10 tips for RVing to Alaska (part 2)

Yesterday I began sharing my 10 tips for RVing to Alaska. We covered bug & mosquito populations, road conditions, and route decisions. Today we will discuss weather conditions, internet access, wildlife encounters, RV/truck breakdowns, flat tires/cracked windshields, food prices, and mail retrieval.

FEAR #4: WEATHER CONDITIONS

We were shocked by the amount of cloudy, overcast days we experienced in Alaska. I can count on one hand the number of times I wore a short sleeve t-shirt while my shorts were only worn 3 times! A quick scroll through the photos in this post will reveal the cloudy days and long sleeves we grew accustomed to. Rain was common, particularly along the coastal towns of Skagway, Seward, Homer, and Valdez (where we stayed from the end of July until the end of August) and the majority of our cloud-free days were in Fairbanks (we were there at the end of June).

Photo: Even this beautifully sunny day began with a thick layer of fog that didn’t lift until afternoon. Note our rain jacket attire!

Our ability to use solar as our main source of power was limited greatly by the grey days. We used our generator for power and our propane heater way more than we ever expected. In retrospect, our solar additions were an unnecessary modification for this particular trip.

RVING ALASKA TIP #4: I would consider rain boots and raincoats to be a staple summer item. On average the weather we experienced was in the low 60’s. When you primarily boondock you don’t need to adhere to a strict travel itinerary. If your schedule is flexible, I’d suggest watching the weather forecast and following the sun. One older couple that we met said this is how they traveled Alaska and I thought it was brilliant.

FEAR #5: INTERNET ACCESS

Similar to the lower 48, if we were near a town or city, we had internet. Because we need the internet for work, we opted to have both ATT and Verizon service. Overall Verizon worked well throughout the state but we did find that the town of Homer worked best with our ATT connection. While driving to Alaska we faced larger limitations. Our particular service allows us a daily amount of data before throttling (reducing) our speed. We needed to carefully ration our usage. We also experienced periods of a few days or even up to a week without service at all while moving through the Yukon.

RVING ALASKA TIP #5: You can often find free internet at visitor centers and businesses such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Tim Hortons (in Canada). However, don’t count on the speeds being very good. If you are visiting a port town that welcomes cruise ships you may find the internet speed decreases when the ships are in town. Whenever possible, embrace the struggle that being without good internet offers. Continue reading “10 tips for RVing to Alaska (part 2)”

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. Next, 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)”