Our Alaska Trip Part XIX-B Stalling for Time & Healthcare!

This entry is part 19 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 12, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 13 Comments

This is the 19th in a continuing series about our trip to Alaska. 

[Oops, it’s actually the 20th entry in the series, but I guess a tinge of exhaustion overtook me and I lost count.  Because of information in the comments section, it’s one of the most important episodes.] 

“I’m wiping reindeer hair off my shoes,” Marvin Curb told me yesterday when I asked what he was doing at the door to his motorhome.  Now there’s something you don’t hear everyday, but in Alaska, well, a lot of unusual things happen.

On the serious side, one of the caravan members went to an Anchorage urgent care provider when an insect stung her.  She was refused treatment there and at a second clinic, because they don’t take Medicare or accept secondary health insurance.  I hope we hear more about this from others who have asked for medical care in the 49th state.

To be honest, this edition of Our Alaska Trip journal is stalling for time.  I have three items that I want to put together, but the photos that go with one story were fried in a laptop, so we’re trying to resurrect them, and a member of the group that I want to talk with hasn’t been available to tell his story.

So now for some random notes and just a tad of travel log:

RVers who travel to Alaska with their dogs and who plan to embark on a 12-hour tour, as we have, need to plan ahead for pet care while they are gone.  We’ve had a dog-walking service available at one private campground and I’m sure others offer it, also.

I mentioned before there are something like 2.5 gift shops per tourist in Alaska.  Still true.

Landing - 0286A more interesting statistic is that one of every 59 Alaskans has a pilot’s license.  Our tour yesterday stopped along a lake that is the busiest seaplane airport in the world, with an average of 250 takeoffs a day, according to our bus driver.  It goes up to 800-1,000 a day on occasion – I don’t recall Anchorage ever hosting the Superbowl.

In addition to the seaplanes parked on the lake, there’s a parking lot filled with seaplanes

On calm waters for the moment, but more challenges lie ahead

On calm waters for the moment, but more challenges lie ahead

on the tarmac or on trailers.  Since these little aircraft can’t make it to the Lower 48, I asked where they all go.  In addition to hunting, fishing and sightseeing excursions, lots of them make trips to the Interior to deliver supplies.

And that segues into the life of our whitewater rafting guide, Tim.  Tim shares an apartment with others and apparently survives on Chef Boyardee from the can.  Not only are food prices steep in Denali, but it’s over a hundred miles to the nearest supermarkets in Anchorage or Fairbanks.  They make the drive once or twice a month.

And that brings us to today’s outing.  We started the day at Costco for lunch and stopped at Walgreen’s on our way to the Alaskan Native Heritage Center.   Our knowledge of native life among the many clans (tribes) of Alaska was broadened greatly.  I found out that the Aleutian Island chain is “the birthplace of the winds.”  Winds there often top 100 miles per hour and get up to 200 miles per hour.  I suspect it’s not a good place for a high profile RV, even if there were roads there.

An Athabaskan youth shows his nimble abilities in the native warrior games

An Athabaskan youth shows his nimble abilities in the native warrior games

From Left, Natives' Relationship to the Sea Otter and Crafting a Totem Pole

From Left, Natives’ Relationship to the Sea Otter and Crafting a Totem Pole

We’re “goin’ coastal” tomorrow, heading to Seward, headquarters for the Kenai Fjords National Park.

 Thanks to Ada Beavers for the rafting photo.  Good thing she didn’t get a shot of me volunteering to take a dip in the 38-degree river — Monique would panic.  Well, you only live once (in theory).

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

Comments

13 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XIX Stalling for Time”

▪.  joe on July 13th, 2010 4:42 pm  
Is the lack of Medicare providers a problem in Alaska? I bet that would put a severe damper on their tourism trade with retirees. Did they try a hospital? I will not plan any trips to the state until I checked those things out for sure. OUCH!

▪.  Gary Altig on July 13th, 2010 5:09 pm  
No urgent care for Medicare or supplemental medical insurance in Anchorage? That’s disturbing. What was the final outcome?
 Are we expected to purchase a medical insurance rider for Alaska?/ga

▪.  Lynne schlumpf on July 13th, 2010 9:26 pm  
Alaska has a very severe Medicare problem. There are no doctors who take Medicare here. Some have tried, but the government doesn’t pay them enough so they refuse new patients.
The only option for most Medicare patients are Alaska Regional Hospital, Providence Hospital, and the Matanuska Hospital.
 Channel 2, our NBC station, did a special on Medicare in Alaska and found not even one doctor that would take a Medicare patient.
Alaska also stopped the longevity bonus, which used to be $250.00 to retirees. Both of these things sent retirees out of the state in droves.
Alaska has the highest concentration of veterans in the U.S., but if they cannot get Medicare help, they may leave as well.
The only thing left is the property tax exemption for up to $150,000 of your house value.
I have talked to many, many retirees who cannot stay. There’s just nothing to stay for.
If you have anyone coming here who needs emergency or any kind of Medicare assistance, the hospitals are ‘It.”
Thanks for a great travel log.
Lynne
P.S. Hope Whittier is one of your stops. I am so in love with Prince William Sound and its beauty. And hope you get to take the 26-glacier cruise. What a beautiful 1/2 trip to visit all the glaciers of the Sound.
You will LOVE Seward, too…love that town. It is so beautiful and has made such an amazing recovery from the ‘64 earthquake.

▪.  truman on July 14th, 2010 8:37 am  
Count me out for a long visit to the great state of Alaska NO Medicare No second insurance!  Guess you have to bring a ton of money when you visit? And someone from that state was running for vice president! WOW!! Just count me in for a brief excursion to that wonderful state. Thanks

▪.  Stan Zawrotny on July 14th, 2010 8:52 am  
We didn’t have any health problems in Alaska, but coming back through British Columbia, my wife had a serious finger cut and had to go to an emergency room. I’m pleased to say that the Canadian health care system had no problems with our Medicare coverage.

▪.  Kellie on July 14th, 2010 10:46 am  
Truman – surely you aren’t suggesting that the government can FORCE docs to accept Medicare are you? What exactly does Sarah Palin have to do with this problem? I’m quite certain it is the FEDERAL govt which sets the reimbursement level for Medicare and she was not elected to a federal position. Perhaps this would have been something she could have helped to resolve.

▪.  clkek on July 14th, 2010 11:40 am  
The refusal to see Medicare patients is as big a problem in the lower 48 as well. My our GP is reimbursed $11 for a Medicare office visit- that does not even cover the costs of her office help and utilities for the time of the office visit, not to mention her professional liability insurance and medical school student loan payment. The Federal Gov reduces the costs of Medicare by cutting provider reimbursement!!! That in turn has raised private pay costs as some how the bills have to get paid.

▪.  Mike on July 14th, 2010 4:12 pm 
What about Tricare that us retired Military have as our medical provider.. Do the doctors in the 49th take that?

▪.  Lynne schlumpf on July 14th, 2010 8:09 pm  
Yes, some providers take Tricare here, as this is a big military state. You can also go to the Elmendorf hospital, which is very good.

▪.  Jane on July 14th, 2010 10:12 pm  
WOW!! Is this blogsite starting to get politcal?….Lynne, I LOVE all of your info…you are certainly well informed! clkek is right on! As well as Kellie…Truman…u need to take a hike!!! Barry and Monique…We wait every day to hear your blog…we have actually signed up for next year for the June 9th 42-day caravan…..We appreciate your info on dog sitting while on an extended tour…Happy travels…

▪.  macsly on July 16th, 2010 5:14 pm  
My husband is on Medicare. We live in Alaska and have secondary insurance. We have had no difficulty getting emergency treatment and he is in emergency fairly often (COPD and bowel blockages) Perhaps Anchorage is that way, but Fairbanks doctors and hospital have treated us great. (So has Providence). I did have difficulty getting a friend on Medicare into a neurologist (4-month wait) and other friends have had difficulty getting into a dermatologist, but those are pretty specialized.

▪.  jim on July 20th, 2010 8:04 am  
on Medicare coverage in Canada, i suggest u go to the Medicare web site. There are rules and each case is evaluated on its own merit. It isn’t automatic.
I was told by one that had traveled in Canada that to be sure u needed to purchase their insurance. he was spending time in Canada so he wasn’t ” traveling the most direct route without delay.”

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.]