Travel trials, tribulations and tidbits

Comments 28 Standard

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!



 

Arctic Circle – The ultimate day tour…

Comments 8 Standard

One of the many adventures we had planned to experience while in Alaska was crossing into the Arctic Circle.  No, we did not brutalize our car by driving there ourselves, but instead took a guided tour.  The Dalton Highway that leads to the Arctic Circle is rough and dangerous, and it must be traversed with caution.

Our adventure began at 6:30AM, and turned out to be an 18-hour roundtrip journey through very remote unpopulated areas of Northern Alaska.  We had never taken a tour that lasted this long, and of course most of it was spent sitting on our butts in the van.

Dalton Highway, AK

Taking a break at the Finger Mountain rest stop

We had seven rest breaks of about 15 minutes each to explore the area and take restroom breaks – in some rather unpleasant outhouses.  And at all of the stops, swarms of aggressive mosquitoes gave us a warm welcome the moment we stepped out of the van.

Dalton Highway, AK

The very rugged Dalton Highway

Alaska outhouses

A trip to the outhouses.  Hurry, the mosquitos are after you!

This was a unique tour, for it was definitely about the journey and not the destination.  We experienced expansive and diverse landscapes and learned about the fascinating Athabascan culture, the gold rush days and how homesteads were awarded to people willing to live in this hostile environment.  The Dalton Highway is meant primarily for commercial truck traffic, and it features fast-changing weather and a diverse ecology.  It closely parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline for over 200 miles.

Dalton Highway, AK

The fog rolled in fifteen miles from the Arctic Circle.  Twenty minutes later it was gone

Fireweed blooming along Dalton Highway

The pink flowers are Fireweed, which is one of the first plants to grow back after a fire occurs here

Dalton Highway scenery

Beautiful scenery along Dalton Highway

10 Pm at Dalton Highway Alaska

I took this picture around 10PM!

Dalton Highway

In many places we could see miles of the curved road ahead

During the long trip, driver/tour guide Chris did a great job of keeping us entertained and informed.  At one of our stops he dug out a patch of arctic tundra to let us touch the permafrost and feel the veins of ice just inches beneath the surface.

We learned a lot about permafrost and how some plants and animals can survive in such a hostile environment.  Understanding the interaction between the permafrost and brutal weather explained how those nasty frost heaves constantly tear up the roads.

Permafrost

Steve reaching in to touch the permafrost.  Everything here for hundreds of miles basically sits on top of a massive block of ice

For those of you who are fans of the reality show “Ice Road Truckers“,  the Dalton Highway was the spotlight on Seasons 3, 4 and 5.  We followed their route for the first 30% of the Dalton Highway as we headed north.  Oh my, the road was narrow, with lots of dangerous curves, steep grades, huge potholes, washboard areas and slick mud.  A CB radio is required in this area to communicate with truckers (who have the right of way on this highway) and road crews to announce your location at certain points.  Don’t even think of bringing your own car up here!

Dalton Highway

Roller Coaster Hill

Sand Hill, Dalton Highway

Sand Hill, note we can’t see the bottom of the grade

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline parallels the Dalton highway, zigzagging from Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic Ocean to Valdez, some 800 miles south.  On this terrain, about half of the pipeline is suspended, since it can not be buried in the permafrost.  We stopped at one of the sections to view it up close.  We learned that the pipe is not bolted to the supports, but actually floats on them to allow for expansion and contraction, and movement in the event of an earthquake.

Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline

Trans-Alaska pipeline

Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline

Close inspection reveals some amazing engineering

Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline

View of the Trans-Alaska pipeline running over a mountain.  The zig-zag pattern must be used to allow for expansion and contraction

Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline

Wooden deck on a concrete and steel bridge over the Yukon river.  Note the PA speakers, which are used to verbally warn people to stay away from the pipeline

Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline

Another view of the pipeline as it goes underground, the soil here allowed for a section to be buried

We finally crossed into the Arctic Circle at 3:30 PM!  Our group stopped and had a little celebration, with cake provided by Chris.  It was amazing to cross the latitude that runs at 66° 33′, known as the Arctic Circle.  This latitude is the point at which, at sea level, the sun will not set below the horizon at any point during the day on June 21st (summer solstice).  It also will not rise above the horizon at any point during the day on December 21st (winter solstice).  How cool is that?

Arctic circle sign

Pose at the Arctic Circle sign.  We made it!

Arctic Circle crossing

Chris handing out cake

On our trip back Chris kept us engaged with all his real-life stories and anecdotes.  His delivery was great, making his story telling engaging.  Also, since this is such a long tour, he implemented a scheduled seat rotation so the 20 of us on the tour could have a variety of viewing perspectives.

We arrived back at our site at 1:00AM the following day, and it was still light out.  I don’t think the sun ever set in Fairbanks that night.

Arctic Circle

A rainbow welcomes us home at the end of our long journey

In our opinion, this is an absolute must-do tour if you are in Fairbanks, and we recommend the Northern Alaska Tour Company.  Although it was a very long trip, we were thrilled to see and learn about this vast and beautiful place that most people never get to explore.