Monday, February 9, 2015

Headed North to Alaska

Jenny and I (David) have been discussing trailering to Alaska for several years. I discussed and Jenny said no. In 2013 we were trailering out west and met a retired couple (Tommy and Linda) who were caravanning in an RV to Alaska.  The caravan began in Canada, traveled to Alaska and return and ended in Canada.  Jenny helped the lady set up a blog for her to post pictures and her story. After meeting and working with Tommy and Linda, Jenny finally said yes.

RV caravans are sponsored by several companies and vary in length and destination. The caravan company plans the trip and you pay $$$ for the benefit of going along.  A caravan is approximately 20+ trailers and you have to put up with the group and where the caravan goes.

Jenny and I have been on several eight week trips and have had good success with these trips. I am an engineer and enjoy the details of planning a trip. I use the 6P process (proper planning prevents p*** poor performance).

We plan for a year in advance. We buy books, watch programs on television, order lots of brochures, even caravan brochures (to see route and number of days), and talk with other people. We have a 2500HD pickup truck and 19’ travel trailer.  I drive the rig (truck hooked to the trailer).  So therefore I want an itinerary with daily mileage so I know I can physically handle the trip.

We started trailering when we were 48.  We are now 62 so physically and mentally I need to be able to handle the rig (including backing into a campsite), changing a flat tire on the side of the road in 100 degree weather, and controlling the dog (Chrissy) and Jenny. Driving the rig I estimate averaging 50 miles per hour of travel time. In Canada and Alaska I estimate averaging 40 miles per hour of travel time. We take a break from driving every 2-3 hours to stretch our legs and walk the dog. We need to stop and eat and buy fuel. We make stops also to enjoy the scenery. The goal is not to get there as fast as possible, but to enjoy the trip. We try to plan in a day of rest or a short mileage day just to recoup from the stress of travel. About every 7-8 days we have to do laundry, also.

Jenny and I have a larger travel trailer and I decided that trailer was too big and too heavy for me to handle for a trip to Alaska.  We started looking for a smaller trailer.  Remember in America, bigger is better, so finding a smaller midsize trailer was not easy.  We looked at storage facilities, people’s back yard, newspaper advertisements, and RV dealerships. We looked at 4 trailers and finally number 4 we bought. The trailer is 19 feet long inside (24 feet outside) and is a 2010 year model.  It has a queen size bed, kitchen and bathroom. It needed a few repairs and I wanted to prep it for the Alaska trip. So I made the repairs (fix broken drawers, broken plastic part on air conditioner) and put a better mattress on the bed. Alaska preparation includes new tires, grease the wheel bearings and add an additional deep cycle battery.  We will be camping in Canada and Alaska at stops where there is no power or water. So the trailer needed two new deep cycle batteries for power. I plan on taking an additional unmounted spare tire for the trailer.  I will carry a spare propane tank just to be on the safe side. There is a fine balance between carrying extra equipment verses the weight of the equipment and the possibility of the equipment being stolen out of the bed of the pickup truck. Theft has never been a problem so I consider this a small risk.

After reading and thinking about the trip I laid out a rough plan:  2 weeks to get there, 30 days in Alaska and 2 weeks to return home.  Campgrounds in Canada and Alaska generally open mid- May to October, so I picked a starting day of May 11 (Monday after Mother’s Day) and began laying out the trip.  The two biggest cities in Alaska are Fairbanks (approximately 50,000 people) and Anchorage (approximately 250,000 people) so I picked 5 days in Fairbanks and 7 days in Anchorage. Throw in visits to national parks, state parks and various cities and I filled out the 30 days. I changed Anchorage to 9 days to allow two additional days for excursions to the Kenai Peninsula.

We were camped in Gulf Shores, Alabama and I asked another camper (gray haired gentleman) if he had been to Alaska. He said he was born there and was willing to talk with me. I discussed the trip with him and he recommended only 3 days in Anchorage.  He said it was a big city and I needed to camp on the Kenai Peninsula.  So I revised the trip. At this point in time the trip is only on paper so we (Jenny and I) revise it frequently.  Knowing the days of the week and the location allows us to plan our activities according to the activities at that location.

Next I review campground location in Canada and Alaska, the mileage between locations and the services available and start laying out the daily route. Campground facilities in Canada and Alaska vary widely and are different than those in the lower 48 states.  Jenny likes electricity, water, sewer, cable tv, and internet.  There will be campgrounds that are just park in the dirt with no services except dirt.  We will have to use these dirt sites, so I try to not to have dirt sites for no longer than 2 days in a row.  Our little travel trailer is fully self contained. The lights, furnace blower and water pump are battery operated so that is why I put 2 deep cycle batteries in the trailer.  I believe these 2 batteries will last for 4 days.  If we dry camp (in the dirt) for only 2 days at a time maximum, we should be ok. When the trailer is connected back to electricity the batteries are automatically recharged. The water heater, stove, oven and refrigerator operate on propane. The trailer is equipped with 2-20 pound propane tanks so we should be good for at least a week. I plan to carry a spare 20 pound propane tank.  

Everything I read notes gasoline (truck fuel-no diesel engine) is available every 50-100 miles, so as long as we have a good credit card we will be ok.  Also, I’ll  drive on the top half of gas tank; not on the bottom half of tank.  By the way, the truck has a 36 gallon gas tank. I estimate the truck using between 1,000 and 1,500 gallons of gasoline for the trip. If you would like to sponsor part of the time send gas cards or Jenny will start a KICKSTARTER campaign.

This process sounds very complicated, but after you have done it a few times it really is not complicated.  Also we DO NOT over plan.  We allow spare days/flexibility in the plan to allow for changes to our plan. The two biggest costs are fuel and camping fees. The savings for using the travel trailer are realized if we eat our meals from the trailer and not all meals in a restaurant. We typically have breakfast in the trailer, lunch is usually in the trailer at a rest stop and dinner is usually grilled in the evening at our campsite. Sometimes I grill extra to be eaten at lunch the next day. We do eat out but not every day. The trailer allows us to have our own bed, Jenny has her own bathroom (personal toilet) and it has a shower stall that I can fit in and I am not a small person. It has glass doors so there is no plastic shower curtain to stick to you while you shower.  You just have to get use to showering in 6 gallons of hot water. The dog goes with us and I can drink coffee in my underwear. The trailer is 19 feet inside by 8 feet wide. That is 152 square feet or a little bigger than a 12 foot by 12 foot bedroom. Remember there are appliances and stuff in the trailer. You have to be flexible if you are in a travel trailer.  If you have overnight guests, there is also no privacy.  Remember the main experience is traveling, seeing the country and enjoying the family and other people. You do not concentrate on the small space or small inconveniences.

Why do Jenny, the dog and I do this before we retire?  People who never travel or do anything during their working lives, will not do anything after they retire except sit on their butt. Also what will be our health after we retire (stroke, cancer, heart attack or…)? Also we are not guaranteed a certain amount of time to live in this life.  Our son Adam (30 years young) has already attended the funeral of two of his school mates. Do things with your family now as long as your children are willing to hold your hand and associate with you. After you die, all the family wants to know is how much money there is, how much of it is theirs and when they can get their hands on it.  So do activities now. Make memories.  It is time to get off my soap box.

"Jack London" a/k/a David

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