We're driving a 28' Phoenix Cruiser with a 13' cargo trailer that holds the motorcycle and supplies.
Right now, we have so many plans that our plans have plans. We have packing lists, checklists, and to do lists. (And you already know that we’re pathologically organized.) But having a plan – or plans – when you’re going away for five months is critical. So – how do you go about planning a trip like this – and why? Here are some considerations.
· The basics. What do you really want to see or do? Question 1: what do you want to do? Question 2: where will you do it? Question 3: when? And Question 4: what do you need to do to make it happen? For example, the salmon spawning (i.e. fishing) season is short and changes with the type of salmon, the tide, the moon, and the year. If you want to catch salmon (or watch the bears catch salmon), you must be at X place during Y week, along with half the population of the US. Do you need reservations there? Oh, yes. And you need to plan your route to get there, because driving 500 miles in one day after you got behind is not an option. Other things: when do the mountain passes
Phoenix Cruisers are custom-made, so this one is perfect for two people. You can see all the way back to the bathroom in this photo.
open/close? Are the ferries running? Where and when are the grizzly bears feeding? How early do you need to make reservations for those really popular places?
· The route. Again, you plan your route according to what you want to see or do. In 2007, we drove quickly from Tennessee to the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, then slowed WAY down and drove up the Rocky Mountains, visiting Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks in the US and Glacier National Park, Banff, Lake Louise, and the Icefields Parkway in Canada on our way to the east end of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. This time, we’ll drive north through Michigan into Canada and drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway along the north shore of Lake Superior through Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan to Dawson Creek. I hope to post about the amazing Alaska Highway when we get there, but meanwhile recommend reading about its history. We’re revisiting some favorite places and exploring new ones in Alaska, but the real adventure will be the Dempster Highway through the Yukon and NWT to the Arctic Ocean. Oh – and toward the end, we’ll drive down the coasts of Washington
We found a cushion that fits perfectly under the dinette table, and Maggie likes the space.
and Oregon, visit Crater Lake and Yosemite before we head east.
· The budget. There are many options with widely varying costs, but our major cost will be gas (Tom estimates about $9000). You can drive your car, stay in motels, and eat restaurant food, but you’d better have deep pockets. Lodging and food are expensive, as you might expect when an establishment needs to make a year’s worth of money during the three months of summer. Nothing much is open until late May, and everything closes in mid-September. What do you want to do? Flightseeing is wonderful, but expensive. Alaska fishing licenses are $500 for the two of us. How long can you afford to stay?
· The dog. Ah, Maggie. At each border crossing, you need formal written proof of rabies vaccination, and if the border guard is uncertain about your dog’s health, he/she may require you to go to a local vet for a health certificate. They’re only good for a short period, so don’t try to game the system and get one months in advance. You cannot take lamb-based dog food into Canada, and all pet food must be in its original sealed container.
It's a Kawasaki Vulcan S, with a 650 cc engine. We both have licenses, but I'm usually the passenger. No, Maggie does not know how to ride. Yet.
We’ve reserved day boarding or visits for days when we expect to be away for a long time, and she will stay in Whitehorse, Yukon, for two weeks while we venture up the Dempster Highway. She’s not permitted to hike with us in many places, so we need to make sure that she’s cool – or warm – and that she has water, etc. We are so thankful that she doesn’t bark!
· The vehicle(s). We’ll have three: the Phoenix Cruiser, a cargo trailer, and a motorcycle. Registrations, insurance papers, spare gas cans, maintenance and repair supplies must all go with us, and must meet Canadian requirements as well as US laws.
· Border crossings. We’ll cross eight times between Canada and the US during our trip. Planning is critical, due to restrictions on what you can take into each country, and timing can be a factor. The road east from Chicken AK to the Canadian border is a one-lane dirt road with steep drop-offs, aptly called the “Top of the World Highway”. You don’t want to encounter oncoming traffic, so you leave early in the morning to arrive at the border before 9:00 am when the checkpoint
opens and westbound traffic starts down the road. On the west coast, between Stewart, BC, and Hyder AK, is the only crossing without any border controls. You just drive down the street.
· Mail and money. Once again – Canada is a foreign country. This summer, the exchange rate is in our favor, but it wasn’t in 2007. We treat money and plastic just as we do for our Asia trips, carrying multiple credit and ATM cards, just in case. We always call our card companies and insist that they make notes on our records, but we’ve always been declined at least once per trip. Don’t think that you can be careful enough – we were in India when our credit card company
was hacked and they cancelled the card we’d left at home to use for all our utility bills. It took eight hours of phone calls to get everything changed to another card – which was cancelled six weeks later while we were in Turkey and the second card company was hacked. Technological changes since 2007 have allowed us to link all our “bills” to a checking account, where they are paid automatically. In 2007, we used a mail forwarding service, but now all our accounts have our email addresses. Chase West, the neighbor who is watching over our house, will let us know if any “interesting” mail arrives.
· Medical Stuff. Again, Canada is not the US. How does your health insurance work in Canada? Where do you get your prescriptions? There are no Walgreen’s in Canada, but we’re linked to Walgreen’s because Tom’s military insurance. Thirty – or even ninety-day – supplies don’t work for a five month trip, so I’m about to start the “vacation override” battle with the insurance companies.
· House maintenance. During earlier trips, we just shut down the house and hoped for the best. There’s not much you can do from Vietnam when a tornado goes through Tellico Plains, as happened in 2012. It was several days before friends could get to the house and assure us that the logs were still stacked in house form. Now we live in a subdivision surrounded by wonderful neighbors who will watch the house and let us know if anything seems amiss. Chase West will mow the grass, pick up the mail, and keep an eye on the house interior. Having neighbors and friends you can trust makes life much easier!
· Communication. One more time – Canada is not the US. Different cell phone companies, managed differently, and spotty coverage. Look at a map – Canada is the second largest country in the world, and most of it has no cell phone coverage. Don’t expect Verizon to support you. We’re taking a few things we hope will help, and maybe save our lives. First, a cell phone booster. If you’re in an area with one bar, it will boost you to four bars. No bars? No joy. Many small towns have wifi connections at public libraries or community centers (like east Tennessee). Satellite dishes (often the only option) are pointed at the ground to catch the signal from satellites that circle the equator. Second, we’re taking a satellite phone. It’s expensive, but will work when nothing else does. Since we’re going to wander off the grid, we decided that would be a good idea. Third, we have a Personal Locator Beacon from Tom’s sailplane flying days. We’ll take that when we go hiking.
· Family and friends. What if something happens to a friend or family member? How will we know and what will we do? Again, good neighbors have our contact information, and we have made my nephew legally responsible for estate (!) matters. And when you think about it, if a loved one dies or becomes seriously ill, what can you do from Alaska? Life will go on, even when you’re not there.
We’re now at launch day minus five. Wish us luck!
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