Saturday, October 15, 2016

Repositioning - Eugene to Teton Valley

Now, where did I leave off prior to posting our two Alaska recaps? Oh, yes. Our route from Eugene to the Teton Valley and the five - count 'em - five Elk Lodges we settled into over just three days.

In an effort to avoid Bend and the mind-numbing drive across Oregon on Highway 20, at Sisters we diverted to Highway 26 to Prineville and the first of our Elks Lodge stays. This route is somewhat north of 20, but the drive might as well be on a different planet. At least, it seemed so to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive into Prineville, home of Les Schwab Tires.

The word in my mind while descending into Prineville was "oasis". It was beautifully green, blooming and manicured. Prineville is the epitome of small town America with the Elks lodge located just a couple of blocks from downtown. We headed that way and parked in one of the designated spots. Because we didn't use the electric outlet provided, the bartender told us "no charge". How awesome is that?

Our “campground” at the Prineville Elks Lodge.

Morning lattes at the Hub Coffee Shop, owned by Kara, the sister of our Portland friend Chris.

After a coffee run the next morning we continued our drive on Highway 26 toward John Day. Our intent was to visit the Painted Hills, but things didn't quite work out that way. As we were driving, I asked Steven if he was sure the Painted Hills were near John Day, the actual town, and he assured me they were. He was wrong. By the time we had set up at the Elks Lodge in town, Steven sat down to map our outing only to find out that we had passed the Painted Hills 32 miles earlier and the better place to stop would have been Dayville, which we had driven through about 40 minutes prior.

I don't like to backtrack and Steven mostly doesn't like to photograph landscapes at high noon on a cloudless day, so we were in agreement that we'd just close up and head on down the road to the Caldwell, ID Elks Lodge, number three in a 24-hour period. The Painted Hills would have to wait for another trip, hopefully with better planning and a few more clouds in the sky.

We spent an uneventful night in Caldwell and hit the road early the next morning. Our destination was the Elks Lodge in Pocatello. Just as in Prineville, the lodge was located in the downtown area, but instead of cute, small-town USA, we got busy, loud, kind-of-trashy downtown right-next-to-the-railroad USA. We nonetheless got ourselves squeezed into the parking lot right next to the highway and after an uneasy hour or so, decided this was not the place for us.


The non-scenic view during our very brief visit to the Pocatello Elks Lodge.

We once again packed up and headed out toward Idaho Falls, where the Elks Lodge looked to be in a more suburban setting. We did not get very far. The first turn I made to get from downtown to I-15 landed us squarely in front of a tunnel with a clearance of 12' 2". Uh, oh.

12’ 2”, otherwise known as an RV can-opener.

Waiting for the POPO to arrive.

I don't know about you, but I've been expecting this. At some point in our travels, it was bound to happen. Given that we were already tired and a bit rattled, I'm surprised we handled it as well as we did. Steven unhooked Toadie and moved her out of the way while I called 911 to explain our situation and request assistance. Before long Pocatello's finest showed up and held traffic as I reversed and turned away from the tunnel.

At this point, we decided to just drive separately to Idaho Falls. I jokingly said to Steven, "if I pull over it's because the front door has swung open!" I was doing probably 60-65 on I-15 when the door did just that! I couldn't believe it! It has NEVER happened before! Thankfully, nothing flew out and the force of traveling kept the door somewhat under control, as it didn't swing completely open until I had slowed significantly and was coming to a stop.

IMG_3197   IMG_7621
Let’s drive separately, we said. It’ll be an easy trip, we said. And then the door swung open.

Needless to say, after we rolled into the Elks Lodge in Idaho Falls, our fifth one in three days, we enjoyed a well-deserved Happy Hour!

Once again we did a quick overnight and the next morning drove to our destination in the Teton Valley. We have been coming here for more than a decade, ever since we decided to purchase property in the area. There is a great campground in Tetonia, which we have stayed in several times over the years. Unfortunately, this year they raised their rates to over $65 a day and we said "no thanks!" 

We did some investigating and found The Big Eddy, a free boondocking place with public-access to the Teton River. It was just a few miles from our property, so we thought this would be perfect! What we didn't know was the best route to get there. We decided to just follow our non-RV GPS, which took us down five miles of dusty, washboard dirt roads. We got there, but only after shaking so hard the electric shade above my head fell right into my lap! Over the next few days we would search out a less hazardous route, but there was no getting around the deep craters in the road at the campground.

The light and colors in the Teton Valley are always breathtaking.

The road leading down to our campsite at the Big Eddy.

Sandhill cranes greeted us as we arrived at the Big Eddy.

tetonia 1
The four peaks of the Teton mountain range revealed themselves on the first evening of our arrival.

NEXT UP: Our Beloved Teton Valley, Henry's Lake & Yellowstone

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Alaska Recap, Part II – The Nitty-Gritty Details

As the title states, this is Part II of our Alaska wrap-up. Part I summarizes our expenses. Steven helped with this post and his thoughts are indicated with a (S).


We crossed the border at Sumas, WA on May 4th and had lovely weather for most of our trip. Others crossed two or three weeks later and experienced snow in Watson Creek, the start of the Alaska Highway, and rain in Alaska. I was actually surprised to hear others had seen so much rain while we were basking in sunshine in another part of the state, but Alaska is a huge place! By going north in early May, and choosing the route we did, we lucked out with the weather at nearly every stop we made. Overall, I'd say 80-85% of our time was at least partly sunny, many days were full sun and warm. In fact, we ran our air conditioners in Fairbanks and a couple of times on the Kenai as well!

While weather is always going to be a crapshoot, one of the best reasons we found for going north early in the season is to get ahead of the caravans and general "going to Alaska" traffic. We saw only two caravans our entire trip and they were already parked in a campground. We saw none on the road. We found most places, fuel stations, restaurants, campgrounds and the like, open for business. There were just a couple of touristy places not yet open, but they weren't on our "Must-See" list anyway. 

We were lucky enough to visit Denali on a clear and sunny day while at the park.


During our trip, we crossed into Canada six times and into Alaska/US six times. Half of those crossings each way were at the border in Stewart/Hyder, so they kind of don't count. That said, you still need your passport to get from Hyder back into Stewart and they will ask you a few questions.

Our first border crossing into Alaska was on our way to Haines. Again, not the main one, but still require your passport and a lot of answers to questions. Likewise returning to the Yukon to continue traveling to mainland Alaska.

The main crossings, the ones everybody freaks out about (us included) are from mainland USA into Canada and into mainland Alaska. We had no issues at the Canadian border at Sumas and after a few questions, we were waved through. We brought allowable amounts of alcohol, no firearms, no forbidden foods (as best we could figure...), basically nothing that would raise a red flag and get us pulled over and searched. We had all our documents in an easily accessible folder. We were confident going across.

We thought we had it nailed when we rolled up to the US Border in Alaska, but we were wrong. There, after inquiring about the contents of our fridge, the guard came aboard and took our tomatoes. He is the only one to ask to see our vehicle registrations, which we had in our handy-dandy folder. It was also here that our traveling companions had their firewood taken away.

Rules and restrictions can vary by border location and can change in an instant. It's always best to find out the very latest information for the crossing you plan to take.

The border crossing at Sumas. Entering the USA is a much longer wait than leaving.


Because we had no reservations, we were able to decide our route on a daily basis. Our intentions were to drive the Alaska Highway all the way to Tok before deciding whether to take AK Highway 1 to Anchorage or AK Highway 2 to Fairbanks. In 2015, visitors to Alaska had to contend with multiple fires and some moved on due to smoky conditions. We decided to leave our route flexible so that we could make adjustments based on realtime weather and fire conditions. That worked out really well for us, and fortunately, we encountered only one fire in British Columbia, which was under control by the time we passed by.

Our traveling companions, Bill & Kelly, wanted to visit Haines, which we thought was a great idea! Staying flexible allowed us the opportunity to detour from the Alaska Highway and spend five nights in Haines, which turned out to be one of our favorite stops in Alaska!

After reaching mainland Alaska and saying goodbye to Bill & Kelly in Glennallen, we had loads of time to mosey around before positioning ourselves to arrive in Denail, where we had reservations in mid-June. So we chose to head to Valdez and Chitina (to visit McCarthy and the Kinnecott mine) before heading north to Fairbanks on Alaska Highway 4. It's not a typical route, but it worked well for us. From Fairbanks, we went to Denail, Wasilla and then spent five weeks on the Kenai Peninsula, first in Seward on the east side, then Deep Creek and Kenai City on the west.

When we left Alaska, we did not want to retrace the route that we drove on our way in, so we chose to drive the Top of the World Highway to Dawson City, Yukon, via the quirky little town of Chicken, AK. From Dawson City we drove through the Yukon onto the Cassiar Highway which brought us back into British Columbia. This is a completely different route south until we reached Prince George, BC, after which we simply retraced our route back to Bellingham.

We met folks who traveled to Alaska via the Cassiar and returned on the Alaska Highway. Others drove to Dawson City and entered Alaska via the Top of the World Highway.  There are only a couple of ways in and out, but you can mix it up in a number of combinations. If we were to do it again, we would not drive the Cassiar Highway. We don't regret driving it once, but did not enjoy it enough to do it again.

Our route from Washington to Deep Creek on the Kenai Peninsula.

Our return route through Chicken, over the Top of the World Highway, the Cassiar Highway and back to Bellingham.


The roads in Canada are fine. Really, they are no different than driving in the US. Yes, there are a few bumps and dips, but for the most part all are well marked. Yes, there is construction and pilot cars, but nothing unlike what we've experience in the States.

Where this changes is the road from Destruction Bay in the Yukon to the Alaskan border. That stretch of road is under perpetual construction and the torn up chip seal, rock and dirt highway makes for a rough drive. We drove this portion separately so that Toadie Hopper would not get tons of rocks thrown on her from Scoopy. There's no way around the fact that it was a long, rocky and dusty day.

For all the research and reading we did before embarking on this trip, one thing that surprised me were the roads in Alaska. Some of the frequently traveled roads are fine, such as Parks Highway and the roads on the Kenai, but there are others that are just awful. The road from Tok to Glennallen, and Glennallen to Valdez were the worst we encountered. (I'm not including the road to McCarthy or the Top of the World Highway, as those nasty chip seal, dirt and gravel abominations are a part of the adventure. They suck, but are doable.)

There were also some great roads, like the newly paved road to the US Border from Haines Junction, YT and the first 20 miles of the highway to Chitina. Like buttah! Roads are constantly being worked on and therefore change year-to-year. The best advice we got is SLOW DOWN. We heeded that advice and drove most of Alaska at 35 MPH. Not kidding.

The road out of Glennallen towards Tok was one of the worst we encountered.


Should you carry spare tires? If you're driving a truck with a camper, fifth wheel or travel trailer, then yes, I'd take spare tires. We of course had a spare for Toadie, but it's not really feasible to carry a spare for a big rig like Scoopy. Even if we made room and had a spare on board, who's gonna change it? :) We took our chances and we were fine.

We bought two large yoga mats for Toadie's windshield and never used them until we drove the Top of the World Highway and through the Yukon. We also bought hardware cloth to try to cover Toadie's radiator and keep rocks from getting in there. We brought it home still in the packaging, and yes, loads of rocks got in under Toadie's hood.

We also purchased clear vinyl film to cover the headlights on both Scoopy and Toadie. We didn't suffer any cracks, so I guess it worked. We also applied this film to Scoopy's windshield as the cracks splintered and shattered their way from the lower corner to the top. It's not made for that purpose, but it sure seemed to help. We'd certainly use this product again.

On the advice of others, we purchased three windshield repair kits. We used one on Toadie and one on Scoopy. It worked great on Toadie, but had little effect on the ding Scoopy suffered on the passenger side front windshield on our trip home. 

Toadie flaunts her yoga mats, the latest in fashion window protection.


Oh, hell yes. That said, they are not everywhere, nor do they last the entire summer. Typically mosquitoes will be around mid-June through the end of July. By August, the nights are getting cool enough to start eliminating the blood-thirsty pests. The worst places by far that we encountered mosquitoes were in commercial campgrounds. I assumed I would have to Deet up everyday, but that just wasn't the case. In fact, I rarely did. Because we camped by the water we had the inherent beach breeze and that helped keep the mosquitoes at bay. After the first week of July I started noticing the increase in black flies. We took a trip out to Exit Glacier in Seward and I ended up returning to the car because the flies were really, really bad. But again, a nice ocean breeze will carry them away from your campsite. In mid-August, gnats ate me alive in Stewart, BC when I got over 60 bites on my arms and legs. Itchy as hell, but that didn't last long.

Actual reinactment of Steven being attacked by an Alaskan mosquito!


I personally didn't spend much time with the Milepost because I found it so overwhelmingly dense that my eyes just glazed over. Seriously, I don't have to attention span required to use this book. But lucky for me, there were others who loved it, one of whom is Steven. He's gonna break it down for you.

(S)  When we first ordered this giant doorstop, I was excited by all we would learn but, when it arrived in a giant box and I flipped through the pages, I quickly became overwhelmed. We are not accustomed to having so much information at our fingertips, at least in print form but I was determined to use it in some capacity. Turns out, it greatly enhanced our experience in Alaska, particularly given that our GPS refused to work as soon as we crossed the Canadian border.

You can use this guide in many different ways. It's great to research upcoming destinations or to find places of interest along the way or, especially, to find rest stops or turnouts to let the parade of traffic behind pass you by. It also provides valuable information about grades and the general state of the road, albeit year old anecdotes.

All in all, I'd say the Milepost enhanced our trip, particularly while on the move. Context is everything and when you know where you are and the rich history of the area, it transforms what could be a generic road trip into a memorable and informative adventure.

Our well-used copy of the Milepost!


(S)  We had heard much todo about the Alaska Toursaver which is basically a book of coupons for various tourist-centric activities around the state. You'll find things like two-for-one prices on fishing charters or museum tickets or wildlife boat tours, etc. The price seems steep at $100 when you fork out your cash but we soon found it paid for itself with just a couple of activities.

We managed a glacier boat tour out of Valdez, a visit to the Museum of the North in Fairbanks, kayaking in Seward, a Kenai River float in Cooper Landing and a tram ride in Girdwood all using our Tour Saver coupons. All were fabulous experiences and the coupons saved us a few hundred dollars, money we gleefully put towards alcohol :) Not really, but some of these things would have been budget-busters without the Toursaver. For Entertainment, we spent $1732.20. Our son came to visit for 8 days and we saved a lot of these things to do with him. Therefore, our coupons didn't quite add up to as much savings as usual, but it worked out fine.

Like the Milepost, the book can be a little overwhelming and even confusing when you first browse through it but each deal is broken down by area so it will become clearer with use. It's a no-brainer to have it by your side while in Alaska. In fact, you must have it by your side because it is only valid if the coupon is still in the booklet at the time you present it to the vendor. In other words, don't tear it out! If you have a smart phone, you can download the digital version and save yourself an additional $15!

This little jobber saved us hundreds of dollars!!


(S) We all love the comforts of home and probably none more than our satellite TV, internet and phones.
Technology is definitely a consideration when traveling to Alaska and we weren't sure what to expect. Here's the lowdown on our experience.

We suspended service for the entire time we were north. The actual satellite is so close to the horizon that locking onto a signal was a crap shoot. We decided it wasn't worth the hassle and, frankly,we didn't even miss watching TV. Directv does not charge any fees during this time so our bill was zero for four months, yay!

2. Cell/Wifi Service
I can only comment on the service we have, which is Verizon. We found cell and data to be equal parts average and spotty-to-nothing. Most towns have at least 3G but, once you are a few miles into the boonies all services disappear. This was not always the case, however. In fact, we found actual LTE signals in some of the most remote areas. The only exceptions to the above were in Fairbanks and Anchorage where we got decent 4G signals.

One more thing of note. There are very few cell towers in Alaska so, if a lot of people are accessing the same tower, it becomes overtaxed and data speeds slow down to a crawl and sometime you just won't get anything at all.

When we stayed in Haines, we had a fairly decent 3G Verizon signal until the day a cruise ship came in. With thousands of people spilling into the little town, our precious signal disappeared completely for the entire day!!

Traveling through Canada  is a whole different story. By connecting to local carriers, you will incur massive roaming charges. Verizon has a great service to deal with this problem. It's called Travel Pass and you can either enable it for your phones or mifi online or with a call to Verizon's customer service.

In a nutshell, you are charged $2 per day per device and you can connect to whichever Canadian service is available. You will incur no roaming charges. It is important to note that you are only charged if you actually use the device. If you don’t use it for a day, for instance, there will be no $2 charge. I strongly recommend that you enable this service before you enter Canada.

Using Travel Pass, you can make phone calls and access the Web just like you would in the United States. Your data cap is the same as it always is. If you have a 10GB per month plan, you can use those 10GBs in Canada with Travel Pass.

In order to minimize the $2 charges we designated one device for data (our mifi) and connected to it with our phones and ipads and computers. Total cost per day: $2. Just be sure to put your other devices into airplane mode and just enable wifi.

3. Campsite WiFi
Data is a precious commodity in Alaska and most campsites have less than mediocre speeds. Probably somewhere between 2G and 3G. So put it in the Unreliable category. We had no experience with park wifi in Canada so I can't comment on that.

Keep your expectations realistic. If you are a power user and like to surf the Web all day long, you will be sorely disappointed. If you like to occasionally check into Facebook and read and write email, etc., it's totally doable.



There were plenty of places in Alaska that we could deem our "favorite", honestly, it's difficult to choose. But the real highlights of our trip were more about people than places.

I mentioned Bill & Kelly a couple of times, and if you follow our blog you know that we traveled with them from Bellingham to Glennallen, AK, then spent time with them on the Kenai where they were working for the summer. We met them through RVillage only a few days prior to beginning our trip. Kelly and I hit it off well enough that we considered traveling together, crossing our fingers that our husbands would also enjoy each others company. It was a real leap of faith for all of us, but it worked out so well that we consider traveling together to be one of the highlights of our entire trip. We can't imagine it any other way. We also hosted a couple of RVillage get-togethers in Seward and meeting all those folks was also a memorable part of our trip.

Yes, we do have our favorite places, too. I asked Steven to name his top three, and they matched mine exactly. In no particular order, here are our favorites: 

1.) Haines, AK
2.) Seward, AK
3.) Deep Creek Campground, Ninilchik, AK.

Friends Kelly and Bill join us to celebrate our arrival in Haines, Alaska!

That's all! :)

NEXT UP: Back to our regularly scheduled program…

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Alaska Recap, Part I – Expenses

Copyrighted image - no use without permission

Before we headed to Alaska, we did as much research as we possibly could to try and prepare ourselves and our vehicles for all that we might encounter. There is no better resource than the experience of those who have gone before us. It takes a lot of time and effort to summarize the many topics of interest for those who follow, but we found these summary blog posts so helpful, we decided early on we would make the time to recap our trip as well. Keep in mind this is OUR experience, yours WILL vary.

This post is organized into two parts, the second is forthcoming and will cover topics such as our travel dates, routes, resources, preparation, etc.

We traveled to Alaska in our 2002 Travel Supreme motorhome, Scoopy. She’s 38’ long with two slides on the driver’s side. Our tow vehicle is a 2013 Chevy Sonic named Toadie Hopper.

For the purposes of accounting, we consider our trip to have begun and ended in Bellingham, WA. Before leaving Bellingham, we filled our fuel tanks and fridge, and those expenses are included in the line item costs listed below. Conversions from Canadian Dollars to USD have been made and actual costs included in these numbers.

Total Days: 108
Days in Canada: 24
Days in Alaska: 84
Total Miles Traveled: 10,400
Miles in Scoopy: 6,192
Miles in Toadie: 4,208
Total Trip Cost: $11,439.14

That's it in a nutshell. Let's break it down.

I know how much money we spent total on diesel, gas and propane, but I can't tell you how many gallons we bought or what the average price was. I do know it was more expensive in Canada, and really expensive if you stopped to refuel at a touristy place. Otherwise, we found gas and diesel in the more populated areas of Alaska to be comparable to prices in Washington state.

Diesel: $2,221.54
Gasoline: $383.57
Propane: $91.98
Total Fuel: $2,701.09

A typical gas station in Alaska (not really, we came across this one in the little town of Hope)

Considering some of the roads we traveled over, it's amazing that we didn't incur more expenses in this category, We ended up in only two repair shops during our trip. Toadie required new front brake pads as well as a spendy new computer, which fortunately was covered under warranty. We had the driver's front windshield replaced on Scoopy, but it had been cracked for months before we even began our trip north. We made it worse with some questionable leveling techniques at Muncho Lake, BC. We probably could have made it back to the Lower 48 without having it replaced, but since we were going over the Top of the World Highway, I didn't want to chance having it fall out. :) Insurance covered the replacement and there was no actual cost to us.

TOTAL REPAIRS:  $ 295.75

The crack in Scoopy’s front windshield steadily got worse while in Alaska.

There are plenty of commercial campgrounds throughout Canada and Alaska, but we rarely stayed in them. First, they are really expensive and second, we did not want to have to adhere to a timetable based on campground reservations. We had only one advanced reservation for the Teklanika Campground at Denali National Park.

When we were traveling and mostly just overnighting, we boondocked (Free, no hook-ups) at Visitors Centers, Walmart, Fred Meyer and pullouts beside the road.

Our campgrounds of choice were city parks (Seward Waterfront!!) Alaska State Parks (Deep Creek!!) Provincial Parks in British Columbia (Muncho Lake!!) and Yukon Government Campgrounds in the Yukon (Dawson City!!). These are categorized as Paid Boondocking, as there were no hookups and few services. Some have pit toilets and a water faucet to pump by hand, which instructs you to boil before use. Prices ranged from $10 to $20 per night. All the ones we stayed in were fantastic.

As Elks members, we visited three lodges, Fairbanks, Kenai and Palmer/Wasilla. All offered electric, Kenai also had water at each site. None had an onsite dump station, but there was usually one nearby. Elks Lodges were a fairly economical choice with prices ranging from $13.57 to $18 per night. In Fairbanks and Palmer/Wasilla we paid the weekly rate. Elks Lodges and Rainey Creek, a city park in Stewart, BC make up the Partial Hookups category.

Our fabulous waterfront campsite at Deep Creek.

Our entire trip was 108 days. Here's the breakdown: 

Free Boondocking - 20 nights: $0.00
Paid Boondocking - 51 nights: $881.20 (Avg. $17.28)
FHU Campgrounds – 14 nights: $482.00 (Avg. $34.43)
Partial Hookups – 23 nights: $364.00 (Avg. $15.83)
Total Campground Expenses: $1,727.20

Our overall average camping cost was $16.00 per night. We were very happy that we were able to keep our camping expenses low by using our solar and, when needed, our generator. Yes, there are costs associated with running the genny, but I didn't keep track of how often we ran it. With the long, long days in Alaska, our batteries were typically at 100 percent very late into the night, so we often went days without using the generator, even with a big residential fridge!

There are unlimited opportunities for entertainment in Alaska, particularly of the outdoor variety. We were somewhat selective, but enjoyed two glacier/wildlife cruises, kayaking, river rafting, museums and so on. We didn't go overboard and mostly stayed away from the big tourist traps. We saved a few of the tours and water activities for the week when our son was visiting, so some of our expenses in this category are for three people, not just the two of us. Also, we purchased a Tour Saver booklet which saved us some money. More on the Tour Saver in Part II.

Total Entertainment:  $1,189.98

We went on a tour of Columbia Glacier while we were staying in Valdez.

I think some folks put fishing in their entertainment category and if we did that, well, our entertainment costs would be a lot higher. Thing is, Steven would NEVER consider fishing to be entertainment. He wanted to put it in the "Food" category, but that didn't seem to work either. So I finally created a whole new category for fishing! The total includes our fishing licenses, the day trip out of Deep Creek, tips for the crew and processing & freezing our halibut catch (which we actually got for free due to Steven's lack of enjoyment of our trip...) as well as the salmon we purchased. We came home with 23 lbs. of halibut. and 9 lbs. of salmon. The Tour Saver has several coupons for fishing trips, but we just couldn't make it work for us.

Halibut Fishing: $479.10
Salmon Purchasing: $138.80

Our halibut catch of the day out of Deep Creek.

This category is a complete budget-killer, our number one expense! Without question food in Alaska is more expensive than in the Lower 48, as is dining out. But one thing I didn't do is separate out expenditures that had nothing to do with food. For example, I went on a mini-shopping spree at Fred Meyer, buying new jammies and a few cute bowls, but I didn't subtract those from the receipts. In other words, almost anything purchased at Walmart or Fred Meyer went into the grocery category. So our expenses here are probably not as high as it seems at first glance, but trust me, they were high enough!

Dining out in restaurants and booze, well, I can't give any excuses for those expenditures, they are what they are! Except, I will say that alcohol is prohibitively expensive in Canada. Like, double or more what we pay in the US. So there's that. :)

Groceries: $2,128.52
Dining Out: $1,290.60
Alcohol: $561.93
TOTAL SPENT: $3,981.05

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The vodka we picked up at Port Chilkoot Distillery in Haines.

We're not the best bookkeepers when it comes to tracking our expenses, so a few things went into this category just because we didn't know where else to put them. Probably half or more of these expenses have nothing to do with Alaska directly, for example, haircuts, a visit to a Chiropractor, etc. Just life stuff. But the other half pertains to our trip. Bear spray, gifts and souvenirs, yoga mats for Toadie's windshield, etc.

TOTAL MISC.:  $ 908.17

So there you have it. We did have purchases not included here, for example, we both got new computers. Yeah, that wasn't planned at all, but both our laptops were old, so it was time, no matter where we were traveling. Steven bought his at Costco and I got mine at Best Buy. The purchase price was the same in Alaska as in these stores in the Lower 48, but we made sure to buy them in Anchorage, where we paid zero sales tax. That means we actually saved about $170 over buying them in Seattle or even from Amazon. (More money for the booze category!)


FUEL: $2,701.09
REPAIRS: $295.75
CAMPING: $1,727.20
FISHING: $635.90
FOOD/BOOZE: $3,981.05
GRAND TOTAL: $11,439.14

For two completely different perspectives on expenses, take a look at the blogs of our friends Rambling RV Rat and Jim and Barb’s Adventures. The Rat gang went full tilt staying in commercial campgrounds and kicked it up a notch in the entertainment category with their awesome trip to Dick Proenneke’s “Alone in the Wilderness” cabin. Jim & Barb left their big rig 5th wheel in Salt Lake City and purchased a camper for their truck. They were super nimble and their camping fees show it!

NEXT UP:  Alaska Recap, Part II – The Details

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Great News from the Repair Shop!


In the last post I talked about our issues with Scoopy's back slide and all that entailed; getting her repaired and road worthy. Carrier RV Service had blocked off a full week, 40 hours, just for the slide work. Since there were other issues on our repair list as well, we knew the whole thing would have Scoopy in the shop for a long while. Luckily, our friends Glenn and Kris live in nearby Portland so we made plans to stay at their place for a few days and see our friends Dan and Sherrie on Whidbey Island. We also made an appointment for Scoopy to have her annual service at Cummins Northwest in Coburg on the Tuesday after Labor Day. We had our fingers crossed that the timing would work out and that we'd be back on the road on Wednesday, 9/7. 

After visiting our son Zac in Bellingham, catching up with our Sammamish friends and spending a couple of nights at the Elks in Kelso, we arrived at Carrier RV in Eugene on Sunday evening, 8/28. We were just in time to spend happy hour with fellow travelers Bill and Diane, who were also at Carrier for some repair work. Traffic around Portland had been a nightmare so we were ready for a refreshing beverage and a catch-up convo. After Scoopy was checked in on Monday morning we loaded up our stuff in Toadie and headed back to the Portland area.

What better way to pass the time than a good old pedicure!

We cooked some halibut and salmon for our friends Rich and Emma while in Carnation.

Some funky power issues and a bad decision to not use our EMS at Tolt-MacDonald RV Park fried our transfer switch and left us without shore power for our three-day stay. 

Boondocking in the Elks Lodge parking lot in Kelso.

While in Kelso, Steven managed to lock both keys in Toadie so we had to get someone out to retrieve them!

Less than 48 hours after leaving Scoopy in Eugene, we got the call from Carrier saying she was done! Whaaaa???????????????? What do you mean done? Turns out all the issues with Scoopy's back slide were fixed in one day! Seven hours, to be exact! Everyone at Carrier was as shocked as we were that the slide had sustained NO water damage and did not need to be rebuilt! I guess, in their experience, extensive damage was expected, and therefore they had planned for the worst. That's what they based their estimate of both time and cost to us. But, wow, we got lucky! How awesome is that?

We asked Carrier to go ahead and fix a few more things (including our fried transfer switch) and to also do Scoopy's oil change and generator and chassis service. Then we cancelled her appointment at Cummins Northwest. We could hardly contain our excitement when we were back in Eugene and back in Scoopy on Thursday! So all-in-all, three nights away from home instead of seven or more. By 10 o'clock Friday morning, we were on the road heading for the Teton Valley! Oh, happy days!!

There is one downside to this good news. We did not make our planned trip to Whidbey Island to spend time with dear friends Dan and Sherrie. We did see them in April on our way north, but it’s a favorite stop with two of our favorite people, so cancelling a visit was disappointing.

In the days before getting back on the road, selecting our route to Idaho was a constant conversation. For the most part, I'm fairly decisive about which way to go but sometimes the choices just don't seem that great. We've driven Highway 20 across eastern Oregon before (twice!) and found it to be quite boring. Plus, I wanted to avoid Bend. I know a lot of people love Bend, but I am not really a fan. For me, it's too populated, congested and hot! To avoid it, I was considering driving through Portland and adding 100 miles to our journey traveling on I-84 before coming to my senses. LOL, Portland traffic. No.

We didn't fully commit to a route until departure day, but somehow, our choice felt right. Highway 20 to Sisters, then Highway 126/26 to Prineville, John Day and finally I-84 into Boise and on to the Teton Valley. It was along this route that we settled into five different Elks Lodges in two days. That story next.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

Early morning fog in Stewart.

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.

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.

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!

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!

The Bus in Hyder. Well worth a visit!

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

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!

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

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

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!