July began with the third celebration of the summer when Jonathan and I celebrated our 40th Wedding Anniversary! We are so thankful for all we have, what we have been able to accomplish together, and feel blessed that we both had to take that statistics course back at the University of West Florida where we met all those years ago.
Now to continue where I left off …..
Seward, AK – Seward KOA – 3 nights
On our anniversary we took a boat tour of Resurrection Bay where we saw Hawaiian humpback whales, orcas, puffins, sea lions, sea otters, and lots of gulls. We also made a stop at Fox Island for lunch and a bit of a walkabout on the beach. The next day we went to the Alaska Sea Life Center & enjoyed a very informative Puffin Experience Presentation. Seeing the birds up close was a real treat. We also walked around Seward’s main street and waterfront park where they were setting up for a street fair for the 4th of July with lots of food & craft vendors. The next day we took a drive out to Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjord National Park and hiked up the very steep trail to the bottom of the glacier. The good news here was that Mike and Jean were finally able to get their repairs completed and caught up with the caravan after doing a 4-day drive in one night!
Homer Spit, AK – Heritage RV Park – 3 nights
We drove to Homer on the Fourth of July where Harry, Linda, DC, & Mary prepared a holiday cookout for all of us. Before dinner, Jonathan and I walked from the campground down the Spit browsing through all the shops and enjoyed getting a bit of exercise. The second day we found a pickleball court in Homer at the high school, so we joined Jean & Mike for a few games before returning to the campground and walking along the beach. The third day we took the morning and drove up the East Skyline Drive to the Wynn Nature Center where we hiked 3 miles of their trails. We saw moose & bear scat and tracks but no moose or bear, but I did run into a grouse. In the afternoon we got in a few more games of pickleball with Mike and Jean. It is so nice to have them back on the tour with us!! A lot of the other caravaners went on a halibut fishing trip (we’re not big on fishing) and brought back halibut to share so we put a bit in our freezer. Then we got the news that Lorinda and DC have now tested positive for Covid.
Kenai, AK – Diamond M Ranch – 2 nights
The Diamond M Ranch is one of the nicer campgrounds we stayed at during this trip. The resort had full hookups & 50 amp power and sits on the Kenai River with lots of farm animals and trails to the river. We took a walk down through the farm to the river and got up close and personal with their cows, llamas, pigs, goats, chickens, and horses. The first night we went into Kenai and had an excellent dinner at Flats Bistro. In the morning we joined in on the hayride around the farm where we learned the history of building a campground in the wilderness. They did not have a pickleball court, but we came prepared with strap lines we could tape down on their basketball court and our own portable net. We played with Jean and Mike during the afternoon and then had a seafood dinner put on by the resort. After dinner we convinced Howard & Nellie to try their hand at pickleball too!
Anchorage, AK – Golden Nugget RV Park – 2 nights
During our short stay in Anchorage, we did a bit of shopping at Costco, the grocery, and stopped for a tour at the Ulu Knife Factory. The ulu knives are a special knife made by the indigenous Alaskans and it seemed they were in every gift shop we had been in since we hit Alaska. It was interesting to learn about the knives and to see how they are made. Harry, Linda, DC, & Mary put their aprons on again and fried up a lot of the fish that were caught on the halibut trip. While the fish were cooking, I entertained the group with a traditional tale.
Denali, AK – Denali Rainbow Village RV Park – 4 nights
Upon reaching Denali we were greeted with the news that Patti & Bill now have Covid and Alan hit a rock and tore the front corner of his rig. Maintenance issues continued with Mark and Linni as they had a slide that was jammed. (All the guys helped them get it back in and Mark spent a lot of time during the rest of the trip troubleshooting the issue.) The Denali Rainbow Village is a really tight campground with sites so close together you cannot put your slides out all the way, but it is right in the middle of Denali Park. Once we got in, we walked around the shops and down along the Nenana River trail. That evening we took a bus to the Cabin Nite Dinner Theatre for a family style dinner and a musical revue which was a true-to-life Gold Rush tale of adventure in the early 1900’s Alaska.
The second day we took the bus tour of Denali National Park. To reduce the volume of traffic in the park you can only go in on one of the park’s buses. Unfortunately, the entire time we were here it was cloudy and smoky so we could not see the mountain, but we did see moose, dal sheep, caribou, and arctic ground squirrels. One cool feature on the bus tour was that the driver would stop if anyone saw wildlife and she had a camera with an awesome zoom lens which was connected to the TVs in the bus so everyone could see the animals.
Our next adventure was a Rafting Trip on the Nenana River. The rains which had started the day before at the end of the bus tour cleared by the next afternoon just in time for our trip down the river. We suited up in dry suits as the glacier-fed river was quite cold even in July. Our guide was “Crazy Sideways” Steve so even though it was supposed to be a gentle trip, we did have quite a bit of fun and got quite wet!
Our third day here started with an early morning drive up to the National Park Visitor Center where we hiked a few of the shorter trails. That afternoon we joined Mike and Jean for a horseback trail ride at the Denali Horseback Tours. Any place where we stayed for more than one night Fantasy had recommendations about optional (at your expense) experiences we could do. The halibut trip in Homer was one such trip, and in Denali we chose a trail ride that had been recommended in our travel log. Mike and Jean joined us again and we had a lovely afternoon riding though the brush along the Nenana River where we saw how the permafrost melt is affecting the region. On the way back to the campground we stopped for dinner at the 49th State Brewpub where I had a yak burger for the first time. It was pretty tasty too!
North Pole, AK – Riverview RV Park – 4 nights
After Denali we headed up to Fairbanks and North Pole, AK. The caravan had another dinner and show booked at the Pioneer Village Salmon Bake & Palace Theatre Show. Unfortunately, the Village is really meant to be an outdoor experience with all the food cooked on grills and it was pouring down rain! Fortunately, they had indoor seating so we could eat relatively dryly. The show was a cute vaudeville presentation of Alaska’s Last Frontier with lots of music and jokes. The next day we went over to The Santa Claus House and got pictures of Santa and his reindeer. The caravan had another bus tour scheduled to see a paddle-wheeler & the Univ. of Alaska Museum but we really needed a day off so we did not go. Since so many other caravaner’s had tested positive at this point and we were starting to get tired we tested for Covid, but we were negative.
Our big optional adventure was the Arctic Circle Fly & Drive tour by the Northern Alaska Tour Company. Our pilot Steve flew us 1 1/2 hours up to inside the Arctic Circle to Coldfoot, Alaska on an eight-passenger prop plane. Howard and Nellie from the caravan went up with us on the same trip. After landing in Coldfoot we were driven over to the Coldfoot Camp where they had our pre-ordered lunches waiting for us. After eating, we loaded up in an 8-passenger van and Kim drove us down on the Dalton Hwy to the Arctic Circle Sign with lots of stops along the way for wildlife viewing. One stop was at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Here we were met by Jeremy in a small bus that carried 10 of us back to Fairbanks, again driving down Dalton Hwy, or for those of you familiar with reality TV, the road in Ice Road Truckers. Luckily, for us there was no ice or snow on the road and the bus was able to pull off when the truckers came zooming passed us. It was a LONG, LONG 11 1/2 hours’ drive back. (My suggestion is that you take the plane both up and back!) Again, the bus made lots of stops along the way back to see the tors rock formations and the Alaskan pipeline. We stopped at The Yukon River Camp for dinner which we had pre-ordered before leaving Fairbanks. We also stopped for a walk out on the tundra where Jeremy dug down in the tundra to let us feel the permafrost. Add in a few potty breaks and it meant that we did not get back to the car until well after 3:00 AM!!!!
Jonathan, Joanna, & our Pilot Steve Ready to take to the skies View from the plane Coldfoot Camp Truckers getting ready to drive the Ice Road If you look closely you can see Coldfoot Arctic Interagency Visitor Center We made it to the Arctic Circle! It’s Official – we both got a certificate The Dalton Highway Jonathan helping Nellie walking across the tundra Feeling the permafrost Tors rock formations Alaskan Pipeline Some of the recent fire damage
While on the ride back I started to feel pretty crappy. We had tested again the morning of the Arctic trip and again we tested negative so we thought we would be ok on the plane, etc. We did wear our masks just in case but the day after I was pretty tired, feeling even worse while also developing a cough. Once we had gotten a little sleep we checked in with Linda and found out that 14 more people on the caravan were now quarantining INCLUDING Howard and Nellie!! Nearly half!!! I test again that morning because I had a scratchy throat and cough but I still tested negative. We decided to quarantine ourselves and for the next couple of days stayed away from everyone as much as possible and we wore our masks for the rest of the trip when indoors.
Tok, AK – Tok RV Park – 1 night
Ok, I may have been testing negative, but it sure felt like I had Covid. Jon did most of the driving to Tok and we did not attend the travel meeting. Linda texted us the info we needed to get to the next stop.
Destruction Bay, YT – Destruction Bay Lodge – 1 night
We had been warned that the road to Destruction Bay was going to be the worst one of the trip, but man,
it really, really was a horrendous road full of potholes and frost heaves which didn’t help my headache! We had been skirting the wildfires that were south of us and we passed several fire crews prepping to go back in. On this leg of the trip, we had to cross the Canadian border again and luckily we were still testing negative for Covid.
We found out that Howard and Nellie told the border guard they tested positive, and they were not allowed into Canada. They were stuck in Alaska for over 10 days and were not able to meet up with the Caravan again. As they had mild symptoms, they were able to spend a bit of the time seeing some of the sites they had not been able to see during our quick visit, but still it really sucked that we had to leave them behind.
As the next stop on the route would have us crossing the border again to get to Haines, we decided to not follow the caravan down to Alaska. We would not have been able to participate in any of the planned activities there anyway as we were isolating, and we did not want to have to cross the border twice (the route went back into Canada after Haines). So, we missed a boat ride to Juneau & tram to Mendenhall Glacier plus the ferry to Skagway and the White Pass Railroad. Something to save for our next trip to the Last Frontier.
Whitehorse, YT – Caribou RV Park – 4 nights
We went on to the next stop on the route, which was going back to Whitehorse, to await the caravan to catch up with us. We barely made it to the campground before Jon tanked. His fever spiked and his nasty cough began so we checked in, closed our door and blinds, and hibernated staying in bed for 4 days. While most of the other caravaners had only mild symptoms we both got pretty sick. Jon’s fever had been spiking up to 102, with all the other fun Covid symptoms of aches, pains, depression, headaches, cough … yeah, we felt terrible. And to top it off we started to run out of medicine and all our comfort food that makes you feel better with no way to get more. We were in an area with very low cell service, no Wi-Fi, and we were too far out of town to get deliveries. By the last day I was finally feeling well enough to go pick up some essentials. We did notify Linda of our plans, but we did not hear from anyone during our 4 days in Whitehorse but Jean & Mike, who did check in on us by text which was sweet but of little help. As this campground did not have sewer, in the middle of our stay we had to unhooked and go dump our tanks as we knew we would not have full hook up sites as we continued on the trip. Finally, the rest of the caravan caught up with us and we were doubly glad we didn’t go to Haines when we heard that some of the caravaners had up to a 3 hour wait trying to get back across the border with the wagon masters coach being search from top to bottom!
Nugget City, YT – Baby Nugget RV Park – 1 night
I was feeling a bit better, so I drove to Nugget City while Jon slept. Again, we did not participate in any activities and got the travel info by text.
Dease Lake, BC – Dease Lake RV Park – 1 night
We were both starting to feel alive again so on the way to Dease Lake we made the enroute stop at Jade City on the Cassiar Highway. It was really amazing to see the huge slabs of jade though I must say their prices were very high. I drove the whole way to give Jon a bit of a break. It was beautiful scenery but on a very small highway.
Stewart, BC – Boondocking – 2 nights
We drove to Stewart on a crazy narrow road through lots of construction. The wagon masters had found out a couple of days before that the campground Fantasy had originally book there was closed. Harry very ingeniously found a gravel parking lot where they park semis waiting to load at the harbor. We had plenty of room for all 24 RV’s and we even had the Portland Canal and a waterfall directly behind the lot. As we were still recovering, we did not do any activities with the group though we did walk down the road along the river.
Ft. Telkwa, BC – Ft Telkwa RV Park – 1 night
This drive was the first easy drive on a nice road that we have been on since we left Fairmont Springs!!! Again, we were still isolating.
Prince George, BC – Sintich RV Park – 1 night
At this point Jon was still sick and had lost his sense of taste and smell but I was starting to feel a bit more normal. (BTW, we never tested positive for Covid, even when we were back in the states and had a PCR test.) Linda made hobo stew (each caravaner donated a can of something for the pot) and, though I could not eat due to my allergies, I did feel up to attending the dinner and even told two more stories while they ate. As we had several veterans in the group, and we were sharing a meal I thought my story about the marines that came to Thanksgiving at my house when I was a teenage was very apropos. I also told a liars tale about a bear at Hidden Valley camp just to lighten the mood.
Cache Creek, BC – Hat Creek Ranch – 1 night
Hat Creek Ranch has a very nice small campground though we boondocked in a grassy field they have for caravans. They have the original 1860’s Roadhouse and ranch buildings that were here during the gold rush. It was the first really hot day and it began to finally feel like summer. Though it was hot, we got a tour of the historic buildings, the farm, and a presentation about the indigenous Shuswap Nation the afternoon we arrived and then had dinner at the ranch restaurant.
Ferndale, WA – Cedars RV Resort – 2 nights
There was an enroute stop scheduled at Hell’s Gate but the parking lot was not big enough for all of us, so we skipped it, and instead stopped at a rest area until Harry and Linda had passed us as they always needed to get to the campgrounds before us to make arrangements and find out our sites. The crossing back into the US was fairly quick but this time the guard took our eggs, apples, limes, & oranges which had all been purchased in Canada.
Driving on all the dirt, gravel, and chip sealed roads throughout Canada and Alaska had created an enormous about of dust in the coach. I mean it was EVERYWHERE!! Even though I cleaned whenever we had a spare moment the coach was a mess. I couldn’t stand it any longer and the moment we set down our jacks in Ferndale, I started the cleaning process. It took an entire day just to clean the bathroom having to clean every, bottle, surface, and even the tweezers that were in the drawers!
The second night we were there it was time to say goodbye to the friends we had made traveling together for the last 60 days. We had a catered Farewell Dinner at the campground where we were both able to finally rejoin the group again. We skipped the goodbye breakfast the next morning as we had scheduled a service appointment at the Freightliner in Mt Vernon at 9 am. A lot of these photos of the group I snagged off our group Facebook page, so, thanks go to all the other photographers on the trip.
Burlington, WA – Burlington/Anacortes KOA – 7 nights
Our early morning appointment at Freightliner was for a little TLC on the coach (new air & fuel filters, check out the suspension, safety check, etc.) to recover from the horrendous AK & Canadian roads. While it was being worked on, we went up to Anacortes for breakfast, a walk around town, then drove down to Rosario Beach for a short hike along the coast. As we still needed to wait for the coach, we went on to Deception Pass to sit and wait for the call that the coach was ready. By 2:00 we were back on the road and went over to All Star truck wash and got the coach a spa treatment then we headed back to the Burlington KOA where we had stayed before leaving for the caravan.
I then spent the rest of the week cleaning the coach. It took a full day to do each section and all the belly boxes as everything was so dirty! I had to wash nearly every item of clothing in the closet and drawers, and I even went to a laundromat and did 6 high-capacity loads of linens. Becca, Jason & and their friend Bee came up from Edmonds one day and met us at our storage unit. We filled both our cars with everything that needed to go back to the coach and then they helped to finish cleaning out the belly boxes and we got everything put away. I am sooooo glad they came out to help as I would never have gotten it all done before it was time to leave.
Like I said at the beginning of Part Two, you should never say never but it is unlikely that we will do another caravan. The promises the corporate offices gave us were not met. The roads were horrendous, the wagon masters & tail gunners can only give so much help and then you are left behind to deal with any issues that arise, and we did not receive the help on the road as promised. In our evaluation of the trip, we told Fantasy that what they really need is a sort of concierge back at the home office in Las Vegas to give assistance to those who have issues like illnesses or breakdowns. For the price of the caravan, we think that you would do much better digging into The Milepost and planning your own trip. There is so much to see and do in both Alaska and Western Canada that it really would be better to slow down and spend more time in each location which isn’t possible when traveling with a caravan.
By the numbers this adventure included:
- 24 RV’s
- 46 People
- 60 Days
- 65 Page Travel Log
If you look closely at the map you can see the route the caravan took through Canada to Alaska and back.
- 5889 Miles driven
- 3800 Photos taken
- 30 Travel meetings/socials
- 30 Campground/Boondocking sites
- 22 Tours/Special Events
- 18 Meals we shared
- 4 Canadian Provinces
- 2 Hot Springs
- 1 Tiny Ferry
- 4 Storytelling Performances
- 1 Accident
- 50th state we have been in
- And 1 birthday, 1 anniversary, & Alex and Erin’s engagement (well, that happened once we were back but it really is part of our Celebration Summer!!)
This was definitely a trip of a lifetime to celebrate several milestones! We are very glad we succeeded in overcoming the many challenges that are inherent in a trip like this and that we were able to experience the majesty and beauty of Western Canada and Alaska. If people ask us, we say that this trip is not for the faint of heart, and that we would recommend renting an RV instead of taking your home on those challenging roads, but it is an incredible trip!
Real time update:
The remnants of Ian have been sitting over us for 5 days here in Virginia with mild winds and rainy days which gave us plenty of time to get these blogs done! We are just getting ready to head over to Jonesborough, TN for the National Storytelling Festival then on to Virginia Beach for a week with our kids. I will catch up on our time in Virginia and Tennessee in our next post.