What a year it was!

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The year 2012 was one of major endings and new beginnings for us.

Early this year, Steve and I fired ourselves from our jobs (retired early) and gave up our comfortable income. We terminated home ownership and divested ourselves of almost all of our earthly possessions.  All of this to pursue a dream and begin a new nomadic lifestyle.

We began our new life of living on the road with excitement, tempered with a dose of anxiety.  Now, eight months later, our measured decision has been rewarded with contentment and simple happiness.  As wanderers, we are blessed to discover, enjoy and explore so many places we’ve never seen.  We have been in awe of the natural beauty surrounding us.  The challenges we initially encountered were overcome.  We think we’re ready to face just about anything down the road.  We met new friends along the way, while staying connected with the old ones.  The places we’ve been and the experiences we’ve had so far are memorable and inspiring.

View Betsy’s 2012 Travels in a larger map

Our trek north to Alaska was easily the highlight of this year’s travels.  It was the ultimate adventure to the last frontier.

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

Living on the road was also the beginning for us to live in close quarters almost 24/7.  It was quite an adjustment initially, since we rarely saw each other during our working years due to opposing shift hours.   But as we journeyed on, our relationship became stronger and better.  For those of you planning to RV full time, make sure you actually like each other before proceeding!

The new year 2013 is upon us.  We are looking forward to 365 days of fun adventures, discoveries, sightseeing and more travel tales to tell as Betsy rolls down the road to take us someplace, somewhere.  So come on and ride along with us, we’ll try to take you to some places you may have never been, either.

We sincerely hope everyone closes 2012 and rings in the new year with gratefulness, peace, prosperity and good health.

~Steve and Mona Liza

Happy New Year

It’s party time in the desert! – Cave Creek

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After scoping out Quartzsite to mark the spot where we think we’ll stay in January during the RV show madness, we headed east, destination – Cave Creek Regional Park – located north of Phoenix.  This is a 2,922-acre park that sits in the upper Sonoran Desert.  The town of Cave Creek is known for its western lifestyle, dramatic views, countless trails and large open spaces.  It offers an array of attractions for residents and visitors alike.  The open spaces and surrounding mountains made it possible for us to witness some of the most incredible sunrises and sunsets we have seen during our travels so far.

Cave Creek Regional Park

-The bloggers digs at Cave Creek Regional Park

But we came here to party a bit.  One of the joys of RV’ing and blogging about your experiences is meeting new friends, either at RV parks or via your blogs.  We first experienced it while in Alaska, stumbling upon the good folks at Roadlife who were there a few weeks ahead of us.  We eventually met Ayn and Chuck in Anchorage.  At Cave Creek we met up with Ingrid and Al of Live, Laugh, RV .  We had been following each other’s blogs and learning about the places we had been.  We’d hang out with these cool folks from Colorado during our entire stay at the campground!

The bloggers

-With Ingrid of Live Laugh RV

At this park we also met snowbirders from Montana, Larry and Nancy.  What do bloggers and RV’ers do when they meet in the Sonoran Desert?  Hike and Party!  And so we did.

On this stop I also paid a visit to my former manager and co-workers.  When I was still gainfully employed, I was based in San Jose, CA, while my manager Dan and co-workers Rajesh, Rajani, Parani,  Paul and Suba were stationed in the upscale town of Scottsdale.  Scottsdale is only half an hour drive from our campground.  So the day after we arrived, I dragged Steve along to pay my friends a visit and to check out their office digs.  It was good to see them and catch up with the latest about work and what I have not missed all these months.  We had some excellent Indian food that night too – great to see you guys!

– with Rajani and Rajesh

Despite the storm and rain that passed through Cave Creek, we managed to explore and do lots of activities other than socializing in the surrounding areas. Stay tuned.

For now take a peek at some of the gorgeous sunsets.

Sunset at Cave Creek

Enjoying sunset with friends

Sunset at Cave Creek

just one of the many stunning sunsets

State of Arrested Decay – the Ghost town of Bodie

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Downtown Bodie

A must-see along scenic 395 (if you like ghost towns as Steve does) is a landmark, Bodie State Historical Park.  Bodie is the remains of the famously rowdy gold mining town sitting at 8,375 feet elevation, located northeast of Yosemite National Park 13 miles east of Highway 395.

Panorama of the Bodie the Ghost Town

The remains of the baddest rowdy town of Bodie

Only about 5 percent of the buildings remaining from the 1880’s are still standing in perhaps the West’s best preserved ghost town.  The Park Service keeps them in a state of “arrested decay,”  protected but not restored.  What this means is they will replace items that break (like roofs and stairs), but they do not completely restore anything.  This leaves most of the buildings looking very much as they did well over 100 years ago.  The interiors are maintained as they were left, providing a snapshot of the past.  Looking around, we observed golden hues of wood weathered by more than a century of wind, rain, sun, snow and leaning walls propped up by old beams.

The town’s reputation then was characterized as “a bad man from Bodie was worse than a bad man from elsewhere,” due to its lawlessness and wickedness.  The town once reached a population of 10,000.  This story reminded us of another gold rush town, Skagway in Alaska, where gunfights, killings and robberies occurred regularly.  Steve says it sort of reminds him of Oakland, CA nowadays.

What’s sad is that the prospector who first discovered the gold and after whom the town was named (with a misspelling), Watterman S. Body  (a.k.a William S. Bodey) was not able to enjoy  his discovery – he froze to death in a blizzard the same year he found it in 1859.  His body was discovered the following year after the snow melted.

After visiting the ghosts in town we had lunch at their picnic area about a quarter mile past town.  It appeared very few people were aware of the picnic area and we had it all to ourselves for a nice quiet snack.  

The 13-mile drive to Bodie is a winding paved road with the last 3 miles of dirt and gravel beginning at the gate.  The dirt/gravel portion is in poor condition and must be traveled slowly – NOT recommended for RV’s.  The park is open year-round, but the excellent museum closes at the end of October.  We were fortunate to visit the museum on the last day it was open!

The road to Bodie

The road to Bodie

Lunch at Bodie

Lunch at the picnic area 1/4 mile north of town

On our way out we were treated to an exceptional view of the Sierra Ranges.

Leaving Bodie

Snow dusting on the Sierra’s

Health Checks for Betsy at Harrisburg and Grants Pass, Oregon

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Besides the previously-reported interior modifications, we had done to our coach at Dave and LJ’s Interior Design, some other mundane mechanical issues needed to be addressed as well.  Southern Oregon seems to be a mecca for quality RV maintenance and repair shops, perhaps because it’s an area where several RV manufacturers reside.  We took a tour of the Marathon Coach factory in Eugene, which is where “high-end” coaches are built at $1,000,000+ per unit.  But some other manufacturers either used to or continue to build coaches here.  The result is that there are several shops around with highly-qualified mechanics to perform engine, chassis and coach repairs. Continue reading

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.

 

 



DO NOT TRAVEL to ALASKA, if…

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DO NOT TRAVEL TO ALASKA, if…

1)   You don’t like dealing with unpredictable weather.

2)   You hate it when your GPS signal sometimes gets lost because you’re so far north.

3)   You don’t like people who work at a more leisurely pace than you’re used to.

4)   You get aggravated when a Bear or Moose walk near the road you’re driving on.

5)   You don’t like being in areas away from supermarkets or an internet connection.

6)   You can’t stand to drive a dirty car.

7)   You don’t like to fish, hunt or spend a lot of time outdoors.

8)   You hate it when other drivers wave Hello at you all the time.

9)   You think up to 20 hours of sunlight per day during the summer is a bad thing.

10)  You get tired of eating the Best salmon and halibut in the world all the time.

But, if like us you think these are just some of the “minor inconveniences” that make Alaska an interesting and charming place, YOU MUST TRAVEL TO ALASKA for one of the best experiences of your life!

~Steve

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!

Bald Eagles, Bears and Totem Poles- Haines

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Our final stop in Alaska was Haines, and also our base camp as we explored Southeast Alaska.  From Tok we had  to meander through the Yukon Territory and a little bit of British Columbia in Canada (and of course U.S. Customs) before getting back to Alaska again.

Location of Haines, AK

Location of Haines, AK

Haines, Alaska

Beautiful mountain side along Haines highway.

Chilkoot Inlet, Haines Alaska

Haines viewed from Chilkoot Inlet

Haines has been tagged as the Valley of the Eagles due to the congregation of about 3,500 Bald Eagles starting in November when they feast on the late run of Chum salmon.  A 48,000 acre sanctuary has been formed by the state for the national bird. But we did not have to wait until November, as we saw the baldies perching on trees by the dozens and  just hanging out on the beach.  It was quite an awesome sight for the gathering of the white heads.

Haines, Alaska

More Bald Eagles on the beach

Bald Eagle

This is an injured Bald Eagle and the foundation is permitted to take care of it.

We were told that Bears hang out at the salmon weir by Chilkoot river. So off we went early in the morning to watch bears catch salmon.  We were not disappointed for the three times that we went there, they were there feeding on the running chum salmon.

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

Hi, I’m BJ, so we were told

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

He smelled us, so it looked straight up and we drove away.

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

Aha, there you are or he could be pooing.

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

Bear catching salmon for breakfast

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

This is how tourists get attacked by a Bear

Walking and driving around Haines we noticed several Totem poles.  They signify Alaska’s native legacy. They were carved to perpetuate Tlingit (pronounced Kling-it) cultural practices.

Friendship Pole, Haines alaska

Friendship Pole

Eagle Family Totem Pole, Haines Alaska

Eagle Family

A private pole by Chilkoot river, Haines Alaska

A private pole by Chilkoot river honoring a family there.

There were lots of hiking and biking opportunities at Haines, but man, the wind and the rain were unrelenting once again.  Instead we just checked out museums and historic sites.  First we went to Fort William H Seward which was established 106 years ago as a symbol of US Army strength.  The fort was decommissioned and is now a historic landmark.  Most of the building are now privately owned and local businesses reside there.

Fort W.H. Seward, Haines Alaska

Fort Wh Seward, a National Historic Sight

Soapsuds Alley, Haines Alaska

Soapsuds Alley, used to house non-commissioned officers, now houses stores and shops

Officers Row, Haines Alaska

Officers row before now privately owned

We watched the feeding of a Bald Eagle at the American Bald Eagle Foundation.  There were also more than 200 specimen of  local fish and wildlife.  The founder gave an engaging and interesting presentation of wildlife stories.

Haines Alaska

Porcupine and Mountain Goat one of the many displays

Haines Alaska

A captive Red Tail Hawk

Next stop was the Sheldon Museum, which houses collections of Native art, gold rush mementos and a display of  the  answer to the question “Whose Border is it?”

Haines Alaska

Answer to the question “Why isn’t Southeast Alaska part of Canada ?”

Next stop was the Hammer Museum where an impressive  display of 1,800 pounding implements is showcased.  Now that’s a lot of hammers!

The only place where you can see over 1800 hammers

Haines Alaska

It was quite a collection of different kinds of hammers

Haines Alaska

Due to its quintessential Alaskan look, Haines has also been a favorite of filmmakers.  The 1991 Disney movie “White Fang” was filmed in Dalton City as is “Gold Rush Alaska”  at Porcupine Creek.

White Fang set Haines Alaska

Movie set of “White Fang” now used as small stores and for state fairs

Haines Alaska

At the movie set, Steve got his growler at Haines Brewery

We could tell that the season is winding down as the RV park we stayed in, Haines Hitch up RV park  was pretty sparse.  We liked it for we had the west section to ourselves. It was a level grass site with full hook ups.  We liked it here even if the laundry cost $3.50 per load.  What can we say, everything in Alaska is expensive.

Haines Alaska

Harbor decorated with flowers

Haines Alaska

Outrageous gas prices

Haines Alaska

Almost empty RV park

We prepped Betsy, and the Honda for our departure from Alaska on a three-day ferry trip through the inside passage to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada.

Upnext: Leaving Alaska