Fourth of July in Glenallen and Catching up

Before I get started talking about Fourth of July there are several little items I have been meaning to share, but they haven’t really fit in well with any particular post.  I felt they are important enough that I wanted to mention them though, so please bear with me as the beginning is going to be a little all over the place.

First off Lee has been redoing all of the signage here and it looks pretty terrific.  He has never done signs like this before but with a router and some stencils he ordered I think he did an amazing job.

My favorite two new signs because I will never again have to answer the question which water spigot is to fill and which is for the dump

My favorite two new signs because I will never again have to answer the question which water spigot is to fill and which is for the dump.  These had no signs before. Thanks honey!!

Oh and I mentioned awhile back that we went to Costco before Memorial Day Weekend and they were totally out of meat.  We had a guest here who was a supervisor at Costco and he explained that many of the small local businesses stock up using the Anchorage Costco on the Thursday before holiday weekends and they couldn’t possibly keep up with the demand.  For example during Fourth of July weekend they sell a full pallet of charcoal briquettes an hour.  The Anchorage Costco is number two in volume in the country, second only behind the one in Hawaii.  Nice guy and I felt better after talking to him.  The information also helped us delay our next trip to Costco until July 8th, rather than going in the end of June as we originally planned.

Speaking of food Lee has been doing almost all the cooking and doing a wonderful job.  He’s even trying some of the new recipes I have collected and his plate presentation has even gotten a little fancy.  I really appreciate the meals he is making and will be sharing some of the recipes at the end of this post.

Look how fancy Cori!

Look how fancy Cori and it tasted delicious

 

Staying with the food thing we tried salmon a second time when this nice young man Bob who works on plumbing issues at the campground brought us a piece fresh from the river that he had gotten from a fish wheel.  It was a beautiful piece of fish, so I asked him how he cooked it and decided to give it a try.  We cooked it for 10 minutes at 400 degrees in the oven coated only in salt and lemon juice.  It really was a delicious piece of fish, but salmon just looks totally unappetizing to me.  Still it was the best salmon I have ever had and I am glad I got to try it again.

Salmon cooked Bob's way

Salmon cooked Bob’s way

 

Oh and speaking of fishing (I am excited about how all these things are seguing together), Chris and Miranda from Copper Central  are a young couple who I have mentioned before had started a fish cleaning, supplies, and tours business.  I have been sending a lot of our guests there and they always call and let me know how grateful they are.  Super cute couple and very committed to customer service so I am happy to send folks their way.  I stopped in and got a picture of Chris…Miranda was out getting supplies…and truly if you are looking for info on fishing in the Copper River Valley, these guys are a great resource.  If you are coming into the area give them a call at 907-822-4315.  They are happy to answer any questions.

Chris from Copper Central

Chris from Copper Central

Ok I am totally out of seques but the next one is important.  Remember how much I complained about The Milepost Book on our way through Canada, well Kelly from Milepost stopped into the campground.  As I suspected she was traveling in a conversion van, but when I mentioned I had concerns she listened to me very carefully and promised to pass it along to the managers.  I talked pretty passionately about how they needed more detailed information on the steep grades because larger and larger fifth wheels were becoming more common.  I also said it’s obvious you want a good product since you have gone to so much trouble in other areas, but this area is important and needs more work.  Like I said she listened and promised to pass it up the food chain and in any event I felt better having told someone from the company.  After meeting her I am even more convinced that the companies intentions are good I think they have just missed the mark in this one area.

Ok onto a couple more serious items.  I’ve talked a little bit about how my sister fostered and was trying to adopt a little boy.  We attended the adoption party before we came to Alaska.  Well the adoption was finally approved right after we got here and we can finally post pictures of Abram’s face on the internet.  So for those of you who wondered what that cutie pie actually looks like…here you go.  I took this pic and am super proud of it!

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Such a cutie

As someone new enters our lives we also are saying goodbye to someone else.  Four years ago our friend Mike died from esophageal cancer.  This death at the age of 45 had a huge impact on us and started us on the path to changing our lives and becoming full timers.  Lee was given some of his ashes after his cremation and we have carried them with us in our rig on our journey.  I’ve talked to him, put little pieces of our travels (rocks, shells, feathers) on the gold box that held him and generally felt like in some way he was coming with us.  A few months ago our two youngest daughters started planning a trip to Europe this summer and since they were starting in Scotland Lee and I started talking about sending his ashes with them.  Mike was of Scottish descent and his long time dream was to visit the ancestral homes of Clan Lamont.  He never got to make that wish come true, but we thought we could make it happen now, so Lee and Mike’s widow worked for weeks to get all the paperwork together that would be needed for the girls to take his ashes.

Turns out it’s not that easy and you need multiple pieces of paper to make it happen.  If you know my husband though, you know nothing was going to stop it from happening and a couple of weeks ago we had to send the ashes to our youngest Kay.  I couldn’t do it, but Lee took care of it and in a lot of ways it felt like we were losing him all over again in a way.  It was tough.  Then the girls arrived in Scotland and although I haven’t heard the whole story yet, went to heroic efforts to find the right area, and after slogging through Scottish mud spread his ashes.  Mike would have loved it.

Mike with his son Ian when we were young

Mike with his son Ian at the Renaissance Fest when we were young

Alright, thanks for letting me talk about all that, now back to the Fourth of July.  This is a big holiday here in Glennallen starting with a VFW breakfast in the morning, a parade, and then games and a salmon bake at the local park put on by the lions club. I was excited about the day’s activities but unfortunately completely overslept, so by the time I got to the breakfast all they had left were sausages and hard biscuits.  Still I saw a couple of very nice campground guests there (Merope and Jim) and since Lee had decided not to come I was glad to have someone to watch the parade with.

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I was late so most everyone had left

Luckily we could watch the parade right from where we were at and the sites filled up quick with lots of families.  This is an old fashioned parade where they throw candy and the kids were all ready to go with their bags.

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Jim and Maripe

Jim and Merope who I discovered are full time RVers.  Maripe is originally from Scotland, but they home base out of Alexandria, VA and their blog is Shanahan Shenanigans.

I thought the parade was absolutely great and very impressive for a town of only 585 people.  It was no Rose Bowl Parade to be sure, but it absolutely reminded me of my childhood and made me smile.

Led off by American Legion

Led off by American Legion

The kids all waiting for their goodies.

The kids all waiting for their goodies. The ones next to us cleaned up because they got our candy and theirs.

 

Park ranger "float". A for effort

Park ranger “float”. A for effort

Plus they threw out these toilet kits and I snagged one

Plus they threw out these toilet kits and I snagged one

Lots of churches were represented

Lots of churches were represented

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Local Urgent Care

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And cool classic cars

And cool classic cars

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My favorite was this old Rolls Royce follwed by a VW convertible

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The best float of the day was owned by the local sanitation company

The best float of the day was owned by the local sanitation company

HE threw candy and toilet paper out to folks. Never seen that before

HE threw candy and toilet paper out to folks. Never seen that before

The mom next to us grabbed that toilet paper right up :)

The mom next to us grabbed that toilet paper right up.  With two boys I don’t blame her lol

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The only animals in the parade

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This insurance company came all the way from Fairbanks

Smoky was a big hit

Smokey was a big hit

My other favorite was this fire truck

My other favorite was this fire truck. You can see behind them how they blocked the main roads for this.

They had fun squirting people along the way

They had fun squirting people along the way

It was really fun and afterwards I went in the opposite direction of the crowd to see if Lee wanted to go to the Salmon Bake.  He wasn’t very interested so I decided to go off on my own and try to find a closer view of the elusive fish wheels.  People are pretty territorial about them and since almost everyone was at the salmon bake I thought now might be a good time, but after following Bob’s vague directions on where he got the salmon (and hitting at least 20 dead end roads) I decided to go and visit Chris and Miranda.  They were working and Chris mentioned that I might be able to see fish wheels from the Lutheran Church parking lot in Silver Springs.  So off I went and with Chris’s much better directions at least found the church.  Since I am Lutheran I like seeing Lutheran churches anyways and this one was tiny but cool.  I especially liked the wooden cross in the field next to it.

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I walked down to see the cross and the river and voila, around the corner I could finally get close enough to fish wheels to see them in action.  I couldn’t real see if they caught any fish, but it was cool that every house along that river bank had one.  Then a big dog wandered up and said hello and I sat for awhile enjoying the river and the peace and quiet.

 

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Victory!!

Puppy was nice

Beautiful dog

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Nice backyard view

So I can finally say I got sort of up close to a fish wheel and I learned a lot about the local communities by driving around.  It wasn’t the best day I have had here by any means but it was ok and looking forward to some big trips we have coming up in the future.  Oh and as promised here are two delicious new recipes that Lee made for me.  So So good.

 

Crawfish or Shrimp Beignets (Lee made the shrimp version so good)

  • 1 egg; beaten
  • 1 lb chopped crawfish tail meat or shrimp
  • 4 green onions; chopped
  • 1-1/2 tsp butter; melted
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 cup flour
  1. In a large bowl combine meat, egg, onions, butter, salt, and cayenne
  2. Stir in flour until blended
  3. Heat oil to 375 in wok, deep skillet, or fryer
  4. Drop tablespoons of mixture into oil a few at a time
  5. Fry until golden brown on both sides
  6. Drain on paper towels

We used purchased Louisiana dipping sauce, but you can make your own by mixing the following:

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 tsp prepared horseradish
  • 1/4 tsp pepper sauce

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Smothered Chicken

  • 4 boneless chicken thighs
  • Sprinkles of garlic powder and seasoning salt
  • 1 TBL vegetable oil
  • 4-1/2 ounces of sliced mushrooms (fresh or canned; drained)
  • 1 cup (4 oz) Mexican shredded cheese blend
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/2 cup bacon bits
  1. If desired flatten chicken to 1/4″ thickness (Lee skipped this step and it still tasted great)
  2. Sprinkle chicken with garlic powder and seasoning salt
  3. Brown chicken in oil for 4 minutes over medium heat in large, nonstick skillet
  4. Top chicken with mushrooms, cheese, green onions, and bacon
  5. Cover and cook until juices run clear and cheese is melted; about 4 minutes
  6. Serve

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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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First Time in the Yukon

There was something momentous about crossing into the Yukon for me.  This was a place I had heard so much about, and it conjured images of snowy tundra, vast space, gold rush fever, and of course Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I mean seriously, the Yukon!!

Yukon Jack

 

It turns out that in the summer the section of the Alaska Highway that rolls through the Yukon is long, sometimes boring, and has tons of amazing mountain scenery.  The roads were also the worst we have seen (in places), and because the road is usually farther away from water, we didn’t have many animal sightings.  Still, it was majestic, and now I always get to say I drove in the Yukon, because the roads finally leveled out on the second day  to the point where I felt like I could take a turn driving.  Not as much as in Alberta, but I managed a couple hours each day, which did a lot for my confidence.  I tried to choose the sections where they were mostly “go slow for animals or construction”.  I can go slow!!

Anyway, let me go back a bit.  The Downtown RV Park in Watson Lake  was by far the worst we stayed in on the entire route.  At $52 for a gravel parking lot where the Wifi absolutely did not work even at the office, I felt gouged.  The prices were on the high side everywhere, but that was ridiculous.  It was especially depressing because we had passed up that beautiful government campground in Muncho Lake.  Despite the crappy setting though, I slept great, and we got out around 8am.  Since we aren’t unhitching the outside jobs are much reduced and without me asking Lee has started helping with inside stuff.  And something good about moving this much is our packing up routine is getting pretty seamless. If we get distracted things can still go a little wonky, but we are really starting to feel comfortable.

I had looked at the Milepost book the night before and decided to take a little side trip off the Alaskan Highway.  The route only added an additional 26 miles and according to Milepost was well paved.  I will give Milepost credit for doing a good job documenting side trips.  The mile marker indicators get a little weird since you are off the main road, but they do tell you where and where not to try taking a big rig, which I appreciated.  The main reason I wanted to try it, was I picked up this great pamphlet at a visitors center that talked about the Caribou Crossing Trading Post that had a Wildlife Museum.

Initially the quality of the Yukon road was very good,  well marked, patched and no major issues.  We were traveling about 55 mph and enjoying the sights.  Plus about 45 minutes into the trip we saw our best to date bear sighting.  It was a brown and a black bear, relatively close to the road and we sat for quite some time and watched them.  I am really glad we took the time to enjoy that animal encounter, because we didn’t have another one the rest of the drive to Glemnallen.  It was very special though.

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Even though we didn’t see animals the views were pretty spectacular.  I do want to mention at this point to keep your windows as clean as possible.  There are many sections in the Yukon with great views but nowhere to pull over for a picture.  A clean windshield really makes a huge difference in the experience.

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Picture with slightly dirty windshield

 

Picture with clean windshield

Picture with clean windshield

We stopped at a rest area after a couple of hours and I took a turn driving.  I drove for the next 70 miles (Lee said it was a boring stretch of highway…perfect!!)  and aside from a steep downgrade that was pretty easy I drove fine the whole way. I planned on stopping at MM 775 for a rest area and scenic view and there was one last steep downgrade right before.  This one was not so easy because it had a curve on the end and I let the speed get a little to high going into that curve and Lee had to pretty sharply tell me to slow down.  I didn’t mind what he said, but it did scare me a little and immediately at the bottom I stopped at the rest area and walked away from the truck.  The scenery helped calm me and Lee wisely gave me my space, but I was a little shaken.  I ended up not driving again for the rest of that day.  The rest area was a great place to take pictures and have lunch though.   (On a side note all the Milepost book said about this hill was it descends northbound and drops to 30mph at the end for a bridge.  No mention of the grade on the descent which was around 8% and no mention of the curve…shame on them).

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After Lee drove across the bridge, we stopped at the Nisutlin Trading Post ( don’t let the name fool you, it’s a convenience store) and got gas since we were at half a tank.  The price was $1.12 per liter and they took American Express and that is the best exchange rate for us.  They also have a nice heritage center but unfortunately it doesn’t open until June.   The roads definitely got rougher from that point.  Lots of patched and rough areas which were well marked and a long section of gravel starting at MM 797.  Again, well marked, but if you are going much above 50mph it’s tough to slow down in time for them.  In many places we were going 40-45mph.  At MM 835 we turned off onto onto Tagish road. At this point you should reset your trip odometer because the distances are from that junction.  The road was paved, but a little on the rough side, and totally OK for our big rig. Plus it was exciting getting off the main road, we felt like adventurers.  OK that is definitely an overstatement because the road was well populated and totally paved, but still a little brave getting off the main highway lol.

The first thing was saw was Tagish, which is a tiny little town set on the huge Tagish River.  We saw a big boat launch for the first time and lots of people live along this river.  They  also have a small school there, and it’s definitely more residential than the main highway.  Next up was Caribou Crossing.  This was confusing because there is the highway town and historic town.  To get to the historic section you make a right off the highway at a big metal sculpture of a Caribou and then you are in a small little village.  This was a major cross point during the Gold Rush era and is a cruise ship and train destination today.  It’s a little touristy, but kind of fun and I was glad we stumbled across it.

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We asked at a couple of the shops if they knew where Caribou Crossing Trading Post was, and no one had heard of it.    I have seen this phenomenon several times though and find it odd.  These towns are super tiny, but people don’t know stuff about the businesses right down the street.  I don’t know if they are just playing dumb or truly don’t know, but you would think if you lived in that small of an area everyone would know everything. Or maybe the workers were like us and only here for the summer?  Anyway, the visitors centers are definitely the places to find things out. They know stuff, and if they don’t know they will help you find out.  So by talking to them we learned Caribou Crossing was back on the main highway.  The directions are always fun though.  Go back to the main highway, make a left, drive past “the smallest desert in the world” (I thought that was in Maine, but OK, there are also sand dunes in Caribou Crossing) and it’s on your right.  Normally I find directions like this fun, but when you are pulling a big trailer not so much.  Keep in mind big trailers up here are still not the norm like in the lower 48.  You are seeing more of them, but most people have older rigs, travel trailers, or truck campers, so always ask the question if your rig will fit into where you are going. Anyway, we made it and the parking lot was big enough, because this was another cruise ship destination.  Caribou Crossing offers dog sled rides from an Iditarod team so people come in the summer to see the facility.  I guess these are a very popular attraction if you are a fan of the sport, and some people tour several facilities as they make their way across Alaska.  I was interested in the museum though, and for $8.50 we got tickets to the museum and the animal area which includes a small petting zoo, a sled dog viewing area, and best of all. a place you can pet husky puppies.  Score!!  I thought it was totally worth the price, but Lee not so much.  Really depends on where your interests lie, but here’s the pictures so judge for yourself.

Historic Caribou Crossing sculpter

Historic Caribou Crossing sculpture

Entrance sign

Entrance sign

Sort of a rambling facility

Multiple building facility

Nice gift shop

Nice gift shop

And they sold Moose poo!!

And they sold Moose poo!!

Got our pic in a Caribou sleigh and a very nice staff member took several for us

Got our pic in a Caribou sleigh and a very nice staff member took several for us.  Lee humored me 🙂

The Wildlife Museum started with a giant stuff grizzly

The Wildlife Museum started with a giant stuff grizzly

Check out the paws on this guy

Check out the paws on this guy

Then a display about the gold prospectors who flocked to the area

Then a display about the gold prospectors who flocked to the area

Real bear skin rug in the tent

Real bear skin rug in the tent

HEee's a list of the supplies for a 4 man team they were encouraged to take

Here’s a list of the supplies for a 4 man team they were encouraged to take

What I was excited about was the animals though.  I have been to the Natural History Museum in Washington D.C and New York City and have to say the quality of the taxidermy in these animals was on par with what I saw there. It started as a private collection that was donated to the museum and it was wonderful to see the animals from the area, both current and prehistoric.  Yes the placement of the displays was a bit of a hodge-podge, but I didn’t care. I loved it.

The building

The building

Bears and wolverines

Bears and wolverines

Gigantic polar bear!

Gigantic polar bear!

Lee put his hand next to this paw ...crazy big

Lee put his hand next to this paw …crazy big

Polar bear vesrus Alaskan Brown Bear

A baby polar bear versus an adult Alaskan Brown Bear

I liked the little animals as well which you rarely see. This is an Albino Red Squirrel

I liked the little animals as well which you rarely see. This is an Albino Red Squirrel

And a short tailed weasal

And a short tailed weasel

Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats

Berengia Lions used to roam this area. They found this bison carcass frozen and well preserved in the tundra

Berengia Lions used to roam this area. They found this bison carcass frozen and well preserved (and partially eaten) in the tundra

I think these were musk oxen

I think these were musk oxen

My two favorites were the Wooly Mammoth

My two favorites were the Wooly Mammoth

And the Saiga Antelope which is extinct here but still exists in Katzakstan, They believe the unusual nose helps them filter the cold air

And the Saiga Antelope which is extinct here but still exists in Katzakstan, They believe the unusual nose helps them filter the cold air

After seeing the animals, we went and wandered through the small petting zoo.  Nothing too special but they sled dog area was interesting and the puppies were the best!!

Spirit the horse

Spirit the horse

The sled dogs didn't look anything like I expected

The sled dogs didn’t look anything like I expected

Very lean and rangy

Very lean and rangy

This sign explained why

This sign explained why

Puppies!!

Puppies!!  They were very snuggly

Goats

Goats

Ponies which Lee does NOT like. He had a very mean one when he was a kid

Ponies which Lee does NOT like. He had a very mean one when he was a kid

He did enjoy the alpaca though

He did enjoy the alpaca though

They were called Thelma and Louise and looked very funny shaved

They were called Thelma and Louise and looked very funny shaved

 

So for us it was a fun little side trip and allowed us some time out of the car.  You can just keep driving and not stop at places, but your body starts to get a little tired from the road after awhile.  I think it’s important that you stop for awhile somewhere every day if you can, and every other day if you can’t.  If you are driving shorter days it’s not such a big deal, but our days were running around 8-9 hours and we just weren’t used to spending that much time in the car.  We saw many more beautiful vistas after that and eventually pulled into Hi Country RV Park outside of Whitehorse.  This was the nicest park we had stayed at yet, with a beautiful gift store and decent sites.  They also offered free internet for 30 minutes and then a pay service for $7.95 a day.  I paid the money and gladly did as the internet was very strong and by far the best signal we had along the way.  Since the sites ran $37 with our discount it was still cheaper than the previous night with paying for internet and more importantly it worked.  I really liked this place.

 

 

 

Lessons Learned

  • Keep your windshields clean
  • Just because a park says they have wifi, it does NOT mean it will work.
  • It might be worth it to pay for internet if the signal is strong.
  • Try to stop at least once a day to see a local attraction and stretch your legs.

 

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First Time Seeing Hot Springs, Caribou, and Bison!!

Finally, the day we have been waiting for. A day that was exactly like what we thought it would be in our heads.  Beautiful vistas, so many animal sightings, and a major check off the bucket list that exceeded expectations.  So let me jump right in. We started Day 4 at 7am  with an overcast rainy day for our 200 mile trek into the Canadian Rockies.   The signs said bison on road at Muncho lake which was promising, and the milepost book said vistas where you could see for 100 miles.  We knew with the weather those vistas might be obscured, and we decided instead of making a concrete plan we would drive till we were tired and stop when we were done.

Right off the bat things were great.   At 7:30am and roughly  MM 305 we saw  our first bear on the left side coming down a long hill.  Couldn’t get a picture but it was an auspicious start. Then 3 miles later we saw a young bear on my side of the road.  I always have the camera ready, by the way, with the long lens on it, and when we see something Lee pulls over, puts the blinkers on and whoever is on the right side of the vehicle gets to take the pics.  So far it’s mainly been on straightaways and has been perfectly safe to pull over.

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 Around  MM 323 we started to climb and the rain had some sleet elements in it, which eventually turned in a steep windy climb with some 8 percent grades .  The milepost called for challenging weather conditions on this stretch and was very specific,  so Lee drove carefully at around 40 mph.  The sleet turned into light snow and some fog, but the roads weren’t terrible and the scenery was  pretty with a light dusting of snow.  One thing they don’t have many of here are scenic turnouts like in the states, although there were a couple of southbound  places to pull off, but it was too foggy to see anything anyway.

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When we reached the summit several trucks were pulled over.  No profile sign on this one with descriptions of grade so Lee had to wing it.  Going down the fog was very thick and visibility was about 200 yards with 8-10 percent grades.   Lee took it slow at 30 mph and it went OK . It curves to the left a couple of times at the end of the grade though so please slow down on this one.  The roads were also slick at this point so not one to mess with.  What I did find interesting was that the Milepost book has this paragraph long description of the local trapper the creek was named after (including what jeans he wore and what kind of pipe he smoked), but no mention of the 2 mile long 8 percent grade starting at MM 343.  I read later in the book that the field editors make these trips in Truck Campers.  We really need one of them driving one of these beasts for some perspective!!

Then around  MM 355  (8:40am)  we saw two bears a black one and a brown one.  This was the best bear sighting we have had so far.  We sat for a long time and took pictures since it was a long, safe section of road, there was no traffic, and they were very active.  Really awesome. I loved the brown ones, which it turns out are black bears just brown in color.

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Two bears!!

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Seriously how cute is that. Yes I know they can kill you but wow

 

 

Right after that we started seeing small signs for  hot cinnamon roll signs, so to celebrate our awesome bear moment we  stopped for a cinnamon roll and bathroom break. The Tesla River RV Park was a tiny little gem tucked into this river valley and we got 2 coffee and 2 cinnamon buns for $15.  All of their T-Shirts were also half off so I picked up my first Alaska Highway T-Shirt for $12.50 Canadian .  We also talked to  two couples we are now pacing.  One was next to us in the campground in Fort Nelson and the other had seen us along side the road yesterday looking at a bear. I had heard that you will start to see the same folks over and over again along the Alaska highway and that was starting to be the case.

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Really cute gift shop and tiny cafe

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The washroom/Shower Trailer was very interesting

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Shower to the right, stalls to the left. It was clean

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They even squeezed a changing table in there

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The giftstore/cafe had lots of cool stuff in it

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Oh yeah that was the size of a cinnamon bun and really good.  That’s Lee’s hand for scale

After our stop the weather pattern started to change.  Pretty quickly the sun was coming out in patches and the road was totally dry!  We had another long , curvy 8 percent grade around MM 376 and because of the possibility of sheep in the road you need to really go slow.  We stopped and got gas at the bottom of the grade (that seems to be a pattern with us, stop and get gas and catch our breath).  It was $1.36 liter CD (one gas pump had a handwritten sign that said “No Sniveling” and we enjoyed the pretty view.  Stone Mountain Provincial Park is really beautiful.  This is definitely an area I can see coming back to and exploring more.  Oh, and there is a large pullout right before MM 401 where you can get out and walk down to the Racing River.  I read about this in the Milepost Book (it is helpful with showing where some cool pictures can be taken) and if you wanted you could park a big rig in their for the night.  Beautiful views.

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Lee calls these shots “Rig Porn” which cracks me up

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There is room down this trail for a big rig but walk it first

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The water was crystal clear, I drank some and it was better than bottled water

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So many cool rocks. I picked up a few!!

After spending some time there, I had Lee reset the mileage calculator.  I was off by about 7 miles and doing the math was making me nuts, so from that point forward I would pick a spot close to one of the hundreds (500 MM, 600MM etc) and reset the trip odomoter from there.  Made the math easier.  I wasn’t taking any driving turns because I just wasn’t comfortable, so I took my navigator job seriously.  Had the book open on my lap and was reading ahead every 10 miles or so and seeing what was coming up.  Plus I was animal spotting, I am happy to say I am getting pretty good at that.  We saw another first for us  at MM 417  (10:53am)we saw a young caribou in the water trying to climb the bank. He couldn’t get up and finally gave up and crossed back across the stream and got on the road.  My series of pics on this one was amazing as it happened on my side, so neat.

 

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Couldn’t make it

 

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Swimming back across

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Shaking off on the other side

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Heading back down the road

We stopped at 419 and ate with a beautiful view of the river, and next up was was Muncho Lake.  There is a campground big rigs can fit in called McDonald campground, our friends Kelly and Bill stayed there and loved it.  It has no services but hand pumped water (like all the government campgrounds we have seen, so you need to boondock, but if you can swing it it’s worth it.   It was a beautiful glacier lake with bright green water.  The  light wasn’t quite right for me to get that perfect reflection picture, but it was still amazing.  We stopped at two large turnouts to take pictures and  don’t miss the second  one on the left side of the road at the end of the lake because there is a fantastic view from there.  It was only 12pm our time so we decided to keep going, but definitely worth a stay if you time it right.

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Lee’s pic from the second turnout

 

Next up was Lairds springs.  Both Kelly and Barb has stopped for a soak and I had to do it!!  But first we stopped at a large gravel turnout with rocks around MM460.  This may be the most beautiful site I have ever seen and there was even a campfire ring there.  Walk down to the water and look to the right…wow!! We stopped and stayed for awhile and what a beautiful place to boondock in.  Absolutely amazing!!

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And if that wasn’t enough less than a mile down the road we finally saw a a huge group of rock sheep.  They were right on the road (it was 12:48pm) and we stopped and Lee got out of the truck to take pictures.  He even captured a truck slowing down coming the other way to let the sheep move.

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Sheep in the road

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Truck coming

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They got out of the way pretty quick

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Chilling for a few minutes

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Then back in the road. Check out how his back hoof grips the wall. Really neat

 

Then right before Laird Springs we saw our first bison.  They are huge and kind of mangy since we think they are still shedding their winter coats.  Completely unconcerned by us though. I can see why there are so many warning signs though.  Would NOT want to hit one of these.

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Lee’s pics

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Then we turned in Laird River campground.  You can park across the street and walk over (which I recommend) or pull in and try to find parking.  We got lucky because it wasn’t that crowded and they let us park in there, but usually there would not be room as it is a very popular place.  It was $5 per person cash (so worth it) and you walk about 10 minutes down a nice boardwalk to get there.  I have been wanting to do Hot Springs forever, but have been waiting for the right moment.  This was definitely it and the experience was fantastic.  The water temperature changes the farther you are from the hot springs area and this was a nice clear and clean swimming hole with a changing area.  Fair warning though the changing rooms are one large one per sex, so if you are shy wear your suit under.  The water was clear and it does move as you swim in it.  Loved loved it.  Big check off the bucket list.

Boardwalk

Boardwalk

Great views as you walked

Great views as you walked

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The hot part was up where the stones are.

The hot part was up where the stones are.

Next we saw lots more Bison and a Native Canadian (or First Person) woman running holding a totem pole.  She we being followed by a truck that said Peace Journeys on the side.  According to their website ” Peace and Dignity Journeys are spiritual runs that embody the prophecy of the Eagle and Condor.This prophecy mandates that at this time all Indigenous Peoples in the Western Hemisphere shall be reunited in a spiritual way in order to heal our nations so we can begin to work towards a better future for our children and generations to come. Through the Journeys, participant runners and supporters work to accomplish this goal by helping each other reconnect to their respective spiritual practices and traditions; by helping each other relearn our role in the world as Indigenous Peoples; and by reminding each other of our responsibilities to Mother Earth, Father Sky, our communities, and ourselves. That was neat. staying peace journeys pm the side.”   Very glad we saw that.

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MM 355

 

 

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MM 550

After a long and beautiful day we made it to Watson Lake.  We stopped and bought gas at Contact Creek Lodge for 99 cents a liter (cheaper than Watson Lake) and Lee has a great conversation with a local about how nuts the guy thought Donald Trump was.  Ah…political discussions in the middle of nowhere.  Sure why not.   Another steep downgrade at 570, this one had a bison in the middle of the road, but no problem we were on high alert and stopped and allowed him to wander of the road.  The we saw the flags leading into town and we were there.  What an absolutely amazing day.  On of the best of our enter time on the road and we were both very happy.  Exhausted, but happy.  Next up Caribou Crossing!!

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First Time on a 10% grade

Wednesday morning we got up and I finished my blog post.  We then took advantage of the free Wifi and Lee geocached a little, finding his second trackable!!  We both were going slow for us, and took some time to talk about what the pace would look like over the next few days.  We had seen what lie ahead from Kelly and Bills blog bkamerican odyssey and Jim and Barbs blog because they were both just a few days ahead of us.  We knew there would be beautiful sites to see and wanted to slow our pace way down.  So we talked about what we would do, and did a little research and decided that we would drive until we wanted to stop and then stop.  In order to use the Milepost book to its capacity we would reset the trip odometer to zero.  Lee wasn’t crazy about that but no other way I could see to do it, and we would take it step by step.  I also had picked up some free info at the Whitecourt visitors center including a magazine of BC campgrounds which I hoped would be helpful.

We stopped and dumped on the way out, (donations accepted at the box there for folks who want to stay in the Dawson Creek Walmart like Bill and Kelly did) and we were on our way.  My plan was to read Lee the info out of the milepost while we were driving so we would see how well that worked.  At MM 20.9 it does mention there is a bridge with strong cross winds.  What it does not tell you is there is a steep downgrade with a curve leading into the bridge.  OK, so it’s going to be like that.  There was a brake check area, and in that area was a profile sign for the grade, with detailed info on the 10 percent grade hill with a 43 mph curve. We stopped at the top and let the traffic go by then stopped after the short 10 percent grade to rest the brakes and I took a picture,  then we slowly coasted the rest of the way with Lee using the brakes as sparingly as possible.  Very intense, and I was glad to see they are adding more turnouts and another lane going down.  Lee did awesome, and I am super glad I didn’t need to drive that.  No way I’m ready for that yet.

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Pictures I took halfway down


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After the 10% grade I decided to drive the next section because the book didn’t mention any steep grades and that was stressful.  First there was smoldering fires along the road, although since there were warning signs and we had experienced this in glacier not so bad.  And tons of wildlife signs , no problem I wanted to go slow, unfortunately it is two lane highway and you can’t totally poke along.  I started to get in my head a little bit when we saw a dead bison on the side of the road.  And then right before we were going to stop for lunch the dreaded steep grade sign.  No place to turn off so I was committed and it really wasn’t that bad as it was a long straight one,  I was more worried about the long straightaways leading into blind curves which there were plenty of.  Had to continuously monitor what gear we were in to make sure we didn’t over stress the engine and after an hour I needed a break.  Let me just say it gave me a new appreciation for the pressure the regular driver is often under and a realization I definitely needed more practice.  That being said I switched after lunch back with Lee. I need to take this in small chunks.   Lee also stopped and picked up a carton of DEF based what our friend Jim posted.  Not every place has DEF and that is definitely not something you want to be hunting for.

After my one hour of driving Lee drove the rest of the way. The lack of good instructions in the Milepost and my inexperience with driving the grades, combined with animal warning signs was too much for me.  Lee did spend some time as he was driving explaining what he was doing though, which really helped.  He sets the cruise control to whatever speed is appropriate for the road conditions. When going down a hill that isn’t too steep or too long, and he can see the bottom of, he flips off cruise control and lets the truck pick up a little bit of speed to help on the climb back up. For the climb he “feathers” the gas pedal to keep the speed close to where it’s supposed to be, instead of letting cruise control do it. With the “Tow/Haul” feature the truck always wants to jump quickly from 6th to 4th gear on climbs, and it’s too much RPM. It’s better if he does it manually, keeping it in 5th. With constant “drop and climb” driving, the cruise will always try to down shift too quickly to keep the truck from picking up too much speed, and then it will downshift again on the climb. It’s a lot of back and forth between 4th, 5th and 6th gear, and terrible for gas mileage and vehicle control. For steeper, or longer grades, or if he can’t see where the road goes during the grade, he puts on the blinkers and goes as slowly down as possible, only using the brakes as a last resort. He keeps the RPMs between 2500 and 3000, to give himself a margin of safety if the grade gets steeper, or goes longer than he thinks it will. Oh and by the way there is a long steep grade that is curvy at MM 124.  Although the cut in the rocks is mentioned in the milepost book (with the year the cut in the mountain was made) it doesn’t mention the 6 percent grade for 1 mile with an S curve.

Next we stopped at Pink Mountain (pop 99) for gas but the pumps were closed.  We were prepared for this by things we had been told so had started looking for gas when the tank was half full.  We also reduced our speed down to 55 because the road was getting rougher. Still no animal sightings , except for the dead bison, but that was probably time of day. The animals are supposed to be the most active around dusk.  Some beautiful vistas though from the top of the mountain.

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At Skianni Hill there was another turn out with a sign explaining the 8 percent grade (which our truck said was 9)  Those are super helpful and this was mentioned in the Milepost book.  I really do recommend stopping at this hill before going down and read the sign if nothing else.  This grade was long and straight but very steep, Lee had to squeeze the brakes a few times to control speeds.  He only held the breaks for a count of 2-3 and then there was a place to pull over half way down.  No shame in pulling over, especially to let others pass you.  Then the road got very curvy and our GPS gave us a roll over warning.  The speed limit sign said 50 kpm and Lee was doing about 25 mph but the big left turn was coming up.  That is by far the scariest hill I have ever been on and Lee (who drove a Class B truck cross country and through the Rockies) said, “That was about as ugly as I ever want to deal with.”  Alright then.

No fooling on the grades

No fooling on the grades

Truck getting ready to start down the hil as you can see no visibility as to what is ahead

Truck getting ready to start down the hill as you can see no visibility as to what is ahead

When we got to the bottom of the hill we turned into the Skinanni Rv park to get gas, but that pump was also out of order.  So Lee got out and talked to a very nice guy who said 20 miles up the road there was gas.  Have I mentioned The Alaska Highway is not for sissies?  We stopped at Buckinghorse lodge and talked to a very nice guy there who said that was the worst north bound steep grade on the Highway. He said at least two truckers die on it every winter.   The gas was a cardlock fuel stop.  This one was open to the public (not all of them are) and that was a good thing because the next gas was Fort Nelson and that would have been too close for comfort.  We could always drop the trailer in a pinch but who wants to do that?  The machine only  takes Visa or Master card though and our Visa debit has not been working (turns out that Visa had been trying to contact us for suspicious activity but no Lee couldn’t get phone calls so they shut the card off.  Luckily Lee got an incoming call from them when we had WiFi and was able to select the prompts to remedy the problem) .  Thankfully we have a emergency Visa we rarely use and that one worked.  By this time,  Fort Nelson was 110 miles away and that was now our goal for the night. Muncho Lake which we had really been looking forward to was  just too far away.

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Finally there was a little glimmer of sunshine in the day.  We saw a bear at Mile Marker 207,   pulled over and took tons of pics.  Then we saw another bear at MM 261 around 4:02 pm, but the angle wasn’t right to get a pic.  Still finally something cool to see.

Lee got this great shot of the first bear eating grass

Lee got this great shot of the first bear eating grass

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We hit Fort Nelson at 4:20 and there was one last 7 percent grade leading into town.  They also had construction so the traffic was stopped at the top of the hill. It was curvy but short and really not that bad.  So I guess we getting are getting used to the grades a bit.   This is a great way to get over your fear of steep grades.  We stopped at an ESSO to fill up.  $1.18 a liter… I miss my gas buddy, not that there are tons of gas options but it would allow us to plan out a little bit.  We stayed at a campground called Triple G Hideaway.  It was $40 Canadian but I liked it.  The people were nice and it was a bit wooded plus they had a cute gift shop and restaurant.   Full hookups and since we were close to the front the wifi worked some.

The next morning I woke up at 4 am feeling vaguely guilty.  I wrote the following on my IPad because the wifi at the campground wasn’t  strong enough to bring up WordPress even at 4 am.  Here’s what I had to say.

I feel somehow as if I am letting you all down. I don’t want to keep writing about road conditions, steep grades, what its like to navigate without our electronic tools but that has been the reality of the last three days. Aside from a couple of cool moments like the bear sighting and the giant beaver statue (yes the jokes write themselves), it has been a largely unpleasant three days.  I want to be writing the blog you all want to read. Everyone , myself included, was so excited about this trip, but I absolutely refuse to gloss over the unpleasant and just show the pretty pictures, so this is where I am at.

But before I assume my truth is everyone else’s who has made this trip let’s break this down.   Why is this trip different from what I have seen or read about?   Aside from the fact that we just aren’t that good at doing things for the first time.  You should have seen us at the first childbirth…not pretty ) You know I like the bullet points to organize my thoughts so here goes.

 

  •  I didn’t do enough research.  Ok, that’s true I tend to gloss over the negative and just see the pretty pictures myself so for all I know everyone has this experience and I just wasn’t paying attention.  And I get seriously ticked off when my interpretation of conventional wisdom lets me down and this Milepost book which I thought would give me what I needed just doesn’t.
  •  I underestimated my reliance on the Internet.  My desire to save money put me and Lee in a tough situation. It goes beyond Facebook.  The lack of Internet has cut me off from my support system when I arguably need it the most and all of the tools I have learned to use to help manage this roving lifestyle.  If I had to do it over again I would have upgraded my phone and bought the $2 a day Verizon plan, cost be damned.
  • We picked the most expedient route.  We did this to save time and money and I don’t really regret that, but we also missed out on the spectacular views.  Couple that with the time pressure we are under and it’s not a great mix.  We keep telling ourselves this is not our only trip, but it’s hard not to think that way.
  • We brought the big rig.  Ok this one I knew.  Lots of people talk about how they will only do Alaska in a small rig.  Jim and Barb bought a truck trailer just for the trip and Jo and Ben only travel that way.  I thought it was because they were more outdoorsy than us and wanted the freedom to explore the smaller trails which is true, but what I didn’t understand is how much the big rig limits you and adds stress.  We have lost an engine, broke our suspension, and had weight issues all before we got here.  We are babying our rig and our truck as much as possible, because we know what those repairs look like and don’t want to experience that here. That’s why lots of people won’t bring their rigs up here.  Never got it before, but I get it now.
  •  We aren’t boondocking and that limits our stays to traditional private campgrounds.  These aren’t awful and it’s certainly nice to have full hookups, but they are not located along the pretty.  You want to stay at a campground with a gorgeous view? Thus far you need to leave the main highway, travel down a side road, and live with limited services.  That includes no potable water in many cases by the way.  I totally get the truck camper thing now.  Much easier to pop down a side road and “check out” a campground if you know you can turn around at the end of it.  We were leery about that in the lower 48 but used google satellite  to explore options which we don’t have now.  And the Milepost book gives little information on these parks. Heck the park websites themselves barely tell you anything.  I took advantage of wifi yesterday to try to research Muncho Lake and the website was terrible.
  •  We don’t have unlimited time.  That’s on us 100 percent , but we can’t just take a few days to  hunker down somewhere and figure this out.  We need to be at our work kamping job before Memorial Day weekend at the latest, and every day costs us money and we aren’t making money so there is a budget impact.  We have a couple of extra days but aren’t sure where the best place to use them is and shame on us really for not researching more.

 

What’s all this mean in reality?  Here is a perfect example.  We saw great pictures from Kelly & Bill and Jim & Barb.  They stayed at Macdonalds campground and it looked great.  I know from FB messenger they have no services, but we can fit.  OK great, we can take on water in the visitors center in Fort Nelson. So we drive a couple hundred miles with a full water tank (an extra 700 lbs) over a section of road the milepost says has “numerous steep grades.”  Should we do that? The picture is really pretty.  That would be a short day for us, but we have been hoofing it and can give the extra day.  Is that the best place to take the extra day?  We know there is no wifi at the campground but the cost is good at $16 a day and there is a lodge nearby that has wifi I think.  Do we need wifi or just blow it off?  Will the place be pretty enough it won’t matter? Here’s the thing, I have absolutely no idea, which takes me back to number one…we should have researched this trip.  We really thought the pretty was sort of everywhere and we couldn’t mess it up.  That is obviously not true.  We thought our experience as full timers the last couple of years would give us a leg up, that is not really true.  This is a situation when the more camping experience you have the better off you are.    We thought we could wing it and demonstrably we cannot. So, sorry, really I am.  These are not the blogs I want to write just like these are not the moments I want to be having on this trip, but at the very least I can write about the experience and if it helps anyone in a small way its worth it. Not really, but it sucks less.  In a nutshell are the views and animal sightings the last three days worth the cost and stress? Nope.   But we are hopeful as we head into tomorrow that things will improve and if not …well it’s not the end of the world.  There are certainly less appealing things we could be doing.

Spoiler alert:  Things get a ton better on Day 4, but I left this post as I wrote it because I want to protect the integrity of the moment.  I promise the pretty pictures are coming. 

 

Lesson Learned

  • Call your credit card companies and tell them where you are going if you will be without cell service.  They text or call now for suspicious activity and you will not be able to answer the call.  Carry a backup just in case, because even if you call they still may shut you off if they can’t talk to you.
  • Research your campgrounds in advance.  Check RV Park Reviews.  Know what others have to say about WiFi, conditions, power, water etc.  If you plan on boondocking research where you will get water and dump because the government campgrounds do not have these options. Keep in mind the information is mostly anecdotal so have a backup plan and contingencies.
  • Don’t underestimate the impact not having internet will have.  If you can get a reasonably priced internet option do it.  Save yourself major headaches.
  • Don’t underestimate the challenge of driving on steep grades even if you are an experienced RV driver.  Think about taking some trips on steep grades to work up to it before coming. Always stop before the signed grades and think it through.  Don’t let people drive you from behind!!
  • My opinion the really beautiful stuff doesn’t start until you enter Stone Sheep Provincial Park pas Fort Nelson.  Yes it is all relative and if you can take side trips that may not be the case, but don’t expect the wow factor day 1

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First Time Crossing into Canada with the RV

We headed towards Canada for the first time with our rig with some trepidation.  We double and triple checked our cell phones, my fi, and iPad to make sure everything was turned off.  We ate the last of our eggs , worried about the chicken in our freezer, and put our first stop in the GPS.  Luckily our GPS worked in Canada when we popped over for the day this summer, but I also had the Milepost book and a map the woman at the campground had given us. I think we were so nervous largely because of anecdotes we kept hearing.  “They will take your chicken at the border” (not true), they are price gouging in Muncho Lake it costs $100 for breakfast (I doubt this and we have breakfast stuff.)  Still all the “people say” was making us nuts, because for the first time in a really long time we were going without technology.  My phone won’t work at all internationally (Verizon said texting would work but that turned out to not be true) and AT&T was charging a ton of money, so we were relying solely on Wi-Fi if we could find it, the Milepost book, GPS, and the kindness of strangers.   Oh yeah…that’s going to go well!

We left the campground at 8:30 and arrived at the Sweetwater border crossing at 9:00 on the dot.  There was a small camper and car in front of us, and we sat and waited our turn for just a couple of minutes.  It took 2 minutes to get us through customs but it was an intense 2 minutes.  Lee did tell them we were full timers (I don’t really recommend this but the guy didn’t blink an eye and asked where our mailing address was).  He asked about tobacco and alcohol and we said we had some for personal use, downplayed what we had, and the customs agent asked if we were were planning on selling anything and when we said no he moved on.  He never asked about eggs (which we ate in the morning) or chicken and when he asked about fruits and veggies (we had a little for personal use), Lee said no and we moved on.  The most time was spent on guns.  Numerous questions about guns and ammo but since we aren’t gun owners those were easy.  I think it’s a little harder if you are a gun owner and you left them at home.  He said “If we check your rig will we find any of these things and Lee emphatically said “No” which is true.   Lee said he was staring right into his soul, so that must be in the job description.  Anyway it was only two minutes (I timed it), but Lee said it felt a lot longer, and we were through.

We passed into Canada, and initially it looked a bit like Iowa.  Lots of farms,straight and well maintained roads, and small towns.  We stopped at the first major town, Lethbridge at the Visitor’s Center and I highly recommend that.  The woman working there gave us TONS of good information all the way up to Edmonton and we used it all.  Her advice about bypassing Calgary and Edmonton was better than anything else we saw so I definitely recommend a few minutes there.  Seriously, I really want to go back and thank her for the help.  We were also looking for a bank, but no luck there.  When you ask for help, most folks don’t understand how big your RV is and will direct you to places that you simply cannot get into.   Lethbridge is full of lots of strip malls,  jammed with cars,  and our rig was not fitting in there.  So we kept going towards Ft. MacLeod and did not switch drivers like we usually do. I was still trying to figure out navigating, now I had too much conflicting information and driving through the small towns was not super easy in the big rig.

This is where the Milepost book , the self proclaimed “bible” of Northern travel really let us down.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, said use this book and you will be OK.  Well I absolutely do not agree.  Yes, it gives you tons of info on things to see, but the info is sketchy on everything else unless the company advertises with them.  Coming up on a small town,  it says diesel is available, but doesn’t say if your big rig can fit.  It lists campgrounds, but usually no address, just a phone number and cross street, which may or many not work on the GPS.  Yes they give you phone numbers or a website, but guess what, phone calls cost me a $1 a minute here and I had no data unless I stop at the campsite I cannot find.  Seriously, not cool.  We are spoiled by our apps for sure, but it’s not just us.  When we found our first Pilot, Lee went in and got a paper listing of sites which the woman said they give away tons of in Canada because everyone is used to the My Pilot app. (Oh and by the way, the listing for Dawson Creek in that Pilot book was totally wrong and no longer exists.)  There is a reason we don’t use paper anymore!!  The Milepost map also uses mile markers from a particular location like Sweet Grass, so you are supposed to change your trip odometer and use that going on their route.  Well guess what?  Their routes are not the best to get around Edmonton and Calgary and once you go off the route the MM numbers are all screwed up.  Just use what’s on the road you say?  Well we didn’t see one kilometer marker on our route.  Use exit numbers instead? Well that would be great if the Milepost book included exit numbers.  Seriously, it’s really stupid. When I was a kid going to Florida I learned to navigate using AAA trip ticks.  That was my “job” on those trips and it kept me entertained and useful, so I know how to navigate, but this book seriously upset me.  Ok I am done, but I know Lee has a few things to say.

(Uh, yeah, this book is the biggest piece of crap I have ever seen. It’s completely worthless. I can’t even think of enough bad things to say about it. The layout makes no sense, and follows no intuitive system. There’s no logic involved whatsoever. In this day and age, this kind of information is not that complicated to gather and compile. It MIGHT be useful if you were stopping in places to sightsee and spend some time there. But for finding fuel and campgrounds, it’s completely worthless. I seriously can’t say that enough. It reads like a tour book, but without any useful details. “Canadaville has many restaurants and fuel stops.” is about all there is. And then there several lines of local history and other useless information. It’s clear that the publishers simply don’t want to bother updating the book every year, so they don’t include information that might change. When you’re pulling a 40′ fifth wheel it’s nice to know if you can get in and out of places. GPS coordinates would do the trick, I would have paid four times as much money for a book that simply listed the locations of truck stops and campgrounds, and nothing else. -Lee)

Thank heavens for our RV specific GPS which not only worked but worked well.  It automatically converted speed limits to kmph for us and knew our height and length in meters as well.  It also didn’t always pick the route recommended by the woman at the visitors center, but it was at least close enough for us to figure it out. Personally I would never try this without one.  It directed us to  a bypass of Fort McLeod and we followed it stopping at a small gas station in the teeny town of Granum. The switch on the pumps was broken so no gas, according to the attendant, but they had an ATB financial next door.  I walked over and exchanged my  $1,000 cash. I got $1270 then paid back a $10 Canadian fee. That ended up being 1.26 Canadian for every US dollar, and most importantly we had enough cash for the trip up and back.   Plus the girl was super sweet and let me use their restroom.  Whew,  that was one less thing to worry about , although Lee still wanted to get gas but we were pleased to see the small town gas station could not only fit us and the  diesel there was .83 a liter.  Not a bad price.  One of the reasons we had chosen the Eastern route was because we had been told gas prices were much cheaper than the western route and we definitely found that to be true.  Prices started at 99 cents a liter once we hit the Alaska Highway, but for the first two days we paid under .89 cents and once we started using Pilots we also got around 3 cents a liter off with our Pilot Gas card.

Our first gas stop was in the town of Claresholm at a Shell station.  The diesel was 89 cents a liter and the station took American Express.  That’s great because with our Amex Gold card we have no transaction fees of any kind in Canada.  Our Visa has a 3 percent transaction fee so we are going to try to use that as little as possible.  The visitors center was right down the road but at half full no way we were getting in there.  We wanted to stop at the  visitors center and eat lunch but the parking lot was very tight for a big rig.  The Milepost will tell you if there is big rig parking, but if it says nothing assume it might be a tight fit.  So, we ended up stopping next to a defunct truck inspection station right out of town, ate some quick lunch and switched drivers.

The roads here in my estimation have been fine by the way.  They are like the secondary highways in northern Minnesota, Maine, and Vermont.  No big pot holes, and signs showing frost heaves so you can slow down for them.  The route was boring, with only  tantalizing glimpses of Candian Glacier in the distance, but it was a relatively easy drive. The closer you were to a town better they were but even the more remote section were OK and mainly we went 62-64 mph all the way to Grand Prairie.  I did get to practice another steep grade at one point which was NOT marked by a steep downgrade sign.  I took it a little fast  because the GPS notified me on the late side, but  Lee talked me through it though and it went OK.  Right before the hill I saw a pulloff for trucks to put on chains and should have known.  Going forward I will slow down when I see those.  We also completely bypassed both Calgary and Edmonton using South Trail 201 (the outerbelt) for Calgary and 216 Anthony Henday for Edmonton.  Both routes were wonderful, with minimal traffic and multiple lanes and I HIGHLY recommend them despite what the Milepost book and GPS may say.  They are easy to find and your GPS will self correct once you are on them.

The only nightly stop planning I had done was a Passport America site in Edmonton for $19 a night, which was too far for us to drive the first day.  This turned out to be a huge mistake.  Only a few of the Milepost entries included prices, so without the internet it was impossible to comparison shop.  Boondocking was even more problematic, since we weren’t sure where we could take on water for the night.  Since we are still concerned about the weight issue, we didn’t want to drive the roads with full water tanks and not all campgrounds here have potable water, you really need to check.  Plus we were traveling long days and the last thing we needed at our stops was complications.   This is where the Milepost really let us down.  The campgrounds that advertise with them have good information (including exit numbers and addresses usually), but the others (if even mentioned) have minimal info.  We stopped at Red Deer the first night and were looking for a Lions Club campground and got completely lost.  We couldn’t find the visitors center, the campground signs directional signs were unclear and no address.  Finally we put the Pilot address in and through sheer dumb luck (or providence, God does watch out for idiots) we stumbled across the park I wanted to try.    Thankfully they had sites available and although they are pretty tight they at least have full hookup with 30 amp.  What they didn’t have was Wifi, and at $40 Canadian ($32 for us) it wasn’t a bargain.  But we had a place to stay and since I was still pretty sick, we set up quickly and I collpased.  Oh yes, I dealt with all that and was super sick on top of it, but we powered through.   Overall Day 1 was was pretty disappointing.  No great views, lots of hurdles navigating, and on the expensive side.  Still we learned a lot and I was hoping with more Nyquil I would start to feel better the next day.

We got out on Tuesday by 8:30 and the cold had moved into my chest.  A double dose of NyQuil and 10 hours sleep had helped but still feeling kind of rough.  I looked at my cold medicine but was nervous about taking anything in the day time because of driving, so I put tons of Vicks on my chest instead.  Going north towards Edmonton the landscape started to change.  More rolling hills with some water and trees and more woods.  Still it wasn’t the stunning vistas we were expecting, so at this point we are just trying to get to the Alaskan highway as expediently as possible.  (As a side note if you have the time you could try  The Rocky Mountain route.  Just research the driving because it is more challenging.)

At 11:30 we stopped at a little trading post. They didn’t have any information and the small museum was closed.  We did go ahead an eat in this huge empty gravel parking lot despite my concerns about the etiquette.  Next, we stopped at the visitors center at Whitecourt and that was very nice.  Going northbound the visitors center is before the town on the left side.  Again, the signage isn’t great, but look for a large building up in the trees.  There is no exit, just a left hand turn.  It had a little museum that we wandered through and we picked up some info from the nice girl working there.  Right across from the visitors center is also Lions Club campground that looked decent. And I finally got to take my first pictures of the trip so that cheered me up some.

 

Nice visitors center in Whitecourt with plenty of parking and a campground next door

Nice visitors center in Whitecourt with plenty of parking and a campground next door

Parked right next to a few pioneer buildings

Parked right next to a few pioneer buildings

Grrr

Grrr

y019

y020 We kept going and found the flying J on the west side of town, again on the left side of the highway.  Our GPS was telling us to go  Hwy 32 but all the maps said Hwy 43 so Lee asked a trucker.  Turns out the guy runs Anchorage to LA three times a month and was super helpful.  He said definitely take 43, the road gets prettier after Dawson Creek, and watch out for bison because they do wander in the road.  Alright then 😄 Super nice guy so once more we were on our way feeling a bit better, plus the weather was absolutely beautiful…sunny and 70 and finally my cold was easing a bit.

Next up was Grand Prairie, a pretty big town in this area biggish town that 43 runs right through.  They really should build a bypass on that one since it was tiring driving the rig through town and I ended up doing it towards the end of my shift.  Still I did OK and about 15 Minutes later found a giant parking lot to pull into with a giant Beaver statue. Oh yes, now I was excited, good to know we can find roadside attractions even without an app!!

 

Giant Beaver!!

Giant Beaver!!

We switched drivers and even though it was 4:30 decided to push on to Dawson’s Creek.  I wanted to get some pictures there and Lee said he had another shift in him. Plus we had lost another hour to time zone change.  Three time changes in a few days, yikes.  We landed at Dawson’s Creek and found the Mile O’ campground on the far side of town.  For the first time in days we unhitched the truck and then drove into town and got our pictures.  We also stopped at WalMart and even got some Canadian Pizza Hut, which was yummy.  Two medium pizzas for $20.60 (our price) was so worth it.

We made it!!

We made it!!

This visitors center looks nice from the things I have read but still on short hours until May 19th

This visitors center looks nice from the things I have read but still on short hours until May 19th so we didn’t go in

Loved this statue pointing to Alaska. Since a sign asked not to cross I respected it

Loved this statue pointing to Alaska. Since a sign asked not to cross the busy traffic circle I respected it

I did scurry over to this point though which is one block over from the visitors center. HAd to ask for directions

I did scurry over to this point in the downtown which is one block over from the visitors center. Had to ask for directions, but worth finding it

Sometimes you just have to get the pic!!

Sometimes you just have to get the pic!!

 

Next up the Alaska Highway.  We slow the pace, reset our trip odometer to zero to try to take advantage of the Milepost book, and see what happens.

Lessons Learned

  • Have an game plan for the border crossing and be on the same page
  • Listen to what folks say but unless it is a credible, first hand account don’t give the information to much credence
  • The Milepost Book is not the end all, be all of northern travel navigation
  • Make sure your GPS works in Canada!!
  • Get a Pilot paper book with gas stops and use it, but be aware it might not be 100% accurate.
  • If you see a pull off for trucks to put on chains slow down, a steep downgrade is coming up and it won’t necessarily be marked.
  • Take South Trail 201 to bypass Calgary!!
  • Take 216 Anthony Henday to bypass Edmonton!!
  • Comparison shop on campgrounds prior to going into Canada.  Have a general idea of where you will stop at night and have a couple of campgrounds in the towns that are in your price range.

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Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links as they support our blog. Thank you.   Search Amazon.com here