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Old 05-15-2009, 11:24 PM   #1
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From Tennessee to Alaska

Well, we were all set to take the bus back to my dad's so he could watch our cats. Then we'd head up to Alaska for 3-5 months in our van. Now I just had to go and find a place that'd let us park for free, with free electricity and water and once a week tank dumping. In return? We have to have the bus parked there. Yeah...that shouldn't be too hard. Sure, it'll cost a heck of a lot in fuel to drive there and back, but we'll save a heck of a lot in hotel and restaurant costs. I figure it'll be a wash. Only possible added expense would be taking a ferry down to Prince Albert, Canada if the Alaska Highway is covered in snow/ice when we have to head back. I figure at about an extra $3,000 for the ferry, it's worth the gamble (remember, we're getting between 3 1/2 to 4 months of free rent and utilities).

So, um...I guess I need to change the oil and filter? Maybe check some other stuff before we go? Is there some kind of "You're about to drive over 4,900 miles in three weeks" checklist? Ok it's only about 4,000 miles from where we'll be leaving from, but we have to drive from Houston, TX back to Tennessee, then head out to Alaska. I do have the Good Sam's roadside assistance which'll cover us while in the US and in Canada.

Might be a good time to order a spare tire?

Oh, and I definitely need to come up with a better name than "The bus previously known as the Bookmobile".
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Old 05-16-2009, 03:01 AM   #2
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

Sorry if i didnt understand what you wrote, but are you saying now you're taking the bus to Alaska or the Van?
Have fun anyway, lots of beautiful country to drive through.
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Old 05-16-2009, 10:26 AM   #3
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

If your going from Tenn. to Alaska proper then it is much farther than that! If you are going to southeast Alaska then it is still alittle farther than that. Ferries sell out so you better have some tickets! When are you coming back? I might be able to tell how the Alcan will be conditions wise at certain times of the year........been down that road a few times. And also if it is a bus your taking the ferry won't take you! If it is a van then plan on five grand for the vehicle and personal tickets for two.......you can camp on the deck of the ferry(bring duct tape!!!!!). The ferry won't let you stay in the van while underway because of fire regulations.....if you have dogs then they will only let you walk them "inside the ferry" for like two fifteen minute breaks throughout the day. More specifics and I could shed some light traveling to the northern world. RECYCLER
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Old 05-16-2009, 10:44 AM   #4
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

Ok, we WERE going to take the van. Then I found a place that'll let us park the bus for free, complete with 50amp hookup, water, and once a week tank dumping. Compared to an RV park, that's a savings of $800/mo. Compared to an apartment, closer to $1500/mo. I figure the money we'd be saving could go towards the ferry back, if the roads become impassible (or rather, dangerous).

The ferry should take the bus, as they have rates for RVs. Cost will be near $3,000. There's also a shipping company that I need to look up again. Rates were about the same, but I was told they had southbound specials. Of course we'd have to fly to Seattle for the second option, not sure about our cats though.

We'd be driving the entire way up, and only take the ferry back if roads are bad, so I shouldn't have to worry about tickets selling out. We'd be driving back anywhere from mid-September to mid-November. We wouldn't extend any past mid-November.

Google Maps says the distance is less than 4,100 miles to Anchorage, AK (that's where my wife's assignment is at). It also says it should take a bit less than three days to get there (yeah right!). I plan on a few days of sightseeing on the way up, and if time permits we'll do more sightseeing on the way back.
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Old 05-16-2009, 08:40 PM   #5
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

It is at least 5days travel at break-axle speeds to get back to the lower 48 from "mainland Alaska". Don't depend on google maps! You can take the alcan or the more scenic highway......notice that highway is "not" plural. The stewart cassiar highway is an alternative route that is not as straightforward travelin' and provides more inexpensive and proliferant pull-off camping opportunities. It is also crazy gorgeous! Personally, I wouldn't travel the alcan or the aforementioned route past september because it is many latitudes north and winter weather can be expected as early as that month. That is winter weather with no services for hundreds of miles. I don't mean to discourage the spirit of adventure, I only mean to support the spirit of preparedness. This is NOT interstate travel but rather less than highway travel. There is a limit as well, for length and height for the "standard" rv size that they let on the ferry. Also, there are restrictions for bringing "pets" through canada. Shots,tags and the such. By all means go for this adventure for it will be a monumental travel experience........just do your homework and it will all be that much better. Check out the milestones directory for accurate mileage and services resources. Good luck with your endeavor and feel free to tap me for more info! RECYCLER
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Old 05-22-2009, 02:34 PM   #6
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

Well, had to buy eight gallons of oil, in addition to filters. The main engine takes 30 quarts, the generator I guestimated at 4 quarts, so got 36. At $20/gallon (I bought the synthetic, it was $20/gallon vs $13/gallon for regular), that's $160 plus tax. They wanted $35 for the filter, I hopped online and bought six for just under $100 shipped. I've had smaller paychecks than what this oil change is costing me.

Also bought some pantyhose so I can filter the old oil and dump it back in the fuel tank. Wife got a chuckle that we were buying pantyhose for the RV. Figure I'll change the fuel filters after I've run the oil out of the tank (with a 900 or so mile trip back home, it shouldn't take long).

Still looking for a spare tire.

So, what else should I be doing before this long trip? Any must-do maintenance? Gotta-pack stuff for emergencies?
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Old 05-31-2009, 08:12 PM   #7
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

Yeah that oil change thing can get real expensive real fst. But, after all you are depending on this tool to work all the way home! As far as what else you might be getting prepared for......hmmmmm. If you have had a DUI in the last FIVE years then you are a felon in Canada. They will let you through but give you a time limit to do it in(14 days max). They will also make you "pay" for the privilage of going through their country(160$ in 2000'). Other than that just make sure you have plenty of spare fluids, a tire is a very good idea, some extra cash is always a good idea. Remember to keep the pedal off the metal because they have a LOT of frost heave damage along the way. The kind of dips that will break an axle at 60mph. You will probably even see some R.V.'s on the side of the road or at the roadhouses that have experienced this calamity that one would never want to be part of. Other than that just use common sense and be safe......and patient! Good luck.....this will be a trip of a lifetime! I'm jealous just thinking about it.......maybe I'll start planning my next one!
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Old 06-08-2009, 08:13 PM   #8
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

Don't drink, so no problems with DUIs. Crossed the Canada border last year no problem, so shouldn't have too much of a problem (though last time I was in a rental car without pets).

Journey starts tomorrow, wish me luck!
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Old 06-08-2009, 09:06 PM   #9
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

Best of luck and keep up the posts of your travels! RECYCLER
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Old 06-20-2009, 12:23 AM   #10
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

I've pretty much decided I'm not driving back. I'll have to cough up the $3k to have the RV shipped from Anchorage (either to Prince Rupert or Seattle, depending on time of year and whether I go with the ferry or cargo ship). I wasn't too scared of the roads, but add some snow and ice....

Only casualties were the inverter and the netbook. The bumps really got to both. Inverter stopped working, whopped it real hard and it came back on, but will still flicker out for a second or so (just enough to shut the tv off, losing my son's place in his movie). Netbook won't charge all the time, and it's not the power supply. All other systems seem fully operational.

We left home on the 9th to pick up the RV (had left it at my dad's). After multiple delays (including my wife's mom and sister deciding to meet us on the way, taking another couple hours out of our day) I decided to just stay at my dad's for the night and head out early the next morning. Got a late start, and ended up staying at my mom's longer than expected (her house was on the way). We ended up driving around 300 miles that day, much less than the 500 bare minimum needed. Next day bumped us up to 1,000 miles, so we were back on track. We were searched at the Canadian border, but obviously not very well (they never looked in the battery or generator bays, and didn't see any of our three cats). We stayed overnight in rest areas or turn-arounds every night except for one (our 3 year old needed a playground, so we stayed in an rv park). Ran low on water a few times, but would have done better if our washer/dryer didn't use about 16 gallons per load (it's a ventless dryer, so it uses a lot of water during the dry cycle). We took quick showers about every day and a half, and twice during our short stay at the rv park (from about 8:30PM to noon the next day). Would have done all our laundry at the rv park, but no 50amp lots could be found (it was after hours, had to make do with a 15amp hookup). We were able to average 750 miles on multiple days, so were able to take it easy towards the end of the trip. Took longer to get through several sections of road than I had anticipated, but I did plan on delays. We arrived in Anchorage on the 17th. Took about seven days (not counting the wasted first day).

Wish we had more time to visit sites along the way. We stopped at Whitehorse, seemed like a popular rv stop (probably a dozen or more RVs in the Wal-Mart parking lot, RV park viewed from the road seemed full, etc.). It was just a quick Wal-Mart and Pizza Hut stop though, then back on the road. Once in Alaska Tok would have been a good overnight stay, but we just stopped to let our son play in the playground, fuel up and fill up our water tank. We also stopped at Matanuska Glacier, hiked out and walked on the glacier. Two tour groups came while we were there, and everyone was dressed pretty warm with helmets on. We just had jackets, wife had our baby in the snugli, and our son was just walking along with us.

As for restaurants on the way, hope you like McDonald's, A&W, Subway, and Tim Horton's. There were a couple Boston Pizza places (forgot the exact name), and Whitehorse had a couple more familiar places (like Pizza Hut). Don't forget to stock up on maple syrup and soft drinks while in Canada. We forgot to get the syrup (doh!) but have over a dozen 2-liter bottles of soft drinks. They use real sugar (not high fructose corn syrup), and we can tell the difference. Just be aware that each drink has a 25/cent deposit, and 3/cent or so recycling fee added on. Wal-Mart has generics for $1 in Whitehorse

As for wildlife, I saw some bears, buffalo, and some goat animal. Wife saw a moose or something in the water. Oh, and mosquitoes, huge annoying mosquitoes.

Diesel in Canada wasn't much more than in the US. Across the border it was $0.85/liter, or about $3.22/gallon. The cheapest was $0.75/liter with a 4.5cent cashback that you could use in their grocery store, so that ended up being about $2.67/gallon. Highest was $1.09/liter, or $4.13/gallon. Once in Alaska diesel was about $3.69/gallon, and around Anchorage the cheapest I've seen was $3.29 (I filled up at $3.39, the average price). Oh, and in general diesel was cheaper than gas while in the lower 48 heading up, and through all of Canada, but it's higher than gas in Alaska (regular is about $2.79-$2.89 right now). I had budgeted a max of $4/gallon for fuel, so we didn't do too bad.

We're currently parked in a high school parking lot in Anchorage with free 50-amp hookup, free water hookup, permission to dump gray water on the ground, and weekly dumping of our tank. Great view of the mountains. Elementary school with playground next door. Free wifi (well, at least it's unsecured wifi). Wife has a 30-minute walk to work. We bought a 4Runner, but she's used to a 30-minute commute, might as well walk right? She'll get to drive once we move to Eagle River, about 20 miles away.
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Old 07-15-2009, 02:45 AM   #11
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

Glad you made it safely. Enjoy the North and the mosquitos.
So how much money did you spend on fuel?
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Old 07-16-2009, 03:17 AM   #12
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

Quote:
Originally Posted by swinada
Glad you made it safely. Enjoy the North and the mosquitos.
So how much money did you spend on fuel?
I prefer to not know how much I spent on fuel Trip back may be even more expensive, if we end up having to ship the RV via cargo ship or ferry.
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Old 07-16-2009, 12:46 PM   #13
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

I'm jealous! Congrats on having the guts to take such an awesome journey!
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Old 08-11-2009, 07:08 PM   #14
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

Quote:
Originally Posted by mightybus
Can you please send us a few pictures, tell us about a few more things about the area, tell us if you recommend someone making the journey, when you plan on bugging out etc.
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About the area...well we're not much into fishing or hunting, so that's a big chunk of what Alaska's about that I can't report on. We've walked on a glacier, hiked to another one, went on a tram up a mountain, seen spectacular views, etc. Played in snow and in a lake on the same day. Stuff like that. Might be going on a trip next week to Fairbanks to attempt to see the Northern Lights. Sun activity might spike the 18th or 19th (we could be there the 19th), so if it looks like it'd pan out and the smoke has cleared, we'll go. Otherwise we'll divert to Valdez this month and try Fairbanks next month.

Trip wasn't that bad. Roads were better than when I drove to Houston, TX. They were so bad then that the hinge I put on one side of the generator cover (meant as a quick fix) bent, and I was worried the cover might eventually come off. Didn't happen this time. Now, when I made the trip to Houston, there was a freak snowstorm around Memphis, TN. This is what caused the bad/rough roads.

I should probably note that the hard drive in my main laptop started to fail too. The hard drives that failed were in devices that were NOT running at the time, plus they were all laptop drives (so they should have better shock protection). As of now, the only drive that completely survived is the one in the netbook, which WAS running at the time (it served as my gps). If I had to do it again, I'd make sure anything with a hard drive in it was well cushioned. I might get another netbook that has an ssd drive (no moving parts), as I'm tempting fate keeping it on during the rough parts. Oh, and running the washer while driving past Destruction Bay (some of the worst frost heaves are here) probably wasn't smart, but it worked fine afterwards.

If your bus/rv is in good mechanical shape, and you've got the money to take care of a potential breakdown while on the way (not to mention money for fuel, food, etc.) I say go for it. Roadside Assistance is virtually a must, I'd get a plan with either Good Sam or Camping World (I believe they're fulfilled by the same company, I need to double-check as it's time to renew). Even AAA may not be a perfect option, with mileage limits, iffy coverage in Canada, and also iffy RV coverage (even if you get RV coverage, it's not valid in some places). The plan from Good Sam and Camping World will tow you as far as is needed, works for your RV everywhere, and is good anywhere in North America (I think you might have to pay first in Mexico then get reimbursed, but they pay upfront in the US and Canada). If you were to break down on the Alaska Highway it could be hundreds of miles to get a tow, and they can charge a pretty penny.

Currently plan on leaving mid October. Hopefully we'll have good weather. If not, then I'll see about staying until mid November and then taking the ferry back.
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Old 08-17-2009, 09:46 PM   #15
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

Just a quick update. Gonna head towards Fairbanks Wednesday. Hope to see the Northern Lights. If I feel brave I'll drive about 300 miles one-way on a gravel road to get to the Arctic Circle. One of those things you do for bragging rights I guess. Do some more sightseeing (gotta stop by North Pole, AK since we've got kids), head back and stay at the Operations building for the school district in Anchorage (the Camper Host program for the parks was canceled for the fall, luckily they found another place for us). The new place only has two 20-amp 110 connections, so any cold nights we'll have to run the generator (which is fine, we'll just do laundry those nights, since the washer/dryer requires 220v too).

New plan is to drive the RV back sometime in the second half of September. If the roads get too bad I'd have to ship it on a cargo ship for about $3k, buy three plane tickets to meet up with it near Seattle (and we'd have to fly our three cats too), and still drive it home. $$$$$$. Or, I can drive it when I know the roads are good and fly back if I need to. Have to see what happens with my wife's contract. Basically I'll either drive myself and the kids back home in September and she'll fly home in October; or I'll drive the RV home, fly back to Anchorage, and we'll all fly home in November. At least I shouldn't have to worry about tire chains.
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Old 08-28-2009, 04:24 PM   #16
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

Had no idea we were on the same road the Ice Road truckers drove in Season 3 until we were already on it. It was so rough, I figured it might be the one (I don't watch the series, but my dad told me about a rough road they were on in Alaska). We drove the entire 414-mile (one-way) long Dalton Highway, stopped at Coldfoot Camp to refuel and get some food, and again at Prudhoe Bay.

We did see the Northern Lights, they were faint all of one night, only got bright for about a minute (and I stayed up for hours waiting for an encore). No pics, sorry (didn't bring my tripod, there's no way I can hold the camera steady enough long enough to take a good picture of them). Also saw Santa's house in North Pole, Alaska (had to send everyone postcards), ate at a McDonald's in Fairbanks (they had a Playland), saw some scenery in Valdez (I tried to explain to my wife that there was a much bigger waterfall just 15 minutes from our home in TN, but oh well), and then came back.

I'm still updating the blog, so many pics to go through. RV made it through in one piece, though the front tires were wearing a bit funny, the outside was all wavy (the waves finally disappeared, but of course the outside is still worn down more than the rest). The inverter even started charging the batteries again, I guess that Dalton Highway shook it hard enough to make it start working again.
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Old 08-28-2009, 04:57 PM   #17
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Re: From Tennessee to Alaska

Quote:
Originally Posted by Smitty
Post a link to your blog.

Smitty
And just two posts up:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Smitty
I was going to ask for pics too, until I saw the link you added (thanks).
At least I'm not the only one with memory problems

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