Might seem like a strange title – as most of you (my faithful readers) know – we are already in Alaska. I’ve just been thinking about this post for quite awhile now, how did we get here? What did we do to prepare? Is there anything we wish we had done and didn’t? What will we do different on the way back to the lower 48? What was the reality (our reality) compared to our expectations?
Just so this doesn’t become a whole lot of boring words with no eye candy – I’ll drop in a pic or two along the way – hope you don’t mind.
It may interest you to know that I actually made a list for this post. I generally do not do that. Sometimes I do wish I had b/c I have been known to forget things – I know – hard to believe – ha! I am trying to take this as seriously as I can b/c I know there are some of you out there in blog readers land that may be trying to learn a thing or two from those who’ve gone before you. This is, at least part of, how we all learn, from each other; allow me today to be a part of the teaching, if I may be so bold.
The idea for this trip has always been within me, for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure if I’ve told this story before, if I have bear with me for a few mins, it’s a short one. Back in 4th or 5th grade, each child in the class was assigned a state to do a report on and I was assigned Alaska. This was when I still took school and learning seriously, so I got out the encyclopedias and turned in a report that earned me an “A”. I found it to be an amazing state, so huge and cold and away from the rest of the country. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to come to Alaska – and now look at me! Here I am! Only took about 40 years, but I’ve made it!
The more actual planning of coming to AK began last summer. After some discussion, Bill and I decided to try to get Workamper jobs to help pay our way while we would be up here. I started looking almost immediately on different websites, like Workamper News, Cool Jobs and Workers On Wheels. To keep this somewhat brief, I summarize it this way – I searched the previous years issues to find places that actually hire Workampers and then checked review sites to see what people who stay there say about them. We didn’t want to stay in a dump all summer. One place we spoke to early on had a bunch of recent reviews that talked about sewer smells – no thanks! I followed up all resumes with phone calls so I was sure they were received and reviewed. Keep in mind I was doing this at the end of last season, my hope being to catch them before they closed up for the winter. We applied to and followed-up on a total of 8 and had a choice of 6 offers. The other 2 we never heard from at all. One we politely turned down b/c we had gotten negative feedback from a previous Workamper. One we turned down b/c they wanted us to “volunteer” for 18 hours a week EACH with no earnings above that. Since the average Workamper makes about $10 per hour – that’s $360 a week for the site – $51 a night! Wow! Ultimately, the very best offer we received, by far, was from Renfros Lakeside Retreat and here we are! Gary is awesome, the location is awesome and we are so happy to be here! Happy is an understatement – we are ecstatic to be here!
The job we have is this: camp hosting and cleaning cabins – I am hoping to also learn the reservation system and some office stuff as well, but that isn’t currently part of the official job description. Our schedule is we work one full week – Saturday through Friday and then we are off the whole following week. We have agreed to work extra days as needed during busy times, and there is also a pretty long project list that Bill wants to make a big dent in. We do have some trips planned also for our weeks off, including Denali, Homer and Glennallen, plus day trips to closer towns.
So, once we had the job here in Seward AK, I did what everyone who is planning a trip to AK does, I got Milepost book, which boldly claims on its cover “Since 1949, the bible of Northern Country travel!” That’s an incredible claim for sure! I’ve heard mixed thoughts from people on using it. Our friends, Tracy & Lee didn’t find it very helpful until they reached Dawson Creek, the same experience our co-workers had, both couples came up the same way – through Alberta. We found it helpful, we came up through BC. It isn’t intuitive at all, you do have to pay attention, but overall, I found it got easier the more I used it. I recommend it, especially considering sometimes you have no other way of knowing what’s ahead.
I also reached out to friends who’ve gone to AK, and gathered a bunch of info that way. Several couples we know have either RV’ed or cruised or flew in to Alaska, and they all had something to say about how they did it. I paid careful attention and even took some notes, and was grateful for the help that came in emails that I could read over and over. One couple, Bill and Linda, invited us over while we were staying in the same CG in FL in January. and spent almost 2 hours helping us plan a route and giving us all kinds of info from their trips up to the final frontier. We will be forever grateful to everyone who offered any help at all. Each person we heard from gave a different perspective and advice for us to think on. We took it all to heart and each conversation gave us confidence that it would all be ok and awesome! It’s a very intimating trip with lots of miles to cover! So thanks again – Bill & Linda, Jo & Craig, Chris (one of my readers) and Jo & Ben and Pam & Red!
Not only did I have to plan the journey through Canada and Alaska, I also had to route us to a border crossing. Which way would we go? Where would we cross? What and who would we see along the way? You can follow along on our trip, we left FL at the end of January, drove across the panhandle (stop at Gulf Shores Guy & Sue and Gene & Eileen) into AL, MS, LA (with stop in NOLA – New Orleans LA – Bridget and Gene & Eileen; Lake Charles – James & Cindy). Then on to San Felipe TX – Jo & Craig and San Antonio. Next on to Carlsbad Caverns and Roswell NM; with a quick stop to see White Sands before moving on to AZ and Kartchner Caverns, Tombstone and Tuscon – Lee & Tracy and Cori & Greg. We spent a nice bit of time in Quartzite AZ, seeing a whole bunch of people, Pam & Red, Tracy & Lee, Cori & Greg, Rick, Jim & Barb, Dino & Lisa, Mario & Ellen and meeting for the first time Harry & Vicki, Dianne & Steve, Les & Sue, and Mike & Claudia. We took a side trip to Yuma for a few days before getting back to Q to catch up with Gene & Eileen and Bert. I will also mention we did 3 day trips into Los Algodones, Mexico while in that area. We traveled into CA and spent 10 awesome days with our daughter and her BF, Michelle & Derek, our Goddaughter and her family, Jessilynn & Mike, Gwen and Ang and my BFF, Linda.
While in CA we moved up to Santa Barbara area and Jo & Ben, then Yosemite, Sequioas, and Kings Canyon National Parks; Cotati (north of San Fransicsco) and cousins, Lisa & Ofer; the Redwoods in Klamath CA.
In OR, we stopped to see Crater Lake and spent time near the coast in Florence before moving into WA State and a couple days with HS friend, Lynn. A week in Seattle was spent with cousins, Eric & Jodi. Our final USA stop before crossing at Sumas was Bellingham, where we met Linda & Steven, who became our travel buddies!
WOW! That’s a lot of miles and a lot of people, I hope I didn’t miss anyone. I don’t think I did. It was a fabulous journey, just getting that far!
While moving along toward crossing into Canada, and even before that, there are some things we took care of so we were ready. I’ll talk about those things now.
First, we made the decision to not bring my CRV. With as many miles we were going to be moving, it just didn’t make sense, plus we wanted to experience the whole trip together. The car is in FL with my parents, they drive it every so often for me.
Bill prepared the truck and rig for the trip by doing a lot of maintenance and inspecting things to make sure all was good to go from a safety perspective. This included: repacked wheel bearings; cleaned, lubricated and inspected the brakes, magnets and self adjusters; inspected shackles, shocks, and leaf springs. He also checked all running gear bolts for tightness. He checked all tires for bruises, gouges, cuts and proper inflation. He did a brake job on the truck as well. He also made sure we had plenty of DEF with us, not knowing how available it would be – we were glad he did that, as it isn’t readily available and we did need to put it in. Knowing we would be Boondocking and carrying water, he sanitized the fresh water tank and system. He inspected the roof for any signs of damage.
While I’m mentioning sanitizing the tank, we did carry about 30 gallons with us the whole time. Enough for a few days. We dumped and took on new water as needed, sometimes at visitor centers, at a fuel stop, or even a nearby CG. Considering we were traveling up early, we could also have had bad weather that could have caused us to stay put a few days, so we wanted to be prepared by having water in the fresh tank. Friends of ours had it happen to them weeks later, they needed to pull in unexpectedly due to snow making roads impassable.
I called all our credit cards and our bank to let them know we would be traveling outside the country (didn’t want to have a purchase denied for suspicious activity) and to find how much they each charge for foreign transaction fees. We learned that our one card, Sam’s Club MasterCard does not charge at all, so that’s the one we used. We did use our debit card to get some Canadian money for paying at Provencial Park CG’s b/c they don’t take credit cards, and also for small quick purchases at visitor centers, etc.
I also called Verizon to set-up TravelPass on our cell phones. Basically it’s $2 per day every day you use it and gives you access to your current plan, to use as usual – WHEN YOU HAVE A SIGNAL. Be prepared that for parts of the drive, longer than in the US, you will not have a signal. In towns you will, but not on the long stretches between towns. I actually just received the bill for that time frame and we were charged for 11 days on my phone and 2 days on Bills phone for a total of $26. Not too bad – I’m glad we had it available to us.
This brings me to my next point: make sure your GPS will work in Canada and AK. Ours does, but we truly lucked out b/c not everyone’s does. I am almost embarrassed to admit I hadn’t even thought about it at all. Our travel buddies GPS did not work and they didn’t find out until after we crossed, although they found out later they could have purchased an upgrade. Keep in mind, it isn’t just for directions, I realize there aren’t many roads (the main ones anyway), but you can use it for finding Walmart and other places like fuel and CG’s. This is good, especially if you don’t currently have a cell signal. The milepost has a lot of these items listed, but directions to the grocery store are not that great if they have any at all.
Another tip: stop at and ask questions at the visitor centers. We found the people behind those desks to be very friendly and helpful, every time! Plus, they are just full of info on the local culture and history.
You can also ask at visitor centers about upcoming road conditions and weather if needed. They know the best places to stop along the way to the next town. They can also tell you where you can dump/take on water. The milepost does list places, but it isn’t 100% accurate and if you are early or late in the season, all places are not always open.
Another thing to do is let your auto insurance know you are traveling out of the country into Canada and they can send you a proof of insurance in Canada card. I heard some say it’s needed, some say it isn’t – we had one emailed to us – just in case.
I also verified that we would be covered in Canada by our roadside assistance, Coachnet.
While I’m thinking about the possibility of breaking down – another thing we were told by people who’ve traveled the Alaskan Highway before, if you ever see someone broke down, especially in an area with no cell service, you are supposed to stop and offer assistance, perhaps all you can do is take the phone number and make note of where they are and when you get to a signal, call their roadside assistance for them. Maybe they will just need fuel.
Speaking of maybe needing fuel, a lot of people get an auxiliary fuel tank. This is something we talked about a lot, mostly b/c I was a bit paranoid about running out of fuel. We ended up agreeing to not spend the $500 or more on a space hogging auxiliary fuel tank, but instead decided to fill up whenever available and we did purchase 2 – 5 gallon fuel containers, just in case. Bill called it my $50 peace of mind, and I couldn’t agree more. We discovered that we didn’t “need” them, but you never know – as my son, the Eagle Scout, was taught – be prepared! We did pass more than one station that was not open.
I mentioned earlier asking about road conditions at visitor centers – another point regarding that is to be watching for orange flags – they will alert you to a bad spot in the road. We did drive on some less than favorable road conditions but Bill took it slow and we are fine. Our travel buddies have a Class A bus and they had to take it slower than we did. Also, pay attention to signs warning you of steep grades, if you have a working GPS it could help with this also. There are also signs warning you of wildlife in the area – that may be right in the middle of the road.
Another thing about driving in Canada and AK, if you notice that you have people behind you, you are supposed to pull over at your earliest convenience and let them pass. It’s a courtesy. I don’t know the truth of t, but did hear you could be ticketed for not doing so. I might add we didn’t see but one Canadian trooper (or whatever they are called) outside of the larger towns.
Speaking of signs – we saw a bunch we had never seen before – here are some pics:
Once we met up with and decided to travel with Linda & Steven, we knew we were going to boondock as much as possible to save money on CG fees. We talked about passing through most of the towns with a quick stop at a visitor center and then decide if we needed more time there or just move on. Here is a quick list of where we stayed, for how long and how much we paid: Hope, BC – behind the visitor center – 1 night – $0; Williams Lake – the Tourist Discovery Center – 1 night – $0; Prince George – Treasure Cove Casino – 1 night – $0; Dawson Creek – Walmart – 2 nights (dumped/took on water at Mile 0 CG for a donation) – $0 – $5 dump/water; Muncho Lake Provencial Park – McDonald CG – $20 per night ($80 total) Canadian – 4 nights (Boondocking) $62.60 US; Watson Lake – gravel parking area across from Sign Post Forrest – 1 night – $0; Whitehorse – Walmart – 1 night – $0; Haines AK – Oceanview RV Park $180 US – 5 nights; Destruction Bay – Congdon Creek CG $12 Canadian – 1 night (Boondocking) $9.36 US; Tok AK – behind the Chevron station – 1 night – $3 in extra fuel cost; Glennallen AK – Northern Nights CG $75.60 – 2 nights; Anchorage AK – Ship Creek CG $27 – 1 night. The next day we arrived at our summer home in Seward. So, it took us 21 nights/22 days from crossing at Sumas WA to reach our destination. We paid a total of $357.36 in CG fees, in $US.
The route I just described is 2,722 miles. It took us a total of 291 gallons of fuel at an average of $2.96 per gallon for a total of $862. The highest we paid was $4.57 a gallon in Muncho Lake; the lowest we paid was $2.33 per gallon in Anchorage. We averaged 181 miles per day – only using days we towed; our shortest day being from Anchorage to Renfros (we are 20 miles north of Seward) at 107 miles; the longest was 430 miles from Dawson Creek to Muncho Lake. (Please note that I have already converted all numbers from kilometers to miles and liters to gallons; also Canadian $$ to US $$ and factored in the exchange rate that was appropriate the day we spent the money)
Crossing into Canada had caused us some concerns, as it does for most. We had heard all the stories about produce being taken, pets being denied entry for lack of vaccines, booze being poured out or huge duty having to be paid, and on and on. Let me assure you, it was not all that bad. The rules on all items allowed or not-allowed are outlined on the customs website. Just answer all questions simply and all will be ok, don’t offer more info than what is asked for. Most people we know personally say it was really a non-event, more time spent worrying about it than actually doing it. We only know of one couple that was actually fully searched, and another who had tomatoes taken, that’s out of 8 couples.
Once you have traveled far enough north and the summer sun doing its thing – it’s never fully dark. Even at 2am – it looks like dusk/dawn outside. We have done a few things to help combat that. We bought this foam vent insulation square from Walmart to stick in our bathroom vent, we’ve been putting a dark colored large towel over our shower door and we’ve also velcro’d a dark hand towel over the outside door window. We put all this up at night and take it down when we get up. Between those things and using our MCD shades, it gets and stays nice and dark in here.
I had heard that most people bring enough of their medicines to last for their whole trip. That’s probably not a bad idea, if you can get your insurance to pay for it. Thankfully I will be able to have my Mom send me the only RX I take, no big deal. What I did not consider at all was not being able to have Callies RX cat food shipped here. We generally use Chewy.com for cat food b/c they have the best prices and if you order enough (for us it’s 2 bags) you get free shipping. Works great! I learned today that they do not ship to Alaska, not at all! I offered to pay, I actually expected the free shipping would not apply to AK, but they won’t ship it at all! So, instead we ordered it through another website, paid about $2 per bag more (not too bad) but the cheapest shipping is $36! OUCH!
Along these lines, I would try to stock up in larger towns for non-perishable items. We stocked up, before leaving the USA on TP, paper towels, tissues, toothpaste, stuff like that. We are finding prices to be higher in the smaller towns than in Anchorage, where there is a Sam’s Club and Costco, a huge Fred Meyer. Their prices are still higher than the lower 48, but not as bad as Haines or Seward.
What I would like to leave you with for this post is this: enjoy the ride! Don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from making this trip of a lifetime! If you are uncomfortable bringing your big rig, get a truck camper, rent a Class C, but seriously, we took our time and all is good. We we passed along the way by a lot of folks and I suspect they will be the next batch of horror stories that will put fear into you – with stories of how much it cost to fix all the damage caused by taking their rig to Alaska. I will say with full confidence – if you drive for the road conditions (even when that means doing 25mph for awhile) you can make the trip without damage to your equipment. I will qualify that statement by adding IF you’ve been properly maintaining your equipment, if you haven’t then you risk damage as well.
I can’t say whether we will ever make this trip again or not, but I can say if opportunity came along, I would not hesitate to come again. The scenery views and wildlife is amazing and I hate to think people are missing out. So, if you want to do it – DO IT!