As a summary of our trip, I wanted to share a few things that I learned during the trip up to, in and around, and back out of Alaska. We crossed the border into Canada around May 15th, and we crossed back into the lower 48 on August 10th. I will try and be brief, but you know how that is. And, I hope that the pictures I show are ones I did not show before, but we will see how that goes too.
Not so "high up in the mountains" after all
I always thought that going up to Alaska was going to involve climbing high summits, and I even worried about how well the motorhome would handle that. When I drive up to Lake Tahoe from my birth city of Sacramento, I go over Echo Summit at 7,382 feet. Donner Pass on I-80 headed to Reno is 7,056 feet. One would think after that climb to Donner Pass that would be the highest point along all of I-80, but Sherman Summit, between Laramie and Cheyenne, is at 8,878 feet. So what is the highest summit we went over along the Alaska Highway? According to the Milepost book:
The highest summit on the Alaska Highway is Summit Pass, elev. 4,250 feet near Summit Lake, British Columbia. The second highest pass on the Alaska Highway—and the highest point on the Alaska Highway between Whitehorse and Fairbanks—is Bear Creek Summit, elev. 3,294 feet in the Yukon.The picture above was taken near Summit Pass…it was the only day we really hit snow on the Alaska Highway, not counting two other times that the snow was mixed with rain. The highest summit we went over in Alaska itself was Eureka Summit, at 3,322 feet, on our drive between Valdez and Anchorage. Going into Skagway you pass over 3,292 foot White Pass, but that portion is in British Columbia. Essentially, the summits were not that high…nothing like I had expected.
On the way up to Alaska we saw so many bears, along with some Stone Sheep, Mountain Goats, Buffalo, Elk, and even a Moose…that I just figured we were going to see lots and lots of similar wildlife in Alaska. Well, in Alaska we saw lots and lots of Eagles, and Otters, but the only Bear that we saw was when we were leaving Haines, and we did see a Moose and a Calf…but that was just about it. Coming back we again saw many Bear, some Moose, and even a few deer, mostly in British Columbia. The bear above was one of many we saw on the Alaska Highway on our way up to Alaska. The Eagle to the left is one of the many Eagles we saw in Valdez. By far, we saw more Eagles than anything else while in Alaska. They seem to be everywhere.
Yes, having light 24 hours a day does get to you
On the morning of June 21st, a little after midnight, a full moon arises over Resurrection Bay, at Seward Alaska. I go out and take pictures of it…and as you can see above, it looks like dusk on any given evening…except that it has looked like this for the past hour, and barely gets darker than this the rest of the night, and by 3 am it is getting lighter, and by 4 am the sun is over the horizon…the longest day of the year has begun. Had we been in Fairbanks, what you see above is as dark as it would have been on this night…maybe it was not even this dark. Even though we have the bedroom windows blacked out with Reflectix, and the front windows with Reflectix, and have the curtains down over all the other windows…the light still comes into the motorhome. The dogs, at 4:30 or 5:00 am think it is “Morning Time” and want to go out and start their day. We had a tendency to stay up way too late…and then with the light coming through, and the dogs being restless, get up too early. The only saving grace…the cool temperatures along Resurrection Bay allow for afternoon naps.
We had pulled over at a viewpoint just as we were getting to Kluane Lake, near Soldier’s Summit, the point where the original Alaska Highway was “joined together” from those working southeast out of Alaska, and those working northwest from Dawson Creek. We had a conversation with these two guys who were coming out of Alaska, and we asked them how bad the road was gong to be. They smiled and said something like, “Well, you will have about 45 miles which are hard, but other than that…”. So we drove on past Kluane Lake, past Destruction Bay, and yes the road had frost heaves, and some pot holes, and we get to this point where I once again pull over and make the comment, “Well, if that was the worse of it, that was not bad at all!” Marcia agreed. We drive not more than 5 more miles and see this sign about Yukon Construction. Well, we already had some construction back in British Columbia…it was a bit hard to drive on, but we handled it pretty good. But here the concrete disappears, and we are suddenly on a washboard, a dirt and gravel roadway which is literally shaking the motorhome apart. I hit it going 35 mph, quickly dropped to 30, to 25, to 20, and around 15-20 miles per hour, it was manageable…barely. Then it would get a bit better…and I get it up to 25, and then it gets even worse, and drop back down to 12 mph. There are no workers, no other signs, it does not look like anyone is working on it, and seems to last for miles and miles. Everyone is passing us…a lady grasps her windshield in terror as she goes by and mouths, “Can you believe this stuff?” Then we suddenly are back on pavement again. And just 5 miles down the road, back to the bumpy, washboard road again and it goes on for miles and miles. Then back to pavement again…but within 3 miles we are back on washboard gravel again. But this time, a few miles into it, we come across workers. And we see them tearing up the road, and realize that not too many days ago, they were back where we had just been tearing up the road. The traffic, if you can call 5 or 6 cars traffic, come to a halt as they are now escorting groups over what came to be a 2 mile stretch. I have a hard time keeping up with the 3 cars in front, and the 5 cars behind are a bit restless as the gap grows…I don’t care, any faster and the motorhome is sure to fall apart! So over some 55 miles, 45 miles were pure HELL. That was the worse roads that we had…and that was enough. It was really really bad. In fact, it was worse than really bad. In Alaska there were spots here and there that had construction…nothing was as bad as this 45 miles stretch in the Yukon.
Double Yellow Lines are for...passing
For this one here, you are going to have to use a little bit of imagination. In the above picture, take your eye off the scenery, and look at the road. It turns to the right down the road a bit, and before it does, the broken yellow line turns into a solid double yellow line. Now imagine this…a car has been behind you, has open road like this to pass you, but they wait until we all get closer to the curve…sometimes until the double yellow line is upon us…and then they decide to pass. When this happens the first time, you wonder if they are crazy. By the time it has happened for the umpteenth time, you realize that rural Canadian and Alaskan drivers are just that way. I think some of them are truly confused and they think that you are suppose to pass when the double yellow line in there. Which brings me to my next point…
You can drive forever and not see any police
Now this time you must use your imagination…because how do you take a picture of something that you don’t see? Honestly, once we left Dawson Creek, the first police officer I saw on the Alaska Highway was in Whitehorse. Since we went to Skagway before getting to Whitehorse, that was over 1,000 miles. That would be like driving from Sacramento to Laramie Wyoming without seeing any highway patrol cars. Now in a couple of towns we did see local police…but I think we had driven well over 2,000 miles before we saw anyone getting a ticket. The picture above is of a “die-cast” car with the RCMP/GRC lettering and emblem. RCMP = Royal Canadian Mounted Police, while GRC = Gendarmerie royale du Canada. (In Canada, all official wording has to be in English and in French…all road signs, all directions on something to cook, all the time you see something like Kathleen Lake with Lac Kathleen under it…I kept thinking they were two different places and kept looking for the Lac Kathleen area). In Alaska the most we saw of the Alaskan Highway Patrol was between Anchorage and Fairbanks, where I saw three, and one was giving a ticket. So I figure if there are no police, then people have no reason NOT to pass on the double yellow line outside of the danger involved. Also, in parts of Alaska, “IF” you have five or more vehicles behind you, you can get a ticket. I tried to never have more than 3 vehicles behind me…used more pullouts on this trip than I ever have while in Alaska.
You can drive for miles and miles and not see anyone
Above is the little family of bears that we came across on the Cassiar Highway on the way home. We had been driving for about 5 miles after I had pulled over, allowed a few motorhomes to pass me while I got a quick picture of the mountains behind us. We had not seen a car going the other way, and no one else was behind us. And we come across this family of bears…and we have a good ten minutes of enjoying them without anyone around. Then behind us pulls up a car which had a couple in it that I had talked to back at a rest area about an hour earlier…after they stop he gets out and takes pictures too standing just outside the driver door. Then a few minutes later a car comes toward us…and it slowly keeps coming toward the bears, and the mama bear eventually stands up facing them before they come to a complete stop. So for 15 minutes we had this bear encounter…10 minutes with no one else around…right on the highway during what many would say is, “the busy time of year” for the Cassiar Highway. I think the longest we drove without seeing any other cars going either way was on the way up to Alaska after spending the night in Fort Nelson. We got off to an early start, and there was a time period during that morning’s drive that we did not see a car going the other way for a good hour, and no one passed us for over two hours. We were going 45 mph during most of that part of the drive and stopped for at least one bear during that time period.
Yes, prices are high...but
Prices were not as high as I expected. Above is a clip off the website of the RV Park we stayed at in Haines…an spot with a great view of the inlet, a most wonderful view, seven days cost $216. In Seward we stayed at even a more gorgeous site, with no hookups, for $20 per night. Had we not lost the use of our generator, we would have stayed at other non-hookup areas, some of which would have been free…there is LOTS of free camping areas in Alaska, and the views of these free areas is very nice, but many times you have no Internet. When we were leaving Anchorage, we filled up at Sam's Club for $2.39…I called up my brother-in-law in Sacramento area and Arny said the going rate there was around $2.35…he could not believe I had just paid $2.39. HOWEVER, and there always is a 'however', we also paid over $5 per gallon, $1.39 per liter, up in the Yukon…but I only put 20 gallons in that time just to be safe that we did not run out. The average price in Canada was probably around $1.15 per liter, which equals $4.35 per gallon. Now those gas prices I was pretty much expecting. Food prices varied…some items were much more expensive, while others…such as eggs, were even less expensive than I paid in Sacramento before we headed up there. Restaurant prices were pretty much 20% – 25% higher than than the normal. Most of the servers who waited on us were from the lower 48, and were up in Alaska for the summer to earn some $$$$. This is not uncommon in Alaska, and in Banff a waiter there was from Calgary, but moved to Banff a few years ago after working a few summers there. Also, many servers have two jobs. That is what it takes to make money over the summer…but they all complained how hard it was to find a place to live at a reasonable price…not one lived alone, some had more than two roommates.
Even with so much snow and ice around, it was never as cold as Marcia had expected. She packed many “cold weather” clothes, and used very little of them. Yes, there were a few days headed up where it was cold, but we rarely used any propane during the entire trip…about 10 gallons, most of that for cooking and hot water. Some mornings we would turn the furnace on, warm things up, and then it would be off the rest of the day. A few nights the furnace was set to 68, and it would kick on a few times during the night, but normally we had electricity and our De'Longhi SafeHeat Electric Oil-Filled Radiator did wonders. And you pretty much don’t have to worry about getting too hot, at least we didn’t. I had to run the A/C twice but not because it was hot…it just needed to be run to oil up the seals. Of course, I got many looks as I walked the dogs around 10 pm, still in daylight of course, with a sleeveless shirt and short pants while others wore coats. Yes, I did put on long pants a few times, but not many, especially after we got to Alaska Marcia gets cold easy, and she told me that she was very surprised at how it wasn’t that cold during the trip…not like she expected at all.
People were Wonderful
When your front door is this close to someone's front door for a week or more, you sure hope you are going to like the person. This was in Seward, one of our favorite camping spots. That is our motorhome to the right…that is Maxine’s trailer to the left. Maxine never did tell us just how old she was…but from things she did say, we know she is over 70, but under 80. She is from Ontario…and I just never got the feeling that she cared to have her picture taken. We would sit looking over the inlet, or looking at Marathon Mountain shown there in the picture and talk and talk. She is such a WONDERFUL person…we hated to leave her like we did, but Skruffy got sick and we had to get over to Soldotna There are many people just like Maxine that we met, just did not camp next to them as long as we did with her. It reminded me of the week we had at South Beach along the Olympic National Park last year when I met Tino and Gil. In Alaska, we met many wonderful people…too many to name without accidentally leaving someone out. But I would be amiss if I did not include the GREAT, absolutely GREAT people that work at the Soldotna Animal Hospital. Those of you who have followed our travels know what they did in saving Skruffy from sure death. And although Dr. Meezie, our Fisherman Veterinarian, and Tim Bowser, head Veterinarian and owner of the Hospital, are the Vets who treated and oversaw the treatment…all of the Staff at the Animal Hospital were just wonderful…every single one of them with whom we came in contact with.
The Pure Beauty of it All
We both thought it would be a nice trip…but never in our imagination did we think there would be so much beauty, so much vastness, so many picture opportunities, so much, so much, so much… We were driving along the Alaska Highway on the way up to Alaska, and at the end of the day we would say, “Wow, how could anything top that?” And the next day it was topped. When we went through White Pass on he Klondike Highway to and from Skagway (pictured above), we wondered if we would find anything as nice…and yet we did…over and over again. Even as we headed down the Cassiar Highway on our way back to the lower 48, we wondered how it would be…and then we would come upon areas which were so pretty. On the way to Prince Rupert we first wondered if that was a mistake…but the closer we got to Rupert, the prettier it got. Even our last full day in Canada we passed through Thompson Canyon…and we were still awestruck. I have traveled through nearly every state, and four provinces now. I have seen beauty in every state, in every province. I just have never taken a trip that was so full of “awesome” as with the trip to Alaska. And then you look at a map and realize, we only saw such a small portion of this giant state…to see more would require a boat, an airplane, or going over hard gravel roads which are just too hard on us to do. A Bush Pilot in Alaska would be hard pressed to see all of the state…as for us, we will keep our ten wheels on the ground…which is why we’re GoingRvWay.