Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the category “Prep”

s%&t happens

If we had won the day before at the casino, we may have stayed another day there. As it was, we woke up in a wandering mood so we packed up and headed east. We crossed over the Hudson at the Newburgh Beacon Bridge, our usual choice to avoid traffic. The tolls are cheaper, too. We were headed to Croton-On-Hudson, to visit Zach, my son.

Croton Point Park, a Westchester County Park, is a great place to stay right on the Hudson River. It is about a mile from the train station that takes commuters into New York City, so it is a great alternative to Liberty RV Park at half the price. While Croton Point Park is pricey for just a couple of days stay ($55/night) a weeks stay is only $250 with full hook ups. There are some full timers and seasonals there but for $650 or $900 a month, I completely understand why. Rent, even this far outside the city, is three times that.

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Our spacious site with full hookups

Croton Point Park has great bike trails and walking trails, a swim area, and lots of space to just while away the day.

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While in the area, we had to stop by Lefteris Gyro in Tarrytown. It is becoming our favorite place for greek salad. On warm days, it is great to sit outside and people watch. We also had chance to try Wild Fusion, sushi in Mohegan Lake. The sushi was very fresh and the rolls were creative and artfully assembled. We enjoyed our time with Zach, caught up on the latest news, and enjoyed relaxing by the river.

We still had no reservations for any place before June 1 but did find out that Hammonasset Beach State Park, in Connecticut, was opening on Friday morning and was non-reservable for the weekend. We packed up Friday morning to head east.

Part of our pack up ritual is to flush the toilet one last time after dumping. This insures there is some water in the black tank to slosh around while driving, helping to keep any build up in the tank to a minimum. So I flushed the toilet. Everything worked fine for the first 30 seconds. And then for another 30 seconds and another 30 seconds and another 30 seconds. UhOh. We have a vacu-flush toilet – a vacuum generator sucks the waste down a tube into a black tank. Vacu-flushes are typically used in boats but many RVs also have them so that the floor plan doesn’t have to conform to black tank placement or so an RV can have two toilets and just one black tank. This also keeps black tank odors down as there is a vacuum between the tank and the bottom of the toilet rather than just a straight open drop into the black tank. Typically, the vacuum generator will run 30 seconds to move the waste from point a (the toilet) to point b (the black tank). This time, it took three minutes. We had a leak.

We tried it again, just to see if it was a one time fluke or a persistent problem. Again, three minutes to create a vacuum. At least, though, it was holding a vacuum. This meant it wasn’t a blown line. The idea of chasing a line leaking toilet water was not something I wanted to contemplate. So we finished packing up and moved on, planning to hopefully diagnose and fix the problem in Connecticut.

During the hour and half drive to Hammonasset, we researched all we could about vacu-flush toilets. We knew the problem wasn’t a toilet leak – the bowl was holding water without problems. We knew it wasn’t a blown line – it eventually formed a vacuum. We knew the generator was working – it sounded the same it always did, even if it ran for what seemed like forever. We got a site in the electric area of the campground, about 200 yards from the beach and set up camp. Then we ate lunch. Then we remembered we had no working toilet. Well, we had a working toilet, we just didn’t want to flush it.

In the 2014 33C, the vacuum generator is located under the bed, behind the SurgeGuard. There are two ways to get to it: the panel behind the surge guard or the panel in the rear pass through storage bay. We tried the panel behind the surge guard first. From this spot, we could see the vacuum generator. I flushed the toilet while Mike watched. Splashes of water came out of the top of the vacuum pump, where the bellows is located. Either a seal had popped or the bellows had cracked and was allowing water to come out the top. We decided to open the other panel to get a better look – Mike was too big to do much from the surge guard panel and I was too short to reach anything through that panel.

Once we got a better look into the space, we were able to remove the pump motor, remove the pump top, and get the bellows out. The most difficult and messy part was getting the bellows out; there was a little splashing involved. Somewhere, someone posted a tip about raising the front of your RV when you do this so the ‘water’ isn’t hanging out in the pump. We saw that afterwards.

The great thing about the construction of the pump is that most all the bolts/screws are the same size. The worst part about the whole task is the location of the pump itself. I guess Fleetwood figured it out because, at least beginning in 2016, the vacuum generator was moved to an easier to get to location (we discussed trading ours in just so we didn’t have to do this). During the job we needed at least three different sized screwdrivers and sockets because sometimes we had mere inches to work in and other spots required something tall to get around something else. In other words, it took us two hours to do a 15 minute job had the pump been located in a place where one could actually see it.

We thought about it for a while and discussed our options: fix it or pay someone else to fix it. Since it was late Friday afternoon, the chances of anyone having the part and coming out to fix it in the next two days were slim. We were resigned to using the campground bathroom. Personally, I hate public bathrooms. No, really, really hate them. In fact, when I get on a plane, my digestive clamps down, refusing to do anything until I have returned home. I knew it was going to be a long weekend.

Saturday morning I started looking at marine supply stores. Since SeaLands are very common in boats, I thought my luck would be much better there. Plus, we were on the coast in a very active boating area. I struck gold! They actually keep the part in stock at West Marine, the Camping World for the boat community. We needed the part RIGHT NOW so the premium for buying there was worth it. We spent the rest of the day running from place to place but were unable to find the O Rings that went with the pump;  we hoped that the old ones would work.

Sunday, we managed to get the bellows into the pump with the old O rings and seal the whole thing back up correctly. If you ever have to do this, put the motor on last – it will save you an hour of frustration. Just make sure the pump top is lined up correctly as the wires are very, very short. Putting it back together also took about two hours as by this time, our bodies ached and we had bruises in strange places from crawling into and out of the rear storage bay. I’m kinda curious what our camping neighbors thought as they passed by our bus and saw our feet hanging out of the bays.

Finally, with everything back in place except the panels, we turned on the toilet and held our breath. It worked! 30 seconds and done!  No water splashing out the top! I cannot express how happy we were that it was done and that we had managed to fix it correctly.

For what it is worth, we are pretty sure that the pump out at Lake Laurie was the beginning of our problem. A couple days after the pump out, we noticed that the vacuum generator sometimes ran longer than usual. Since it had performed perfectly for 20 months before then, we think the extra suction may have cause a small crack that grew over a weeks time.

We stayed at Hammonasset State Park in a W/E site about 200 yards from the beach but all we saw was our site and the bathroom. The bathrooms were clean, our site was large, and the electric worked fine. We would probably stay there again if in the area but we really don’t know much about the park itself. I will note, however, that there is a great bagel shop down the street. The bagels are amazing, especially when just pulled out of the oven (are bagels baked?)

 

 

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Home Again Home Again, Jiggity Jig

After a couple of days relaxing in North Carolina, we were ready to head north to Wakefield, VA and the family farm. We had quite a bit to do – repairs, purging, cleaning – that we had put off in anticipation of our stop here.

For the three months we were in Florida, it rained maybe ten days. Once we crossed the state line heading north, we were hit by rain ten days out of twenty. We had noticed a slight leak in the bedroom slide back in Jonathan Dixon State Park. It wasn’t a bad leak, just a slightly damp carpet near the head of the bed. It happened in a driving downpour so we were pretty sure it was roof related. Of course, we checked the pipes first; the shower is right there, as are the water lines for the toilet. Nope. It must be the roof. We temporarily patched a few things and left it at that.

In the driving rains at EastBank, the leak got worse. So much worse. The rain was blowing hard and getting under the slide topper. The leak was in the roof of the slide. This was proved when we pulled in the slide during the next rain in Pine Mountain and had no leak. Upon further inspection, it looked as if the seams of the roof were failing. In one spot there was a gap between the seam and the roof we could stick our finger in. We ordered a collapsible ladder from Walmart to be picked up in North Carolina and eternabond from Amazon to meet us in Wakefield.

The eternabond application turned out to be really easy in spite of the fact we could not get the slide topper off. The ‘screws’ we intended to remove to peel back the slide topper turned out to be rivets and we couldn’t get them out without destroying them. So we worked around it. We cleaned the slide roof, sprayed the eternabond primer, then laid down the eternabond tape. We were pretty liberal with it, as we purchased a 50′ roll of 4″ tape in anticipation of future need. The only trick with eternabond seems to be to go slow and only pull down the backing as you need to to stick it to the roof. We won’t be able to see how well our patch holds until it rains again.

Our second repair was the hot water hose to the sink. In North Carolina, we hear a drip coming from the sink. ( I highly recommend sitting in and around your RV every once in a while in absolute silence. That is how this leak was discovered). It was just a ‘once a minute’ drip but it was new and noticeable. We started troubleshooting; we knew where it was leaking and how it was leaking, we just wanted to know why. And more importantly,  why now. We discovered that the fitting on the hot water hose only leaked when propane was used to heat the water. The pressure in the hot water tank is higher when on propane because it heats the water more than the electric side does. If the hot water to the sink is turned on, the pressure is released and the leak stops until the tank heats up again. We couldn’t access the pipe well enough by going at it from under the sink so, when we got to Wakefield we took the outside TV out. It was an easy fix from there, just a bit more plumber’s tape and no more leak.

Our third repair was the microwave light bulb. It wouldn’t even count as a repair except the stupid bulb broke when we removed it. Amazon sent us a new one in our care package and in ten minutes, with just a little cussing, it too was fixed.

We also tackled the general oiling, greasing,  tightening, and inspections needed periodically in a rolling house and found the bus to be in great condition in spite of what we demand of her.

While in Wakefield we also did some purging. Gone was the bike, which I had barely ridden over the last six months, partly due to the fact that Mike had strapped it to the Jeep so tightly that it took about an hour to get it off and partly because it developed a flat tire. Gone was the back seat of the jeep. We kept it as long as we did so we could take Belle with us on day trips. It has seat belts so we could secure her kennel. Belle and her kennel were gone so we didn’t need the seat anymore. This freed up quite a bit of room in the back. And sadly, our winter blanket is gone. It was a huge, fluffy, down and ‘sheep skin’ comforter that took up half a bin to store. I could put four blankets in the same space it required and so, we dumped it. Also, a bulky step ladder we needed back in Washington State when our steps broke. We hadn’t found a use for it since then and it took up the space needed for our new 15′ extendable ladder. All in all, the Jeep probably lost 100 lbs. while the Short Bus came out even.

We also cleaned, laundered, rearranged our bins for more efficiency, and did some planning for the rest of April and a bit of May. It was a very productive two and a half days.

 

 

2016 – Here we come!

In 2015, we bounced around like crazy – more than 30,000 miles crazy – as we raced from the east coast south, then west, then north to Alaska, then back south, then east. Honestly, it’s tiring just thinking about it. By August, we were pretty burned out (as you can tell from the blog, though I will be adding the missing spaces soon). We started thinking about 2016 and how we didn’t want to do it. 2015 we handled with a wing and a prayer. It worked out really well, but we needed a break from the stress of last-minute-itis and being in a hurry. We didn’t make one advanced reservation or plan in 2015 which meant we took what we could get when we could get it. It worked pretty well in Alaska, but not so well in Montana.

So, for 2016, we have a plan. Both of us have “New England in the Fall” bucket list items and, since we completely missed fall in 2015, we decided this is what we would do. The great thing about it is the east coast is so much smaller than the west coast! We will probably do less than 1/2 the driving we did in 2015. And we will get to see the leaves change, one of the best reasons to travel the east coast.

Since the east coast is so much smaller, we will also get to spend a lot more time in each place. Not including Phoenix and DC (where we stopped for three weeks each visiting family), our average stay at any one place in 2015 was four days. Considering one of those days is a move day and one is a down day (grocery, laundry, breathing), we didn’t get much time for savoring where we were. In 2016, most of our stays will be a week or more. That gives us three extra days to chill, to hike, to kayak, to off-road… The possibilities are endless!

I hate to admit it, but I am a campsite snob. I love booking sites in the perfect location with the best view – who doesn’t want to spend a week at the beach on the beach? And while we managed to do that in Alaska (the sites were first come first serve), doing that on the east coast is nearly impossible without advanced planning. So, back in August, when we knew we were going to Florida in January, I started booking sites. We were out of luck in the Keys but we did manage to snag great campsites at other beach campgrounds further up the coast. Thank you to all the people who cancelled their vacations! I’m sorry for your loss, just ignore my great big smile!

In October, 2015, when we learned that the Escapees were planning the 56th Escapade in Vermont during the summer, going seemed like a no-brainer; we would already be in the area. So, we booked our spot and started looking for what to do and where to go before and after. Our schedule just sort of flowed from that, our bucket list, and our list of people to see along the way. I started booking more sites, either hoping for cancellations from sad ex-vacationers or, in the case of later in the summer, booking sites when they become open. It takes some work and some persistence but it often pays off. For South Carolina and Florida, I have had to check the reservations every day since October looking for cancellations. This netted beach campgrounds in Fort Clinch, Gamble Rogers, Fort DeSoto, and Hunting Island. And, though we still don’t have a reservation for Memorial Weekend (I hate trying to get that week), we do have great campgrounds in Massachusetts in June.

January will see us heading south to Florida, with stops in Myrtle Beach and Hunting Island along the way. After some time in Fernandina Beach and St. Augustine, we drop down to Seffner for week for the 2016 Fleetwood Regional Rally. We didn’t even know this Rally existed but we are looking forward to attending. While there, as they offer the opportunity to have two repairs done by Fleetwood factory techs, we are finally getting the microwave support bracket fixed. It snapped in a construction zone in Alaska and we have had a stick holding up one side ever since. We  kind of mostly forgot about it, except when traveling on REALLY bumpy roads when the stick falls out. We could probably fix it ourselves but the thought of pulling out the microwave and getting it back in place correctly is a little daunting for me. That sucker is pretty heavy and I was really surprised at the tiny metal tabs holding it up. After the Rally, we head back to the east coast of Florida for some beachfront camping at Gamble Rogers.

February we plan to kayak in Ocala, visit in Orlando (maybe even finally go to Disneyland), hit the Miami Boat Show (we are still thinking/looking for a boat), then head southwest to meet up with family in the Marco Island area. Unfortunately, Collier Seminole State Park still isn’t open for camping. It is a great location for the west side of the everglades and the towns down in that corner of Florida. We will make due but I keep checking the reservations site daily anyway.

March is Spring Training Baseball! We can’t be in Florida without hitting a few games. We lucked into a site at Fort DeSoto and another at Myakka River but the pickings are rather slim. Next to the Keys, this is the most difficult area to get reservations in during the winter. Must be all the sunshine. Two years ago we tried private parks in the area but they are so tight and squishy it seemed more parking lot surfing that camping. So we will head back north, to the Gainesville area, then Georgia and Alabama at lake front COE parks.

April will see us moving quite a bit as we cover Georgia, including a return to Savannah, a city we fell in love with a few years ago. I am a huge fan of low country cooking and shrimp and grits is one of Mike’s favorite meals. Then we turn north for a brief stop in Charleston (more shrimp and grits!) before heading to a lakeside spot in North Carolina.

We need to be in Maryland in May for a dental appointment so we will make a run up there, then hang out for a few weeks in Virginia and Maryland, visiting family and friends. We will end the month in New York, visiting my long lost son and chilling on the Hudson River.

The entire month of June will be in Massachusetts, mostly near Cape Cod, which neither of us have ever traveled to, with day trips into Boston for baseball games and historic wandering (I hear there is beer there).

July will see us in Vermont and New Hampshire, with a quick trip (okay, a week) in Cooperstown, New York. Yeah, we like baseball and it is on our bucket list…. At the end of month is the Escapade, where we hope to meet up with other full timers and Xscapers. We had a lot of fun at the last get together and are looking forward to meeting up again.

In August we will head further north, into Maine and Nova Scotia. I have always wanted to see the tides at the Bay of Fundy and will now get my chance! Yes, a bucket list item, but my bucket list is really, really long. Luckily, we have the time and the ability right now to do so much of it. While there are days we wake up not knowing where the hell we are or how we got there (without alcohol being involved, even) most days we are just grateful we get to do this now, while we can.

September and October we head west, but only a little bit. Friends told us we have to visit the 10,000 Islands area of New York so we will. We always take the advice of locals and those who have been there – most of the time they are the best source for can’t miss once in a lifetime places. Not including restaurants, we have never been let down. We will hit the finger lakes, the Adirondacks, and Niagara Falls, soaking in the water views and the fall colors for which the area is famous.

November takes us to Ohio, across West Virginia, and back to Maryland, where we will spend Thanksgiving, while December is completely dependent on the weather. Cold winds will carry us south but how far south depends on how cold it gets. I hate cold. I am told if you put on more clothes you aren’t as cold but I know I can only wear one pair of shoes at a time. So, 30 degrees is my limit, which is great for the bus, too.

Right now, we have campsites booked into August. My experience with east coast campgrounds on weekends during the summer tells me this is a necessity. We prefer to stay at state and federal parks and, with the east coast so crowded, we feel we have to. If we change our plans, we can easily change our reservations; it is difficult to book a campsite at the last minute already reserved by someone else. We may lose some money if we do, but having the right campsite in a great location outweighs some lost money. Also, our bus is large. Not as large as most, but big enough that it limits the number of campsites available to us. One park I recently checked had five sites available for >40′ rigs but 120 sites for <35′ rigs. Quite a few parks we like have a 35′ max and at 34′ we have to kind of squish in there. Knowing we have reservations in advance for a site that will fit us gives us a much more relaxed experience. Having struggled last year finding spots in California state parks, we decided to try how it worked with advanced plans. Maybe we will hate it after a few months, but we can always change our plans. That is the great thing about this lifestyle – you can do it any way you want.

 

2015 – we had a blast!

(Yes, I know am way behind my blog posts. But my computer ate three before I published them and I just didn’t have the brain power to completely rewrite them. And then, we were kinda rushing around doing 100 things and nothing. But, they will be updated over the coming month, once I finally get the pictures edited. Again.) Anyway.

We started the blog in May and for quite a few months, updated it religiously. But, we did have plenty of adventures before May and we found some pretty amazing places that we want to return to in 2017.  In 2015, we didn’t make reservations anywhere, just moved and stopped when we felt like it, where we could find space. The results varied, from hell in Florida to bliss in Alaska and all the stages of both in between. So, here is part of our year in review, with highlights and pictures.

January found us in 18 different spots, from Maryland to Texas. Yes, we drove and moved that much. We were on a mission: to get to Alaska and, looking at January, we were hell bent on getting there as quickly as possible. By the end of January we realized we needed to slow down and wait for the weather to catch up with us – it was still REALLY COLD in most of the country. We did manage to find some great spots for a couple of days (our longest stay was three days) and took some great pictures.

In Florida, we got to see manatees up close in Blue Springs State Park, eat great oysters at Eddy Teach’s Raw Bar (now closed), watch amazing sunsets at St. George Island State Park and visit with quite a few  friends.

In Texas, we met up with more friends, ate amazing BBQ at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, breezed through San Antonio, and set up camp in Big Bend.

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Manatees at Blue Spring State Park

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Sunset at St. George’s Island State Park

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Mission in San Antonio Texas

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The Rio Grande near Big Bend, Tx

In February, we fell in love with the town of Terlingua then quickly made our way through New Mexico to stay awhile in Arizona. We browsed Arizona for a while, though we didn’t sit in one place for long. We had Marv Braun, of Precision RV fix the absolute clusterfu%k the dealer made when re-installing our solar system (he also added a panel and swapped our batteries for AGMs). We made a quick visit to Tombstone and Bisbee, got lost in the Dragoon Mountains, and wandered the back roads of Prescott. Our longest stay at a campground in February? Three days, if you don’t count the stop in Casa Grande to visit with Marv (six days). We were still in a hurry.

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Great Sand Dunes National Monument

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Lost in Arizona

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The backroad from Prescott to Jerome. Probably one of the funnest drives in the area.

In March, we ran the border at Organ Pipe National Monument, went to the Escapees Escapade, hung out with my brother in Gilbert, then raced to Desert Hot Springs, CA. We ended the month with a week in Coarsegold at the Escapees Co-Op just outside of Yosemite.

We fell in love with Organ Pipe and in Desert Hot Springs, we had the best sushi ever (and really good noodles) at Domo Sushi. We visited Joshua Tree National Park and found it completely packed with Spring Breakers so we beat a hasty retreat out a back road that had us testing the abilities of the Jeep (it passed). After browsing for a day in Yosemite, we cancelled our week of reservations at one of the Valley campgrounds – it was just entirely too crowded and most of the campgrounds hadn’t even opened yet!

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The US border in Organ Pipe.

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Creek in the Superstition Mountains

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Joshua tree near Palm Springs, CA

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Yosemite Valley in March

April had us pushing northward faster than we expected because of the crowds. We had no reservations and they were hard to come by. Many of the state parks had sites available but they were too short for our rig. So we made our way North to Oregon and then Washington.

We found a peaceful site in Klamath where we wandered around huge trees for a couple of days. We landed a last minute oceanview campsite in Harris State Park in Oregon and stayed put for a week – until the rain drove us out. We stopped at Newport (loved it) and Seaside (loved it more), then raced up to Chimicum, WA in need of some rig repairs. We then bummed around Washington and continued to do that the first two weeks of May as we waited for our departure to Alaska.

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In the Redwoods, the jeep is very tiny.

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Newport Marina Sunset

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The Oregon Coastline

In May, we did last minute prepping and purchasing, including getting Belle’s shots before we took off for the Great White North. The border crossing was easy but the price shock wasn’t. Gas and many food items doubled in price. But, the scenery was amazing, the places to boondock beautiful and we were finally on our way to Alaska!

We were wowed by Fraser Canyon, enjoyed  Terrace and Stewart, got an oil change in Whitehorse, and finally settled for a breather in Haines. We got to see bears, moose, foxes, and glaciers and we were barely in Alaska.

June found us in Wrangell St. Elias Park finding McCarthy, then Valdez  watching eagles play, and left us on the Kenai Peninsula dodging forest fires.

While McCarthy didn’t live up to expectations, Valdez kept our attention and we managed to stay a week. It ended up being our favorite Alaska town (though Haines was a close second). Seward was beautiful, Homer was busy, and the Kenai River was crowded. June was more than sensory overload but if I had to relive one month of my life over and over, it would be this one.

In July we made back up to the heart of Alaska, visiting Anchorage and Fairbanks, then pushing north to the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, while there, Belle had another stroke. We were tired and she was sick, so we began our push back south. It wasn’t really a direct path, as it took us through Chicken, Dawson City, Skagway, Toad River and down into Montana by the end of the month. There are many places we missed – we drove through the Canadian Rockies but didn’t have a chance to stop for long – but it gives us an excuse to go back.

The month of August was spent bouncing around Montana, with a brief ‘vacation’ down in Cody Wyoming. We found some beautiful places to stop and spend some time. We also found the best brisket in the country and the best biscuits and gravy in the country (sorry – it is a friend who is an amazing cook!). We found ghost towns, an endless number of backroads, and quiet, out of the way, places to hide.

The weather was finally turning so we headed south in September, spending a couple of weeks in Utah before ending up in Usery Park.  We finally followed the White Rim trail, nearly got car-jacked by wild horses and got to watch an amazing lunar eclipse before meeting up with family at the end of the month.

October was almost completely dominated with visiting family, though we did get a brief break at Balloon Fiesta. Another bucket list item done! Seriously, if you ever get the change to go to Balloon Fiesta, do it. And I highly recommend it in an RV.

The first half of November we chilled with family around Phoenix and then raced back to Virginia for Thanksgiving.  We managed to stop for some amazing meals and moments with both friends and family on our trip east (Did I mention the most amazing burgers that are worth a 200 mile detour in Roswell? Yeah, we are still reminiscing about those.)  and then settled in Wakefield, VA on the family farm.

December we holed up just outside DC at Cherry Hill RV park, where we caught up with dentists and doctors, more friends and family, and celebrated the holidays.

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We finished up the month in South Carolina, and started the new year there, too.

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If I had to do it all again, I would. And I probably would only change one or two things. Yes, we sped through many, many states when I would have preferred to linger. And yes, we acted like vacationers with a time limit rather than permanent travelers. But, now that we have done the trip once, we can do it again in 2017, but a little bit slower. There is still so much of the country to see…

Things we got for the trip to Alaska

Let me start off by saying that Alaska is not a foreign country, though it may seem like it with the amount of prep and planning people do, us included. Canada is, which, unless you ferry it both ways, but it is similar enough to the US that one barely notices one is in a different country. The border crossing and the money are dead giveaways though.

We have been planning a trip to Alaska for years. No, really, YEARS.  Our first time up here was on a cruise in 2000. We fell in love with the place and vowed to return.  We did that in 2007, again on a cruise though we added a week of land time to the end of our trip. And it was then that our plan was hatched: we would buy a boat and drive ourselves to Alaska. From 2007 to 2010, I learned everything I could about boating, Alaskan waters,and places to go.  I bought navigation maps. We bought a boat. It was a Very Small Boat, a C-Dory 22, but we spent our weekends and vacations on the boat, learning everything we could and adjusting to life on water. We had a plan.

Then one day, a thought occurred, somewhere around 2011. If we had an RV, we could hike. It would be just like the boat only ‘bigger’ in that we would have all the land to wander on, too. Admittedly, anchoring out in a boat is much easier than boondocking in a land yacht, but the premise is the same. So we bought a small trailer. We loved it so much that we bought a bigger trailer to go to places farther away for longer times. And then we quit/retired from our jobs and went on the road, aiming for Alaska.

We knew we needed land navigation aids for the trip. Our first purchase was The Milepost. So far, it has been an invaluable tool on the various roads through Canada. And, it gave me something to do on the long days anticipating the trip. We are using the 2013 edition which, so far, has been pretty accurate. Some of the construction areas have moved and a few new places have popped up along the way but, for the most part, it is dead on. We have even spotted wildlife EXACTLY where it said to watch out for wildlife. Pretty cool!

When we last purchased cell phones, we made sure to get Global capable cell phones. Two days before we crossed into Canada, we added a Canada Plan to our Verizon plan which gives us our talk minutes, unlimited text, and 100mb of data per month for $15 per month. We have our data turned off right now, as we haven’t needed it, but the texts and minutes are great to have, especially when the bank cuts off your credit cards. We have been lucky enough to keep our Verizon unlimited data plan, which will get great use in Alaska when we find cell signal. If you are buying a cell phone, I highly recommend getting one that takes decent pictures. Mike’s phone takes wonderful daylight pictures; mine sucks no matter how much light there is. So, he takes all the facebook pictures, and I post to the blog.

Much of Canada and Alaska doesn’t have cell service. More places than you would think in the US don’t have cell service. As a ‘just in case of emergency’ measure, and to keep in touch with family, we got a DeLorme InReach. It is a two way satellite messenger, allowing us to send and receive text messages anywhere in the world we can access the satellites. It is also a tracker and an emergency beacon with an SOS button just in case the crap hits the fan. As long as we can push the button, help will eventually show up. If you are curious about where we are or where we have been, check out our DeLorme page: Mike and Courtenay’s Big Adventure. As you can see, we have been from the Florida Keys to almost Alaska in less than a year.

Honestly, for the trip to Alaska, you don’t need more than that, and could probably use less. The weather so far has been warm and dry, warmer and drier than Washington state, so we haven’t needed polar fleece, mukluks, or other foul weather gear. Of course, we have only been up here a little over a week, but weather reports show 80 in Fairbanks. And, they have plenty of food in Canada and Alaska, it just may cost a little more. We did buy a Sea Eagle inflatable kayak to test out on some of the lakes or slow moving rivers, to see how we like ‘boating’ in Alaska. But other than that, all you really need is a desire for adventure and a little flexibility.

To Skagway or not to Skagway?

A Very Important Question.

We have been to Skagway twice, though only for about 8 hours each time.  We were on cruise ships, passing through the Inside Passage. And, both times, we really didn’t stay in Skagway; we rented a car to Emerald Lake once and took a tour the other time. So, we really saw the area around Skagway but not the town itself. And of course, what we saw of the town was thousands of tourists debarking from cruise ships, overwhelming the town and us. According to Cruise Lines Agency of Alaska, there will be four ships in port on Mondays through Thursdays, and one to three the other days of the week. That would mean a potential of up to 12,000 more people in the tiny town each day. Yikes!

If we go to Skagway, we can hop on the ferry to get to Haines. It takes about three hours, if you include embarking and waiting and crossing and debarking. It also costs about $260 for our rig, jeep, and us.

Alternatively, we could drive the long way around. It would take at least nine hours (352 miles) and cost about $235 in gas, when estimating worst possible gas mileage.

Or, we could pass Skagway by and go straight to Haines from Jake’s Crossing (294 miles) and maybe take a day trip to Skagway from Haines on a day with less cruise ships in port. But, the fast ferry goes to Skagway at 12:30 and comes back at 3PM. With a cost of $124, an hour and a half just doesn’t seem worth it.

We will probably wait until the last minute to decide. I would love to see Skagway again but the thought of thousands of people squished into that tiny area makes my claustrophobia kick in.

Birch Bay, WA

We have been hanging out at the Thousand Trails RV Park in Birch Bay, Washington for a couple of days trying to get last minute things done before crossing the border into Canada. And, we really haven’t done much of it, though we plan on crossing tomorrow. We still have to fix the steps, get a rabies shot for the dog, grocery shop, get gas and propane, and print out a bunch of customs forms. I’ll be honest: we are procrastinators. But what fun is it if we aren’t rushing around getting things done at the last minute?

[one hour later]

The steps are finally fixed! Again. We were missing a pin, which must be a Very Important Pin. But the steps go up and the steps go down, and it is one less thing on “The List.” Also off “The List” is printing out the customs forms. But “The List” just got bigger. I need to drink a bottle of wine before we go, so we don’t have to pay Canada Duty for importing it. Depending on which website one views, the duty could be about $5 or about $36. For a $25 bottle of wine that I could buy in Canada for $30, I think $36 is a bit much.

It is 6PM, the Orioles game is on and I have to cook the chicken and fresh vegetables that I can’t take across the border tomorrow. The rest of “The List” will have to wait.

For those of you who may be traveling this way, I highly suggest not coming up to the Blaine/Birch Bay area without stopping first for fuel, food, propane, or anything else you might need. The prices here are 20-50% higher than they are 15 miles south, in Bellingham.

Introduction

No – this is not about the video game.  And it is not about the song by M83.  The title of this blog comes from Camus: “To work and create ‘for nothing,’ to sculpture in clay, to know one’s creation has no future, to see one’s work destroyed in a day while being aware that fundamentally this has no more importance than building for centuries — this is the difficult wisdom that absurd thought sanctions. Performing these two tasks simultaneously, negating on the one hand and magnifying on the other, is the way open to the absurd creator. He must give the void its colors.”

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