Travel trials, tribulations and tidbits

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This is the final segment to wrap up the first chapter of our RV travels.  The previous segment with our statistics is here.

As we reviewed the 422 posts that we published along the way, we recalled many fond memories and also came up with some fun tidbits that we thought were unforgettable, surprising, scary, stressful or fascinating experiences.  Compiling this collection made us pause and reflect on how many wonderful experiences we’ve had while on the road.

We faced our first major challenge just as we started the journey at Pleasanton, CA.  A hydraulic failure left our jacks and slides extended, and we learned a lot about that system during the next 3 weeks that it took to get it fixed (under warranty, fortunately).  Since that time we’ve dealt with many minor water leaks, a dead video camera, an intermittent engine cooling issue, refrigerator problems and other things that we consider part of the joy of moving around in a big complicated box.

Here’s some upper-body exercise – over 300 turns to manually retract our hydraulic rams, then the same thing on the other side!

Most exasperating experience – Intense itching and a month of discomfort due to chigger bites.  I had never heard of chiggers until they attacked me as I sat in the grass for a picture in Peru, Indiana.  Here are the details of that nightmare.

Chigger Bites

Just part of one area – itch, itch, itch

Scariest moment – When I slipped and fell, hurting my knee – not while hiking, but just walking on level ground!  No hiking for a month!

Lowes Travels

Ouch!

Most stressful incident – We got locked out of our RV during a tornado watch while camped at La Grange, GA.  Surprisingly, this particular post has more hits than any other we’ve written.  Maybe the bad guys want to know how Steve broke into the RV?

Holiday Campground

Only one other camper was there that day at Holiday Campground, La Grange, GA

Most frightening night – Hunkering down at Gulf Shores State Park in Alabama provided a sleepless night, as a long line of violent thunderstorms passed over us and dumped a record-breaking 15 inches of rain and over 7,000 lightning strikes per hour in the area.  We’ll never forget that night.

Gulf Shores State Park

The morning after the storm.  The water had risen from 50′ away from Betsy to 10′ away

Most nerve-wracking drives Due to bad GPS data and heavy traffic on the I-10 causeway approaching New Orleans, we missed our exit and got lost.  Then panic set in as we had a close call with a locomotive while crossing train tracks.  Not a fun drive!

Another hellish drive was on I-95 S coming  from Connecticut and passing thru the Bronx, New York to the New Jersey turnpike.  Here‘s that story.

Atchafalaya Basin Bridge

This hours-long jam at the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge was the beginning of a bad day near New Orleans

Then there was the time when Steve heard a loud hissing noise coming from the back of Betsy as we drive into Halifax, Nova Scotia.  We couldn’t find the source of the problem and had to have our first repair in a foreign country.

Checking the cooling system

What the heck is making that noise?

Another scary drive occurred near our last stop in Kansas, at Sabetha.  We very nearly got stuck in mud as we approached the campground, then the owner directed us into a site where we got totally stuck.  Fortunately, the owner pulled Betsy out of the mud with one of his tractors when we left.

wpid38636-2015-06-29-KS-1110665.jpg

This guy owned a bunch of tractors and just had to pick the right one for the job

One of our most stressful drives was the stretch between Salem and Bend, Oregon.  Not only was it a narrow and mountainous road, but a huge storm hit as we drove, sending rivers of water down the road as high winds tried to push us over.  And nowhere to pull off the road.  It was intense!

Bend, Oregon

A leak in the windshield required a towel during this nerve-wracking drive toward Bend, OR

Most spectacular drive – This one has to go to the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff, Canada.  None of the 14 All-American roads we’ve driven can quite stack up against this one, and it should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Ice fields Parkway

Its a wow driving on Ice fields Parkway

Proudest moment – Steve is quite the handyman, doing not only all of our coach repairs but also making changes and upgrades to improve our life on the road.  I was very proud of him when he completed the installation of our residential refrigerator, by himself, during our stay in Bonita Springs, Florida.

installing a residential refrigerator

Out with the old, in with the new

Most fascinating underground tour – Who knew there’s a huge salt mine 650′ beneath the plains of Kansas?

Strataca, Kansas

Most sobering historical guided tour – Having learned the Gettysburg address in school many years ago, we were amazed to actually be where Abraham Lincoln delivered the speech. Here’s a glimpse of our 24-mile, two-hour tour of the historic fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Most distinctive waterfront – There is no other colorful waterfront town that we’ve seen like Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia .

Old Town Lunenberg

The “I’ll never do this again” experience – I learned that one while Halibut fishing in Ninilchik, Alaska.

Halibut Fishing

Deep-sea fishing with the other tourists/anglers.  Do I look like I’m having fun?

We’ve hiked so many trails that at this point we can’t really pick favorites, but we agreed these stand out:

Most challenging – Among the many trails we followed around the country, our climb to the top of Picacho Peak in Arizona may have been the most challenging.

Longest – Sometimes we get in over our heads when hiking or walking, and the one to Hoover Dam in Nevada from our campground at Lake Mead clocked in at 14.1 miles.

Most exhausting – Hiking on a rainy day is never in our plans, but when we’re halfway through our trek and the clouds open up we just have to grin and bear it.  Our hike on the Flat Top Summit Trail at Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina was one of those.  We looked like a couple of drowned rats when we got back to the car.

Extreme points we’ve reached in North America

Farthest north – Arctic Circle, Alaska.  To get here we endured a 19-hour guided bus tour, and what an adventure is was during our many hours on Alaska’s Dalton Highway.

Pose at the Arctic circle sign. We made it!

Farthest south – Key West, Florida, lots to do here and what a party town it is!

Southernmost Point of USA

Farthest East – Louisbourg, Nova Scotia  and we happened to be there on its 300th anniversary of its founding in 1713.

 Fortress of Louisbourg

French guard at the Fortress of Louisbourg

Farthest West Anchor Point, Alaska, what a great time we had here on the Kenai Peninsula.

Anchor Point, AK

Northwestern-most point in the contiguous U.S. – Cape Flattery, Washington.

Cape Flattery

Highest point in North America – we landed on the flanks of 20,320′ Denali Mountain on skis, a totally thrilling trip not to be missed!

Glacier landing

Steve chats with the pilot after a glacier landing on Mount Denali

Lowest point in North America – One of the lowest places in the world at 282′ below sea level, Badwater Basin at Death Valley National Park was fascinating.

Death Valley National Park

Largest National Park in the U.S. – At more than 13,000 square miles, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park requires a plane ride just to get to the middle of the park in a reasonable amount of time.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Yukon Alaska

We flew into Wrangell-St. Elias NP, it could take a lifetime to explore it all

Largest lake in the U.S. – Lake Superior made us feel like we were on the shoreline of an ocean!

Most awesome gondola ride – We took a thrilling ride aboard the Peak2peak Gondola in Whistler, Canada, which holds two records; the longest free span between ropeway towers at 1.88 miles, and the gondola with the highest point above ground, 1,430′.

Peak2peak Gondola

The 1.8 mile gondola is the only one in the world that connects two mountain peaks

Just for the heck of it fun tidbits – Mile zero’s

Ice field Parkway

Mile 0 of Highway 93 – Jasper, Canada to Wickenburg, AZ

 

Mile 0 of US 1

Mile 0 of US-1 in Key West, Florida

And the beginning and end of Alaska Highway.

And that wraps up almost five years of our RV travels!

What’s next?

We’re opening a new chapter in our RV life in 2017.  After visiting all of the states, our goal will now be to narrow our search to one or more places where we’d like to stop and park Betsy for long periods of time.  Our travels will be more laid back and less structured, likely focusing more on the western states.  At least that’s the plan as of today, but who knows?  Our blogging will taper off somewhat, and we’re pondering a format change or something for our site.

As we look forward to another year of adventures, we want to THANK YOU for “jamming on down the road” with us!



 

Our Alaska adventure parting thoughts and stats

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Above is Our Alaska Adventure Route, the red pins on our way in and the purple ones on our way out.

Exploring Alaska on our first year of full-timing was considered ambitious and brave by some of our friends.  But we’re so glad we did it!  The experience taught us so much in a very short time.  We learned to navigate tight spaces, deal with rough roads, make due with minimal utilities and live in remote campgrounds with like-minded adventurers.  We have synchronized to perfection our tasks of moving in and out of tight sites and hooking and unhooking the tow.  We feel more than ready to live on the road full time from now on.

The road to Alaska via British Columbia and the Yukon Territory in Canada can not be taken lightly.  No matter how many long hours and hundreds of miles of driving, you will never get tired of the endless views of incredible scenery.  Coupled with the scenic drive are unavoidable road hazards; unending road repairs with lovely female road workers waving at you, frost heaves, dips, gravel breaks and so on.  These hazards were realities that we were prepared for and dealt with as part of the experience.

As much as we tried to cover most of Alaska, it is just not possible.  Alaska is immense and super-sized;  we covered only a fourth of it.  Mountains are higher (Mt. Mckinley aka Denali) and parks larger (Wrangell-Elias National Park).  Check these stats: Alaska is 2.3 times larger than Texas and the size of Texas, California and Montana combined.  It’s home to the biggest this, the highest that and the most of these – with less than a million residents (about 700,000) enjoying all of it.

And the fishing – oh yeah!  To all my fishermen/women friends, this is the place to be excited about the fish.  I don’t fish, but I hooked a Halibut here.  As long as you know how to navigate the complicated fishing regulations,  you’re in for the tastiest and freshest Salmon and Halibut you’ve ever had.  Fishing is well managed here, and its monitored to support subsistence living for Alaskan residents.

Glaciers, glaciers everywhere!  There are approximately 100,000 glaciers here, with only about 600 named.  We never got tired of gawking at them, hiking to them (Portage and Exit Glaciers), driving to them (Mendenhall Glacier), flying over them (Kennicott, Root GlaciersGrewingk Glacier), landing on them (Mt. Mckinley) and sailing to them (KnikAialik, Holgate, Meares glaciers).  Many time we just drove by them while enjoying their beauty (Matanuska Glacier).  They were always unbelievably pristine and beautiful.

Wildlife, yes.  Alaska is where the wild things are!  Wildflowers adorned highways, mountains and homes, wild animals roamed around and across roads.  Birds chirped and/or just hung around, tart but tasty wild berries grew everywhere.  We never got tired of enjoying all of these things in their natural habitats.

Hiking and biking trails galore.  They were all there for the taking, with scenic views and often some wild animals along the route.

Alaskans live in a different frame of mind.  They are relaxed, hardworking, resourceful and rugged.  They are surrounded by such beauty, yet they thrive in the harsh nature of their environment.  We hung out with two couples – Wilma/Randy and Gemma/Steve – who had lived there for two decades.  Amazing people! Are we planning to go back to Alaska?  We can’t wait!

                                                                                                                             

Our trip stats:

Arrival in Canada, start of trip  =  5/30/12

Departure from Canada, end of trip  =  9/17/12

Miles traveled (including 410 on inland passage ferry)  =  5,722

Miles driven in Alaska  =  1949

Miles driven in Canada  =  3773

Days of trip  =  110

Days in Alaska  =  73

Days in Canada  =  37

Gallons of diesel burned  =  648

Border crossings between U.S. and Canada  =  8

Campgrounds/RV parks visited  =  37

Animals squashed while driving  = 1 squirrel and 2 birds of unknown species (obviously not fast enough flyers).  We had some close road encounters with moose, deer and a couple of bears, but fortunately they didn’t get together with Betsy.

                                                                                                                       

For those planning a driving adventure into Alaska, here are some must-haves:

  1. Milepost – it beats a GPS hands-down.  Order one in March for the latest version.
  2. Passports- you are going in and out of Canada, whether by ferry or driving.

  3. Be prepared for sticker shock; e.g. Halibut and Chips $16-$21 (but worth it), lemons $1.79 each.

  4. For RV’rs, the campground /RV parks are just that, nothing fancy – live with it.

  5. A spirit of adventure and plenty of patience.  You don’t want to rush this trip!

 

A word of advice and caution to be given those intending to visit Alaska…If you are old, go by all means, but if you are young, wait. The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of its kind in the world, and it is not wise to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first. –Henry Gannet, Harriman Alaska Expedition 1899.

 

 



Leaving Alaska thru the Inside Passage – Alaska Marine Highway

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When we were planning our Alaska adventure early this year we learned that the classic itinerary from the Western states is to drive the Alaska Highway one-way and take the Alaska Marine Highway the other way, or vice versa or backtrack the same way again.  Also, the mantra for any Alaska-bound traveler is to be in Alaska by Memorial Day and out of there by Labor Day. With that knowledge we chose to drive the Alaska highway going in and take the ferry outbound from Haines, AK to Prince Rupert, BC.  We made our  reservations for the outbound ferry portion early in January, with a departure date of Sept 6.

Inside Passage Route Alaska

Route Map of Inside Passage from Haines, AK to Prince Rupert, BC

MV Matanuska

We learned from Birdie, the lady we met several times in our journey, that she saved about $300 dollars by separating the motorhome from her tow vehicle for the trip on the ferry.  When we initially made the reservation back in January we were asked the total length of our motorhome with the tow hooked up and that was how we were charged.  So at check in we told the agent that we had unhooked the tow from the motorhome and our total length was shorter . In doing so we received a refund of over $200.  Yay!

Although we already had a bit of experience on the ferry as we were city/town hopping in Southeast Alaska a few days before, there was a little bit of apprehension as on the day we departed  the tides were low. We thought we might have trouble getting Betsy on the ferry.  But we were impressed with the crew as several of them guided Steve as he was driving into the ferry and squeezed Betsy into parking to her designated  spot.

Haines Ferry

Vehicles waiting to be loaded

Alaska Ferry

The ramp

Alaska Ferry

Driving into the Ferry

Inside ferry - Alaska Inside Passage

Crews directing Steve

Inside Ferry - Alaska Inside Passage

Tight Fit but no damage done

Stateroom, Inside Passage Alaska

Our stateroom

Alaska Maritime Ferry

Outside Lounging Area

Alaska Marine Highway

A pose 🙂

Alaska Marine Highway

At the cocktail lounge with new friends we met, Ed and Denalle from California

We departed Haines with stops at Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchikan (Southeast Alaska), finally arriving at Prince Rupert, BC.  As our vessel glided through the waters of the Inside Passage the captain called out when whales ambled around.  The ferry also passed along the Alaska’s rugged coastlines allowing us to see small fishing villages and bustling maritime activities in addition to birds, sea otters and sea lions.  We explored the town of Wrangell for an hour and Ketchikan for a couple of hours, given the short layovers allowed.  We did not go out when at Juneau for we already visited it separately.  We were fast asleep when the boat stopped at Petersburg for only a half hour in the middle of the night.

Wrangell, Alaska

History of Wrangell

Wrangell, Alaska

Town of Wrangell

Wrangell, Alaska

Town of Wrangell, as we leave

 Ketchikan, Alaska

Interesting house at Tongass Ave, Ketchikan

 Ketchikan, Alaska

On this day two cruiseships were also in Ketchikan

 Ketchikan, Alaska

Where the beer was not too pricey, Ketchikan

Alaska Marine Highway

Goodbye, Alaska

We arrived at Prince Rupert at 2:30am local time and for the seventh time crossed a border, this time into Canada.  After a few questions, we hooked up and off we went and rested at Smithers, British Columbia.

And so that ends our Alaskan Adventure, an exciting, memorable,  awe inspiring journey to the last frontier. We made it in one piece. Betsy and our tow has no cracks, no dings, no mishaps despite the torture that both went through. We had a FANTASTIC  time !

Goodbye Alaska!

The second time around – Alaska Highway, Yukon

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Going into our next leg was something we weren’t  excited about and can not to be taken lightly.  Driving back over the Alaska Highway and particularly on the long stretch from Tok was jarring, tortuous and induced crankiness and a few expletives due to the many remaining un-repaired frost heaves. (Frost heaves are still an unresolved problem.) We learned from the first time driving here in June that going 6 long hours and 226 miles of rough road in one way was not a great idea for us and Betsy.  So we sliced this stretch into three manageable segments.

Protection from frost heaves, Alaska highway

Crude and inexpensive way of protecting our car. It will be re-purposed into a regular tarp at the end of this trip.

Sure enough, after two months the highway had improved very little.  It was quite funny that right after crossing the border into Canada, the road deteriorated very quickly.  Our average driving was 15 mph for the gravel road and 30-35 between the frost heaves, dips, rough pavement and potholes.  We were really slooooow, and that is the key thing to preserve Betsy from any damage.  We heard from other adventurers that a few RV ‘s encounter issues along this stretch.  We dont want this to happen to Betsy now that we are winding down our trip.  A note to other adventurers – don’t let us scare you – a 40 ft RV towing a car will get tossed around much more (and possibly damaged) by frost heaves than a smaller, more nimble class-C motorhome or a trailer.  Most people can drive this stretch of the road more easily and faster than we could.

The only thing that remained unchanged on this stretch was the beauty of the scenery which Steve unfortunately could not really enjoy as he focused on the road.  Fall colors on the mountains and flowers along the highway are now starting to emerge.

Canada Border

We are in Canada again.

Frost heaves

Frost heaves decorated with blooming fall wildflowers.

The second time around brought us back into the history of the Alaska Highway and these are areas we missed the first time in June.

Our first stop was White River RV park in the Yukon Territory situated next to an airstrip and we stayed for two nights.  Bob and Amanda are both great park owners and made us comfortable while we were there. In fact Bob, who is a history buff and collects antiques and artifacts, gave us a free private tour . He rounded up a few guests and off we went on his 1942 Dodge group hauler – which was originally used during the Alaska highway construction.  This guy is quite a character and drove his truck literally over shrubs and small trees!  He pointed out the remains of equipment and tools used during the highway contraction, which were literally just left behind when the project was completed.  He took us to the White River  and showed us the original Alaska highway as it was in 1942.  As you may recall from our previous blog, the Alaska highway was built and completed in just under 10 months for military purposes.  But it wasn’t the road we drive on now, it was basically just a bulldozed single lane road built over the top of timbers and gravel.  It is amazing to learn about how tough those people were who completed such a massive project.

1942 Troop Hauler.

A private tour with Bob aboard his 1942 Troop Hauler.

original Alaska highway

Posing on top of bridge remnants from the original Alaska highway (Yukon portion)

How the original Alaska highway was built

How the original Alaska highway was built in 1942 and what remained of it 70 years later as shown on the previous picture.

White River

Hiking at White River

Our second 2-night stop was at the Cottonwood RV Park, situated along fabulous Kluane Lake.  The park  afforded us with stunning views of the lake, which is the longest in the Yukon at 43 miles long.  Forget Tahoe, these lakes are huge!  Five miles from the park is Soldier’s Summit at Mile 1053, where the highway was officially dedicated and opened on Nov 20, 1942, on a brisk -35 degree day. Did I say these people were tough?  While we were there, a convoy of historic military vehicles pulled into the parking lot. We learned that they are currently celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Alaska Highway by driving it in original military convoys.  Very cool!

Soldiers Summit, Kluane lake

Stunning vista of Kluane lake viewed from Soldier’s Summit

Soldier's Summit

Dedication plaque at Soldier’s Summit

Alaska Highway Convoy

Convoy of historic military vehicles

Kluane Mountains

Kluane Mountains

Kluane Lake

Beautiful Kluane Lake looking north

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans along the highway

Now the topper for Steve – we saw the Northern Lights!!!  Bob at the White River Park mentioned that the Aurora Borealis lights are now visible as it is getting darker in August.  We were so upset that we had missed them, so we set our alarm clock for 1:00am the next night to see for ourselves.  Unfortunately the clouds were moving in so it was not to be.  We tried again the following night but there was a storm moving through.  Then on our first night at Cottonwood, Steve got up at 2:00am and there they were!  Fantastic glowing flames of green dancing light shooting across the sky.  We were prepared to come all the way back to Fairbanks this winter just to see the lights, but got extremely lucky on the 23rd and it was a good show.  Check that one off the bucket list!

The last stop on this segment was the provincial campground at Million Dollar Falls, where we dry-camped for two days.  Here we met two women, Nancy(Birdie) and Liz driving their own RV’s alone.  We first talked to them at Kenny Lake then met again at Cottonwood RV Park and then here at the campground.  We think they are quite adventurous and brave to be driving alone even if they were a part of a bigger group of women(Womenrv.com/fprum).

Frost Heaves

Unchanged beautiful scenery

Yukon Territory

Non stop viewing of spectacular sceneries

Million Dollar Falls

Million Dollar Falls

Million Dollar Falls

Double Rainbow put up a show at the campground

Our next and final stop here  will be Haines, our jump off point to explore Southeast Alaska.

Mile 1422: end of the Alaska Highway

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The journey of 1422 historic miles along the Alaska Highway without any mechanical failures is another milestone for us (we like to complete milestones because it means we get to open a bottle of good wine). The highway begins at Dawson Creek, British Columbia Mile 0 to Delta Junction, Alaska, Mile 1422.  All our trials and tribulations driving on this highway were surpassed by the chance to explore and enjoy the most magnificent sceneries and experience its beauty first hand. Why drive ? Driving gave us the freedom and luxury of stopping where and when we want, enjoying the sights we want to see and do the things we want to do.  And by traveling on our own we can take as much time as we wish.

Alaska Ranges

Alaska Ranges seen near Tok, as we head out to Delta Junction.

Along the way historical markers and points of interests  informed us and entertained us with the highways intriguing history. It is named Alaska Highway when in fact only 20% of it is in Alaska while the rest winds through Canada. On this highway we have seen and met travelers of different kinds and sizes; cyclists, motorcyclists and motorhome caravans, all braving the elements wanting to experience the adventure of a lifetime. I even met a couple from San Jose, CA driving their pick up truck and travel for three weeks!

Alaska Highway

This looked like a parade! A pilot car was guiding us through the Road Repairs.

Alaska Ranges

A brave  Cyclist

Alaska Caravaning

Motorhome Caravan

The first thing we did upon arriving here at Delta Junction was the mandatory pose at the monument mile post marking the end of the Alaska Highway. We also posed  in front of the giant Mosquitos.  And speaking of mosquitoes, Oh my,  they are really after your blood, and swarm around you a soon as you get out.

Delta Junction, AK , end of Alaska Highway

Monument signifying end of the Alaska Highway at Mile 1422

Delta Junction, AK

A representative of the hundreds swirling around us, but this one is admittedly a little larger than most of them.

Since we are also low on food supplies we ran down to the local family run  farm and homemade sausages from reindeer, buffalo, elk beed and pork. We bought different kinds of sausage after tasting  a range of tasty samples.

Family owned sausage plant

A peek at the sausage packing plant

This was also the first time we got a glimpse of a portion of  the Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline. The 800 mile Alaska Pipeline bisects Alaska from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. This section of the  pipeline is suspended across Tanana river en route to Valdez.

Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline

Pipeline is suspended over Tanana river

Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline

A section  of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline

Different diameters of pipes used to transport petroleum products over the years.

Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline

The “pig” a device used for scouring wax and water from the inside of the Trans -Alaska Pipeline.

Our plan of hiking today  is hampered by rain, oh rain  ! Might as well do laundry and catch up on our reading. Tomorrow we leave for Fairbanks.

WooHoo…we made it to Alaska!

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We have arrived in Alaska in one piece!  We’re celebrating a very significant milestone in our journey, with a tale for this stretch of the drive.

Tok Alaska

Celebrating our most significant milestone so far, arriving in Alaska!

Mile 1083: Destruction Bay was the stopover we chose between Whitehorse and Tok. Getting there was a slow 4-hour drive.  The highway between Whitehorse and Destruction Bay was rough and required slowing way down and paying close attention to the changing road conditions.

Frost Heaves, Yukon Territory

One of the hundreds of frost heaves – slow down!

However, Steve complained that it was hard to focus on the road with the beautiful scenery surrounding us.  Leaving Whitehorse took us into about 10 miles of dusty gravel breaks.  Here our speed was between 17 and 20 mph, and we were happy to let other vehicles pass us.  Whenever they did, or whenever a fast-moving vehicle approached from the other direction, we simply pulled over and stopped to prevent rock damage.

We encountered several marked and unmarked frost heaves as we approached Destruction Bay.

Kluane IceField Ranges

Kluane Icefield Ranges

The highway skirted the shores of Kluane Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world!   Wow, even my new favorite, Muncho Lake, was surpassed by its size alone – Kluane Lake is 43 miles long and gorgeous.

Kluane Lake.

Steve in front of Kluane Lake.

Destruction Bay has a place in Alaska Highway history – it was one of several camps built to supply the army during construction of the highway.  It got its name after an extremely violent storm destroyed buildings and much of the highway construction material that was stored there for the project.

Koidern

Koidern

We stayed overnight at Destruction Bay RV Park, and the owner Loren was very happy to see us, since we were the first customer to show up there in several days.  We got to pick the spot we wanted with a mountain and lake view.  Nothing fancy, just electric and we did not bother extending the slide outs, since we wanted to leave early the next morning.

The mosquitos were very excited to see us, too!  This was our first encounter with the big suckers on this trip, and they were living up to their reputation so far.

Destruction Bay

We had the whole RV park at Destruction Bay to ourselves, with views of mountains and Kluane Lake

We were aware of all the warnings and cautionary reminders of the tough road ahead, so at this point Steve placed a modified tarp cover over our Honda CRV to protect it from rocks and gravel.

Protecting the Toad

Steve’s crude way of protecting the Honda from rock damage. $30, and it worked!

Our drive from Destruction Bay to Tok, AK was 225 miles; about 100 miles of it being the worst Steve has driven.  Although not a problem for cars, the frost heaves and dips in the road gave Betsy’s upgraded suspension a real test.  It’s difficult to see the upcoming dips from so high up in the RV cab, and running through them with 60′ of RV and car caused some interesting moments for us.  However, we were moving very slowly and the vehicles seemed to have survived the ordeal.

The bummer is that we will need to travel most of this stretch of road again when we return to Haines to catch the Maritime Highway in September.  Our average speed on this stretch was 39 mph and it took us seven hours – including a lunch break and a 30-minute wait at the U.S. border, to get into the state.

This stretch of the Alaska Highway remains the wonder of the north, for it has been rebuilt and straightened several times.  The annual outbreak of frost heaves is a never-ending challenge for road maintenance crews, and they have a short window of time to repair them before the “crowd” of summer travelers arrives.  We can see they are trying their best to patch them up.

We were so happy to see the U.S. border, thinking the road would be better on the American side.  However, we were given only a 14-mile reprieve and after that the frost heaves and dips prevailed for the next 91 miles.

We gave each other a “high five” right after crossing the border – we were so pumped to finally be in Alaska.  After over a year of planning we had arrived to fulfill our trip of a lifetime.  We had arrived at Tok, the first community in Alaska that weary travelers like us see after crossing back into the U.S.

But hey, where are the Walmart and Costco stores?  Oh, I guess we need to wait until we get to Fairbanks in a few days.

US Border, Alaska

A 30-minute wait at the U.S. border

We are staying at the Sourdough RV Park, very quiet and big-rig friendly.  There was power and water available, which we are learning is fine for short stays.  We simply dump our tanks at the dump station when we leave these parks.  And it’s usually a few dollars cheaper when using partial hookups.  But for stays of a week or more we still prefer full hookups so we won’t risk filling the waste tanks and having to move the rig just to empty them.

Sourdough RV Park,

Our site at Sourdough RV Park, very quiet and lots of privacy.

One thing we’ve learned about RV parks in Canada and Alaska – sewer is optional or not available, and 30-amp power is standard.  Since we don’t need air conditioning this time of the year (which pretty much requires 50-amp service if running at full power) the 30-amp service with water is fine.

Bike path at Tok

We took a 13-mile ride on this bike path in Tok

While in Tok we checked out the Visitor’s Center, a required stop for getting information ranging from road conditions to “things to do” around town and in the state of Alaska.  We also took a 13-mile bike ride along the highway.  We’re just relaxing for a few days and taking a break from the tedious drives.

Biking in Alaska

Taking a break and a pose 🙂

The sun rose at 4:30AM and set at 12:30AM…the long days enabled us to enjoy every minute of our summer in the Last Frontier.  We haven’t seen darkness and stars in quite a while.  And oh, Alaska is on its own time zone, an hour ahead of Pacific Standard Time.

Stay tuned for good stories ahead!



 

Hot Springs, Wildlife, and a milestone

Comments 15 Standard

This next leg of our journey took us to a hot spring, wildlife on the highway and our second milestone.

We did not want to leave Muncho Lake but the unpredictable wind, rain and sun got to us. The lake is just spectacular but we have to move on. Our first stop was the Liard Hot Springs, a very popular stop for Alaska Highway travelers. This is on Mile 496 of the highway and used to be the site of a major camp during construction. These natural hot springs are a piece of paradise, from warm to hot to hotter depending on the spot you select. We soaked our tired muscles for half an hour and on our way out we saw a Moose.

As we moved along the highway, wildlife was the center piece. We were the only ones on the highway this early morning so we expected lots of animals on the road. We were not disappointed. We encountered Stone Sheep checking us out, a Moose that scampered away as we approached, grazing Bison and Bears munching away without caring about the tourists gawking at them. This was a slow drive due to some deterioration of road conditions and the increasing amount of wildlife along the way.  However, we have been surprised that the roads overall have been in fairly good shape.  We’ll see if that holds true as we continue.

Arriving at Watson Lake, Mile 635 is the second milestone in our Alaska Adventure.   We are now in the Yukon Territory, the final Canadian province to traverse before arriving in Alaska. This community  is a favorite stop over as it is home to a famous attraction, The Signpost Forest. It was started in 1942 by a homesick GI by erecting a sign pointing to his hometown of Danville, Il. Today, the collection of signs constantly grows due to visitors who wish to promote their own communities. We took a stroll and were amazed at how far the signs have traveled and their number, which has grown to over 70,000.

We stayed overnight at Tags RV Campground right across the Signpost Forest. Big rig friendly, quiet and okay for overnight stop.

Mountains, Rivers and a Lake

Comments 2 Standard

Leaving Ft Nelson, we headed up to Muncho Lake, Mile 456.

This leg of the trip from Ft Nelson is considered by many Alaska travelers as the most scenic part of the highway. We were not disappointed. As we veered to the west through the northern Canadian Rockies we were presented with densely forested areas, scenic vistas, picturesque valleys and long stretches of  mountain ranges. The most stunning view was at an overlook near Steamboat Mountain, overlooking the Muskwa-Kechika area which reminded us of standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon – fantastic!

SteamBoat Mountain

SteamBoat Mountain

As always we were cautioned about wildlife along the highways . For a while we were disappointed, for they were nowhere near the highway until we approach our destination. There, strutting along the banks of Muncho Lake was a Stone sheep and further along we saw a herd at the outwash plain.

Herd of Stone Sheep

Herd of Stone Sheep

Stone Sheep

Stone Sheep strutting along the highway

We chose not to fuel up at Ft Nelson as our tank was still over the half tank. Instead we got diesel at the next fuel services at Tetsa River Services and Campground. Steve got his sticker shock. The diesel was $1.75 per liter, the equivalent of $6.63/gallon. Because of the amount of fuel we got, the owner gave as a loaf of bread, the most expensive loaf of bread ever baked. This place also has a bakery and known for its Cinnamon buns.

Tetsa River Campground

This is where we got the most expensive bread and cinnamon bun

The highway climbed and descended with 8% grades, and passed thru spectacular mountain scenery to Summit Pass at 4,250 feet the highest point of the Alaska Highway. Then we drove through Stone mountain ranges  with bare rocky peaks where we experienced a dramatic change in weather. It was sunny when we left Ft Nelson and as we drove here it rained, then it stopped, then it rained again.

Stone Mountain, YT

Stone Mountain

We drove along the beautiful turquoise colored Toad River and magnificent mountain views. Our stop for the day is at Muncho Lake which is renowned for its jade colored waters. At 7.5 miles long and one mile in width, it is one of the largest natural lakes in the Canadian Rockies. The color of the water is attributed to copper oxide leaching into the lake.

Toad River Valley

Toad River Valley

Muncho Lake’s place in the Alaska Highway history was about the challenge of building the road around the lake. Workers had to cut their way through the lake’s rocky banks and use horse pulled stone boats to haul the rock away. Today the highway is wide and and winds through the deep green blue waters of Muncho Lake.

Muncho Lake

Stunning Muncho Lake

We stayed at Muncho Lake RV Park, big rig friendly with awesome views of the lake and mountain ranges. We liked it here so much that we stayed two nights to enjoy the quite serene  wilderness atmosphere: no tv, no internet and no cell phone and most importantly the BBQ master was able to show off his skills again.

Muncho Lake

Muncho Lake

Muncho Lake View, the BEST view ever we had on our RV parks

Muncho Lake

Relaxing in front of Muncho Lake

The pictures I snapped  can not capture  the real beauty we experience as were cruising along.