The Road to Alaska Part Two: Side Trip to Prince Rupert, Some Drama, and on to Yukon

Having chosen to make the drive through Canada rather than take the ferry along the Marine Highway, we were missing the bulk of the astounding Canadian and Southern Alaskan coast, so much of which is only accessible by boat or plane. With solid travel days during our first three legs, particularly the westward turn during the third, we realized we had time for a side trip and elected to continue west on BC 16 towards Prince Rupert. This would mean a casual 170 mile detour each way, with a likely three day stay once there.

Unfortunately, we encountered two significant problems. First, we blew a tire, the driver side inside one on the rear dually axle. Our best guess is that we picked up a piece of sharp debris maneuvering around a traffic accident early in the trip. This was a true blow out: the tire energetically gave way 40 miles from Prince Rupert, taking the fender trim and part of the lining with it. After stopping and inspecting, we determined that the tire had disintegrated to the point that it was no longer hitting anything else or rubbing against the outside tire, so we chose to limp down the road at low speed, flashers on, until we reached Prudhomme Lake Provincial Park about 15 miles outside of Prince Rupert. Arriving in the late afternoon we found a nearly full park, but the camp host guided us to the last remaining site. We secured it for two days, set up camp, and after consulting with the camp hosts, made arrangements with a local tire shop to mount the spare we had purchased just before entering Canada.

I have no idea why I took this closeup of tire tread. It is obviously quite purposeful, yet it is neither the blown tire nor the replacement. It is, however, a tire, and the closest thing I have to a picture of our tire drama, so enjoy.

So everything was fine: we had a lovely spot in another beautiful lakeside campground within an easy drive of our current destination, and we had survived mostly unscathed through our apparently mandatory Canada-to-Alaska tire blowout. Unfortunately, there was more drama. Rosemarie had started feeling a bit under the weather back in New Hazelton, was deep into “bad cold” mode by the time we closed up shop our first night at Prudhome Lake, and by the next morning was down hard: bedridden, exhausted, light fever, aches, pains, and general reduction in her normal sunny disposition. I headed to the pharmacy for COVID tests (negative) and over the counter cold and flu meds, so not a lot of tourism going on that weekend.

The “C” is for control, not COVID. One of the downsides to Rosemarie being sick is that we, by which I mean she, took very few pictures of this leg of our journey, which explains why you are getting pictures of a tire and medical test: it’s all we have.

By Monday morning Rosemarie was approaching human again. We broke camp and limped into town for our appointment at Kal Tire, where they mounted and installed our used spare. It cost about $50 US and only took an hour, so we are quite grateful to the staff and mechanics at this excellent shop. Rather than return to drycamping at Prudhomme Lake, we stayed at a private RV park in town, Prince Rupert RV Campground. There we had an interesting spot in their terraced campground with power, water, and a separate dump station for about $41 US, which is pretty reasonable considering the location at a modestly touristy seaside town. We were happy to have services, but no one was feeling up to exploring, so we called this whole side trip a wash and moved on the next day, back tracking to Kitwanga to intersect BC 37, the Cassier Highway.

Along the way we stopped in Terrace to purchase a new spare tire for the RV, finding a Hercules Strong Guard, one of our preferred options, for about what you would pay in the states. We made a short drive of it that day, only 200 miles, using iOverlander to find another lovely roadside campground on the short of a small lake. The short dirt road in was a bit tight, but we had an excellent site in a small clearing that we shared with a young long-distance bicycle traveler making his way all the way up to the top of Yukon.

The next day we put in six hours making our way up to Dease Lake. We really started to notice the road conditions deteriorating, with frost heaves and related winter damage more frequent. Cell service was much less consistent as well, with long stretches of road and even towns of more than 700 people in complete dead zones. Friendly locals, who seemed rather proud to not have cell service, guided us to a local community college that had free guest Wi-Fi, which allowed us to pick our stopping point for the night. We selected Waters Edge Campground, a nice place with friendly owners and recently revamped sites for $27 US. It is all dry camping, but they do have working (if slow) Wi-Fi for the guests near their bath house. Were we less tired from a full day of driving we would probably have sought out a free site in the area, apparently there are a couple near some gravel pits just off the highway.

As you can see, we are mostly through British Colombia, and aside from the trip to Prince Rupert, mostly following our planned route.

Next up: We enter The Yukon and turn on to the official Alaska Highway.

The Road to Alaska Part One: Preparation, Route, Border, and Three Legs into British Columbia

This is it! Our first post since announcing our October Surprise: restarting the blogging beginning with our trip to Alaska. We have a lot to report, so let’s get to it.

Having spent our first winter in the Southwest vice Florida since starting our full time RV life, we believed there would be no better time to strike out for Alaska by taking advantage of our geographic position to somewhat shorten the route. We looked at several options, including loading our rig on a ferry in Washington to skip the Canada drive or flying to Alaska and renting a small camper like my dad and stepmom had done. In the end, price, availability, and our specific requirements led us to just accept the long road trip in the motorhome, there and back.

Our last site on Whidbey Island. What a view, what a spot.

During our last week on Whidbey Island at one of our favorite parks, Cliffside at the Naval Air Station, we planned a roughly 2000-mile route, mostly along the Cassier Highway through British Colombia and Yukon. Following our long standing “250 miles or 5 hours” target for travel days, we assumed eight legs, with a very loose plan for a couple of one-night layovers followed by a two or three day “destination” stop, which would work out to something short of two weeks total travel through Canada.

The roughly planned route. Let’s see how this stands up to the reality of the road.

We also made our logistical preparations: getting paperwork in order, clearing out controlled foods, oil changes on both the RV and tow vehicle, phone and credit card adjustments to avoid international fees and the like. One of our bigger concerns was tires: read accounts of RVers travelling to or in Alaska, and flat tires are an incredibly frequent reported issue, with the cost of replacement and installation often significantly higher, perhaps even twice as much, as in the lower 48. Like many motorhomes, ours did not come with a spare tire, so we decided to invest in a cheap one based on all those reports. We were lucky enough to stumble upon a highly affordable used option (not a recap) with plenty of tread remaining at a Tire Barn in Bellingham, which we loaded in the back of Loki the day before we crossed the border, hoping not to need it. Blatant foreshadowing: we needed it.

BC 97 would be our route for the first two legs.

We spent our last night in the US at the Nooksack Northwood Casino in Lynden, conveniently located just seven miles from our planned border crossing point in Sumas. The casino offers about ten RV sites with electrical hook ups for only $7 a night. The spots are extremely basic; just back in sites on the asphalt along one edge of the parking lot, but the cost and location are hard to beat, and provided us with an hour or so of entertainment in the casino as well. In the morning we made a leisurely start, crossing the border in late morning, where we experienced no difficulty: just a few basic questions about our plans, weapons, and poultry products, of which we had only the first. Almost immediately after entering Canada we stopped at a Walmart in Abbotsford to resupply before continuing north.

Cobb Lake, our second stop of the journey.

We would be taking BC Highway 97 for the first two legs of our trip, and the 250-mile drive on the first day accustomed us to Canada’s road conditions, signs, construction, and patterns. I will have a lot more to say about Canadien and Alaskan roads in future posts, so just a few quick observations for now. We had read and heard many reports about the Alaskan year consisting of two seasons: winter and construction. Though perhaps to a lesser extent in the lower provinces, the same is generally true for Canada as well. We experienced frequent construction zones of varying length and significance, though all were quite well organized so as to limit delays. Warning signs were prevalent, and where only a single lane was available, lights and pilot cars were present and efficient.

We had also heard many warnings about “frost heaves,” road damage resulting from significant precipitation and extreme cold. Though we didn’t really run into much of this during the first couple of days – due I suspect to how much construction repairs had already been completed before our arrival – we did get used to spotting the distinctive warning posts for impending rough spots.

Rosemarie keeping busy during quite moments with jewelry creation.

We packed a little too much into our first Canada travel day. The border crossing, Walmart resupply, and 250-mile run through winding hills and mountains left us quite tired, which resulted in us settling on the first RV park we looked into once in 100 Mile House, the name of an actual town in British Columbia. The helpful 1 USD to 1.3 CD exchange rate meant we paid $35 US for our full hook up spot at 100 Mile Motel and RV, which is perfectly reasonable, and the services, pull through site, and convenience of location were greatly appreciated after a long travel day.

Our pull through full hook up site at 100 Mile Motel and RV Park.

Refreshed and recharged, the next day we pushed north another 240 miles, this time using the iOverlander app and website that had served us so well in Baja, Mexico to find a fantastic free dry camping site at the provincially managed Cobb Lake Recreation Area. This first come, first serve campground features a score or so sites along a beautiful lake with plenty of green space between every spot. The road in is a bit bumpy and tight, but easily managed if you take it slow. We loved it so much we made this our first two day stop.

Fantastic spot at Cobb Lake.

On day 3 we turned westward onto BC 16 for another 240-mile run to New Hazelton, where we stopped at the Cataline Motel, which owns a handful of RV sites in the grass meadow beside the rooms. We enjoyed a pull through, full hook up site for only $15 US, and had the first bear sighting of the trip. A young black bear was foraging in the forest behind the motel and wandered into the tall grass at the edge of the meadow a couple of times. PKM spotted it first, and her laser focus on the spot alerted, though we were not fast enough to get any pictures.

PKM on the lookout for more bears behind the Cataline Motel.

So there we are: four days, three legs, and 730 miles into our trip to Alaska. Things are going so smoothly, that has to change, right? Next up: things change: a side strip, a sickness, and more.

Our first three legs are quite close to the route plan.

You may have noticed we are just a bit behind on this blog, but we have a cunning plan.

We are officially a year behind, having left off during our move southward down the Pacific Coast in October of 2021. In the intervening time we made it to San Diego, toured both coasts of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, wintered in Arizona, attended the huge RV Rally in Quartzite, worked our way back to Washington state, drove the Cassier highway to Alaska, spent five weeks in our northernmost state, and made the journey back to the US. That is a lot of missing posts, and it has become more than a bit difficult to muster the inertia necessary to even start catching up.

One of many roadside shrines in Baja California, Mexico, along the Sea of Cortez. This one had a geocache.

While, with effort, I can live with the no doubt grave disappointment the lack of blog updates must be to our avid readers, what we really miss is the comprehensive record of our travels and the ability to refer back to them for another round of enjoyment or just to clarify some foggy detail. With no exaggeration, we used to check back through the blog at least once a week, which is perhaps more an acknowledgement of our questionable memory than a tribute to our fantastic writing and photography. As the blog becomes increasingly out of date, our ability to use it for such purposes is also lessened.

Tucson, AZ from a nearby hilltop.

My back of the envelope math suggests that the last year’s travels could warrant more than 50 posts at our normal rate, spread unevenly across these eight stretches:

  • Southern California
  • Baja, Mexico
  • Winter in Arizona
  • New Mexico to Washington
  • Road to Alaska (BC & Yukon)
  • Alaska
  • Back through Canada
  • Minnesota to Florida

Bridge over part of Patagonia Lake in Arizona.

Daunting indeed. To make this psychologically manageable, we are going to skip right to the fifth bullet and start the catch-up process with the still hopefully fresh in our minds journey to Alaska and back. After that, or perhaps even along the way, I will circle back and insert some “retro entries” to cover the missing era. While I generally prefer things told chronologically, I think this method will likely hasten the catching up process.

The amazing geological structures at Bryce National Park, Utah.

In other words: we’re back on the blog, please forgive some holes in the narrative, and we hope to fill them even as we report on our more recent journey.

Sunset at Cliffside RV Park on Whidbey Island, Washington.