Alaska Reflections

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Hilary, Hannah and I were out driving around a few Sunday afternoons ago just exploring the country side around the Fish Trap BLM area.  This is area is dry and desert like with plenty of old volcanic lava flows poking out of the hillsides wherever one looks.  As we were driving Hilary noticed Hannah was really quiet in the back seat.  She asked Hannah what she was thinking about.

Hannah says, “Oh, the usual.”

Hmm, what is “the usual”?

“Hannah, what is the usual”, Hilary asked.

“Oh, I don’t want the trip to end.  I want to keep on going.  But I know it has to end so Daddy can get a job.  But I don’t want it to end.  We need to keep on going!” exclaims Hannah.

I totally agree with her sentiments.  It has been so wonderful to be able to just travel and see the countryside with the freedom to sit in one place or to move on whenever the mood struck us.  I realize what a significant blessing it is to be able to take the time off and have the financial resources to make a trip like this happen.  Even considering the blessing it is to have the financial resources we do, it has still taken a significant amount of commitment to our original ideas to pull this off.

It is one thing to think of a big plan and yet another thing entirely to make it happen.  We had our fair share of naysayers as well as those who provided whole hearted support.  In the midst of day to day life it is so easy to become lethargic in just living each day to such an extent that there were days when we really wondered if we could make this trip happen and realize our dreams.

I think the key to success for us was making a decision – boy was that hard to do – and then creating a plan to make sure we could follow through.  Without the plan we would have been overwhelmed with everything that needed to be done.  The plan allowed us to break down a seemingly daunting amount of work into bit size chunks spread out over the course of five months.  In the beginning it felt like we had forever – plenty of time to get everything done.  However, as the weeks went by and key decision points arrived the reality of what we were doing became much more real.  In those moments we asked ourselves if we were really sure this was such a good idea!  We would take time during those moments to go back through our original thinking and evaluate again the reasons for and against what we were doing.  Each time we evaluated our situation we arrived at the same conclusion – MOVE FORWARD.

Now here we are over four months later looking back at what we had been looking forward to realizing we have absolutely no regrets.  Now for sure, every single moment was not bliss.  Life still goes on.  We still wake up occasionally on the wrong side of the bed and there are still young female teenagers in the house.  Even with the realities of living life, we still had a great time on the whole and would repeat this trip again if we had it to do over.

So, what did we learn this summer?

  • Each of us has a different appetite for adventure – or adventure comes in all forms
  • A new clutch can be put in pretty quickly, but takes 24 man hours to accomplish
  • Alaska is HUGE, no … REALLY HUGE
  • There are no grizzly bears in Alaska
  • Every single place we went we liked and would like to return and visit again
  • British Columbia is beautiful and worth exploring as a destination all to itself
  • British Columbia is expensive – food is expensive and taxes run around 17% depending upon locality
  • Hilary does much better with low humidity
  • It can be hard at times to be so close together 7×24 – individual personality quirks that would not normally bother someone else when living in a 1500 square foot house can become annoying in a hurry when living in less than 290 square feet
  • Traveling with pets is nicer for some of the family than for others

Some numbers:

  • Total miles driven in the bus: 11, 748
  • 1,445 gallons of diesel burned (not counting about 30 gallons burned to heat the bus and run the generator)
  • 262 hours of driving in the bus
  • 8.1 miles to the gallon average fuel economy
  • 44 miles an hour average speed for those 262 hours of driving
  • We drove an additional 5,000 miles in the Jeep in addition to those miles driven in the bus
  • $3,906 spent on diesel
  • $856 spent on gas
  • 30 nights spent in a campground
  • $494 spent on camping
  • $2,782 spent on repairs to the bus
  • $1,250 spent on repairs to the Jeep (including new tires)
  • $27 spent on propane (cooking only)
  • $257 spent on laundry cleaning (Laundromats)
  • $73 spent on bus and car washes
  • $4,123 spent on food – we have special dietary needs
  • $1,563 spent on entertainment – this would include eating out three times, boat journeys, book purchases, etc.
  • $23,560 total spent since we started this journey

Helpful Things or Things We Would Recommend

  • Find dump stations using sanidumps.com
  • Find free places to stay the night at freecampsights.net
  • Must stop at visitor centers: Watson Lake, Whitehorse, Valdez, Tok (LOTS of info here!), and Fairbanks
  • To enjoy the outdoors more even when it is buggy out you could consider getting a screen tent like the one we bought: Clam Screen Tent.  This tent sets up in about 60 seconds or less.  It is very easy to use and has made the summer more enjoyable for us by giving us a bug free place to enjoy the outdoors from.
  • MilePost guide by Kris Valencia: This is an excellent resource to find places to stay, things to do, road side pullouts and gravel pits, historical tidbits, etc. for almost all of the popular routes through Canada and throughout most of Alaska.  We had the 2015 MilePost and found it to be without any consequential issues.
  • Traveler’s Guide to Alaska Camping by Mike and Terri Church: This is an excellent campground guide for all of Alaska and the popular access routes through Canada.  We used this in tandem with the MilePost to find places to stay the night fitting our unique criteria like the ability to handle a big rig and cost.
  • Take off as much time as you can! There is soooooo much to see.
  • Budget time and money for break downs
  • Plan for your food budget costs to be doubled. Some of our specialty diet food needs cost almost four times as much as we were used to paying.  British Columbia and Yukon are more expensive than Alaska.
  • Don’t try and make your almost worn out tires last for the trip. Save yourself the hassle, inconvenience, time and expense and replace your tires in advance.
  • Get a tow shield for your TOAD (we wish we had done that)
  • Plan for windshield damage
  • Take your time and go slow – avoids break downs and increases enjoyment for everyone

I look back on the past few months and the times that really stand out for me are those times when we were out exploring some new place and where ever we looked we were the only humans to be seen.  Solitude in nature is so satisfying for me.  I’d like more of that!

A little while back Hilary asked Breann and Hannah to sit down and write out the top ten things about the trip that they learned or enjoyed.  With their permission I thought I would share them with you.  I have only corrected their spelling errors.

Breann:  “Ten – Twenty things I learned”:

  • Musk Ox are short and stocky
  • Alaska is mostly a desolate land with populated areas
  • Traveling to an unknown place in tiny space for 4 people can be aggravating
  • Going sailing is fun. Feeling the wind on your face can be exhilarating.
  • Alaska has way too much light in summer and dark in winter
  • Natives and non-natives can live and survive in the same area
  • The ocean is a place needed to survive off of in the North on the coast
  • The ocean coasts get a lot of rain
  • The coasts have too high humidity
  • Bears don’t like to be seen by the Diehl family
  • Salmon are pretty and last about 2 weeks after coming to spawn.

Hannah:  “Ten things I learned or enjoyed on this trip”:

  • Enjoyed:
    • Going to the Eagle Foundation
    • Going hiking with Ruby and Pa and Ma
    • Seeing Banff, Jasper, Valdez, Fairbanks, and other places
    • No school (kind of) (I did miss school)
  • Disliked
    • Not seeing bears
    • Me being not me – blow-ups
    • Cloudy days – not sunny days
  • Learns
    • Being a raptor person is cool and you get to work w/raptors
    • Being a park ranger has a lot of responsibilities
  • Wants
    • I want to be a raptor person!

 

Some thoughts from Hilary:

  • Lyme disease sucks!
  • I am surprised at how quickly I adapted to being on the road 100% of the time.
  • I loved the coastal areas, especially when the mountains ran to the sea (seas, water, etc.).
  • Being able to hike as much as I did was more than I could have hoped for.
  • I have not grown tired of having my husband by my side 24×7. He will be greatly missed when he goes back to work.
  • Over the course of this trip I have grown to love seeing and being in the mountains even more – if that is even possible.
  • In reflecting upon our journey and the efforts we made to pare down our belongings I now know more about just how much is enough for me. Everything I need right now fits in the bus and that is not very much!
  • I love watching wildlife. From Honeybees, unusual insects, Moose, sea otters, and seals – I enjoyed them all.
  • Quiet walks and hikes together are a great way to build memories together.
  • Peyto Lake hike was amazing!
  • Skookum Volcano hike was epic – I cried when I made the summit. What an accomplishment!
  • Flat Top Mountain hike was so great we had to hike it twice!
  • The water excursions really standout for me – Specifically the LuLu Belle and the Extraordinary Sailing excursions
  • Mold really bothers me.
  • Low humidity has made a big difference for my breathing.

Below are some pictures and comments on them sharing some of our standout memories:

First break down in Arizona – the clutch throwout bearing failed and required removing the engine to replace the entire clutch assembly.  I’m smiling because the Lord worked things out so perfectly for us.  It couldn’t have happened at a better place!

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Our first real night of “out in the bonnies” overnight boondocking.  It was just one of those magical nights: quiet, dark, beautiful!2016_0511_utah_loneliesthighwayovernight_04

Peyto lake in Jasper:2016_0523_jasperpeytolake_15 2016_0523_jasperpeytolake_2520160523_10215520160523_102217

We made it to the official beginning of the Alaska Highway!  Dawson Creek, British Columbia.2016_0526_alaskahwymile0_06

Our first true resting point since we had left at the end of April.  This was May 26th and the rest was overdue.  We recharged amidst the peace and quiet for a few days before heading on.20160526_201908

Another break down – this time a fitting failed on the cooling system.  Yet, we had a perfect place for me to work safe and away from the traffic.  I also had all the spare parts necessary to fix the issue.  A few hours later the cooling system was refilled and we were on our way like nothing had ever happened.2016_0530_alaskahwybreakdown_03

Around mile 380 of the Alaska Highway – a perfect pullout and a great place to explore the area from.  We just loved the beautiful snow capped mountains all around us.  The weather was perfect.  Life doesn’t get much better than this!2016_0531_alaskahwymile380turnout

Baba canyon had this trail we hiked up where the ice covering the stream had not yet melted.  We found this great ice cave along the trail.  This cave was big enough for someone to crawl into (we didn’t).2016_0601_alaskahwybabacanyon_01

Hilary is sitting next to a HooDoo after we hiked up about 500 feet from the trail-head.  That is satisfaction in her accomplishment you see on her face!2016_0601_alaskahwyerosionpillartrail_03

Black bear and her cub on the side of the Klondike Hwy north and west of Whitehorse, YT.2016_0606_whitehorseblackbears

Yes – we really did put the bus on that ferry to cross the Yukon River.  Hilary was on pins and needles the entire way and I must admit there was a little pucker factor for me associated with the crossing!2016_0607_dawsonferry_03

This was my view while running on the “Top of the World Highway” to the west of Dawson at 9PM local time!  Incredible!  I was the only one out here and it felt incredible!2016_0607_dawsontopoftheworldhwy_01

Looking down on the town of Dawson – the Yukon River is in the background on the right side of the picture.  We crossed that on the ferry.2016_0608_142011aa

WOW!  We really did make it to Alaska!  We arrived in Alaska on June 9th, 2016.  Woohoo!2016_0609_alaskaborder_04

The summit of the Skookum volcano trail.  This was a tremendous uphill hike.  A half year earlier there was no way I could have imagined Hilary would have been able to do this.  Yet, here she was with the rest of us.  This was a very emotional accomplishment for her and I.2016_0610_184317aa20160610_171812

The Kennecott mine complex:  We truly enjoyed the guided tour of the abandoned copper mining facility.2016_0614_kennecott_19

This is the Worthington Glacier.  It is the most accessible glacier in all of North America.  We are less than 1/2 a mile from the parking lot!2016_0615_worthingtonglacier_11

On board the LuLu Belle on our wildlife and Columbia Glacier boat tour.  It was a picture perfect day.  It was truly spectacular and perfect.  Captain Fred called Hannah his official whale sighter as she kept see whales before anyone else did.2016_0616_princewilliamsoundlulubell_boatexcursion_14 2016_0616_princewilliamsoundlulubell_boatexcursion_26

A sea otter right by the docks in Seward enjoying some crunchy mussel clams.  He was literally “RIGHT THERE”! 20160629_sewardseaotter

Yes, it was rainy and cool, but this was a boat ride to never be forgotten.  We quickly became friends with the owners of the 65′ sailing vessel Extraordinary.  How could four hours go by so quickly?2016_0630_extraordinarysailingexcursion_01 2016_0630_extraordinarysailingexcursion_06

Another easily accessible glacier – this time out of Seward.  It is called Exit Glacier.2016_0702_seward_exitglacier_09

A beautiful example of a Sea Anemone in the touch and feel tank of the Seward Sea Life Center.  This center was built with monies from Exxon after the Valdez oil tanker accident in Prince Rupert Sound.  It was so cool to be able to touch them.  It almost felt like you weren’t touching anything at all. 2016_0704_sewardsealifecenter_01

We were parked RV to RV at the city run campground on the Homer Spit.  You don’t want to see what our side window views were, but WOW – the front window view was exceptional!2016_0708_homerspitviews_01

Flat Top Mountain outside of Anchorage is so awesome we had to hike up it twice.  This is the 2nd time we hiked.  The first time it rained on us, but this day was absolutely gorgeous.2016_0713_flattopmountain_anchorage_02

This is the best picture we got of Denali.  This was taken by Hilary through the front windshield of the bus as we were driving up to the road that would lead us to Hatcher’s Pass.  We did get a better view of the mountain a day later, but didn’t get a picture.2016_0714_denalimtn

Hiking alongside the Denali Highway about 40 miles west of Paxson.  We had stopped for lunch and decided to hike up the hillside next to us before continuing on along the highway.2016_0716_denalihwy_20

This Chukar spent a couple of days hanging out about the bus while we were parked in a gravel turnout along Denali Highway.  What a cool looking bird.2016_0717_chukar_01

You may have read where we called our Alaska trip a “Moose Trip” due to the lack of Grizzly bear sightings.  This mother and her calf were an exceptional example of our “Moose Trip”.  They came out to eat along the edge of the pond we stayed at for a few days while visiting the Chena Hot Springs.2016_0726_45_5milepond_moose_chenahotspringsroad_04

The Dalton Highway was one of those “must drive” destinations for me during our trip to Alaska.  We had lots of rain the entire time we drove the highway.  Even with the copious quantities of mud we still enjoyed the Article Circle and the Brooks Range.2016_0805_130956aa 2016_0802_daltonhwy_arcticcircle_01

Just a perfect shot of the pipeline about an hour north of Atigun Pass in the heart of the Brooks Range.2016_0803_daltonhwy_northof_arcticcircle_15

A great example of my always ready to help me helper.  Here she is helping me to fill the water tank from an artisan well spring faucet at the Yukon River crossing BLM free dump station.  This was some very good water!2016_0804_daltonhwy_yukonrvdump_01

Yep – it was muddy!  We are only a mile from completing our round trip drive up and back down the Dalton Highway.  Perfect time to capture the new color our bus and Jeep were sporting.  We ended up paying a fortune at a pressure washing car wash to clean all this mud off.2016_0805_131010aa

Delta Junction – the official end of the Alaska Highway.  Yes – we made it to both the beginning and the ending of the highway.  Incredible!2016_0811_deltajunction_05

Breann and her accidental encounter with the Tanana River mud.  She could have either cried or laughed.  She chose the latter!2016_0812_breanntananarivercrossingdunking_02

Fall had arrived in the north country.  This picture was taken along the Kluane River Lake in the Yukon Territory.  2016_0813_kluanelake_yukon_02

The girls swimming in Kluane Lake.  It was COLD, but they both really enjoyed themselves.  They were not able to talk me into coming in with them.  In fact, I told them: “Don’t you dare make me come in and rescue you!”2016_0813_kluanelake_yukon_36

High up in the Cassiar mountains we looked down from some offroad trails at the old abandoned air strip and the tiny speck of white that was our bus.2016_0819_cassiarmtns_busview_cassiar_bc_06

The Cassiar mountains – so rugged, so beautiful!2016_0819_cassiarmtns_cassiar_bc_02

One of the great views along Telegraph Road in British Columbia.2016_0821_telegraphroad_bc_08

One of the most iconic glacier views possible without having to catch a ride in a helicopter is the view of Salmon Glacier outside of Hyder, AK.2016_0823_salmonglacier_hyderak_01

High atop Mount Hayes looking out towards the Pacific Ocean.  This view is just minutes outside of Prince Ruppert, BC.2016_0825_mounthays_princerupert_bc_02 Enjoying some down time over the Labor Day Weekend alongside Pillar Lake just east and south of Kamloops, BC.  This was one of only a few campfires we had all summer. 2016_0901_pillarlake_falkland_bc_02

The ultimate sport in Alaska – the same as in Minnesota.20160812_tokvisitorcentermosquitohuntingpermit

 

Breann and Hannah also took a bunch of pictures this summer and wanted to share some.

Breann’s pictures:

Extraordinary – I had a great time learning about the workings of a sailboat.  I really see how fun it is to sail.  You feel the wind in your face.  You feel free like the wind.

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Barnacles – This is the first time I’ve ever seen the barnacle “feathers”.

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Quilt – My friendship quilt finished – productive times

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Hannah’s pictures:

This polar bear is big and dangerous.  This bear was at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage.  I enjoyed going there and seeing this animal.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

This swan duckling was singing at the Alaska Zoo.  The mother and father were talking also and had about 8 babies.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

We were sailing in Seward and the clouds did this.  Isn’t this beautiful?  God is an awesome Maker!  Praise the Lord!

KODAK Digital Still Camera

So – this is it.  This grand adventure is now officially behind us.  We need to start dreaming and planning for a new grand adventure.  Hmm, maybe a trip up the north eastern Atlantic seaboard????

3 thoughts on “Alaska Reflections

  1. Jeffrey Diehl

    great chronicalization of an amazing adventure! so glad you’re in Boise and hope you get to stay for a while. So proud of you and your family, Brother!

    Reply

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