Things We Learned

For the new reader, our family recently returned from a lifetime adventure driving all the way from Arizona to Alaska…and back. You can read our daily trip diary if you scroll back to the beginning of June. For all you regular followers, I don’t know about you, but I’m having  withdrawals not writing every day.My mind still has things to share but generally the chore list has taken priority.

Today’s writing is a large compilation of things we learned from our trip.

The truck is cleaned out and all the clothes are washed. This week we’re returning everything borrowed so before I forget everything this is a good chance to look back at our adventure and share what we determined, discerned and stumbled upon…

  • At 9,933 miles we put on about 2,000 more than originally calculated. Since we didn’t drive in circles we must have underestimated our detours, particularly through the parks.

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    What’s the Boy Scout motto?
    Be Prepared.

  • Gas was cheapest in Arizona. We paid $3.39 in Phoenix both leaving and on the return. Where the Stewart-Cassiar Highway connects with the AlCan (in Canada they call it the Alaska Highway—everyone else calls it the AlCan) we paid the most at $1.99 Canadian per liter (I’ll let you the math, suffice it to say it was over $90 for half a tank there.)
  • We did not have a problem finding gas but… Bob was nervous about it enough to always fill the tank before it got below half full and we paid great attention to the signs about distance between stations. We did see some gas pumps out of gas. We also found that ‘gas station’ is not exactly what we know in the city; many had one or two pumps and most were the old fashioned kind where you had to pay inside, requiring the store be open to get fuel. Not all stations were open in the evening.
  • We learned that there are two types of tents and ours was the one for mild weather. The wind and rain both blew right in. Reason one to stay in a hotel.
  • We also learned that while there are RV places all along the highway, not all will take tenters and often those who will do not have bathroom facilities close to the tent areas. The National Park and Provincial Park campgrounds are very standard with toilets and access to fresh water at a cost less than $25 per night for a tent.

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    Camera in hand. Foot ready for the gas.

  • Groceries and supplies are expensive outside the big cities but there are Walmarts and chain grocery stores at regular intervals through Canada and into Alaska. With all our dietary restrictions we packed most food so only needed to buy fresh produce and meat (and even then we used cans of chicken/tuna, etc.) All the stores had an assortment of ‘non-dairy’ milk which surprised me. We had no trouble finding our almond milk.
  • Three weeks plus the weekends, from Seattle to Salt Lake, was just barely enough time to do everything but not enough time to spend with everyone. This is a hard trip to do without being retired. It would be much easier without a set schedule.
  • We learned to have our camera ready at all times because the local animals are not afraid to travel alongside the road. It was exciting to capture the grizzlies, blacks, moose, caribou and deer who just happened to be crossing just as we came along. Never have we been so close to so much wildlife.
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Salad again???

  • If you, or someone in your family, qualifies for one of the Access Passes offered by the park system take the time to fill out all the paperwork for it. Matthew’s pass allowed us to get into all the parks free and we got half off on campground fees in the US. The rangers don’t like cheaters and requested his ID at most of the entrance stations.
  • Still even if you don’t get a pass take time to visit the parks making sure if you travel during holiday weeks you reserve your spot. Teddy Roosevelt had real foresight when he began the national park program. And even if you think the road is scary, like the one at Glacier Park, take it anyway. You’ll thank me later.
  • Summers in the north are short but mosquitoes make up for it in volume. The Anchorage newspaper had an article on the shortage of mosquito repellent while we were there. We went prepared with several cans of assorted spray. The lesson we took from our experience is that life is too short to mess around. Buy the most lethal spray you can and then get some of those incense style smoky things. Oh, and it helps if you are not blood type O, apparently this is their favorite.
  • Every place we stopped at in Canada took US money. However, they charged a fee. The best deal we found was that the Walmarts took my Discover card and did not charge a foreign exchange fee. (I might have saved a buck fifty…or so by using my card.)
  • We learned that there are still many rural areas where there is no cell service…and we were there.
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    Dasher or Dancer?

    We saw an accident site and guy using his satellite phone to call for rescue help. Kind of frightening to think of being in an accident and it taking, not minutes but maybe hours, for help to arrive. But, on the plus side, we saw fellow travelers stop to render aid when needed.

  • Back to the cell phones. Bob’s Verizon phone worked where ever there was service available.  Once we crossed the Canadian border he got a message that his phone calls would cost $1.85 per minute—yikes!
  • Speaking of connectivity, when we saw lodging there was most often a sign for wi-fi. There were also signs at all the Tom Horton’s and McDonald’s advertising free internet service. My Boost aircard worked all the way to Seattle and after we reached Boise. It was not meant for the North Country. Still, we all learned we could survive off the grid without email, texting, facebook, etc.
  • Oh, Rebecca learned that while reindeer and caribou are in the same family, they are not the same. No matter, Matthew thought they looked like Santa’s helpers.
  • There were many, many miles where we had no radio service. I was outvoted on my plan to get a satellite radio so I could listen to Fox News. We had several mystery books on cds that were compelling listening and of course, we had Matthew’s very favorite Adventures in Odyssey which worked to calm him when he decided he’d had enough riding.100_1551
  • Yes, there were times when Matthew held his head in his hands and cried because he was tired of traveling. Okay, so did the rest of us. It was a long trip. What I learned from this was there were times when we needed to stop driving and do something else…even if was just to jump out of the truck and swat at mosquitoes.
  • And lastly, we learned that if you’re going on such a long adventure you really need to travel with people you like. Otherwise, it might be just a really long ride.
    Thanks for coming along with us. We loved all the comments and emails following the posts. We felt like we had a whole cloud filled with people riding along giving us incentive to share what we could see and do each day.
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Happy Trails to You!

Whitehorse, Klondike and a Near Disaster

We drove the rest of the Cassiar Highway without incident. We had heard from several friends that this road was challenging. While we did run into a few patches of gravel road we did find it mostly paved. As I said yesterday, we did find it desolate and an accident or breakdown could mean a lengthy wait. I don’t think there was any cell service either. Still, it was truly a beautiful drive and I would recommend it. BUT. You must not let your gas tank get under half full (an old Alaskan rule) and you must carry a spare and know how to change a tire. The rest of the rules for remote driving also apply. When we were at the closed gas station we talked to a family headed south also looking for a fill-up. The man was very distraught to know that the last station we had seen was more than 100 miles ahead. The gas station pumps are mostly the old fashioned kind without a place to prepay with your credit card. The station has to be open to get gas. So…there’s my warning. Travel prepared.

Beautiful, but isolated cabin along the Cassiar Highway.

Beautiful, but isolated cabin along the Cassiar Highway.

We did arrive in Whitehorse late in the afternoon. Just in time to visit the MacBride Museum, a small museum dedicated to the local history, including the gold rush, some natural history (Matthew’s favorite) and a whole section on the poet Robert Service. When I was growing up we loved to listen to some of his most popular poems and in particular one called, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. It’s a rather morbid story about a prospector who found the Klondike too cold and was always complaining until he caught cold and was near the end. He asks his friend to cremate him on the shores of Lake Labarge. The poem is really more fun than morbid. I’ll share it if I can find the YouTube version. You’ll like it. We learned that there really was a Sam McGee. He was a friend of Service and we got to see his real one room cabin. All you homeschoolers, notice how we added History and Language Arts to our trip.

Sam McGee was a real person and friend of Robert Service.

Sam McGee was a real person and friend of Robert Service.

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After we picked up some groceries and long johns (to keep us warm at night) we found a campsite just out of town. Bob, Matthew, and Rebecca began setting up the tent while I worked on supper. It appeared the three of them were poking around with their job so I told them it was going to rain in three minutes and they’d better hurry up. Well, I was wrong. It began pouring, a hellacious downpour, just moments after the words left my mouth.

Oh my word.

All our stuff was sitting outside waiting to be put in the tent. The food was all outside on the table. Just about everything we owned was outside the truck. It poured and instantly we were all soaked. I yelled at Rebecca to get the packaged stuff back to the truck while I helped Bob. It didn’t matter. everything was filled with water…and sand from the campsite. Finally we got the tent up and emptied it of water, got the rain cover over it and it quit raining.  We reheated the food, found dry clothes and then made some hot chocolate because our hands were frozen and finally made it to bed. Thankfully, it did not rain again but we decided we need to pay much closer attention to those threatening looking rain clouds blowing in. And yes, we were grateful for those warm unders.

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Finally: North to Alaska

The Very Long Day

Eight thousand miles in less than a month means every so often you have to put in a very long day. Today was one. We were on the road by 5 AM heading north out of Seattle and to the border crossing by 8. Apparently, our old truck and perhaps less than stellar attire…or maybe it was our answers to the questions…or maybe, as Bob suggested they looked me up and discovered I am pro Tea Party and Second Amendment Rights… anyway, something, led to a search for guns by the Canadian authorities. They asked us all sorts of rapid fire questions, “Did you bring any weapons along? Where are your guns stored? Do you own any guns? Where are they? Do you have any ammunition? When was the last time you stored blasting powder in your truck?” (Yeah, I know…I liked that last one too…) But finding no evidence of GSR (gunshot residue for all you city folk) they approved us for travel into Canada.

The countryside along the border of Washington and Canada is beautiful farm country. The Canadian side is flanked to the south by a staggering mountain reaching high into the sky and filled with rushing waterfalls. The north side held the mighty Fraser River an awesome powerful glacial river. Our trip today followed the Fraser up through the mountains finally ending at the Fraser Lake. This road was originally a trail used by gold prospectors.

Look at this little church. We saw a whole bunch of these at each mining camp along the river. They're all the same vintage and look like they're still in use.

Look at this little church. We saw a whole bunch of these at each mining camp along the river. They’re all the same vintage and look like they’re still in use.

The land is so rugged that when they were building the road they used a special steam powered boat and pulled it upstream through ropes anchored into the canyon walls.

No I didn't ride the tram. Didn't even think about it.

No I didn’t ride the tram. Didn’t even think about it.

We saw our first very real wildlife at the summit of the pass. A family of mountain goats munching on grass right alongside the road.

Real live mountain goats munching on grass. Isn't the baby cute?

Real live mountain goats munching on grass. Isn’t the baby cute?

We spent the night at a Provincial Campground hosted by a friendly man who refused to charge us since we arrived late and were leaving early. I discovered that long days of driving do not make for an easy dinner time so decided I need to cook the food the night before and then all we have to do is heat through to eat and I can make the next day’s food while the gang is setting up the tent.

So isn't this the coolest thing? Lucky Matthew got a flashlight helmet to wear in the dark from his CA friend Karen.

So isn’t this the coolest thing? Lucky Matthew got a flashlight helmet to wear in the dark from his CA friend Karen.

Matthew is not so sure about this tent camping thing. He is adjusting to this routine of travel each day but he doesn’t like when we start talking about where to ‘camp’ for the night. The unknown and unfamiliar challenge all of us at times, but especially kids like Matthew. Never the less, we press on. We’re listening to his familiar Adventures in Odyssey and the friendly voices of the characters are always a comfort to Matthew.

Across the border and all the way north to Fraser Lake!

Across the border and all the way north to Fraser Lake!

Tomorrow: Travel West and then North or Travel North and then West?

North to Alaska –Our Journey Begins

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Appropriately, Frosty will accompany us to Alaska.

If you have never visited west of the Mississippi it may be hard to imagine how vast our country is. As we begin our trip north we decide there is no easy way around it. We must travel one long day to escape the desert. So the sun was barely peaking over the horizon when we headed out.  We left poor Bob, both worried and sad that he wouldn’t be there in case gasket blew. But twelve hours later we arrived safe and sound at Mammoth Lakes, California and decided that was the end of our day. For your sake, and in anticipation that you might one day actually want to travel this trek, I am not posting pictures of the arid, flat, dry, hot, windy, roasting, blowing (did I leave out any adjectives?) desert. But when you do cross in the luxury of your air conditioned vehicle, think for a moment of what our pioneer forefathers must have struggled, in the open sun, little shade or water available.

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The view from our campsite. Two things to notice: Yes, that is snow on the back of Yosemite and yes, that is McDonald’s in the background–you didn’t expect us to go too rural the first night, did you?

You’d be proud of how well we put up the tent. It wasn’t quite as easy as our practice runs since the ground was sand and the stakes kept popping up and there were giant wind gusts threatening to blow everything away. But, after forcing three stakes in each holder the tent managed to stay put!

Hmmm, for some reason the tent doesn't look nearly as pretty as when we practiced at home.

Hmmm, for some reason the tent doesn’t look nearly as pretty as when we practiced at home.

The Mammoth Lakes area is really very beautiful and we think it would be a good place to return to and spend at least a week exploring. It’s also only a few hours over the pass from here to Yosemite and all the wonders of this park. Oh, and those of you in AZ will laugh because all the Forest Rangers we talked to said many of the areas and roads were just opening, summer really hasn’t started yet.

Okay, so enough of the tourist stuff. I know you are just anxious to hear the real scoop on our trip and here it is. As I said, we managed to get the tent up without incident…and we were excited that it did not fall on us. However, we were not so lucky with the air mattress. For whatever reason, the dropping cold temperature or gremlins or maybe operator failure, the air mattress deflated within two hours of going to bed. And someone, yes, someone who was initially very warm, suddenly discovered that a flat air mattress and no sleeping bag underneath gives one a very chilly night. And a long night.

But never fear dear ones. We will try again…very soon…

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Our journey, thus far.

Tomorrow: Nevada.

Crunch Time

It’s 110 here in the shade today. Not the kind of day to be messing around outside so in my cleverness, I measured the inside dimensions of the truck and taped it out onto the living room rug. We are able to ‘prepack’ and assess how things will fit together for the trip. Stuff we don’t anticipate needing or won’t need until weeks in will be put in the front and stuff we’re going to pull out every day will be more accessible. Of course, this plan will only work for sure on Day One. After that, it’s highly likely that everything will be shoved in wherever there is space.

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The tape lines measure the inside of the truck.
It has made packing so much easier and a whole lot less sweaty!

We’re at the stage of planning where everyone is worried. Even the cats. They are sneaking downstairs to check out all the strange things in the living room and are more skiddish than usual (yes, it is possible…) Matthew is worried that I’ll miss some of his critical and important books so continues to haul things out of his room, packing his own bags. Rebecca, the girl who loves the Sheraton and thinks roughing it is staying at Motel 6, is worried. Her unspoken thoughts continue to revolved around: lack of electric hair dryers, sleeping bag, tent, walking to the bathroom at night in the dark with the wild animals. Bob, on the other hand is just worried. Work is busy and they are used to calling him for support. He worries that we will have a flat tire (even though we have roadside assistance service). He worries that we’ll have some kind of disaster and be out of cell phone range so he brought home a satellite phone. As protector of the family he worries all the time that he needs to be able to help especially since he won’t be along the first leg of the trip. My big worry is that we will be driving 8,000 miles. I think that is further than I drive in a whole year. We did the math and I think we have to average 300 miles per day which seems daunting of itself.

The family wants to know what to expect. We are learning patience and acceptance. Type A Bob and Rebecca would like to see every day planned out. But this is not a trip where everything can be scheduled in advance. There are so many factors that will influence our days. Will it be rainy and cold? Will the land of the midnight sun keep us from sleeping and everyone’s tiredness slow us or will we be energized by the 20 hour days and be up by 4 ready to go? (I know you are asking, “What happens if the transmission goes out in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory?” and you’ll be pleased to know the plan is to continue forth even if we have to rent a Kia.)

If you are interested you can check out the view of Mt. McKinley from the Denali Webcam. We have been watching the cloud cover there every morning. Apparently, only one-third the visitors actually get to see the our highest peak free of clouds. We’re hoping to be in that minority but I was reminded by Mom of the time we camped there two entire weeks and never saw the mountain only to drive back home by Anchorage and see it shining clearly in the sunlight. So, will we or won’t we? You could take bets on this… Ever hopeful, I am voting we will see the peak.

In just a few days we’ll be on the road. And just as an fyi to any would be burglars, this post is on a time delay and it’s highly likely I am already back home sitting in the rocker, Bible in one hand and Ruger Semi-automatic in the other…

Okay, gotta run and buy a copy of CW McCall’s Convoy cd.

What?

You don’t know who that is?

Well, here you go. Ramblin’ Rose is 10 – 10 on the side.

North to Alaska ~ Reality Check

Now don’t worry, the trip is still a go. In fact, it will be here soon. Today I just wanted to give an update. I think you all know everything that has happened, but then I remember I think lots and write little…

So here goes.

The plans are coming together. We’ve begged and borrowed everything needed, from air mattresses, to a camper shell for the truck. But, wait.  I’m ahead of myself.

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We have been practicing pitching the tent.

Did I tell you we are taking the truck? It has few enough miles that it’s still in good shape but old enough and with enough dings (read hail damage and a few experiences with a teenage daughter) that we won’t cry if we drive over rough road and find rocks. The always safety conscience husband has insisted we change the oil, check the windshield wipers and other lame stuff that should be unnecessary to look at for the life of the vehicle. And my folks are letting us use their camper shell so everything can stay dry and we can pack more stuff.

Yes, more stuff… because my idea of just tenting occasionally has grown into camping as long as the weather permits. We’ll also be cooking most meals, which makes sense when you think about Matthew’s dietary restrictions this way we’ll be able to eat pretty much like at home.

The folks also loaned us a ’30 second tent’ which pops up in just 30 seconds and they had a port-a-potty which will be put into the 30 second tent… Thus solving the significant “peeing behind the bushes” dilemma.

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Key items ready to be packed include OFF (of course), the dried fake chicken chunks, and hey, note the prized camera bag loaned to me by my photo journalist mother!

Our friends loaned us a very nifty plug in cooler which will help keep foods chilled…at least until we camp in snow 🙂 We also have borrowed a camp stove, portable grill and various and sundry other things. About the only thing we’re not borrowing is ourselves. No wait, we owned the First Aid box. Naturally, first aid is the doctor-to-be’s responsibility and of course, she is having a fit over all the supplies in the box being dated 1998…

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Not only do we have to learn how to cook on the Coleman stove, but how to percolate coffee.

So the plans are all coming together. We’ve mapped out our route and will see friends and family along the way. The length of the trip is daunting and we’ve already had to make cuts in some of the more frivolous stops along the way. (The good thing is, we will have places to visit the next time…) The kids are excited. None of us can really know what to expect. There will be lots of family time. Often when I tell Matthew we are going to do this or that he stomps around in protest.  But he is surprisingly interested in the trip. Of course, as you may recall, he loves the maps and continues to peruse them daily. We talk about the people and things we will see and I know there are several special people along the way that he is excited about seeing.

Due to concerns about the safety of our cats…and our cat sitter…I made an executive decision to post updates on a delay. Burglars and thieves should note that as they read about our expedition chances are very high that I will be sitting in the living room, upholding my second amendment rights, polishing my Colt 45. So the questions will be: Is it real? Or is it Memorex?  Am I reading something that happened today? Or was it three weeks ago??? Okay, I’ll give you a few clues…the seasoned adult or keen observer, who has read beyond junior high Social Studies will be probably ferret out the truth.

Today it is 99F here in the Arizona desert and the temperature will only go up for the next month. Rain…or snow…we are looking forward to spending time in the cooler climes and experiencing the land of the Midnight Sun.

Oh…wait a second…shoot. I almost forgot the most important thing! We will be on the CB radio! (Yes, of course, borrowed…) And even better, I already have a handle. Just give me a shout out: Breaker, Breaker, One Nine… Ramblin’ Rose, You Got Your Ears On…