life in Hatcher Pass with its air brakes and air shocks. We were so glad to have our “Hog” on that day.
We drove the Alaska Highway in 2003 to escape layoffs and a life that just did not seem to make sense. My husband found a great job here with a big telecommunications company. We fell in love with Alaska then.
There were almost no murders here, the weather suited us just fine here in south-central (about 20 miles north of Anchorage).                                                                                                                                          We fell in love with our neighbors.
Things began to change.
The mayor of Anchorage started threatening rolling natural gas outages. We started hearing stories of people in the bush so desperate for fuel that they were stealing from each other.
The natural gas costs here are UNBELIEVABLE. The cost for heating oil for other places that don’t have access to natural gas are 6 dollars a gallon and up. Milk is 9 bucks a gallon in the bush.
We fell in love with an Alaska that was changing rapidly. We were sitting in a state that has an overabundance of gas and oil and minerals, but we were paying more for our vehicle’s gas and diesel than any other state in the U.S.
To ship a package is also outrageous. Recently, I tested the cost to ship something from camping world. The cost was $456.00 to ship this particular item that cost 500.00. Just to see, I tried putting in an address in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The cost to ship was 16.00. I am not kidding.
We rarely get good fresh fruit and vegetables here. Our bananas are often spoiled before they get here – bruised.
There are currently almost no doctors here who accept Medicare. We have a group insurance policy, and it cost us $1,500.00 out of pocket just to get a colonoscopy.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I recently took my little dog to have an x-ray and get some medicine for a urinary tract infection: $450.00 bill.
Doctors and veterinarians often charge unreal prices here.
Although that is not true of all of them, there are many who do.
People who are getting ready to retire often leave Alaska because they just cannot afford everyday things. (unless they have saved a boatload of cash in their lifetimes).
I have seen many, many people leave because of the cost of food and gas and just living here.
We are leaving after almost 9 years because my husband is retiring and because he needs to get better medical care somewhere else. We often wait months to see a specialist and many weeks to get test results.
If you think it is like that where you live, this place is very, very, very different. I have lived in many places in the U.S. Alaskans are the last to get anything as far as transportation. We have only one route to get from the Valley to Anchorage. If there is a traffic accident, people are often held up for hours and are late to work. This is not what you would call normal, because we get 80 to 140 inches of snow every year, and every
time it snows – there are hundreds of accidents and no one can get to work. There are no alternate routes here. We only have a few highways. You cannot travel to very much of Alaska by road.
And the winters are brutal – more so in some places than others of course.
                                                                                                                                                                                                         We once visited Fairbanks in March to see the Ice Castles and Lordy Lordy it was COLD! It was a blast driving there, but to do everyday things with dogs in the car was a challenge. Had to plug in everywhere. (we don’t normally plug in all the time in south-central)
If you love to RV, you can only do so from April to September. If you don’t winterize your RV properly, temperatures of -40 happen. This causes batteries to explode.
You only have a very limited amount of time to travel to the Lower 48 on the Alaska Highway because driving an RV in the winter out there is pretty tricky. 
So, we fell in love with this place, but it truly is changing a lot. There has been a lot more crime, and the transportation challenges are making it really tough.
Alaskans are typically very tough people, but many people do leave after awhile. The darkness is truly a challenge also, though you do seem to get it back in the summer. 
I don’t mean to sound negative in any way here. I love Alaskans and what they stand for, and how tough they are. But, if a place is starting to get to you – it is time to go. And it is tough to survive here on a retiree’s pension. It is also tough to earn a salary that enables you to live an equivalent life compared to other places. Housing is very high, and electric is also high because it is normally generated by natural gas. So wintertime utility bills can be anywhere from $400.00 a month to up to $1,000.00 a month for larger homes. 
Hope this helps.
Lynn.

Our Alaska Trip Part XXVI The Weather in Alaska

This entry is part 28 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 27, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 13 Comments

This is the 26th in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska

Our caravan has arrived at its 23rd stop in 48 days.  We have seen an incredible amount of geography from Washington State through British Columbia and Alaska, with a glimpse of Alberta. This series has focused, not on the scenery, history or wildlife, but on our experiences as RVers taking part in a caravan.  There have been dozens of side trips, excursions, cultural talks and events that haven’t been included, but they have definitely contributed to this journey-of-a-lifetime.

Bad Road - 0238

We are still finding more RV-related topics to discuss as we enter the final 10 days of our caravan and probably after that, but we’re always interested in what else you want to know about the trip.   Please let us know in the Comments Section.

THE WEATHER – Can you image the shock if you sat down at a Blackjack table in Las Vegas and were dealt 10 Blackjacks in a row?  That’s the thrill that Monique and I have felt over the past six weeks.  While we have had dreary, chilly days along the way, rainy nights and travel days, it seems like clouds have parted and the sun came out for every tour and daylong cruise on our route.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, it may be that the Creator of all this beauty wanted us to see it at its best so we could convey our excitement to readers in words and pictures.  The weather has just been too awesome.

We aren’t experts on the weather, particularly as it relates to the territories we have covered, but we do know that you probably don’t want to be in Alaska or the Yukon between late September and early May.  If you’re very adventurous and think you can defy the odds, forget it.  Almost everything RVers need closes for those months.  The RV parks drain their systems and pour in a form of antifreeze, lock up their electric system, close the gates and head for more tolerable climates.  Most gas stations – and there aren’t many to begin with – do the same.  Inns, also.  Locals travel by dogsled, seriously, often over frozen roads and rivers; intercity travel is by floatplanes or planes that land on ice.  Mostly, though, folks up here don’t travel much at all.

Priscilla at an RV gift shop said that she doesn’t go from Valdez to Anchorage when there’s a winter storm.  Thompson Pass gets 350 inches of snow a year and up to 800 inches.  In Valdez on the south coast, winter temperatures don’t get all that cold, only to minus-20 usually, but there is a constant 25 mile-an-hour wind, gusting up to 80.  The school bus in Tok is still picking up kids when it’s minus-73.

When the mercury drops to those levels, car batteries explode and metal cracks.  Those were some of the circumstances faced by workers building the Alcan Highway and the TransAlaska Pipeline.  When you get up here and see films on those projects, you’ll begin to appreciate the enormity of those tasks.  Infrastructure isn’t big on our list of interests.  However, seeing the weather conditions they encountered and the faces of those who ”got ‘er dun,” you’ll understand our admiration.

Come to Yukon and Alaska in June, July and August and you should have no problem.  Our preparations for the trip included 1) leaving some unnecessary stuff at a son’s house; 2) having the truck and RV checked over by a professional, 3) buying a spare fuel filter, and 4) putting a screen over the front of the car to intercept rocks and bugs.  Nothing else.  It’s been t-shirt weather for most of our trip, augmented by sweats and jackets when appropriate, like in front of glaciers.

If on your trip to Alaska you find yourself without adequate clothing for an unexpected change in the weather, have no fear.  There is a gift shop nearby selling a wide variety of jackets and sweatshirts emblazoned with logos you will want to show off when you return home.

You wouldn’t expect the weather to be the same in Chicago, New Orleans, Denver, Vermont and San Diego on any given day.  Alaska has its own variety of weather conditions, from Fairbanks to Skagway (the RV drive-able places).  It’s not all cold or pristine clear.  Variations in different areas of the coastal regions are caused by ocean currents, glaciers, mountains ranges, elevation and more.  As you head into the Interior, like Fairbanks, it’s colder, but in Juneau 800 miles away, things are totally different.  Ketchikan in the south enjoys 14 feet of precipitation a year.

Monday’s journey from Tok, Alaska, to Destruction Bay, Yukon Territory, a distance of 225 miles, was among the worst stretches of highway we have ever faced – we were told it’s worse than the drive to Chaco Canyon, Arizona, which Monique and I have heard is the worst.  Frost heaves, construction, mud, gravel, moose, bears and only a couple of diesel fuel stops stood in our way, but we made it (on fumes).  Even the most experienced RVers in our group reported damage to their rigs.

 

Looking out over dwarfed spruce in a permafrost field &, at right, the Alaska Pipeline makes its way across 799 miles of terrain

Looking out over dwarfed spruce in a permafrost field &, at right, the Alaska Pipeline makes its way across 799 miles of terrain

The weather for the trip was drizzle, then beautiful, puffy clouds over the majestic peaks in the distance – and we arrived with the air conditioner on.

The message for today is that if you want to be comfortable during your visit, pick months that offer the best chance of warm weather.  Nothing you can do about the rain and low-lying clouds, so focus on temperatures.

Mama Moose and youngster & Mama Bear teaches three offspring the art of salmon fishing

Mama Moose and youngster & Mama Bear teaches three offspring the art of salmon fishing

Incidentally, as we get used to the “Land of the Midnight Sun” effect, it’s beginning to get dark for a few hours a night.  I guess we’ll get used to seeing stars again in a couple of weeks.

In Destruction Bay, population 30, we encountered "Loose Gravel," a professional-quality band with Loren, our campground host, on the drums

In Destruction Bay, population 30, we encountered “Loose Gravel,” a professional-quality band with Loren, our campground host, on the drums

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

Comments

13 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XXVI The Weather in Alaska”

▪.  John A. Kerr on July 27th, 2010 5:28 pm  
In Oct 1973 my family and I were reassigned from Ft Carson, CO, to Ft Wainwright, Fairbanks, AK. We traded our 1969 Winnebago for a 1973 20-ft Winnebago Brave, hooked our Jeep on behind and headed off for the Alcan Highway. We encountered everything from rain to snow to beautiful conditions on our drive up on the dirt/rock road. We encountered no problems with either fuel or RV parking on the trip up. On arrival at Ft Wainwright I learned that my assignment had been changed and I was to report to Ft Richardson, Anchorage, AK, where we spent the next 3 years. We utilized our coach year round and learned quickly that you had to have an engine heater, a heated oil dipstick and a battery heater. We were limited to only a few campgrounds during the winter, but during the summer months we encountered no problems. You did learn to come around bends in the road slowly to ensure that moose, bear or caribou were not “lounging” on the warm asphalt pavement. We were never bothered by any animals in the camping areas during the summer or winter, though we did learn to look before we ventured out of the coach.
The weather is extremely unpredictable so you learn to have clothing for all seasons in the coach. A good folding snow shovel got us out of trouble on several occasions. If you are going to go in the winter make sure that you carry plenty of food, water, and I might suggest a set of chains as they may be needed for some of the roads. Also be prepared to encounter roads that are closed for periods of time due to snow.
Go to Alaska, whether by yourself or in a caravan, and experience the beauty of the state. Beauty that you cannot find anywhere else in the United States. The summer is of course the ideal time to visit, but I would not rule out fall, winter or spring. Just go prepared and be ready to encounter weather the likes of which you have never before seen.
Alaska is an adventure and one that I would recommend to anyone.

▪.  Constance on July 27th, 2010 5:49 pm  
I lived all over the Northwest Territories and Alaska as a child, and I do not recommend travel in an RV on those roads in the winter. Perhaps a 4-wheel drive Pickup camper or even pulling a small trailer.
The last few years have been mild compared to the years I spend there. Visitors and newbies are often ignorant of conditions, which is how my eyeball fluid got frozen the first year we were there…caused permanent damage to my eye muscles.
Constance

▪.  Lynne schlumpf on July 27th, 2010 6:28 pm  
Alaska’s best season is winter. The Northern Lights and clear skies and mountains so clear. Quiet, peaceful. No bears. No mosquitoes or no-see-ums up your nose. Just peaceful contemplation.
Lynne

▪.  Bob Derivan on July 27th, 2010 6:54 pm  
Stumbled onto your blog and have enjoyed it immensely. We drove to Alaska from Arizona alone last summer. We did encounter vehicle problems in isolated areas such as The Yukon and it would have been nice to have a caravan to help but we wouldn’t trade the experience for any place we’ve been. We spent the whole summer in Moose Pass on the Kenai. You drove through it on the Seward Hwy from Anchorage to Seward. Your blogs have brought back many great memories. We hope to someday do it again. I do agree that anyone who gets the chance to do it, to take it. They won’t be disappointed. Our most exciting experience was on the way home. We were driving North on the George Parks Hwy between Anchorage and Fairbanks and we too had been told chances of seeing Denali were slim. But as we turned the curve at Willow, there she was standing high and proud. We were still 160 miles away but were able to take many gorgeous photos of the Great Mountain. Although we were hoping to visit Denali up close, we were delayed in Wasilla again because of vehicle problems and missed the park closing for the season by one day, that experience enough we will remember for a lifetime. Travel safe.

▪.  Ron Thill on July 27th, 2010 11:33 pm  
We’re thinking about driving to Alaska next summer. I’m surprised you’ve not said much about mosquitoes or no-see-ums. I assumed they’d be a constant harassment throughout much of Alaska. Also, is it necessary to make RV park reservations along the Alcan Highway if one departs early (say by 6 or 7 a.m.) and only travels for 5-7 hours? Are there lots of boondocking sites along the Alcan Highway that would be considered RV friendly – – i.e., reasonably level, plenty of room to get in and out, not too rocky, etc. We won’t be in a caravan, so large boondocking sites aren’t a concern. Thanks for sharing your experiences with all of us.

▪.  Roger Garner on July 28th, 2010 5:03 am  
To Ron Thill’s questions, I would respond: forget about the mosquito stories. They’re no worse than a lot of places in the lower 48. Wind drives them away, so camp on a site that catches the wind. The ‘king of the road’ for this kind of trip is a pickup camper without a toad. The versatility of a truck rig will allow you to do many things you won’t get to do otherwise. Boondocking opportunities are everywhere in Canada and AK, but it takes the clearance of a pickup (preferably 4-wheel drive) to get to many of them. By planning to pitch camp before 4:00 I’ve never had trouble finding hookups. Long daylight hours cause people to drive later, thus waiting too late to find full-service vacancies. When you are in remote areas remember to fuel up when your tank is down to ½. Thanks Barry & Monique for a wonderful travelogue.

▪.  Kenneth Hospital on July 28th, 2010 7:21 am  
Thanks for telling us about your trip . We did this same trip a few years back with a tour and it was great. The only way to see Alaska is by RV . The road to Destruction Bay sounds the same as when we were there … bad . Thank for the great stories .

▪.  Bob Wiggs on July 28th, 2010 7:51 am  
I have really enjoyed reading your Blog. We drove the ALCAN last year to Alaska and had a BALL. This was our 1st time there and we could not get over all the beautiful scenery we saw. We’ve never been able to see Moose, Bears, Dall Rams on the road. We had such a good time, we’re planning a second trip in 2011 and plan to stay till about mid SEP in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights. Happy Trails Bob.

▪.  Dale Kincaid on July 28th, 2010 10:59 am  
Was or is Dubie still making bowls out of Black Spruce Burls at Destruction Bay?
He had a workshop behind the RV office. He was making some beautiful bowls back in 2003 when we went through there with Adventure Caravans.

[Yes, he sold several to our group, and after we bought a beautiful folding table from him, others in the group followed suit.]

▪.  roland lajoie on July 29th, 2010 10:01 am  
Of most interest is the toll that the roads are doing to the RV’s, i.e. tow trailer, 5th wheels , and particular to the motorhomes . You have talked of losing windshields, etc. ; what other damages have occurred to vehicles and how about toads?, are toads being taken along on this trip . We are trying to plan this trip to Alaska and most interested at this point of potential damage to vehicles; as the writings seem to indicate, roads over/all are not very good . Any information you can give would be appreciated. Trying to decide what vehicle to tow / leave somewhere else in storage and how to prepare for what appears to be a bumpy but toll / taking trip. 
Thanks for any help you may be .
Roland

▪.  Jimmie McElrea on July 29th, 2010 5:59 pm  
I am missing Part XVI of Our Alaska Trip and would like you to email or repost the blog. I am enjoying your blog tremendously. Thank you

▪.  Cathy on April 7th, 2011 8:41 pm  
Thanks for this blog. We are planning an RV trip to AK and these personal accounts are priceless! I had to comment on this Part since we have driven the Chaco Canyon entrance road. The rough part is only about 13 miles long, not 225! 
I wonder just how slow you had to go and how long it took you. We have a short Class A and had to go less than 10 mph into Chaco or it sounded like the whole thing would rattle apart. It was worth it. If you are towing a trailer, maybe you don’t hear or heed all that rattling?

Our Alaska Trip Part XXVII Responding to You

This entry is part 29 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 30, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 6 Comments

This is the 27th in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska

Wednesday we arrived in Skagway, Alaska, after a long drive from Destruction Bay, Yukon.  The trip took us into two provinces (Yukon Territory and British Columbia) and one state (Alaska) and included two surprises.

Surprise 1 – The road out of Destruction Bay began as another of those horrid blacktops with jarring frost heaves that caused members of the caravan to be ready to stomp on the brakes at all times for about a hundred miles.  The tough part was that the highway was fine for a mile or two until we began bouncing unexpectedly.  Some spots were marked with signs or flags but most weren’t.  Caution, caution, caution! 

Surprise 2 – The second surprise was that this was one of the most awe-inspiring segments of the trip that we have encountered.  Monique called it “outrageous” because of the beauty.  Not only are the lakes, mountain, rivers and terrain gorgeous, but there are a variety of attractions along the way that slowed down our progress.  A “glacial desert” among the mountains, the historic village of Carcross, two interesting bridges and other unexpected sights begged us to make roadside stops.

"Outrageous," "Awe-Inspiring," Call it what you will, the drive to Skagway (top right) is worth taking the bumps in the road

“Outrageous,” “Awe-Inspiring,” Call it what you will, the drive to Skagway (top right) is worth taking the bumps in the road

Skagway is a major port of call for cruise ships, many of which carry more passengers and crew than the town’s population where it docks.  The ocean tourists tear down the ramp at the harbor and immediately rush into town to soak up a few minutes of history before or after visiting the dozens of jewelry stores and other shops selling things they didn’t know they needed.  A few hours later, they’re back on deck comparing the bargains they think they got.

We spent last winter in Key West, Florida, which is another cruise ship port, but it has held much of its characters, probably because of the characters who live there.  Skagway, on the other hand, according to locals, has changed in the past six or so years to accommodate those passengers sprinting through town.  Some do get to take the ride up the fantastic road on which we arrived, but probably most stay within sight of the massive bows of the ships at the end of Broadway.

Monique is out today, Friday, on a National Park Service-led walking tour of the town, and later we’ll head for the hills to visit sites important during Klondike gold rush days.

An Orca ("Killer Whale") comes alongside as we cruised to Juneau

An Orca (“Killer Whale”) comes alongside as we cruised to Juneau

Now for some responses to your comments:

Traveling in Truck Campers:  To the response about truck campers being the best way to see the Far North, that does seem to be a very practical way to visit Yukon and Alaska, but it’s not necessary.  We are of the opinion that you’re better off choosing an RV to fit your lifestyle, not just for a long trip.  We see every type of RV on the roads and in parks.  No one seems to have any special problems.  Age of the rig shouldn’t matter, but it’s strongly recommended that it be in good condition for the trip.  It will get a workout.

Toads:  I checked with Wagonmaster Ken and Tailgunner Spence about damage to towed vehicles.  They both said it’s not an issue.  The damages done could have happened anywhere on North American roads.  Yes, there is rough riding up here, but you quickly learn to take it slow and watch for problem areas.  If you’re worried, take it even slower – nobody behind you will get mad.

Pull-outs:  Earlier we reported that many pullouts have “No Camping” signs.  That was probably in just a few places.  We have since seen lots of pullouts with RVs apparently staying for a few hours, a day or longer with no restrictions.

Mosquitoes: They have only bothered us a couple of times.  We’ve gotten bitten by insects much more often in the lower 48 (but we’ve been bitten hard by the bug to return to Alaska, maybe even in winter when the Northern Lights are visible).

Reservations:  We don’t know for sure because our caravan planners took care of that for us.  Getting into private campgrounds early is probably a safe bet, like around 4 p.m.  Most of the campground owners seem to try hard to accommodate everyone, even if it means providing dry-camping spaces.  There are lots of public campgrounds in most places, and, again, the roadside stops seem like good “resting” places.  Don’t expect to find back roads to snuggle into – most off-the-highways roads aren’t suitable for rigs.

As RVers, we think of night as dark.  In Skagway in late July, which is in the southwest, we have about 16 hours of light, 5 hours of dusk and 3 hours of night.  In mid-summer in mid-Alaska, it turns to dusk for about three hours per day.  It’s not the type of darkness that makes the night scary.

Wooden Bowls:  Dubie still makes the bowls of black spruce burls and hiking sticks of diamond willow.  We and several others in our group bought beautiful folding tables in Destruction Bay made of laminated birch, aspen, cedar and oak with spruce legs, and some had a strip of purple heart embedded.  Those are handcrafted by Evalt Miller of Burns Lake.

This century-old "Thunderbird House" panel of the Shangookeidi Clan, Yakutal Tlinglit welcomes visitors to the Alaska State Museum near the State Capitol in Juneau

This century-old “Thunderbird House” panel of the Shangookeidi Clan, Yakutal Tlinglit welcomes visitors to the Alaska State Museum near the State Capitol in Juneau

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

Comments

6 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XXVII Responding to You”

▪.  Lynne schlumpf on July 30th, 2010 4:56 pm  
What Alaskans do get a little angry about is RVers from the Lower 48 who ignore the signs that say it is illegal to delay 5 vehicles behind you. This means “PULL OVER” when you start to see them stack up behind you.
 It is a law in Alaska. That’s why there are so many turnouts. But don’t hurt yourself trying to pull over where there are no turnouts. We’ll wait for you to get to one.
 And yes almost all of them allow camping as much as you like. A week even. Most don’t say “no overnight camping.”
We’re known to just pull over anyplace we get tired.

And come back the last week of February and the first week of March. Fur Rondy, Iditarod, Ice Castles in Fairbanks, Northern Lights.

▪.  Kurt Hammerschmidt on July 30th, 2010 5:21 pm  
Please don’t forget to give us a tally of the total fuel costs for your trip. It would be appreciated.

▪.  Peggy from Texas on July 30th, 2010 8:57 pm  
Thanks again for your write up of your travels and passing on what you have seen… I’ve said this before that we rode to Alaska twice, two-up on a 1998 Harley 1200 Sportster then a 2009 Harley TriGlide…
Believe it was riding through British Columbia then into Yukon Territory where there were many pullouts where there was a warning ‘not to pull in and/or park’ as there were gas pipes above ground and very dangerous per the signs…
You mention your ride into Skagway and pictures… On August 3, 2009 we rode on our TriGlide from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to Skagway, Alaska, USA via Klondike Hwy 2 – through town of Carcross, over the wooden-planked bridge, etc – absolutely awesome…
If you click on our site http://triglide.multiply.com – photos – page 3 – album named 2009-08-03 Whitehorse to Skagway, click on first picture then click on slideshow – 171 pictures… View from the Rear as I took pictures all along the roads we traveled… Then click on album named 2009-08-03 Skagway – click on first picture then slideshow – 45 pictures of Skagway…
What I liked being in Skagway, Alaska, USA was I could use my cell phone to call family in lower 48 and not as an International call which would have been from Canada…
We never worried about the price of gas – always used high test for any of the Harleys – but the gas was a necessity for our travels throughout the country, we didn’t let it stop us from riding…
By the way, I just bought a 32′ Jayco, Class C as I’ll be a full-time RV’r…
Peggy (cubbear)

▪.  Barbara Mull on July 31st, 2010 7:53 am  
I’d like to echo Lynne’s suggestions about timing of a winter trip to Alaska – late Feb, early March. Fur Rendezvous (Rondy) is a 2-week time of carnival in Anchorage. By that time in the winter you usually need some diversion so the events are kind of wacky – like the outhouse race, snowshoe softball, etc. You can see more about Rondy at http://www.furrondy.net/. You can also view the World Championship Dog Sled Race during Rondy – amazing to see how those dogs love running. And Fairbanks is a great place to see the Northern Lights – less city light there. You might try the Aurora Borealis Lodge http://www.auroracabin.com/ or Chena Hot Springs Resort if you’d like a warm soak as well http://www.chenahotsprings.com/ You might also see ice fog (sometimes with a mirage) or sundogs. Just be prepared with lots of warm clothing, including boots. Winter in Alaska is a fine time. Since I moved back to North Carolina I’ve been impressed with how much darker country roads are here at night than they are in Alaska where there’s lots of white, bright snow cover from Oct to April/May.

Our Alaska Trip Part XXIX Plusses/Minuses of a Caravan

This entry is part 32 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

August 8, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 14 Comments

This is the 29th article in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska

We have said our fond farewells to 58-day caravan buddies and returned to our lives as full-time solo RVers.  While members of our group continued eastward or southward from Smithers, British Columbia, Monique and I drove directly west to the nearest ocean, where we found a perfect dry camp site in Prudhomme Lake Provincial Park near the port city of Prince Rupert.

After a hectic trip, we squeezed into a rustic campsite in Prudhomme Lake Provincial Park in British Columbia

After a hectic trip, we squeezed into a rustic campsite in Prudhomme Lake Provincial Park in British Columbia

We have had an incredible adventure over the past two months.  Wish you could have been with us … but, many of you have said you felt like you were.  Now it’s time to get down to business.  In the next edition, we’ll talk about our expenses, but today let’s talk about whether signing up for a caravan is the right choice for you.

The trick here is that what one person/couple sets as a priority, another person/couple might shun.  Most obvious is regimentation.  Some caravans are very structured, doing things like assigning travel partners – “Rigs 7 and 12 will leave at 8:22 traveling together.”  Others give a range of times to depart and everyone makes his own arrangements, if they want any.

In our caravan, for instance, which was unstructured, there were friends from either earlier travels or from getting to know one-another on this trip, who chose to travel in tandem, staying together on the road, taking advantage of their common interests.  The other 11 rigs were on their own, appreciating the opportunity to stop when and where they wanted without consulting anyone.

Which is better?  It’s totally your call based on your own personality.

That said let’s list some of the plusses and minuses of caravanning, as we see it (and a disclaimer – when I say “he,” it means “he,” “she” or “the couple”):

Some of the Plusses:

1)      A safe way to travel.  The “Tailgunner” makes sure rigs are in good operating condition everyday.  His main duty is to be the last RV out of the campground and the last into the next one.  Along the way, he checks caravan-recommended attractions en route to insure everyone who has stopped there, if any, has gone on.  When things go wrong on the road, the Tailgunner shows up to help.

2)      In several cases in our caravan, other members stopped to render assistance before the Tailgunner arrived.  Remember, there are long stretches of uninhabited land between campgrounds.  On at least three occasions, members of the group took the time to help others repair difficult mechanical problems.

3)      The trip log.  A book handed out by the Wagonmaster with exact directions on how to get from Point A to Point B, including fuel and food availability, plus suggested interesting stops.  This supplements “Milepost.”

4)      Your trip is planned for you.  No worries about which direction to go next, where to stop at night, whether an excursion is worth doing.  No worry about finding room in a campground with no reservations to make.  The Wagonmaster, who is in charge of the entire tour, keeps things moving and can add extra events.

5)      Less chance of spending time and money on an attraction not worth it.   And as a bonus, we’ve gotten special seating at shows and on cruises, etc., adding to the experience.

6)      Excursions:  There were several bus and train rides, cruises, other excursions and shows that we would have passed on because of cost or because we thought we wouldn’t be interested.  Since they were included in the tour’s cost, we did them and were glad.  You know what the trip will cost and it’s paid in advance, so there are no unpleasant surprises (you still pay for fuel, groceries, eating out, souvenirs and rig maintenance).

7)      Any complaints about campgrounds, attractions or members of the group can be brought to the attention of the Wagonmaster for him to act on it, as appropriate.

8)      Since most travelers have limited time in which to see as much as possible, the caravan keeps things moving.  You may want to stay in a town longer, but it would be at the expense of something ahead that you’ll want to see or do.

9)      You can read about border crossing regulations and other need-to-know topics online or in “Milepost,” but the Wagonmaster reminds you and speaks from experience.

10)  Camaraderie:  We feel fortunate that the people in our caravan were compatible and congenial.   A tour like we took can be grueling, so the voluntary socials provided a good opportunity to relieve some stress.  We appreciated the times when we stopped for coffee or lunch on the road and were joined by others who chose the same café.   One member of our group said she wanted to caravan so she had people to talk with for two months other than her husband.

11)  If you’re traveling alone where most areas have no cellphone service or people nearby, so you’re incapable of contacting road service (or police), it’s an advantage to be part of a group.

And now some minuses:

1)      Costs.  Not only are there administrative costs and a profit that needs to be made by the tour company built into the fee, but you pay for items you might skip when traveling on your own, including full-hook-up campgrounds where available.  Take into consideration the number of meals and events included, which varies by company, affects the cost.

2)      Budget.  If you can’t afford the upfront cost, then it makes the decision easier.

3)      Having to leave and arrive by a certain time.  Not being able to stay long in places that you like is a negative.  When you have to leave even if you didn’t get a chance to see a place because of rain or fog can make a long drive a trip to nowhere.  A planned caravan doesn’t allow you to stay waiting for good weather.

4)      If you want to stay in a town longer to fish, shop or because you know someone there, it doesn’t work with the caravan’s schedule.  And since distances in the Northwest are so great, it’s not like you can drive longer hours to catch up.

5)      You probably won’t know your Wagonmaster until you talk with him.  Some are “The General,” commanding their troops.  Others are easy going with a less structured attitude (based on what we have heard from others who have been on several caravans).  Whether one extreme or the other is better or somewhere in between, it depends on your preferences.

6)      You won’t know the members of the group until you meet them, and then it takes a few days or longer to adjust to the different personalities.

7)      Some RVers eat out every meal; others want to fix their own.  Some opt for the best restaurants; others look for low-cost fare.  It takes guts to say that you’d rather not eat at their selection.

Don’t think that just because we took a caravan tour and that the number of plusses is greater than the minuses that we’re indicating what you should choose.  Neither is a reason to make a decision.  Each aspect listed must be weighed based on your likes and dislikes – and, of course, your budget — and add to that any special needs and preferences you have.   It’s your vacation!

If you decide to do it on your own, from what we have seen during our two months in these mostly uninhabited vast wilderness areas, we strongly recommend that you travel with one or more rigs in your party.  Something as simple as a flat tire could cost you days without help.

As mentioned at the beginning, we will address the issue of costs and budgeting your tour in the next article.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

Comments

14 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XXIX Plusses/Minuses of a Caravan”

▪.  Gary on August 8th, 2010 4:34 pm  
You perfectly describe the major problem with caravans. SCHEDULES !! I don’t want to be tied to someone’s shirttails for any traveling. Didn’t grow up that way and as I/we got older, it has gotten even worse. Don’t like to have ant interference with our ideas of “seeing” what there is to see. I have enjoyed all of your reporting and what you have done. But now, we need the same thing about the, as you said, “lower 48″. You did hit upon the state of Washington and we need to keep that area a secret. Too many here now. Growing up there was plenty of room. Now, too much has been written and too many shows actually stating the fact that it doesn’t always rain. We get lots and most people then leave after a really WET winter. That happens all the time. Outta room. Thanks again. Have fun!!

▪.  Jane on August 8th, 2010 5:00 pm  
Thanks Barry and Monique….What a wonderful journey you guys have had…I tried to go to the web page you suggested to get the whole series of your adventures…but it did not come up…It came up with you and Monique profile, but nothing about your travels…we are traveling for four months and I wanted to print out the articles when we get home…any suggestions??  !!! Also to you, Gary….Do you have any friends? Sounds like you are very bitter and just into yourself….sorry for you…Jane

▪.  Stan Zawrotny on August 8th, 2010 6:06 pm  
That was a great summary of the good and the bad, as it pertains to caravans. I have followed your blog from the beginning and have picked up some of them already. Thank you for an excellent blog that answered many questions for me about both Alaska and caravanning. Enjoy the rest of your vacation.

▪.  Gene on August 8th, 2010 8:46 pm  
Thanks for the blog. I know it takes a lot of time & effort to put it together every day or so – particularly in such a readable & informative fashion. I’ve printed each chapter and have them all in a binder with the intention of shamelessly using them to sell the DW on a similar trip!
BTW – I have hyperlinks to all but the 1st 5 chapters and can forward them on to anyone that’s missed a chapter or two. Just send an email to: GBostwick@Hotmail.com
Thanks again.

▪.  Don & Irene Ritchey on August 8th, 2010 9:49 pm  
Traveled a number of times to the Yukon and Alaska and fortunately have not had any tire or mechanical issues, but in case, we are covered by the Good Sam plan. 
Barry and Monique. Did you when heading west to Prince Rupert from Smithers stop in Terrace either going through or coming back, and if so, what were your thoughts of this small town as I thoroughly like it there

▪.  Larry on August 9th, 2010 7:07 am  
How has your RV held up to this trip? I have a TT and not sure if it would withstand a trip such as that. 

[We had no problems, except we later realized that the housing for the heater had wriggled a bit, allowing a tiny aperture … that mice found worth exploring.  Any fairly durable rig should be able to survive the trip in good condition.]

▪.  Margaret on August 9th, 2010 7:48 am  
I looked forward every evening to read about your trip/events. (Of course, some evenings there were no accounts). Please continue to publish your activities anywhere you go. Right now I want to hear more on Prince Rupert; only because I’ve been there to catch the ferry north. Along the highway from Jasper, Alberta to Prince Rupert, BC there was a ‘Kingcaid’ moment along the highway. It was a pond with two white horses galloping into the darken lush woods. Thanks for all you write. Peace and Love.

▪.  Vulpine on August 9th, 2010 8:06 am  
I’ve been silently lurking at the side of the road, reading this series from the beginning. From my own (very) limited experience and the tales I have heard from others who have done the Alaska trip on their own, your list of advantages/disadvantages is extremely valid. 
Personally, probably the greatest advantage is the ‘Tailgunner’. The horror stories I have heard and read about the Alaska Highway point out that anything and everything can go wrong while you’re on that road, and unless you are well prepared and have at least some moderate mechanical skills, a breakdown could be critical. A blown tire may be the most common problem, but broken headlights, springs or other, even more severe damage is not out of the question. Considering the great distances between towns, it’s not like you can simply dial out on your cell phone for assistance.
I probably wouldn’t have tried the trip with a motorcoach or even conventional travel trailer, but I wouldn’t be afraid to try it with my Jeep and a trail-ready popup. Then again, I’m a paranoid type when it comes to RVing; I’ve done everything from Popups to Class A’s with my family and have seen both the positives and negatives of each one.
That said, the advantage of experienced guides also means that you get to see and do things you might never have considered had you tried the trip on your own. It’s a trip I want to make, but living effectively on the East Coast makes that adventure highly unlikely for me. I congratulate you on your successful Caravan and look forward to your final views on the trip.

▪.  henry wilgo on August 13th, 2010 4:20 pm  
Hey, reading and saving all your comments ,,, always wanted to go, got a 35 foot 5th wheel ,., but money is tight, and the biggest BUT, is that we the parents have to first deal with our son, 29yr old vet who is SUFFERING From THE BI-POLAR DESEASE ,,, a real bumpy road to say the very least.
it is just a joy to follow you, and your very well written and informative “hit the nail on the head” comments… thanks. henry and joanne,,,dad and mon (want to be ) full RV timers..

Our Alaska Trip Part XXX The Cost of Our Trip

This entry is part 33 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

12August 12, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 11 Comments

This is the 30th article in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska

We have kept daily tabs on the cost of our 58-day caravan tour through western Canada into and around Alaska and back.  The tough part now is to find a way to make our spending relevant to everyone else.  But, let’s give it a try …

Tour Company:  Our only set expense was the money we sent to Adventure Caravans to participate.  You might want to take the same trip or a shorter one if you decide to caravan, and you may, after comparing features, decide on another tour company.  There are too many alternatives to cost it out in a logical way.  Add to that each year the cost of enrollment will probably be different.

If you break it down into cost-per-day to caravan, that also has variables, e.g., what events and meals are included.  If the trip you select offers the cheapest cost, you will probably be getting a less enjoyable tour.  And since the Alaska trip is not something you will be doing often, you want to get the most out of your visit.

On the cheapie side, you may decide to do it on your own [see Part XXIX].  Staying in Canadian provincial parks or on pullouts available almost everywhere will save you lots of money over the caravan’s full-hookup choices.

This isn’t meant to dodge the issue.  You need to look at the various tour companies’ routes and features, pare the choices down to the ones that make sense to you, and then compare cost.  [Wish I could find a quick resource on the net, but gotta get off this borrowed computer]  From our research, the caravan rates are very competitive, taking into account the different features.

Fuel:  The next biggest single expense for us was fuel.  We traveled 6,171 miles at a cost of $2,373 (we get 10.5 mpg in our diesel GMC pickup with a 22-gallon tank).   Price of fuel varied from about $3.56 a gallon to a high of $8 a gallon (twice in very remote areas, so we only got enough to get us to the next station).  Most of the time it was between $3.87 and $4.00 per gallon.

We pulled our 10,000-pound Bigfoot trailer, plus, the bed of our truck is our garage, which lowers our fuel mileage.  On several occasions, when going to local attractions, we rode with others.  The back seat of our truck is used for storage, so we couldn’t return the favor.

Oh, and for all these expenses except caravan enrollment fee keep in mind you would be paying for many of these costs of traveling anyway.  Our RV park camping fees and some meals were included in the upfront tour cost.  On your own you might pay less, but it would still cost you some money.

Groceries, excursions and incidentals:  These will vary greatly to fit your personal preferences.  Monique is an excellent frugal gourmet cook (who buys better quality meat, organic produce, etc.) so we ate at restaurants only 19 times in 57 days – probably the fewest times of anyone else on the tour.  Five of those were at fast-food places.  Most of the others were with other couples or all the members of the group.  Add to that stops for coffee, pastries and snacks, and our total was $600.  You’ll be spending money for those no matter where you are on the road.

There's so much to see, so much to do.  Try to take your time to be in the present.

There’s so much to see, so much to do. Try to take your time to be in the present.

Our most important advice for Canada/Alaska visitors is participate in as many of the organized side trips, excursions, cruises, flights, shows and cultural opportunities that fit into your finances and time budgets, especially the cruises.  The scenery and wildlife are worth the arduous visit, but it goes to another dimension on these.  You’ve come a long way – go for all the gusto you can.

Examples of costs if going on your own:  A day cruise at the Kenai Fjords (an absolute MUST! to see humpback whales, orcas, puffins, sea lions and much more) $155 per person.  A train ride to see a gold mine replica and pan for gold, about $139 p/p (but you’re guaranteed to find gold flakes and maybe a nugget).  The 184-mile round-trip tour-guided bus ride into Denali National Park, priceless!

Groceries are expensive in the Far Northwest but cheaper than eating out.  Our tab was just under $1,000 or about $18 per day.  That included shopping for a few potlucks and taking snacks to the socials occasionally, a voluntary part of being on the caravan.

Incidentals [NOTE to our grandchildren:  Don’t expect much!]  We are not shoppers.  We bought a few t-shirts, a cap and some pins and hiking stick medallions to help us remember our journey, but not much.  Also in this category is laundry, car washes, etc., and the biggest part of “incidentals,” side trips and excursions not included in the tour cost.

I whitewater rafted once (a thrill), we rode the gondola up a mountain in Banff, I played golf at Top of the World Golf Club, we paid for a cruise to Seldovia (a highlight), and we forked over a few bucks for museums.  We bought a handmade wooden table for $60.  Total cost of Incidentals & Excursions:  just over $1,000.  Some of the things we did not buy that our fellow travels did were: jewelry, expensive apparel, fishing license (although I bought and never used a rod & reel), extra tours including flights, and extra fishing trips.

You’d probably be spending some money on these things in Alaska, Arkansas or Arizona, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.  And, again, we – as full-time RVers without a house — are far more fiscally conservative than most of our travelmates.

Repairs:  An additional expense you can expect on a trip like this is repairs and damages.  A bottle of wine and a bottle of balsamic vinegar broke early in the trip on a road heave, and the remote control for a radio was crushed when a recliner landed on it, but that’s the extent of our damage.  At least half of our group is getting windshields replaced this week, but several of those dings happened before we left the Lower 48 and others were on good roads.  It happens!

There were several mechanical problems encountered by members of the group, many of which could have just as easily happened on interstates.  We’re talking here of well over 110,000 miles compiled by the caravan as a whole.  That’s lots of opportunities for problems.

Finally, there were pre-trip costs.  Everyone needed a CB radio for the caravan.  We all had to replace any “questionable” tires, as our mechanic phrased it, and most bought spare fuel filters.  Some of us paid to jerryrig protection on the front of our trucks, towed or coaches, which were cost-savings rather than expenses.   We invested in a very expensive lens for my camera, but there will be more about that in an upcoming article.

Was all this worth it?  Looking at it one way, it depends on how you value your money, what are your priorities in life.  For us — and remember we’re conservative with money — this trip was life at its best.  For us, the overwhelming answer is:  “Yes, it was worth it!”

From the “Never-Bored RVers.” We’ll see you on down the road.

NOTE:  We are staying at provincial parks, often far from towns, so WiFi is a rarity.  We’ll have more soon.

Comments

11 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XXX The Cost of Our Trip”

▪.  Jerry X Shea on August 13th, 2010 6:46 pm  
Our costs. We took a trip for 4 months from the time we crossed into Alberta until we came out into Washington. Gas would have been the same if we did it in 30 days.
Between parking for free, State Parks for $10 a night and RV campgrounds, we had an average cost of about $22.50 a night. For 4 months that was $2,700 (one month would have only been $675). The one that caught us off guard was the cost of food. With the exception of buying a hot mocha in the a.m. and a Subway sandwich (which is not $5 but $7) whenever we could, we only went out to eat 6 times on the whole trip (oh come on now, it’s called a motorHOME trip, not a hotel resort trip). When you have to pay $22 for an uncooked chicken, $3.75 for one avocado and $6.50 for a dozen eggs you suddenly realize you have miscalculated your food cost “big time.” Oh yes, did I mention you can buy a 12-piece bucket of KFC for only $29.99? You get the idea. When you plan your trip, what you spend on food in the lower 48, just go times 4 and you will have your food costs.

▪.  Lee Ensminger on August 13th, 2010 8:03 pm  
We made an extensive trip in the summer of 2007, driving from Ohio to Montana, then up to the beginning of the Alaskan Highway, driving the entire length, going through the interior to Fairbanks, then to Denali, Anchorage, Homer, Seward, the Kenai Peninsula, other places I won’t mention, put the motorhome aboard the Alaskan Ferry System in Whittier, going ashore in Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Ketchikan before being put ashore in Bellingham, WA.
Camping costs: $;
Food: $$
Fuel: $$$;
Whale watching and glacier exploring tours various places: $$$$;
Ferry: $8,000.00+;
Seeing the beauty and majesty that is Alaska: PRICELESS!!!
We’re currently planning our next trip there. And we can’t wait to go back!

▪.  Lynne Schlumpf on August 14th, 2010 4:29 am  
First would like to say thanks so much for your triplog. For those who want an experience they will never ever forget and who love to ride in the front of every rollercoaster (like me), there is another way to experience the beautiful North. Travel up through Wyoming and Montana and cross the border at Lethbridge during the last two weeks of February. The border guards are friendly and not stressed. Stop all along the way and stay in hotels in places like Dawson Creek, Lake Watson, Fort Nelson (call ahead here because oil workers swarm there in winter). Stop and talk to everyone. They are relaxed and friendly and so many great stories you’ll hear. The wildlife you see in the winter is so much more plentiful and the mountain views would make a grown man cry. Spend the last week of February at the Fur Rendezvous (Let’s Rondy!) watching the world championship dog races right downtown 4th street. Ride a Ferris wheel in the dead of winter. See huge dogs in the world championship dog weight pull. See the start of the Iditarod in the first week of March right downtown. Drive north through the jaw-dropping Denali National Park with guaranteed views of Denali. Thought it was great during summer? It pales in comparison. See the Ice Castle carving championship in Fairbanks, the outhouse races in Chatanika. Drive north to Circle late at night to see Northern lights few ever see. Then drive back down the Alaska Highway, knowing you’ve shared in the lives of Alaskans in a way few people in RVs ever get to see. It cost us about $1,100 to drive one way, eat, and stay in hotels. It is something that will remain with me for a lifetime.

We did it in a Dodge Durango 4wd. Any 4wd will do. Studded snow tires not necessary but would be even better. Canadians know how to keep the roads plowed.

▪.  Dan Kapa on August 14th, 2010 7:09 am  
i just bought a used “Alaskan” truck camper (circa 1965) and am fantasizing about a road trip. this info is great and I would like some more ideas about joining a caravan. i am 63 y.o. and would appreciate the company since I am a newbie. Chime in about anything you think i should know or learn.
sincerely, Dan

▪.  Stan Zawrotny on August 14th, 2010 10:29 am  
Your expenses were quite similar to ours. We also ate most meals in our trailer and didn’t buy a lot of gifts for the grandkids. We took the Denali tour and the Kenai Fjords cruise (both priceless).
Here is a rundown of our expenses for a somewhat shorter stay (includes Alaska and Canada).
Fuel $2,720 (10.5 mpg);
Campgrounds $540 (19 nights, $25.00 – $41.41);
Dining out $218;
Food $396;
Gifts $165;
Admissions/tours $743;
Misc $252.
Hope this helps others with their planning/budgeting.

▪.  Rebecca on August 14th, 2010 7:06 pm  
I have a 41′ diesel pusher. Is this too big for travel through Alaska? I need a driver!!
I might have to do it by cruise but I would rather do it by RV.

▪.  Dr. Yaroslaw Sereda on October 26th, 2010 9:30 pm  
We recently purchased a 1979 Dodge camper van, and Alaska is our destination in mid-June 2011 for 2 months. There have been many comments in touring Alaska via Alberta, we live in Saskatchewan. My question and not mentioned by anyone is: what about gas stations? Close or far apart. We were told to have several full gas containers on hand. Comments appreciated.
Thanks [Actually, it was mentioned often in the blogs and in the comments.  While I think it’s a good idea to have enough spare fuel for maybe 50 miles, we never needed it.  This is a good reason to purchase “Mileposts,” which will keep you aware of what to expect on the road ahead.]

Our Alaska Trip Part XXXII-B Some Final Thoughts

This entry is part 36 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

August 18, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 18 Comments

 This is the second part of a two-part article, No. 32 in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska

CB Radio – Since caravans require having a CB radio to communicate with the staff and other rigs while on the road, on my son’s advice we got a powerful CB radio with a faceplate loaded with knobs and toggles.  That gave us more opportunities to accidentally hit or turn the wrong feature, … opportunities we took!  Suggestion 1) Get a good CB radio, but if you’re not familiar with them, don’t go overboard with features. And 2) ask advice on which antenna to buy and where to put it on your truck or rig.  It makes a difference in reception, particularly, for us, when you’re trying to talk with a caravan member located behind the trailer.

Speed Limits – I mentioned earlier that I taped a chart on my steering wheel to convert mph to kph.  We’re still in Canada and I’m still referring to it often.  An inconvenience is that most Canadian roads don’t have “Resume Speed” signs, so it’s not obvious when you can legally get back to 90 or 100 kph.  And it gets tricky in towns posted at 40, which have a stretch of unpopulated areas, and then you realize you’re still in town where 90 could get you a hefty ticket.  Also, when a road sign before a curve says “SLOW,” it’s a good idea to slow down.

Sales Tax – The merchants often explain, “The ministry wants its share” when adding the sales tax.  In Alaska, there is no sales tax – except in a few towns.  It’s a good idea to ask before buying.  By the way, the State of Alaska has about eight “boroughs,” comparable to counties, and the rest of the state in the Interior is mainly U.S. Government lands.

Carrying Cash – There was a question in the last Comments section about having enough cash with you for the trip.  First, Visa & MasterCard credit cards are accepted just about everywhere, but we did run into a couple of times when the local electricity wasn’t working – a minor inconvenience that can be overcome with cash.  Another reason to get cash at banks or money exchanges along the way is that when you’re in Canada, you do better using Canadian currency.  When in Alaska, you’re better off with Uncle Sam’s greenbacks.  It’s a good idea to check with your bank about extra charges for using your plastic in Canada.

Brochures – Monique is an avid brochure reader, which often results in our finding places and attractions that are off the beaten path or that explain why a place we wouldn’t consider visiting could be the highlight of our week. There are lots of free brochures and tourist books everywhere, so it’s advantageous to take some time to skim through them.

We had our photo taken at Mile 0 of U.S. Hwy. 1 in Key West and Mile 0 of the Alaskan Highway in Dawson Creek.  I asked two Park Service rangers where Mile 0 is in Skagway, which is the end of the road.  Neither knew, but one mentioned there is the Mile 0 B&B in town.  When I replied that that’s closer to Mile 1 than the end of the road, he opined that Skagway is a town of hoaxes, trickery and a take-advantage-of-you attitudes, which could be why they named the B&B Mile 0.  Good answer!

We found an Inukshuk just our size -- but we couldn't lift it to load it into the travel trailer

We found an Inukshuk just our size — but we couldn’t lift it to load it into the travel trailer

Inukshuks – In my article listing handy definition you should know, one important omission was the “Inukshuk” (another spelling might be “inuksuk”).  Monique adopted a couple of them for our trailer and we had pictures taken with others.  The First People’s “Inukshuk” is a statue built of stones that, depending on the person giving you its history, is either, 1) to point the way from one place to another by: A) looking in the direction of its arms or B) by looking between the legs, or 2) a marker of a spot, like where to find the best caribou, or 3) since it is in the form of a man, it was to scare away critters.  Take your pick.

We crossed over from British Columbia to Washington, camping in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, enjoying an aqua-water riverside campsite just down the road from Mt. Baker with views of several of the most scenic mountains in the U.S.

And with that I wind up the series on “Our Trip to Alaska.”  BUT, one final thought about visiting Alaska by RV.  For only a very few independent spirits, Alaska is not a destination, but rather a journey.  The absolutely unforgettable adventures encountered while driving through Western Canada with all the wonders of nature surrounding you and of wrapping yourself in the widely varied experiences of Alaska is what it was all about, at least for us.  In our opinion, this is the ultimate RVing experience of North America.

Alaska Trip Sampler

I have more articles in mind relevant to RVing, including memorable travel experiences, past and future, so stay tuned.

From the “Never-Bored RVers.” We’ll see you on down the road

Comments

18 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XXXII-B Some Final Thoughts”

▪.  GK on August 18th, 2010 10:54 pm  
On speed limits in Canada: instead of using a “Resume Speed” sign, most Canadian provinces put a speed limit sign at the point where the speed limit changes back, since the speed limit prior to a section may different than the one after it. This is true for Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia. There are times where the speed limit sign is pretty far away from where you might expect it to be. Each province, county/MD, city and town has different rules on where/how they do it, and sometimes they don’t seem very well thought out. But there always is one as far as I can remember in the past 30 years of driving (yup, I’m still a “youngster”).
I have to admit that I don’t recall seeing very many “Resume Speed” signs in the US, but I’ve only driven in about half of the the lower 48. I do generally remember seeing speed limit signs at the point where the limit would change back, though.
I had the “benefit” of learning to drive a few years after we switched to metric, so my first beaters had mph. I’ve memorized the most common conversions (50km/h=30mph, 60km/h=35mph, 90km/h=55mph, 160km/h=a chat with a judge  ), and can do the rest in my head if need be. The coolest solution in a car was a Chevy Malibu I rented once to drive from Calgary down through the US: there was a setting to make everything metric or imperial (speedo, odometer, temperature). It was cool to watch the speedo needle move on its own when you switched it while driving. The mph or km/h would illuminate on the instrument panel to let you know which units you were in. Brilliant idea. No need to squint and make out the (sometimes incorrect) smaller markings of the alternate system.

▪.  Gary on August 19th, 2010 4:56 pm 
Thanks for all your efforts to keeping us inform about the fun and the hardships of travel beyond the normal. Well written and good pix too. Thanks again. G&R Case

▪.  Gary on August 19th, 2010 4:58 pm  
Sorry about the typo. Clicked just as I read my response. Hand was quicker than the eye.

▪.  Peggy on August 19th, 2010 5:07 pm  
Thank you for all the work you’ve done in keeping everyone posted as to your travels; what you’ve seen; etc, etc… I, for one, really appreciated it as I know the work involved and the joy of riding throughout Canada into Alaska…
Yes, I agree, it’s a must see – it certainly is a journey almost into another world but still an important part of the USA…
Again, thank you…
cubbear

▪.  bbwolfe on August 19th, 2010 5:23 pm  
Barry, Monique, we are just down from you in Maple Valley, Washington. If your looking for a place to rest up while in town, drop me a line: abwolfe06@yahoo.com

▪.  Lynne Schlumpf on August 19th, 2010 5:34 pm  
Thanks, once again, for making Alaska known to the rest of the U.S. So many times we are told, when trying to talk to someone from the Lower 48 on the phone, that “our services/products are not available to foreign countries.” We smile and remind them politely that we are a part of the U.S. – the 49th state and proud of it. And we are very different. The people are different and tough and I respect them very much for what they tolerate and how strong they are. Thanks again for showing us how fantastic Canada really is, as well… Eh?

▪.  Ron Olsen on August 19th, 2010 7:54 pm  
The end of the AlCan is not in Skagway if that is what you were looking for. The End is in Delta Junction. Before you reach Fairbanks. Ron

▪.  Old Gray on August 19th, 2010 8:06 pm  
I agree with GK, above, who suggests that he has the same problem in the lower 48 that you had in parts of Canada or the north – no signs to inform drivers when they can resume the higher speed. Our trip from the Grand Canyon this spring had us driving more slowly than most of the traffic after nearly every town since we had no idea whether or not the higher limit had resumed – or a speed trap was awaiting us. On Ontario highways, wherever the speed limit changes, a “Begins” sign is fastened to the bottom of the speed limit sign so we know when we can resume.
All this when I could just have said, “Thanks for the wonderful tale of discovery you have shared with us. We have enjoyed every bit of it along with you. We are looking forward to reading more of your writing as you continue your travels.”

▪.  robert on August 19th, 2010 8:27 pm  
Thank you Barry and Monique for sharing your experiences with us; you have givien us one more place to visit. We have travelled from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Tofino on Vancouver Island and from Labrador to Virginia. Unfortunately we have been limited to trips of 3 or 4 weeks because of our careers and are looking forward to the time we can really cut the ties – about three years. We are happy that you have enjoyed our country and hope that you can visit again. From the most easterly point of our continent (Cape Spear in Newfoundland) to Tofino there is a lot to see. If you enjoyed British Columbia you will really enjoy the rugged terrain and extremely hospitable folks in Newfoundland. It is great that our countries are such good neighbors. See you on the road and we look forward to your future posts.

▪.  butterbean carpenter on August 19th, 2010 8:43 pm  
Howdy yall,
THANK YOU, FOR THE WONDERFUL TRIP!!!! I’ll never have that opportunity so
I’ very glad yall took me along with you… I’m a 75 year old crippled up rancher,but
I love to go on trips, such as this.. I have a high school buddy who lives in Alaska
and has asked me many times to come up there… I just never could make it until I went with yall… Thanx
butterbean carpenter
RunningStar Ranch
Coleman county
Texas

▪.  Sucie on August 19th, 2010 8:56 pm  
What kind of trailer do you have and do you fulltime in it?

▪.  jim on August 19th, 2010 9:21 pm  
enjoyed ur trip and the way u discribed it. 
on the CB, a DC grounded antenna will give u less noise.

▪.  Chuck Sanford on August 20th, 2010 12:41 am  
Do you have a link that has the first 10 entries of your trip experience?
My wife and I have greatly enjoyed three 3 week vacations in Alaska. Next summer we will be drive our motor home & Outback to Alaska. We are looking forward to the journey through B.C. and the Yukon. Thanks again for sharing your experiences.

▪.  Frank on August 20th, 2010 6:49 am  
Thank you for this wonderful series on your adventure! I looked forward to reading each article.
Now, if I ONLY had enough vacation & money to take a trip like yours myself……………………..:(

▪.  Richard Gregorie on August 20th, 2010 8:22 am  
Wow! We have just started rving and your series was terrific. It will be a while before we will make such a venture, but you have given us something to look forward to. Thanks so much for taking the time to bring your great adventure into the homes of others who may not be able to go to Alaska but live through your experiences.
God Bless and safe travel…………..Richard

▪.  Dean Riley on August 20th, 2010 8:49 am  
We missed nearly all your Alaska posts. Is there a way this can be obtained in toto?

▪.  Jim & Lyne’ Ward on August 21st, 2010 5:57 pm  
Jim and I have been following your travels.. Great information.. He so much wants to go maybe next year or the year after that..
We loved being able to travel with you..
Thank you so much,
Jim and Lyne’ Ward

▪.  Delos Cloud on August 24th, 2010 5:18 am  
Thanks for a great series. I probably missed it but was diesel available throughout Alaska and Canada on your trip? We are several years away from an opportunity to spend this much time on the road but greatly looking forward to seeing Alaska and everything in between from our RV.
Thanks,
Delos Cloud
Alexandria, VA