This past summer (2016) Dan and I drove ~8,200 miles road tripping up to Alaska and back.

For the month-long road trip portion, we spent about $800 on gas, $80 on ice for the cooler, $136 for a Canadian National Parks pass, $100 for campgrounds, and $10 for showers.

I didn’t include food costs because we bought groceries and probably spent about the same as we would at home. We did eat at a restaurant two nights – once right before we flew into Lake Clark National Park and once right after our 30 days with all non-perishable food slash eating energy gels for breakfast time.

Here are 5 things we learned along the road trip portion!

Icefields Parkway
Icefields Parkway.

1. Road conditions – the Alcan and the Cassiar highways are paved except for short gravel sections for road construction.

Frost Heaves – these are like large speed bumps that are a byproduct of the permafrost freezing + thawing under the road. Most of the time they were marked by little flags, but sometimes we hit them unexpectedly and scraped the hitch. Not surprising given what our hitch looked like:

Car hitch
We scraped this on the road approximately 492 times.

The upside of frost heaves is that it provided some long-car-time-induced-delerium-laughter by watching RV’s “porpoise”. This takes place when the RV (A) happens to be going the “correct” speed, (B) there are at least three frost heaves, (C) they are spaced to match the RV wheelbase length, and (D) the driver didn’t see them. Each “dip” coordinates to launch the RV higher and higher. I’m sure the white-knuckled, saucer-eyed RV driver didn’t think it was super funny…

Road construction – we spent a collective 3-4 hours stopped for road construction. The winters are long and dark, so summer is when construction crews come out to fight the never ending battle of fixing the buckling, pot-holed roads.

Bears – I don’t know where else to put this, so I’ll sneak it in under road conditions. We never had trouble with bears and our food, but this is prime brown and black bear territory. We always had bear spray on us for going to the bathroom, hiking, and exploring.

Mosquitoes + flies – infernal beasts. This topped the list of my least favorite part about Canada and Alaska. SO. MANY. BUGS. Living in Colorado has allowed me to forget these things exist. Not only exist, but destroy your soul. I’m being dramatic. But on so many occasions we would open the car door and have approximately 5,000 bugs flood the car in a matter of seconds. It was a challenge to be outside in the evening. Boo.

Alaska bugs
We may have won the battle, but lost the war, psychologically…

Check out road conditions before you drive.

Alcan Highway

Driving by Wrangell St. Elias
Driving toward the Wrangell St. Elias Mountains.

2. Animals

There is a lot of wildlife along the road, especially above 58° latitude – Ft. Nelson on the Alcan and Dease Lake on the Cassiar Highway. We saw moose and black bear galore:

Cassiar Highway Bear
Black bear cub on the Cassiar Highway.
Canada Moose
Moose in the mud.
Black bear
Mowing.

Hooray for seeing moose and bears everywhere. BUT since the road is slicing through their home, it makes hitting one a distinct possibility. Hundreds of moose are struck and killed by drivers each year on Alaska’s roadways 🙁 An adult male moose can weigh ~1500 pounds. It wouldn’t be like hitting a deer..

3. Road amenities/stops/attractions

Stops are scarce between Jasper National Park and…Alaska. But this stretch features the world’s largest beaver.

Beaverlodge, Alberta
Best pit stop in Alberta.

We didn’t buy it, but check out the magazine/booklet Mile Post if you want to know where to stay, eat, and get gas along the way. It’s about $40 and you can buy at many gas stations and welcome centers.

It’s best to top off on gas whenever possible. Some stretches between gas stations are in the hundreds of miles region.

4. Border crossings

Alaska border
ALASKA!!

We crossed four borders and had it easy for all but one of them. Here were our potential issues and the outcomes:

  • Guns – Dan bought a $25 permit to transport the shot gun through Canada. This permit was for 60 days, but we could have asked for an extension. There are restrictions on what guns you can transport. For example, only certain types of long guns are allowed and no hand guns are allowed. Shipping a hand gun is possible but expensive.
  • Meat – pre-trip we prepared 30 freeze dried meals – some with meat – and then vacuum sealed them. About 5 days before our drive up to Alaska we read that transporting meat from Canada into the US is not allowed. We were nervous that a border agent would take half of our specially-prepared food for our 30 days in Lake Clark National Park and throw it away, cackling as they did it of course. We ended up not having issues since we drove straight through Canada without stopping and buying any new foods. Yay.
  • Alcohol – of course we planned on taking whisky and margaritas for our 30 day trip. Similar to the meat issue above, we put our alcohol in plastic flasks to save on weight and space. Welp, there’s a restriction on how much you can transport and requirements on labels so we weren’t sure our unlabeled flasks would pass. But we had no issues with this either.

At our last border crossing in Roosville we were flagged for further questioning. Dun dun dun. I will say, this was the best time to be stopped since we were almost home and if they confiscated anything it wouldn’t be a trip-ruiner. But they didn’t allow us to watch them search our car and confiscate a bag of bell peppers. DOWN WITH AUTHORITY.  Just kidding.

US-Canada Border Crossing Roosville
Trying to get back into ‘Merica.

5. Living out of the car for a month

Boondocking (I totally learned some new lingo) worked really well in this region. In northern Canada and Alaska there’s no shortage of public lands or places to pull off the side of the road and camp for the night.  We outfitted our car with a mattress and fashioned old blackout curtains with suction cups. Free never felt so good.

Car curtains
The back curtain failed so we resorted to a black trash bag. Ultimate blackout curtain…

There were many picnic areas along the way. But in the most remote stretches it was hundreds of miles between stops, so we’d resort to a grassy shoulder or a dirt road. We bought groceries and made our meals to save money on this extended trip.

Alcan car camping
Roadside kitchen.
Alcan car camping
Popcorn and bacon?

Dan caught lots of fish in Alaska. It made for some delicious dinners.

Trout dinner
Trout dinner.

We also went with ole standby dinners of bean and rice burritos:

Bean burritos car camping

Road tripping up to Alaska and visiting all the places I’ve dreamed about since I was 16 was AWESOME and a LIFE DREAM COMPLETED. Flying on a bush plane, living in the middle of nowhere for a month, fishing/canoeing/backpacking in the most remote and wild place I’ve ever seen, hiking and camping in Banff and Jasper and Glacier National Parks – it’s the stuff of [our] dreams.

Living out of a car has it’s challenges! I think that’s obvious. But challenges are all part of the experience, they complete the picture. And as a reality check, I’m pretty dang lucky to call these challenges mine.

There were a lot less distractions, a lot more of being present with daily discomforts, more time for introspection, more time for talking with one another, more time for reading. It was a perfect way to ring in a new life decade.

That’s a wrap! Until next summer…

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