Thursday, April 10, 2008

Day Eight: Haines Junction, Yukon

The leg from Watson Lake to Haines Junction was on a clear, cold day.

A good reason to avoid driving after dark. These caribou are licking the salty treatment from the road. I stopped and they continued to ignore me.
I started to move slowly and eventually they moved off but I got a couple of "evil eyes" from them.

This is more like it. Clear skies, dry road and mountain views.

A quick picture through the windshield. There is very little traffic this time of year.

Mountains are almost always in view.

This RV park in Haines Junction was partially plowed and had a live electrical outlet. There was a sign directing you to pick a site and pay in the morning. The office was still closed in the morning so I put the payment in an envelope and dropped it in the mail slot. Only a few hundred miles to the border with Alaska!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Day Seven: Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, Part Two

Once I started down I was committed since I knew I couldn't get back up. But I did start to see breaks in the clouds.

The distant mountains don't show well here but the views were spectacular.

During a flat stretch in the descent I snapped a quick picture of some terrain in the distance.

The weather and road kept improving.

By Muncho Lake the skies were clear. There were many lakes and rivers but with few exceptions they were covered by ice and snow. This is looking north with the now narrow highway to the right.

At the same spot looking south.

A buffalo near Liard Hot Springs.

More buffalo from one of the many herds. The ground is actually showing in the sunny areas.

The rest of the drive to Watson Lake was pleasant and uneventful. All the RV parks were closed but I managed to track down the owner of one that had an area clear within reach of an electrical outlet. Although he was not really interested, cash talked and I parked behind his convenience store for the night. I appreciated his flexibility. The night was clear and very cold but pleasant.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Day Seven: Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, Part One

I woke early and was on the road by 0600 although it was still snowing. I didn't know it but leaving early would cost me time. There were few other vehicles on the road and despite the steady snow I didn't see any plows.

I made slow but steady progress. Flat road like this wasn't a problem but I knew that there was at least one steep climb before Summit Pass. If the road wasn't plowed and sanded I wouldn't make it up without chains. Shortly after this I decided to turn around and return to Fort Nelson. This involved unhitching the pickup, turning both vehicles on the highway and re-hitching. Yes, alone I temporarily blocked the Alaska Highway.

Returning, I finally got the lessened snowfall and the plowing I had been hoping to see for the last two hours. I found a place to turn around and decided to try again.

The climb had been plowed and was well sanded. There are no pictures because it required full attention and stopping was out of the question. This picture is at the top in a brake check area. I'm now begining to relax but a bit prematurely as it turned out.

As you can see the road is in good condition. I was impressed with the plowing and sanding. If I had left a couple of hours later I wouldn't have turned around.

Thinking the worst is over, I check that everything is secure before starting the descent.

The first of many mountain views. I soon realized that only the approach had been plowed and sanded. For the steep descent, I was on my own. With no other traffic and descending in second gear I was able to keep fair control. I had to squeeze by a tractor trailer that had slid sideways and was "chaining up" in the middle of the road.
Tomorrow: Part Two.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Day Six: Fort Nelson, British Columbia

Today was the longest driving day at, if I recall correctly, about 540 miles.

One of the obligatory pictures. The weather is good so I press ahead to make the best of it.

The marker at "Zero Mile".

A fueling stop near Buckinghorse River. It's actually a camp for an oil exploration operation but they sell retail... at a price, of course. But they have it and I need it.

The Provincial Parks, while numerous, were either closed for the season or inaccessible because of deep snow. All the commercial RV parks in Fort Nelson, save this one, were also closed. I never saw the proprietor but there was a sign directing you to deposit the fee in a box outside the office. It was now snowing but a plow had been run through the spot and the electricity was on. I was in for the night.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Day Nine: Tok, Alaska

This post is out of sequence but the Internet connection here is slow and uncertain so if anyone is following my progress, I am only 200 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska. Tok, pronounced "Toke", is hopefully the last overnight stop. I will eventually reconstruct the missing days and post any pictures that may be of interest.

Suffice it to say, most of what you may have heard about the Alaska Highway is true. It is long, rough and desolate but the scenery is beyond compare. It is somewhat more challenging at this time of year with winter-like weather and seasonal closure of most of the facilities. But seeing the mountains in "full dress white" made it worthwhile.

The last leg in:

This picture is accurate but was taken in summer as only the mountains are snow covered. Taken today, it would be all snow covered.

I am looking forward to "break up", when the ice breaks over the lakes and rivers. That's why I'm glad to arrive early.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Day Five: Carson-Pegasus Provincial Park, AB

Miles traveled: 388

Standing on the frozen lake.

This will be a short update until I find out what the surcharges are for Canadian cellular service. Great weather and good road today. I got stuck in the snow trying to enter a campsite. I was going to keep driving but by the time I finished digging out it was too late to go on. I changed sites but because of the snow I am encroaching on the road. If the ranger makes his rounds tonight he may tell me to move on.

I plan to leave early again and should start on the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek tomorrow.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Day Four: Claresholm, Alberta

Miles today: 239

Total miles: 1040

Miles remaining: 2089

I'm not keeping my 300 mile per day goal. A late start after looking for parts, a brutal wind that kept the speed down and a wait in line at the border all contributed to another below average day. But the wind was so strong that without dry pavement I would have had to stop, so I guess I'm lucky.

Most RV campgrounds are closed for the season but around "quittin' time" I took a chance on a municipal park in Claresholm, Alberta, and was pleasantly surprised. It's neat and clean, the rate is reasonable, electricity is provided and most of all, it was open. Towns are few and far between, and this is the populated area of Canada.

As a challenge I tried setting up the satellite. It is obviously at the limit of its "footprint" but after some tweaking I got a connection. This may be the last one until I try to switch "birds" in Fairbanks.

Claresholm is an interesting town that I would stay and explore if I weren't in a rush. Perhaps on the way back.,_Alberta

I want to pick up the pace tomorrow but since I have an Internet connection I will be tempted to read the news, check email and drink coffee before I leave. Perhaps I will put the coffee in a thermos and try for a 350 mile day if the weather is good.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Day Three: Great Falls, Montana

Miles today: 218
Total miles: 801
Miles Remaining: 2331
Today was a light driving day as Great Falls was a planned stop for last minute items. I found a spare accessory drive belt but the radiator hoses have to be ordered. I will check NAPA on the way out but may have to trust in duct tape.
It was 20F when I was preparing this morning in Billings and I was surprised to see a mosquito. I didn't know that they were active in that kind of temperature.
I got close to a bald eagle feeding on carrion at the side of the road but he wouldn't let me get close enough for a picture. I would like to get a telephoto lense someday.

The road behind.

The road ahead. As usual, the camera doesn't do it justice.

Today the snow was on the mountains where it belongs instead of on the road. It was a great driving day as the route took me on secondary roads. There were several interesting towns and picturesque scenes

Tomorrow I will cross the border at Sweetgrass, Montana and head north into Alberta. Internet service availability, and parking places for that matter, are unknown. Most RV parks and campgrounds are closed for the season so I will have to figure it out as I go. I'll update when possible.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Day Two: Billings, Montana

Miles traveled today: 277

Miles since start: 583

Miles remaining: 2549

This was before the snow really got going. I intended to stop behind the second "semi" but with the anti-lock brakes at full effort I realized I was going to smack him. One smooth and graceful evasive maneauver later, I slid to a stop in front of both. No problem.

Billings, MT was my minimum goal for today but there was serious snow this morning as I went north through Wyoming. My speed was reduced for most of the first four hours. From looking at the national weather map I knew it was local and not part of a large weather system. That gave me the confidence to continue although driving conditions were poor. The weather turned much nicer as I entered Montana.

I haven't planned tomorrow yet. Great Falls, MT is almost too close but is the last place to make some purchases. Auto parts are outrageously expensive in Canada, even to her citizens let alone a gringo with shrinking dollars in his pocket. It is Easter Sunday so the NAPA store I was counting on may be closed. I may stay in Great Falls to purchase the parts Monday morning or go without them. They are basics so I don't like going without. We'll see...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Day One: Casper, Wyoming

Miles traveled: 306
Miles remaining: 2830

I actually made it further than expected. The crosswind was strong for the first several hours and snow showers moved in and out but once on the move I was reluctant to stop with so much daylight remaining.

The new mass air flow sensor (MAF) has evidently solved the "CHECK ENGINE" problem. The diagnostic program was a good investment. I can also use it to monitor engine parameters such as transmission temperature. I arrived with enough daylight to install the oil pan heater on the RV. With the wind and cold it was an unpleasant job but now I'm prepared for very cold temperatures.

I have stopped in Casper, Wyoming near the site of historic Fort Caspar.

Reconstructed buildings at the site:

Reconstructed buildings at the site of Fort Caspar

Making Great Falls tomorrow isn't realistic but I should at least make it to Billings, Montana.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

North to Alaska

The Spring Equinox has passed so it's time to get moving. Several projects took longer than expected, as they often do, so I am well behind on preparations. Ready or not, I'm leaving in the morning to allow time to meet my commitment in Fairbanks. Some items I can complete en route, others will be "fingers crossed".

I have arbitrarily divided the trip into four segments:

1. Denver to Great Falls, the "eastern gateway" on a route from The Milepost travel guide.

2. Great Falls to Dawson Creek, BC, the start of the Alaska Highway.

3. Dawson Creek to Whitehorse, the capitol of the Yukon Territory.

4. Whitehorse to Fairbanks.

Tomorrow will require some housekeeping tasks and a stop at Wal-Mart so I have the modest goal of reaching Cheyenne, Wyoming. Updates will depend on Internet availability.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Preparing in Denver

I didn't have to wait long to get a reminder that winter isn't quite over.

Suprisingly the rig handles quite well in the snow. Obviously both vehicles now need a good washing. I am going to order tire chains but my plan is to avoid situations where I will have to use them. The Alaska Highway is open all year but I hope to avoid any heavy snow. I expect to use the chains only to get in and out of places where I will wait out the weather.

Other items on the shopping list are a heavy duty tow strap, oil pan heaters, a spare accessory drive belt, coolant hoses, a 12 ton jack etc.

I have already ordered an ingenious kit that will allow me to get to a repair facility if the engine "spits a plug". That's not a concern in most vehicles but the Ford V-10s in the early years have only four threads holding each spark plug. Losing a plug may happen at any time or it may never happen, so doing expensive preventative maintenance involves a cost benefit analysis. With the distances involved, a tow may cost as much as the repair. With this kit I can plug the hole, disconnect the fuel injector and run on nine cylinders. I hope I don't need it but it will be nice to have the option.

My goal is to put more things into storage than I take out. I have been on the road for almost a year so if I haven't used it, I probably won't need it.

The next two weeks will likely be uninteresting so I probably won't post often if at all. My plan is to leave for Fairbanks as soon as possible after the 15th of March to arrive no later than April 15th. That should leave plenty of time for weather or mechanical delays and allow a leisurely pace. I will start posting when underway.

The best laid plans...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

I'm waiting for mail at Elephant Butte near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.,_New_Mexico

I'm doing my best to enjoy the weather as I anticipate a good bit of cold and snow as I head north to Alaska.

My mail package should include The Milepost which is reputed to be the ultimate guide for travel to Alaska. Since I will be traveling well before the regular season the dates of operation for facilities and businesses will be valuable information.

If the mail comes in tomorrow I'll head toward Denver on Tuesday to spend a couple of weeks preparing for the trip.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Early Planning

Although it's only mid-January, I know that it will be time to head north soon. My plan to winter in New Mexico while minimizing miles driven is working well. I move the RV fifty to eighty miles a week between campsites which minimizes fuel expense and allows me to get to know each area better.

This is an overview of the route from Denver to Fairbanks. I use Denver as my starting point since my storage building is a planned seasonal stop. It's just over three thousand miles which, for comparison, is about the distance from Portland, Maine to Los Angeles, California.

Of course the estimated 750 gallons required for a round trip gives me serious "gas pains". But the fuel allowance, free campsite and "parking" the RV for the summer with very low mileage will make the trip very inexpensive if not a "wash". Spend the summer in Alaska free? Sign me up!