This summer we left for Canada and Alaska in our annual summer adventure. Due to work, my wife wasn’t able to make the whole trip but she flew in to meet us in Alaska. My navigators were my girls, 8 and 9 years old. This is the third summer of traveling and we are all comfortable with the van and longer road trips.
45 days, 34 with rain at some point during the day or night.
Fewer mosquito bites than expected
More big animals up close than expected. Bears, caribou, moose, wolf, lynx, bison, musk ox and more.
2 flat tires and 5 rock chips in the windshield (courtesy of the Dempster Highway)
5 single vehicle accidents viewed. All seemed to have gone over a soft shoulder.
4 gallons of windshield wiper fluid used.
Coldest evening was 38 degrees outside. Hottest day was 88 degree.
Fantastic clouds, scenery, and amazing landscapes.
We stayed in hotels 2 nights, campsites 14 nights, and on our own (remotely)29 nights. We tried to mix up the remote camping, which was prettier and quieter, with the pay campsites where we could take a shower and do laundry.
The campsites where we stayed longer were Homer Spit Campground,Seward City Campground (Waterfront Park) and Teklanika River Campground in Denali. We would recommend them all and we enjoyed our time at each one.
I did use my 4x4 but you could easily do much of my trip without it. On a more frequent basis, I appreciated my lift (4”), the shorter turning radius and the softer Quadvan ride on the very long Dempster Highway. As it would start to be time for camping, all of us would look for a little, unused trail large enough for the van but slightly overrun with weeds to indicate that someone didn’t live at the end.
Occasionally, these little trails would peter out and I’d need to back my way out but usually we found a nice secluded camp spot.
Fuel and Electric
I have the basic diesel tank(26G) and get 400 miles pretty comfortably, dropping to 300 or so if I spend the day in 4wd low or putzing at slow speeds. Fuel was plentiful and I never was concerned with my fuel status. Likewise, I never plugged in the whole trip, mostly because we drove almost every day. When we stopped at Seward, Homer Spit and Denali, I could go 3 days before the battery would get to 12.2v, requiring a recharge. Using a dry site without services, we got better campsites, immediately on the water.
It was generally cold at night and even cool during the day. Most days had rain at some point. I only wore shorts (my normal summer attire) 3 days on the trip. Oddly, our warmest day and night was at Inuvik, the furthest north destination on the trip.
We used our sleeping bags almost every night, supplemented occasionally with the diesel heater.
Least useful items brought:
• Two lanterns. Given day without darkness as we got north, we never used our interior lights, much less our lanterns. What was I thinking? It was a belts and suspender strategy at a nudist colony.
• 11x13 Coleman screen tent, given that we didn’t have bugs , we didn’t use the tent.
• Backpacking supplies including backpacks and tent which we brought for Denali. We found out that we could have rented it outside the park which would have opened quite a bit of room inside the van.
• Garmin GPS - I have the 2009 US map updates and the Alaska coverage for included POIs was very poor. Sam’s Clubs weren’t listed. Major roads were included but only about half of the stores, gas stations, etc. Canadian coverage was even poorer with the Dempster Highway not even included.
• Delorme Alaska Topo Atlas book. This large format book wasn’t detailed enough to be helpful at the trail level and wasn’t really needed at the state level. In fact, Alaska has few enough major roads outside the cities that we used the AAA Alaska Canada foldout map which worked fine for high level discussions.
• Sprint Phone - Sprint coverage is nonexistent outside Anchorage and Fairbanks. I ended up using skype as my communication method of choice.
Most useful items brought:
• The Sportsmobile. Given our weather, the van was the perfect vehicle. It didn't matter if it rained or not, we stayed dry. While every choice has some compromises, I couldn't think of a better choise for our style of travel.
• SPOT - so my wife could track me every day and had some comfort that we were safe.
• Ipod/computer for playing the books on tape and making the highway miles go quicker. Without radio coverage for most of the trip, I became very familiar with the girls song playlist. I can hum along with High School Musical (1, 2 and 3) pretty well at this point.
• The new tire jack, recommended on the forum, bought for this trip. It made changing the flats (2) relatively straightforward. I would strongly recommend the optional equipment; a minion to slap the mosquitoes off your back while you are changing the tire. I brought two and found them invaluable.
• Milepost Guidebook - Given that the GPS didn’t have great POI coverage, we used the Milepost guide quite a bit to understand what services were available where.
• Rubber boots. Alaska is wet and boggy. It seemed like most of our hikes included sinking into water up to your ankles at some point. In hindsight, I would have brought rubber boots up to my knees.
With hindsight, what I wish I had brought:
• My lovely wife for the whole trip. Being a single parent is a tough job and not for me.
• A letter documenting that my wife gave me permission to cross into Canada with the kids but without her. Canadian Customs sent us to secondary interview at Sumas, Stewart and Skagway because I didn't have the letter. In two cases, they called my wife to make sure I wasn't kidnapping the kids. I have no problems with the idea, I just should have brought the letter.
• Our Thule cartop carrier. It’s large and while it’s somewhat awkward to get into, it would have allowed us to store some items that were only planned to be used once or twice on the trip. I explored buying a SMB trailer for the trip and ultimately I’m happy I went without. It would have just added more complexity getting in and out of some of the more secluded camping spots we used.
• More lenses, and perhaps another camera, one for each person. At times, it was difficult to capture the beauty of the place and I'd like to think the problem was with the equipment rather than the photographers
For us, the journey was broken into four portions of which I’ll post here as I pull it together.
• Seattle through British Columbia to Watson Lake including Hyder
• Yukon, NWT and the Dempster Highway
• Kenai peninsula, Alaska
• Inland Alaska, including Denali, Fairbanks, North Pole and up the Taylor to Coldfoot
Stay tuned for those updates although here are a few overview pictures.
Loads of wildflowers
Caribou, moose and bears, oh my...
And another contender for the Big Sky country, so much different than Seattle.
It was a dirty ride and I got a preview of the van with a two tone paint job.
Here is the sky view of the trip minus the Hyder side trip. Somehow I lost the tracks; I strongly suspect user error