Everybody wants to go to Alaska, but to Roadtrekers, driving there is a pilgrimage. Last year we made ours and we loved it. Like a pilgrimage, the sights and sounds of Alaskan Nature were surprisingly spiritual, and became the yardstick against which we’ll measure all future trips. There were a few things we did to make it so and a few other things we wisely avoided.
So, in no particular order, here is our list of Do’s and Don’ts for Your Best Alaska Trip Ever.
DO bring your camera and keep it handy. Every roadside is home to critters you’ll want to remember. Our RT has shelves directly overhead, which are perfect for quick access.
We were driving along Prince William Sound watching the salmon run, when Rhonda squealed, “Eagle!” and wrenched the camera away from me. Look what she got without leaving the RV!
DON’T plan on seeing the Northern Lights unless you go after September.
DO bring blackout material for your windows. Taking the road north, you may discover the lengthening hours of daylight and the shrinking nighttime. We didn’t until we got into the Yukon.
Days later, in Alaska, one local weather man on the TV in a McDonald’s heaved a sigh and said, “Well, folks, we are now passing the point of the summer where there are fewer than twenty hours of daylight. It has begun.”
Without sunset we found ourselves wanting to eat dinner at 10:30 p.m. and sleeping in until 9 a.m. In fact, sleeping without darkened windows was nearly impossible. We used Reflectix which we bought at a hardware store in Old Valdez.
DON’T plan every minute and or fill your itinerary too tightly. We had no itinerary, only the days we had camping reservations for Denali National Park and Reserve. Otherwise we were free of schedules. That’s the lure of Roadtreking. You can go anywhere you want, whenever you want. One caveat: when you check in at Denali, book your bus tour into the park immediately.
DO Get the book, Milepost 2015. This guide to the north is essential information on everything from the animals you’ll see to the roads you travel to gas, food and souvenirs you buy. With so much to see, you’ll need to study this book months in advance of your trip. It hits all the specifics of places to visit so I won’t do that again. If you are serious about Alaska, you’ll get a Milepost.
DON’T forget your Peace of Mind. I brought mine from home in the form of tools and emergency supplies. I’m pretty self-reliant and can fix most things. So my tools for home and auto repair give us some small sense of security. My wife has faith in my ability so she feels better as well. But engine or appliance failure is not the least of my fears. I have “bearanoia,” and we were in bear country. Bear Spray and Bear Bells are the vaccine for “bearanoia.” The main ingredient in Bear Spray is capsicum, which just happens to be the main ingredient in pepper spray to use against muggers. Be sure when you cross the border that you claim your “Bear Spray” and you call it just that. Pepper spray is for use against humans and is an illegal offensive weapon and in some places it will be confiscated. Yet “Bear Spray” is passable.
It’s like Insurance; if you have it you probably won’t need it. We had it all and we didn’t need any of it. Although we did talk VERY loudly on the trails and jingled our little bells right off.
DO seek out museums, demonstrations, events and local entertainment. Our quests included local quilt shops and Geocaches. There are native owned chach-kee shacks everywhere. Some actually sell native art, but all were run by truly beautiful people.
DON’T be concerned about places to park your RT. Every tourist area is well equipped for Class A parking, so your Roadtrek Class B will have no problem. Bonus: In Alaska any spot in the road wide enough to pull over safely can be a boon docking paradise. We parked a dozen nights just off the road next to a rushing river or in the shade of a mountain or piney forest. Nothing beats being awakened by eagles screaming overhead.
DO take a wildlife cruise of Prince William Sound. Ours left from Valdez and went to Columbia Glacier. Whales smack their tails, otters tease, puffins squabble, bears fish, seals lounge and eagles soar, solely, it seems, for your pleasure.
DON’T miss a culinary treat from Alaska’s Thai Food Wagons found everywhere. And don’t be afraid to try reindeer sausage, it’s delicious and also found at nearly every eating establishment. Sorry, Rudolph.
DO expect higher fuel prices. Alaska has all that crude oil, but no refineries. The crude is sent “below” to be refined and trucked or freighted back as gasoline and diesel fuel. There is no premium fuel in Alaska. If your vehicle takes premium, you need to buy lots of Octane Booster to add to the regular grade gas they sell there.
DON’T be surprised by unattended fuel stations. Several places have you fill on one side of the road and zoom across to the other side to pay. There are also completely unattended fuel stations. These have satellite dishes attached to two pumps, two tanks, a “brain box,” but no price tag…anywhere. You put in your card into the “brain,” select how much gas and pull out the card. You get a slip with a code number on it. Re-insert your card and enter the number and you pump your gas. This station was in a desolate location so the price was a tad higher, $7.62 per US gallon. I found this out when I got my bill later. But I was out of gas right then. I passed up a station because its price seemed high, and I was happy to pay nearly anything.
DON’T expect cell phone coverage outside the main cities. Same goes for smart phone data. We planned to use our cell phone as a GPS and were unpleasantly surprised at the broad lack of service available. WiFi is usually available in restaurants, visitor centers, and travel centers. You can distinguish travel centers by the pavement on their lots, the gas stations use gravel.
DO carry paper maps. See the Milepost 2015 book above but also stop everywhere and pick up local maps. This usually goes without saying but with so much space around, you sometimes feel starved of information.
DON’T just pass someone parked by the side of the road. It is “the code” and just plain common courtesy to stop and offer assistance. We were offered assistance three times, each while we had pulled of the road for lunch.
DO learn how to recalibrate the compass in your Roadtrek or carry a dedicated GPS. Magnetic compasses may not be accurate. At the higher latitudes, satellites can triangulate and locate you, but the North vs. True North conflict is in effect. Your GPS will always give you the correct direction if you follow its built-in compass needle. If you do need a magnetic compass it will be off by as much as 20 degrees. This amount is called declination and it is different all over the globe so you need to know yours for your current location.
DON’T be confused by Alaska’s State Highway System. They have five, count ‘em:
Alaska Hwy 1, Alaska Hwy 2, Alaska Hwy 3, Alaska Hwy 4, and Alaska Hwy 5.
Before you go…
DON’T watch the TV show, “Alaska State Troopers.” While it might be good television to some, like all Cop Shows, it depicts only the seamiest side of the people of Alaska. During the three and half weeks we toured there, we saw NONE of the criminal, boorish, and bad behavior on that show and we don’t drive around the Northern Hemisphere with our heads in the sand. We were curious, but cautious. Maybe, just maybe, if I had watched the show before we went, I might have had second thoughts.
PLEASE, DO take an Alaskan sojourn. See everything. Do all you can afford. And Enjoy. Enjoy. Enjoy.
Use comments below for any questions or observations you’d like to share.