Like an anxious parent of adult children who had overstayed their welcome at home, Alaska “encouraged” us to move out quickly by threatening a storm. Brian’s last day of work was Thursday, February 15th and the morning of the 16th found us frantically preparing to begin our trip. Snow was due in by mid-afternoon Saturday and there was SO MUCH TO DO!
The original plan was to leave at noon, but removing snow from the RV cover proved daunting and last minute things kept eating up valuable time. We ended up merely stacking bags and boxes in Nunc Tunc with very little organization. I visited the Nenana post office one last time, putting in our forwarding notice and sending back the DirecTV equipment while Brian hitched the trailer and loaded the last of the boxes. The recliners had sold the day before and with no TV or place to sit there was nothing left holding us there.
A last-minute sale of the Kegerator set our timeline back even farther. With a veterinary appointment at 4, we were really pushing it by by getting in the truck at 2:45. A last-minute inventory revealed that Brian had misplaced the camper keys. Ten minutes later, keys found, we were headed out, with absolutely no time for sentimental good-byes.
The hour-long ride into town gave us time to remember things that needed to be done. Returning the keg tap took a few minutes. We pulled into the nearest parking lot to the vet that would accommodate our rig at 4:05 p.m. with a five minute walk to the vet’s clinic. I carried the cat :|Both pets checked out good. May May, who is 16, got an “excellent” rating, which is great to hear. Vaccines, heartworm, flea and tick meds plus the appointments set us back nearly $500!
Next stop, our dear friends Paul and Julie’s house. They graciously let us stay the night and fed us well (MOOSE). Paul even set us up with some propane because it seemed we were out. Sleeping in the cluttered camper was tough, but we were both exhausted from the bustle of the day. Julie offered to let us stay inside, but I was anxious to start living in our new home.
Morning came and revealed the camper–and we–were cold. The furnace had crapped out sometime during the night. A little tinkering with the thermostat got the furnace going and we went inside for another great meal, eggs, bacon, pancakes and homemade blueberry syrup. While Brian and Paul were going over some last minute mechanical things, Meeka decided to slip out the door and tour the neighborhood. Paul, Julie and I went off in different directions trying to locate her, only to return to find her at the house. A tearful goodbye and we were on our way to Tok.
We enjoyed an early dinner at Fast Eddy’s and stayed the night at a gas station in Tok. We had managed to stay ahead of the snow, but were still suffering from below-zero temperatures, a cranky furnace and a total lack of organization in the camper. Early the next morning, we filled our travel carafe and headed for Whitehorse.
The weather continued to favor us and the roads were really good between Tok and Whitehorse. Brian quickly became accustomed to pulling the trailer on the snow covered roads and I relaxed a bit. The border crossing was simple with a few questions about guns (we’ll not reveal here whether we had any), bear spray (we had some and were allowed to keep it), the pets (the agent looked at the paperwork), wood and produce (we had none). They also asked for our passports when handed our Alaska ID’s with the registration and insurance info. I assume they asked for passports because Alaska driver licenses are not in compliance with the Real ID federal requirement. I don’t know whether we could have entered Canada without the passports, and didn’t question it, but I would certainly do more research if I had to do it again.
We arrived in Whitehorse before it got dark and started looking around for a place to stay for the night. The RV Park where I had intended to stay was closed for the season as was my back up plan. (I really thought I checked before we left!) We ended up enjoying our first overnight at Fort Wal-Mart.
It was another chilly night. The furnace, on top of being grumpy, started being loud. The overnight temperatures were still around 10 below, and I woke up several times to reset the furnace, and once to plug the truck in and start it to recharge the battery. With the furnace running nearly full time, the batteries couldn’t keep up with the overnight load. We unplugged the truck when we stopped each night to be sure the truck battery wouldn’t be drawn down[. We had time for a quick breakfast before hitting the road at daybreak.
We saw many, many mammals that morning.
Our original goal for the day was Watson Lake. Because the roads were so good and there was virtually no traffic, we reached our goal around lunch time. Still feeling alert and looking forward to warmer weather, we pushed on.
We reached Liard Hot Springs while it was still light. For $15 we were allowed to plug in for the night. We grabbed our swimsuits and Meeka and headed down the trail toward the hot springs. Bringing Meeka was a mistake; she was willing to get in the water, but I didn’t want to deal with a wet dog and the 1/2 mile hike back would have been uncomfortable for her at ten below. So I held her leash while Brian and I took a quick dip and she waited patiently on the stairs.
When we returned to the lodge and changed, we went inside for supper, which was very good, then settled down for the night. We didn’t anticipate any issues because we were plugged in and didn’t need to worry about the blower draining the battery. Just after 3AM, the furnace went off again. The thermostat switch voodoo that had helped us limp along so far, totally failed us. With no heat, we decided to hook up and go ~ if only it were that easy. The electric tongue jack wouldn’t jack with the impact driver. Brian figured it was because it was so cold out [we learned later that Brian had mis-wired it when re-installing the batteries before we left Alaska], calling for an impromptu craft project. We built a tongue jack heater!
Meeka and I were amused.
We struck out at dawn for Fort Nelson, arriving around 1PM. We pulled into the visitor center and I had a pleasant chat with the lady there while Brian got a good look at the furnace. It turns out the squirrel cage was broken. Pushing on toward Grande Prairie seemed the best option, but it was too optimistic. We made it as far as Fort Saint John before the light started to fail. Super 8 beckoned, and they made us a good deal, which afforded us showers and the ability to a good night of sleep and not worry about freezing. Meeka had her first experience with an elevator while we there. She’s not a fan.
Before leaving in the morning we made several phone calls. ORV referred us to the furnace manufacturer in Tennessee and gave us the name of a dealer in Grande Prairie that had the part in stock. Happy Trials RV said they could get us in and taken care of and we were on our way. What I didn’t realize is we were about to cross The Great Divide, the upper part of the Rocky Mountains.
I don’t like heights. This day, more than any other gave me the heebie jeebies. It also provided us with some stunning views. I know I annoyed Brian with my constant recitation of grade percentages prominently displayed on signs.
We arrived at Happy Trails RV around lunch time unhitched and were told we would get a call when they were done. We went up the road for a little lunch and just as we were finishing our meals, the phone rang informing us that they were done and we could stop by whenever.
Rather than push on, we took the opportunity to put in at an RV Park, do dishes, laundry and to chill for awhile. We also printed the final papers for the closing on our house sale, only to find an error and needing to call around to correct that error. The pets took full advantage, they must have been really tired from sleeping in the back seat day after day.
We left before sunrise the next morning, Thursday, February 22nd. May May does not travel well before dawn. She claws at the seats and tries to jump in the front. We had good weather until around 9AM when a squall kicked up. We were traveling on a four lane, divided highway and saw cars, trucks and 18 wheelers in ditches on either side of us. The storm blew over, or we drove through it, in about an hour.
With the hills mostly behind us, we spent the long day on straight roads with fields to either side. The only thing to break up the monotony was the terrifying trip through Edmonton. There is no way to skirt the city, and driving through it was a nightmare. We rewarded ourselves with Denny’s before pulling into a Wal-Mart in Saskatoon for the night.
It was still cold, -10, and the furnace drained the battery all the way down by 4AM. This close to the border, we loaded up and headed out. Our original plan was to go all the way to Winnipeg and drop down into the States, but a quick check of the weather changed our minds. There was a winter storm and another on it’s heels. We had a small window of clear weather before we would have to hunker down, wait for the winds to die down and the roads to be clear. We decided to go straight south and hurry east.
Lunch time found us crossing the U.S. border at Portal North Dakota. This crossing was a little more detailed including a quick search of the trailer. They also asked about seeds, which I had. Before snowfall last fall, I had dug my Gladiolus and harvested Nasturtium seeds. Fortunately, they let us keep them as well as the raspberries and carrots we had bought at Wal-Mart that morning. They asked about the dog and cat, but didn’t look at the paperwork.
We were so happy to be back in the United States. Pointed East, I kept an eye on the weather and we hurried. It started to get dark right before we hit Fargo, so we pulled off at a truck stop for the night. The predicted temperature was -1 overnight, and the furnace was working well, so we were looking forward to a comfortable night. It was not to be. The battery drained, AGAIN, around 4AM. Brian and I both looked at the temperature on our phones and it was reported -1 or -3. It wasn’t until we got on the road that I looked at the dash thermometer that read -15! Our coldest night of the trip was in Fargo!
The only hurdle left before Eau Claire was Minneapolis, and it was quite a hurdle. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to driving through urban centers. 6-10 lanes divided traffic with on ramps and off ramps and mergy mergers merging. Brian assured me, “It’s just a road,” but I was a wreck. I am so thankful for GPS!
We made it to Eau Claire! And it hadn’t begun to snow yet. We booked a room for three nights at the Motel 6 because there were no campgrounds open this time of year and it only cost $10 more than a spot at the fairgrounds 30 minutes away. It was great to have water and a toilet available, not have to worry about the cold or the weather and be able to leave the cat in a safe warm place while we did some running around.
Our first stop, after warm showers, was to visit Sean at ECDC for coffee.
He was able to leave work a little early and join us for lunch at Dairy Queen. It was AMAZING, not your typical DQ fare. I had a locally-sourced breakfast sandwich with fresh eggs, a crazy good sausage patty and very fresh bread. He only had a short time before his second job began, but we did get to visit.
Next on the agenda was a much needed trip to the dog park. Meeka and Betty got to run around and play at the most wonderful dog park I’ve ever seen. The park is absolutely huge with trees and benches and a path just inside the fence. Meeka was a happy and tired puppy.
We then went to visit Sean at his other job as a bar back at the Lakely. He bought the first round 🙂 I had the “Lark’s Head” which had an odd, but likable flavor. Next stop was a dog friendly brewery for a flight–or four–of locally brewed beer for Mikhail and Brian.
By that time the snow had really kicked off, and I was ready to call it a night after a quick group picture.
We spent the next two days visiting with Mikhail, Danny and Sean, exploring Eau Claire and enjoying the many wonderful restaurants. Brian got a haircut, we offloaded some of our cargo with the kids and Danny and Mikhail invited us to their house for spaghetti, Caesar Salad and garlic bread (YUM!) As much as we were enjoying our time, it was still too cold for us to stay. Wednesday morning we headed out toward Missouri.
We weren’t on the road 20 minutes before we decided that an oil change was in order. We’ve purchased forever oil changes from Lithia, but the nearest dealer was in Iowa. A quick reroute sent us off the highway onto the backroads toward Ames, Iowa, just north of Des Moines after a stop for breakfast.
I’m so glad we took the detour. We got to see some great little towns, lots of cows and beautiful, historic houses. It added about four hours to our trip but I feel believe we got more of a flavor of the Mid West. This also lead us to a small town called Pella where we ate at a taco shop and stayed at a Wal-Mart. While checking in with the shift manager, one of the clerks mentioned there was a free overnight parking area “near the dam.” The next time we need an oil change, we’re going to find that spot by the dam.
Wednesday, February 28th saw us pulling into Portageville, Missouri ahead of heavy rain and wind. The area had already seen quite a bit of precipitation and the Bootheel RV park was nearly under water. We dropped the rig real quick and went to say our hellos. It was dark when we returned to finish setting up and only then did we realize that we had lost the pull for the grey water tank somewhere along the route.
We spent the three days in Missouri visiting, sight seeing and eating out, but I still didn’t have full use of the water, because the grey tank was filling up, and the weather was still wet and chilly. We looked at weather forecasts and were lured even farther south.
Saturday morning we left for Georgia.
The pets were not unhappy to be back on the road.
We are now staying at Albany RV Park. Since landing here on Saturday, March 3rd, we’ve figured out how to dump the grey water, cleaned and organized the truck and trailer, done some laundry and had some time to visit. We’ve also had the opportunity to try lobster and crab (thank you Allen!) and eat at Cracker Barrel (WOW). We’ve finally settled into our new home.
Now, for the Next.