Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Arrival, Fast Eddy's, & Statistics

     Amassing 4704 miles since our departure from Kalkaska, MI we have arrived in Alaska!  12 days and 2200 miles after leaving mom’s house we arrived in the village of Tok, AK, about 93 miles inside the border.  The journey from Whitehorse to the border took 2 shorter days instead of 1 long one since we decided to bivouac enroute. 

     The scenery was once again magnificent.  I realize I have used the word ‘spectacular’ on more than one occasion, but magnificent works just as well.  I don’t take this lightly.  As someone who has lived among or visited some of the greatest mountain ranges in the world, I am impressed.  These mountains are probably no more beautiful than any of the others.  It’s just that there are MORE and MORE of them over every rise, on every turn.  We spent the majority of this leg of our journey meandering around the St. Elias Range from Whitehorse to Haines Junction to Burwash Landing and finally to Alaska. 
     We decided to follow my cousin’s itinerary (she made this trip last year) and stop near the Donjek River and boondock on an elevated rock area around the corner from the highway and right on the banks of the river.  We had the area to ourselves and spent the evening just sitting in chairs, talking, and watching the scenery.  The sun had not set when we went to bed at 10 p.m. but it is that time of year.  It is light enough to see easily about 3:30 a.m. as well.  Easy to take advantage of the battery bank & solar panels with this type of light.  We dined on the last of the “Oven Baked Fried Chicken” with some carrots and Garlic Baguette.  Dharma the Repuplican and Bodhi the Democat slept soundly. 

     The second day of the journey clarifies even more why we decided to do this in two days.  Shortly after Burwash Landing the road bed sits on unstable land consisting mostly of tundra or remnants of where glaciers used to lie.  There are frost heaves that decay the road into cracks, small crevices, sink holes, and some pretty serious ‘hoopty dos’ along the way.  The situation is serious enough that my average speed was only 35 mph for about 80 miles as I navigated my way through this stuff.  Occasionally I would miss one or misjudge it and our rig went through several seconds of “roller coaster push pull”.  I watched as a "Minnie Winnie" passed me at normal highway speeds and he threw some pretty nasty sparks when he bottomed out his rig.  Apparently this happens every year in the Beaver Creek Maintenance Area and there were crews throughout this entire area rebuilding entire sections of road bed. 
     Shortly after leaving the town of Beaver Creek you pass by the Canadian Customs Checkpoint.  However, the U.S. Checkpoint into Alaska is still 18 km further up the road…..on gravel road that is being rebuilt.  About 2 miles from the border they had just brined the road to keep the dust down so I arrived in Alaska with a completely muddied truck and RV.  Notice the hard working Yukon Road Crews at the border.
     We are currently camped in the village of Tok, AK.  We arrived here to await a scheduled ‘mail forwarding package’ from home.  Amazingly, it arrived when we did so we have a day off and then on the road again.  I must admit it is nice to be back in the land of U.S. $, standard measurement, and cell phone service.  I gassed up at the border; $4.57/gal never looked so good!  I worked up some Chef Salads for dinner last evening to be followed in the next couple of days with Ham & Bean Soup, Whitefish Bruschetta, Fish Tacos, and Pork Stir Fry.    
Fast Eddy's 
     I have yet to do a restaurant review on this trip and today was as good an opportunity as any.  There are only 3 restaurants in Tok, AK so I went with the unanimous recommendation of everyone I talked to when taking Barb out to lunch:  Fast Eddy’s!  It is located on the east end of town right on the Alaska Highway and draws a lot of attention. 
     Although they are famous for their pizza a look at the menu told me I had my choice between pizza, burgers, sandwiches, the soup and salad bar, or a myriad of appetizers. I am always a bit shy about ordering a $12 hamburger even though it came with pickles and your choice of fries, or onion rings.  Barb decided on the 'Incredible Burger' with Curly Fries while I went with the 'California Burger' and Onion Rings. 
     I was fairly impressed when the food arrived.  The California Burger is 93% tasty, lean beef served on a sourdough hoagie roll topped with homemade Blue Cheese dressing, a huge slice of avocado, tomato, and a pile of sprouts.  There were only 5 onion rings, but they were the huge, beer battered type.  This sandwich comes with a steak knife so you can cut it in into halves. 

     The burger was delicious, but I could only finish off about 3 onion rings.  Barb enjoyed hers as well, but opted for the complimentary ‘to go’ box for later (which is code for “Dharma, look what mommy brought you!”)  Alaska does have a higher cost of living and as such lunch was just under $30, but after a hard morning of shopping and sightseeing, I figure Barb was worth it.    
      Since our departure from Seattle we have used 204 gallons of diesel with a low price of $3.89 (Sumas, WA) and a high price of $7.20 (Muncho Lake, B.C.)  We spent a total of $ 1155.83 on fuel, averaging 11.58 mpg.  This is still a 29% improvement over the 9 mpg I averaged with our previous gas truck.  The truck is running beautifully and there have been no maintenance issues during this leg of the trip. 
     Next up for us:  Boondocking in the St. Elias Range and Valdez, AK as we do some glacier photography and tour the village and the end of the Alaskan Pipeline. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Alaska Highway.....Bears, Gas Prices, and Water Weight

     Dawson Creek, B.C. marks mile 0, the beginning of the Alaska Highway.  From there it winds North and West to the top of the province into the Yukon Territory and finally up into Alaska.  It is 1229 miles from Dawson Creek to the Alaskan border.  My first impression of this leg of our journey has been "Is British Columbia big or what?"  We are currently in Whitehorse, Yukon Territories which is 918 miles up the Alaska Highway, about 1870 miles north of mom's house in Washington state and somewhere around 4270 miles since our departure from Michigan!  Thank goodness Captain Daddy and Lt. Commander-Navigator Dharma were on the job to keep lookout! 

     The days have been long during this leg of our adventure, mostly due to the many mountain passes and numerous wildlife one negotiates.  What we have seen of the scenery has been spectacular, but sometimes hidden by the low clouds and intermittent rainy days. 
     To date we have seen about (16) black bears, (12) caribou, 2 moose, and several dozen bison.  Barb and I have spent many an hour going through our photos each night, archiving the ones we want to save.  So far I have gotten no decent shots of moose.  We stopped our first night in Fort Nelson as we needed to pick up a few groceries and some gas; deciding to just call it day at the Triple G RV Park.  It was a very nice campground with full services, cafĂ©, and WiFi for $40.  Dinner by the Mad Chef was an interesting Smoked ham, asparagus, cheese, tomato, and chive frittata. 
     Our next day was MUCH shorter as we planned to only travel about 60 miles to the Tetsa River area.  It was here I made an error in logistical judgment.  I only carry about 1/3 tank of water in the RV when traveling so we can have flush water when we're pulled over if needed.  Since we were only traveling a short distance and knew we would boondock I decided to fill up the water tank prior to departure.   Steamboat Pass came next and the truck did not in the least appreciate the extra towing weight.  I did not notice that the engine temp had risen, but the gauges began to act very twitchy as we overheated.  I pulled over near the top and immediately discovered the problem.  Once I returned the nearly 30 gallons to Mother Nature and let the engine cool down we were once again on our way without incident;  lesson learned.  We boondocked at Tetsa River near the river.  We hoped to be able to get in some serious wildlife photography and it paid off.  We got some very good shots of black bears that frolicked near the river and I was able to hang in the brush long enough to get a very good close up of one. 

     I topped off our evening with a campfire and some Blackberry Glazed Venison Steaks with Spaetzle and Green Beans.  It is worth noting that the following morning we stopped 20 miles down the road at the Tetsa River Services RV Park and Diner and had the most amazing hot buttered cinnamon buns for breakfast (referred to as the Cinnamon Bun Center of the Galactic Cluster) with free hot coffee which made my travel mug very happy upon departure. 

     Our third day was a long drive to Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory.  When the clouds cooperated there was spectacular scenery, especially around Summit Pass and Muncho Lake before leveling off into many miles of forested wilderness arriving once again in civilization.  The lakes at this elevation are still very frozen.  The area is famous for a healthy population of Stone Sheep, but none were to be seen this trip....maybe on the way home?  It was here, however, that we paid a whopping $7.65 for diesel as we were in a remote area.  I should have gassed up either before or after; lesson learned.  Travel through this area is very much up and down, round and round.  Not much opportunity for cruise control here. 

     Watson Lake is the first town encountered in The Yukon Territory.  Relatively small, but we did get some dinner, gas up, and stay at the Downtown RV Park.  They really pack 'em in here, but you get full services, including cable TV and gas discount tickets for $40.  It is also the home of the Famous Sign Post Forest.  This odyssey is a Yukon Historic Monument and has over 75,000 signs from around the world.  Unfortunately, I was unable to procure a Kalkaska Village sign before our departure.  We treated ourselves this evening, dining out at one of the 3 small diners in the village. 
        Our fourth day and 280 more miles put us enroute to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory.  Today's drive was much nicer with cool, yet clear weather.  We crossed the Canadian Rockies Continental Divide spending the day surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges.  This was by far our favorite day of the trip as each turn or rise in the road yielded another beautiful vista!

     My chair in the new truck does have a lumbar control, but no matter because I end up using what I like to call an off-road chiropractor.  10 minutes on a picnic table and I'm a new man ready to take on another couple of hundred miles!

     The population of Whitehorse, YT is approximately 22,000 which is significant because it encompasses about 70% of the population of the entire province.  We boondocked the first night at the WalMart which is very much a popular destination for travelers.  There were 24 RVs in the lot the night we stayed there, but with our extra day's plans desired a shower and a dump station so we sprung the $ our 2nd night at Pioneer RV Park south of town.  Very nice separate, wooded sights on the upper level with full hookups, cable TV, WiFi, laundry that takes quarters or loonies, car/truck/RV/pet wash bays, and even a maintenance shop where you can get minor repairs done, change your own oil or have it done for you. Price for one night...$30.....reasonable.  They also gave us 4 cents off a liter for diesel at 142.9. Considering where it is located, Whitehorse, YT is a fairly cosmopolitan city.  The area is centered around the Yukon River and is loaded with parks, bike & running trails, skate parks, and a dog park. 
     The highlight is the old paddlewheeler "Klondike" on display at the river park.  The downtown area has many eclectic small shops, diners, and cafes as well as larger scale fine dining.  Of course there is always McDonalds, A & W, KFC, and other fast food places.  We were there on a Sunday and not able to visit the Farmers Market or several of the local Inuit and Tlingit Museums and Art Galleries.  We did collect enough groceries to help me reload my kitchen.  Tonight I made Oven Baked "Fried Chicken" with some fresh steamed carrots and sweet taters.
This was posted thanks to McDonalds WiFi  & Pioneer RV Park in Whitehorse, YT
TRIP NOTES:  It is very important to keep your gas tank topped off at all times.  It usually is a long ways between civilization, let alone gas stations. Sometimes you pay the price. (Reference my Muncho Lake fillup above) I found later I was not the only one who made this mistake. I tried to never get below a half tank.  Also to our surprise we discovered that well over half of the other travelers we have met are NOT on their first trip to Alaska.  Most everyone traveling this highway utilizes The Milepost Travel Guide, published yearly by the Alaskan Highway.  It should be noted that each advertisement within this publication is purchased a full year in advance and it is NOT UNCOMMON to find some of these businesses have closed when we traveled through. 

     Planning ahead, paying attention to road signs, and having an alternate plan is crucial.  The roads thus far have ranged from decent to very good, but I hear of stretches coming up from Whitehorse to the border that will challenge the definition. I had my truck oil changed before we left Michigan, but noticed today that my display now reads 29% oil life left.  Going to look into that about Anchorage.  304 miles to the border!


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Crossing Borders: Hope to Williams Lake to Prince George to Dawson Creek,,,

     We made our border crossing into Canada at the less busy Port of Sumas, WA. about 20 miles east of the much busier I-5 Vancouver Port.  We decided to take advantage of the much lower U.S. prices and topped our gas tank off  ($3.83) before crossing as well…….us and about another hundred Canadians who had crossed the border to do the very same thing.  In return we received the ‘Royal Treatment’ at customs.  After being asked some 10 odd questions we were directed to park in the waiting area and report inside with our passports and USDA Certifications for our pets.  We chatted with another nice officer who then directed us outside to produce our pets as well as surrender our keys to the truck/RV for further inspection.  They went through each vehicle thoroughly, thanked us for our time/patience, and we were once again on our way in about 45 minutes.  I accidently knocked over several of their plastic parking poles as I left, but didn’t spend much time looking in the mirror for a reaction. 

     We spent our first night in a Provincial Park north of Hope, B.C. filming site of the original movie “Rambo”.  Canadian Provincial Parks are the equivalent of our state parks that feature nice level sites, numerous water spigots, vault style toilets, and sometimes showers or an RV dump site.  Prices ran $16/night or $23 with a generous bundle of firewood.  We ran our generator for power.  We spent a lovely evening next to Emory Creek at its confluence with the Fraser River.  The campground does lay across the river from the main tracks of the BC Railroad and trains went through nearly every hour throughout the night.  The first two days driving follow the Fraser River northbound within the walls of its mighty canyon.  There is some pretty spectacular scenery here as you wind your way through the Canadian Cascade Mountains.  This road can most accurately be described as up and down, round and round. 
     Our second night was spent boondocking in a Wal Mart parking lot in Williams Lake, B.C.  On the advice of a very nice lady in Customer Service we picked a spot over at the edge of the Garden Center and since this was not a 24 hour Wal Mart we slept very well.  We visited the Wal Mart McDonalds the next morning for a very tasty breakfast biscuit and filled my travel mug with coffee (for which there was no charge).  An interesting note:  McDonalds here also offered pizza or lasagna for lunch or dinner. 

     We woke the next morning to steady rain and our drive helped remove the cavalcade of bugs the truck/RV had collected thus far.  About the time we passed Prince George however, the sun broke out and I was able to display even more evidence of the mass murder of about another 1,000 or so various mosquitos, gnats, and other inheritors of the earth on the front of my mobile covered wagon.  I did see a young black bear on the side of the road just north of Quesnel, but Barb missed out as she was engrossed in her latest Kindle adventure novel.  We spent the night of Day #3 at the Crooked River Provincial Park about 40 miles north of Prince George.  Although we never saw any, there was plenty of moose scat and other sign around the camping areas. 

     Day #4 marked our last leg of the West Access Route as we traveled to Dawson Creek, B.C., Mile 0 of the Alaskan Highway.  The road takes a very scenic tour through the beginning of the Canadian Rockies with some spectacular scenery, especially around Pine Pass and Bijoux Falls.    This was also a “4 Bear Day” although we were never able to pull over fast or safe enough to get pictures.  Nearing Dawson Creek you enter the town of Chetwynd, B.C., home of some of the most remarkable chain saw art ever created.  There are a dozen or so near the Visitor Center with 146 more spread throughout the village. 


     Dawson Creek B.C. is the official beginning of the Alaska Highway.  Here is where “Mile 0” is marked with a monument in the middle of town.  There is also an arch gateway on the way out of town to mark your beginning.  We will camp in Dawson Creek for the next 3-4 days as we restock, recharge, and relax before heading North on the Alaskan Highway……1222 miles to the border. 

This post compliments of WiFi from Mile 0 Campground at Dawson Creek, B.C.

 SOME TRAVEL NOTES:  We exchanged some money for Canadian $ at a bank in Washington prior to our departure, but did not receive a very good exchange rate ($1 U.S. = $1.03 Canadian) due to our NOT being one of their customers.  The going rate is $1 = $1.08 U.S. to Canadian.  ATMs did accept our ATM card in Canada with the $1 = $1.03 exchange rate.  We notified our bank prior to departure from Michigan that we would be traveling so we purchased our diesel in Canada via our debit card.  Unlike the U.S. there is NO discount for cash vs. credit in Canada for gas.  Of course they will take U.S. dollars everywhere, but on a $1 for $1 basis.  We used our ‘Canuck Bucks’ for camping fees, groceries, souvenirs, etc.  On this leg we averaged 11.7 mpg towing on some fairly steady up and down terrain.  Gas is sold in liters here so it takes some conversion to determine cost, but we paid between $5.15 and $5.66 a gallon for diesel.  Beer and liquor are sold in separate stores in Canada.  Suffice it to say that alcohol is MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE in B.C.  Those who know me know I LOVE to cook even when camping.  We kept out tastes and menu pretty simple so far, but the best meal by far has been a box of Betty Crocker Philly Cheese Steak Hamburger Helper to which I substituted venison burger.  I added a side salad and it was as good as any 4 STAR meal I have ever had.  Lastly, I have to give credit to my wife Barbara for many of these photographs as she is learning the art of digital photography and is doing very well in spite of her teacher. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014


     The first two weeks of our adventure have been just that.  Traveling the northern route from Michigan to Washington during April results in many surprises not normally seen in summer.  We had to detour around a major spring snowstorm in Minnesota north nearly to Saskatchewan and ended up finally in Grand Forks, ND.   This put us a day behind.  We stayed in a surprisingly still closed campground in Ironwood, MI hooked up to the owners garage power, but our slider was too frozen to open.  We stayed at a truck stop in Grand Forks, ND parked in the back and ran off our generator power, but used their showers (nice and hot).  We stayed at two commercial RV camps (Glendive, MT & Post Falls, ID), a very nice US Air Force FamCamp in Great Falls, MT, and one night at a Cabelas.  FYI Cabelas will let you park in their lot for free which has horse corrals, dog kennels, water, and a dump station as well.   We de-winterized the RV in Glendive, MT.  We also used a commercial semi-truck wash in Fargo, ND to get all the last snow and salt off our rig.  We did experience several RV maintenance issues that have since been taken care of.  Better now than on the Alcan! 
     Time enroute to Washington was 10 days and our rig averaged 11.4 mpg.  We had one incredible tank on the plains of North Dakota where we averaged 15.5 mpg!  We traveled over 2500 miles using 231 gallons of diesel costing $903 which was higher than I estimated, but on this trip what won't be?  A trip here 3 years ago with our gas truck cost us $1250.  Diesel averaged $3.90/gal with a low of $3.81 in Superior, WI and a high of $4.45 in Lewistown, MT.  We also emptied both propane tanks in 10 days due to the early yet still cold weather and running the heater every night.  We bought new RV tires on our arrival, but this was a planned expense. 
     Barb was able to once again satisfy her craving for Yogo Sapphires with the purchase of an anniversary ring in Great Falls.  For those curious, Yogo Sapphires are the only naturally blue sapphires in the world and highly prized.  Nearly all other sapphires are heat treated to obtain the blue color.  

     We're here now at Mom's house in Tumwater, WA. relaxing and catching up on the RV maintenance and yearly polish and treatment stuff.  Mom has been the beneficiary of several of my creations including Venison Steaks, Chicken Cordon Bleu,  Broccoli Cheddar Stuffed Meatloaf, Chicken Pontalba, Crawfish Etouffe, Cranberry Chicken, Venison Stroganoff Topped Potatoes, and Teriyaki Bacon Wrapped Whitefish.  She hasn't complained yet.  My sister and her husband came up from Salem, OR for a few days.  Good to see them again.  We also enjoyed two nice days in the mid 80s during our visit.......I had a hard time remembering what warmth was.
     We enjoyed dinner one night with 3 other couples from high school where we devoured some delicious burgers, clam chowder, and home brew while talking about old times and far too many embarrassing episodes.   The highlight of this stop for Barb might have been her first experience at clam digging.  It was windy, cold. and rainy, but she had a blast and we dug 2 limits of clams (30) in just over an hour! 

     I am going to 'boondock' a few days here as well as I double check the solar panels and battery bank before our departure.  We depart here May 15th on our way North as the journey continues....