Cruising Alaska

I may not be able to see Russia from my house, but I can see The World from my deck.

I am often asked "do people in town like the tourists?" Of course we do is my response. We love our tourists and it isn't because of the dollars tourism generates - although that is a good reason in and of itself. I think we feel rather honored that a bunch of people are willing to spend their time and hard earned money to travel to our playground.

Wrangell is a small town of 2000 people where Front Street is lined with privately owned businesses taking care of the locals. And while the owners thrive during the summer months our businesses are open year round for our needs. "Shop Local" is a slogan heard strongly throughout our community.

In other communities the downtown businesses are owned and/or operated by the the cruise industry. Not only do storefronts close during the off season most locals don't venture into the downtown area. In those communities taking a picture of an eagle is without question easier than spotting a local Alaskan. Shops include tourist trinkets made in China, employee name tags of those from India, the Philippines, and South Africa, and "deep discounts" taken at the register for the BOGO special of the day. In fact, stepping off a ship in the Caribbean looks a lot like landing in Juneau. Even the names of jewelry stores are the same. (Ok, so I'm not sure about the names of the jewelry stores but you get my point.)

If locals act like they don't like tourists coming to their town, you are probably in the wrong place. Wrangell is known for being the friendliest town in Alaska for a reason. People here are REALLY nice. And I'm not saying that just because I live here. And it isn't that they try and go out of their way to be nice because you're from out of town. People here are just nice which probably can be a bit overwhelming if you aren't used to it.

Tourist season is upon us

We all know young children, in all their innocence of the world, ask questions that adults think are cute. We answer them kindly, without snickering, and think to ourselves "isn't that adorable?" Now think of an adult, who really should know better, asking some of those same questions. Alaskans won't laugh at the inquiring tourist. Alaskans have manners. They will kindly answer the tourist, sometimes truthfully, and enjoy a laugh with their friends later on. Enjoying a laugh at the expense of a tourist is a favorite local pastime. It's all harmless fun

Answering Tourist Questions:

  • Q:  When do the bears come out?  A: They are probably having breakfast right now. We make them wait an hour after eating.
  • Q:  How do you turn on the lights? (Talking about the Northern Lights)  A: There's a coin slot at the end of the pier. Make sure you have quarters.
  • Q:  When do you turn on the lights? (Again talking about the Northern Lights)
  • Q:  Where's the coin slot? (To keep the waterfall flowing)
  • Q:  Where can I exchange my American money for Alaskan money?  A: There's a Wells Fargo right across the street.
  • Q:  What's the elevation here? (Cruise ship passenger standing near the dock)
  • Q: How long does it take for a deer to turn into an elk?  A: Well, if it's been a warm growing season, only a year and a half.
  • Q: How long does it take for an elk to turn into a moose? A: Here in the southeast it takes a bit longer than up near Fairbanks ... could be 5 years or more.
  • Q:  What's the name of this lake? (Cruise ship passenger just off the OCEAN LINER)
  • Q:  Do you live in an igloo?   A: Well I did up until last year ... what with global warming and all.....
  • Q:  Where are the penguins?   A:  Alaska is in the Northern Hemisphere. Penguins are ... Oh, never mind. Sure, the penguin races start at 8pm on the north end of Front Street.
  • Q:  That glacier is pretty dirty, someone should clean it off.  A: Yep, but we're still waiting on some parts to be shipped up to repair the power washer. 
  • Q:  Do I just spray my arms or should I use it all over? (Asking about how to apply bear spray)
  • "They shouldn't build the docks so low. This ramp is pretty steep." (Tourist heading to the dock for a fishing trip at low tide)
  • After another tourist explains it's the low tide that causes the steep decline I'm almost thinking all is right with the world and then I hear "Just wait until we return. It will be high tide then and the next crew will have to walk UP this ramp." 

Dave Berry - Alaska: Grin and Bear It

Dave Berry - Land of Frozen Earwax

Dave Berry - Don't Feed the Tourists

  Gives a whole new meaning to     "Meals on Wheels."

Gives a whole new meaning to

"Meals on Wheels."

For some reason, that no Alaskan can fully explain, tourists insist on walking in the street. There are beautiful wide sidewalks but it doesn't matter. They arrive in town, any town, and walk in the street instead of using the sidewalks. Sometimes they're walking right down the middle of Main Street. None of the locals understand this phenomenon. Maybe someone can let us in on the secret.

2017 Resolutions

A.K.A. Casual promises to myself that I'm under no legal obligation to fulfill

In the new year I aspire to drop 200 pounds ...

with a polished Winchester.

HaHaHa .... sorry ... yeah ok ... let's get serious ...it's almost the New Year.

In the New Year I will:

  • remember to write 2017 before the fireweed blooms.
  • not send a text to someone in the same room.
  • not binge watch Grey's Anatomy all day Sunday (certainly I can wait for Monday).
  • stop openly laughing at Man Buns.
  • stop waiting for Rosie and Miley to move to Canada.
  • stop rolling my eyes when someone uses the word "kiddos."
  • stop making sarcastic comments at Scott Pelley who ridiculously insists on carrying his glasses during EVERY news broadcast.
  • patiently continue to wait for my Christmas present sent in November by FedEx Express.
  • not be annoyed by teenagers ripping through town in their trucks trying to capture those elusive Pokemon.
  • be more considerate of those who say they can't ship an item to me because their company doesn't ship internationally.
  • be more understanding about those who ask me about Arkansas when they see the letters AK. 
  • politely, and without sarcastic undertones, just say "no" when I'm asked if I felt the earthquake last night in Unalaska.

How long will my resolutions last?

Got a stop watch?!?

Alaska Marine Highway System

I can't say enough about the Alaska Marine Highway System. The employees are professional, kind, knowledgeable, and have a terrific sense of humor. The customer service with Alaska Marine is terrific; friendly, warm, and very helpful and patient. The anticipation of driving a large rig onto the ferry can be a bit intimidating but there is really nothing at all to be nervous about. The men on car deck are the best at their jobs and will guide you every step of the way. They have seen and worked with every situation imaginable. Leave it to the experts, listen to their directions, and enjoy the trip. The scenery along your journey will be amazing. 

Coming from the south you have two options for departure; Bellingham and Prince Rupert. I typically choose Rupert for three reasons: (1) The price - you can search for yourself with your own specs but you will save about 80% by sailing out of Rupert. (2) The duration on board is shorter. I love the ships, both the Kennicott and the Matanuska, but 2 days surrounded by strangers is a little too much for my wheelhouse, when I know there's a viable alternative. (3) There are more sailings out of Rupert which translates to more flexible travel plans. The Columbia is typically booked well in advance of the tourist season and only sails north on Friday.

The updated reservation page is easy to navigate. Most vehicles are listed for reservation of your toad and a motorhome up to 30 feet in length. If you have a longer RV you will need to call to make arrangements. Call the Juneau number for helpful customer service (907-465-3941). If along the way you wish to change your plans - maybe you want to stay longer at a location - drop in at the local terminal and they can make the arrangements for you. It has never been a problem for me. In some cases they've charged me $10 to make the change.

Before booking the ferry you will need to measure your RV. Record your measurements, in feet, from the front of your rig to the furthermost point to include the tow bar (unless you can easily dismount it for travel). AMH charges by the foot, so a rig that measures 39'11" will of course be 40 feet. Now measure the width and the height. For the toad you need simply to tell give the year, make, and model. If you have bicycles on the toad or the motorhome that change the dimensions and can easily be stowed inside the vehicle consider that option so as to cut down on the overall vehicle expense.                 

You will disconnect the toad from the motorhome and drive each onto the ferry separately. This not only saves you money on the 4 feet of tower, but it will also provide maneuverability while on the ferry. You will have to back into lanes on the car deck and you might even have to back out of the deck onto the ramp. Not a problem at all. Remember you have helpful deck hands to guide you.

If you have an overnight trip you might want to consider booking a stateroom. Cabins come in different sizes depending on the ship; two, three, or four berth; and either inside or outside stateroom. For myself, I will generally choose an inside two berth which will include a full bath. If I have two traveling in my party I will get a 4 berth so neither of us has to climb to the top bunk, just for convenience. And if I'm on my favorite ship I will choose my very favorite room at the Purser's Desk, but I'm not telling anyone about that secret room. The cost of the stateroom is from arrival to departure. It is not priced on a nightly basis.

AMH makes very good meals at a fair price. Every night on board there are generally 3 homemade, dinner specials in addition to the cheeseburgers and sandwiches. They also offer a selection of salads and desserts. There are daily breakfast specials made fresh every morning with omelettes, eggs, and pancakes made to order. Fresh halibut, corned beef and cabbage dinner, and roast beef are all likely dinner options made fresh on board. 

You are free to walk around the ship, indoor and out. There are several lounge areas, a movie theater, and a game room. Each ship is a little different from the next but you should find there is space on all to read, do a puzzle, or use your computer. The upper deck has a heated solarium where a large number of tents have been anchored with duct tape and rope. You are welcome to do the same, or you can throw a sleeping bag on one of the solarium lounge chairs.

Ferries that travel throughout the southeast arrive and depart several times throughout the week depending on the port. The Cross Gulf ferry do so only once every two weeks. The Columbia travels on Fridays out of Bellingham north to Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, and Juneau, before heading south for the reverse trip to arrive back at Bellingham on Friday. 

On your way you may dock in towns to let off other passengers. You can generally disembark at any of these locations. Remember to take your ticket stub and ID with you. Ketchikan and Juneau are the towns where the crews change shifts so the ferry is in port for a longer time than say Wrangell or Petersburg, where the ship will stay most times for about an hour, or if the captain is trying to make up some lost time, for only as long as it takes to load and unload. If you stop in Sitka you may experience a longer stay due to the tide schedule, in which case you might have enough time to take a cab into town. In Yakutat, you could walk up the hill to Grandma's for a snack. Just prior to arrival check with the Purser's Desk. They will gladly give you the most accurate information about the amount of time you're working with. 

Many of us travel with pets. AMH is pet friendly as far as allowing easy travel with pets. All pets must stay in your vehicle while on board the vessel. Certified Service Animals are welcome on the passenger decks. Upon hearing this for the first time many passengers come close to tears with the thought of not being with "Little Buttons" for an extended period of time. Having traveled with several pets I can tell you, they will be fine. No ferry ride is ever that long so as to cause any issues. At every port you are able to disembark to take "Little Buttons" for a walk. On longer trips the ship will stop to allow pet owners to go below to walk their pet and provide a potty break. Yes, that's right. Right there on the car deck, so please make sure to clean up after "Little Buttons." The ship provides the paper towels and trash cans. Once the ship is underway no one is allowed below deck.

When pulling into a port where you will be disembarking you will be notified well in advance over the PA system. If you have a stateroom, you will hear a knock on your door about a half hour prior to arrival if you are disembarking. Make certain to take everything with you when leaving your stateroom, leave your door open for the cleaning crew, and return your key to the Purser's Desk. You need to be quick about getting to your vehicle and loading your baggage. Once you arrive in port you will be escorted off the deck in record time. It takes much longer to load a deck than to unload. 

Depending on your length of stay on the ship there are certain things that will make your stay more comfortable. If staying over night you might want your own pillow and your computer so you can watch a movie in your room, and maybe have a glass of wine. Feel free to bring a cooler on board for drinks and snacks. The dining room also has microwaves for guest use, which means that if you stop in Sitka and take a cab to town, you might want to pick up some Chinese food for dinner. Just a thought. And before I forget I always bring an extension cord with me. Depending on the room, it's a stretch to reach a receptacle.

General Rules for Ferry Travel

  1. Get a room. Yes, you can sleep on the deck. You can sleep on the lounge chairs in the heated solarium. You can roll out your sleeping bag in any lounge, but do you really want to do that? Staterooms are inexpensive. Give yourself permission to splurge.
  2. If you're traveling with kids, keep them under watch, and help them to be respectful of the other passengers. Ferries are relatively small vessels and noise travels inside lounges. There are, depending on the ferry, several activities your children will enjoy; movie lounge, play area, video game area. There are also peaceful areas for them to work on projects they have brought with them. Other passengers should not be disturbed by the actions or loud voices of your children. Make certain to bring snack for them in a cooler that is readily available. And no running on board the ship, inside the ship or on deck where it can be very slippery. This is not a Carnival cruise ship, this is a highway system for local Alaskans. 
  3. No, the doors to the deck are not locked. You just have to (a) push really hard or (b) try pulling.
  4. Up until recent times there was a full service bar on every ship. Bar service was taken away, however I'm told the area previously designated as a bar is still reserved for those 21 and older. You can bring alcohol on board ship, but you must consume it in your stateroom. Bring a cooler with snacks, sandwiches, drinks, and a bottle of wine. For long trips I've even taken my coffee pot and fixings, just because I don't want to walk up to the dining room for a cup of coffee in the morning. 
  5. If you're going to have conversations in the lounge areas, try to keep your voice low enough so as not to disturb other passengers. You will meet many people on board who are anxious to share their travel stories. There is also the one man on every ship who I'm certain feels he's the expert on Alaskan travel. And the reason I know this is because he makes himself heard from bow to stern. You can recognize him right away because even if there is no one around him, you will spot him talking to himself. Many people in the lounges who are reading, working on the computer, or maybe just trying to sleep. Be considerate.
  6. When the ferry docks in any port you can disembark. If by chance you take this opportunity make certain you are back on ship in time. You do not want to miss the boat. The Captain will not wait for you. Remember he's on a tide schedule.
  7. When you disembark, please don't ask the folks in town "So, what's the elevation here." If not immediately, the reason for this will appear obvious in a few minutes.
  8. No, there is not WiFi on board the ship. No, you will not have cell service unless you are very close to port, and even that isn't true for every port, such as Sitka. In the past there has been an issue with Verizon service using cell towers in BC instead of the most immediate town. You will be charged huge fees if you have not changed your cell plan to include Canada. For instance, while in Ketchikan you may receive a signal from a BC tower instead of a Ketchikan tower. Even if you're not making calls, you will be charged for texts that you receive. 

When tourists come up to Alaska for the first time they are pretty high strung. Relax. Be a visitor, not a tourist. Alaska is nothing like the Lower 48. There are places to be enjoyed and people to meet. If by chance you find yourself in a jam, don't worry. For every problem there's a solution and there will always be someone to help you solve it. Alaskans are very well mannered, considerate, and willing to help just about everyone, with the exception being the guy in the $150 Blood and Guts convertible pants. 

The Down and Dirty of Boarder Crossings

Boarder crossing isn't difficult, but depending on where you cross you may have some wait time. Be prepared when crossing the boarder to have all documents in order. I clipped my information together in groups so it can be easily handed to the agent when requested. 

  • For the RV - Registration, insurance card, Canadian insurance card, insurance policy
  • For the toad - Registration, insurance card, Canadian insurance card, insurance policy
  • Pets - Rabies certificate, health certificate
  • Passports
  • List of items in pantry/refrigerator/freezer - Organize into 3 columns and make additions/ deletions as needed. Listing wine/beer and quantities will save time. 

I do everything I possibly can so there is absolutely no reason for the agents to come aboard my coach. I've heard my share of nightmarish stories as I'm certain everyone has. 

Be prepared to answer questions with concise answers. 

  • How long will you be in Canada?
  • Where are you planning on staying while you're in Canada?
  • How many people are traveling with you?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • Are you carrying any firearms? Handguns? Mace? Bear spray?
  • Do you have any firearms at home? (I have no idea why this should be important.)
  • Are you transporting any {insert current banned food item here}?
  • Do you have any alcohol on board? Cigarettes? How much?

People always ask about crossing through Customs. I never have personally had any issues with crossing, however there are some agents in our US offices whom I would rather not meet again. Some agents are just downright rude and arrogant. I had one agent at Beaver Creek yelling at me because I didn't come into the station under an overhang as he requested. Even after explaining the height of my rig wouldn't allow me into the space he insisted he "eyeballed" the height to determine I would have been alright. In reality my KingDome sat far too high and would have had significant damage. In Sweetgrass I encountered an extremely arrogant customs agent who seemed bent on expressing his authority to the common people. Not exactly the welcome I expected. 

Let's Get The Maps Out - travel guide

Our driver, Max, does a heck of a job.

At some point you will have to lay out some of your trip according to your own interests. You don't have to have every moment of every day planned, but there are certain reservations you will need to make. I've outlined my trip below and I have to say it was pretty inclusive.

  • Washington: I-5 to Route 13 to cross the board at Sumas - open 24/7
  • Route 1/Route 5 to Kamloops - Just because it's a cute town with really nice people.
  • Kamloops - Route 97 through Cache Creek and Quesnel to Prince George
  • Prince George - Yellowhead Highway (Route 16) to Prince Rupert - Know the names of highways so you can speak with locals and understand proper directions.
  • Prince Rupert - catch the ferry to Ketchikan - 6 hours - have US boarder documents ready at the gate in Rupert prior to pulling into the staging area.
  • Ketchikan - catch the ferry to Wrangell - 6 hours
  • Wrangell - catch the ferry to Petersburg - 3 hours
  • Petersburg - catch the ferry to Juneau - 8 hours
  • Juneau - catch the ferry to Haines - 4.5 hours
  • Haines to Haines Junction via Haines Highway - you will cross into Yukon Territory at Dalton Cache and will need Canadian boarder documents - open 8am-midnight
  • Haines Junction via the Alaska Highway through Destruction Bay to Tok - you will need US boarder documents at Beaver Creek - open 24/7
  • Tok to Valdez - take Tok Cutoff through Glenallen and pick up the Richardson Highway south
  • Valdez to Whittier - catch the ferry to Whittier - 6 hours - Make travel arrangements for return trip at this same time. The Cross Gulf ferry only travels east once every two weeks.
  • Whittier to Soldotna/Kenai - travel through the train tunnel from Whittier to the Seward Highway south, turn right off the highway toward Cooper Landing and then travel the Sterling Highway into Soldotna
  • Soldotna/Kenai to Ninilchik/Anchor Point/Homer via the Sterling Highway
  • Homer back to Soldotna/Kenai via the Sterling Highway then north on the Seward Highway toward Anchorage
  • Anchorage to Talkeetna via the George Parks Highway
  • Talkeetna to Denali via the George Parks Highway
  • Denali to Fairbanks via the George Parks Highway
  • Fairbanks to North Pole via the Richardson Highway
  • North Pole to Palmer - east on the Richardson Highway, then east on Glenn Highway to Palmer
  • Palmer to Whittier - Glenn Highway to George Parks Highway to Seward Highway
  • Whittier to Juneau - Catch the Cross Gulf ferry at Whittier. You will make a stop at Yakutat and then on to Juneau
  • Juneau to Wrangell - 
  • Wrangell to Ketchikan to Prince Rupert - You will have to get off one ferry and maybe stay the night in Ketchikan and then catch the ferry to Rupert. The other option is to meet up with the Columbia and travel back to Bellingham but it's a far more expensive trip. Another consideration is that the Columbia is generally booked well in advance so it doesn't lend itself well to "flying by the seat of your pants." Smaller southeast trips are easier to book with little notice.
  • Prince Rupert to Prince George via Yellowhead Highway
  • Prince George through Jasper National Park and Banff National Park to Canmore
  • Canmore to US boarder at Sweetgrass, Montana

Beautiful day for a road trip.

Preparing The Motorhome - Camping Checklist

In no sense of the word would I consider myself a "fulltimer" although I have used the RV extensively and treat it as a second home. After three years of playing around, month long trips, traveling to rallies, resorts, and other social events I desperately needed to organize, purge, and clean the RV in order to take an Alaskan trip of this magnitude. There were a huge list of things I wanted to do to make my trip more relaxing and less stressful. It doesn't take long to accumulate a bunch of stuff in every conceivable nook and cranny of the RV. This part of the organizing would prove to take longer than I had first anticipated. If I  didn't need the items on this trip they came out, primarily because I was concerned with the extra weight in the RV.

Travel packing lists for all your travel needs

Equipment Checklist

First on my list was to look at the basement bays and pull out the miscellaneous items I wouldn't need and probably didn't remember were there. Do you really need those heavy, comfortable lounge chairs or will the camp chairs serve you fine on this trip? How much golf will you really play on this trip and can you get by with rentals at the course? I probably don't need the awning lights, the miscellaneous rally items and decorations, or the patio mats. The auxiliary satellite dish won't work in Alaska, so that can be stored elsewhere for the summer.

For this trip I packed the basement bays with the following:

  • Fishing equipment - hip waiters, Ugly Sticks with open bale reels, large net, 5 gallon bucket
  • 2 camp chairs and a small folding table - many camp grounds in Alaska don't offer a picnic table
  • Weber grill, stainless mesh baskets for grilling veggies and fish over a campfire, Dutch Oven
  • Ladders - a three step and a larger extendable
  • Tools - every tool you would normally carry with you 
  • Empty Rubber Maid containers to fill with souvenirs and unused clothes
  • Aluminum step, door mat, Easy Up with zippered side walls.  You will want the extra covered space outside the RV to store your rain gear, hip waiters, fishing gear, muddy boots, etc. It will be a welcomed dry space. For reasons which should be obvious, you won't be able to leave your awning out for extended periods of time.
  • Distilled water, normal fluid items, filters, belts. If your rig is small you may consider a spare. Most likely nothing will happen to your tires if you've taken proper precautions and don't drive like a madman over the frosties.
  • Large Rubber Maid container for dry dog food. You don't want to run out of your dog's favorite food and/or treats while on the road, although they will most likely love to dine on fish.
  • The normal extra length of water hose, extension cord, sewer hoses, 30amp/20amp adapters
  • I'm really embarrassed to admit this, but I stored away my Dyson so I could vacuum messes the central vac just couldn't handle. And before you start laughing, consider that I was traveling with two Saint Bernard's into a very wet and muddy rain forest. There will be messes. There will be dust no matter how tightly sealed you believe your RV windows to be.
  • Fishing is a must and having a DC freezer in the basement is as well. You can ship your fish home, but then comes the extra task of finding someone to receive the shipment and get it to your home freezer. Your freshly caught halibut tastes incredible after a long day of fishing. If you have this extra freezer you'll be able to enjoy your catch throughout the summer.

Inside Storage Cabinets - Checklist

I enjoy my creature comforts. If I want to rough it I'll throw my tent and air mattress in the back of the Suburban (that was a joke men). I bought my RV to have my home with me. Even though I may be camping, fishing, hiking, and exploring I don't feel the need to give up modern conveniences. This is my home away from home so if something makes me happy I'm going to have it with me, Saint Bernard's and all.

For years I've tried to think of a solution to keep wine glasses, or for that matter any glass, upright while on the road, with the added benefit of not tumbling out of the cabinet and smashing on the countertop upon arrival at the campground. I posed this question on one of my travel group sites and their first response was to ask why I would travel with glasses at all? The short answer is because I really detest paper and plastic products. I don't use them at home so I feel no need to use them on the road. Besides, who can drink Riesling out of a plastic cup? So, I compromised. I bought cheap, 16 ounce, stemless wine glasses at Wally World and stainless steel, mesh rectangular baskets. These fit nicely in the cabinet and hold all the glasses in place. A piece of shelf liner placed between the row of glasses helps keep them quiet. I also used this shelf liner between all plates and bowls and under the silverware in each section. Noise problem solved without having to use paper and plastic.

I cleaned out every cabinet and drawer to re-organize for this trip. I wanted to make sure things were conveniently located for ease of use and quick access. I'm a cook, and with the added benefit of fresh fish, crab, and oysters I planned to enjoy myself in the kitchen. Very rarely do I eat out when on the road. This organization also gave me the opportunity to create a list of pantry, refrigerator, and freezer items that I could give to Boarder Agents. This printed, updated sheet makes the crossing much easier.

Pantry

  • Fill all spice bottles, stock up on canned items. I placed these in the rectangular mesh baskets in the pantry and never again had an issue with things moving around. Extra cans of soup, tomatoes, etc I put in canvas baskets in another part of the RV.
  • Pasta, beans, barley, and rice stored in air tight Rubber Maid containers. 
  • Coffee, tea, sweetner, flour, sugar, etc place in air tight Rubber Maid containers
  • Transfer olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, etc to plastic containers
  • Cookies and crackers in Ziplock bags
  • Costco Stretch Tite Food Wrap, Aluminum foil, extra Ziplock bags of various sizes
  • Fruit, potatoes, and onions I placed in the kitchen drawers. Quantities of these will depend on their origin and if you will be entering Canada. You can check current food regulations here.
  • Small appliances - coffee maker, coffee grinder (my indulgence), toaster, small deep fryer (I promise it will come in handy), the Cuisenart electric skillet became my new best friend.

Bath

  • Mesh baskets in the wall cabinets help organize items and keep them in place. Very helpful.
  • I would suggest stocking up on personal items. If the item is difficult to find in your area, you don't stand a chance of finding it in Alaska. Even common items can be difficult to find.
  • Store toilet paper and tissues. Most of us are particular about our favorite brands.

Other Areas - Camping Ideas

  • I have a curio cabinet in my RV which holds some of my favorite items. I use museum wax to keep these in place while on the road. 
  • I have a drawer within easy reach for my camera equipment, binoculars, and video equipment. 
  • Like most RVs I have a table with 4 chairs. Instead of keeping this setup I changed out the 4 chairs with a rolling desk chair and turned the table into a desk space for my computer, printer, and office supplies. I attached a two file tray to the underside of the table and used museum wax to anchor a small desk lamp. It's an enjoyable work area that I don't have to break down every time I get back on the road.
  • I mentioned carrying an Easy Up to dump wet and muddy items outside. Mine has zippered sides that velcro into place. A piece of paracord cut to size and a few clothespins let me hang damp items on one side while the other area can be used to sit outside out of the rain. I also kept a larger sized Rubber Maid container in the toad for rain gear and boots. It helps ensure your gear is reachable without opening the slides of the RV.
  • Pack clothes within a color scheme. Things should be easily mixed and matched. Pack only your favorites. Pack to dress in layers; t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, fleece, water proof rain jacket. You don't need a lot of clothes. You need comfortable clothes, comfortable boots, and great socks. One of the nicest things about Alaska is they've taken casual to a whole new level. Dress so you're comfortable in the weather you're faced with. You will do laundry every week and you'll find yourself wearing the same comfortable clothes week after week. It's okay. you're going to Alaska, not the Grammy's. The only one who cares about your $150 pair of Blood and Guts convertible pants is you. Alaskans are pretty unimpressed with anything related to "down south." They are a pretty straight forward lot, who care more about who you are, not how you dress. Be a visitor, not a tourist. Leave the dressy pantsuit, cocktail dress, and heels to the cruise ship tourist.

Checklist Items Worthy of Mention

  • Cooler for overnights on the ferry and day trips
  • Favorite pillows from home
  • Get a good backpack, like a North Face, and leave your purse at home.
  • DVDs, books, magazines or whatever else you enjoy. Your satellite will not get reception in Alaska and you won't always have access to cable at campgrounds. Plan some down time. You don't want to be running from one activity to another.
  • Extra eye glasses and sun glasses
  • Water bottles - reusable
  • Comfortable winter hat for glacier trips, whale watching trips, and ocean fishing excursions
  • Clothespins, paracord, carabiners
  • Ammonia or hydrogen peroxide in a small spray bottle - for mosquito bites
  • Vitamin B12 - some people swear it repels mosquitos and bees. It works for me.
  • Rain Gear - 2 water proof jackets at least (one lightweight and one larger/heavier), knee high rain boots like XtraTuffs, hiking boots, sneakers, and sandals (if you wish)
  • Gloves - with finger holes so you can still take photos on the cold boats rides

Further Preparing Your Vehicles

  • If you don't already have one, install a rock guard on your coach. This not only goes a long way to saving the paint on your toad, but depending on where your radiator is installed this will probably save it when traveling over the gravel roadways.
  • I made a windshield cover for the Jeep out of some rubber material I had hanging around the garage. I punched grommets in the corners. When installed properly it would be placed under the wipers and reach inside the door frame. Inside I would attach a bungee cord to the bottom two grommets and a bungee to the top two grommets. It was extra windshield security to protect from flying stones of other vehicles.
  • I covered the headlights (and fog lights) on the RV and Jeep with two layers of clear packing tape to protect against flying stones.
  • For everyone who isn't used to the Land of the Midnight Sun, return the insulated window coverings you used for the Arizona heat to the bedroom windows and skylights .

Books, DVDs, and Websites

If you're anything like me, researching for a trip is a lot of fun. What types of things do you like to do? Where is it you want to go? How do you want to get there? To answer these questions you will need to access information from all possible sources. If you're doing it right your dining room will start to resemble the local library.

Start with the local Chamber of Commerce for each town you want to visit. You can request local information on most Chamber websites. Do remember these lists are not a complete listing of local businesses, but only those businesses who are members of the Chamber. 

Early on you will need to arrange reservations for the Alaska Marine Highway System. The thought of traveling by ferry can be a bit intimidating at first, but it is really the best way to experience Alaska. I'll discuss more about this later on, but in the meantime visit the website.

Milepost, A.K.A "The Bible of Alaska," by tourists, not locals. Make sure you purchase the newest edition, generally available in March, as local business and road conditions change from year to year. Just as with the Chamber resource, not all local businesses are listed in the Milepost. 

Netflix and Amazon are terrific sources for documentaries, provided that you stay clear of silly "reality" series currently popular on the Discovery channel. Try film titles instead such as: "The Wonders of Alaska," "Building the Alaska Highway," "Alaska: The Inside Passage." You will also find several YouTube videos with a Google search.

Amazon is a great source for books written for just about every audience and area. Just a word of caution about several of the more popular books that include the typical "must see" locations. The entries in many cases have been written by the business owner, which doesn't really provide an unbiased account. I've been disappointed several times with the difference in the description and my actual experience. The following titles I found to offer the best format for planning the trip and were useful on the road as well. 

  • Eyewitness Travel: Alaska - ISBN 978-1465428349
  • Best Places: Alaska - ISBN 978-1570615313 
  • Off the Beaten Path: Alaska - ISBN 978-0762745340 
  • Alaska's Inside Passage - ISBN 978-1400009022 
  • Alaska, James Mitchner - ISBN 978-0375761423 - Offers a quick education on geography, history, people, and culture.
  • The Harriman Alaska Expedition Retraced - ISBN 0-8135-3505-0

Websites

The Planning Stages/checklists equipment check

Fishing towns in Southeast Alaska

Okay, I admit it. I'm the Type A, planner, researcher, and list maker. Given a huge project I'm in my glory to spend hours pouring over information and making sure all the details have been examined. And Alaskan Adventure is no different. To this end I'm giving you my first first list - the Pre-Trip Preparation List. You're going to be away from home for 3+ months. There will be some things you'll need to think about. And yes, you will have to change this list to fit your situation, but at least it will give you a starting point, and maybe some things you didn't think about.

  • Someone to watch your house.
  • Someone to watch a pet that you might not be taking along - bird, fish, etc.
  • How will your mail be forwarded to you?
  • What bills need to be paid forward? Which can be paid online?
  • Order prescriptions for the time you'll be away.
  • Service RV - oil change, check tires (condition and date), check fluids, check roof seals
  • Place monthly subscriptions on hold: XMRadio, DirecTV, magazine, newspapers
  • Haircut/Style before you leave
  • Extra set of keys - RV, toad, bay doors, gas lock
  • Call medical insurers to tell them you will be out of your area
  • Need club membership cards - Elks, Moose, American Legion, VFW, Eagles, Good Sam, FMCA, and National Parks Pass
  • If you don't have a National Parks Pass - Plan on getting one
  • Call credit card companies and your bank - Give them your basic itinerary and length of stay so a hold won't be placed on your account 
  • Install a rock guard on your coach
  • Make a windshield cover for the toad - More on this later
  • Emergency Road Service - Coach Net, Good Sams, AAA, personal insurance
  • Consider buying an air card for wifi service in Alaska
  • Make sure your insurance cards are good for the entire length of your trip, request additional Canadian coverage if needed.
  • Take Little Buttons to the vet for a health card and up to date vaccinations
  • Licenses for pets
  • Passport and Military ID cards

Valdez, Alaska - Try a whale watching tour