General. To say this trip to Alaska was epic is an understatement. We spent a little over a month in Alaska and experienced the north, south, east and west of it. Including those areas that really should be Canada! Leaving Alaska, we felt we should share some of our impressions. What a wonderous place. Vast doesn’t even come close to describing it. So much of it has been untouched by humans. It requires transportation by land (auto, ATV, snowmobile, sled dogs, walking), air (floatplane, prop planes, bush planes, helicopter, commercial) and sea (ferries, boats, kayaks) to traverse.
Alaska offers every experience nature has to offer, from hiking to hunting and everything in between. Seward’s Folly has become a US treasure, from the extraction of natural resources to tourism. A young couple with five children were our campground neighbors in Fairbanks. He’d just returned from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. He was an aircraft mechanic in the Air National Guard. When he wasn’t doing the Guard thing, he was a “Blaster” in a gold mine! Well, somebody’s got to do it.
Alaskans. We found the Alaskan residents independent, hardy, and generous. They are here because they want to be a part of nature and want to be left alone to enjoy its riches. They don’t want to park in designated spots or yield to oncoming traffic. They don’t heed those pesky dotted lines on the road that indicates it is safe to pass. We met a number of people who never watch the news and a few that didn’t own a TV.
Federal Aid. Alaska has a large population of “First Nations” people. With their original way of life no longer possible, the State and Federal Government must step in. To maintain these remote villages, provide schooling and healthcare, Alaska ranks ninth in federal funding and aid. The company that flew me to the Arctic made their money supporting these remote villages. It is not just the Native Americans; many Alaskans live at or below the poverty line. In Anchorage, there are huge communities of homeless people.
Highways. The Alaskan Highway (Central Route to Fairbanks from British Columbia) is in great shape, superbly engineered and where it’s not, they’re fixing it while you wait. Once you cross into Alaska from Canada the road is not so good with many dips caused by frost. The later in the season that you arrive gives them a chance to fix the worst patches. The Cassiar Highway (Western Route from Seattle) is less traveled, has fewer little towns and zero cell service. The road was recently resurfaced and was in excellent condition. The road had no lane marking or edge lines. This combined with the sheer drop off on both sides made for a 1,000-mile white-knuckle ride. We spent three days on the Cassiar. Thank goodness for podcasts and Audible. Without them, Lillian and I would have had to actually talk to one another. That rarely goes well for me.
Climate Change. The Glaciers are melting at an accelerated rate. On our walk with the kids to Exit Glacier, there were signs with numbers like 1961, 1997 & 2004. I didn’t realize until we got to 2011, two miles in, that these marked the location of the Glacier that year! Just as alarming is the melting of the polar ice cap and permafrost off the waters on the western U.S. border. The meltdown has provided more navigable seas and led to more incursions into U.S. territory by Russian and Chinese aircraft and ships. To counter Russian and Chinese violations, the U.S. is increasing surveillance and intercept missions. In Fairbanks, the already big Eielson A.F.B. is getting a new wing of F-35 fighters, doubling the size of the base. In Anchorage, Joint Base Elmendorf/Richardson is possibly the largest military facility we’ve ever seen. Not in size, even though it extends for miles, but in stuff and missions. Construction was everywhere. This year was an extremely hot summer for Alaska. Hottest on record by eight degrees. Ten’s of thousands of salmon died in water too warm. The snow in Glacier Bay, which has always covered the higher elevations, is mostly gone. Our pilot Paul, who flew us around Glacier Bay National Park, had this to say. “I’ve been conducting these flight tours since 1992, and this is the least amount of snow I’ve ever seen.”
How the Truck and Camper faired. It faired great considering all the gravel roads. The rock guards did a great job, but they’re pitted a bit. The front underside of the trailer now looks like it was sandblasted. I guess I need to do some chorin. We were fortunate to have no more water leaks, except for when on one bump something mysteriously turned on the bathroom sink. After it drained the 54-gallon fresh water tank into the 39-gallon holding tank, the floor caught the rest. Lucky for us, Airstream trailers are known for their many holes through the floor. Just another Airstream innovation. The truck did an amazing job. It pulled the 10,000 lb trailer up 10% grades and the engine brake slowed our descent back down. Thanks to the advice from Bruce and Kim, our flying friends over Glacier Bay, I replaced the air filters. I should have done this much earlier. You always hurt the ones you love. Not Bruce and Kim, we just me them. My beautiful truck.
September 14, 2019. We’ve been in Seattle since the 2nd. Before that we spent a week in Vancouver British Columbia. We’ll send out a blog about Vancouver next week (promises, promises). Currently, the trailer is at an Airstream dealer in Seattle. I scheduled an appointment months ago to get a few new toys added (cell phone booster, solar charge controller). Upon inspecting the brakes, they found excessive wear on one of the four. They also suspect we might have a bent axle. In addition to the trailer troubles, I noticed excessive wear on the truck’s hitch receiver. This phenomenon was pointed out to me back in Calgary by our fellow Alaskan travelers Bill and DeAnna. We’ve been truly blessed meeting and sharing with fellow RV’ers. They each seem to know one more thing than I do. Little do they know; I’ve had countless hours at podcast U and the “Stuff you Missed in History Class.” While we’ve learned so many practical things from kind and resourceful folks like Bill and DeAnna, I in turn can share important perspectives on topics such as the impact of globalism on 19th century France.
Our trip to Alaska was quite the adventure. The drive there and back was long but beautiful. While we certainly are not ruling out a return trip, it won’t happen until we get some rest. We’ve enjoyed sharing our journey and are truly blessed to have your friendship along for the ride.
Be well and keep in touch.
Gary, Lillian and Sam