First Time in Alaska

We decided to bypass Whitehorse in the morning for a couple of reasons.  First, it looks like a cool town and not the place you want to blow through, and second, we were trying to catch up with our friends Kelly and Bill (BKamerican Odyssey) who we thought were about 200 miles north of us in Destruction Bay.  This is where lack of Internet is challenging.  At stops at night IF you have wifi you can check in on folks.  We knew Jim and Barb were 1 day ahead of us, but they were headed down to Skagway on a side route, so we were missing them. Kelly and Bill were still on the Alaska Hwy though and we knew the name of the campground they were staying, but weren’t sure for how long.  They had internet two days ago and we didn’t, then we had internet last night and they didn’t. So we were playing the internet version of phone tag.  Kelly has a Verizon data and phone plan, but it only works in some of the towns due to coverage,  and since travel plans on a huge trip like this are often “soft” we were all doing the best we could to keep track of each other.  So different in the US where we all have mostly instant access to each other’s locations.  I get why people caravan now, because it is entirely possible we drove right past Jim and Barb and wouldn’t have known it.  Anyway, since we knew the campground they were at we decided to hit the road early and see if we got lucky and caught them.

We stopped at a Fas gas on the way out and paid 1.09 a liter.  Lots of gas options in Whitehorse, and it even has a real airport, albeit a tiny one.  The gas station overhang had seen better days though, and someone had posted the height in feet and inches on it.  Check out the pic and you can see why.  This canopy has been hit many times.

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It doesn’t help that the overhang is on a slant and had three different measurements. The one on the end said it was tall enough for us, but I think our AC would have hit it so we backed out. Keep in mind this is a gas station near a major town. This scenario is NOT uncommon up here.

The road north of Whitehorse was paved but had lots of frost heaves.  Some were marked and some were not, and we ended up going around 50 or slower on the route.  Then around MM 936 we saw a sign saying we were leaving the 911 serving zone.  Woah, that was new and a little sobering.  Not that we could necessarily have called 911 anyway with our phone issues, but we were out there.   Around MM 960 though we started to see these beautiful views of the Kluane Mountain range and stopped at a wonderful pull out at MM 977.  On a clear day you can see Canada’s highest mountain range behind the Kluane range (which we could see) and they had a great sign explaining it.  Plus Lee got an excellent “rig porn shot” (trademark pending on the name lol).

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The left pointed snow covered peak is Kennedy which is must farther behind the range in the front. The rounded peak that looks like a volcano top with snow on it is Hubbard peak. Beautiful view

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“Rig Porn”

After the stop we started to get some low air warnings on the tires.  Nothing too scary, but we definitely wanted to get a little air in one tire.  Most regular gas stations here don’t have air.  Most are just a couple of pumps in front of a little store,  but in Haines Junction we were told there was a place called Source Motors that did have a compressor.  Two different people at two stops recommended it to us, but neither mentioned they weren’t open on Saturdays.  Again, weird, you wouldn’t know that about the only mechanic in a 50 mile radius?   Thankfully though they had a large parking area and we pulled in and Lee dragged out the compressor.  He turned on our generator then plugged it in and added about 6 pounds to one of the rear dually tires.  I didn’t mind the stop because the view of the glaciers in Haines Junction were really beautiful.  Here we were in this little spit of a town with a view to die for.  I wondered how people ever got anything done, but I am sure after a while it just fades into the background.

Next we hit the Jarvis River bridge and according to the Milepost book we were 1,000 miles from Dawson Creek.  In the lower 48, traveling 1,000 miles is generally no big deal, but up here it felt momentous.  After Haines Junction the roads improved again and we were able to go between 55 and 60.  That was great because we were getting close to Destruction Bay and even though it was nearing 11am we thought maybe we would get lucky and catch Kelly and Bill.  It was hard not to stop at every scenic turnout there, but I did get some decent pics out the side window as we wound our way around the bay.

One large section of the bay was completely dry

One large section of the bay was almost completely dry.  I know this picture looks doctored but it wasn’t.  The rocks really looked like that…crazy

The side that was filled with water was beautiful

The side that was filled with water was beautiful

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At the far end of the bay was a government campground right on the water called Congdon Creek  where Kelly and Bill had stayed. We drove all through the campground and it was really nice.  On a Saturday it was about 2/3 full, mostly with families, but there were several spots a big rig could fit into.  The lakeside section is relatively small and fills first, but the wooded section was also nice.  Keep in mind all of these government campgrounds are on prime real estate, but only have hand pump water and no other services.  They really are great places to stay, but you need to plan accordingly.  Based on what we saw here and Muncho Lake, Lee and I want to try mainly boondocking in them on our way back down to the lower 48.  This particular campground is also closed in July and August for bear activity and since there are no online reservations, it fills fast.  At $12 a night I can see why.  Oh, and they have free unsplit firewood at most of these.  Just don’t try to take that wood across to the US because it will get confiscated at the border.  Unfortunately we missed Kelly and Bill (we found out later they left at 9am), so we headed onto Tok. Oh, and top off your gas on the far side of Destruction Bay.  It was $1.21 a liter, but there aren’t a lot of places to fill up between there and the border.

Also the road got really poor from that point on.   There were lots of construction projects.  I took a turn driving and drove with no issue, because the road was very torn up (requiring a pilot car in one point) and I can drive slow on gravel.  The worst part of that drive was when I was passed by two big trucks who threw up so much dust I literally could not see.  I understand why people get rock damage through here, because the grit was flying.  Luckily we passed through unscathed, but it took forever to get through those areas.  We did have an interesting encounter when we were waiting on the pilot car,  which took about 10 minutes.  A woman walked back and talked to us, apologizing for passing us on the dirt road.  I said that was nothing compared to the big trucks and she shared with us she was headed towards North Pole, Alaska.  She had left West Virginia 6 days ago.  Wow, I thought we were going fast!!   She also said we would like Glenallen.  She said it was boring, but a nice town.  After this road trip I am totally fine with a little boring!!

The Canadian border crossing comes up first in the little town of Beaver Creek then there is a loooong 15 mile stretch until the American border crosing.  At this point we were anxious to get back to the land of internet and cell service so the drive seemed much longer than it probably was.  The Canadian road was pretty torn up in this “no man’s land” with precious few of those rough road warnings we had grown to depend on, but it did improve dramatically (at least initially) when we crossed the American border.  We pulled up to our border crossing at 2:44 (lost an hour to a time change) and had to go through commercial trucks and buses entrance because at 13 feet we were too tall to go through the other side.   This is confusing because it says RV’s go in the 12.10 lane but no way we would fit.  The border officer came out and said we were in the right place and asked us a series of questions.  Mainly, did we have anything from Canada? (no) and did we have firearms? (no).   He did make Lee sign his passport though, which was funny.  I got a gold star for already signing mine lol.  Then he saw the little bit of wood we had.  At the Canada crossing they didn’t say a word, but he brought a wheel barrow over and made Lee take it all out.  We apologized and he said ,”You aren’t the first today, and won’t be the last.” and we found out later Bill had the same thing happen to him!   Even with all that it only took us 15 minutes to get through and we were on our way.  He didn’t say welcome home though, which bugged Lee a little bit, but I was just happy to be back in the US.

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More rig porn 🙂

Of course we immediately turned our cell phones back on, but there was no service for quite a while.  I got a teeny bit of Verizon first, just enough to establish that Kelly was in Tok and where she was.  Hooray!!  Finally at US Milepost 1272 (these are a different color in the Milepost book) I got decent internet service (Lee got AT&T 15 miles from Tok) and it was hard to not want to just pull over somewhere and start talking to people.  The road in comparison to the gravel and dirt road certainly improved for us.  There were many frost heaves but in a fifth wheel those aren’t as big of a deal for us.  I will say though that it is a huge issue for Class A’s, especially older ones. They bounce a lot on those frost heaves and they are very difficult to see.  But we cruised along, traveling between 45 and 55 mph  depending the number of patches we were seeing on the road. We did miss the patched road markers though that they have in Canada.  Our highway system should start using those.

We made our way to the Chevron Truck Stop that Kelly and Bill were staying at with their traveling partners Linda and Steven.  Bill walked out to the road and once I saw him and we pulled in to get gas I jumped out and gave him a huge hug.  I was so so glad to see him.  Cool story about how they all met.  Kelly was on an RVillage Alaska group and saw Linda and Steven were heading on a similar route.  After several virtual communications, they met in person and talked in detail about how they traveled.  Not only do you need to like the people, you also need to travel in similar ways.  What time do you get up? When do you like to leave?  How long do you travel each day?  How comfortable are you with boondocking?  These are all questions that must be answered.  So after some discussion they felt they had “travel compatibility”  (I am just making up new catch phrases here) and headed off together.  It was clear upon meeting them, they had all become very close in a short period of time and definitely had a rhythm going.  Linda was also kind enough to give us time with Kelly and Bill after the initial meeting with them which was incredibly sweet.  I felt as if I had been “rode hard and put up wet” as they say and I was totally done in.  Kelly knew this though, and made us some amazing Instant Pot beef stew and let us literally put our feet up in their camper.  We caught up until 9pm when I crashed hard, so we went off to bed to get ready for the last day.

Yeah Bill!!

Yeah Bill!!

The next day we formed a caravan three vehicles long and started on the last push to Glenallen.  It was a new experience for us traveling in a group and luckily our walkie talkies worked with the set they had been using.  Steve is a professional photographer (I adore his landscape pictures) and keeps the windshield of their Class A very clean.  Linda is their primary driver and he takes some beautiful pictures out the window.  They also write a blog where he posts many of his amazing pictures which you should definitely check out. Since Kelly (who was navigating in the lead car) knew we loved pictures so much we stopped every hour or so at a picturesque spot for pictures.  I got some great advice from Steven on landscape photos and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him and Linda better on our breaks. 

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Taking up the rear in the caravan. Our windshield was not so clean

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Things were going great until we hit the Tok Cutoff.  The road was the worst at this point as we have seen it, and since the constant frost heaves effected Linda and Steven in their Class A the most they set the pace.  They kept apologizing for going so slow, but I could see how much their rig was bouncing in those little valleys and didn’t blame them at all.  It ended up taking us about 4 hours to travel that road though, and we were all happy when we pulled into Northern Nights in Glenallen.   Lee and I introduced ourselves to Marc and Darlene (our bosses for the summer) and then let the others get settled.  Our site was still being worked on, so we took a site next to them for the night.  It was a great night of steak dinner and drinks, and Kelly even invited some other folks from RVillage that were in the campground to hang out as well.  We really enjoyed the conversation that night, especially because it went beyond the superficial, and as all full timers who started in 2014 we shared our joys and challenges from our time thus far on the road.  Really great meeting them and I was sorry to see Linda and Steven leave the next day, but they said they would stop back on their way back out!

Bill and Kelly spent another day and we had a wonderful shrimp dinner and just really enjoyed our time together.  Since we started work on Tuesday, they went ahead and left and headed for their job near Seward, but we know we will see them at least once more this summer.  Loved, loved being with them for our first few days in Alaska and I truly feel blessed to be friends with such special people!

Kelly and Linda

Kelly and Linda

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Hanging around our campfire at Northern Nights

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Kelly, Bill, Linda, and Steven. They had their happy hours down to a science at this point lol

 

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The boys eating some Tilamook ice cream. They are VERY serious about their deserts

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Kelly, Bill, me, and Lee

Lessons Learned

  • Have I mentioned it’s hard to be without internet 🙂
  • When traveling with people to Alaska make sure you have a detailed conversation about how you travel.  It’s not enough to like each other, you also need travel compatibility to make it work.
  • Use walkie talkies when caravaning.  Makes things so much easier.
  • Make sure you carry an air compressor.

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16 thoughts on “First Time in Alaska

  1. What an amazing adventure just to get to your summer home!!! Now we can’t wait to see the rest of the story unfold;o)) Aren’t the friends you make in this lifestyle one of its greatest blessings!!!

  2. Awesome blog entry just love all your details. We just started our fulltime life and we are workamping this summer in Massachusetts. Next summer South Dakota, then hopefully Alaska next on the bucket list. I have been to Alaska twice and want to spend a summer there before I am too old! We have a 5th wheel so I am hooked on your journey.

    • Thanks so much Susan!! Really appreciate that since I was a little worried it might be too boring with all the mile by mile info, but I figured someone would appreciate it!!

  3. I would suggest adding one item to “Lesson Learned”. As you know tire blowouts are one of the leading causes of damage to a Fifth Wheel. Any under-inflated tire is a risk for a blowout. Get a portable compressor for your rig. They are not expensive and you can immediately inflate a tire that has a low pressure warning instead of having to drive around trying to find a compressor somewhere. Maybe I read your post wrong. I would be pretty sure Lee would have a compressor with the rig at all times. It’s like RV 101.

    • Thanks Andy and we totally agree. He did have a compressor but thought it would be easier to pull up to air in a station rather than finding a place to park, turning the generator on, etc. turns out it was a good thing we had one on board as most stations don’t have air up here. Sorry if that was unclear 😄

      • Feel free to delete this if you don’t want any commercial stuff in the comments. Here is a compressor that will plug into your vehicles 12 V socket and it inflates up to 90 psi with no problems with built in gauge. Most gas stations only have an indicator up to 40 PSI. It has a threaded connector which is a blessing for the inner dual tire as it is almost impossible to get any other type of connector onto that tire on the truck. With a 12 foot 12V extension lead this will reach all of the RV tires from the truck cab.

        Slime Pro Power Heavy-Duty 12-Volt Tire Inflator.

  4. Wow…and to think we were with you a little over a month ago in Texas. Looks like you are having a blast, Trace! I remember those sneaky frost heaves. We were in a 30 foot class C on our trip. Glad to know they are handled better in a fifth wheel!

  5. Wow this has been a wonderful journey. I am glad it was a safe trip. Enjoyed it all the way. I think I said this before, But, for everyone reading this. you need to say gas/diesel.Not every one owns a diesel/or gasoline.and tell if the pumps a clearly labled. I would have a little trouble,not having anyone to talk to,or get instructions from.Dong all the driving on my own.So, I would be a lot slower. I can’t wait for the next chapter in your lives. Keep up the journey.God bless you both.

  6. Glad you made it safe & maybe not so sound. We drove AK in 2016, I’m ready to go back. During thr summer Palmer has a wonderful farmers market, also in Palmer is the National Tsunami Warning Center, they have hour long tours Friday afternoon. We were the only ones on our tour, the guy went on for nearly 3 hours, it was very interesting.

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