Archive for the ‘Modern Nomad’ Category

Tok, Woody Allen and ‘Home’

We left Tok in the morning and dreaded the drive on the Tok Cutoff. This is a ‘cutoff’ from the actual Alaska Highway that ends in Fairbanks. This ‘cutoff’ goes to Glenallen and south to either Valdez or east to Anchorage. Unfortunately, it seems the state of Alaska has forgotten about the Tok Cutoff in its budget for road work. It is the worst road we have ever driven on, parts have been pulverized to almost non-existent.

Mentasta Summit on Tok Cutoff

In spite of the road condition, this part of the drive along with the Glen Highway is spectacular. The St. Elias/Wrangell Mountain National Park lines the road way to the south. This year especially because there was a lot of snow, the peaks with all their nooks and crannies became clearly visible showing the details of these majestic mountains. Mount Sanford is 16,237 feet high and Mount Drum is 12,010, Mt. Wrangell is 14,163, and Mount Blackburn is 16, 390. Though they are all somewhat shorter than Denali (20,310), they are so much higher than the rest of the mountains around Cooper Landing (3,000). On this drive, Mount Sanford rose above the clouds and its beauty surpassed all previous treks on this road.

Mount Sanford and the Slana River

Woody Allen is really Glenallen, but I thought my husband said, “Let’s stop at Woody Allen.” You know, after two weeks on the road, you do begin to either hear things or can’t hear anything. We stopped at the junction, bought a coffee (me a chai tea) and thanked some men for their service for their country as they headed away in a very long convoy. The sun shone on the Glen Highway until we reached the mountains where the Matanuska Glacier rolls out.

Matanuska Glacier

This trip will be remembered as the wildlife trip because we saw more moose and moose. We even saw moose in Moose Valley and where there were signs warning of moose. We saw moose grazing by the road, running across the road and even munching in a bog outside of Palmer. The year of the Moose!

Palmer, Alaska is where the beginning of real life starts. We stopped at a grocery store in Palmer before going into Anchorage. Palmer sits in the Mat Su Valley along with Wasilla and even Willow. There is a musk ox farm not far away that would be fun to see on one of our trips through. It is the location for the Alaska State Fair. It is in this valley that the 7.0 earthquake hit on November 30, 2018 though we have recently learned it turned into an 8.2 as it went into the valley.

From Palmer we drove to Anchorage and arrived at rush hour. Yes, even in Anchorage there is a rush hour. It was also raining and windy (as always) as we began our southern route around the Turnagain Arm.

Rush hour in Anchorage
Looking east across the Turnagain Arm

As we entered Chugach National Forest, we cheered because this is our national forest residence. We passed Alyeska, the ski resort at Girdwood, the entrance to Portage Glacier, went around the bend that welcomes us to the Kenai Peninsula. We climbed over the Turnagain Pass (900 feet) and thought it might be snowing, but thankfully it wasn’t. We pass all of the familiar places from other campgrounds to Hope to Summit Lake until we turn off onto the Sterling Highway. A small signs says Cooper Landing is 5 miles. We know we’re soon ‘home’ when we pass the Sunrise Cafe, Quartz Creek Campground, Wildman’s, Bean Creek Road (where Ptarmigan is) cross the Kenai Lake/River Bridge and pass Alaska River Adventures, Grizzly Ridge, the Princess Rapids, and with a left turn just over the Cooper Creek bridge and we’re ‘home’ for the next 4 months.

Though our adventure up the Alcan is over, the summer is just beginning – we think. It’s cold and rainy and we’re back to warm clothes. We have set up our home, filled it with water, got the generators working and put our our welcome mat. We have had an invite for dinner with some campers who will be here in the next few weeks. And, today we received our ‘tub of stuff’ to begin the camping season as soon as the water tests come back okay. We have picked up trash from the winter warriors – everything from beer cans to toilet paper scattered everywhere. Tomorrow, on our actual first day of work, we’ll be raking leaves and preparing sites for campers.

And this is our office for the summer.

Kenai River and Cooper Creek Confluence

Thanks for coming along on our adventure to Alaska – our third year that we will be boondocking and hosting people from all over the world who come to the 49th state!

©2019 Tentstake Ministries Publishing

Can you spell Ptarmigan?

The afternoon in Tok was warm and beautiful and everyone there said it was a great day to to go Chicken. As we drove, however, the rain clouds pushed the light fluffy clouds to somewhere else and we encountered rain. The drive is only 66 miles, but it was a windy and sometimes rough 66 miles. The view to the west would be exquisite on a clear day, but dark clouds hid most of the Alaska Range where Denali resides.

Alaska Range out there somewhere-ish

Chicken is actually on a rough, northern route to Whitehorse over the Top of the World highway. Many of our campers come this way to Alaska in summer, however, the border crossing is closed until the end of May and closes at 8 p.m. Also, Top of the World Highway is very rough, not just somewhat rough and many people have breakdowns and flat tires. Hence, we will not ever go that way for all of those reasons, but since we left our trailer in Tok, we didn’t have worry about such issues.

Winding road … see it way, way out there?

Interesting facts about Chicken found hanging on a bar door!

Chicken is called Chicken because the original settlers, actually gold miners, couldn’t spell Ptarmigan. They wanted to call the town Ptarmigan, because the plentiful local birds filled many a pot in their camps. Ptarmigan were also called CHICKENS and that’s how the town got it’s name. (This is funny because our daughter lives on Ptarmigan so WE have to know how to spell it.)

They have a winter population of 15, summer between 30 and 50. They have no pay phones and no flush toilets. Outhouses are by the gift shop. They close in the winter along with the roads. There are no plows until April. Winter temperatures can be 85 below zero. Mail comes by plane every Tuesday and Thursday, weather permitting. Most of the citizens arrived by truck, some hitch-hiked and others came by plane. They self-entertain, there is no television. Children are home-schooled, cell phones only work before mile 32 and then only if the signal is right. Medical emergencies are medi-vacked to Fairbanks. They don’t have sales tax.

People still goldmine there. They use bull-dozers or suction dredge the river. Some dig holes or pound rocks. Gold-panning is an option as well.

They have black bears, grizzlies, moose, caribou, weasels, snowshoe hares, lynx, wolves and many more. They have lots of birds. Bears walk through the town. Moose are a common sight.

Gold-panning is done in this creek!
Where is Von Miller?

Arriving at Chicken, we were excited to see everything, but EVERYTHING was closed until May 15. And, everything in Chicken means three businesses. We meandered around taking pictures of what we could and then hopped in the truck to drive to the ‘downtown’ where there was a little airfield.

That’s when we encountered MOOSE – a momma and her baby. Our first moose EVER while traveling. Apparently, their facts are right. There were MOOSE! We had even seen a moose run across the road on our way into Chicken, but it was so far away that it could have been a figment of our imagination. Apparently, not according to the facts about Chicken! Now we were seeing real live moose up close and personal. Chicken was worth the trip just for the moose.

On our way back to Tok, we stopped to take pictures of the trees. Several years ago there was a fire that burnt millions of acres and the trees looked like something from a Dr. Seuss book – trunks with a tuft of dead branches on top. One of my pictures was photo-bombed – by a MOOSE!

Once back in Tok, we prepared ourselves for the next day’s journey on the Tok Cutoff and onto Anchorage and our penninsula ‘home.’

©2019 Tentstake Ministries Publishing

Alaska or Bust

I believe I finally understand what that slogan means. I had always thought it was silly when I saw people with that written on their car windows in such modern times, but even in modern times, you can BUST on your way to Alaska.

Whitehorse, Yukon

Our slogan from when we left Watson Lake might have been Whitehorse or Bust! With flat leaf springs we could only hope to make it to the ‘big city’ or capital of the Yukon without any more springs flattening out. We first stopped at an RV repair place and the woman’s expression when she saw the one spring was: “It’s flat as a pancake, eh?” Eh? Yes. They couldn’t work with us so we called a tire place we used last year (Integra Tire) and they recommended “Tamarac Welding and Springs.” Note: I link places just in case you’re the one with the Alaska or Bust slogan and find yourself needing help.

It was difficult find this place as it was only a small quonset set back off the main road. They were very nice and told us we could park on their lot overnight and they would begin the job of replacing all four leaf springs in the morning. They were going to put 6-leaf springs on instead of the 5-leaf ones that just didn’t hold up. They had to fix U-bolts and nuts as well. What we have learned through this experience is multi-faceted. When you are looking for a trailer, fifth-wheel, whatever, the first thing to consider is the frame and the suspension. Dealers and manufacturers love that we look at floorplans and how nice the inside is, but if the rig can’t carry the weight of even an empty trailer, you will find yourself in the same mess that we did. And, we aren’t the only ones we are learning. Manufacturers also build rigs to the basic of all basic specifications. In other words, they build them CHEAP. The nuts they used on the U-bolts holding everything together are tiny – just like they staple things together inside the rig. Yes, they worry about weight, but a heavier bolt or a few more screws will not add that much more weight. The weight specifications are really ridiculous. We have a 42-foot fifth wheel with lots of storage space underneath and cabinets inside, yet the limitations are low when one considers what they will fill these areas with. So, shop and study before you buy. Do NOT ask dealers anything because they have no clue. I asked one dealer at an RV show about their 42-foot fifth wheel, a different manufacturer than ours, about the two axles and the possibility of the exterior cracking. He said ‘that is impossible.’ I walked away laughing because I knew he was either lying or was that ignorant of what driving these trailers on roads can actually do to the suspension, frames and even interiors.

So, May 7, 2019 we woke up early to be out of our trailer so they would work on our leaf springs. May 7 is also our anniversary – 35 years. We were married in a tiny church in a little place called Salina in Boulder County. We were surrounded by only a few friends and some family. I would never have dreamed on that day that I would ever celebrate my anniversary in the Yukon with a trailer parked in a parking lot.

We decided to be tourons in Whitehorse. We walked along the Yukon River, left rack cards for our son-in-law’s fishing company in the Visitor Center, had coffee at Java, a locals coffee shop, and ate lunch at the Burnt Toast Cafe. We returned to find our trailer finished and it was only 1:30 p.m. The owner talked with us a bit about the scale sheets we had and we learned even more about what went wrong with the leaf springs. Needless to say my husband is once again writing to the manufacturer because when we picked it up in Indiana, they neglected to tell us a lot.

With daylight lasting until about 10:30 p.m., we decided to hitch up and drive our regular 6-8 hours. The closer to the border of Alaska, the better. We were done BUSTING! The only bummer was that we really wanted to stop for coffee in Haines Junction at The Village Coffee Shop, but we had just had coffee. So, we pass through town knowing that it would be a long time until we could stop there again because of their ridiculous hours.

Haines Junction

Haines Junction is one of the most beautiful places in the universe – in my opinion. The mountains are majestic and breath-taking. From Haines Junction the Alcan goes through Kulane National Park.

This year the riverbed was so dry that we encountered a dust storm. Yes, a dust storm like we had on the Nebraska plains. We saw some sheep on the hillside and continued on through Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing. We knew that we were soon coming upon a very cool RV park that we had stayed at last fall and were ready to stop for the night. BUT, like everything else, it was closed until May 15. So, we kept on driving until Beaver Creek about 20 miles from the Alaska Border. Two years ago we stayed at this same park, but because the pantry was so poorly made, I spent hours cleaning up the mess from broken shelves. This time we just relaxed and enjoyed the evening by curling up on our respective sofas and reading books. It sure is nice not to have leaf spring worries!

ALASKA!

The next morning we crossed the border! Finally back in the U.S. We met a young woman at the border who took our photo though the sign is NOT the rustic last frontier-ish looking as it used to be. Blue and Yellow? She was heading north to Denali and Fairbanks. She had never heard of the Kenai and we told her she needed to go to Alaska’s playground. She took down lots of information and several days later we had a note at our trailer. She missed us on her way back from Homer!

Our goal for the day was Tok, Alaska. It was only a two-hour drive, but we wanted some time for a side trip to Chicken. We pulled into a wonderful RV Park – Tok Village – and were excited to learn that they not only had water flowing, but had opened their RV wash and we could wash the dirt and mud that had been accumulating since Fort Nelson.

After getting ourselves situated, we filled our truck with fuel and drove to our next adventure of Chicken, Alaska.

©2019 Tentstake Ministries Publishing

Down, Flannel and a Shovel

As we started out from Dawson Creek, the sky varied between cloudy and sunny, but sun won out until about 101 miles up the Alcan at a place called ‘Won O Won.’  The flurries began to blow sideways until some rested, melted and made the pavement wet.  I began the day’s drive and when we arrived at the top of Pink Mountain, my husband requested a stop at Sasquatch Crossing.  He wanted lunch.  

At Sasquatch Crossing, the blowing snow pelted us as we trudged through muddy puddles into the restaurant.  A few conversations with the folks there revealed that it continued to snow for the next 100 km (60 miles),  but the sun shone in Fort Nelson.  We hoped for this to be true. 

Menu

I had Sasquatch Vegetable Soup, but my husband opted for chicken – even though the menu said Sasquatch tastes like beef!  With warmth in our tummies, we ventured back out into the near whiteout conditions to continue our northern drive to Fort Nelson.   

We either followed the snow or it followed us because at one stop, it was requested that we please bring warmer weather from the south.  It had not been warmer in the south and the snow continued to blow across the road now sticking to the wide and mowed sides.    We looked for bears as we always do knowing they would stick out black if they weren’t littered with snowflakes.

When we arrived at Fort Nelson, it was brrrrrr cold and the sun stood high in the sky.  We decided to spend the night here because we had no idea what the road conditions would be like on Steamboat Hill to Summit Lake Pass.  Hauling 16,000 pounds of our home is not something we wanted to chance on possible black ice and sliding off a mountainside. 

Soon after we set up, the snow began in Fort Nelson. We watched some courageous bundled-up campers make several loops around the campground for exercise.  After a quick supper of tomato soup and grilled cheese, we decided to venture into the cold and walk off the many days of seat butt.  We pulled out our down coats, scarves, gloves and hats that were nicely packed away until next winter.  As we walked around the campground that began filling up with others who didn’t want to make the trip over the mountains, the temperatures dropped and the wind blew harder.  Once back in our trailer, we tucked ourselves into our bed now made with flannel sheets that had been packed away.  We read books until we fell asleep cozy and warm. 

Day One in Fort Nelson

We woke up to several centimeters of snow on the ground and sub-zero temperatures (in Celcius).  My husband located  our packed-away shovel and cleared off our steps and a little path to the truck.   Is it really May 3?  Is it really this cold?  He visited a few of the nearest campers with big rigs to learn they were all spending a second night at the Triple G Hideaway Campground in order to avoid the ice and snow in the mountains.   One of the couples, Jim and Carolyn will be camp hosting at Hope, Alaska at Porcupine National Forest Campground!  We met some co-workers for ARM.  (I have to admit that I followed them for a while on the Alcan.  They drove very slowly we and chalked it up to them being from Kansas.  Sorry, Bob and Stacy.   Eventually I was so tired of following them, I pulled over.  Several miles down the road they pulled over in the blizzard conditions, but then continued onto the same campground – really the only open campground around.   Yep, I feel stupid now.) 

I called several places on the road ahead – Northern Rockies Lodge in Mucho Lake, Toad River Lodge in Toad River and the Liard Hot Springs Lodge in Liard, but no one knew the road conditions over the passes!  This isn’t Colorado where there are always updates on the road conditions of the passes.  As we vacillated between staying or taking a chance by leaving,  I could hear my brother’s voice in my head, “You are full-time RV’ers, what’s your hurry?”  Well, we would like to get to Alaska before summer.  He reminded me in a text that we have until the summer solstice on June 19.  

I made pancakes and eggs doused in the last of the syrup given to us by some friends we made last year. Thank you, Brent and Sonya!   My husband went to the nearest place and filled our empty propane tank so we could run our furnace.  He then cleaned the ice and snow from the top of our slides.   He also dropped the warm window curtains I had made for Cherry Creek for the winter, but the bottom velcro had been removed when we sent the trailer to Indiana.  I spent a couple of hours working on  them with the minimal supplies I had so they would shut tightly against the windows.  Now, let the cold wind blow while I sit next to our little fireplace and type on my computer.  

We went to the office to pay for another night and met a couple who were tent camping their way to Fort Collins from Anchorage.  He is starting engineering school at CSU and she is a bio-engineer on the search for a job.  We told them we began our trek from Fort Collins and the weather will be gorgeous, summer-like.  They ordered some coffee and got back in their Jeep to head south for a new life.    

Late in the afternoon, we decided to venture out and go to Tim Hortons for something warm to drink.  We met two men, Steve and Alvin, who had worked in the oil and gas industry before it all disappeared into a Middle Eastern economy.  They were two very hilarious Canadian men and we chatted with them for a few hours about everything from hockey and Tim Horton to motorcycles to socialist politics to jokes about three-legged dogs and how how natives feel about snow to the great musicians of Canada.  Whenever we said we needed to leave, they would ask, “Where do you need to be?  What are you going to do?”  They were right.  So, we hung out.

The buzzing on my phone app from the missiles from Gaza attacking Israel haven’t stopped for hours – over 500 now.   One article in the Jerusalem Post quoted a Gazan leader, “The resistance from Gaza won’t stop until the occupation is over.”  When is Israel going to defend itself?

As we were walking out of Timmies, we decided to talk to a man whose truck was covered in ice about the conditions on the passes.  He told us it wasn’t bad though waiting until tomorrow would be better for a truck and trailer like ours.  He was heading to Las Vegas, helping his son move to Summerlin from Anchorage.  Okay, now it’s getting weird.  Our daughter lives in Fort Collins and our son just moved to Summerlin!  Apparently, we are supposed to be hanging out here in good ole’ Fort Nelson meeting people moving where our children live?

Day Two in Fort Nelson.

Though we had hoped the passes would be less icy and snowy, the mountain cams didn’t show better conditions.  Motorhomes and fifth-wheels that had come in the night before were iced over. Most said the roads were nearly impassable.  Our neighbors couldn’t even get their step down because it was frozen solid in an upright position.  They were using a hatchet to chip away at the ice! 

The Meaning of Adventure

While standing in the office waiting to pay for a second night, there were several other campers doing the same.  The word ‘adventure’ kept popping up in the conversations with one woman stating, “This life is always an adventure, eh?”   I decided to look up the word adventure: “an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.”  I liked the word ‘hazardous’ in the definition.  Not. 

After a short walk around the campground to rid ourselves of some cabin fever, we decided to go to Tim Horton’s again.  We have been here long enough that we act like the Canadians – sitting in a coffee shop named after an ice hockey player, chatting with the locals and playing on the internet.  

After having a coffee, we had nothing better to do than to check out the local hardware store.  It had everything from toys to kitchen necessities to plumbing and electrical to yard decorations.  Not only did it kill some time, but I found a nice water bottle for taking with me in the truck.  I believe I already mentioned that we bought a Berkey water filter so we could be more ‘green’.  We were reusing the plastic water bottles, but it didn’t seem very hygienic so I bought a very nice stainless steel insulated bottle that actually fits in the drink holder!  Now I have a souvenir from my snow days in Fort Nelson!  

One of our day’s ‘adventures’ which wasn’t too hazardous was to explore the streets of Fort Nelson off of the main highway.  We drove to the airport and on our way there, several girls were walking along the road and started waving frantically.  We waved back and they cheered!  It must be exciting for them to see a truck from South Dakota? Or is life that boring here?   On the way back from the airport, we were blessed to see this little lady posing just for us by the side of the road.    

Speaking of water, we have also run out in our holding tank.  We didn’t expect to be here as long as we have been and though we try to conserve water, it doesn’t last forever.  We have three options.  The first is to close the trailer up and drive it about 50 yards to the laundry room and fill the tank with one of their hoses.  I don’t like that option because then we have to pack up and unpack.  It’s muddy and cold and is just tedious non-essential work.  The second is to fill the water bladder we use in Alaska to haul water when we boondock.  It’s a wonderful option except that it’s very cold outside and there would be no way to drain it so the little water remaining in it would freeze, crack the bladder and become useless in Alaska.  The third option is to fill a one-gallon jug with water for flushing the toilet and fill our 2-gallon jug for doing dishes.  That is the the option we chose.  Our Burkey has been filtering water consistently so we also have nearly 2 gallons of drinking water.

Now it’s evening and we’re doing little projects to help pass the time and get ready for our departure tomorrow.  The mountain cam has the road looking a little better and we expect warmer temperatures tomorrow.  The sun burst through the clouds a bit today so maybe … we’ll be on the road tomorrow heading toward Toad River, Muncho Lake and Liard.  If not, wait for Day 3 in Fort Nelson. 

©2019 Tentstake Ministries Publishing

Archives

You are currently browsing the archives for the Modern Nomad category.