Travel Tales from the Alaskan Road

We intentionally chose Glennallen this summer because of its central location, despite many people saying it was “the most boring place in Alaska.”  Well, we have absolutely not found that to be the case, instead I would say everyone passes through Glennallen eventually because of it’s central location.  Not only has that given us the opportunity to see friends as they toured Alaska, but it has also allowed us to meet some really cool people.  These meetings are often brief, but always impactfull, so at the beginning of the summer I started keeping notes on some of my favorites.  Since our time here is coming to a close, I thought now would be the best time to share these little encounters with you.

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Map of Glennallen showing it’s location to other major cities. Ignore the hour marker I wasn’t really sure how to get rid of that. 

The first couple that I met that made me start writing these down was a Finnish couple that spoke only a few words of English.  I got to see them three times, because they kept stopping back in as they traveled around.  We largely communicated through pantomime, try explaining shower tokens with no words, but I must have done OK though because they always had huge smiles when they saw me.  I think they were brother and sister, but honestly I am not 100% sure and I will say I was worried about them.  I mean seriously, who turned them loose on Alaska with no English?  But they did great, and from what I could gather really got to see some cool things.  I didn’t always take a picture of the people I met, but in this case I did take a picture and I will always remember them when I think of my summer in Alaska.

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The Finnish Couple

The next frequent visitors were Arnaud and Cyril from France.  They are adventurers who were hiking/paddling across Alaska.  Their blog is really interesting as they spent a significant amount of time going remote places I will never see and the courage and spirit of these two young men was inspiring.

https://facebook.com/greatnorthsurfexpedition

Arnaud and Cyril (Got these pictures from Facebook).  Here’s there blog info.  It does translate into English.  https://www.pureslo.fr/blogs/blog/172042567-great-north-surf-expedition-n-1

Arnaud

Cyril

 

Again I was pretty worried about these guys, but they seemed to have it together and they ended up calling Northern Nights “their home away from home” which was very sweet.  I may have mothered them a bit!

Not all of the encounters were that personal though, and some were very short.  There was a young couple biking their way across Alaska with a two year old in tow.  Yes, you read that right, a two year old.  He was in one of those baby bike carriers and I have absolutely no idea how they were making that work.  I wanted to go up and talk to them about it, but finally decided I just couldn’t ask the questions without letting out that I thought they were nuts so I let it pass.  Amazing though, really.

I also briefly met a couple who came from Seward where they had hit and killed a mother and baby moose that were lying in the road.  These folks were really shaken by the experience and I checked them in as efficiently as possible.  You could tell the husband was just sick about the whole thing and the accident had completely destroyed their drive shaft so they had to wait in Seward three extra days while it was repaired.  Later when I mentioned it to Kelly and Bill’s boss he said that had happened right down the road from their campground and that sort of thing happens more often than you would think.  Really sad.

There were lots of people who had major mechanical problems in Glennallen.  We are right after the Tok-Cutoff which this year was hands down the worst stretch of major road in Alaska.  Sections of the road required pilot cars and/or going 15-20 miles per hour and we many people who stopped in our campground had to have major repairs.  EGM is a repair place down the road and they sent many people to us, and I have to say almost everyone who had a problem just said it could have been a lot worse.  We saw three rigs whose tow apparatus broke and their tow vehicles went into ditches, multiple cases of structural damage to rigs, a broken radiator on a Class A that took 5 days to replace, and more broken windows than I could keep count of.  Yet in almost every case, the people made lemonade and again were super grateful they were safe and in a place as nice as ours until the repairs were done.

The people I got to know the best this summer were Sue and Jonathon.  She is from South Korea and teaches English online, and Jonathon, originally from Wyoming, met her there.  She lived in Seoul her entire life and never drove a car, and self admittedly used the Travel Channel to see the world. But after her mom died he talked her into this great adventure, and now they are full timing in a very nice tent.  Sue and I hit it off right away, and I had to show her how many other RV fulltimers lived.  We became Facebook friends and now I can keep up with their travels.   They aren’t interested in buying a rig because they plan to travel internationally as well, so the tent will work wherever they go.  I just was super impressed about the whole thing.  When I think about how much angst I went through to full time in my 400 square foot “luxury apartment on wheels”  versus her just jumping in, and in a tent no less…well lets just say I feel a little whiney. So very glad I got to meet them and hope we get to see each other again in the future.

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Jonathon and Sue

Most of the people were quick little moments, but the personalities of the people made enough of an impact that I wrote them down.  An example was Kathy Swenson who ran the Iditarod several times, and was one of the first women mushers.  I googled her after we chatted and found this article about her and her husband. She freely shared that she broke her collar bone while racing in  Europe 2 months after giving birth to her fourth child, and shortly thereafter her husband divorced her.  He left her with 4 kids and 150 dogs and she raised them largely on her own.  She was talking about writing a book, and in the short time I talked to her I absolutely encouraged her to do so.  Talk about a pioneer woman.

Kathy was only one of the very interesting locals I met here.  There was Kasey and Jay, a couple from Oklahoma who had moved to Alaska.  They were camping for the weekend and brought 8 baby chicks in their rig.  Apparently the chickens had just hatched and they couldn’t be left alone, so Kasey brought them and their heat lamp along.

My favorite local person though was Bob Tubbs, a young man who helps out around the campground with propane, welding etc.  He, his wife, and three kids live on 10 acres of land and are working towards “complete independence”.  He works for the forest service, as needed, driving a fuel truck for helicopters.  As he said, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to drive fuel into a fire area, but that’s what he does.   When they call he is gone for many days but is fairly compensated for it.  He worked 11 days while we were here on the Tok cutoff fire and made close to $7K.  In my mind he deserved every penny.  He and his wife have a large garden, she cans, they have egg laying chickens (they sell the excess) and next year he is adding a barn with goats and pigs.  Since milk costs $6 a gallon up here and they go through a gallon every other day, goat’s milk is an economic alternative.  Plus they are going to raise batches of meat chickens and every year he fishes his salmon limit and kills  1 moose and 3 caribou as well as lots of other game to stock his 4 freezers. He and is wife are truly are pioneers and I have a lot of respect for what they are doing. Plus he gave us a nice piece of salmon and some moose meat.  He even explained to us how to cook it.  Really nice young man.

My absolute favorite part of the summer though has been all of the international guests.  Most of these encounters are brief, but I have had the opportunity to meet people from Canada, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Amsterdam, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Israel, Sweden, Norway, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Korea, Brazil, Spain, Vietnam, and China.  I have been the most excited about meeting the people from China, because it is a dream of mine to go there one day, and they have all been extremely polite and very excited to be here.

So many wonderful people, but a few stick out.  There was the London couple who spend 6 months a year in the US and leave their rig in Louisiana when back home.  They are like our Canadian friends who snowbird except from England.  They have been doing it since 2003 and started when they were 42 and 43 years old.  Also, there was the family from China who had their 6 year old translate for them.  Her English was excellent (she attends English school every day) and she was polite, smart, and cute as a button.

Even Lee had a few moments, although he didn’t meet nearly as many people as I did, but one day while he was covering for my lunch he checked in Joachim and Christine Laute .  They were from Germany and had limited English, but Lee busted out his high school German and talked to them some.  Turns out they grew up in East Germany and were 20 when the wall was raised.  Their family wasn’t separated so they stayed where they were and lived their life in in East Germany.  She was a math teacher and he was a bus driver,  and they weren’t very political, so that was just their life.  Then the wall came down in the 80’s it took the 2 years (yes you read that right) for them to truly believe it.  They knew Reagan had come, but they didn’t even try to cross into West Germany, because they thought it was a trick.  Now in their late 60’s they are exploring Alaska and are very happy to do so.  What dramatic changes they have experienced in their lives.

I am not saying every person has been nice of course, but honestly the cranky ones were few and far between, and usually had good cause.  There were so many moments that I can’t possibly relay them all, so let me just leave you with one very special day.  Recently we had a caravan of 12 New Zealand couples who came through in rentals, and boy, were they fun. The rest of the park was filled with two RV’s from British Columbia, two couples from China, a solo Australian on a motorcycle, and a young couple who spoke very little English from Thailand.  There wasn’t one American in the park that particular day and I felt like I worked in the UN.   Showing those folks that Americans are welcoming and friendly and glad to have them here in the US was really fun, and made me feel great about how I spent my summer.  It was an unexpected bonus to working here in Glennallen this summer and I am very glad I got to experience it.


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First Time Turning 50

I am a birthday person.  I like to celebrate them, I like to acknowledge their importance, and especially when it’s a milestone birthday, I like to do something special to mark the occasion.  So one of the major reasons we are in Alaska this summer is because of my 50th birthday.  We knew it would be expensive to come up here so we would have to work full time, and we knew it would involve some long travels days, but I couldn’t think of a better place to spend my birthday.

As part of my interview I requested several days off to celebrate, and Kelly and Bill did the same.  Then Jo and Ben (traveling nurse friends of ours) worked their contracts so they would have a couple of months off during the time period. I am still blown away by them going to so much trouble, and not only did they make it to Alaska this summer to see us, but they made it to Glennallen for my birthday.

Everyone arrived at Northern Nights on Saturday, and since they had a travel day we cooked dinner for everyone.  Well, I should say Lee cooked, as he made “Daddy’s Special Chicken”, which is pounded chicken pan fried in butter and garlic, and is absolutely delicious, but labor intensive.  We had a wonderful time getting caught up, but I was itching to get on the road.  After much deliberation we had decided on Valdez because Kelly and Bill hadn’t seen it yet, and we were all going on a glacier cruise the day of my birthday.  Lee and I had scouted out campgrounds on an earlier trip and decided on the Valdez Glacier military campground (that takes non-military personnel) outside of town.

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Jo and Kelly hanging out in our place

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Ben trying out some wine Bill brought

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Bill and Jo

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I decided to make desert and thawed out some red velvet cookie dough that Bridget had sent with me

 

We all decided they needed frosting though and Jo, Kelly, and I combined ingredients and Kelly made some from scratch cream cheese frosting

We all decided they needed frosting though, and Jo, Kelly, and I combined ingredients and Kelly made some from scratch cream cheese frosting

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So good!!!

The next morning we were all up and packed and ready to go.  We were the last ones ready, it takes awhile to pack up when you’ve been sitting for awhile, and as a last minute check we looked at our brake lights on the trailer.  Well, they didn’t work, or rather they worked intermittently.  Lee, Bill, and Ben then spent the next 4 hours completely rebuilding a new plug and cable, and replacing a fuse.  Since it was a Saturday this was a lot harder than you would think, but they MacGuyvered it, and Kelly and Jo went to get us all Mexican food for a lunch break while we waited.  Jo, Kelly, and I had a wonderful conversation while we waited, but it did take a long time, and I was really grateful that they all stayed to help.  Finally around 3:30 we were on the road to Valdez with working lights and brakes!!

Ben working on the cable

Ben working on the cable

Lee and Bill putting electrical tape on the cable they made

Lee and Bill putting electrical tape on the cable they made

Hooray we are on the road

Hooray we are on the road

Originally we were going to walk Worthington Glacier, but since it was late we skipped it and just stopped to take a couple of pictures and stopped again in Keystone Canyon. Everyone loved the views though, and although it sprinkled some, the rain largely held off as we made our way down.

Our rig, Kelly and Bill's, and Jo and Ben's truck camper (they left their Arctic Fox in storage back in Washington)

Our rig, Kelly and Bill’s, and Jo and Ben’s truck camper (they left their Arctic Fox in storage back in Washington)

Worthington Glacier

Worthington Glacier

Thompson Pass was relatively clear which was nice

Thompson Pass was relatively clear which was nice

Stopping to see the handcarved tunnel

Stopping to see the handcarved tunnel

Me, Kelly, and Jo checking out the waterfall

Me, Kelly, and Jo checking out a waterfall

The canyon isn't as narrow as it looks in this picture but the walls are dramatic and pretty close

The canyon isn’t as narrow as it looks in this picture but the walls are dramatic and pretty close

My favorite Horsetail falls. Got the best rig porn to date!!

My favorite, Horsetail falls. Got the best rig porn to date!!

Lee directing the falls

Lee directing the falls

So nice being with other people so we can get pictures taken

So nice being with other people so we can get pictures taken

Kelly, Bill, Jo, Ben, me, and Lee. I sweet talked a random stranger into taking this for us

Kelly, Bill, Jo, Ben, me, and Lee. I sweet talked a random stranger into taking this for us

We made it to the campsite around 6:30, and after some discussion ended up getting two electric sites right across from each other.  Rain was called for all weekend and it was chilly so we needed electric for heat since solar probably wouldn’t pull much in.  Jo and Ben didn’t need electric, but the camp host was nice enough to allow them to double up with Kelly and Bill as long as they paid the dry camping rate.

Looking across at Kelly and Bill. See the huge waterfall on the mountains behind them. We could hear that water running at night

Looking across at Kelly and Bill. See the huge waterfall on the mountains behind them above the mist?. We could hear that water running at night

The next day I took them around to see the interesting things in Valdez and by far the best was Dayville road where the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery is.  We had seen it before , but not when the salmon were in, and the amount of fish was absolutely amazing.  None of us had ever seen anything like that and although there were no bear, we did see some swans and eagles along the way.  Plus the fish themselves were just cool.

The first creek we came upon with some fish fish

The first creek we came upon with some fish fish

A family of swans across the way so cool to finally get this shot!

A family of swans across the way so cool to finally get this shot!

The next creek was totally full of fish

The next creek was totally full of fish

And the seagulls were having a field day

And the seagulls were having a field day

NEar the fishery there were so many and they were trying to jump the small wall

Near the fishery there were so many and they were trying to jump the small wall

That took them to this pool and waterfall where we hoped to see bear but it was still beautiful

That took them to this pool and waterfall where we hoped to see bear but it was still beautiful

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The top section of the falls.  My friend Sue saw a grizzly over here, but for us it was not meant to be

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Seagulls were nesting right above the fish and Bill pointed out this baby Black-legged Kittiwake

Seagulls were nesting right above the fish and Bill pointed out this baby Black-legged Kittiwake.  So cute

Signs made it clear this was a bear area

Signs made it clear this was a bear area

No bears but this beautiful eagle was hanging out

No bears but this beautiful eagle was hanging out

We all found the fish hatchery itself fascinating.  They have a “ladder system” inside that allows some of the fish to get back to the spawning area where the eggs are collected.  The ladder setup allows them to rest in between levels.  Then Jo and Ben spotted some seals out in the bay which was really neat as well.

The fish ladder

The fish ladder

Each section has a resting area

Each section has a resting area

Seals in the bay

Seals in the bay

The bay itself was beautiful

The bay itself was beautiful

And if all that wasn’t enough, Kelly and Bill surprised me with cake and candles because with the 4 hour time difference, we all decided my birthday actually started at 8pm!

Afterwards we went back and had a campfire and ate some pulled pork I had made for travel day

Afterwards we went back and had a campfire

Peyton, Jo and Ben's Alaskan Malamute, loved the weather

Peyton, Jo and Ben’s Alaskan Malamute, loved the weather

Bill's homemade carrot cake was delicious and they even had big signs!!

Bill’s homemade carrot cake was delicious and they even had big signs from Bill’s 50th birthday party which they had been holding onto until I turned 50.  How sweet is that?

It was a nice couple of days, and packed with firsts and great friends, which was a good thing.  Because to be honest, turning 50 really struck me funny, and it caught me off guard.  The last time I was bothered by an age change was when I turned 30, so it’s been awhile and I really didn’t expect it.  That’s what is great about good friends though.  They get it when you are off your game a little, and were kind enough to give me a little space.  I’m honestly not sure I can verbalize what bugged me about it, other than it felt as if I had turned a corner and was looking downhill.  And yes, I know I have lots of life left in me, many adventures ahead, and I am obviously blessed with the love of family and friends.  Still, I was bummed a little, and I might as well say that out loud since I am 50 now 🙂


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First Time at North Pole

Ok we didn’t go to THE North Pole, but we did go to North Pole, Alaska, and since that is probably the closest I will ever get to the real thing  I am using it for this blog post title.    It’s been a busy week here at the Glennallen campground so let me catch you up a bit before we move on to our North Pole adventure.

We were tired when we got back from Denali, and of course we were jammed pack on Monday our first day back. We are starting to get both traffic leaving Alaska and people coming in at the same time, which has definitely boosted our occupation numbers and we also got our annual visit from Good Sam.  These rating visits are unscheduled, so they really do see you for what you are and I am happy to see we got a big jump in the scoring.  Last year the campground rated 5.5/9.5/9 and this year we jumped to 7/9.5/9.  This jump is in no small part to this summer’s efforts  and I was particularly pleased to see the Site Attractiveness category raise from a .5 to a 1, which is the highest score. They specifically mentioned the new paint and new signs and this made both of us very happy. Also they specifically mentioned the Lend a Book and Lend a Movie programs which helped raise our entertainment score from a .5 to a 1. It really is a very nice little campground, and it’s been fun being a part of improving it.

We also had a visit from Les and Sue (Big Boomer on the RV-Dreams forum) who have been touring Alaska all summer and finally got to us on their way home.  I offered to cook dinner, but Sue wouldn’t have any of that and brought us a complete meal including amazing halibut Les caught, vegetables, and a salad.  She even brought utensils, plates, silverware, everything so I wouldn’t have to do a thing.  So amazing and we had a wonderful visit with them and I really enjoyed getting to know them better.  We last saw them in Quartzsite in the desert and here we were sharing halibut in Alaska.  The RV-Dreams family is really a wonderful thing.

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Sue and Lee are totally agreeing with each other

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Les cooking up some amazing halibut

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They were huge pieces and so yummy

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The rice and veggies were great also. Did I mention I didn’t have to do one thing 🙂

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Well I did contribute dessert. Huckleberry Tilamook ice cream with hand-picked raspberries and blueberries

 

I also spent some time this week trying to figure out the best way to create an Ebook and publish it.  One of my goals for this summer was to try to write a recipe book for full-time RVers and before I started formatting I wanted to make sure I knew what was needed.   People talk about publishing books like it’s easy, but I have to say the technical aspects are pretty intimidating.  I finally found a website called  Blurb and downloaded their free tool.  Have no idea how this is going to work out yet, but at least I found a starting place.  I realized his week we are half way through our stint here and I had better get started.

And I signed up for our absentee ballot.  This was so very easy and that makes me super happy.  When we setup our mail service in Green Cove Springs, Florida we also went to the voter registrars office and registered to vote.  I received a voting card in the mail this week that had a phone number on it to call for an absentee ballot.  I just assumed I would have some sort of issue, but it was super easy.  I called and the very nice lady at the registrar’s office took Lee and I’s information over the phone and they are sending me the ballot.  How cool is that.  I have never missed a major election cycle since I came of age, so I was not looking forward to the prospect of missing my opportunity to vote.  Especially not in this election.  It was a very positive and easy experience so I thought I should mention that.

This week we also got some much-needed rain to help fight several fires that were started by lightning last week. I have been incredibly  impressed by how capably the Forest service is handling multiple fires spread across a huge territory.  I have been following their progress closely through a wonderful blog the forest service writes called  AK Fire Info.  The forest service gives daily updates on all the fires and more frequent updates on the fires that are threatening property.  They  also conduct public meetings when the fires get to a certain point to keep the public notified.  Most impressively they move crews and equipment around as needed and their efficient use of limited resources based on necessity is extremely impressive.   I also think it’s important that in some cases they let fires run their course.  AS we have learned on the road fires are an important part of the ecological process and overzealous fire fighting can cause significant damage to the natural habitat and wildlife.  We have been very lucky to have several pilots and other members of the team stay with us in our cabins the last few weeks and I am a huge fan of them both as people and for what they do.

The rain not only helped the fires but also helped our business as many people decided to hunker down for a few days and we are a nice place to do that.  We even were completely full for the first time we have been working and it was a very busy week.  So we were both a little tired on Saturday, and we got a later start than we normally do.  We were heading up to Fairbanks for an overnight, but had several stops planned along the way.  Although it was supposed to rain all weekend in Glennallen, the Fairbanks forecast was a little better and we were hoping we could get some nice pictures. It started out great too as we took a wonderful shot of Mt. Drum from a different angle than we normally see it.

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Mt. Drum

Next we stopped at the Meiers Lake Roadhouse to drop off some fliers. The campgrounds here often reciprocate having flyers in each other’s locations, but I like to visit the sites when possible and judge for myself.  The owners used to hunt in the area and bought the business in “retirement” (if you can call 14 hour days retirement) and are running it with their daughter, son, and son-in-law.  It really is in a great spot on a cool lake, but it needs a ton of work still.  One of my favorite parts though that is absolutely worth seeing is the on site Alaska Museum which was a private collection of a local and was donated to the roadhouse years ago as a museum.  It had some incredibly cool stuff and I really enjoyed looking at it.

Meiers Roadhouse

Meiers Roadhouse

Meiers Lake

Meiers Lake

Her husband shot this grizzly close by and always loved the area

Her husband shot this grizzly close by and always loved the area.  I found out that the “meat was blue when they ate it and delicious”…way better than bears who eat fish apparently those taste nasty.  Yes these are the kind of conversations you find yourself having in Alaska.  Truly surreal.

The museum

The museum

The first picture I have seen of Sarah Palin anywherfe

The first picture I have seen of Sarah Palin anywherfe

This was really neat and antigue papoose

This was really neat a metal baby carrier

Loved, loved these

Loved, loved these

Not sure how the gold miners could fit in this tub. They all most have been really skinny

Not sure how the gold miners could fit in this tub. They all most have been really skinny

After Paxton, the next section of the drive was really pretty.  We saw the most amazing views at Summit Lake and Lee went on a side road between MM 197 and 198 and we saw the most amazing campgrounds and the Gulkana Glacier. Apparently the Arctic Man snowmobile race takes place there every spring, which is probably why the road is in such great shape. That being said Lee kept going further and further in and the road kept getting worse and worse until we were finally driving on what I thought was creek bed.  At that point I made him turn around.  Yes I know I am no fun.

Right after the turn off onto the back road

A little rig porn 🙂

Monument for road builder. See lots of those here which makes sense when you know what these folks had to go through to get the roads built

Monument for road builder. See lots of those here which makes sense when you know what these folks had to go through to get the roads built

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The views were spectacular

The 360 degree views were spectacular

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The road when it was pretty good

The road when it was pretty good

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Close-up of the Gulkana Glacier

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The colors were amazing

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What’s left when they recede is pretty interesting to me

 

And we finally got a close up view of the pipeline.  There is a nice pull-over spot where you can walk right up to it and Lee got pretty excited and actually asked to have his picture taken.  That’s a rarity.

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It’s pretty tall

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With big bolts lol

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I loved the sign…was tempted but this is not something you want to mess around with

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We were definitely on a roll and when we went through DElta Junction we saw they had a farmer’s market going on so we stopped there as well.  I got a present for my nephew and bought some beautiful home-made rolls.  That town reminded me quite a bit of Vermont.

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So it was a fun drive with relatively good weather and we hadn’t even gotten to the best part yet.  I got an email from a reader Carole who is both a full-time rver and fellow Ohian.  She grew up in Westerville, Ohio, (which is where Lee’s dad lives) and we were all in Columbus area high schools during the same time period. Carole and her husband (retired police officer Scott) have been fulltiming for the past year in a conversion van.  Yep, a conversion van and although I had read about folks doing this I had never actually met one.  They wintered last year by house sitting in Seattle and this summer flew to Alaska (to save miles on their vehicle) and are camphosting at Birch Lake Recreation Park.  The receive a free dry (no water) cabin, a small subsidy, and access to a state vehicle for local errands, and amazing lake views including a resident moose who comes and hangs out in the water when it’s quiet.

Really cute cabin

Really cute cabin

Propane fridge and wood stove

Propane fridge and wood stove

The back porch

The back porch

and a few steps away is this amazing view

and a few steps away is this amazing view

Ever meet people and feel you have known them forever?  Well that’s how it was with Carole and Scott.  Maybe it’s because we are from the same place and roughly the same age, but we jumped right into conversation as if we were lifetime friends.  I really really enjoyed talking to them and will enjoy following their travels on Facebook since we are friends now!

A Midwestern spread. I don't even know where she found the sausage and grapes but it was yummy

A Midwestern spread. I don’t  know where she found the sausage and grapes but it was yummy

Scott and Carole

Scott and Carole

After leaving we finally reached North Pole, Alaska which is where I started this post lol.  What can I say other than I totally loved it.  I also went a little crazy, spending more money there than anywhere else we had been, but I just had to buy my kids, brother, and sister a North Pole Christmas ornament!  It was a ton of fun and I absolutely recommend a stop.

All the street names are Santa related and the lightpoles are striped or have candy canes on them

All the street names are Santa related and the lightpoles are striped or have candy canes on them

Giant Santa Statue

Giant Santa Statue

Lee thought the Santa Statue had creepy eyes :)

Lee thought the Santa Statue had creepy eyes 🙂

WE didn't go in the Reindeer farm because we just saw reindeer.

We didn’t go in the Reindeer farm because we just saw reindeer. There was an RV park back there as well, and ample RV parking near the workshop

Santa's House

Santa’s House

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Amazing inside.

Amazing inside.

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They had some very neat toys

They had some very neat toys

And Santa even came out and talked to everyone for awhile

And Santa even came out and talked to everyone for a while

Some things in life are exactly what you think they will be, and Santa’s House was definitely like that!!  Next up…First Time in Fairbanks.


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What Does my Alaska Work Kamping Day Look Like?

I thought I would take a few minutes to walk you through my average day, since many people who are contemplating work kamping may wonder about that.

I get up around 7:30am and take about an hour in the morning to drink my coffee and relax with some computer games or Facebook.  During this time Lee (who works 8-5 generally) is getting his shower and finishing up his morning so I tend to just hang out on the couch until he leaves.  After he is gone, I make some toast (occasionally I will throw in some bacon for a protein kick) and then take a shower and get dressed.  This whole routine is complete by 9am and then I have a decision on how to spend my free 1-1/2 hours until I start to prep to go to work.

Some days I blog, other days I clean the house, and I try to get out as much as I can.  1-1/2 hours isn’t a lot of time to work with so the activities need to be short in duration.  I have done a couple of cool things though.  One day I planted some herbs and a tomato plant in a Topsy Turvy that I found at the local “everything” store.  Tomatoes don’t grow well in this soil so I bought the hanging kind to plant and then, bonus, saw it had additional holes for herbs.  I have always wanted a fresh herb garden, so I thought let’s give it a try and when Lee was in Anchorage getting the brakes done he bought me some herbs.

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The only two topsy turvy’s in the store, but the price was good at $9 each

The finished product

The finished product.  Looks great…let’s see how it grows!

Another day when I was feeling particularly antsy I drove down to the Tazlina “mall”. Now don’t get too excited.  It’s called a mall because it actually has multiple stores in the same building.  There is a liquor store, hardware store, hair/nail place, and Casa de la Arte which was my real destination.  I met the owner at the Chamber of Commerce meeting and really liked her, and since she has products made by local artisans I wanted to check it out.  It’s a cool little store filled with Alaskan made products, and I enjoyed my chat with the owner Naomi.  She is in the process of moving up to Glenallen (which I think is a great choice) and since she lives here year round is also working on offering classes in the winter to the locals.  It was a nice little side trip and the Tazlina Mall is right off Hwy 4 so it only took me 15 minutes to get there.

The Tazlina "mall"

The Tazlina “mall”

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Feed Supply, liquor store, and hardware/fishing supplies. Everything an Alaska needs 🙂

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Have to check out the hair place when my next cut is due

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Casa de la Arte

Loved these antler coat and door hangers

Loved these antler coat and door hangers

Local beadwork

Local beadwork

So so cute

So so cute

Made by a local Athanascan

Made by a local Athanascan

I really like these too. Regular head bands hurt my head

I really like these too. Regular head bands hurt my head

The magnet I decided to purchase was hand painted, but the owner gave it to me as a gift to welcome me to Alaska. So sweet

The magnet I decided to purchase was hand painted, but since Naomi made it she  gave it to me as a gift to welcome me to Alaska. So sweet

The other thing I really want to work into my routine is to drive down and check out the Copper River where we saw the eagles.  Once the fish are fully running I hope to get some more great shots and this is something I can get up early and do.  As a side note, I have been wanting to mention how many abandoned US Army vehicles are up here.  The military built these roads during WWII, and you find old ambulances, Jeeps, and trucks everywhere.  Many have been restored and are being used by locals, but it’s always interesting when you run across them.  Since Copper Center was a military supply town for a while it has several of them, sort of strewn around in various stages of decay.

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At 10:30am I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I tried holding off eating until my lunch break at 3:30, but I just can’t wait that long so a small sandwich tides me over until then.  Since most of my physical activity is during the start of my shift (mosquitoes are much less prevalent in the mornings) I need the extra energy.  I walk over to the office and get a quick hand off from whoever started the day, then I check the emails for any reservations.  Confirmed reservations are printed and put in our reservation book, and if they are for the same day I make sure I assign them a spot, and place a pink slip on the board to reserve the spot.  Then I take the cordless phone (it works all throughout the campground) and walk the sites looking for trash in the fire pits.  I am amazed by what people throw in there, and since a dirty fire pit is a pet peeve of mine I make that walk every morning.  Next I grab the weed eater and start working on a section.  I try to keep an eye on the office, but there’s a sign on the door letting people know that if there’s nobody in the office they can pick any open spot.  I’ll walk up to them at that point and take them up to the office and check them in.  Luckily there is usually someone near the office at this time and since we only get a few check-ins before 2pm it usually isn’t a big deal.  After I weed whack it’s back in the office and another check of the emails for reservations. As a side note, I would normally be cleaning bathrooms and cabins during this time, but Darlene hired a local retired person to take care of that.  I am certainly not complaining, as I would much rather do yard work and working in the office than clean restrooms.  I didn’t ask her to hire someone, but I certainly appreciate it.

The next hour is spent on administrative tasks, and then I have my lunch. It’s been an adjustment but I enjoy my 3pm lunch time.  I eat heavy or light depending on whether Lee is cooking that night, and have enough time to watch a television show.  Then it’s back to the office, and that’s when things start to get really busy. How busy we are and how early the “rush” starts depends totally on the weather.  On cloudy/rainy days people stop driving earlier, and we start getting check-ins as early as 3pm.  On sunny days people drive longer and we will get very busy between 7pm-8pm.  Check-ins are my favorite things I do here.  Lots of our guests are from other countries and have varying levels of English.  I love helping those folks, and the less English they know the greater the challenge, which I enjoy.  So far I have met people from England, Australia, Germany, Holland, Finland, France, and Belgium and Switzerland.  Germans are by far the most common and since I have some German ancestry in my background I feel I am particularly good with them.  I am friendly and helpful, yet as efficient as possible, and really think I am pretty good at this.  As I have learned more about the area I love giving first-hand accounts of places I have seen or eaten at, but I also know when people are extremely road weary and just want to be checked in with minimal fuss.

The reservations process is multiple steps, and really only one person at a time can be checked in.  Oddly, people usually come in batches, and the couple of times I had multiple groups waiting Darlene or Marc (the owners) would come over and chat with them while they waited.  They fill out a form while I look at their rig and determine which spot is best.  We try to put them in a slightly larger spot than they need but save the really big ones for people with big rigs who might come later.  Then I process their payment (usually a credit card, which I have gotten pretty good at) and while doing that I draw on our map their location and explain how to get to their site.  I give them the Wifi password, and their faces usually light up when I say we have strong Wifi, and it is throughout the campground.  Then if they want more information I will make a recommendation on a place to eat or see in the area.  The check in takes around 5-6 minutes, but information can take a while longer and those conversations are really fun.

There is downtime in between guest check-ins though, and if  I have time I love to listen to Caribou Clatter.  This is absolutely the coolest thing because many people are in the bush with no cell coverage, and the local radio station allows people to communicate with their loved ones via the airwaves.  Four times a day they read off emails from folks, and they range from “Love you Papa, will see you soon,” to long messages about what’s going on at home.  It’s absolutely charming and is available on streaming, so if you have a few minutes around 12:20pm or 5:20pm Alaska time (4 hours earlier than eastern time) take a listen.  It reminds me of another time, and is really, really neat that the local station offers this service. I also read the local paper, the Copper River Record.  At 75 cents per week it’s a bargain and everything a small town paper should be.  This week one of the headline stories was about a rainbow that occurred at 9:30 pm! Breaking news. They are also ran an article on how the town was formed ( building the highway through what was then swamp sounds horrendous) and there is lots of local information on happenings in the region. Listening to the local radio station and reading the local paper make me feel more connected with the town and what is happening.

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we have dessert nights.  I premake the evening’s desert after lunch, and then put it in the oven at the appropriate time.  I am cooking for 10-50 people, depending on reservations, and have never made such large desserts before.  I do have a full kitchen and nice oven to work with in the owner’s cabin though, which is great.  I don’t think I could make such big batches in the RV oven.  Then at 7pm we ring the triangle, yes there really is one, and I serve desserts and chat with people.  The second person makes the bonfire and keeps an eye on the front desk, and depending on how long service takes I stay and then pull the remaining desert and wash the dishes.  I like to cook , but I never was much of a baker so this should be interesting for me.  I am looking for easy and good in the recipe department and the ones I think fit the bill I will add to the recipes here.  

My first dessert night was Rhubarb and Apple Crisp and folks said they really liked it.  The vanilla Tillamook ice cream certainly didn’t hurt, and the rhubarb itself was local and very, very good.  It has a nice tartness, but not overwhelming.  There were some women from Texas and I told them to be honest, and they said rhubarb reminded them of their childhood, so that is nice. On the second dessert night I made Swedish Applesauce cake, and we still had leftover rhubarb and some watermelon.  We were almost full that night, so we got quite a crowd.  After serving all the desserts I wander around and chat a bit.  It was nice seeing a couple of very young french hikers meet a much older Swiss couple, and they all happily chatted in French for awhile.  Meeting folks is fun, and watching them meet each other is even more rewarding  Finally, at the end of the night I close out the drawer.  Occasionally people are coming in late, and closing gets delayed a bit, but usually I can finish in around 15 minutes. Then I go home and have dinner with Lee at around 8:30. Lee’s cooking most of the dinners, because he’s done at 5pm. It’s nice to be fed, but I don’t think I will ever get used to eating dinner so late.  It doesn’t bother Lee in the slightest though. 

So that’s my day. My favorite part is definitely helping the guests and there is enough variety in every day I am not bored. The combination of some physical activity and office work is good for me and definitely keeps things interesting.

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My little dessert station

Recipe

Rhubarb and Apple Crisp

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 TBL cornstarch
  • 3 cups “small bite-sized” sliced fresh rhubarb
  • 2 cups “small bite-sized” cut apples (blueberries or strawberries can be substituted)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 real butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Vanilla ice cream, optional but recommended
  1. In a large bowl combine sugar and cornstarch, mix well.
  2. Add chopped rhubarb and apples; toss to coat
  3. Spoon into an 8 inch square baking dish
  4. In a separate small bowl combine oats, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon.  Mix well
  5. Add melted butter and mix until resembles coarse crumbs
  6. Sprinkler crumbs over fruit
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until bubbly and fruit is tender
  8. Let sit for at least 15 minutes
  9. Serve warm with half a scoop of vanilla ice cream or by itself.

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What is Living in Alaska Like?

Our preferred method of travel is to spend enough time in an area to get a feel for what living there would be like, and we were excited about our four months in Alaska because we thought we would really get to know the land and the people who lived there.  After a couple of weeks though I have to say, I can’t come close to answering what living here is like.  It’s always very clear that we are guests here, and the fact that it is very different in the summer here than it is in the winter is always front and center. Locals talk about things in that way.  Sentences often start with “In the summer” because the same rules simply don’t apply the other 8 months of the year.  So at this point I can only give you impressions and those impressions are only based on the tourist season.  Because of that I thought about holding off on writing these thoughts down, but I am not so good at remembering initial feelings after time has passed, and more importantly these thoughts are what I have to work with right now.  If this post ends up being all over the place, that is pretty reflective of where we have been the last two weeks, because Alaska is definitely its own unique place.  Seriously, I have had an easier time getting settled into foreign countries than I have here.

A big part of it is the weather. The constant sunshine (roughly 19 hours a day at this point) is mildly unsettling.  It hasn’t had the major impact on us that it has on some folks.  I can fall asleep when it’s so bright outside you feel like you need sunglasses (not exaggerating that), but I don’t sleep as long.  I tend to wake up at least once a night to go to the bathroom, and when I get up because it’s light outside it’s a little harder to fall back asleep.  The robins are crazy chatty at dawn (which happens to come at 4am here) and I am countering that by using my white noise machine which works well, but at this point I am unwilling to darken all the windows and live in a cave, so I just have to deal with the light.

The temperature is also strange.  In the sun it’s often T-shirt or even shorts warm, but the wind is generally cool and it often gets down to 40 at night, or cooler. Lots of layers are called for, and many days I am in jeans, then shorts, then back to jeans again and a T-shirt, fleece, coat, then back to T-Shirt again.   It’s also very dry here (to the point where you feel dehydrated if you are not careful), but it also rains quite a bit.  I know that doesn’t make any sense, but it’s true.  In the same day it can be blustery, calm, pouring rain, and hot sunshine, sometimes the change can all happen in a couple of hours.  I am not a  meteorologist, but I am sure a big part of that is the mountains. And the wind here is interesting.  Wind is your friend; it keeps the mosquitoes at bay, and since the wind is crisp, clean and sharp (almost like a fall wind but without the fall smell) I don’t mind it as much.

Oh, and speaking of the mountains, since we are working and have been very busy getting the grounds cleaned up (mowing lawns, weed whacking, planting flowers, etc) whole days go by when I don’t walk out to the road and see Mt. Drum. So when I do catch a glimpse of it my initial response is “Holy crap that’s big”. Here in our little corner of the world, you kind of forget about the wildness of the place.  We’ve been very focused on prepping this campground for the mid-June business spike and as such our focus has been a little narrow, but even a short drive outside of town and you are in the wild.  Speaking of town, Glennallen gives a whole new meaning to the word small town.  We’ve seen lots of them in our travels, but up here a small town means less than 1,000 people, and that is considered a town.  “The City” is Anchorage and that’s where people go for Best Buy, Home Depot, Walmart, etc.  Everyone else makes do with coming to the nearest town which is Glennallen.  So what does a town have here?  It’s a really short strip along the main highway, and we have a few gas stations (one with towing and auto repair), a cell tower, one radio station (light christian rock and local talk radio), a hair place, a tiny library, a tiny school, a post office, an IGA, a general store with a small Radio Shack section, a Tru Value Hardware store, a laundromat, a couple of RV parks and lodges,  two banks, two tiny churches, and two liquor stores.  It also is the hub of medical treatment in the area with a dentist, chiropractor, and a small urgent care. Because of all the tourist activity and proximity to federal land, it also has a visitor’s center, department of fish and game, and BLM office.

IGA

IGA

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The prices are weird. Hagen Daz ice cream is $22 a gallon, but Tilamook is $7.99 better than I paid in Glacier

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The general store is a true hodge podge of stuff and their gas is 10 cents cheaper than anywhere else in town

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Pizza, greeting cards, clothing, some groceries. You name it, they might have it

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The Radio Shack section of the general store

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The fishing section

So what don’t we have that almost every small town in the lower 48 has?   There is no “over the air” television of any kind,  no McDonald’s, no Dollar store (which is really surprising because those seem to be everywhere), no fire department, no local police (state trooper barracks is down the road a bit), no bars, and no town government. In the lower 48 you would consider it a spit in the road, but it’s not here, because this is the place people even farther out come for services. The nearest Ford Dealership is 3-1/2 hours away and the nearest grocery store is Safeway in Valdez about 1-1/2 hours away.  Which is actually all kind of cool.  It is not “Everywhere USA”. You know, the homogenized, strip mall version of the United States that is all too common.  And the people who live here are used to making do with what they have.  They consolidate their trips to “The City” as they call Anchorage.  They live off the land and they take advantage of the revenue from tourist season to get by.  What we have been told by more than one local is that there is a shortage of labor here in the summer, but in the winters work is difficult to find.  It depends on your skill set of course, but the “real oil money” flows out of the state and back into Texas.  The Athna people do have some funds though.  Because of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, there are 13 regional corporations that administer the claims and manage the funds, and which essentially provides income to the natives through privately owned  stock in the corporations. The corporations manage the funds, the remaining tribal lands, and the resources and in this area Ahtna Inc. is the biggest employer in town.  The Ahtna  people also have the right to subsistence hunting and fishing that the non-native locals do not have.  There is an interesting relationship between the eskimos and the other locals and frankly I am still trying to get a handle on it.

You would think in this environment that everyone knows everyone, but that is actually not the case.  Dale, for example, who has worked in the Visitor’s Center for the last 4 years didn’t know Bob, the local who has been working on our propane issues here at the campground.  That I don’t get at all, except maybe that people largely keep to themselves.  But they don’t always.  People who have been around for 20 plus years all seem to know each other, but the more recent transplants haven’t met as many people.  Maybe it’s the weather that keeps people inside most of the year, maybe it’s the personality type of people drawn to this place, or maybe I keep expecting Mayberry and simply not seeing that.  Either way, I can absolutely say at this point that “normal” rules don’t apply.  You simply can’t assume anything here. And again that’s largely OK, but the combination of all these factors does leave a person from away feeling vaguely unsettled.  It’s still early and maybe by the end of 4 months we will have it all figured out, but honestly I doubt it.

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Really nice visitors center here. Hopefully I will get to volunteer a little

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Nice display of the Athna people

So now that I have set the stage on the area, what have we been doing since I last blogged?  Well, we are both very busy getting things organized for the season.  We have had a slow start to the summer according to Marc and Darlene and we actually think it may be due to the weak Canadian dollar.  Dale in the visitor center says he is seeing far fewer Canadians than usual, and that appears to be having a big impact on business.  Plus, we learned the salmon are running a little later this year than usual and many folks visit the Copper Valley region for the fishing.  Princess Cruises even has a lodge 12 miles down the road so people can come here and fish. We haven’t seen it in person yet but the pictures look really nice.  We are taking advantage of the relative slowness to get things organized and trim back some of the grounds.  You can’t just indiscriminately cut stuff down here.  There are blueberry bushes, raspberry bushes, wild roses, and many other flowering species that you want to let live, but you also want to get rid of the weeds.  We are still learning what is what, but as more things bloom it gets easier and easier.

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Office before

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And after

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Particularly proud of this. We setup a book area and a DVD free loan area (with donations for us and Marc) and so far it’s been a hit. Since there is no TV we can offer DVD’s instead which people seem to appreciate after a long travel day

The roses are blooming everywhere and so pretty

The roses are blooming everywhere and so pretty

Amazing to me how different the prickly rose is from what we are used to as a culitvated rose

Amazing to me how different the prickly rose is from what we are used to as a cultivated rose

These propane mosquito eaters fill up with thousands of mosquitos in no time and one of Lee's jobs is to empty them. Battling mosquitoes is a full time job here!

These propane mosquito eaters fill up with thousands of mosquitoes in no time and one of Lee’s jobs is to empty them. Battling mosquitoes is a big time job here!

Then towards the end of our second week, Darlene the owner had an abcess and Marc had to take her to Anchorage for an emergency root canal. Thankfully she is fine and it was great that they felt they could trust us alone with the place.  We really enjoyed those two days (after we worked through “you are not the boss of me”) and it really proved to us that we can do this!!  And luckily she felt well enough to stay in their house in Anchorage while Marc came back and gave us our days off.  Jim and Barb were stopping by on their summer long tour of Alaska and we were so looking forward to it.  They have been traveling in a small truck camper they bought used just for the trip (they plan on selling it as soon as they are done) and because they can go almost everywhere and love to fish they spent two months making it to this point!  Jim writes one of my favorite blogs and we adore their little dog Daisy so it was a real treat to get to see them.  Since the weather was the coldest it’s been when they arrived, we went down to Caribou Lodge in town and had lunch.  People often ask me where they can get a meal in town and I wanted to try to to give them a first hand review.  Turned out it was really good and we all loved our meal, plus it was a nice warm place to get caught up.  And they have a really great gift store with lots of local artisans displaying their work there.

Jim and Barb are here!!

Jim and Barb are here.  There truck camper is really nice.

Got them settled into a dry camping spot in the back for $24.30 a night with Good Sam discount

Got them settled into a dry camping spot in the back for $24.30 a night with Good Sam discount

Daisy loves playing with any rock she finds. She's so cute!

Daisy loves playing with any rock she finds. She’s so cute!

Caribou Lodge

Fireweed Grill at the Caribou Lodge

The restaurant

The restaurant

Loved the counter!

Loved the counter!

Jim and Barb

Jim and Barb

My $11 BLT was a triple decker and really very good

My $11 BLT was a triple decker and really very good

I bought this cool $8 coffee cup made locally from Alaska clay. Love, love it!

I bought this cool $8 coffee cup made locally from Alaska clay. Love, love it!

Because it had rained the two nights before they came and we couldn’t mow back there, the mosquitoes were a little crazy, so we made a campfire for them, provided some bug spray and pulled out these mosquito sticks which seemed to work pretty good.  We were going to cook dinner, but Barb and Jim insisted on making us some fresh trout they had recently caught and cooked it with butter on the grill.  I’ve never had fresh trout before and it was pretty good.  I liked it much better than the salmon we tried a few days prior.  We had some baby potatoes to add to the mix and we sat outside until it started raining.  Then Barb showed me the cake she made me because she remembered I liked it so much in Quartzsite.  It is a white cake with jello in it and I am definitely stealing that recipe for desert nights here!

The next day Lee had to drive to the Ford dealer in Wasilla (home of Sarah Palin) and get the left front brake repaired.  Despite our having a platinum warranty with Ford the dealer said it would be $1100 because the brake pad wasn’t replaced in time and the rotors were ruined.  When Lee called me to let me know, I was instantly mad.  We had the brake pads checked in Rock Hill right before we left, and according to them they were fine, and now my platinum warranty wouldn’t cover it??  I don’t think so.  I called Ford and they said it was covered and gave me a claim number for the dealer to call.  The Service Manager didn’t want to bother with it because he “was sure it wouldn’t be covered”, but guess what, it was!!  So mini rant here.  This is not the first time this is happened.  Every time we go in for our 100% covered pre-paid service intervals, they try to charge us for fuel filters or some other nonsense, and when we have other covered service work done they are always trying to charge us extra. I don’t know if it’s intentional because they want more money than the warranty company reimburses for, or just not understanding what the plans cover, but it is starting to make me very angry.  $1,100 is a pretty big mistake to make and if we had taken them at their word once again we would have had a huge hit to the monthly budget.  OK rant over, as it turned out OK, but I really should write a letter or something.

While Lee was dealing with that (it took 15 hours all in to drive there, wait for the work to be done, and drive back), Jim, Barb, and I did a little exploring. We went over to the visitor’s center for Wrangell-St. Elias park and watched the movie, and took a small 1 – mile hike.  It was still pretty blustery in the morning but that was a good thing as the mosquitoes are pretty bad on this particular hike normally, and we all enjoyed the 22 minute movie on the park.  Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest park in the United States (larger than Switzerland) and holds 9 of the highest mountains in North America.  Unfortunately for us, very little of the park is accessible by car and most of it can only be accessed via boat or airplane.  So, watching the movie in this case was great because you got to see pictures of the amazing vistas.  Several companies in the area sell helicopter and airplane tours and we may have to do one of those at some point, because it truly looks amazing.  Oh and interesting story, the ranger asked us where people where from and mentioned she grew up in Dublin, Ohio!!  I grew up in Grove City which is about 20 minutes away.  When she was a teenager her family farm was taken to build the outer belt and she decided after college to move to Alaska because of the impact the urban growth had on her.  She has been here ever since and what a small world it is.

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The big skull is grizzly bear

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You could feel all these pelts, my favorite was the marten which was super soft

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The ranger from Ohio

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Views on the hike of the valley were pretty

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The copper river

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Barb made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch! She even added a little chocolate.

Then afterwards we drove down to Copper Center which is a tiny hamlet where many people died during the Gold Rush years.  They ended up getting scurvy because there was no vitamin C in their diet, or many froze to death.  Little gold was found in the area and the only reason the town still exists is the military used it as a supply depot.

Copper Center

Copper Center

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Jim really wanted to see the river closeup though, so we stopped and walked back a little ways to the river.  Holy cow!! I don’t think I would have ever done that, and because we did had one of my best Alaska experiences to date.  There were at least 6 eagles flying along the beautiful river and they were swooping down and trying to catch fish. Absolutely, positively fantastic!!

The river

The river

Must have been pretty deep because this boat drove by

Must have been pretty deep because this boat drove by

Folks were out fishing

Folks were out fishing

The flowers were beautiful

The flowers were beautiful

Jim spotted this two year old juvenile bald eagle right away

Jim spotted this two year old juvenile bald eagle right away.  We know it’s a juvenile because of the white mottling on its chest

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It was across the river so best closeup I could get

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Another juvenile in flight

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A mature bald eagle

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Loved, loved this shot.  Can’t wait to get a better one of an eagle diving.  Since this spot is less than 15 minutes from where we are staying I think I will get the chance again!

The best of the day

The best of the day

I was giddy with excitement during the period they were active around us, and then they all wandered off.  It was absolutely amazing.  We walked around a bit and then drove down to the bridge and watched the fishermen for awhile.  The fish don’t eat when they are “running” so fisherman try to hook them and yank them out of the water.  Kind of interesting, and we went into a cool little fisherman charter business and talked to a very knowledgeable young woman Miranda for quite some time.  She knows her fish and her and Jim talked for quite some time.  I didn’t understand much of what they said, but it sounded interesting.  If the annual fishing licenses here weren’t $150 I would give it a go, but that’s just too much money.  Plus, more than one fisherman said that when the fish are running you can easily catch your limit (5 salmon a day), in under 5 minutes or so.  Not really my thing, but it was great learning about it with Jim and Barb and they may stop on their way back and give it a try.

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It was a really great day.  Amazing animal sightings, being with good friends, learning about the area, and picking up some flyers for our guests from Copper Central. Plus we ended the night with a spaghetti dinner and Barb and Jim really liked it.  Spaghetti is my go to dinner to fix for folks and I figured they would like it because it’s not something they would fix in their truck camper.  Looking forward to reading about their adventures as they continue across the state, and again was so grateful for the visit!  Now that the truck is fixed we can take our own day trip on our next days off, and I am looking froward to doing more exploring.


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First Time Work Kamping in Alaska

Here we are at Glennallen and what I call the third phase of our full timing experience is now beginning.  Since we don’t have investments or pensions to rely on, we always knew we would have to continue working.  Initially, I  kept my corporate job and our travels and choices revolved around that. Then I was offered a buy-out and for a pretty terrific five month period I had paychecks coming in without needing to work.  OK, that was awesome!  Now we start a new phase in which we work seasonal jobs, hopefully in beautiful places, and see if we can make enough money to support our budget.  What better place to start this phase than in Alaska??? When we were looking for a position many of them were geared toward retired couples who were looking to supplement their retirement,and the schedules were setup to maximize downtime.  That makes perfect sense really, and our friends Kelly and Bill have a position they are sharing with another work kamper couple that is 7 days on and 7 days off.  This will give them lots of time to explore, and was perfect for their situation.  Ours though was different.  In order to make the finances work we wanted to have a gig working 40 hours a week, and luckily Marc and Darlene, the owners of Northern Nights Campground and RV Park, were able to make that work.  More importantly, they were very interested in us as people with unique skill sets.  I spoke to many potential employers when looking for a summer position who in my estimation were looking for “warm bodies.”  There’s  nothing wrong with that as they have a business to run, but not something we were particularly interested in.  Marc and Darlene were the only people I talked to who truly seemed interested in what we had to bring as individuals and definitely were the only folks who expressed an interest in hearing our ideas for improvement.  Since I spent years building a career revolving around process improvement, this was the deciding factor for me.

So I was so pleased that on Monday morning (during our two hour introduction/orientation meeting) their philosophy of continuous improvement was evident in everything they said.  This may be a small, family-owned campground, but they are committed to making it the best it can be, and were excited about new ideas we brought to the table.  They also “inventoried” our skill sets during that meeting and started to build a summer plan around them.  For me, the most interesting part of the meeting was when we started to talk about what we had to offer.  Lee rattled off his very long list of skills and they got more and more excited.  He can work on almost anything, from electric and plumbing to painting and light carpentry, and his years of production experience give him a unique way of solving problems and looking at everything with an eye towards theater. His “MacGyver” skill set will be very valuable here.  I, on the other hand, had to dig a little deeper.  Certainly my Lean Six Sigma experience and process improvement experience will come in handy, but I had to think back to jobs I had very early in my career.  I left the meeting feeling great about our prospects for the summer but also mildly unsettled about where I fit in. I didn’t have time to ponder on it too much though because we spent the rest of Monday moving into the brand new site they had created for us and spending time with Kelly and Bill before they moved on to their summer jobs in Seward.

Our campsite. I actually like being in the front and since we have a front living room, the trees are nice. This is the roadside view

Our campsite. I actually like being in the front and since we have a front living room, the trees are nice. This is the roadside view.

And the campground side view

And the campground side view

As the next few days passed, my feelings of being unsettled grew.  Darlene was extremely patient with me as I struggled to grasp some of the basic elements of the job.  Let’s face it, some of my skills were a bit rusty (I haven’t been responsible for a cash drawer since I was 19, for example) and the campground business isn’t nearly as simple as it looks from the outside.  Quite a bit goes into just deciding what site to put people into.  As with most older campgrounds, the site sizes are not all the same and larger vehicles with multiple slide-outs can’t fit just anywhere.  We have plenty of sites to fit those rigs and love to have them, but it isn’t one size fits all.  Darlene knows the campground inside and out, and makes those decisions easily and quickly.  I needed to learn quite a bit before I even started feeling comfortable, and it involved many questions and some walking around the sites and acclimating myself.  As frustrated as I was getting with myself about the slow learning curve, Darlene seemed to take it in stride.  She knows how hard this is, and had no expectation I would learn it over night.  And for me it wasn’t just the office elements of the job.  I love getting outside and working also, which Marc and Darlene are happy to accommodate, but again, in this area I find my skills are sorely lacking.  I am able bodied and willing, just don’t have a ton of experience.  It wasn’t until Lee taught me how to use the weed trimmer and I spent a happy hour trimming weeds that I really started to feel better.  It turns out I like doing it (although my upper body definitely felt the workout) and I seemed to pick that up pretty quickly.  That boosted my confidence and more importantly gave me something I could do to contribute during the slow periods between guest arrivals.  I also spent some time organizing the back room of the office and definitely felt in my element as this was work I had done in the more recent past.

Welcome to Northern Nights!! Lee helped hang this new sign

Welcome to Northern Nights!! Lee helped hang this new sign.

 

The small office I work in

The small office I work in

Really comfy chair!! It's the little things

Really comfy chair and everyone loves the bear picture when they walk in. One of the things we’ve already done is take down the banner and replace it with a nice triple picture set of the local mountain, Mt. Drum.

Walk out to the road, look left and here's what you see. Wow!! Mt. Drum in all it's glory

Walk  a few yards out to the road, look left and here’s my view.Wow!! Mt. Drum in all it’s glory

 

Nice campsites with some tree separation. So glad it's not a parking lot.

Nice campsites with some tree separation. So glad it’s not a parking lot!

Showers house, modern bathrooms, and laundry room

Shower house, modern bathrooms, and laundry room.

The really nice cabins in the back have a view of the mountain as well

The really nice cabins in the back have a view of the mountain as well

This is a fish wheel which is used by the natives for subsistence fishing which is allowed by the government. Darlene tried to explain it to me but it seemed complicated. Can't wait to see these in action when the salmon start to run

This is a fish wheel which is used by the native tribes for subsistence fishing.  Can’t wait to see these in action when the salmon start to run.

While I was getting acclimated, Lee jumped right in with his usual gusto.  He spent three happy days cleaning out and organizing the huge workshop tucked away in the back of the campground, and when he put in electrical outlets and lights for them, Marc and Darlene were thrilled.  He also repaired some token operated showers (because water must be trucked in, the showers are 7 minutes long per token, but nice and hot, and the water is good), hung some signs, and fixed several small things.  You probably know enough about Lee by this point to get that he was perfectly content.  Marc and Darlene were smart enough to give him a prioritized list, say “GO!”, and largely stay out of his way, and he had a huge impact immediately.  I was so happy that it was going so well for him, but to be honest this did heighten my feelings of insecurity.  Once again, Lee seemed made for this lifestyle, and I was struggling to find my way. Thankfully, Darlene is a very easy person to talk to and I was able to share with her a little about how I was feeling.  She definitely got it because Marc is going through the same thing.  Until two months ago Marc held a high level job in an oil corporation about two hours away and had just retired.  Prior to this year Darlene managed the campground and Marc came out on every other weekend.  Now he was finding his place as well in the day-to-day operations and we were all kind of figuring out where we fit together.  This all could have been a recipe for disaster, but Darlene stepped in and brought us all together for a meeting near the end of our first week.  We finalized our rough schedules (they will change by necessity as the season gets busier) and our various areas of responsibility.  It was a really good meeting not only because it was collaborative, but also because at the very beginning of it Marc and Darlene gave us both raises.  Based upon what they had seen from us so far, they adjusted our hourly wage and wow, did that mean a lot to both of us.  We had made a commitment for a certain dollar amount, which we were going to make it work financially, it would just be tight.  Marc and Darlene didn’t have to pay us more, and the fact that they did says a lot about them as people.  And for me personally, it immediately showed that they value what I had to offer.  Very, very cool.

Lee's big workshop

Lee’s big workshop

Boy was he happy

Boy was he happy

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Shower token machine he fixed.  How did he even know how to do that??

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Each site gets two free tokens. Folks with showers in their RV’s don’t need them, but people in truck campers and smaller rigs love them.  I just have to remember to hand them out 🙂

 

Lee fixed the moose antler for me which was very cool!!

Lee fixed the moose antler for me which was very cool!!

The other really great thing that happened this week was they sent us to the local Copper River Valley Chamber of Commerce dinner.  This was a huge expression of faith in us and I took that responsibility very seriously.  Darlene wanted us to attend so that we could meet people and local folks would know who we were, but she also sent me with a list of questions she wanted answered. The event was great.  It was held at Tosina River lodge that is Russian owned, and the food was wonderful, and we got to meet so many people from the local school principal to the director of the visitors center.  It was different though.  Lee and I have both spent a fair amount of time in very small towns, we raised our kids in small towns, and Lee has attended many, many chamber of commerce meetings.  But as we soon learned, there are small towns in the lower 48 (25,000 or less) and small towns up here (1,500 or less).  Big, big difference!! The topics were interesting.  You could have heard a pin drop during the “Summer Highway Repair” report, for instance, which makes sense, since tourism is huge factor up here, but it was also very informal because everyone knows everyone.  As the new shiny faces in the group, people were very interested in talking to us, and I am so glad we had an opportunity to go.  I loved it, and definitely hope we get to go again.

The president of the chamber wore a different hat for each section of the agenda. I loved that he put a leather pilots cap on during the flight sight seeing section of the agenda! Oh and check out that huge bearskin rug on the back wall. Don't see that every day!

The president of the chamber wore a different hat for each section of the agenda. I loved that he put a leather pilots cap on during the helicopter sight-seeing section of the agenda! Oh, and check out that huge bear skin rug on the back wall. Don’t see that every day! Also the table (which is just a sheet of plywood on a couple of flimsy plastic sawhorses) behind him collapsed more than once during his presentation, but everyone totally took it in stride.  Very funny!

They had a full house, pulling businesses from as far away as Valdez

They had a full house, pulling people  from as far away as Valdez

This is how the helicopter touring company folks came to the meeting. Not only do they do sightseeing, but also precision flying for the drilling companies. And two of the flyers were young women who flew apache helicopters for the military. Badass!!

This is how the helicopter touring company folks came to the meeting. Not only do they do sightseeing, but also precision flying for the drilling companies. And two of the pilots were very young women who flew Apache helicopters for the military. Badass!!

One of our favorite people who owns both the local fireworks store, but also makes his own special flies which come with free fly fishing lessons. Definitely need to get Ben introduced with him when he comes up!!

One of our favorite people who owns the local fireworks store, but also makes his own special flies which come with free fly fishing lessons. Definitely need to get Ben introduced with him when he comes up!!

I'm talking to the local head of the BLM who was great. Every sense we worked for Stan and the BLM they hold a special place in my heart

I’m talking to the local head of the BLM who was great. Ever since we worked for Stan and the BLM they hold a special place in my heart

 

Oh, and did I mention the views?  The constant daylight made the 30 minute trip to the venue a joy and we stopped on the way back to take a couple of pictures.  After seeing this I am really looking forward to Sunday and Monday (our first days off) to get out and explore the area.  Can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Road to the lodge

 

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Oh and I forgot to mention my absolute favorite part of the job.  Rock is the puppy owner of the place and the one really in charge.  He is completely awesome, but a little bossy 🙂

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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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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