First Time Preparing to Travel to Alaska

We have spent the last couple of weeks preparing for our trip to Alaska and since there are numerous steps to our preparation, I thought I would share them here for those that are planning on going in the future.

  1.  Checked on insurance coverage on all vehicles. We did have coverage, but Allied was kind enough to remind us we needed a proof of insurance certificate that was Canada specific for driving there, and they emailed us copies for both the RV and truck within 5 minutes.  Excellent customer service.
  2. Checked on cellular coverage. First I called Verizon who has a $2 a day plan you can use that expands your existing coverage into Canada.  Unfortunately I have a very basic phone and it is not eligible for international talk or data (it does have unlimited texting for free.)  The customer service was excellent via their Web Chat feature and they even told me they have a loaner phone program I could use to get a phone for the trip.  I am opting to skip that but it was good to know it was an option.  My AT&T experience was the exact opposite.  First I called and could barely hear or understand the person I was talking to.  She also told me that she couldn’t access my account and to call back in 1/2 hour.  I tried the chat feature next and was told (after numerous questions) that their Silver Passport plan is $30 for one month, still charges for some texts, is $1 a minute for phone calls, and only offers 800mb of data.  No thanks.   So we will be going through Canada with my text feature only and whatever Wi-Fi we can get along the way.  I will have to blog offline and then post when we are in coverage. 
  3. Checked on Roadside AssistanceWe have Good Sam and we have coverage in both Canada and Alaska and the phone number to call in case of emergency is the same.  Very helpful customer service person. 
  4. Got a haircut and hair products.  I am fond of Supercuts, but they don’t have any locations in Alaska so I got a really short haircut prior to leaving.  I also bought my mousse and bought Lee’s shampoo which they only sell at Sally’s Beauty Supply.  I could have ordered and shipped the hair product at a later date, but took advantage of the better in-store prices and just took care of it. 
  5. Bought a Food Saver.   We have been wanting a food saver and a digital kitchen scale for a while and we bought one for both food and to shrink wrap tobacco.  We have no idea if we can get loose tobacco in Alaska at reasonable prices and since you cannot order it online, we went ahead and bought 2-1/2 months worth of bulk tobacco in South Carolina.  We needed to package it though, which is where the food saver came in.  Also, after seeing how Pat and Bridget used theirs we definitely decided it was worth it to reduce storage space and lengthen the time food stays good.  So far it is working great.
  6. Bought The Milepost book. Almost everyone who has traveled to Alaska swears by the Milepost book which gives you detailed information on what services are available at every mile of the trip.  Since we will be without data, this becomes especially important during our travel through Canada. 
  7. Put our route into Good Sam Trip Planner.  There are multiple ways to get through Canada to Alaska, but since we didn’t have time to meander we wanted the simplest and most direct route.  As a starting point we used Good Sam Trip Planner which knows that we tow and RV and the height, length, and weight of our vehicle.  We still have work to do here, but it’s a good starting point and at least we know the general route.
  8. Complete Vehicle Maintenance. Lee took the truck to get an oil change.  As a side note, they keep trying to charge us for fuel filters even though they are covered and he spent an extra hour there dealing with that. They wanted to charge us $200, not cool.  We also checked the dually tires at Bill’s suggestion and because they were 3/32 (should be 6/32) we had to get new tires.  Luckily I received an extra check for unused vacation days and that covered the cost, but it had to be done either way.  We used Costco, by the way and they did a great job.  Reasonably priced and good service. 
  9. Stocking up on food. Speaking of Costco, one of the things we are not sure about is how much food to stock up on.  I am sure there is a complex calculation of additional fuel cost for the weight versus higher prices in Alaska, but I am not going to get into all that. We did find there are two Costco’s in Anchorage which is about 120 miles from where we will be staying.  We are still pretty stocked up from being in Louisiana, so I think the only thing I am really going to make sure I buy before going is steak.  Lee likes ribeye and the prices fluctuate wildly as we travel so I have to believe they are going to be crazy high in Alaska. I can easily fit several steaks in our freezer if we use the Food Saver so that seems like the way to go. 
  10. Making Travel Day food. Cooking on long travel days is a pain, and we have discovered it is less tempting to eat out if we have something easy but good to cook on those days.  Since we are going to be faced with at least 9 long travel days in a row as we head north I am making spaghetti sauce and chili and freezing it and buying chicken patties and frozen hamburgers as well.  
  11. Completing some RV mods. Lee has a list of RV mods he has been wanting to get done, but always wanted to make sure we were close to a Home Depot when he started them, just in case.  Rock Hill is close to almost everything, so Lee took a couple of days to complete the repairs.  He removed the stair treads going from the kitchen into the bedroom in the back of the camper and hinged them, so now I have lots of storage underneath.  He also hard wired in the surge protector and voltage regulator, which was a big job, and involved him squeezing into a very small space.  He feels better that they are done prior to the trip and I am thrilled to have more space for my canned goods.

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So that’s our list so far, and we completed it in a week.  I am sure other stuff will arise along the way, but I know we both feel better to have this much done.  Obviously they have stores and goods in Canada and Alaska, but we both prefer to do as many chores as possible in advance of the trip.  

It does feel a little bit like we have gone back to newbie full timers with this trip.  We have become pretty good at navigating the lower 48 over the last year and a half, but Canada and Alaska are very different, so we are back to not taking anything for granted and proceeding with caution and care.  I am sure once we do the trip we will be surprised by how easy it all is, but better safe than sorry.  What’s nice is our friends Kelly and Bill are taking their first trip to Alaska this summer as well and although we are not going to be taking the same route we are sharing our experiences and ideas with each other as we go. 

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Fires and a Flat

The next day we started off feeling excited, but a little worried about the fires.  We had been in contact with Deb and Steve  the day before and they were closer to the fires and were dealing with a lot of smoke.  Plus, a crazy storm happened the night before and there were several downed trees and road debris.  Ellen and Mario seemed OK as they were farther back like we were, but I was getting nervous about what we were getting into.  Part of our drive was HWY 2 and we knew part of it was  shut down but we weren’t sure which part and in any event the situation was constantly fluid.  Because of all that we decided to take the longer way around and stay off 2 all together.  I did want to stop and dump first though because I was worried about what would happen if we got rerouted or evacuated.  Didn’t want to drive into an unknown situation with full tanks.  Well, there are only two places in Helena that have dumps.  One is on a slight hill and you would have to pump up..weird and no not doing it.  The second one was a standard dump but someone put a second trash dumpster in the place where you make the turn and it was TIGHT.  Lee got so far and then we couldn’t make the turn without either scraping the tire against the curb, (how we got the flat the first time) or hitting the logs that were on the border on the other side.  We got out and looked and talked and Lee pushed the timber with his foot and it came loose.  One of them was removable (obviously someone else had this problem) and with gentle negotiating he made the turn and no tires scraped.  He did a really good job and we stayed very calm with each other and helped each other which was great.  Whoever designed that turn though..not cool. 

Finally we got out on the road and since 90 is a major highway we felt pretty confident we wouldn’t have to deal with closures.  What we didn’t count on was the steep grades.   Lee is a really good driver and did a great job navigating the road,  but when I saw he was using his brakes on occasion (instead of letting the engine slow us down) I knew it was really steep.   I breathed a sigh of relief when we hit flat land again, but it was short lived.  We felt a jerk (as if the trailer had come unhitched) and then looked and saw smoke coming from the back right trailer tire.  Lee pulled over immediately (always, always pull over immediately) and the tire was not only flat it was shredded.   Thankfully though he stopped in enough time that the rim was not damaged at all that we could see.   After taking a few deep breaths and saying a quick thank you to God because the flat could have happened coming down the hill, Lee pulled out the  Rapid Jack we had bought after the last flat tire.  So here’s the thing.  We rapidly found out the jack was not so much a jack. The idea is you can roll the good tire onto it and it will lift the bad tire enough to change it.  We were on a two lane highway and pulled over into the gravel, as you would be in this scenario.  He rolled the tire onto the jack and it immediately sunk 6-7 inches into the gravel.  So not enough height to put the spare on.  Lee pulled out these rubber mats we have to roll tires onto and tried it again, but again the good tire was not high enough to put the new one on. Plus the good tire was smushed alarmingly by the whole process and I started to worry we could have a second failure.   OK, so now what?  Well, we decided to call Good Sam roadside assistance.  The experience was largely the same as last time.  It took over 45 minutes to find someone to dispatch and then another 45 for them to arrive.  I think the problem here is Good Sam just doesn’t have enough people to call.  Both times we were less than 30 minutes from a major town so seriously it should not be that hard to find someone to dispatch.  Although I am grateful to have someone come, and in both cases the people who came were very proficient, when this is up for renewal I think I will change to AAA.    I also want to mention here that parts of the tire were wrapped around the brake.  He had to use a special tool to remove it and even if the jack had worked, Lee doesn’t think he would have been able to get the tire off. 

Shredded Tire

Shredded Tire

Trying to get jack to work

Trying to get jack to work

These guys stopped the train before hitting the mountain and walked over to see if we needed help...amazing

These guys stopped the train before hitting the mountain and walked over to see if we needed help…amazing

At least the view was good while we were waiting

At least the view was good while we were waiting

 

So I am sure your first question was “Did we have TPM or Tire Pressure Monitoring?”.  The answer is yes, and we were getting a low air warning light, but it wasn’t extremely low and this is not uncommon in the mornings before the tires heat up.  The difference this time was the all the other tires went to normal pressure but the fourth one didn’t.  We discussed checking the air and were actually talking about the next rest area when we hit the mountain pass that was unexpected.    Should we have pulled over before attempting the hill? Maybe,  but it had been a big morning with the fire smoke, route change, and dump station from hell and we had a lot on our minds.  Also I will say, I am not convinced that the low pressure is what caused the problem.  Everyone knows these E tires are absolute crap and we absolutely have to spend the money to get new ones.  It’s not just about the money though, the coordination to get them all changed is difficult and with the way our schedule has been we haven’t been any place with enough time this could be easily done.  Since we are headed to Susanville for 2 months for Lee’s work kamping job that should be the best place to do it and we will just have to bite the bullet and get 5 new tires, because seriously, we could have died.

By the time all this was done we were seriously behind schedule and we still had to travel Route 93, which although it’s only 112 miles takes a good 3 hours to traverse.  There was lots to look at though as we went through several small towns and it gave us some time to settle down before getting to Whitefish Lake State Park.   We even took a few moments and stopped to look at Flathead Lake which is a huge lake that is very popular in Montana.  Have to say though that after spending a month at Lake Kabetogama we weren’t that blown away. 

The views helped with the stress

The view helped with the stress

Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake was beautiful

 

By the time we got to the campground we were pretty beat.  A 4 hour travel day had turned into an 8 hour travel day, but thankfully Steve and Deb made dinner for us.  Plus, when we pulled into our site I saw she and Ellen had decorated it for my birthday.  So, so nice especially after such a day and I almost started crying.  They were so thoughtful and I was so glad to be where we were supposed to be… it was a great feeling and how wonderful to have such nice friends.  We had dinner and then I got some awesome presents (everything does two things) and then we had cupcakes for dessert.  They both went all out and you can see from the smiles on my face what it meant to me.

Mario, Ellen, deb, Steve, and Lee

Mario, Ellen, deb, Steve, and Lee

Dinner was yummy

Dinner was yummy

Cupcake for desert

Cupcake for desert

A Camper photo album!!

A Camper photo frame!!

They bought me sunflowers and Ellen pt them in this cool teapot she found in a thrift store

They bought me sunflowers and Ellen put them in this cool teapot she found in a thrift store

I loved that Deb wrote on this rock for me...so thoughtful since she knows I love rocks

I loved that Deb wrote on this rock for me…so thoughtful since she knows I love rocks

 

Plus a big rock with a tiara

Plus a big rock with a tiara

Hurley, deb's dog. not such a fan of the tiara lol

Hurley, deb’s dog. not such a fan of the tiara lol

Deb Mario and Lee

Deb Mario and Steve

So so nice

So so nice

Tomorrow we are all going to Glacier and I am so so excited.  Hope the smoke doesn’t ruin the experience, but I choose to think positively and believe I wouldn’t travel all this way and not get to see the thing I have been looking forward to.

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