Alaska Caravan 2018: Part I

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When we joined the Southwest LTV Roadrunners Travelers Club, we hadn’t even taken delivery of our 2018 Unity FX yet. We joined in August, 2017, and took delivery of our Unity on September 2, 2017.

The leader of the Travelers Club sent us an Alaska travel guide he had developed for a Leisure Travel Van Alaska Caravan he was organizing for May-August, 2018. We took one look at the travel guide, noticed all the attention to detail, and said, “We’re in!”

The travel guide had everything you could think of – not only maps with designated stops, but helpful services and points of interest at each location, from medical facilities, gas stations, grocery stores, veterinarians, and RV repair facilities, to restaurants and things to do and see. All the work was done for us; all we had to do was pay an up-front fee to the Travelers Club for the reservations at the RV parks we would be staying at, and they would take care of securing all the reservations for the trip. How could we say no to that!

Our Unity FX is our first RV, and most of our experience with RVing came from watching YouTube and Dean on the Leisure Travel Vans website. But this was September 2017 and the Alaska Caravan wasn’t until May 2018, so we had plenty of time to learn about RVing in order to prepare ourselves for the trip.

By the time May came around, we had driven our Unity about 14,000 miles in eight months! The trips we had taken included the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a month-long trip through the midwestern and southeastern United States.

Dry camping at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge for our shakedown/maiden voyage.

We had been emailing back and forth with the LTV Travelers Club for several months about many of the details of the Alaska Caravan. There would be 22 Leisure Travel Vans on the journey across western Canada to Alaska and back – 43 owners (one owner would be traveling solo). We signed up with four of the owners to meet up in Las Vegas. There would be five rigs – three from Arizona and two from Las Vegas – in our mini caravan from Las Vegas to Bothell, Washington, where we would meet up with the other 33 owners before heading north to Canada. In our mini caravan to Bothell there was one Unity Twin Bed, two Unity Murphy Beds, one Unity Island Bed, and our Unity FX.

Our mini caravan from Las Vegas to Bothell, Washington. Front row, from left: Alan and Dolly Girdlestone, MaryAnn Barber, Diana Brannon. Back row, from left: Linda and Joe Maneen, Terry Barber, Kirk and Kim Kearl.

The plan was for all participants in the Alaska Caravan to meet in Bothell, Washington, for a three-day organization rally before starting the 22-rig caravan to Alaska. We had only met two of the couples prior to this trip; the other 39 people would be complete strangers. We did have some things in common though – we all loved our Leisure Travel Vans and we all loved a new adventure!

We were so excited to begin this new adventure that we left a few days early for Las Vegas and did a little exploring along the way and in the area around Las Vegas prior to our meet-up with the other four LTV owners.

Along the way to Las Vegas we stopped in Oakman, Arizona, where wild donkeys roam the streets. The donkeys are the descendants of the donkeys used in the 1800s when Oakman was a mining town; after the gold ran out, the miners left and just released their donkeys into the wild to fend for themselves.

We stopped on the west side of Vegas at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and spent the night for $5 (no hookups). It’s a beautiful area and we recommend it for a visit. The next day we drove across Vegas to the east side and spent a couple of nights at Nellis Air Force Base for $30 per night with full hookups. We met up with the other LTV owners at a rest stop a few miles east of Las Vegas and began our journey to Bothell, Washington, to meet the rest of our caravan.

MaryAnn and me at our first stop on the mini caravan in Ely, Nevada.

Meeting the other people in our group was exciting and scary at the same time, but everyone else was just as excited as we were, and with our rigs as common ground – along with the common interest of a new adventure – we hit it off quite nicely! Our mini caravan took us through Nevada, Idaho, and Oregon before arriving in Bothell, Washington, at the end of May.

On the road in eastern Nevada.

Some of the highlights of this first leg of our journey included places like Ely, Nevada, Twin Falls, Idaho, the Snake River, and Baker City, Oregon. These are places we had never heard of before, and they are now places we won’t soon forget. Just driving past the majestic, snowcapped mountains and the Great Basin of eastern Nevada left a breathtaking impact on our lives and made us realize that this was going to truly be an epic adventure, an adventure we would never forget.

Twin Falls, Idaho.

When we arrived in Bothell, Washington, the process of meeting new people started all over again and the leaders of the caravan decided to divide the group up into “pods” of four and five rigs that would travel together and leave at staggered times. This was instead of traveling in one large group of 22 RVs, in order to keep from overwhelming the road.

Our pod of four rigs included one of the couples that had traveled with us from Las Vegas, who were also from Arizona, another couple from North Carolina, who became the leaders of our pack, and the fourth rig was piloted by a couple from California. There were people from all over the country that had joined us for this caravan, people from Michigan, Maryland, Nevada, Colorado, California, South Carolina, North Carolina, Washington state, and Arizona.

Our travel pod to Alaska, from left: Dick and Shirley Johnson, Kim and Kirk Kearl, Gary and Laura Cooper, Terry and MaryAnn Barber.

We left Bothell with our pod of four LTVs at 8:00 am on May, 30th; everyone was excited and full of expectation. Leading the pack was the couple from North Carolina and we took up the rear, a position that soon became known as the tail gunner position. In our pod of four, there was one Unity Murphy Bed, one Unity Island Bed, one Unity Twin Bed, and we were in our Unity FX. Of the 22 rigs, there were only two that were Unity FX and only one Serenity. There weren’t any Wonder RVs represented; most were Unity Murphy Beds.

Our first stop was at the US border. We had heard a lot of stories of the difficulty RVs had crossing the border into Canada and we were prepared for being boarded and having our belongings searched. But in fact, our border crossing was completely uneventful – we answered a few questions about alcohol and hand guns and then went right through.

Crossing the Canadian border.

Our first two stops in Canada were supposed to be in Hope, BC, and Cache Creek, BC, but halfway there we found out both of those RV parks were flooded, so we had to reroute to Sunshine Valley and then Willow Springs in Clinton, BC. Hats off to our leaders who had to jump through hoops while on the road trying to find space available for 22 RVs with just one day notice!

Places we visited while we were in this area and recommend as places to see were the Othello Tunnels and Hells Gate over the Fraser River. Both are worth a stop! There were many waterfalls along the way as well.

Fraser River, BC.

The road through BC was outstanding! The wild rivers, breathtaking, snowcapped Canadian Rocky Mountains, beautiful waterfalls, and endless forests were exactly what we hoped for and truly unforgettable!

After Willow Springs, we stopped in Williams Lake for the night and visited the Scout Island Nature Centre nearby. The next day, our group drove on to Prince George, BC. Along the way, we stopped at the 108 mile rest stop to see a museum that provided insight into the history of the area.

Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Each smaller pod of four or five RVs would meet the night before departing from an area to decide what to visit and make detours to see while driving to the next stop. Even though some pods would make many stops along the way and some only a few, we would all end the day at the same RV park. Sometimes certain pods wouldn’t arrive at the next stop until late in the day.

From Prince George, we drove to Dawson Creek, BC, and the beginning of the Al-Can Highway called Mile Zero. We took a group picture at Mile Zero of all 43 caravanners and celebrated a milestone (pun intended) in our journey!

MaryAnn and me at Mile Zero on the Al-Can Highway.

From Dawson Creek, we continued on to Fort Nelson, BC. While there, six of us hitched a ride with another couple in the other Unity FX to visit a nearby wooden trestle bridge. There was an interesting museum in Fort Nelson as well that’s worth a visit.

MaryAnn and Pat Newman (right; Unity CB owner from Michigan).

After Fort Nelson, our next stop was Toad River, BC. It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there! No electricity, no phone service, no internet – you get the picture. The campground had a generator that had to be restarted from time to time due to lack of fuel and occasional mechanical issues. It was here that we were given a demonstration of a lumber saw by the campground owner that was quite interesting. The mountain views that surrounded the campground were amazing!

Al-Can Highway.

On June 11, ten days after leaving Bothell, Washington, we crossed the border of BC into Yukon. Some pods visited the Liard River Hot Springs along the way; we had visited them the day before with several others from the group. It’s a good place to visit and take a dip in the mineral hot springs – cost is $10 CAD. It was also on this leg of the journey that people temporarily mixed up the travel pods, since some had already been to the hot springs and didn’t need to go back again the next day.

Our first stop in Yukon was at Watson Lake. The famous Watson Lake Signpost Forest is located there, and it was there that we hung the Texas license plate of our late daughter in her memory, something we had planned to do since we heard about Watson Lake months earlier.

We hung our late daughter’s Texas license plate at the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake.

The Signpost Forest, where literally hundreds of thousands of various kinds of makeshift signs, license plates, etc. have been hung up on trees, posts, and poles by people traveling to and from Alaska and Yukon, was started by the military who built the Al-Can Highway during WWII. The story goes that one of the soldiers put up the first sign in remembrance of loved ones he was missing from back home in the lower 48. One sign led to another, and before you know it there were the hundreds of thousands of signs that we see today.

Canadian Rockies.

From Watson Lake, we continued on to Teslin, Yukon. In Teslin, we drove on a metal bridge (said to be the longest all-metal bridge in North America) over a lake to the Yukon Motel and RV Park. At the RV park, there’s an interesting taxidermy museum of various Yukon wildlife called Northern Wildlife Museum. From Teslin, we drove 175 miles to Whitehorse, Yukon.

Canadian Rockies.

In Whitehorse, we walked along the Yukon River and took a drive to look for the shores of Lake Laberge, the famous lake mentioned in the ballad, The Cremation of Sam Magee. We found the lake, but couldn’t actually drive to the shoreline. We also took a day trip by train through the mountains to Skagway, Alaska. Turns out it was a good thing we did, since we found out later our planned ferry trip to Skagway with the rest of the caravan had been canceled due to a maintenance issue with the ferry.

Our traveling pod taking a pitstop somewhere in the middle of Yukon.

After Whitehorse, our next stop was at Cottonwood RV Park in Destruction Bay. We camped along the banks of Kluane Lake, a pristine mountain lake that one moment could be so calm the water looked like a sheet of glass, and the next minute a violent rage of high winds and crashing waves. The place got its name when a violent storm destroyed the camp of soldiers working on the Al-Can highway here during WWII. Some in our group tried their hand at fishing on the lake, but came up empty.

From Destruction Bay, we drove 243 miles to Tok, Alaska. We saw our first grizzly bear next to the road as we left Kluane Lake. We made many stops to take pictures of the mountains in Kluane National Park and Reserve as well. Along the way, we also stopped at the border for a photo-op and a border checkpoint. The excitement of finally entering Alaska was high – we were starting to think we would never make it to Alaska. We camped at Sourdough Campground in Tok, where they held nightly pancake-tossing contests. The winner received a free pancake breakfast the next morning. We didn’t participate in the contest, but some of the others in our group did. I should mention that both my and MaryAnn’s cell phones hadn’t worked since we crossed the border into Canada, but just a few miles into Alaska our phones came back to life and we started receiving text messages, email notices, and voice messages weeks old. If you plan to travel in Canada, make sure your service carrier is one that works in Canada.

Our traveling pod. Front row, from left: Kirk, Kim, MaryAnn, me, Laura, and Shirley. Back row, from left: Gary and Dick.

Our next stop was Glennallen, Alaska, 140 miles from Tok. In Glennallen, we camped at Northern Nights Campground and RV Park for one night, then drove on the next day to Palmer. Along the way we stopped to take a closer look at Matanuska Glacier. Some of the group piled into our rig and we drove right up to and actually walked on the glacier!

We walked on the Matanuska Glacier.

From Palmer, our caravan continued on 254 miles to Homer. In Homer, five of us chartered a boat and went fishing for halibut. The boat traveled over 30 miles out into the open ocean to fish off the bottom for halibut. I had never done anything like this before, and it was something I’ll never forget! Surprisingly, I didn’t get sea sick! The limit for each fisherman was only two halibut, and each fisherman caught his limit. The charter company made arrangements for the fish to be fileted, frozen, and shipped to our homes (for an extra fee, of course). My catch was waiting for us when we arrived home in August.

Our deep sea fishing adventure. From left: Bob Beck, Terry Barber, Kerry Johnson, Chuck Haraway, and Walt Newman.

While we were fishing, others in our group flew in a plane to a wildlife preserve to watch grizzly bears in their natural habitat. This was not a zoo. There was nothing between the people and the bears!

After Homer, we drove to Anchorage and camped at Golden Nugget RV Park. In Anchorage, we visited the Alaska Aviation Museum with a couple from Michigan. Afterwards, we sat along the water and watched the sea planes landing on the water.

The next leg of our journey was one of the many highlights of the trip, Denali National Park. This was a place we had been waiting for with great anticipation, and it didn’t disappoint! Stay tuned for Part II to hear more about this, and the rest of our Alaska adventure.

The epic Alaska adventure awaits!

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