Saturday, July 9, 2016

Trip Notes (So Far...)

I guess we're roughly half way "through" our trip.  I've been wanting to write about some general points about the trip, nothing really photo worthy, just factoids about driving to Alaska in the summer of 2016.

Road Conditions

When we crossed the Canadian border into British Columbia, I was expecting something akin to walking into the woods on the Appalachian Trail; nothing could be farther from the truth.  The roads in southern BC are as good or better than anything we've seen on US or state highways in the lower 48.  About half way up the Cassiar Highway, you start running into a few patches of gravel here and there, but nothing worse than we've seen on a hundred county highways in the US.  We've gone a couple hundred miles on what used to be called the "Alcan", or Alaska-Canada Highway.  Apparently as recently as the 80's it was gravel and dirt, but it's basically a 2 lane highway as good as any now.  Yes, there are patches of gravel that are very well graded, but if you slow down and pull over upon meeting the few tractor trailers you see, the gravel is no big deal.  If you're not careful, you can get a giant hole punched in your windshield.  In Watson Lake, there was an RV parked next to us that looked like it took a baseball bat to the windshield.  I have to assume they didn't stop and pull over and the closing speed of 2 converging vehicles turns a rock into a lethal weapon.  I was also fearful of long mountain climbs up here.  Again, we're not done yet, but the roads from the Washington state border have been far less hilly than what we ran into frequently traveling in the western US.  We're intentionally taking the more primitive roads from Whitehorse to Dawson and beyond (the Top of the World Highway, etc), so perhaps my attitude will change.  From here on out, any punishment we put the RV through will be through choice more than necessity.


I had to contact Verizon.  I'm paying $2 a day while in Canada to access the features of my calling plan, but for 2 bucks I get all my normal data and minutes.  Cell access has been excellent, with the only exception being along the Cassiar Highway.  Regular land line phones are available, but not cell.  The only cell signal we got on the Cassiar was when we were on the side trip to Stewart, and they had just gotten a cell tower in the last year, linked to the world via a large microwave tower.  There's also satellite WiFi available in the backwoods now.  We had excellent WiFi, but no cell, at the Mountain Shadows RV park in Iskut, for example.  Pretty amazing that it's so fast both ways.  I was only used to satellite signal coming down to Earth in the form of TV.  By the way, Dish Network doesn't work in Canada, but many of the campgrounds have cable TV served over their own satellite dishes.  I've watched the news a couple times, but it's so nasty we turn it off.  Since we got to Watson Lake at the end of the Cassiar, we're seeing cell service pretty much everywhere.  I noticed a lot of microwave towers along the highway, which I assume furnishes the link.  Burying fiber optic cable up here would be a project.  Looking at the coverage maps, we'll see cell service in most of the towns along the way, even in what you'd think would be the end of the Earth.  Modern telecommunications keeps pushing the end of the Earth further and further away.


In summer 2016, it's good to be an American traveling in Canada.  I feel sorry for our Canadian friends, because the exchange rate gives us about a 25% discount on everything.  For example, a good old $5 fill up meal at KFC is the same price here, but 5 Canadian dollars.  With the exchange rate, Laurie and I paid exactly $8.08 US for 2 meals, including their tax.  Substantial savings over the course of a summer.  Also, they're more advanced than we are regarding credit card usage.  Here, they bring a chip enabled card reader to the table and you handle the bill right then.  No asking for the check, then getting paper, waiting for her to come back and take your card, then waiting for her to return with the final check for you to figure out the tip on.  Here, you tell the reader what percentage of tip you want to give and it tallies the total right there, you punch in your pin, and you're done.  The card reader even prints out your receipt.  Pretty slick.  ATMs are also everywhere, so cash has been no problem.  Speaking of cash, you have to feel some Canadian money if you haven't.  It feels like thin Mylar plastic, very durable and less likely to collect germs than good ol' greenbacks.  It takes getting used to.  Also, the $5 is the smallest bill.  They use $2, $1 and smaller coins.  The $1 is called a "loonie" because it has a picture of a loon, the $2 a "toonie"...because it's 2 loonies, duh.

Campground Availability

Laurie and I have been full time RVers for over 4 years now.  We are not "camping", like we used to do in our little 6x6 pup tents we bought at Service Merchandise when the kids were little.  Our RV is our home.  Like most people, we don't want to live in the dirt and pine needles.  So, we like to park our home at a nice place with utility hookups.  We've lived disconnected (aka dry camping) in the motorhome for a week or more at a time, repeatedly, in cool places like Key West.  However, running the generator to use high demand major appliances and charge the batteries gets old. Plus, there's the issue of refilling fresh and discharging waste water tanks.  So, I was a little worried about the availability of modern campgrounds on this trip.  For nothing.  I knew there'd be provincial parks with places to camp, but I never realized how popular RV travel was, even up here.  There are more RV parks with hook ups here than you can shake a stick at.  We've never even been tempted to dry camp so far.  I think we might for a night in the middle of nowhere after Dawson City, but for the most part, nice campgrounds have been more available than in the states.  Most of the vehicles you see up here are RVs.  I bet we outnumber semi trucks, cars and motorcycles combined, two to one.


Sitting here in Whitehorse, we still have a half tank of gas in the Chevy.  We did the side trip to Salmon Glacier and a little running around town, but we haven't put gas in the car since we left Washington.  The RV is a different story.  We've fulled up a couple times now.  I've paid as much as $1.14CD per liter for diesel, as little as $1.03CD.  So, doing some quick math (thank you Google), that's $.79US per liter, 3.8 liters per gallon, so almost exactly $3 a gallon.  That's pretty good, even if diesel was anywhere from $2 in the South to maybe $2.70 in California.  Availability has been fine.  We get about 900 miles to the tank, so drive by dozens of stations, even in the middle of nowhere, without needing to fill up.


This might be the best thing about the whole trip.  Canadians are so nice it takes a little while to get used to.  RVers are generally a pretty nice crowd, so if you combine that with the Canadian warmth, it's been fantastic.  Watching US news is depressing compared to just hanging out with happy people.


We crossed the border in late June, spent the 4th in Stewart, BC and the weekend of 9-10 July in Whitehorse, YT.  Generally speaking, it's been warm and dry.  We've had a rainy day or two, and some evenings that were perfect for campfires, but summer's effect is felt incredibly far north.  The bugs take advantage of the short season too.  It's not as bad up here in the Yukon, but in Iskut it was pretty thick with flies and gnats.

Getting Home

When we were in Florida planning this trip, I was pretty sure the trip up would be great, seeing new things and always wondering what was over the horizon.  I also was pretty sure I wouldn't want to drive back.  Also, there are wonderful things to see along what they call the "marine highway."  So, we're taking a few ferry trips back from Alaska to the Lower 48.  The southernmost Alaskan town you can drive to on the coast is Haines.  From Haines, you can catch a 4 hour ferry ride to the State Capitol, Juneau.  We're catching our ride from Haines to Juneau on August 25th.  We'll get off for a couple days, then proceed on an overnight ferry to Prince Rupert BC, where we'll again disembark for a few days to check out the area.  The final ferry leg we've paid for is from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy, on the northwest tip of Vancouver Island.  We'll spend a leisurely Labor Day weekend (Labour Day here) or a little more on Vancouver Island before jumping on a ferry to Washington, probably Port Angeles on west side of Puget Sound avoiding the Seattle area.  We'll have a month or so to wind our way to Denver, CO by October 15th, when I have a symposium for my doctoral program to attend.


Even after 30+ years of marriage, some couples call it quits when the nest empties out.  Moving into a rolling 400 square foot condo has ended many relationships.  I guess we're pretty lucky.  We've been wandering around our great nation, now our great continent, for over 4 years and I'm amazed at how fun it is to hang out with my wife.  It takes a lot of love and patience when you're in such close quarters, but man oh man the reward is so sweet.

Well, that's all for this rainy afternoon in the Yukon Territory.  I'll have pictures and touristy things next time.

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