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).

WHEN TO GO

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. 

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

CROSSING THE BORDER

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.

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

OUR ROUTE

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.

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

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

DRIVING THE ROADS

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.

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

VEHICLE PRECAUTIONS

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. 

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

ARE THERE MOSQUITOES?

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.

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Actual reinactment of Steven being attacked by an Alaskan mosquito!

MILEPOST

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.

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Our well-used copy of the Milepost!


TOUR SAVER/ENTERTAINMENT


(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!

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This little jobber saved us hundreds of dollars!!


WIFI/PHONES/TELEVISION

(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.

1. DIRECTV
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.

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HIGHLIGHTS

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.

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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.

GENERAL TRIP STATS
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.


FUEL
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

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

REPAIRS
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

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


WHERE WE STAYED
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.

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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!

ENTERTAINMENT
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

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


FISHING
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
TOTAL FISHING: $635.90

halibut
Our halibut catch of the day out of Deep Creek.

GROCERIES/RESTAURANTS/ALCOHOL
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.


MISCELLANEOUS
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!)

FINANCIAL RECAP

FUEL: $2,701.09
REPAIRS: $295.75
CAMPING: $1,727.20
ENTERTAINMENT: $1,189.98
FISHING: $635.90
FOOD/BOOZE: $3,981.05
MISCELLANEOUS: $908.17
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!

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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.

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

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

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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. 

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Boondocking in the Elks Lodge parking lot in Kelso.

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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.