Friday, August 26, 2016

What’s Next?

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You may recall a post we made last February where we laid out our plans for 2016. At that time we were still months away from the start of our Alaska trip. In that post I wrote about how RVers like to say plans are made in Jell-O. Yeah, so, there's a reason for that. Let me bring you up-to-date on our wiggly, jiggly travel plans.

In early April, we arrived at Carrier RV Service in Eugene for a day or so of maintenance on Scoopy. Tom, the owner, also did a "We're Going To Alaska" inspection to make sure all systems were a go for our big adventure. It was during that inspection that he discovered a big problem with our back slide. We've had issues with it since our late-December stay in Tucson, but we had no idea it was barely hanging on and needed some serious attention. Still, with a little duct tape here and there, Tom thought we'd be okay on our trip to Alaska, but advised we get it fixed as soon as possible upon our return.

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Scoopy during her service at Carrier back in April 2016.

So that's where we're headed. Eugene. Not, according to our original plans, to the Teton Valley. Sad! Tom needs a week for the slide repair, so we are moving out of Scoopy while the guys at Carrier remove and overhaul her back slide. (Srsly, couldn't we all use a little work back there?)

There is no worse feeling than being completely displaced from your home while it is being repaired. That said, we do get to spend the time with dear friends. We'll say goodbye to Scoopy and head north to Portland and spend a few days with Glenn and Kris before we drive even further northward to Whidbey Island to stay with our friends Dan and Sherrie. Honestly, we are so blessed and grateful to have these people in our lives. And funny, we've seen more of them since we have been fulltiming than we did before! They can't get rid of us!

Another thing we weren't expecting prior to going to Alaska was my trip to the ER in Bellingham. Though peace of mind is "priceless", somehow the hospital and doctors managed to put a hefty price on it anyway. Between the upcoming expensive slide fix and the spendy ER trip, our Alaska budget was blown before we even took off! But you know what they say, "Alaska is a once in a lifetime trip!" And it is, so after lots of consideration we figured out a way to make it work and went to Alaska in spite of the busted budget! (We will write a blog about our Alaska expenses in the not too distant future, btw, so future travelers can get an idea of the expenses of an Alaska trip.)

Also in our 2016 plans was a trip to Ireland and Norway in November/December. Clearly, something had to give, so we reluctantly postponed our Europe trip until we could replenish our travel fund.

There are loads of ways RVers make money to support their travel habit. Our friends Clarke and Elaine have tackled some interesting jobs during their years on the road, so we took a page from their playbook and applied to work at Amazon during Peak Season, otherwise known as CamperForce. I know, sounds exciting, right?

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In four of their fulfillment warehouses around the country, Amazon hires thousands of RVers to work the busy holiday season, starting as early as August for some, through the must-anticipated dismissal date of December 23rd. We applied to the warehouse in Hazlet, TX, which would have been perfect, as it was only 180 miles from my parent's ranch! OMG, how awesome! But Hazlet was fully staffed by the time we applied. So we moved our application to Campbellsville, Kentucky. HIRED! OMG, we're going to Kentucky!! Our start date is October 15, which means we'll be working 10 weeks before we head back to the ranch in Texas.

It's hard work. Not mentally hard work, but physically. We will be on our feet walking miles and miles for four 10-hour days per week. When things get busy, there is mandatory overtime, usually an additional 10-hour day. Then, there is Voluntary Overtime, which is yet another 10-hour day. I'm not sure we're up to working a 60-hour work week, no matter how good the pay, but we'll probably try to do it at least once. In addition, Amazon pays for our campsite. Pretty sweet deal, right? In any case, the end result should be a fairly significant boost to our travel fund. YAY! I hope it all works out as planned, because in anticipation of that budget boost, we booked our tickets to Ireland for January 25-February 25, 2017! We ditched Norway to stay longer in Ireland and I am looking forward to seeing Steven's family - it's been a long time.

As soon as Scoopy is ready, we will head out to the Teton Valley. We won't get to spend as much time there as we wanted, but at least we will get there. On October 1st, we will begin our trek to Campbellsville in anticipation of our start at Amazon. Once released by December 23rd, we will make a beeline back to the ranch in west Texas, where my family and one or more of our kids will be waiting to celebrate Christmas.

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Eugene to Campbellsville to Live Oak Ranch.

Then, we chill for an entire month before taking off to Europe. Upon our return, the travels begin anew. Keeping in mind the whole Jell-O thing, 2017 should find us heading east. Clarke and Elaine will be waiting for us in Florida, and maybe Michael and Lizzy will be there, too. Together we will meander up the east coast and see what trouble we can get into. We are soooooo looking forward to our travels, even if the route changes again and again. We love this life!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Detour from the Cassiar to Stewart/Hyder

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When we left our boondocking spot at Lower Gnat lake, we were headed for the Meziadin Lake Provincial Park. This, we thought, would be our return trip-equivalent of Muncho Lake, where we spent four beautiful days on our trip north in May. It was a place we could slow down, rest and enjoy the gorgeous views. Lake Meziadin would also be our basecamp for visiting Bear Glacier, Stewart, Hyder and the Salmon Glacier.

But as we drove ever closer, I began to have second thoughts. We had anticipated multiple trips into Stewart/Hyder, but after three long days of driving, the reality of a 120 km round-trip drive each time started to set in and it didn't sound at all relaxing! When I mentioned to Steven that I thought we would enjoy the area more if we were staying closer, he agreed! That's when I mentioned how great it would be to have FHUs. (You're on to my game now, right?) We'd been boondocking for quite a few days and I was more than ready. And he agreed! Yipee!

But then we did a little research. Sure, having full hook-ups close to all the sites is a fantastic idea, until you consider the price for what you actually get. Ugh. I've mentioned before how averse we've become to paying exorbitant prices for camping spots. The more we boondock, the less inclined we are to fork over the money for something mediocre. And that's pretty much what we found in Stewart and Hyder.

Plan B was a Stewart city park, the Rainey Creek Campground. It was reasonably priced, but it offered only electric. No water, no sewer. The other issue with this little place is that it is located in a primordial forest, right in town! So while it was a great location for sightseeing in Stewart & Hyder, nothing depresses me more than being in a campground so dark and damp that I need lights on in the daytime. Double ugh.

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Our primordial campsite at Rainey Creek. It was fairly sketchy getting in there, too.

Sometimes you just have to give in and let go and that's what I did. I found what I thought was the sunniest spot in all of Rainey Creek Campground and by sunny I mean dark and depressing. But never mind that, we had glaciers and bears and a ton of quirky stuff to see. Then we had two days of rain. Have y'all ever seen the movie Insomnia with Al Pacino? It was partially filmed in Stewart/Hyder and Pacino's character went crazy here. So, yeah.

In spite of all that, we really did enjoy visiting the area. The drive from the Cassiar Highway to the small communities of Stewart, B.C and Hyder, AK is among the prettiest we'd seen all summer. The scenery is reminiscent of that on the way from Glennallen to Valdez, towering, lush mountains with multiple waterfalls spilling hundreds of feet over the edge. And then we saw Bear Glacier. Wow!

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Bear Glacier, the first of the epic views on Highway 37A to Stewart.

From all that I had read about Stewart and Hyder, they were described as dying little communities. I totally disagree. We rolled into Stewart to find well cared-for homes with lush, green lawns, beautiful flowers, clean streets, friendly folks and all the amenities one might need while visiting. Hyder is a little more on the dilapidated side, but their population has grown to include enough kids that the high school reopened. Prior to this, the kids went to school in Stewart.

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Early morning fog in Stewart.

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Downtown Stewart

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Did we mention that Hyder has a distinctly Twin Peaks vibe?

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The border crossing between Hyder (the friendliest ghost town in Alaska) and Stewart, BC.

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Hyder’s post office! How cute is this place?

It's an odd arrangement with these two towns, one being in Canada, the other in Alaska. There is no border check going into Alaska (Hyder), but passports are required to re-enter Canada (Stewart). Recently, The New York Times wrote a fun article about these two communities and it is well-worth a read.

Aside from the general quirkiness of the two communities, most people come here for two reasons: bears and glaciers. More specifically, Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site and the Salmon Glacier. I think people come to Fish Creek expecting to see the quintessential Alaskan scene with bears standing their ground in the middle of the rushing creek, swiping at the feisty salmon as they make their way upstream to spawn. No, this isn't like that. You're likely to see a bear if you have loads of patience and are prepared to sit around at the crack of dawn or late evening and wait, maybe for hours. Personally, I think it's the same three or four bears that show up on occasion, as the regulars out on the boardwalk have names for them all. For my money, you have a better chance of seeing a bear while driving there than at the site. That said, if you've never seen a creek full of spawning, dead and dying salmon, it's worth the trip just to see that spectacle.

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Watching for bears early one morning (spoiler: we didn’t see any).

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When there are no bears to be seen, there’s always a beautiful landscape…(as seen from the creek).

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More morning gorgeousness at Fish Creek…

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Dead and dying salmon along Fish Creek.

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Although relatively consistent, actual bear sightings require a big commitment and lots of patience.

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Rules are pretty strict about staying within fenced-off areas for obvious reasons.

And you might as well stop there, because it's on the way to the Salmon Glacier, which is quite frankly the most spectacular glacier we saw during our entire trip. It is one of the few glaciers you can drive right up to, get out of your car and see it spread out before you in all it's magnificent glory. Simply stunning!

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The first day we attempted to see Salmon Glacier was a no-go. We had zero visibility.

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Even though we didn’t get to see the glacier on that day, the scenery was beautiful, nonetheless.

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Steven went on a solo visit to the glacier on the first clear day.

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We both went on the last day to get our new banner shot. Here we are waiting for the rising sun to light us up!

There is one more "must-do" stop in Hyder and that is The Bus, a fabulous little eatery run by Diana and her family. We sat outside with a couple from Germany and enjoyed their company and a glass of wine while waiting for our halibut fish & chips. If you've come this far and have somehow not managed to fill your freezer with freshly caught halibut, Diana sells what her husband catches (and that she doesn't use at The Bus) filleted, cryo-packed and frozen for a mere $18 per pound (as of this writing). That, my friends, is a hell of a deal!

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The Bus in Hyder. Well worth a visit!

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We had a fun time chatting with Diana, the owner.

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The food was delicious!

We spent four days in Stewart/Hyder waiting out the rain so we could see the Salmon Glacier. But if the weather is cooperating, I'd say you can do it all in three. So even though I really did enjoy myself, when Departure Day rolled around I was more than ready to hit the road!

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Nanaimo bars, Linda’s favorite! We found a pretty good batch at the local grocery store in Stewart.

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We must’ve dragged in some little biting gnats while at Rainey Creek. Linda got over 60 bites!

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We thought we would avoid any damage to our rig but not so. Just outside Prince George a little red corvette flew by us and kicked up a rock. We thought it would be an easy fix, but sadly, it is not even fixable. Drat!

We knew at this point our inner lemmings had taken over, that is, go until we fall off a cliff or reach Bellingham, whichever comes first. While plans called for a slow meander back to the border, we knew in our hearts we were about to make a beeline for Washington, and that's exactly what we did. After a quick overnight in the Safeway parking lot in Smithers, and another at the Williams Lake Visitor's Center, we crossed back into the U.S. with no problems and enjoyed dinner with Zac that evening in Bellingham. It was great to be home!

NEXT UP: Fall plans!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Cassiar Highway

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The title of this post is somewhat misleading. Rolling out of Dawson City, we still had many miles to cover before we would reach the Cassiar Highway, 601 miles to be exact. Our plan was to do one overnight on the way to Whitehorse and then spend a couple of days exploring there before moving on to the Cassiar. It didn't work out that way at all, to our surprise.

As we drove south, the small communities where we had considered overnighting just weren't all that appealing. We kept going until we finally reached a small Yukon Government campground at Twin Lakes, a couple of hours north of Whitehorse and seemingly out in the boonies. What a great little place! It has a total of 19 spaces, a few of which have views of the lake. Those spots were taken when we arrived, so we took a nice long and level spot facing the opposite direction. We had no neighbors and it was so peaceful, we decided to stay for two nights. The next morning everyone left and we could have moved to a lakefront spot, but we were happy where we were so we stayed put.

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Two views of our little hideaway at Twin Lakes Campground.

After two days in the boonies, we arrived at Walmart in Whitehorse to find a chaotic parking lot that was nearly impossible to navigate. We got in okay, but several times trucks or RVs would park in such a way that we would get blocked in. I had read about how busy it was, but I guess it just didn't register. The energy of the place was not very enjoyable, so we decided to get our stuff done and get out while we still could! We were there fairly early in the day, so I can only imagine that, as the day wore on, it would only get busier. We spent the next couple of hours grocery shopping (at the Canadian Superstore just a few of blocks away, which is awesome!) and running some errands, then came back home to Scoopy in the Walmart parking lot, ate lunch, took showers and bugged out!

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Eh, no thanks. The busy Walmart parking lot was not an option to stay overnight.

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Speaking of Walmart… I swear the GPS said “Turn Right!!!” Ooops!

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We saw a group of people on a bridge with cameras and discovered this Caribou was causing all the fuss!

A couple of hours later we were set up in yet another Yukon Government campground just outside Teslin. You cannot beat Yukon Government campgrounds. They are so well-kept and clean, offer free firewood and cost a whopping $12 CAN ($9.60 US) per night. There are no hookups, of course, but there is usually a beautiful lake or river nearby, so they offer great views. Most do have water you can pump by hand, but you are advised to boil it before use. We didn't avail of the water, but it's there if you need it. All in all, we have stayed at four of these campgrounds and enjoyed every single one!

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Campsite at Teslin Lake Campground. Teslin Lake is just through those trees.

The next morning we drove the final leg of the Alaska Highway to the turnoff where the Cassiar Highway begins, just outside Watson Lake. Within minutes, we were back in British Columbia! Goodbye, Yukon!

We had a long day of driving about 335 miles in nine hours. I guess we could have stopped sooner, but honestly, there wasn't much to stop for, or much to see. It was raining at times and while there were some terrific sections of highway (and I use that term VERY loosely), there were also several long sections of gravel breaks and construction. It was tedious and not a very enjoyable day of driving overall.

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Despite the inconsistency of the Cassiar Highway, it still had much to offer in the way of natural beauty.

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Hints of fall colors.

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This stretch of the highway was newly resurfaced due to two fairly recent fires and smooth as butter.

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We had to deal with a couple of waits in construction zones. Those electrical towers stretch nearly the whole way.

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Here’s the thing, you just get a nice speed going and, all of a sudden, you gotta slow down again…Argh!

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More beautiful colors along the drive!

When we did finally stop for the night, we chose one of the more gorgeous places we've ever stayed, a pullout overlooking the Lower Gnat Lake. Wow, it was so pretty! But (you knew that was coming, right?) the pullout was next to the highway, right on a curve and it was tiny. We were facing opposing traffic, and when they came toward us, it looked like they were going to drive right into our living room! But that view . . . we stuck it out for the view. I actually slept pretty well, but Steven, not so much. We were up and back on the road at 7:30 the next morning.

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Our fabulous boondocking stop at Lower Gnat Lake on the Cassiar Highway.

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Poor Toadie Hopper got an involuntary mud bath! She’s wearing her yoga mats over her windshield!

It was a three-black bear day! I love British Columbia. It is such a gorgeous place, and when it comes to black bears, it reigns supreme. I don't think we even saw a bear in the Yukon, and only saw one in all of Alaska (with the exception of Denali NP). But in BC, we've seen 15! If you want to see bears, come to British Columbia, they are right on the roads practically waving at you!

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BC Black bears!!

We still have a bit of the Cassiar to go, but I have to be honest and tell you, I am not impressed. I supposed as a "Bucket List" item it's good to get it checked off but, if not for visiting Stewart/Hyder and all the offerings there, I can't see any reason why we would take this route again. For me, the Cassiar has much less to offer than the Alaska Highway and the road certainly not a better one. And, while it may be a shorter route, it isn't a quicker one. Fuel is also less available and more expensive than on the Alcan. So, yeah. It has been my least favorite part of our otherwise epic trip.

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Bear Glacier - a sneak peak at some of the amazing landscape in Stewart and Hyder.

NEXT UP: Steward/Hyder - Back to Alaska!