10 tips for RVing to Alaska (part 1)

RVing in Alaska last summer taught us many things. We gained not only a useful perspective but some much-needed confidence. Alaska is a lot of things but being wholly predictable is not one of them. Prior to beginning our trek from Northern Idaho through Canada toward our family’s 50th state, we had a growing list of Alaska fear factors that others had helped us build.

I’d like to take that list and work through the fears one by one separating out fact from fiction and offering up my top tips.

When I first set out to share my top 10 tips, the content quickly became too detailed for one post. Therefore, I have broken the list into two parts. Today I will cover bug & mosquito populations, road conditions, and route decisions. Tomorrow I will follow up with weather conditions, internet access, wildlife encounters, RV and truck breakdowns, flat tires/cracked windshields, food prices, and mail retrieval. Let’s get started!

FEAR #1: BUG AND MOSQUITO POPULATIONS

We’d heard horror stories about the HUGE Alaskan mosquito population. Yes, we’ve been to the Florida Everglades. Yes, my husband grew up in the humid, lake filled, mosquito-ridden state of Minnesota. But Alaska was worse, way worse (at least that is the story we kept being fed).

Driven by my desire to survive, I purchased garlic capsules. I added “take garlic” to our morning routine hoping it would help make us less tempting to bite. In the end, the area of bugs and mosquitos was perhaps one of our top surprises. While we did find isolated pockets with a healthy mosquito population, on the whole, they were so frequently not present that we would often forget to be thankful for their absence.

Given the size of the state, this isn’t necessarily surprising. In the lower 48, Minnesota has a lot of mosquitoes but Northern Idaho does not. Roughly 1,000 miles separate these two states. However, in Alaska, you can travel 2,700 miles and still find yourself in the same state. It makes sense then that there will be areas within Alaska that are very bug-heavy (those who opted to drive to the Arctic Circle told us they practically battled bugs in hand-to-hand combat) and many areas that are not. Ironically, our most prominent mosquito memory occurred in the Yukon, NOT in Alaska.

RVING ALASKA TIP #1: Our traveling friends own an electronic, hand-held bug zapper. Not only is this useful in eradicating bugs from your area, but the kids find it to be intensely exciting to use. We also found mosquito head nets to be useful while fishing in a few locations where the bugs were thicker and our hands were busy (clicking through will take you to Amazon via my affiliate link). Our worst mosquito encounter occurred when we boondocked next to a placid lake. It’s probably best to be leery of a location that is so ideal for mosquito reproduction.

FEAR #2: ROAD CONDITIONS

Overall, roads in Alaska fall somewhere between fair and good. Few roads were actually bad. Those that were did not surprise us and were typically not a required route—we simply opted to drive them anyway due to the lure of fantastic views.

Photo: The Denali Hwy. This was one road that we regretted traveling on due to the exorbitant amount of dirt it brought into our RV.

Again, the drive to Alaska through the Yukon offered the largest stretch of roads that were in repair. I also think it’s fair to say that our scale of what makes a good road “good” was diluted slightly as our time in Alaska lengthened.

Photo: After driving the Denali Hwy. we spent several hours cleaning the entire RV from this thick layer of dust.

By the end of the summer, we certainly hadn’t driven freeway speeds in many months. However, who would want to miss all the beauty? Going slower sure aids in taking in the breathtaking vistas and animal sightings!

Photo: After taking the Top of the World Hwy, the truck and RV get a MUCH needed wash!

RVING ALASKA TIP #2: Meeting oncoming traffic while driving on poor roads was rare. We often took advantage of both lanes to weave around or between frost heaves. We traveled with another family and took turns taking the “lead driving position”. Communicating with walkie talkies, we were also able to give each other some warning if there were road conditions to be aware of. If you are following another RVer, take cues from their speed and driving. Continue reading “10 tips for RVing to Alaska (part 1)”

just how bad are the mosquitoes in the Yukon?

Hi! It’s been a while. Remember me? We are currently in Florida working in the panhandle with Samaritan’s Purse for the Hurricane Michael recovery efforts. You are welcome to hop over to my Instagram Page and view my daily stories to see more about what that is like (be sure to say hi while you are there).

Where are you at? I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to since my last post! Today I am going to do a time hop back to a post that I wrote in route to Alaska this last summer. I’d waited to post it until Trent had time to edit the accompanying video. I hope you enjoy!

When we started telling others about our plans to spend the summer in Alaska, one subject inevitably surfaced again and again: mosquitoes. People really felt it was important to let us know how bad they were.

However, I’ve learned to use caution when fear is involved. After all, it almost kept me from visiting Florida the first year we wintered in the RV. Plus there are these two strong factors that we believed set us squarely in a category devoid of any mosquito naivety:

Trent grew up in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes and millions of mosquitoes.

We’ve been to the Everglades!

However, we haven’t even crossed the border into Alaska and we’ve already learned some major mosquito lessons. Just how bad are the mosquitoes in the Yukon? You be the judge. Continue reading “just how bad are the mosquitoes in the Yukon?”

a quick commercial break: our 50th state video

I know I promised you the next story in the “lies I’ve believed” saga today. The post is ready to go but I’m waiting for my younger brother to send me a few photos that I want to include from my childhood because mine are, not surprisingly, in storage.. Those photos should be in my possession soon (hopefully tomorrow) and then I’ll close my eyes and push publish (I’m super nervous about sharing this one y’all).

In the meantime, please enjoy the most recent YouTube video that Trent has put together of our crossing into our 50th state: Alaska! It’s a fun one, enjoy!

Did I ever share this one? Not sure so I’ll throw it in here too!

Ok working backward in time, here is one more video that I don’t think I’ve shared either ;). That’s the last one. I’ll be back soon with the follow up post!

ice climbing Exit Glacier | Seward, Alaska

I never envisioned that one day I would wake up and say, “Today I am going to go ice climb into a glacier crevasse.” Yet, here I was gathering my winter hat, gloves, jacket and rain pants for an afternoon of ice climbing Exit Glacier.

Ice climbing on exit glacier

ICE CLIMBING EXIT GLACIER? Yes, PLEASE!

Our summer in Alaska has been a special series of unique events. We’ve experienced frequent wildlife sightings, the Summer Solstice Midnight Sun Run (click here to see a short TV interview that we were featured in for the run), time in Denali National Park, and bountiful salmon fishing.

midnight sun run
Midnight Sun Run (photo taken at 12:45 AM)

The idea of ice climbing on Exit Glacier is not something I even consider as an option until a friend mentions it. As I search online for Exit Glacier Guides and watch “ice climbing on Exit Glacier” YouTube videos displaying the deep cobalt crevasses, my interest quickly grows from mild interest to strong desire. Trent turns out to be an easy sell and soon we are counting down the days until our ice climbing adventure begins.

I CAN DO THIS

The morning of our ice climb begins with a fitting of gear—helmets, boots, crampons and a backpack. I quickly realize that when I’d assessed the 4.5-mile strenuous hike as doable, I’d failed to factor in a backpack filled with water, boots, winter clothing and my lunch. I give myself the first of several, “I can do this” pep talks that day. We head out to the van and take our places like excited school children on the first day of school.

ice climbing exit glacier

MOOSE, MORAINES, AND BRAIDED RIVERS

After stopping to admire a moose on the side of the road, our afternoon playground comes into view in the distance. Exit Glacier stands, silently entreating us to enter her chambers. We pass signposts along the roadside indicating where she once stood in years past. Like a strange reverse timeline, moraines* mark her history as she slowly fades from the foreground. Pouring out from her depths, a braided river weaves its way through the glacial valley floor. I learn that these unique rivers build up rather than erode the land, because of the large amount of glacial sediment that they carry.

BUSHES, BERRIES, AND BLUE SKIES

Stopping at the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center, we set out on foot. For two hours we hike through forest and bush. Our guides teach us about the local landscape, pointing out edible salmon and watermelon berries as well as poisonous monkshood flowers. For the first time in over a month, I’m sweaty on this balmy 66 degree day which has revealed a rare view of a blue sky.

FLUID FORCE OF BEAUTY

As we close in on Exit Glacier, the temperature shifts drastically downward. Wind is cascading down the glacier’s face bringing with it a winter weather front.

-Hiking shoes off
-Climbing boots on
-Backpack off
-Rain pants on
-Winter gear on
-Helmet and harness on

My first step off the solid ground and onto the glacier is thrilling. I’m making my own “moon landing” moment. My feet traverse a landscape unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

Something like crushed diamonds sparkle in the sunlight beneath my boots. Bits of gravel debris pepper the surface, proof that this mountain of ice is not stationary but maintaining an unrelenting path of forward motion. We step through shallow rivers and over pools of placid blue water. From this vantage point, the glacier is a fluid force of beauty.

LEAN IN, TRUST FULLY

As our guides begin the process of anchoring the climbing ropes, we enjoy our lunch. The view around me creates a scene unparallel to any previous picnic.

Ropes securely in place, our guides proceed to instruct us on how to properly descend into the crevasse—backward, one step at a time, leaning fully into our harness, trusting the ropes, trusting them. Emphasis is placed on those last three points and I begin to focus all my attention on that singular aim—lean in, trust fully.

ICY BLUE CHAMBERS

Once my harness is clipped into the rope, my moment of truth arrives. I’ve never done this before. I have nothing to offer except my obedient, yielded trust. I step back to the edge of the precipice and lean into my harness. This action goes against every ounce of my self-preserving logic but instinctively I know it’s best.

ice climbing exit glacier

My guide begins her careful coaching, offering short, understandable tips seasoned with solid encouragement. My descent into the crevasse is slow and deliberate. As I pause in the depths of her icy blue chambers, I marvel. What I could not have done on my own has just unfolded before my eyes.

ice climbing exit glacier

Waterfalls from melting ice surround me. Bright blue envelops every angle of my view. Sounds from above are muffled and distant. For this moment, I am aware of nothing else.

GROWING CONFIDENCE

My climb out requires a focused sequence of carefully choreographed movements. Right pick, stand, left pick, stand—each movement forced into the ice with decisive action. My first accent is wobbly and full of mistakes but again, my guide is there coaxing, correcting and encouraging.

This process is repeated three additional times down different crevasses. Although my body grows more fatigued from this unique physical exertion, my confidence grows with each successful turn. As I reach the top and pull myself out onto the windy glacier for the last time, my heart is warm.

Ice Climbing Exit Glacier

ice climbing exit glacier

LINGERING LESSONS

As we hike back, my mind lingers over the recent moments that have slipped into my memory. This microcosm of life experience has not escaped my notice. While we will not all ice climb into a glacier, every one of us can think of a time when we have been brought, inexperienced, to the edge of ourselves, facing unfamiliar territory.

Marriage

Parenting

Death

Moving

New Job

New friends

Disease

Injury

Debt

The rules are very much the same: one step at a time, leaning fully into our harness, trusting the ropes, and trusting our Guide. He is there all the time, longing to show us the way, to give His guidance through the dark. Why do we resist, stubbornly sure we can do it our own way? Which of us came into this world with more knowledge than the Creator of it? Which of us secured the lines and hold the safety rope to our very life? What makes us think that anything other than complete yielding will do?

Lord, forgive our self-assured hearts. In our desire to gain confident independence, we crowd You out. We often look away until our situation seems peril, yet You have never left our side. Give us the wisdom to lean fully into You. Help us to listen to Your still, small voice. Remind us who we are in You and be the saving God we so desperately need.

“Those who know your name trust in You, for You, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek You.”Psalm 9:10


*moraine |məˈrān|
noun Geology

A mass of rocks and sediment carried down and deposited by a glacier, typically as ridges at its edges or extremity.


TRAVEL NOTES:

-We used Exit Glacier Guides based in Seward, Alaska. They were knowledgeable, informative and professional and I’d gladly go with them again.

-This glacier ice climb is for anyone 15 and up who is in good physical condition. No experience is necessary.

-Exit Glacier Guides provide all your necessary equipment as well as a yummy lunch and a snack. We brought our own winter clothing however, a few people didn’t have the gloves needed and Exit Glacier Guides was able to supply these as well.

-Rain pants are suggested. I’ll confess I had never even heard of rain pants until I came to Alaska! Thankfully, I was able to find a pair at a local thrift store but Trent did not have any. It was nice to have them but he felt it worked fine without so don’t let that be a deal breaker for you.

So I’m curious, would an ice climb on a glacier be something that you would ever want to do?

the value of being uncomfortable, homeless and alone

Denali is special,” the Park Ranger explains.

She is smartly dressed in her khaki green uniform and bubbling forth with information.

Not only is Denali a National Park but it is also a Wildlife Preserve. This means that aside from a handful of maintained trails and the one main road that leads 92 miles into the park, the remaining 6 million acres is untouched wilderness. No motorized vehicles or even power tools are allowed off of the main road. A recent suspension bridge repair was completed with the use of sled dogs and hand tools.

Photo: Triple Lakes Trail Suspension Bridge

When people choose to hike the backcountry here we don’t offer much in the way of route advice. We want each person to have their own experience, their own interaction with the wilderness and as a result, their impact is varied and leaves minimal damage to the vegetation and to the wildlife. To be honest, it can be a very humbling experience to be dropped off by a park bus and set out on a hike without a path to guide you. Being uncomfortable is a good thing. We want you to be reminded that as humans we are the visitors, Denali does not belong to any one of us.”

UNCOMFORTABLE

I discover that she is right. Being here in Denali and stepping out into the wilderness is humbling. I’ve experienced equal parts respect and reverence, discomfort and grand appreciation. On my end, the discomfort is due to my desire to embrace the wilderness, but not necessarily the proximity to animals (mainly grizzlies) which I don’t typically share my space with. It’s not an unusual tradeoff (experiencing something new in exchange for facing a fear), just one where the stakes seem slightly more elevated. Yet the desired effect is achieved—I don’t feel at home here. I am the outsider trespassing on land that is not my own.

Photo: Savage River Loop Trail

As our time in Denali unfolds, I find myself enjoying more and worrying less. My routine now involves grabbing bear spray before heading out the door and my vocabulary has widened to include the ranger suggested, “Hey bear!” alert call as I move through the trees. I venture out to hike the Mount Healy Overlook trail with Ashlyn and three other friends, ascending over 1,600 feet to overlook the park without Trent’s protective presence. It feels like a double victory to return home both alive and successful in our hike. Continue reading “the value of being uncomfortable, homeless and alone”