Ref 89 Westy 2.1...we're in the planning stages for a trip to Alaska and the Artic Circle...I have more questions than answers...has anyone made this trip...can your share some of your insights...I know Capt Mike has done Alsaka...We're getting our Westy in tip top shape...using Capt Mike's packing/inventory list along with his cold weather list...we're gatering our equipment We'd like to depart late May of early June...any help is really appreciated...you can email me directly if you'd like...Thanks...Chuck(CA)
An ABSOLUTE must -- do not even consider leaving the driveway without it -- is the Milepost. This bible of Alaska & NW Canada, often called the Alaska Milepost is a mile-by-mile description of every road north of the US border and West of the Canadian Rockies.
When I say mile-by-mile, I mean literally that. North Canol Rd. mile 0: Ross River (then details of free ferry); mile 2.1: Caution, Slide area., watch for falling rocks; mile 4.7: Rasberry patch, good pickings; Mile 6.8 Tenas Creek 1-lane bridge. And so on. Turnouts with liter barrels, camp spots, what kind of fishing, wildlife and flora are visible. Any side trips or trails; historic data; any lodges or services.
The usual practice is for the navigator to sit with the Milepost in his/her lap and sort of promo every step of the route. "Ok, there's the access road to Sheldon Lake, next at mile 82.7 is the Sheldon Creek 1-lane bridge. Road climbs, leaving Ross River valley and entering Macmillan Valley northbound." When at the bridge, he/she might will give you, "Mile 89.7. Steep hill. Road may wash out during heavy rains. Deep ditches alongs roadside help channel water." And so it goes -- camera in one hand, Milepost in the other. Sounds wierd but it is the absolute best way to plan, see everything, and avoid surprises. Major towns along the way will get a small write-up. Lodges and services will typically put in small box ads in or close to their sequence.
There are many beautiful pictures, a very detailed removeable map, and lots of info on Alaska Ferry schedules, tours and parks. I would honestly say get the book several months before the trip and pore over it, because you will then change your planned trip several times as you pick out all sort sof interesting little things that don't even show up in the AAA books.
A trip to Alaska is not to be taken lightly. It's long!!! I don't see how you can have much of a trip in less than 30 days from the US NW coast, say Seattle.
Canadian customs can be a pure pain-in-the-butt. Their rules change hourly. Firearms have always been heavily restricted -- a rifle or shotgun only, no handguns, Mace or other such weapons -- and that seems to depend upon the inspector. Especially if you cross away from the main couple of crossing in Washington/BC. Get the latest direct from Canada customs -- don't rely on some tourist info site.
I've even run into bans on vegetables and fruit. Typically, they allow 3 days provisions and then you are expected to buy locally. Of course I'll have way more, but I can honestly say "I've got 3 days fresh provisions" (because that's all the fridge will hold) and then sort of trail off with, 'staples and some bad weather supplies.' That's my euphonism for all the canned and packaged goods! Besides, half the fun is eating the local fare and we turn that into part of the 'experience.' However, take the full trip's supply of grits -- them damn Yankees don't know how to eat breakfast!
Read the topic on tires and the separate topic on Alaska tires.
I'd carry the service items that will come due for the planned trip. Not oil, but the filters, drain-plug seals, etc. You will probably end up doing oil changes at small independents where they may not have your parts. I will usually look at whatever 15,000 miles major service is closest and either move some items up or decide a few can be delayed until the major service/overhaul/refurb that will be required when I return. For example, things like CV or wheel bearing repacks can be moved up or decide a few thousand miles delay won't hurt. You may have to move up brake service and tire replacement -- these are two items you want fresh for the trip.
Many of the roads, including the Alaska Highway, have now been paved. In my opinion, it ruined them. They now are straightened, sterilized and sanitized to the point many are boring stright roads through the woods. Also, where the old dirt roads where rough, undulated, dipped and turned, forcing you to keep at a reasonable speed and enjoy the scenery, the new ones are deceptively high-speed until you hit a frost heave or pothole that can bend a rim. So driving slower and more cautiously is prudent. I like to find the alternate back-road routes whenever possible.
There are a number of posts scattered through the site about our AK trips. Encounters with bears, getting lost because the magnetic compass no longer points north, food experiences. How my wife shot 54 rolls of film one trip and it was NOT too many!
BTW: The editors of the Milepost drive a VW Syncro Westy!
Oh, and though we Americans tend to think of 'Alaska' as the trip and destination, Western & NW Canada are every bit as spectacular. You'll have to pass through BC and the Yukon, so look at those topics, too. We've actually made tips to Alaska that barely touched it, concentrating on the Yukon or NWT. One trip I made the Cassier H'way in Western BC twice while only touching in at Alaska to catch the ferry.
[This message was edited by Capt. Mike on February 21, 2004 at 07:07 AM.]
If your time table allows for the delay you should try and avoid traveling at night. First off the landscape is too amazing to miss. Secondly all the signs on the highway warning of moose, elk and sheep should be taken very seriously. You will meet them on the road at some point. But that's half the fun. And don't be upset when that first stone comes up and cracks your windshield. It's a fantastic trip. Enjoy.
I'd definitely plan on either going up or coming back on the Alaska Ferry. I took it from Bellingham to Skagway, and it was a wonderful trip! From Skagway, you can drive up to Whitehorse, Yukon, and pick up the Alcan (or vice versa if you take it home instead).
It's like a low-budget cruise ship!