We left Olympia, WA at 0900, and arrived to Bellingham at noon and checked in. They wanted us checked in by 1500 for a departure time of 1800. So obviously we got there in plenty of time! After checking in and getting the Jeep in line, we walked to the downtown area (two blocks away) and had lunch. Then we went back to the Jeep and waited (and waited). It was kinda fun; we met lots of folks that were chatty, and started making friends. They were interested in our Jeep and trailer too. We eventually got loaded on the boat and were on our way. Since the ferry was making multiple stops, there’s an art to loading the ferry so the first vehicles on are the first vehicles off. They have us packed in pretty tight. Fortunately they didn’t give us any grief about having firearms in the Jeep, other than telling us to make sure we kept the Jeep locked.
Then we went to find our rooms. We checked in, got our keys, and put our stuff in our room. It was a small room, but do-able. A bunk-bed with a sink, and a private bath and shower; not big, but big enough. The beds came with linen and pillows, and towels and washcloths. After that, we went exploring on the ship.
The boat has plenty of forward viewing areas with plenty of seating,and two decks on the back where you can sit outside. A lot of folks don’t get a room; they sleepon one of the back decks either in a tent they set-up (literally duct-taped tothe deck) or in lounge chairs with sleeping bags. Part of it is covered, so if it rains you’re not getting wet. Some sleep in the theater or on the observation deck inside. There are also public showers and bathrooms on the ferry. The ferry is very nice and clean; well maintained and modern. They’ve taken good care of it, and they take pride in their ferry. There is a movie theater (that’s what they call it anyway), a small gift shop (the size of one of my kid’s bedrooms), a snackbar/grill,a sit-down restaurant, snack machines, a bar/lounge, and of course the car deckwhere we’re all parked.
One thing that was interesting is lots of folks bring their pets on the ferry, but their pets have to stay in the vehicles. So a couple of times a day they’d open the car deck for 15 minutes so folks could go down and get stuff out of their vehicles, and check on their pets. Which means its potty time. Yup; you’ve got 15 minutes to get your dog to go potty on the car deck, and then you have to clean it up (they supply the paper towels and trash barrels). It’s actually fun to watch everyone getting their dogs and walking them around; I called it the dog show. Keith and I would go down at every car deck call and hold people’s leashes for them after their dogs went potty so they could clean it up. Sounds weird I know; you’d have to be there to appreciate it. It’s a fun way to meet and make new friends. When the boat would dock, everyone that had a pet would get off with their dogs so they could stretch their legs (and ofcourse, go potty). Laugh if you want; if you take a couple day ferry ride with your dog(s), their being able to go potty will be on the forefront of your mind.
Meals: The snackbar/grill is not cheap, and the sit-down restaurant even more expensive (especially lunch and dinner). Here’s what we did: Dinner Friday night – snackbar/grill (figure about$9.00/person for a burger and fries [drink extra]). Breakfast the next morning (Saturday); the sit-down restaurant (about $9.00-$12.00/person for a Denny’s like breakfast) –we had to try it at least once. Lunch –MREs sitting on the back deck. Dinner –snackbar/grill. The next day (Sunday) we had our first stop in Ketchikan. We had about a two hour stop before we had to be back on the ferry, so we went to an A&P grocery store about a block away that had a little deli and had breakfast there. For lunch MREs again, and for dinner back to the snackbar/grill. Monday morning we ate at the sit-down restaurant for our final meal on the ferry (corned-beef hash, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, and toast for me anyways), as we got to our destination soon after (Haines, AK) around 1100 and drove off the ferry.
About small children: Think of the ferry as a fancy Greyhound bus. Yeah, there’s food available, and you can get a room, and there is a theater that shows a few movies, but the ferry isn’t set up for entertaining kids. There’s no playground. They will go stir-crazy (and drive those of us that didn’t bring kids crazy) if you let them or didn’t plan accordingly. If you’re bringing kids (little-ones to teens) bring stuff for them to do that doesn’t make noise. If they’re going to watch movies on a portable player or laptop, or play a video game, make sure they have earphones unless they’re watching/playing it in their room. The scenery along the ferry ride is awesome and breathtaking; kids don’t care about that. Can you tell I’m not a kid person? Don’t ruin the trip for others – it’s a four day trip from Bellingham to Haines. Plan accordingly.
Clothing – plan on layers. There’s snow on the mountains. It’s not warm; sometimes it’s downright chilly. The boat cruises along at a pretty good clip (up to 20 knots), so even if it isn’t really that cold, the wind chill factor will kick in. You’ll want to spend sometime outside. We saw whales, sea-planes, bald-eagles; sometimes you’ll want to just sit outside and watch the scenery go by. It probably looks the same as it did in the 1700/1800’s when the first explorers were discovering it. Make sure you’ve got your camera and binoculars (I have small ones that go in a pouch you can put on your belt) with you, as you never know when the captain will announce “whales on the port-side one mile ahead”. They do have coin laundry facilities on the ferry if you need it. The temperature inside the ferry is very comfortable.
People taking the ferry all seemed very friendly and more than happy to talk. They want to know where you’re going, what you’ll be doing in Alaska, etc. Some on the ferry are like us (tourists); others are going to Alaska to work or going back home to where they live in Alaska. If you’ve ever thought of taking a ferry up to Alaska, I highly recommend it. It’s the first leg of our journey, and so far it’s been a good one. Beautiful scenery, friendly people, a clean pleasant comfortable ride, and a good kick-start to our trip.
The cost for my Jeep and trailer (22 feet long total – and that’s with a relatively small trailer), a two person room with private bath/shower, andtwo people from Bellingham WA to Haines, AK: $2500.00. It ain’t cheap, and that doesn’t include food. But it’s worth it (for us anyway).
We didn’t get off the ship until almost noon. It was a quick drive from where the ship docked to the city limits of Haines. We didn’t plan on staying in Haines too long; just long enough to get some perishables from the grocery store (milk, eggs, butter, etc.) and some ice to replenish the cooler. Coleman says it’s good for five days; figure three. There wasn’t much to see in Haines even though they publish a nice brochure that makes you think you’d like to spend a week or more there. No; not for us anyway.
The Canadian border is about 45 miles from Haines, and we headed there as soon as we got the cooler loaded. It was a nice pretty drive; we expected to see bears on every corner, but never did. When we got to the border, they were in the process of arresting someone (drugs?) so we were delayed there a bit; probably there for about an hour total. When they finally started seeing cars again, we told them we were carrying a shotgun, so we got to pull over and show it to them. We had already printed out the proper form from the internet, had the three copies they wanted and $25.00 in Canadian, so it actually went pretty quick, and they were very cool about it.
By this time it was about 1430, so we started making up lost time. The initial hour or so was interesting. We were climbing to the treeline level, and it was looking like we were up in the mountains of Montana. Pretty, but what wasn’t covered with snow was brown. Like a Palomino(spelling?) pony. The next couple of hoursit was pretty scenery; lots of snow covered mountains.
I would call the roads so far good to very good. You can easily do 65-70 mph. Of course, if you’re driving a four cylinder Jeep towing a loaded trailer and at high altitudes you might be finding third gear is the highest you can do. Just saying…
We stopped for the night outside Haines Junction. We stopped at a Canadian State Park (Pine Lake), and for $12.00 for the night it is a very nice campground. If we could find something like this every night that would be great. Very similar to many in the states where you pick your site, pay at the paybox by putting your money in an envelope and tearing the stub and putting it in yourwindshield. There was a fire barrel, a large picnic table, and latrines nearby. And free firewood!
Since we hadn’t really set our tent up since our last adventure 18 months ago, it was good to get to the campsite a little early, and then having the weather picture perfect was a plus too. The tent went up fine after a few minor false starts, and then I cooked dinner while Keith got the rest of the stuff unloaded from the Jeep and trailer, and got a fire going. One of the things I wanted to try out was my new camp stove/oven combo. It worked great; I made biscuits for dinner, along with chicken alfredo (spelling?) with noodles. After cleaning up, we organized the inside of the tent, reorganized our luggage (from ship mode to road-travel mode) and sat around the fire. We made hot chocolate before calling it a night.
Tonight is the first night trying out the new battery on the Jeep seeing how well it runs Keith’s cpap machine. It’s a Sears Diehard Platinum; if this battery can’t handle it (by that I mean start the Jeep up in the morning after running the cpap machine all night) no battery can. I guess we’ll find out in the morning.
It worked; Jeep fired right up.
So now we've broke camp, drove back into town and stopped at a little bakery with wifi so i could download pictures and update this thread. Our goal today is to see how far we can get towards Anchorage.
So for the last two days we’ve just been trying to get to Anchorage. The roads were fair to good to very good. Some places were gravel; some places were undulating. But for the most part we could do between 60 and 70 mph. Of course, sometimes in the higher elevationsand long upgrades were having to downshift to third. But if you’ve got a four-cylinder Jeep like I do don’t be afraid to do this sort of thing; it’s totally do-able (provided it’s geared right).
The scenery was beautiful with lots of snow-capped mountains,but after a while we were just wanting to get to Anchorage, which we did finally Wednesday afternoon after getting off the ferry on Monday around noon. Again, it was a very pretty drive. We’re glad we did it, but we’re in no rush to do it again. We saw one bear on this stretch, and three – four moose between Haines and Anchorage.
Tuesday night we found a campground Porcupine Creek about an hour after Tok. It was $15.00 a night, and was quite primitive. But hey, all we wanted was a place to set up the tent for the night. After a nutritious dinner of pepperoni slices on Ritz crackers and chocolate milk (with a pop tart for desert), we turned in for the night. We broke camp quickly the next morning, and hit the road (after having pop tarts for breakfast). We had a meal in Glenallen (burgers and fries and a milkshake; expensive), and then kept going till we got to Anchorage. We found a little city campground named Centennial Camper Park outside of Anchorage. $25.00 a night (we registered for two nights), and it has showers. Gee, last time I took a shower was Monday morning. It’s near the highway so you hear the cars, but we just needed a place to camp while we explore Anchorage Thursday. For dinner we had ravioli and cheddar cheese/garlic biscuits. I’m liking this little propane oven/stove combo thing.
Tomorrow we’re going to explore Anchorage (and find a Laundromat to do laundry). And find a place with wifi so I can post this latest entry of our trip with pictures. Of course we won’t be able to see all there is to see in Anchorage in just one day, but we’ll get a taste of the city before we head out to Fairbanks on Friday.
Our time in Anchorage was awesome! We went to an air museum and could have spent even more time there. If I had to (got to?) live in Alaska, it would probably be in Anchorage. They've got it all - museums, places to eat, things to do, etc. We took a hike in a park that you would think is in downtown and actually came across a moose - startled us at first. At least we didn't see any bears. We had bear spray, but being the brilliant guys we are, we left them in the Jeep.
Today we drove from Anchorage to Fairbanks. We got to Fairbanks about 1700. About an hour outside of Fairbanks it started pouring rain, so we got a motel room, and then went to Dennys for dinner. Call us wimps if you want. But tonight we'll get a good night's sleep, and a shower in the morning. It might be a few days till we get another chance to take a shower.
Meals have been killing us out here. You can easily spend $25.00 or more for just two burgers/fries/drink. We had MREs today for lunch.
We really didn’t spend much time in Fairbanks. We got there with Keith having headache issues, so we got a hotel room so he could get a good night’s sleep (plus it was raining). We did eat at Denny’s for dinner, supposedly the furthest north Denny’s there is. The next morning we went to Ft Wainright to see if the commissary sold MREs (they didn’t), and then we headed out to Chicken, AK (via Tok). It was a fairly pretty drive to Chicken; the last few miles were dirt/gravel road. We drove about 290 miles that day.
Chicken is a very small mining town; to call it a town would be a gross overstatement. There are a couple of campgrounds, and the main activity there is mining. We checked in for two nights of camping, because the next day we were going to go to Eagle AK. When we were in Fairbanks I went to a grocery store to stock up on a few supplies, and one of the things I got was some garlic flavored flat bread. So our first night in Chicken I made pizza for dinner with the flat bread. I already had some pizza sauce in a squeeze bottle, some pepperoni slices, and a bag of shredded cheese. It came out well; I’m liking this propane stove/oven thing I bought.
So the next day we drove to Eagle leaving the trailer at the campsite. It was about 95 miles one-way all on dirt/gravel road. It took about three hours each way. Pretty drive and the road is actually well maintained. But lots of hills, curves, steep grades, etc. We took an MRE lunch break on the way there. There is a very nice visitors’ station in Eagle, and we took a tour of the town starting at 1430. It ended up being a two-hour walking tour; there were just four of us and the tour guide. It was very informative about the history of the town (lots of military history there). We left there a little after 1700 knowing it was going to be another three hour drive back to Chicken. And of course it started raining on the way back so we were now driving on a wet dirt road. So by the time we got back to camp, the Jeep was filthy (couldn’t see out the back window at all). For dinner I boiled water and we had some freeze-dried meals I had brought along. For camping food they were pretty good.
In the morning I got up to walk to the latrine (90-120 second walk – I had timed it) when I came across a moose and her calf. I backed away, and the moose kept walking (fortunately the opposite direction I was wanting to go). It was pretty cool, although we’ve been warned multiple times moose are mean, and when they are with their calf they’re even meaner. I don’t plan on testing whether or not this is true.
So after breakfast (cold cereal) we went to top off the Jeep with gas, and the café was open, so we each had a piece of pie before hitting the road to our next stop: Dawson City Canada.
We tried a little gold panning on the way to Dawson. I’m not going to quit my day job anytime soon.
To get to Dawson City you have to drive the “Top of theWorld” highway. From Chicken to the Alaska/Canada border is all dirt road (but again, well maintained). On these dirt roads and in the higher elevations the Jeep was feeling both the elevation and the trailer behind it. Once we got into Canada, the road varied between poorly paved and gravel. It was actually easier driving on the gravel compared to the paved portion. Oh, and we saw a brown bear while on this stretch. You also have to take a small ferry to cross the river into Dawson (free ferry). Overall, it was a little over 100 miles from Chicken to Dawson.
We drove through Dawson and went to a state campground about 15 miles outside of town. $12.00 a night and free firewood – you can’t beat that. When we got to the campground it was threatening rain. Fortunately, Keith and I have getting the tent up and loaded down to a science. We had it up and cots and such inside in no time. Then the decision; cook at the campsite, or at the covered pavilion we passed on the way to our campsite. I opted to go to the pavilion. It never did rain, but I was still glad we went so if it did it wouldn’t mess up dinner. I cooked fried spam with pineapple slices, and garlic/cheddar cheese biscuits using the oven. It was a good dinner. It did sprinkle a little off-and-on later in the evening, but not hard enough to make us stop sitting around the campfire.
Tomorrow if it’s not raining I’m going to cook a big breakfast, and then we’re going to get cleaned up (it’s been a few days since I took a shower) and go into town and do the tourist thing. So we’ll be here for two nights total. They have an old saloon in town that has a show nightly that we’re going to try and see tomorrow night; we just need to find out if they lock the gates to the campground in the evening, and if they do, when. We also need to get some groceries, ice, do some laundry, and hopefully find a place with free wifi so I can update the Jeep Forum with this post (I often times write it the night before at the campground as I'm doing now, so when I find a place with wifi I can just copy and paste).
Last night I looked at the map, and figured out where we have to be by this Saturday (today is Monday as I’m typing this) so we can start making time to get back home by the following Wednesday evening (I have to be back to work that following Friday). The last few days will mostly be scenic driving down to Vancouver Canada and then back into WA to Seattle and Olympia. So far we’re having a good time.
Some things I’ve learned so far:
1. Alaska is known as the land of the midnight sun. So why did I bring my Coleman lantern? I’ve yet to use it. Seriously; at 0200 it’s still daylight – you can see shadows from the sun. I’m sure as we get closer to WA we’ll start having some actual darkness at night, somaybe then I’ll use it on our last night or two of camping.
2. Buy a beanie to cover your head when it’s cold at night, and to cover your eyes so you can go to sleep in the daylight. We bought some in Anchorage; worth every penny.
3. Finding gasoline has not been an issue at all. I’m glad I brought my extra tanks on the trailer, but we’ve yet to use them (ok, maybe one night when we were having a hard time getting a fire going…).
4. Every campground we’ve been to has a large picnic table at each site. The little folding camp table I bought has yet to be used.
5. We’ve always been able to find campgrounds with vacancies on this trip.
6. A four cylinder TJ pulling a small trailer does just fine. Yeah, sometimes you have to downshift or not be able to go as fast as you want to in certain situations. Just deal with it, and enjoy being in your Jeep.
7. Canada has the best campgrounds so far; inexpensive and free firewood.
8. The mosquitoes have not been near as bad as everyone made them out to be. Still early in the season?
(Tuesday) it's sunny and nice. We took bucket baths with cold water this morning, put on all clean clothes, and headed into Dawson after a huge breakfast. I'm at the library checking my email and such, and then we're going to go check out a gold mine dredge thing.
There's nothing special about the picture here of my Jeep, other than it was taken at 2300 in Fairbanks, Alaska. And it still looked pretty much the same at midnight.
So last night (Tuesday night) we went to the 2030 show at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall in downtown Dawson. It was a great show. Ms. Gertie is the main attraction, and she has her dancing girls. If you go toDawson, you have to go see the show (three times a night at 2030, 2230, and 0030). It’s totally “G” rated, and Keith was laughing his @ss off during the show. Looking around the place, the folks attending the show (and doing alittle bit of low-stakes gambling) are more of the “senior set”. Keith and I were some of the younger ones there. Afterwards we drove around town a little bit (still totally daylight remember?), and found an ice-cream parlor that was still open and had some ice-cream.
We got up the next morning (Wednesday) at 0730, and were driving out of the campground by 0900. We’ve pretty much had this camp set-up and take-down thing down for a while now. We’ve got the routine down so we don’t even really have to talk much; each knows what the other is doing. So we hit the road heading for Whitehorse. We stopped at a little private campground for lunch, and then got to Whitehorse around 1530 or so after driving about 320 miles. The roadwas nice, the scenery so-so; we’ve yet to see any elk even though there’s a ton of signs warning us to be on the lookout. My Jeep must make some sort of noise that scares off all the wildlife before we get to them. The first state campground we came to before Whitehorse was too far from town, so we went into town to check out a private one we had marked from the Milepost book. We didn’t care for it, so we got back on the Alcan and found a state campground just south of Whitehorse. Again, $12.00 a night and free firewood. The only thing they don’t have that would be nice is a shower. Oh well, when we were stopped for lunch I washed my hair in the sink at the restroom, so I should be good for a few more days. And I think the mosquitoes are less attracted to you if you don’t wear deodorant. Just saying…
We got the tent set up, and then I ran back into town to fetch a few things at the grocery store while Keith finalized the camp set-up. It’s a nice campsite right on the water, but it’s a little bit of a steep drop to get to the site. Of course, not a problem if you’re driving a Jeep! We just have to be able to position the Jeep in relation to the tent so we can run a cable from the Jeep’s battery for Keith’s cpap machine (like we’ve been doing every night). For dinner we had a ravioli/chili combo (one can of each mixed together). Everything tastes better when you’re camping. You should try it.
This morning (Thursday) we got up and it was sprinkling. Not enough though to keep me from cooking breakfast. I made blueberry muffins (which Keith ate with canned peaches), and hashbrowns with bacon bits and cheddar cheese. We didn't have katsup, so we used pizza sauce. It was good. Then we drove into town and went to a transportation museum; very interesting. Lots of stuff about the Alcan highway construction. Then we went to a Starbucks but couldn't get the netbook to connect with their wifi (was pi$$ing me off), so we went a few blocks to a McDonalds where we got connected easily (that's where I am now - McDonalds in Whitehorse Y.T.). Before we go back to the campground we'll fill up with gas, and sit around the campfire till bedtime, then in the morning as we've done so many times we'll break camp and head on down the road. We should return to WA (hello Sunshine) either Tueday or Wednesday at the latest.
Major change in plans.
The roads heading south are closed due to rain and washouts. These include parts of the Alaska Highway and the Cassiar Highway. So we're stuck outside of Teslin, Y.T. (in Canada). So we're going to have to backtrack a bit back to Haines Alaska and take the ferry back to WA. Major bummer; we were really looking forward to seeing the landscape along the Cassiar Highway. Oh well, I guess that'll be for the next trip!
Yesterday we left Whitehorse heading for Watson Lake. We took a couple hour detour to Altin before heading back on the Alaska Highway towards Watson. From Watson, we were going to begin an approximately 1200 mile scenic drive down the Cassiar Highway to the Yellowhead Highway to Prince George, and then down the West Access Route to the Sea to SkyHighway leading into Vancouver BC.
However, about 175 miles before Watson Lake they posted signs that the roads ahead were closed due to mudslides and such from all the rain they’ve been getting. We stopped at a little diner and they had internet access and sure enough, routes were closed. There’s not a lot of bypasses up here in the Yukon Territory, and they were saying they might be open “in a couple of days”. Maybe. So we were stuck. Couldn’t go forward, so had to consider backtracking. Taking the South Klondike Highway to Skagway would be the quickest way to get back to the ferry, but that road was closed too. So we back tracked about 200 miles back through Whitehorse to Haines Junction (where we spent our first night after getting off the ferry). We’re actually back in the same campground as that first night (but not the same campsite). It’s definitely cooler here than it was the last few days as we were working our way more south and inland. But at least it’s not raining; it’s sunny and very cool. I’ll be breaking out the cold weather gear again.
Before heading back I called the ferry 1-800 number and booked another ferry trip from Haines to Bellingham (the reverse of how we started). They didn’t have any cabins left, so we’ll be sleeping under the solarium off the back deck. Not the way I figured we’d be doing the final leg of our trip, but I guess that’s just part of the adventure. I was originally thinking we’d be home by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest; now it’ll be Friday.
So today we’re heading back to Haines where we’ll camp for two nights (Saturday and Sunday) and then get ready for the ferry on Monday (leaves in the evening). I guess we’ll get to see what Haines has to offer after all. We stopped at a little bakery in Haines Junction with wifi just to check one last time if the roads were still closed - they are. Hopefully there will be a place we can do laundry in Haines before we get on the ferry.
This road closure thing is one of the main topics of conversation around here. These road blocks are the major in and out routes around here, and there are no side-roads to go around the blocked roads. I'm glad we were in a position to get a ferry ride back; it only leaves Haines once every other week.
Please let me know if you have any specific questions after reading the build thread. It's really been working out great for us, and there's no way we could have brought everthing we did on this trip without it. The back of the Jeep has the rear seat removed, and it's full with just our luggage, sleeping bags, pillows, jackets, etc. It pulls extremely well, and the lunette ring set-up has been great (and quiet after I had the set screw put in). It makes it extremely easy to connect and disconnect (we disconnect every time we set up at a campground).