By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers
Now let’s consider all those bad things you have or will hear about the journey through Western Canada into Alaska; and to be sure, there are very real negatives, some that you may not have considered.
How many times have you heard, “Don’t get your windshield repaired until you get back”? That’s good advice; however, damage is not a chronic Alaskan malady. The Zanders were #13 in a caravan, which I’ll discuss later. Of the 19 rigs in our group, fewer than half suffered windshield dings while on the trip. Of those, few happened while we were in Canada or Alaska. Two windshield bull’s-eyes were in Washin
gton State, another in Oregon. For us, in our GMC 2500 diesel pulling a 10,000-pound 28-foot Bigfoot trailer, no dings … lots of mud on highways being reconstructed but no damage. It’s a matter of not being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The trip is an expensive endeavor. No way around that, but if you’re frugal in traveling the Lower 48, it won’t be much different up there. Four Canadian liters of fuel – slightly more than a gallon — cost us about $3.75 in 2010 (now about $4.20 p/g). In dire need of diesel on a very remote stretch, we paid $2.00 a liter – more than $8.00 a gallon, but the fellow pumping the gas assured me that the station pays $1,000 a day for electricity. I thanked him for being there.
Bread can cost $8.00 a loaf in remote areas. Crazy, yes, but maybe you should have thought of that when you were in a bigger town. At stores with names you’re familiar with along the route prices are not a lot different than back home.
Can you get immediate veterinary care? Probably not. Costs may be high in cities, but care is available. If you’re like most pet owners, you’re willing to pay the price.
And that brings up the biggest negative of which we are aware: healthcare for you. It’s a long drive through Yukon Territory, where some roads are dicey and you may not see a cabin for 150 miles. If the need for medical attention arises, your choices are few. But the kicker is that you can’t expect Medicare to pick up a share of the costs. With other insurances, you’d better check carefully, particularly if you have a condition that could flare up.
Let me reveal a few more negatives. We drove through Oliver, British Columbia, a few days before that road was rendered impassible by a rockslide. We trudged over the infamous “Top of the World Highway” a few weeks before part of the road was washed out stranding a legion of RVers for a few days. And we had to be escorted on a narrow highway surrounded by thick smoke from forest fires. If that’s not your cup of tea, you may want to take a cruise ship, but you’ll miss the real experiences of “The trip of a lifetime.”
If you’re wondering how I could endorse your taking on this formidable trip, there must be another side to this story. Is the bliss in the mind or the landscape? Without a doubt, if you’re up to it, you should go, and don’t wait forever to set out (only until May or June).
You may have heard that the Canadians are unfriendly. Over our 50 days in Canada, we didn’t meet any of them. We can’t imagine where they were hiding, but they certainly didn’t cross our paths, which were many. Alaskans are a different breed from Americans – oh, pardon me, from “Lower 48 Americans.” They are often a bit more rugged with a penchant for sled-dog racing and being outside in cruel weather. That doesn’t make them bad, now does it? We never met a native Alaskan (meaning “a First Nation” native or a long-time resident) that we didn’t like.
Now, let’s cut to the chase. Nature and culture. That’s what it’s all about. And whether that’s something you want to drive thousands of miles to experience or not, you won’t question your choice once you’ve done it.
As for “nature,” think in terms of the incredible vistas, far too grand to depict in words or even pictures – and we got some great photos. We can name 10 states that have unparalleled beauty, just not as much of it as in B.C., the Yukon and Alaska. It seems to never end. Think about fishing, the most ubiquitous pastime of the Great Northwest, and you begin to realize the attraction. But, then, there are the grizzlies and Mama Black Bear and her cubs, and the moose, and caribou, and wolves and eagles.
I often kidded Monique that I never wanted to see another eagle or glacier or bounding waterfall or bear in my life … and suddenly I’m snapping photos by the dozen so I don’t miss a memory.
Native cultures like Athabaskan, Tlingit, Aleut and Inuit are all around and you learn to appreciate them quickly. You also learn to respect the “Sourdough” miners and others who braved the elements to seek their fortunes and often found lonely death. You begin to grasp how hard it was to build the 1,523-mile long Alcan Highway and the teamwork and ingenuity that went into building the 799-mile long Alaskan Pipeline. Among the hostile elements of these environs, nothing came easily.
We took our trip to Alaska as part of a caravan. A very few words about that choice, which we think was right for us. A caravan is not a convoy. We were on our own throughout the journey, but we knew where we were going to stop. We traveled with a group of wonderful, like-minded people who we believe will be friends for life – those things often happen when you share the rigors of these roads. Behind us the entire way was Tailgunner Spence, whose main duty was to make sure everyone got to the next stop safely.
We had never traveled with other rigs before, but we didn’t wince when given the chance to embark on a second caravan trip, that one to the Maritimes … we certainly don’t regret the comfort that guided travel in remote places gave us. Plus, at the outset, included in our sign-up costs were day-cruises, shows, tours and campgrounds that we might not have paid for individually, but we’re happier that we did it – we would have missed some of the most spectacular parts of being up there.
If the negatives are overwhelming your decision to go, maybe you should give serious thought to one of the several caravan companies that travel those routes. If you’re more comfortable just winging it for 5,700 miles over some of the world’s more challenging roads, go for it. And that’s the point of all this. Go for it!
Part III, I’ll post comments from readers about their experiences in Alaska. Stay Tuned!
From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.
© All photos by Barry Zander. All rights reserved
Because of the numerous Spam comments on this site, the comments section has been deactivated. Please email us at [email protected] and I will pass along your comments. Learn about Alaska and see travel photos at ontopoftheworld.bz (and much more to come when time allows).