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.


    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.

    DSC_0083 (2)

    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.

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.

    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.

Happy Trails to You!

Traveling with Matthew

One of my concerns in making this voyage was how Matthew would do. He is pretty good natured and willing to go along with the plan, generally with minimal protest. But how would he do on a trip of this magnitude?

Note: after posting this it occurred to me that not everyone knows Matthew. I know, hard to believe. Matthew is well known to many. He is an adult who looks much younger than his age. He is non-verbal and has many traits on the autism spectrum, including a desire for strict routine (the mere idea of travel upsets the apple cart). But he also is engaging and compassionate and if only he would talk, might be a chatty Patty. One of Matthew’s most familiar characteristics is his way of connecting with others. He pulls a person into conversation through showing of another item. Often it is the TV Guide, sometimes it’s just what is in his pocket (and there’s always something in his pocket). He points to the item and you respond. Before you know it, you are having a conversation with Matthew…and he has never uttered a

While we haven’t made it all the way I think I can safely say Matthew has done well. He is sleeping in the tent far better than I imagined. Our decision to cook most of our meals has made this part of the routine easier. The good…and bad…part is that he gets up as soon as I move. It has made getting on the road early easier but there are times I’d like to have just a few minutes of quiet.

"Oh here, let me show you what I have in my wallet..."

“Oh here, let me show you what I have in my wallet…”

One thing that has been good is the Canadian awareness of gluten free food.  Even in the tiniest of grocery stores we have found clearly labeled GF products. In fact, yesterday we enjoyed fresh poppy seed muffins picked up at a little store just out in the middle of nowhere.

Matthew has completely worn out all of his TV Guides so this morning when he found one at McDonald’s he was very happy. The good thing for me is this TV guide has new and different shows so he has been spending the morning just pouring over it. Luckily, he found they offer exciting programming that includes Gilligan’s Island and Stargate.

A town called Vulcan? Who knew??? (Matthew did.)

A town called Vulcan? Who knew??? (Matthew did.)

But though Matthew protests the idea of camping he has figured out his job in setting up the tent and he has done better than I expected sleeping in it. I also was very concerned that he would not use the ‘no flush’ toilets but that too has not been a problem.

Ah yes, this is the Matthew we've all come to know and love...

Ah yes, this is the Matthew we’ve all come to know and love…

Many of you who have met Matthew know of his love for maps. He loves them so much that one year my sister asked what he’d like for Christmas and I told her an atlas. Sure enough, he spent the next year pouring over it, marking the places he’d like to go, scratching off the ones he doesn’t. Don’t ask me about his rhyme or reason because I don’t know. So, on this trip at every opportunity Matthew picks up a map…or several. But they’re not meant for sharing and he only gives one up under protest.

The truth is Matthew is mostly happy but sometimes adds his two cents worth by pinching Dad or Sister when we start talking about doing something with which he disagrees. Today, for example, he spent the afternoon holding his head with a fake ‘Oh, Boo Hoo’ cry because we were talking about some glaciers we would soon see at Banff. Matthew has decided he has seen enough glaciers. Yesterday, as we were deciding whether to camp or to stay in a motel Bob made a U-turn in the road. This also was enough to set the poor boy off. It seems it is hard to head home if we keep turning around…

Drying dishes.

Drying dishes.

Traveling with someone who has any special need requires some advance planning and a realization that there will be some compromise…sometimes a lot of compromise.  But it’s doable.