The Last Frontier...Our 10 Tips to Prepare For the Bold Adventure That is Alaska
|I can finally afford my very own UAF sweatshirt...something I couldn't when I was a student!|
How did we prepare for this grand endeavor?
Let's face it, Alaska is far away from everything. Even using our jump-off point of Ferndale, Washington it's still roughly 2,000 miles from border to border. That doesn't take into account any side trips or actually driving into the state. And that's one way. Before we left I'll admit this didn't faze me one bit...until we were somewhere in the Yukon and had hundreds of miles more to go. So the first thing to embrace is the fact that you're going to drive...a lot.
1-The Route. Truth be told we didn't do much in the way of planning. Sure we bought the Milepost (which I firmly believe is worth the $25 investment) and we got health certificates for the animals. But aside from that we kept everything somewhere between "I know we drive North and then West" to completely unscripted. So unscripted that we actually ended up adopting a rescue dog 10 days before we crossed the Canadian border...because why not travel across international borders and undertake a big adventure like Alaska with a new dog?
|Meet Nellie...our newest crew member!|
|Crossing the border in Sumas, WA with the Snowmads.|
2- Ditch the "extras". There are restrictions on what you can bring when crossing into Canada. At the time of our crossing things like raw poultry (to include fresh or frozen products as well as eggs), certain amounts of booze and beer, hand guns, ammunition, citrus fruits and a variety of other items were restricted or banned. So we stashed the majority of our liquor, although I now think it was unnecessary, as well as a few other prohibited items hoping for a smooth border crossing. We'd also off-loaded quite a bit of "stuff" at our friends, the Ormiston's, house in Ferndale, Washington. For a while now we've been weighing the pros and cons of keeping our bikes, which we seldom use, along with some random items we've been carrying in the RV these past 2.5 years. So, we made a huge pile in a corner of the Omistons' barn, covered it all with a tarp and decided to see what it would be like to live without it all during our 3 month trip to and from Alaska. As of this writing (2 months in) we haven't missed a thing (other than the booze)...and can barely remember what all we left behind.
|This is a portion of the stuff we donated or discarded...including the wash barrel that was once our fire pit.|
|Here's the pile of stuff we stored and will go through once we return to Washington (in a few weeks). Most likely it will all get donated...except for the alcohol. We'll probably be adding to this pile once we return. Purge baby purge!|
|We were "lucky" to have our brake caliper lock up on us prior to leaving Washington. Although not a planned expense, it offered us peace of mind to head north with a sound brake system.|
6- Stock up on a few things...but not too much. With limited storage space it's not hard to over-shop so be smart about it. Neither Canada nor Alaska are third world countries and one can generally find things like toilet paper, food items and even toothpaste (can you believe it??) in these wild places. As a matter of fact, minutes after crossing the border we were in a Costco parking lot! But you may want to stock up on a few of your absolute favorites or specialty items if you have the room. For us that meant good coffee (for some reason Canadian grocery stores don't seem to have a lot of choices unless you like Nescafe), good beer and wine (just remember you might be risking confiscation at the border...although no one we know had to forfeit any of their alcohol) and maybe any specialty pet food (our cats are on 80% canned food). Other than that you'll likely be able to find plenty of supplies along what ever route you take. Side note: I eat a plant-based diet and our friends The Learning Banks are gluten-intolerant. We were all pretty successful finding grocery stores and restaurant options throughout our travels in Canada and Alaska without much hassle.
|In the Costco parking lot just minutes after crossing into Canada.|
|The not-so-happy campers at the vet.|
|A black bear enjoying a roadside salad along the Cassier Highway.|
|A black fox near Whitehorse.|
|Mama and baby moose in Smithers, B.C.|
Of course, a major to-do in Seward really changed things up for us and the tail end of our adventure has all but disappeared. This is why I'm typing this as we "camp" in the RV lot at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage and not from Homer or Hope or Denali or Talkeetna...but more on that later.
9- Ask questions and do some research. So even though we didn't do a lot of planning we still had an idea of what all we wanted to experience in Alaska. We spent time looking over Gone With the Wynns itinerary and also read through many of His and Hers Alaska blog posts. I read comments and suggestions left on various blog posts about the "must-dos" and various suggestions left by those who had recently visited or currently lived in Alaska. Once we realized so many of our friends and fellow bloggers/instagrammers were going to be in Alaska I created a Facebook group where we could share tips, suggestions, road information, camping sites or just to ask questions or plan meet-ups. I think it worked out beautifully and certainly gave us some great ideas. We would have missed out on some great adventures had it not been from recommendations from others in that group.
10- For the love of all that is holy, get out of the cities and tourist towns! It never fails to surprise me that people would make this huge trek up to Alaska (and back) just to visit the "big cities" and touristy areas almost exclusively. I get it, we all have different tastes, desires, goals, needs and "things" that feed our souls. But there is soooooo much more to Alaska than Fairbanks, Anchorage, Homer, Seward and Valdez. Of course we visited all of those places because it's hard to get around the state without doing so...but some of our best experiences...the experiences that (for us) truly capture the feeling and idea of the Last Frontier, were all of the places in between. Alaska is still wild and untamed...it's not all Costcos and free parking at the Walmart. We found plenty of free parking along roadside pullouts that offered million dollar views and some of our best adventures were at off-the-beaten-path places (even if they were in the towns listed above). There's a great mix of adventure and big box stores to be had up here. Just don't be afraid to seek out the wild bits. You won't regret it.
In the meantime, here's a fantastic post from our friends Josh and Marie, aka Ardent Camper, titled 15 Tips for Driving Your RV to Alaska. And this post by Gone With the Wynns about crossing the Canadian border in an RV. And finally, this guest post by His and Hers Alaska about the Myths Versus Realities of Driving Your RV to Alaska.