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May 06, 2016

North to Alaska !!! more on trip planning

It's raining so neither bikes nor boots this weekend.  But it gives me a chance to fill in some 'options' on the Alaska spreadsheet.  I thought I'd share the process I went through for this years big Alaskan adventure.

I offer you Johnny Horton for some background entertainment while reading through this post.

Although we have had our RV since 2012, I’ve only recently decided to blog our travels.  My inspiration was the fun of following our neighbors, Debbie and Greg’s Alaskan Road Trip.  I like their relaxed style of travel!  And knew we'd not be only a year or so behind.

In January I posted that Alaska would be our big adventure this year.  This is not an easy trip to plan!  It is likely a bucket list trip for many and as the distances are huge, it takes some planning and we’ve been making/changing/finalizing plans for the past 6 months or so.

I've read up on about the experiences of others who have/are blogging their recent experiences:
    Island Girl Walkabout has some fabulous photo essays from Hector
    Gone with the Wynns offers tons of adventurous energy, with great stories, pictures, videos, recommendations.
    WheelingIt offers some insights into additional blogs and planning from their bucket-it list and some good thoughts as to why they have not taken their RV up yet ... and perhaps why we should not!

    Our daughter was able to spend a few weeks as a college graduation present to herself! and our son more recently took his wife to Denali.  OK it's our turn and yes it is a very loooong road trip.

It looks like Camper Chronicles will be about a month ahead of us and is a good site for us to watch.  They have posted some great details of their planning.

But what Camper Chronicles failed to mention is health coverage, most US policies, including Medicare, are NOT accepted in Canada.  A supplemental ‘travel insurance’ is required if you choose not to go naked.  Pacific Blue Cross offers a pretty decent plan, and the one we will consider if we choose not to go commando.

Here are other items I took as action items in preparation for this adventure.  They are listed in no specific order and presented as bullets to consider:
  • Caravan groups and schedules offer ideas  of what the ‘pros’ think are important, with travel times and dates to ‘avoid’.  I work with some folks who used Alaskan Discovery Tours and that's not a bad idea for a first time trip or if you’d like FREE RV technical and roadside service, fuel discounts, pet sitting, international satellite phones, etc.
  • The North to Alaska website also has some good information.
  • Following the recommendations of those who have been there ,and the online visitor guides and websites, it was time to get good paper maps of Alaska and western Canada.  Along with The Milepost guide book (a gift from our daughter), I used a colored pencil to mark up the maps from the list of MUST do items.  And then a different color to mark it with the optional WANNA do items.
  • I updated it again from Milepost! It has some great options for Canada too!  Canada is a big part of this trip and not to be missed.  I also marked up The Milepost, perhaps a bit of overkill. And then I connected the dots on the map to determine the route.
  • I used Google to drive the route adding days, allowing for time to enjoy the sites along the way.  I tried to allow time for the usual chores i.e. dumping, filling, WiFi, laundry, shopping, etc. ...
  • And allowed sufficient time for seeing/doing – hiking, tours, museums, visitor centers.  It takes two nights at the same site to provide one day to do something, when check in/out are considered.  With the route and basic itinerary in the spreadsheet it was time to price out the route.   OUCH!  I included the must do and gas estimates in the committed column and kept optional items in a separate column.  This also helps to determine how much Canadian currency to carry.
All this research is on the computer and I placed it on a flash drive, I anticipate poor cell and WiFi availability

Last year we were able to 'lent' out the house for our 4 months on the road.  This year we have a bit over 3 months to complete this trip, so that is the window we have to work with.
  • I then added the dates! and made commitments as reservations for high priority limited access venues! For instance Denali and a ferry we need to use.
Yes a ferry -  Marine Highway – it’s part of the experience.  But note - the requirements for ferry travel ticket(s) include:    photo id in same name as the tickets – NO nicknames!   RV docs ins/reg – turn off the propane.  

Before leaving home I've had the RV checked to make sure it is ready along with all the necessary paperwork:
  •     RV – ensure all services and inspections along with insurance and DMV up to date
  •     DMV tags, insurance, Canadian coverage certificates are REQUIRED!
  •     A PASSPORT is required!!! ours are good for another few months after we expect to return. 
  •     Check the credit cards and drivers license expiration dates also.
  •     GPS updated for Canada, Alaska
  •     Make sure roadside / trip interruption / assist services / warranty / etc. include Canada and Alaska.  We have Good Sam and all our subscriptions are covered.
  •     I changed out the RV alarm batteries and set a spare set aside
RV – Spares:
Most parts items can be had quickly even if shipping 2-day is required, I’ll still carry items that can ruin the day and are easy to replace:
  •    Fuel and air filter; and tools to replace
  •    Correct oil filter wrench, but let a shop do the oil change even although 229.51/2 oil is not common (but 13 qts is just too much to carry!)
  •     Clear shipping tape and super glue for windshield chip repair, etc.
  •     Windshield wipers
  •     Full set of manuals for all RV appliances
  •     Jump start battery pack
  •     5 gallons of non-bio Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel #2. All auto diesel in Alaska is ULS #2 … bio content?
  •     Serpentine belt and tools to replace
I've removed hubcaps/simulators, rather than buy replacements after we get back :)

We’ll be carrying bicycles, which will require their own unique tools, tire patch kit, air pump etc. and we’ll rent a car when/if needed.

My tools include:
A selection of hand tools for typical ‘home’ repairs including electrical and plumbing, with the ability to check for water and gas leaks. The basic specialty tools for RV spares I mentioned.

Cell coverage:
Before crossing the border we'll have to decide on cell service via Verizon, which would be $2 roaming per phone, $30 plan on MiFi.  A cell booster will likely be needed, which can be while traveling or a less expensive option is a stationary unit.  

An unlocked smartphone with Canadian SIM card might be a better option. Check out:

That's still not yet settled and we may just go without.

CASH – Credit cards may/maynot be accepted (Visa/MC are more common, there is little AmEx in Canada).
Current exchange rate $1 US = $1.25 CAD.
With the trip priced out I have a reasonable estimate on needs, but of course it'll not be enough ... we always go over budget :)

There are border crossing restrictions to consider such as limits on food and booze and medicals can be found at:
We expect to be crossing at Sumas WA into BC … Alberta requirements may vary

This is perhaps a trip-of-a-lifetime and as much as boondocking - man vs. nature - is part of the Alaskan experience, and we will boondock!  I’m willing to pay-to-stay for the right amenities …

I am aware EVERYTHING! in Alaska will cost more – most everything has to be trucked/barged in and sold in the few months of tourist activity.  I’ll not complain and just be willing to say thank you when a decent wine is available.

I expect this could be our most expensive trip, and that’s ok if we come home with no regrets.

And for certain add a playlist:

Fortunately next year's destination is set in stone!
Where will you be August 21 2017?

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