This year our trek to Alaska will be very different. Apart from weather complications or stopping to see some superb view that changes every year, we will be dealing with the ‘effects’ of coronavirus on the universe.
Also, we have a new trailer. It is a 2020 Grand Design Solitude 375Res. We are hoping for a better experience than with the Forest River Crusader. I’m hoping that the name change provides some insight into our travels from ‘crusading’ to being in ‘solitude.’ I’ve actually gave it the name “Goshen,” but since my husband doesn’t like that name, we have adopted the following Scripture for our ‘home:’
“Therefore, let us approach [draw near] the Holiest Place with a sincere heart, in the full assurance that comes from trusting [faith]” (Hebrews 10:22).
The differences between the two fifth-wheels are many. The frame and under parts of the Solitude are made sturdier for full-time living. Some of the positives for this trailer on the exterior are the controls for the black and gray water being more easily accessible than underneath. There is more insulation underneath which keeps the trailer warmer especially the hot water. Also, this trailer has a small toy hauler located underneath a raised living room. Traveling with bikes has been a challenge every year and now they are safely stored beneath the living room in a pull-out cargo drawer.
There is also a lot more storage in the cargo area which takes some of the weight off of the hitch where we had so many ‘cracking’ issues. I still can’t quite figure out the weight because we have yet to install a washer/dryer and there’s no more allowance and we’ve put almost nothing in the front area storage, bedroom, or closet. This trailer also has back-up cameras. These cameras will save our marriage when forced to use a back-in site rather than a pull-thru!
The inside of the Crusader was like a great-room cabin, a condo on wheels. The inside of the Solitude is more like a ‘house’ with rooms. We have a larger and more inviting living room which was big enough to host a Passover seder with our son and his girlfriend.
My husband enjoys the two recliners that have heat and massage settings. Unfortunately, those only work when we have access to electricity which we won’t in Alaska where we boondock. We have a larger kitchen/dining area with a full-sized residential refrigerator and a massive pantry. These were both empty when we picked up the trailer and we had to find food during the viral issues in Las Vegas. The bedroom closet is a huge change. Our clothing hangs like in a regular closet not sideways and close to the floor. The whole closet situation in the Crusader was difficult to deal with every. single. day. We did lose our bunk room with this new rig, but it had become a ‘junk room’ and now everything that was in there fits in the under storage. We spent hours minimizing the trailer even more – and removed even more from our storage unit in Colorado.
We have spent the past six weeks making this trailer ‘home’ with upgrades from the shower head to dimmer switches. We have books on ‘shelves’ and pictures on the walls. Since this trailer doesn’t have any carpet, we bought rugs that make each room more ‘homey.’ I have yet to decide about curtains though I know the bedroom will need something this summer in Alaska with 20 hours of daylight.
After spending a month with our son (and girlfriend) in Las Vegas, two weeks with our daughter (and boyfriend) and son (and daughter-in-law) in Colorado, we head north with our new Solitude.
The fenders that were broken in our little mishap in Arizona on Hwy 40 and the storage door with the hole from road trash in Arizona were supposed to be fixed and ready to go (unfortunately, the door didn’t arrive at the dealer in time to be fixed so we will travel with a hole.) We have our Canadian money to make traveling easier – something we learned after the first year. Once on the road again, we will face new challenges – Canada.
First, we traveled from Fort Collins to Buffalo, Wyoming KOA,
During this unnecessary shutdown, we learned that KOAs remain open because they are considered ‘essential shelter.’ They are though they must shut down all internal rest rooms, showers, and laundry (considered non-essential). For those of us, millions of us, who live full-time as nomads, finding ‘shelter’ is very important. What is absolutely crazy is the campgrounds that close to those of us who are self-contained. State parks, especially in Colorado, have sites that are easily 50 feet apart. When we travel, we pull into a site, sleep, and leave early the next morning. We don’t meet or greet anyone. We are not spreading disease, nor are we carrying disease. But, that is not how the ‘powers that be’ see us and how many who are fearful of the spread of this virus see us. We are just a little too free even though we are virtually ‘homeless’ without a ‘brick and mortar’ home.
All along every highway and some off the beaten path roads, we can’t believe all of the billboards and electronic road signs reminding people to ‘stay home’ and ‘stay healthy’ – all part of apparently global Behavioral Priming. Some billboards actually have sick families on them and tell you to come into their facility. Really? I thought sick people are to stay home? That’s what QUARANTINE is! How did all of these billboards get made so quickly? Just some of my questions regarding the entire shut-down of the world especially in states like Wyoming and Montana who have 23 deaths between the two of them!
For those who are new to our adventures, we have legal residency in South Dakota as do many of those like us. South Dakota has no state income tax and only requires 24 hours to make residency. We have an address, a mail forwarding system and, register our vehicles in that state. We also vote in South Dakota. This year I am grateful to be a resident of a state with a governor who understands not only civil and Constitutional Rights, but also human rights. I even wrote her a letter telling her how grateful I am she is standing firm against herd mentality!
We would like to make residency in Alaska, but that is a little more difficult because their residency requirement is nine months. We will almost make it for this year because of the winter we spent there. We were able to get Alaska ID cards which is a long story. If we decide not to return to the Lower 48 with our trailer and work again this winter in Alaska, we will meet the requirements to ‘move’. We don’t make this decision lightly as three of our four children live in the Lower 48 and now we have no idea how the requirements of this pandemic ruse will change our freedom to travel protected by the Constitution.
From Buffalo, Wyoming, we headed to Butte, Montana. This KOA put us in the farthest place possible. Another requirement is that RVs need to be in every other site. In Butte they had so many empty sites that we were put ‘out to pasture’ or in their own type of ‘quarantine.’
From Butte, we traveled north through some grandiose “Big Sky” country. For those who are offended by people who believe this virus is not as deadly as hyped, well, skip this part. We stopped by a scenic viewpoint at Flathead Lake, Montana. We were the only people in the the pullout when we arrived. I walked to a lower area to take a picture while my husband stood in a patio-like area taking pictures from above. I walked back up the walkway and into the area and stood next to him. Another man and woman had arrived and she immediately freaked and cried out, “Get six feet away!” Well, sweetie, first and foremost, we are outside in the wide open space and beautiful sunshine and second, my husband was here first so perhaps you can move out of the way. Maybe that’s harsh, but my goodness, if you’re going to travel and not ‘stay home and stay safe,’ then relax a little and enjoy the adventures! About 30 minutes later we stopped for lunch at another pullout. A couple was there enjoying the view. They had driven their little convertible sports car from Missoula. They were very, very friendly and made up for the woman whose fear outweighed her common sense.
From the region of the Flathead Lake, we headed north to cross the border into Canada through Roosville. We have crossed the border many different places, but we prefer smaller crossings. We heard it was easy to cross, but there would be restrictions about where we can stay, how we buy fuel, and specifically in the Yukon Territory, how long they allow for passing through. Look at a map of the Yukon Territory and ‘essential’ travelers have 24 hours to go from British Columbia to Alaska on the Alcan.
As expected, the crossing went well. The border patrolman asked us more questions than usual specifically about what we do as camp hosts and then the list of Covid questions. Had we experienced any symptoms? Nope. Not in the eight previous weeks of traveling through Seattle to Vegas and then driving through Arizona and New Mexico to Colorado (I didn’t say all that, but duh!) He asked us how long we would be in Canada. Six days. He asked us if we had enough food because we weren’t allowed to stop anywhere. Fuel stops had to be ‘pay at the pump.’ Any infraction of these ‘laws’ was enforceable with a $1,000,000 fine and a year in jail. He concluded by saying that 5 kilometers down the road we would be stopped again by British Columbia border people who would want to know our full itinerary.
We drove to our next KOA in Cranbrook and never saw any other border patrol. Not sure if they packed up and left for the day or if he was just wanting to see our reaction for a six-day journey.
If we drive back and forth to Alaska another time, we will take this same route. Cranbrook/St. Eugene has to be one of the more beautiful places we have ever stayed while traveling. St. Eugene has a casino and is a magnificent hotel former mission. Unfortunately due to the virus, the place was closed even so much that we couldn’t even walk around the grounds.
From Cranbrook we headed to Kamloops for the night, another quick stop. This route takes us by the Walmart where in 2017 we had our tires slashed. Last year we drove by for the first time realizing we hadn’t actually seen Quesnel, BC. This year I decided to ‘get back on the horse’ and go inside for a few things. I know, $1,000,000 fine and 1 year in jail. We had already broken the law by paying cash for everything from campsites to fuel. And, I feel the need to go into Walmarts just to boost my immune system from all of the germs, bacteria and whatever else flies around that store.
We stayed one night outside of Prince George in a trailer park. We had no idea that is what it would be and it was a little strange, but we were the only ones in the RV part of the park. Again, we are self-contained and self-isolated so we didn’t see anyone and we paid cash through a mail slot. We couldn’t travel from Prince George to Dawson Creek, the beginning of the Alcan, without a lunch break along a river.
We stayed one night in Dawson Creek at Northern Lights RV Park. Though it’s not the most beautiful park, the owners are wonderful people who over the years have helped us in big and little ways. I also love their laundry facilities, but unfortunately, they were not open – apparently clean clothes are not essential. We were and are, however, grateful to all of the RV parks who are open, who are willing to take cash, and who are trying to rise above the flood waters of economic destruction. So many of these places rely on tourism, and tourists are considered non-essential. But in reality they are very essential to these seasonal businesses along the Alcan.
From Dawson Creek, we made the big trek to Toad River. This involved crossing two passes, Steamboat and Summit Lake. As we drew closer to Toad River, it began snowing. We spent our first snowy night in the Solitude. We were cozy, but had some concerns about the drive the next day. We woke to ice on the slide roofs and icicles hanging off the slides. All of the ice had to be removed before bringing in the slides so we had a little chip work before we could leave. Apart from leaving our outdoor thermometer under the snow and me slipping and falling down the steps, we had a fun stop at Toad River.
The snow continued to fall from Toad River through Muncho Lake where winter never seems to end.
The first year we drove to Alaska we saw one, ONE grizzly bear. Last year we saw a few bears and moose. This year it seemed as though the wildlife knew there was a virus and they were suddenly free to be. Seventeen bears! We watched two ducks, a Mallard and white domestic duck, holding hands waddling down a hillside in the rain. Apparently, they were running away together to some distant land. Porcupines hobbled up and down berms writing notes with mud ink and their long quills about how slow traffic is for this time of year. One white stone sheep licked salt from the double yellow lines thinking that perhaps he shouldn’t cross to the other side for there was nothing to see. Moose galloped across the black bumpy sea of asphalt as if in a race for a finish line. Mr. Lynx sat like a regal rabbit statue only twitching his ears and turning his head from left to right to count vehicles as they passed by. Roadside elk threw snowballs at each other while bouncing from one side of the road to the other. A momma bear grazed with her triplets looking up now and then to make sure no one was offering them bowls of porridge. One crazy beaver with buck teeth stood by the roadside waiting for the local bus to take him to another lodge. It even seemed he stuck his thumb out because we heading the right direction.
We made one short side stop in the Liard Valley. Last year two young people, one from the U.S. and the other from Austrailia, trekking their way to Alaska stopped for lunch. They pulled off to the side of the road to enjoy the quiet and sunshine. Unfortunately, their time was cut short by two teens who shot them both and then eventually after a manhunt were found dead from committing suicide. This event caused a lot of concern for those traveling on the Alcan and staying at Liard Hot Springs. A memorial was set up by the road that we passed last fall, but this time we wanted to stop. A trucker also stopped and, along with his tools, fixed parts of the memorial which were needing repair.
We entered the Yukon Territory at Watson Lake where a temporary border crossing had been set up. The men and women working this checkpoint were actually park rangers. Our gentleman was very kind and asked the basic COVID questions again. He talked with us about the Kenai Peninsula and wants to go there again to fish. We gave him our son-in-law’s company information cards. He reminded us that we had 24 hours to pass through the Yukon Territory with no stopping except for fuel – pay at the pump. He also gave us a map listing fuel and lodging stops, however, there were no RV parks. He said that even though all pullouts in the Yukon said “No Overnight Camping,” we could. Well, because of our slashed tire incident, we like to stay in parks. One of his last comments to us was “I didn’t sign up for this!”
One of the ‘legal’ stops was Whitehorse, the capital and biggest town in the Yukon. Last year we stopped there to get our leaf springs fixed and were hoping to ‘beef’ these up this year. Ironically, a legal stop was in the biggest town! This province has had no incidents of coronavirus at all. I know they want to keep it that way, but for people to stop in a city or outskirts seems a little strange. No one mentioned anything about consequences for breaking any laws, so we went on our merry way knowing we had two long driving days ahead of us. Let me say at this point, my husband is a warrior driver. He just kept going and going and going. We had never done this trip in 6 days and I hope we never have to again, but it is possible. Unfortunately, because we couldn’t stop anywhere, we didn’t get to see our ‘Run Forest Run’ sign in the Sign Forest, but maybe next time.
We stayed in Whitehorse at an RV park, again paying cash through a mail slot. See? We don’t see or talk to anyone. We just pull in, pull out and go.
About lunch time we were in Kulane National Park. We pulled over for lunch in the most beautiful spot and I realized I had lost my keys. I had lost them earlier on the trip, but had dropped them in a tissue box. Duh. Right? This time, however, we were able to remember the last time I used them and I knew they weren’t in any tissue box. I called the RV park in Whitehorse and thankfully he found them about where I took off my coat in order to get into the truck for the drive. My keys should arrive in Cooper Landing one of these days. No such luck for the outdoor thermometer.
We crossed the border back into Alaska 26 hours from when we entered the Yukon Territory. We did the best we could, but frost heaves and damaged road doesn’t allow for 60 mph, but 40. So, it took us longer than the average bear. Plus, the fuel stations we usually use because they don’t have covers over the pumps were all closed down. The sadness of what is going on from Vegas to Alaska is heart wrenching. The anger that governments can control people to such a degree as to kill their livelihood is indescribable.
The entrance back into the USA was a little different from previous years. We always have to pull into the area for commercial vehicles because we are so tall – 13 feet 4 inches. This time, however, we were asked to get out of the truck and come into the building. We were asked the COVID questions again! It really is ridiculous. If I didn’t have symptoms in the US, didn’t have symptoms in BC, didn’t have symptoms in the Yukon, and I’m not allowed to do ANYTHING, why would I suddenly have symptoms? They approved our entrance into the US and though we had heard there was online paperwork to fill out about our whereabouts, we were told there was NO paperwork. Thus, no required information about ‘quarantine.’
We hopped back in the truck and drove the most disastrous roads in the world to Tok, Alaska. Two-hour drives on these roads takes 3-4. It’s really infuriating how the DOT allows roads to deteriorate into nothing but holes and gravel.
We arrived in Tok and when I asked the owner if we could stay two nights, he said we could stay the whole summer! His 100+ RV park was EMPTY. We were the only sojourners for two nights. Plus, a big plus, I was able to do laundry just as I was able to do in other private parks in the U.S. On top of that, our two-night stop was Friday and Saturday – we were getting a REAL SHABBAT!
From Tok, we drove to Cooper Landing by the Turnagain Arm that is no longer frozen over.
In Cooper Landing, we are required by the USFS to quarantine for 14 days. The governor was going to lift the quarantine ‘tomorrow,’ but decided on two more weeks. I’m not sure how that works as we are the same people we would be yesterday as in two weeks, but we have to quarantine. This became known to us right before we left Colorado and required some more planning.
First, where to spend our ‘set-apart’ time about the 60th Parallel? My son-in-law’s parking lot for his business was out. He cannot have people ‘set-apart’ and have clients. The campground was out because the forest service is requireing the quarantine. Foolish, I believe, but it is what it is. Eagle Landing in Cooper Landing offered us a place to park because the community needs to help one another. What a wonderful offer and place right by the Kenai River! Unfortunately, the ground is too soft for our big rig and there was no real turnaround for us. Then, God. Always God. Micromanaging. We received an offer to stay in the Baptist Church parking lot. It’s a huge gravel parking area for our rig and we can have some electric. So that is where we are as I write this. The church sits right on the Kenai Lake so we can enjoy our forced vacation sitting by the lake that is now unfrozen and looking as turquoise as ever remembering how we ice fished not too far away.
With the ten-day quarantine required by those who enter the State of Alaska, everyone is cancelling their vacations. No one has enough time to quarantine AND fish in the wide, open, clear skies, long days of sunshine, and fresh air of the Last Frontier when there is some remote possibility of inhaling a micro-viral germ. Remote? Yes. In the State of Alaska, there have only been 10 deaths in a population of 731,545 (some of those deaths didn’t even occur in Alaska, but those who died had Alaska licenses!) The percentage of death in Alaska comes out to be .0000136. Thats 136 people in 10 million dying and they have only had 10 and don’t even have 1 million people. You have a better chance of being bitten by a snake and Alaska doesn’t have snakes!
Food. We are not allowed to go anywhere. Of course we do have to fill with water, propane and dump our doo, but those are not public places. I want to thank Mark and Margie from Anchorage who once again came to our rescue. Last year they helped us camp in JBER during the fires. This year I ordered food online, they picked it up, brought it to Cooper Landing and gave it to our daughter who in turn brought it to us. We will see these two wonderful people next weekend when they come to pick up their cooler.
Tomorrow we meet with our manager about our hosting duties this year. I’m sure we will have all sorts of ridiculous restrictions for safety, but that’s the way fear fuels all sorts of pandemics. Because we have arrived later usual and have to be set-apart, we won’t have time to ready our campground. Generally, we spend two weeks making sure all of the fire pits are clean, all the leaves are raked from the sites, and all trash that may have blown in is cleaned up. This year, however, the job will be leftovers from last year’s fire when the campground never closed to become a waiting place for those needing to pass through the fire area.
The restaurant with the delicious smoked brisket and gourmet pizzas next to the campground has been sold. It is now a pot shop with pizza like Little Caesar’s. Weed is legal in Alaska, but not on the federal level meaning USFS. In the past, we just ignored those few campers because we had bigger issues to deal with like improperly disposing of salmon guts which attract bears and out-of-control campfires. Now, with pot right next to us, the game plan may have to change.
We expect an interesting summer of pot heads, drunks (already we’re hearing about one who has needed THREE trips from the local EMTs), rebels fishing and camping where they don’t belong, building bonfires with the chance of another wildfire kicking up, and even firearms from those who want to wield their Constitutional Rights. Coupled with the lack of basic law enforcement, we will be challenged. Still, I can’t wait to be there, spending time in the outdoors, seeing eagles soar, watch moose graze, and hear about bears prowling after idiots.
One more change. At the end of last year, I was asked to be the naturalist for the campgrounds. I spent much of my winter preparing programs with several different themes. I have no idea if I’ll even be able to use what I created, but I have even more ideas for self-guided hikes and learning about Alaskan nature.
In spite of all of the challenges and unknowns, the real reason we drive 6000 miles round trip to Alaska and camp host is to spend time with our grandchildren. This year will have a whole new set of summer adventures with our grandson riding his Strider bike around the campground while his little sister has snack time in her camping high chair. Our grandson has already asked if he can help rake leaves! He loves to check the bear boxes and have Grandpa pump water from the well. He loves when the generator is on and he can flip light switches. His toy box is ready and waiting with ‘bola de neves’ (indoor snowballs) and Bubbe (me) brought a lot of books. Hiking of course will be on the agenda as well as Bubbe’s world famous chocolate chip cookies.
So, we’re unhitched in front of Mt. Cecil, hooked up to electric, filled with water, have food, a warm bed, two chairs, the Kenai Lake and not only is it raining, I hear a float plane moving on the lake readying to take off! Home for now.
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