Last days in Wasilla

I was really surprised how much there was to see around Wasilla, a place I wasn’t going to stay more than a day or two.  We spent 7 days and checked out lots of places in and surrounding it.   We also had some pretty good tacos at Taco Cancun.   So good in fact, we went back last night for a takeout dinner.

We hiked out to Thunder Falls on a beautiful afternoon the day before we were to head east to Isabella Pass for a long weekend of boondocking with the Escapers.   It’s their Alaska Convergence and we are going to check it out.

The hike out to the falls was a little over a mile and mostly uphill on the way out.  We remembered our bear spray as this is truly out in the woods.   The hike was worth it as the falls were really nice.  There was a platform with benches to just relax on and take it all in.   We snapped a few pix and started to head back after about a half an hour.

 

We drove over to mirror lake, but by then it was a bit cloudy, so we never saw what it was supposed to mirror.  There were mountains right there, so I suppose they were it.   There were a lot of BBQ grills and picnic tables surrounding the lake.

 

 

 

We then drove up to Eklutna Lake,  a very long narrow windy paved road.  When we got out to the park on the lake, we couldn’t see it at all.  Neither of us felt like hiking around to find it, so we drove that windy road back to civilization then on toward the RV.

The next morning I had a mission to find a bakery, maybe pick up a Harley Denali Tee shirt, get the car washed and vacuumed, and last but not least, pick up groceries for the long weekend in the mountains.   I was disheartened as all the Harley shirts had pictures on the back.  I just wanted a plain HD shirt with the Denali location on it as I was at Denali Harley Davidson.   I asked the counter person, but she said they all had pictures on the backs’ so I headed off to find the bakery and then the car wash.

Since we were going to be dry camping for a really long weekend, we stocked up at the Carr’s grocery store in Wasilla that afternoon.  Then in the morning we would head out early to fill the tank at a Tesoro gas station that was the cheapest in the area, and happened to be on the way we were heading!

 

Day trip to Anchorage

We headed out early for Anchorage on Saturday morning.  I programmed the Nav to find downtown.    We ended up going down a steep hill and found a park right on the inlet.   It was low tide so there was a lot of seabed showing, quite a bit of muck that looked like it might swallow you.   We couldn’t find a way to get over the railroad tracks that kept us from the shore, so we drove off to find what looked like a way I found on Google Satellite.   It ended up being a locked gate, so that was a bust.

We headed further south and found another much larger park with a big lake housing the loudest birds I can remember ever hearing.  We went for a walk to see where the path went.

It was pretty cool.   We saw this station for life jackets you can borrow.  It said, “Kids don’t float” on it.  What a great program!!

Along the path was some sort of bike counting contraption that told you how many bikes went by each month, and then a tunnel under the rail road tracks.  Hey, we finally found a way past the tracks!

Out there was a great viewpoint and something unexpected:  a sewer pumping plant.  Outside the pump-house was a cool sign depicting how it worked, including a drawing.  Kind of fascinating as nowhere else had I ever seen a diagram of a municipal infrastructure building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to going thru the tunnel, there was a bridge over a creek and probably due to the low tide a mud flat.   Kathy noticed very large bear footprints in the  mud.  Yikes!   As we were heading into the “city,” we left our bear spray in the RV.   It’s not to be left in a hot car and we figured it wouldn’t be required in town…  Live and learn, folks!

After walking around there for quite a while, we were hungry and I brought out my BringFido app to look for a place to eat.   Tommy’s Burgers was listed without any reviews on that app, so I opened Yelp, checked it out there.  It had good ratings so we drove there.  Not an easy place to get to; but after driving around the block once more, I saw where it was and then tried to figure out how the heck to get there.

It was about 12:15 when we parked and there wasn’t a soul there.  We grabbed a table on the patio and went thru the menu.  I ended up with a Po Boy cheese burger that was really good.  I guess the lunch crowd in Anchorage starts around 12:30 on Saturdays.   It was pretty full when we left.

After finishing lunch, I called the Anchorage Trolley Tour number to see if we could bring Dusty with us.  The guy on the phone said only if he is better behaved than me.  We headed off to find the corner they leave from and look for somewhere to park.   We found the corner then started looking for a place to park.  Within a few minutes, I spotted someone pulling away from the curb and we pulled into that spot.  To our surprise, Saturdays the meters are not in use.  Scored a free parking spot a block away and walked over to the visitor center to find the ticket guy.

It was a one-hour tour of the city on one of those buses made up to look like a trolley.  They seem to have one of them in every large town we have visited the last three years of RV’ing.  There are lots of those trolley vehicles in San Diego, but I had never been on one of them.

The driver/tour guide was a funny young fellow who grew up in Alaska and lives in Anchorage, and he made the ride much more enjoyable than any other guided tour I have been on before.  (I haven’t been on a lot of tours though)  It’s an interesting city.   Some really nice housing areas and some really cruddy ones too.  The 9.0+ earthquake in ’64 really changed the landscape too.

They also have a lot of moose to deal with in town.  Next to some of the larger streets that have the special stunted trees growing, they put up moose fence with moose gates that help keep the moose away from the highways.  Lots of moose get killed by cars and trucks in the city.   The big moose get to be 8′ tall at the shoulder and up to 1,800 lbs.   Can’t imagine one of those coming in thru the windshield!!

Reindeer Farm and Strawberry festival.

Searching Google I found an event happening on Friday called the Strawberry Festival outside of Palmer just a few short miles southeast of us.    We drove south on Highway 3 to Old  Glenn Highway.   What a gorgeous road thru the woods along a wide river.

We came upon a power station in the middle of nowhere out there, but for the life of me I could not figure out how they make power.  There weren’t any smoke stacks or dams to be seen or big tanks of natural gas or oil, so that was a mystery to me.   Later when we got back home, I looked it up.  There was a dam, but it was almost 5 miles away up in the mountains.   They pipe the water all the way to that plant near the water making about 50 megawatts.   Every other hydroelectric power plant I had seen prior was built as part of the dam itself.  Apparently they are not all built that way.

We went a bit further and saw a large truss bridge going across the big river and assumed we would be driving over that.  But we actually drove over what looked like a normal steel under-structure bridge and the trestle was to our right.  But it was very narrow and appeared to be used as a pedestrian crossing now.    We have seen that quite a few times here in Alaska.  They don’t tear out the old narrow one-lane bridges, but make them into bike and pedestrian bridges.

I had programmed in the Strawberry Festival as our first stop but somehow Google decided to take us to the reindeer farm first.  I didn’t know Kathy liked reindeer so much prior to our arrival.

Dusty went outside and saw the horses and started to bark a lot.  I walked him over to a big tree and out from behind a building came two very large white fluffy dogs barking away with their long tails wagging.  Dusty was not sure they were friendly so he walked the other way.  He went back in the car and we proceeded to join an in-progress reindeer tour.

Kathy got some food for the reindeer and then we went into the pen.  Talk about getting crowded by a bunch of deer!   And their antlers were covered in fur or hair.  It was really odd looking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we went over to the bison for a quick pet on the nose.  If you touched his fro, you would regret it.  His head butts were fast and furious.

 

We then headed over to Rocky’s pen.  He was found in a quarry, so that’s why he is not named Bullwinkle.   There was a big steel fence between us and him, but he seemed very gentle, at least way more than I expected a moose to be.  He let anyone pet him for a Willow leaf.   But he was very big.  Way taller than me and they said he had a lot more time to grow as he was only two years old.

 

 

 

 

We headed on down the road to find the Strawberry Festival, found it on a farm not far down the road.   We walked up to the booth and asked about picking strawberries.   The reply from the young girl was, “Oh,  it’s too early for strawberries.”    So I am not sure why this was the Strawberry Festival.

They were allowing you to walk into the field to pick zucchini and radishes, rhubarb and kale, none of which we needed at the moment.  But thankfully, there was a stand in there selling pints of strawberries…

One of the buildings on the farm had a big Latter Day Saints sign on it.   I didn’t see anything that looked anything like a church near there, so it seemed a bit out of place there.

We headed back toward Wasilla and came across another river with the old bridge being for pedestrians.  The river was very wide but was moving extremely quickly.    We drove a bit further and found a farmers market in Palmer just about to end for the day.   As usual, hardly any produce, but lots of food vendors and crafts for sale.

West of Wasilla Alaska

We had skipped a couple days of wilderness camping near Talkeetna as it was just a bit too smokey to be very enjoyable.

The next day after going to the pass, I wanted to see what was out near Port Mackenzie, which is southwest of Wasilla.  We drove out past where the car’s Nav system said there weren’t any roads, all the way to the water, which turned out to be just above/across from Anchorage; but the road ended abruptly at a Homeland Security labeled gate.  There was nothing out there to see, which was very strange with all the security, even a small boarded up shack that said it was the security checkpoint.

We did spot a small campground just up the road and drove in past about 10 empty sites right on Lake Lorraine.  They did have fire rings and most of the sites looked level.  There was even one that I am pretty sure I could have gotten our motor home into.   The place was completely empty.   It had a small boat ramp and a rack of orange life preservers, something I had not seen in any campground before.

On the way out we saw a very funny named road, so on the way back we had to stop and get some pics.  Here they are.

 

Kathy also took a picture of this sign, I’m really not sure why.

[It seemed funny to me to say “drug free” school zone, like there is a drug OK school zone!]

 

As we drove back toward civilization, we stopped at the Iditarod HQ that was along the way back.  We brought Dusty over to one of the dog statues out front and he started shaking and barking at the statue.  He appeared to think that big dog was going to eat him.   We put him back in the car as there were a lot of sled dogs around there and it probably wasn’t too safe for him to be among’st them.

We walked over to the puppy cage and then over where they were giving rides on something that looked like a golf cart being pulled by a bunch of sled dogs.

Sled Dog Video

They really got that cart moving on the small loop trail thru the woods!

 

We drove back to the campground and ordered pizza to be delivered for Kathy’s birthday dinner. (her choice).   I think it was the fastest pizza delivery ever.  It was there in less than 15 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Hatcher Pass and the Independence Mine

The day after arriving in Wasilla we drove up to Hatcher Pass and then the Independence Mine not far from the pass.

As we headed up the mountain, we came upon a river with an overlook.  That’s where we read that we were looking at an active fault and the other side of the river, the wall of rock was the actual fault line.

We then started the climb into the clouds, and as it turned out, we came out of the clouds just before the turnoff to the pass.  It was bright and sunny up there.  The road to the top was dirt and gravel, fairly narrow, windy  and pretty steep for a road.   We got to the top of the pass a few minutes after getting on the road.  There was a parking area between the two peaks so we got out there.  The view was nothing short of awesome.   Especially the clouds all below us was very interesting.   There was a small waterfall to our left and went down into a ravine we couldn’t see and before long we found a small lake it empties into.  I had never heard of this place, but found it on google maps that first morning when I was looking for somewhere to go that day.   There weren’t many people up there, just a few other gawkers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After wandering around up there for about an hour, we headed back down off the pass to find the Independence Mine State Park.   It was a short hop up the hill some more.  After paying the entrance fee I asked for a map.  Guy in the booth said I could get one at the visitor center.  When we got up there, we figured out there wasn’t a visitor center.  Geez.

Anyway, it had been a hard rock gold mine, the type that looks for veins of gold and then jackhammers them out and puts them thru a hammer mill so the pulverized rock can go thru a sluice to let the gold settle to the bottom.    This whole “town” was full of collapsed buildings.  You could see where the ground had been moving under them, probably why they collapsed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something I read while there, during WWII they were going to be closed down as gold was not a needed war material; but they had something called scheelite and were allowed to stay open to mine that.  It’s used to maketungsten and that was needed for the war effort.

We wandered around the site for an hour or so while it got a little colder as the clouds we had left on the way up were rising up to our elevation.

We headed back down the winding road and stopped by some apparatus I noticed on the way up to take a picture.   They were right on the side of the road.  Kinda looked like something from an industrial mixer.   I cannot understand why they would be there, especially since they looked permanently mounted.

We made it down the hill and stopped by a Carr’s grocery store.  Really nice place and it’s somehow affiliated with Safeway.

 

Denali Denali and the bus ride to hell and back

The next morning Kathy was going to the sled dog center so I dropped her off at the bus that took her there.   I went off to find a coffee mug and pint glass.   No pint glasses were to be found that morning, but I did find a couple koozys I liked.  I also picked up a bit of groceries in the small “we gouge you” market.

Before noon the smoke moved in that Sunday morning and I was starting to wonder about the trip to the interior in the morning.

 

 

It was still pretty smokey the next morning as I was packing a lunch and water for the long bus ride as the paperwork said there was nothing available during the trip.

I got there early and was first in line.  Of course, just prior to the bus loading, I was told there were two women with issues that were going to move to the front of the line.  They weren’t there yet, so I assumed some very old folks.  Then a few minutes later the women came back and asked if they could sit with their husbands too.   I said sure but that I would board first. She agreed.

They finally got there and these two were in their 20’s with no discernible issues from what I could tell, and that proved out the rest of the trip.   They all jumped up and were out of the bus at each stop before anyone else could even get their seatbelts unfastened, and were the last back on, usually almost running to get there before the doors closed as we would have to wait for them each time.

The road is paved for the first 15 miles, and right away we spotted a moose and her foal on the edge of the road just munching away on the weeds.  She never looked at us, like she never noticed us even though we were just feet from her and the little one.

Not long after that we hit the dirt road and it was rough.  The dust was like what we experienced on the TOTW Highway.  Luckily most folks kept their windows in the bus closed.   Now, these buses were really school buses with slightly better seats.  Not much better seats, but they weren’t the bench seats from my elementary school days.

We made a few stops along the way on our four-hour odyssey to the Eielson Visitor Center.   At each stop we stayed about 10 minutes.

 

 

After the first stop, the second was at a very wide riverbed which was about two hours into the bumpy trip.  The road narrowed to little more than one lane, so one of the buses had to stop in a wide spot with their flashers on so the other bus could pass.  Often it was the bus on the shear drop side that had to do the passing.  I never did grok how it was determined which bus did the pulling over.  It wasn’t always the downhill bus, which is normal for walking on trails.  It seemed random.   There were a lot of blind hairpin turns with a steep dropoff on one side, which didn’t seem so bad till we were coming back and were on the cliff side.

On the way out, we stopped to see Grizzly bears off in the distance foraging on the grasses.   Did I mention the rough roads?   The school bus was making such a racket as we went over the washboard that I was sure the front of the bus was going to break off.  It was so loud I am confident you wouldn’t have been able to hear a train horn from 50 feet away.

 

 

 

Each of the few stops was like getting a reprieve from being waterboarded.  We got to stop for a half hour once we got to Eielson Visitor Center.   It was beautiful there.  It was too bad there was so much smoke that we could not see the mountain, nor even tell what direction it was from there.  I ate my packed ham and cheese sandwich sitting on a rock and looking at the closer mountains ringing us.  It was a beautiful place.  And we were off the bus, making it that much better!

The ride back was more hell and the road seemed a lot narrower as we were now on the cliff side.   My seatmate was praying at each blind corner as we inched around it with the driver trying to see if another bus was coming.  She kept saying, “Please turn” as we got closer and closer to the edge while the driver craned her neck to see a bit further around the corner.   I must admit, there were so many of those corners and each time we seemed to get closer to the edge, it had my complete attention!  Looking down each time was something I shouldn’t have been doing, but it was just there and impossible not to look.

After about 45 minutes driving on the edge of the cliff, we got down to where there weren’t as many cliffs and everyone gave a sigh of relief that we made it.   The rest of the ride was a lot less stressful.  We got to see the same animals as on the way out with one exception.  There was a Marmot on the edge of the road that didn’t scurry away as we passed it this time as it had on the way out.  I guess I was too preoccupied to take any pictures of the ride back along the cliff.

There was a curious sight.  After coming around a corner, there was a caribou in the middle of the road and he walked right up to the bus.  After getting a really close look at us and being unimpressed, he walked slowly off the road into the brush.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got back to the bus     depot just after 5pm.  It felt like we had been on that bus for days.   Eight hours in a school bus on bumpy dirt roads is an extremely long time.  I wouldn’t do that again.

To my delight, Kathy was already there and waiting to drive me back to the RV!!

Later that evening I drove up to 49th State Brewing for a growler fill and to pick up a pint glass from the area.   What a cool place, and it was a madhouse on a Monday evening, packed to the gills.

 

And outside was what looked like the infamous Magic Bus from Krakauer’s Into the Wild. That was the first Krakauer book I ever read.  Turns out we were very close to the bus McCandless died in.  It was maybe 10 miles out a trail that is so rough now even the tour folks only take Unimogs to it anymore.

I headed back to the RV to self-medicate from the torturous bus ride that day.

We were heading to Wasilla the next morning, skipping a spot I wanted to spend a couple days at called K’esugi Ken campground.  It was just too smokey there and I could see on the Windy.com app that Wasilla would be mostly smokefree for the next few days.

Denali

We arrived at our campground Friday afternoon.  It’s about 8 miles north of the park entrance.   While we were driving down the Parks Highway from Fairbanks, we were able to see Denali from a really long way up the road.  As it turned out,  it was a much better view from 75 miles away than it was from 15 miles away on the bus ride.

Since we had seen Denali sans any clouds on the way down, we drove over to the park as soon as we set up in the campground so we wouldn’t miss it from a closer vantage point.  What we heard was only about 30% of folks that go there can actually see the mountain top because of cloudy weather.

We drove out as far as cars are allowed, about 15 miles into the park, where the asphalt turns to dirt.  We snapped a few pics on the way, but lacking a telephoto lens for our phones, it’s pretty small in the pictures.  You can only view it on that section of road from about mile 11 to 13.

We stopped by the visitor center and checked out the bus schedules, but found out they need to be purchased at the Bus Depot, about a mile prior to the visitor center, closer to the entrance.   We decided to come back early the next morning so the sun was in a better position for pictures from our vantage points.

 

 

That evening we sat outside in the beautiful weather and then our new neighbor pulled up to back her 27′ trailer into the space next to us.   Three people got out of the truck and they scattered in all directions around the truck and all three started telling the driver what to do.  All three were saying different things and it took the driver about 35 minutes to back that trailer in.   It was quite entertaining.

The clouds were completely gone in the morning, but there was a bit of haze along the bottom that was either water or smoke, but from this distance it was hard to determine which it was.

On the way back from taking pictures at the furthest point, we stopped at a spot we passed that morning and took some more.  There were a couple BMW adventure riders at that stop and I strolled over to say hi and ask about their trip.  They mentioned they came across the Denali Highway from Paxon, and proceeded to exclaim how bad that road was.   I asked them if they had come across the TOTW Highway and they had, but said the Denali was about 10x worse.   I had given thought to try that road as a shortcut to get to Isabel Pass next week till I heard it was 136 miles of dirt and gravel; and now, hearing their story, I was glad I decided to work on the logistics to take the long way there.

On the way back out of the park, we decided to drive up a mountain off the Parks Highway to the Grand Denali Lodge.  We could see it from a long way as it was perched on a mountaintop.   We drove up a narrow winding dirt road that had very unusual signage along the way.  Here are a few we passed.

 

 

 

 

 

The hotel wasn’t anything special, but the signs on the way up and back down that steep mountainside were fun to see.

 

 

I had researched the weather for the next few days and decided that Monday was supposed to be best for getting a close view of Denali from the stops on the park service road so I bought a ticket for Monday at 9am for the 8-hour round trip bus to Eielson visitor center.   I was seriously considering the 12 to 13-hour one.

That evening we decided to go out for pizza.   According to reviews of the very few places in town, a place called Prospectors Pizzeria & Alehouse had the highest rating for what we were looking for.  We got over there for dinner a little after 7pm on that Saturday night, put in our name and received the little puck that would let us know when to come back.   They said it was a 30-minute wait.

I sat down with Dusty and Kathy wandered over to the gift shop.   An hour and a half later the puck did its thing and we got seated at a table that had been empty for at least 15 minutes.   The waitress came by and mentioned that they were backed up for pizza for an hour because of a large To Go order, and she suggested other things that wouldn’t take so long.   We came for pizza, so what was another hour.

An hour and a half after that our pies were done.  Thankfully they were really good pizza.   Basically we got there at 7 and our pizza arrived at 10 pm.  Thankfully we ordered an antipasti appetizer to tide us over!   It was also good, and very different than any antipasti I had ever had prior.

More Fairbanks.

The rest of the week we played tourist around Fairbanks.

We read about a paddle wheeler that was just around the corner on the Chena River from our campground, so we drove over there to check it out.   It was a few minutes away from us and when we turned into their very long driveway, it was the  bumpiest driveway I have ever been on.   I started wondering if they did the maintenance on their boat like they did on the driveway.  When we got back to the boat it was just arriving from a tour.  It was packed side to side and top to bottom.   I decided that I would pass on that experience.   I think they cater to cruise tours as there were a gaggle of buses from different cruise lines in the parking lot.   And we had just done a smaller paddle wheeler on the mighty Yukon River.

We headed back out that same driveway from hell.   From there we drove over to the post office via a very circuitous route.   Because we took such an odd route there, we drove past an airplane graveyard off to the side of the Fairbanks Airport.  There were a lot of planes packed into a pretty small area.  Lots of them had their wings hacked off.  From the looks of them, they were being used as a parts warehouse.  Check out the missing nose cones on many of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day we drove downtown to find the Moose Antler arch.  It was located in a nice park along the river right in the middle of the small downtown.

 

 

 

On the way back toward our campground, we came upon the back of Pioneer Park, so we drove around to the front and took a stroll thru there.   First thing we did was to drop by the information booth and asked about the fireworks situation for the 4th.  She explained there weren’t going to be fireworks for the 4th, which she said was normal due to the fire danger in the area.  At this time there was a very large fire burning just northwest of town.   She mentioned that in Fairbanks the normal fireworks occur on December 31st: lots of nighttime to actually see them and not much of a fire danger that time of year.

We then made our way around the park.  We found a large train car with a roof built over it.  Turns out it was Warren G. Harding’s train car used during his Alaska trip to dedicate the first railroad there.  It was well taken care of and the insides were very ornate,  being built back in the early 1920’s.  The park had a small train ride that went around the perimeter.  I think the fee was $1.  It seemed to me we went back in time as we walked into this place.   We walked into the train museum/train station building and found a couple of very cool hand cars for riding the rails, both of them made out of wood.  Somehow I lost the pictures of those.

There was also the Tanana Valley Steam Locomotive No. 1 , which had been fully restored, including a new boiler.   I was told it was going to be pulling the small rail cars around the park on the 4th.   They cannot use it all that much currently due to it not having a spark arrestor on its firebox.  It runs on coal and I guess sparks must come out of the chimney.

There was an area they called the gold rush town with lots of old cabins and buildings that had been donated and moved there.  Now they housed lots of shops selling knickknacks and food.

There was an old paddle wheeler in need of a lot of repairs and even a small aviation museum.  The most amazing thing about this park was it had no admission fee.   Some of the museums asked for donations but that was it.

It had several play areas for kids.  What a wonderful outing for a family to come out and enjoy while the weather is nice in the summer!

 

Fairbanks Alaska

We arrived in Fairbanks on Sunday afternoon.  The road from Tok was all paved but rough in a lot of places.  Mostly just dodging potholes and dips.   In Canada almost every road problem was well marked with orange flags and orange signs warning of what’s to come.  Now back in the US, most road issues are not marked at all.   There must have been something critical our government needed to spend all our money on instead of fixing the US highways, or at least hammering orange flags on the sides of the roads where there are frost heaves or two-foot deep dips in the 65 mph roads.

It was pretty smokey and pretty warm in Fairbanks when we arrived that afternoon.   After we set up shop, I drove over to the Safeway to restock the empty refrigerator.  As I came out with a basket full of grocery’s, the heavens let loose with a torrent of rain.   I scrambled to empty the cart and get inside the car as I didn’t have a jacket with me.   It rained for hours that day and by morning the smoke was completely gone and it never came back while we were there.

The rain also brought in cooler, actually beautiful weather, for the rest of the wee, mid 70’s, perfect for playing tourist.

The campground was right on the Chena River,  a slow moving and fairly deep looking river.  Occasional canoes, kayaks, rafters, paddle boards, and power boats cruised up and down it.   There was a few riverboats around the corner maybe 1,000 yards, but none of them appeared to be able to get under the road bridges built over it.     Seems like every river we have seen on our trip so far were very fast moving, so this was a nice change of pace.

We had our entrance steps break after leaving Whitehorse, so all the way to Dawson City I was researching what it would take to get them working again.  Once we arrived in Dawson, I got out my rubber mats for working under the coach and checked out to see what happened down there.

Turns out, way back when I first brought the coach home from buying it in Tucson,  I auto-leveled it  in front of our house, not knowing that when you press that auto-level button, it  immediately dumps all the air from the airbags, lowering the coach toward the  ground pretty quickly prior to the jacks deploying.  I hadn’t understood that and our steps were out, and unfortunately they were over the street’s curb in front of the house.  I realized what was going to happen as soon as heard the air escaping.   Thankfully they only bent up about an inch at the front of the steps.  From then on I could see them bent up, reminding me of what I did each day I looked at them.    At the time it happened,  I crawled underneath but wasn’t able to determine where it was bent.

Fast forward to now and I could see what had happened at the time.   There is a pivot hole with a bushing and hardened shaft going thru it.  The bending occurred at that weakest point and had actually stretched the steel about a sixteenth of an inch on both sides of the top step right at the bottom of the hole.  If that hole had been centered on the steel bar, it may have not stretched as much; but the hole had been drilled too close to the bottom of the steps’ side steel bar and it finally broke there 31 months later.

Now that I know it wasn’t just a bolt breaking or something else that might have been an easy fix, I thought I would find a welder to sister in another piece of steel there.   That wasn’t happening though.  The welders in Dawson City were even working Sunday and said they were backed up for three weeks.

I called the coach’s manufacturer and got a quote on replacement steps.   The price was reasonable but the ground shipping was over $220 and would take at least two weeks to get to Alaska from Alabama.

I did some more research and they were by far the best price when considering the cost of the steps with shipping.   The next day I went online to their website and pretended to place an order, where I found that if I picked 2-day air freight, the shipping was $60 less than ground.  Very odd, but great for me.

So I figured out where I would be the next week (Fairbanks) and then called and made one of the few reservations of the trip so I would have somewhere to ship them.  I got their shipping address and proceeded to order the steps.   I was assuming that 2-day shipping to Alaska would take a week.

The next day I got the tracking number and they were already in Memphis, the FedEx Air hub, and scheduled to be delivered the next day on Friday;  but I wasn’t scheduled to be in Fairbanks till Monday.   I went back to the FedEx site to find out where to call to have the shipment held at the FedEx warehouse.  Turns out you can do that right on the website and I did.  The next day I got a message from FedEx that my package was waiting for me at their facility in Fairbanks.  Just amazing!

On Monday morning I went over and picked them up and drove the car over to an RV facility that a friend mentioned he had been able to buy a part for his furnace from the week prior.    I went in and talked to the service manager, and he told me he had a couple of no-shows and that he could get me in today if I could bring the coach over right away.

I jumped in the car, called Kathy to start putting everything away while I drove back there so I could close it up and drive over to the service center post haste.

I was only there for about an hour when the mechanic came for the keys, and 35 minutes later it was done and I was on my way back to the campground with level steps again.  Not sure if we will ever get used to having level steps now!!

Wow,  steps are installed, pretty incredible when you consider every RV place seems to be weeks behind in the summer everywhere when you need service, and I got ours fixed the same day and it was two days before the 4th of July holiday weekend.   I really should be buying lottery tickets!

There was one unfortunate occurrence in my rush to get over to the repair place that I noticed when I drove the coach back into the site.   I hadn’t moved our portable step stool we had been using to prop up the broken steps far enough out of the way and 10 tons of RV had crushed it into the gravel as I made the tight turn onto the small roadway to leave the site.  Oh, well,  maybe I can hammer them back into being usable again.   But I may need a press to do that as they are pretty sturdily built.

We deployed the coach back into living mode as we had 4 more nights there on the river.  Kathy had been mentioning the state maps other RV’s had on them since the first time she noticed one; so while I was at the RV repair shop, I saw a set that included Canadian Provinces too, so I added that to the bill.

That night we decided to celebrate an early birthday dinner along with a celebration of the steps getting fixed at the Pump House restaurant on the Chena River.

We spent the next afternoon putting it on.  I spent the time it took to mark lines on the slide so we could center the decal background correctly.  Then we put the background stencils on and it was done.  Kathy put all the decals on, only consulting me a few times to determine if we had been somewhere.  She didn’t ask about Hawaii, but I noticed that was filled in like we camped there.  I am pretty sure we only spent time in hotels there, but maybe I am mis-remembering our honeymoon…  It was a long time ago.  🙂

 

 

 

 

Chicken AK to Fairbanks Alaska.

We left early Friday morning from Chicken hoping that the road would be smoother than yesterday’s ordeal.  Fortunately, it was mostly pavement all the way down to the ALCAN.  A lot of dodging potholes and short new gravel sections, but it was like riding on glass to us after the “dirtway” the day before.  It was nice to reach the Alaska highway again.   It was very smooth over to Tok, AK.

We had called ahead from Dawson City to the Tok RV Village Campground, and they said we didn’t need reservations that day; so before we went to the campground, we stopped in the visitor center and got a few more maps and brochures for Alaska cities we would be going to.   Then I asked one of the docents where was a good place for breakfast,  one that the locals go to.  We drove the RV there for a late breakfast.  It’s called Fast Eddies, and it was a great breakfast!   And from what I can tell, it was the only restaurant in that little berg.

We checked into the campground after we ate.   It was a nice campground that had an RV wash right out front.  I think it was around $30 for the car and 40′ RV.  But that coach and car were so dirty it would have been worth it at almost any price.   We washed the car first.  Prior to driving it over there, I got my small brush and swept off about 5 lbs of rocks and dirt from the areas around all the doors, roof rack, hatch, and in the well the wipers are parked in.  Then we washed it, and my best guess was another 20 lbs of mud was on the pad when we were done.  It was a steady stream coming out of everywhere I pointed the pressure washer, and for much longer than I had experienced ever before.

After the car was washed, Kathy quit so it was up to me to wash the RV.   That seemed to take forever, there was so much muck everywhere.  That pressure washer sure did take the bugs off the front quickly.   I wonder if there is a very small version of one that I could mount under the coach to use every night we stop to get the hardened bugs off?   I must check Amazon for that when we get home.

While I was cleaning the RV windshield, a small crack near the bottom of it we received on the Alcan from a truck speeding past us on a gravel section, spread all the way to the top.   I am sure glad I lowered my comprehensive deductible on the car and RV prior to leaving for “rocky” Alaska.  But now I have something else to get fixed when I can!   And later in the afternoon we noticed the car’s windshield also cracked, but I can see no reason why it did.  There was a divot from a rock on the passenger side that happened while we were at the beach last summer.   I think we will wait till we get home to have both fixed as I am sure there will be more rocks coming our way.

The campground roads were very narrow and they had planted trees between each site, so many so that it was a bit tricky to get a large RV around them and into the not-so-wide site from the way-too-narrow roadway.   We did it and settled in for a night or two.

Since we were now back in the US, I expected to be able to use my two unlimited hotspots that had no service in Canada for the last month; but my AT&T hotspot had so little bandwidth, it was barely usable and the Verizon hotspot had no service at all unless I turned on roaming.  I didn’t want to turn that on without knowing if they would be charging a buck a megabyte like they tried to do while we were in Washington state last summer.  We had latched on to a cell tower across the Juan De Fuca in Victoria, Canada.  We racked up $100 charge in a few minutes that day.   Lucky for me I got a text alert from Verizon letting me know what was happening.

And my Google Fi hotspot couldn’t connect to anything in Tok either.   It still cannot connect while in Fairbanks.  Google Fi support said it should be using T-Mobile or Sprint in Fairbanks, but that’s not what we are experiencing.

So the next morning instead of re-registering for another night, as had been my plan, we packed up and left for Fairbanks.  The evening before, realizing the internet was lacking and the town was also lacking any appeal, I had called the Fairbanks campground we made reservations to arrive on Monday and asked to start them on Sunday.   Luckily I called as they couldn’t find my reservation but could see they had sent a confirmation email to me.   The gal said she would fix it and that we had a spot for Sunday night too.   I should have known things would be messed up as the first woman I had made my reservation with for the 1st thru 5th of July, apologized, after confirming she had an opening for  the 1st-5th, and  said she was sorry she didn’t have any openings for the 4th of July.

The drive to Fairbanks was all decent roadway and uneventful.  Lots of lakes and rivers along the way.  We did get our first view of the pipeline.  I noticed a pretty large and shiny suspension bridge that was only holding up a large shiny pipe to cross a river that we were also crossing, but we were on an old highway bridge.

Somewhere along that road we got back into full cell/data service and a bunch of TV shows that had been sitting in my Dropbox waiting for bandwidth to download to the RV’s DVR for weeks was fully downloaded before we even set up at the River’s Edge Campground.   We had reserved this site till July 5th, thinking we would watch the fireworks in Fairbanks.   LOL.