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.

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

  1. Pingback: The Road to Alaska Part Two: Side Trip to Prince Rupert, Some Drama, and on to Yukon | Shell On Wheels

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