Sunday, August 22, 2010

Alaskan Highway South

Last Monday we got the oil changed on both the coach and the Jeep. They were both done before noon and a heavy smoke enveloped Fairbanks from a nearby forest fire. We decided it was time that we started to head back south.

We decided to do something that we have never done before, and that was to drive the complete Alaskan Highway. We have driven all of the Alaskan Highway before, but never all in one segment. We had also never drove the highway south of Watson Lake, so it would all be a new experience. We originally had planned to go to Chicken and take the Top of the World Highway to Dawson City in the Klondike area of the Yukon, but there was more flooding and the highway was again closed. Going back down the Cassiar Highway was also not an option as it is closed due to a forest fire.

Woodland Bison along the Alaskan Highway
 in the Yukon Territory
The Alaskan Highway was built in 1942, by the US Army and in only 8 months. It was supposed to be a supply route to Alaska in case the Japanese invaded. It is 1400 miles long, 1500 if you include the road from Delta Junction to Fairbanks. To put it into perspective, that is equivalent to building a road from Miami to New York, only there you would have a little better conditions. The original road was all dirt, now it is all paved, or used to be all paved. There are few bad spots on the road today, like the hundred miles of hell between the US border and the Burwash Landing and the hundred miles of purgatory between the Haines Junction and Whitehorse. Other than that, the road is in pretty good shape and can be easily driven at 45-55 mph. There are a few construction zones that will slow you down and the ever-famous red flags signaling a break in the pavement. The secret to driving the highway is to have no schedule and take it slow and easy. From Fairbanks to Whitehorse there are no stoplights and only one stop sign. From Whitehorse to Fort Nelson, there are no stoplights or stop signs. That is a total distance of over 1200 miles and it is pretty desolate out there. The last 300 miles of the highway is pretty busy now with the shale oil and gas boom going on in that area.

Stone Sheep in the Stone Mountain Area
Over half of the little service centers along the highway are now closed. Those that are still open are getting a pretty good buck for their services. We found diesel fuel at Muncho Lake at 1.699 a liter. That works out to about $6.32 a gallon with the current Canadian currency conversion. Fortunately we did not need any fuel and could get down to Fort St. John were it was a lot cheaper. The least expensive we found fuel was in Grande Prairie, Alberta, where it was an equivalent of $ 3.30 a gallon; less than what we paid in most of Alaska. Fortunately for us, in Canada, diesel is six to ten cents less per liter than gasoline.

We finished the Alaskan Highway in Dawson Creek, BC. From there we drove south on the Big Horn Highway to Jasper. And then went down on the Ice Fields Parkway through Jasper and Banff National Parks. This is normally a beautiful drive through the Canadian Rockies, but for us the visibility was obscured by smoke from a forest fire in Williams Lake, BC. It did not clear up until we started out of Kootenay NP.

Jake has had enough
and tries to escape
We spent four out of our five nights in Canada at a Wal-Mart. We didn’t plan it that way, they were just there at the end of the day when we were done driving. The Wal-Mart in Whitehorse was by far the busiest that we have ever seen and there were over 50 RV’s there. Most of the others had 15-25. Why do we stay at Wal-Mart’s? They are right off the road, easy to get in and out of and are paved (no mud). You can also pop in and buy any grocery items that you might need and most camping supplies. We would not call Wal-Mart a destination, but it certainly is a convenient stop. Most of the Wal-Marts welcome RV’ers and at many of them we were able to find a free Wi-Fi close by.

The way back from Alaska was mostly just continuous driving. We were up early and on the road before the crack of noon. We drove most of the day, stopping only for fuel, food and rest room breaks; driving well into the cocktail hour. We ate most of our meals in the coach, except and for a $17 chicken sandwich at Muncho Lake and an excellent breakfast at the Toad River Lodge. They had a nice ad in the Milepost and we had to see it. After seven days and 2200 miles of continuous driving, we are all starting to suffer from “coach fever”. The worst is Jake who is refusing to get back into the coach and has to be dragged back.

We arrived back in the States in Eastport, Idaho, fifty miles west, five weeks and 6500 miles from where we left in Montana. We were almost out of fuel and booze, because Mike refused to buy anything in Canada when he knew it would be cheaper in the states. We are now ready to do all of those things in Idaho that we planned to do before that last minute decision to go to Alaska. The problem is that we cannot remember what we were going to do.

We are now in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho and are going to park the coach, unhook the Jeep and relax for a while. Both the coach and the Jeep need a good wash job. That will be a priority to get both of them cleaned up. After that, we will try to remember what we had planned and then make a big loop through the mountains of Idaho.

We hope that you all have had a wonderful week.

Take care, Love,

Linda Jake and the Fat Man