Free Advice & Observations - Worth Every Penny
May/09/201606:49 Filed in: RV Life
This post is for RVers planning their first trip from the lower 48 to Alaska. We crossed the Canadian border on April 21 and arrived in Anchorage on May 5th. My first piece of advice is to purchase the latest issue of The Milepost before leaving home. Use the book to help you plan your route. There are some things the book does not tell you - dates a campground is open, which are the nicer options for RV parks, etc. Good Sams RV Park Finder was very helpful for finding info about the RV parks along the way. In addition to using The Milepost for planning, we used it every single day of our journey to check for diesel fuel locations and what we could expect along the way.
We entered Canada at the Sweetgrass border crossing. The official did not have a sense of humor. When asked where we lived Mary answered, "The RV." This is the correct answer, we do live in the RV. The official scowled and said, "NO, where do you live?" Mary responded, "North Carolina." At that point he quizzed her about guns, ammunition, weapons and alcohol. After about ten minutes, Mary was allowed to pass through. I was in the car following the RV. The official asked me where I lived, and asked me my car tag number. I knew the first three letters but that was it. I told him it was on the registration in the glove box and he said, "Never mind." He started asking me about guns, ammunition, weapons and alcohol. This continued for quite some time. "Do you have any guns, ammunition or weapons with you?" "What about in the RV, are there any guns, ammunition or weapons in there?" "What about in the truck?" "Do you have anything that could be considered as or used as a weapon?" I told him I had two canisters of bear spray. He asked what color they were, how big they were and if they had a picture of a grizzly on them. I could answer the first two questions, but did not know about the picture of the grizzly because the canisters are in a black holster. I told him I could check. Once again he said, "Never mind." He finally let me pass through. My advice at the border. is tell the truth and politely answer the questions no matter how many times they are asked. Later in our trip we talked with people who were searched at the border (noting was found but they were held up for quite a while).
We followed the Milepost book East Access Route to Calgary. In Calgary, we left the East Access Route and headed to Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper. From Jasper we took Hwy 40 through Grande Cache to Grande Prairie. We were unsure about Hwy 40, but met some people in Jasper who were from Grande Prairie and said they took the route all the time without issue. In planning for the trip, we had a route in mind but did not have a time frame. This worked very well for us because if we liked an area or didn't want to drive the next day we could stay for a while.
We chose to take our chances and ignore advice to wait until at least mid-May or early June to start the journey. There were warnings about bad weather and the already limited services not being open. We did our homework before leaving and verified that rv parks and fuel stops would be open along our planned route. Our thinking was that making the journey before the onslaught of RV caravans would mean less traffic and possibly more wildlife sightings. There was virtually no traffic (except in Banff, Lake Louise and Whitehorse) and we saw quite a bit of wildlife. We had no issues with weather - blue skies almost everyday. We had no problem finding fuel or RV parks that were open. There were a couple of RV parks that we decided we did not want to stay at, but that had nothing to do with our travel dates. The thing that we did miss by starting the journey early was many of the sites along the way were closed. Most of the public campgrounds were closed, almost all museums, exhibits, etc. were closed.
The drive from the Canadian border to Fort Nelson was a piece of cake. There was some climbing and descending on wide roads in good condition. The drive from Fort Nelson to Lake Watson was mountainous with steep climbs, descents and lots of curves. While the driving was a bit more tiring than the previous days, the roads were in good condition. The road from Lake Watson to Whitehorse was in good condition. Many of the few available services on this part of the route were not open.
The drive from Whitehorse to Anchorage was intense. There were long stretches of gravel, lots of frost heaves, damaged pavement and many potholes. If the trip had started with these two days I am not sure we would have continued the journey. Make sure your vehicles are in good working order and that everything inside the RV is secured because these two days were spent rocking and bouncing down the road. You, your vehicles and your RV are going to take a beating. The roads on this part of the route were by far the worst part of the journey - the scenery on this part of the drive rivaled the Icefields Parkway so that was a plus.
After driving the rugged road from Whitehorse to the USA border at Beaver Creek, I somehow thought that once we were back in the USA road conditions would improve, we would have cell service along the route and services would be readily available and reasonably priced. I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Cell service is pretty much nonexistent on the road except for in the towns along the route. For the most part, we had a cell signal every night. Verizon now has a plan that allows users to use their USA plan's data, voice and texts in Canada and Mexico for two dollars a day. We both opted to use this and agree that it was well worth the $2.00 per day. We set this up before leaving the US. It allowed us to call, text and email family and friends during the journey.
It is pretty much impossible to get lost on the Alaska Highway because for the most part it is either the only paved road or the only road.
If you see orange flags alongside the road, slow down. The orange flags indicate poor road conditions. Just because there is no orange flag does not mean the road is in good condition. Between Whitehorse and Anchorage there were a lot more spots where the road was in poor condition than there were flags. In many places frost heaves made the road like a roller coaster filled with damaged pavement and potholes.
Where there are dirt banks along the road, watch for words and icons made of rocks on the banks.
Canadians must love golf courses. We saw a lot of golf courses - we never saw anyone playing golf.
Roads are not always lined (I suspect they were lined at one time, but the lines have weathered away). In towns there may be multiple lanes with no lines - be careful.
Don't be picky when looking for a fuel stop - take whatever is available, it may be all that is available for many miles.
Canadians know how to make a great breakfast. Of all the meals we ate outside the RV, breakfasts were the best - lunches and dinners were just ok and sometimes not really even ok. McDonalds in Canada has great muffins!
Each evening we made plans for the next day. We learned early on that we needed to have multiple contingency plans. As often as not, we ended up going with a contingency plan rather than our primary plan.
If you are not comfortable figuring things out on the fly and knowing that you are on your own if something goes wrong, I recommend traveling with a group. There is no help a phone call away (there is no phone service along most of the route),
Take your time, enjoy the journey.