Monday, June 30, 2014

Boondocking on the Denali Highway

Boondocking on the Denali Highway - We spent last night boondocking on the Denali Highway which goes between Cantwell and Paxton. The term highway is not entirely accurate, at least not in the term to which I am accustomed. From Cantwell, ithe road is paved for about 3 miles and then paved again about 15 miles from Paxton. The other 100 miles or so is dirt/gravel and very rough in places.

I had read in a couple of publications that *many* RVers boondocked in pullouts on this road. We drove about 10 miles before we turned around and we did not see a single RV. Hollie got to practice his backing up skills as when we decided to turnaround the road was not wide enough. I walked back and guided him to a parking area by a lake. The spot is about 9-10 miles from Cantwell, AK. It was on a lake and there was one other RV there. What a beautiful spot! Just prior to pulling into the area, we spotted a young black bear crossing the road. Needless to say, we did not spend any time outside, especially since it was raining---again.

We are currently in Anchorage and will spend the next two nights at the Willawaw campground off the Portage glacier highway. We'll take a day trip to Whittier.

We have now been on the road since June 4 and have had a couple of RV expenses. The first was when our electrical cord connecting the tow and the trailer came undone and while dragging on the road, the whole plug was sheared off. We got that repaired in Whitehorse for about $75. Then, we had to replace a fuse and battery for the Scamp. We also bought tires for our truck, which was something that we had intended to do prior to leaving home but somehow forgot to do. On the plus side, we do have three extra tires for our Scamp, two of which are the Kumhos which are highly rated and recommended by other Scamp owners.

In general, all is well. After Portage glacier and Whittier, we will be in Seward from July 2-6 so we can watch the Mt Marathon run on July 4. Seward has a wonderful 4th celebration and the Mt Marathon race is a hoot to watch. It is about 3.5 miles in distance, but it is literally run straight up and back down a mountain (without a real trail).

We haven't actually decided where to go after Seward. It will depend on the weather.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


Finally, we have some really nice weather. Yesterday and today we have had full sunshine with temperatures in the 70s. This is after about of week of rain and much colder temperatures than usual. Of course, being from South Mississippi, these temps felt even colder to me.

We arrived in Fairbanks on Friday and it was still raining so we found a city recreation center where we were able to workout and shower. I ended up doing 5.25 miles on the treadmill. Had I known I would race a 5K the next day, I would not have worked out at all.

 Later Friday, we found out about the "Run From the Cops 5K" that would be held the next day. I called around and found that we could register race day, but not be guaranteed a shirt. Since I have hundreds of shirts, that was not a problem. In general, it was a good race with about 180 runners/walkers. Unlike MS races, they did not have age group awards. All they gave were the top three male and female.

The course was a bit long (3.2) and I think my time was about 29:15. I'm OK with that because I certainly did not follow my usual pre-race routine. In addition to running the day before, I also overslept so I did not have time to do a proper warmup and I forgot and left my Garmin and my iPod in the trailer. I can't recall how many years it has been since I have done a race without those two gadgets. During the run, I had no idea of pace and not having feedback on distance, it felt like a 10K rather than a 5K.

The run from the cops theme involved a group of policemen starting 2 minutes after the general field and them running 30 minutes for the 5K. In theory, if you ran a 32 minute 5K, you beat the cops. Overall, this was a well organized event, with a nice course and lots of donuts after the race. I did get a shirt, but it is a large and I will give it to son Robin. It is bright orange (think inmate colors) and the design is really unique involving bad guys being chased by cops with the "O" in cops being a donut.

We spent the afternoon seeing the sights of Fairbanks. The most interesting place was a business that has been here for over 100 years. They make wood bowls out of Alaska birch, using a technique that is not common. Check out for more information. I thought of my friend Neil Solomon who makes such beautiful bowls, but uses a different technique.

This afternoon we will drive back to the Denali area where we hope to get a clear view of MT McKinley. We've been to Denali three times and have yet to see more than half of the mountain.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Denali and Fairbanks

We spent Wednesday and Thursday night in Denali National Park. This was our second time to visit here and we were so hoping to see THE MOUNTAIN! That did not happen. As some of you may have heard, this area has had record rainfall for the past week or so. It was so bad in the park that some of the remote sections of the park road washed out and people at the backcountry lodges had to be evacuated by plane and helicopter. We were at Savage River Campground and had no problems. The only wildlife sightings that we have had were 4 caribou.

We are now in Fairbanks at our second home (Walmart parking lot) with a couple dozen other RVers. We will be here tonight and tomorrow night and then head back down the Parks Highway to Denali Highway where we hope to have a view of THE MOUNTAIN. After one night there, we will continue to the Portage Glacier/Whittier area for a couple of days.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

June 19 to June 24 Whitehorse to Wasilla

June 21 – Whitehorse to Toke – This is the absolute worst part of the Alaska Highway, but it is much better than it was on our previous two trips. The key to surviving this section of the highway is to take it slow and really look ahead in anticipation of the orange flags that mark rough sections. If the flags are on the right side of the road and there is no oncoming traffic, the smart thing to do is to move over to the left and then take whatever angle is dictated by the dip or hump or hole in the road. In other words, you drive all over the road and end up feeling like you are riding a roller coaster. If the flags are on both sides of the road, you better really slow down. This road condition is caused by the constant freezing and thawing of the road and the bumps and dips are known as frost heaves. 

Also, you have to be aware of what is going on behind you. There are still long sections of the road that are gravel or are under repair. You have to be especially careful in these areas where you can sustain major windshield damage. If there is a fast moving vehicle coming from the back or there is oncoming traffic, you try to find a pull off to the side so that your vehicle will not suffer windshield damage from flying rocks. This is especially true with large trucks or the big RVs. If they are moving fast, they really throw the rocks.

All in all, we did OK with the exception of a couple of screws coming out in various places in the trailer. Once you get into Tok, you make an assessment of the tow and the camper to find damage. We had a part come loose on the refrigerator and had to find the screw to put it back together. Other than that, we survived.

In Tok, we stayed at the same campground that we have used before. After the previous two nights boondocking at the Walmart in Whitehorse, it was nice to be in a full service place with WIFI and showers.

Something that you see in Tok is huge RVs, cars, trucks, trailers, etc that are covered in dust/dirt. This is from having driven the "Top of the World" highway which is paved for part way, but is mostly a dirt/gravel road. You cannot imagine how dirty these vehicles are. There is a carwash (costly) at the campground and vehicles were lined up 4-5 deep waiting their turn to get a bath. We heard that earlier in the day a large RV had gone up the side of the road and ended up on its side.

June 22- Tok to Wasilla - On our previous two trips we drove this road from West to East and on both times it was rainy. This time we drove East to West and I have to say that this is right up there with the most beautiful drives I have ever taken and since I have driven in 49 states, I guess that says a lot.

The drive began with a bit more excitement I would have liked. About 30 miles out of Tok, where the road is quite narrow with slopes and vegetation on either side, A large female moose crossed the road right in front of us. We narrowly missed it! It’s a good thing we had electric brakes on the trailer. After that scare, the rest of the trip was very enjoyable.

We knew that there were large nests of trumpeter swans in lakes along the way and sure enough, we found a lake where we counted 14 adult swans and over 100 young.

Friday, June 20, 2014

June 9 - Council Bluffs to June 18 Whitehorse

June 9 – Council Bluffs, IA - I think the last day that I posted, we were in St Joe, MO on June 8. If I already wrote about our day in Council Bluffs, IA, please ignore or read it again, but since I am catching up on my blog and have no idea when I will next have time to do this, excuse if this is a repeat. Located just a cross the river from Omaha, NE.  Council Bluffs is a beautiful old town. I really wanted to visit the railroad museum, but it is not open on Mondays. The highlight of our time here was working out at the Y.  We then discovered a really, really nice grocery store, Hyvee. They had just about any food item you would want, along with a coffee bar, bakery, deli, pizza bakery, small cafĂ© and much more. Of course, we chose the bakery and were rewarded with some delicious items. 

I was especially impressed with the employees and how polite and neatly dress they appeared. Then I found the reason---it is an employee owned operation. Maybe if we had more businesses like that, we would have better employees and a more pleasant shopping experience.

We really liked Council Bluffs. There are many older homes, near downtown, that are being rehabbed. Even the downtown Y was undergoing renovation.

June 10 – Mitchell, SD – I finally got to see The Corn Palace. I had always heard about it, but really did not know what to expect. Even after seeing it, it is hard to explain so I will include a link which will give the information:

Basically, it is a large multipurpose building that hosts basketball, wrestling, plays, concerts, rodeos, etc. Each year the outside is decorated with ten different kinds(colors) of corn which have been grown on acreage specifically dedicated to this purpose.. They have a theme and an artist comes up with the designs. This design is then transferred to roofing paper which is attached to the outside of the building. Then, the ears of corn are cut lengthwise, trimmed and then nailed to the outside walls. You have to see it to believe it. The inside walls also have the corn designs, but those are not changed yearly.

The rest of our day in Mitchell was spent walking around the downtown and visiting the Cabella’s store. In the downtown, we found a shop that specialized in cupcakes. They were uniquely decorated and came in a wide variety of flavors. We bought some and then found a coffee shop where we enjoyed the cupcakes.

Our night was spent at our second home---the Walmart parking lot.

June 11 – Gillette, WY – This was a very long day as we stopped in Wall, SD and visited The Wall Drug Store. Once again, it is difficult to explain so I will include a link

All I can say is that it is a combination of a museum and every kind of souvenir, food, drug store items, restaurant, etc. you can imagine.

We then drove through Sturgis (think motorcycle rally), Spearfish and Deadwood. Since we had previously visited this area, we did not go to Mt Rushmore, but continued on to SD to workout at what we thought was a Y. When we got there we learned that several years ago, the place had stopped being a Y. It had become a very rundown community center, but it did have some cardio equipment and some weights. The building was three or four levels and had a huge indoor swimming poll that was empty. That was quite eerie to see. The cardio equipment was in the basement and the area was dark and cold. Needless to say, this was not my choice for a place to workout, but since it was cold and rainy outside, I didn’t have much choice. The treadmill that I was on was not calibrated correctly and even when I had the incline set at 15% I was still having to hold on to keep from flying off because it was at about 3% decline. In other words, I was running downhill for 4 miles. That may sound like a wonderful thing, but trust me, it is not. By the time we finished there and went to the Walmart, we found that they did not allow overnight parking. We knew that the one in Gillette, WY did so that is how we ended up driving so far.

June 12 & 13 – Billings, MT  and Great Falls, MT– I really do like both of these towns. Lots of old homes that are being fixed up and the whole area just had a feel of community.  I regret to admit, that other than liking the towns and finding a great bakery in each, I really have not much memory of our visit. Between the two towns, we are able to see some very fat cattle and realize why Montana is called Big Sky Country.

June 14 – Lethbridge, AB – As you can see we have crossed the border and are now in Canada. Everyone dreads the border stations. When entering Canada, they are very serious about not having handguns and many RVers do carry guns. We do not, but we were still concerned that they might search our truck or trailer. Instead, they were much more casual than usual and did not even ask us about the “illegal” fruit and vegetables that we had in the fridge. Last time, they took my tomatoes. I guess they did not need any this year.

We have previously stayed a night in Lethbridge so we were comfortable with finding the Y and getting our spot at Walmart with many other RV rigs.

June 15 – Drayton Valley, AB - We wanted to avoid Calgary because traffic is such a mess, even on a Sunday. Since I was looking for a Y and really not familiar with the city, we messed up and went to a Y that had been closed for a couple of years. Being frustrated with big city traffic of Calgary and certainly not wanting to go through Edmonton, we found a less traveled route. That was a good decision because not only did it get us away from heavy traffic, but it took us by the venue for the Calgary Olympic games. It was neat to see all that. We were especially impressed with the sky jumps. It’s amazing to see how high they are and then realize that people actually willingly “jump” from these to sail great distances before making a graceful landing.

Because of not being able to find a Y, this turned out be our first non-workout day in nine days. People ask us how and why we can continue to carry on our fitness routines while on the road. My answer is that working out has always been a part of my normal day and as long as we have access to a shower, it is easy to continue while on the road. We do have a small shower in our trailer, but try not to use it. The Y away program and local recreation centers save us. We are able to use treadmills for our running/walking and Hollie can ride the recumbent bike.
June 16 - Grande Prairie – This area is so busy with all the oil and gas operation that is taking place in the area. There are 18 wheelers hauling all kinds of heavy equipment and much of the other traffic is work trucks going and doing whatever. Something that is really evident is that these workers spend a lot of time on backroads. The trucks are really dirty from that. There are help wanted signs everywhere and at various points along the road we see “man” camps or workcamps where the workers live. The economy here is booming.

A by product of all this oil and gas money is that county in which Grand Prairie is located has a brand new, beautiful Sportplex, that has a three lane running track, fitness equipment. indoor soccer, ice rink, basketball courts, snack bar, and even a sport’s bar. Since we have been doing inside workouts, it was nice to get outside for a run. I was able to get in 4 miles of a planned 5 mile run before the storm moved in. So I finished up on the indoor track which was 6.5 laps for a mile. I really was impressed with this place.

June 17 – Fort Nelson, BC – This is another small town that has been hugely impacted by the oil and gas boom. They have another of the Sportsplex centers, but this one is mainly devoted to curling and hockey. The dressing rooms were not open to the public, but we were able to go to their old Aquatic Center to shower after our outdoor workouts. This center is nothing fancy, but they are building a huge facility. It was nice to run around the town. This is one of the reasons I so like my Garmin watch. I am able to just head out and as long as I don’t get too lost, I can get in a great run/walk and know my distance and pace.

We have found that once you leave the US, boondocking is allowed most everywhere. I think this is due the knowledge that the people heading to Alaska tend to spend money in the areas where they boondock. This is also known as dry camping. There are so many RVers going through Canada as they explore and also move on the Alaska. You can simply find a vacant lot or a pull off/rest area and park for the night. That is what we did here in Fort Nelson. We found a parking lot of a closed business and parked along with two other rigs.

June 18 – Muncho Lake – What a beautiful lake! It is emerald in color. This is caused by some sort of granules that are washed down from the mountains and never really completely settle. The light reflects off these granules giving the lake the color. It is beautiful. We are at a commercial campground because we simply wanted a bit of civilization. It is right on the Alaska Highway and that is where I did today’s run. I first headed downhill for the walk warmup and then leveled out as I began running That only lasted about a quarter mille and then I began a significant uphill. I made another quarter before having to walk. I continued with the walk run routine for a for a couple of miles. Then, I turned around and headed back toward the campground. I don’t know what happened, but I began to feel much better and ended up with a 4.25 continuous run. I then walked the remainder back to the camp.

The wildlife between Fort Nelson and Muncho Lake was amazing. Here are some of the pictures, including black bear, bison, stone sheep and brown bear.

June 19 – Whitehorse, YT – As you can see by the pictures, the section between Muncho Lake and Whitehorse, YT is abundant in wildlife. It is also a very unpopulated area. We drove 50-60 mile sections without seeing any businesses such as cafes, gas stations, etc. Up here, everything is referred to as a lodge. That term is used very loosely. The places are usually a rundown building that might have gas, food, etc, but it will not look like the lodge that comes to mind in the lower states.

Anyone who travels the Alaska Highways uses the “half tank” rule. By that I mean, that once the gas gauge gets below half, it is time to refill because you never know how long it will be before your next available station. A place that is open one day may not be open the next or it may be out of gas.

We had planned on staying at a campground in Teslin, but when we got there, it was full. Alaska travelers rarely make reservations because you really never know how many miles you will cover on any given day. The exception is the large caravans of 40-50 organized rvers. The unavailability of a spot meant that we had to continue on to Whitehorse which was about 100 miles away. That made for a long day so once we got to the Walmart, we found 60-70 other rigs already there. This was our third time to boondock in the Walmart here in Whitehorse and that is the most rigs we have seen there. The long day also meant that we decided not to exercise and immediately headed for a pizza joint. This was the first time in over two weeks that we have watched TV and it was nice to catch up on some of the World Cup. We actually watched part of the England and Uraguay.

As I write this, I am sitting in an RV repair place. Over the years we have learned that on these really long trips, there is always something that will go wrong. This time it was the electrical plug that goes from the truck to the trailer. A couple of days ago, it came unplugged and drug on the ground. Before we became aware of this, the plug had already been sheared off. This is the first place that we have found that can do the repair.

Our plan is to stay in Whitehorse at least another night.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Journey to Alaska Has Begun

We are now on the road for our third RV trip to Alaska. We left Hattiesburg, MS about noon on Wednesday June 4 and are now in Sioux City, Iowa. After leaving Hattiesburg, we drove to Holmes County State Park which is about 50 miles North of Jackson. Upon arrival, we encountered our first problem---there was no water throughout the campground. The ranger told us that there had been a pipe break and they were working on it.

I decided to go on out for a run and hope the water would be on when I got back. I really do like having a Garmin watch with GPS because I can simply wander around and always know my distance and pace. The route I chose was a country road and it turned out to be quite nice, although a bit hilly. I did a total of 5.25 miles walking and running. When I got back, I was rewarded with the news that the water was on and I had a wonderful cooling shower.

Thursday was a long day as we had told my sister that we would make it to Fayetteville, AR. Pulling a travel trailer, with small tires, means that it is not safe to go too fast and we tend to stop quite often. We did arrive before night and unhooked the trailer on my sister's property which is located a few miles from her condo. Since we had arrived so late, neither Hollie nor I felt like running so we enjoyed an evening of "talking" with my sister. If you know either my sister or my husband, you know how they love to talk, especially politics. Hollie is ultra conservative and my sister says she is "progressive" but I classify her as very liberal. I gave up on the conversation at midnight and the next morning, they told me they had continued talking until about 2 am.

Friday - The Fayetteville area has quite a few "commuter" trails for walking, running, and biking and we wanted to investigate the newest which is around Lake Fayetteville. The portion that I ran/walked was about 5.75 miles and went all the way around the lake. It was asphalt, shady, with lots of wildflowers and other greenery.

That evening we took my sister out to eat and then she drove us around to some of the places that had been so familiar to us when were students at the University of Arkansas. My! How things have changed. Hollie and my sister continued with their political discussions and I took to my bed to read.

Saturday we had a plan to drive North of Rogers, AR so that Hollie could ride the 7 plus mile park road at Pea Ridge National Military park. When we arrived there, it was raining quite hard so we decided to go back to Rogers and work out at the Y. Guess what? By the time we got there, it had stopped raining and the sun was beginning to make an appearance. Hollie went ahead and rode a stationary bike, but I went exploring on foot outside. I quickly found the Fayetteville Greenway Trail which will eventually be complete from Fayetteville to Bella Vista. I covered more distance than I planned because I got somewhat lost. The only thing that saved me from *really* being lost was there was a church right next to the Y and it had three very tall crosses which were visible for miles. My problem was that although I could see them, the trail had quite a few turns and very few places to cross over or under the bypass. I ended up covering 7 miles.

Saturday afternoon we were joined by a friend of my sister's adult children. After visiting with him at the condo, we then went out to eat and after eating we drove around the University. Once again, I was amazed at how things have changed and especially in awe of the huge apartment complexes which have been built near campus.

Sunday we drove to St Joseph, MO stopping along the way to workout and shower at a Y just outside of Kansas City. We are so pleased with the way we are able to use our Y membership at just about any Y in the world. Over the course of our nearly 15 years of being Y members, we have probably used Y facilities at between 50 and 75 different locations.

Sunday evening was spent in a St Joe Walmart parking lot. Don't laugh! All we do is stop there long enough to sleep and then head on down the road. They also get quite a bit of our money.

Monday - We drove to Council Bluffs, Iowa where we visited another Y and then headed on down the road where we are now in a restaurant rather similar to Bop's in Hattiesburg---except larger and and more varied menu. I will soon sample their product and will report. We will stay the night at Walmart and get on down the road tomorrow.

I plan for this blog to have lots of pictures, but as yet, I have only one and it is on my brand new iPhone which I do not yet know how to properly use. I promise to include pictures and have less text. In the meantime, I am interested in any comments that you may have.