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 > North Star Trek - Captain’s Log – A Winter Exodus

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Dave Pete

Wyoming

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Posted: 11/05/13 07:14am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

One year ago - three weeks from tomorrow, we left Alaska and wrote the following posts in email messages to friends and family. We'd like to share the story and experience with you all here and now in the Alaska/Canada Forum. Today we offer the Introduction and first chapter called Final Preparations. Tomorrow we'll continue with travel day one, then each day a new chapter until we wrap up 10 days of travel and an "Afterward" covering final thoughts and logistics of the trip. We hope you enjoy our North Star Trek - Captain's Log - A Winter Exodus.

INTRODUCTION
In early November 2009, Dave and Ruth left their home in Wyoming (WY) for a new life, albeit temporary, in Fairbanks, Alaska (AK). Dave was to finish his career with this job move, perhaps spending as little as one year, maybe as long as three or more; and with such a move there’s always the chance of permanency.

Three years later, his career completed, they decide to move back home. They’ll be back amongst family, including their two adult age children and four grandchildren. And they’ll finally get to enjoy the fruits of their labors by really living in their Wyoming home, a place they’ve been building and remodeling for the past two decades and had only recently brought to an almost finished state before this move, and a previous one-year move to the Washington DC area in 2007 and 2008.

What follows is a humorous accounting of their winter exodus out of Alaska, three years and three weeks after the original trip there. The story was originally told in a series of email messages to their friends and family, in what Dave had styled as “Daily Captain’s Logs”.

Leaving Fairbanks, AK on November 27, 2012, they pick up the Alaska Highway – also called the ALCAN – in Big Delta. From there they drive the ALCAN’s 1373 miles along Alaska’s eastern interior, through Canada’s Yukon Territory (YT) and into British Columbia (BC), to Dawson Creek. From there they take what is know as the East Access Route through Canada’s Alberta (AB) province, reentering the United States in Montana (MT) and finally into Wyoming (WY).

In this work, the email messages have been edited and rewritten in a book format for the general reader. The entire trip is over 2800 miles and takes them 10 days. They are both drivers of two vehicles, including a trailer holding a third vehicle – their beloved 1954 Willys Jeep CJ3B - and their household goods. The trip includes plans to camp along the way, in an effort to control lodging and dining expenses, and to provide adventure.

Dave is driving a 2006 Dodge Ram 2500 four-wheel drive pickup with a 5.9 liter Cummins Turbo-Diesel engine and the 48RE automatic transmission, outfitted with a 2003 Starcraft Lonestar pop-up slide-in truck camper, and pulling an 2009 Interstate 20’ tandem axle enclosed car-hauler/cargo trailer. Altogether the outfit weighs 20,000 lbs. Yes, Dave is pretty amazing!

Ruth is driving her smiley-face-yellow 2000 Jeep Cherokee with the venerable 4.0 liter inline six-cylinder engine and automatic transmission with the Selec-Trac transfer case, which offers both full or part-time four-wheel drive as road conditions dictate. It is packed full. Ruth is alacritous!

Enjoy the story as you travel along with Dave and Ruth in this North Star Trek, a winter exodus.

CAPTAIN’S LOG - FINAL PREPARATIONS

North Star Date: 11/26/2012
Location or Route: Fairbanks, AK
Travel Miles: 2823 - Proposed Trip Total
Weather Conditions: Cold. Tonight’s overnight temperatures are forecast to be around -25F/-32C. Skies are clear and there is no expected wind or precipitation.
Road Conditions: Mostly bare and dry for the initial and latter sections; snow and ice packed throughout the majority of mid-route.

9:11 PM (-20F/-29C)

Our preparations are nearly complete. We disassembled the rocker-recliners last night and loaded them into Ruth’s car. Since then we have been sitting on camp chairs. The minimally remaining household goods are still to be loaded out. We have the trailer out of the storage lot and parked outside here at the apartment complex. Ruth has the food and water stores in various staged locations throughout the apartment. In the morning I’ll install the portable CB radios and rooftop antennas, load out the camera bags and mobile devices and the electronic equipment will be ready to go. The trailer is close to maxed out in both space and gross weight. Here’s hoping all 325 of the truck’s horses stay healthy and well fed or we may well end up having to discard some of our possessions along the trail.

A cold air mass in the form of a surface high pressure system is sinking south from northern Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories. Forecast weather charts indicate it will move over our route and remain in place, perhaps for the next several days, pushing up against the coastal mountain ranges south of the Alaska Highway. Therefore, our route should remain clear and cold. That’s at least favorable for driving and scenery – we should have some magnificent photo opportunities – but with nighttime lows possibly into the -25 to -35 degree range, a whole new definition begins to emerge for the phrase “winter camping”!

Some nervousness has started to set in. Yes, we have two cars, so if there is trouble with one, having a spare vehicle is much better than just having a spare tire. But a major vehicular problem in the winter wilderness of Alaska or Yukon Territory presents its own unique concerns and challenges. Extreme cold is very hard on machinery and because while living in Alaska we haven’t had to depend on Ruth’s car as a daily driver, when it got to -15 or below we would just leave it parked. So it’s never been outfitted with: block heater, battery heater, engine and transmission oil pan heaters. Even so, it’s a good, dependable car and the truck is also in good condition and does have the above mention heaters. At those times when electrical plug-in is unavailable we can use the remote-start every few hours if necessary to keep the truck’s life-giving fluids from getting too cold.

Cold temperature stress on the trailer’s running gear is one of our greater concerns. We adjusted the trailer brakes and greased the wheel bearings in late Fall (August), and we have in our supplies an extra set of wheel bearings, races and seal, just in case one wheel suffers a failure.

We have a full set of tire chains for the truck, but none for the trailer – which theoretically might be helpful on a steep downhill run to prevent jack-knifing. And, we don’t need chains for Ruth’s mountain-goat-of-a-Jeep. Actually, we really don’t expect to need chains at all, what with the expected storm-free weather under this frigid arctic air-mass, a condition which typically only provides additional frozen precipitation accumulation on road surfaces in the form of a thin layer of ice crystals, and because I don’t usually chain-up until after I need them, and by then it’s too late and unnecessary.

Tonight we’ll get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow morning we’ll turn to a southeasterly heading from our “furthest north” abode. The condition called retirement, and the life changes associated with it - and of going home - have not yet taken up much of our mental excesses. Ahead of us we have miles and miles and hours and hours of solo-driving for those thoughts to begin to gel and to take on more definitive shape.

* This post was edited 11/12/13 09:43pm by Dave Pete *

Dave Pete

Wyoming

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Posted: 11/06/13 05:37am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

CAPTAIN’S LOG - DAY 1

North Star Date: 11/27/2012
Location or Route: Fairbanks, AK to Talbot Arm, Destruction Bay, Kluane Lake, YT.
Travel Miles: 427 (427 - Cumulative)
Weather Conditions: Cold and Clear. No Wind.
Road Conditions: Mostly bare and dry. Some snow and ice pack along with frost heaves for the last 100 miles or so.

3:11 AM (-19F/-28C)

Woke up at 2:30 AM; couldn’t sleep. Ruth asked if I wanted to go to work. “I’d rather do that than try and get that trailer down the road” I replied. In the words of the Three Amigos bartender, “This town’s getting too rough for me!”

We had coffee and planned our departure. There’s still so much stuff hanging around this apartment! What to leave behind? Isn’t there any HEAVY stuff that can stay? There’s still some space in Ruth’s car, and behind the front seat in the truck. Man that trailer felt heavy last night as we moved it from the storage lot to the fueling station and here to the apartment.

Most of the items to load out go in the camper: food, water, travel bags, emergency packs, the camp chairs and the camper foam mattress we’ve been sleeping on since we sold the real bed. I guess we better pop the camper up; really need to get the mattress and sleeping bags positioned out of the way and have to raise the roof to do that. But it’s -19F(-28C).

Still have to air-up the tires and the air-springs on the truck’s rear axle. The planned air-station last night was froze up! I can pull out my portable compressor, but it takes a spell longer. Glad we got those heavier gloves.

Ruth keeps looking at me and smiling as she says, “You’re retired”. Alright, back to task.

7:11 AM (-21F/-29C)

This is bad – airing the tires is taking forever! Not sure this is going to work. Every place we’ve checked in town has their air service froze up, or if inside, there’s no room to pull this big rig straight through. We’ll hope for success and stay on it.

The truck wouldn’t start this morning – batteries too cold. Overnight I couldn’t plug it into our head-bolt (that’s Alaskan for a personal vehicle electrical outlet that you pay for in blood or gold-dust) because I didn’t want to unhitch the trailer. Ruth’s car started fine after turning on the headlights for 30 seconds to generate the heating effects of the chemical reaction – and with no plug-in, we’re just saying (Go Jeep)! We jumped the truck.

Furnace not working in the camper. Still so much to move out of the apartment; better postpone the time of the apartment check-out once again.

1:11 PM (-17F/-27C)

Got the camper furnace working around 8 a.m.; I’m still not sure what it was, but maybe a combo between cold temperatures and some ageing electrical connections. When we get back to our Wyoming home I’ll have to do full maintenance on all the systems. Got all 13 tires aired up! Once the compressor understood just what it was I wanted, and that I wasn’t going to slack off on my expectations, it found some resolve and took care of business.

We rolled the now full, left front truck tire over the clock radio; ain’t gonna need that anymore. This is the radio a friend gave us for Christmas almost 30 years ago! Guess we got our use out of that.

We got everything packed out except the excesses: plastic hangers, laundry baskets, two plastic folding tables, waste paper baskets and other incidentals that we couldn’t find any extra space for. These we gave to the Fort Wainwright Army lad living next door and he was happy to take them.

We just dropped off the TV cable-box and modem at the GCI Store. The truck and trailer feels much better than it did last night now that there is air in the tires and air-springs, even in spite of the extra weight loaded on board this morning, and I don’t mean us.

7:45 PM (-33F/-36C)

We just crossed the Alaska/Canada border and everything went smoothly. It’s really cold out, but inside the vehicles are nice and toasty. No reason to stop, we are wide awake and there’s a full moon bathing the mountains and surrounding landscapes in the muted silvers and cobalt blues of the wintertime Arctic northlands. We could stop and get out the SLR camera for some proper photography, but we have the good-sense to keep moving. Wish the point and shoot camera worked better in such low light conditions, and while driving. I can only do so much when I shoot from the hip. The scenery was stunning – described by Ruth as a frozen York Peppermint Pattie – “get the sensation”. We kept tabs over the CBs.

The roads were clear for the most part. We decided against spending the night in Tok or Border City, as overnight temperatures were expected to be -33F/-36C. Young’s Motel in Tok looked accommodating – so we kept going. Two hours later the Border City Lodge looked tolerable – so we kept going. We should be able to reach the Talbot Arm on Destruction Bay of Kluane Lake before midnight local. It’s only -13F/-25C at Kluane, and they’re at a bit higher elevation so it’s likely we’ll be able to avoid the extremely low temperatures that are down here in the lower river valleys. Let’s hope that furnace fires up.

11:45 PM (-18F/-28C)

Just rolled into Talbot Arm Truck and RV Stop after over three hours of frost heaves, pavement sinks and graveled hard-pack – that’s Alaskan for gravel mixed in with frozen, oh so frozen, packed snow and ice. We popped up the camper. Had a little trouble getting the furnace to start, but soon had it working. It doesn’t seem to want to turn off - go figure. Let’s hope it just keeps on going and going and going like a little Energizer Bunny.

Everything in this camper is frozen and all surfaces are absorbing any and all heat the little furnace can supply. It feels like we crawled into a freezer and sat down on frozen slabs of meat. The bags of chips in the pantry are frozen – no really – the bags are like hard clumps. Now you see why we didn’t want to stay in Tok or Border City where it was -33F/-36C! No, I don’t have an explanation for why we didn’t just get a room! The mountain was there; that’s a good enough reason to climb it.

joe b.

Florida

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Posted: 11/06/13 04:09pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Got any photos to go along with the narrative?


joe b.
Stuart Florida
Formerly of Colorado and Alaska
2016 Fleetwood Flair 31 B Class A w/bunks
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Alaska-Colorado and other Trips posted
"Without challenge, adventure is impossible".

Dave Pete

Wyoming

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Posted: 11/06/13 06:28pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Yes we have pictures. Here's a link to Day 1

https://picasaweb.google.com/104109436858618130676/Day1WinterExodus?authkey=Gv1sRgCOyBw4yc_p6oLQ

I'll include subsequent day links at the end of each narrative.

Dave Pete

Wyoming

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Posted: 11/06/13 06:41pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Day 1 Pics

* This post was edited 02/06/15 02:28pm by Dave Pete *

Dave Pete

Wyoming

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Posted: 11/07/13 05:26am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

CAPTAIN’S LOG - DAY 2

North Star Date: 11/28/2012
Location or Route: Destruction Bay, YT to Whitehorse, YT.
Total Miles: 162 (589 Cumulative)
Weather Conditions: Cold and Clear. No Wind.
Road Conditions: Mostly well-graveled snow and ice pack.

9:11 AM (-27F/-33C)

Just after 5:00 AM I got up to pee. The furnace was blowing lukewarm air; is that a correct term? We had only been in bed for about four hours and it was fitful sleep at best. The block of ice under the sleeping bags, also known as a foam mattress, had throughout the night continuously sucked precious heat from our bodies.

The driver of the semi-truck parked next to us had left his probably-warm motel room about an hour earlier to start his truck not less than 12 feet from our heads and had left it running for about twenty minutes before he went back to his probably-warm room. The motel office was closed when we had arrived last night – not that we would have wussed out and taken a room anyway – especially since it wasn’t minus 33 degrees, and we had a furnace ‘mind you! But now, the furnace was blowing lukewarm and turning colder. I figured the propane tank was empty so I dressed and stepped outside to swap tanks.

Before going to bed, Ruth had used her hair dryer to heat the inside surfaces of the sleeping bags, and it had worked great. You have to picture this thing. It’s a “Tim-the-Tool-Man-Taylor” model with three heat settings: WARM, HOT and BLAST FURNACE. Using the highest heat setting and the higher of the two fan settings: NORMAL and JET-ENGINE, we warmed up those sleeping bags right fine.

Unfortunately, the mattress beneath the sleeping bags didn’t get the memo. During the night, I used the hair dryer several times to try and warm certain areas of the bed, as I was on the outside perimeter - and furthest from the furnace. Also, with a greater amount of body weight, I had more surface area compressing the sleeping bag fabric, putting myself into closer contact with the ice block!

Upon swapping propane tanks, the furnace wouldn’t re-ignite. In MacGyver-like troubleshooting fashion I tried to light the stovetop with a match - and a paper clip - because butane barbeque lighters don’t work at these temperatures, and I guess that’s why we only have three on hand. While trying to light the stovetop, in an attempt to expel the air-bubble from the propane line caused by a tank changeover, the match wouldn’t even flicker!

After trying about 20 matches that wouldn’t flicker, and with mumblings of “come on baby light my fire” coming from Ruth over in the corner in her cold-induced delirium, I stuffed the hair dryer into the outside propane tank compartment and attempted to warm the liquid propane enough to improve gas flow. Setting the controls to the “BLAST FURNACE – JET ENGINE”, I closed the compartment door. It didn’t take too long before we concluded the propane line itself was probably frozen too and we knew our night was over.

Using the hair dryer, we began the initially effective, but eventually fruitless, task of satisfactorily heating the plastic windows in the soft-sides of the camper enough to drop the top without cracking the plastic. I heated the windows and swabbed the now liquid ice with a towel while Ruth made coffee. But with both appliances running, the amperage load was too great and we tripped the breaker on the truck stop outlet.

I got the boots, coat, hat and gloves back on and stepped outside to swap electrical outlets; we tripped another breaker. Now, on the last available outlet, we allowed the coffee maker to finish its important task while we placed the heater (hair dryer) into temporary shut down mode. On one of my outside forays I walked over to the now open convenience store and restaurant to let them know about the breakers and to see if they knew what the temperature was. MINUS 33! – albeit in Centigrade, which is -27F. The woman told me it was -33, so I assumed it was -33C, because we are now in Canada and they speak Canadian here, and that must be what the C stands for.

Like a bad 1960’s sci-fi movie, or Steven King’s “The Landoliers”, the minus 33 degree monster had caught up with us while we slept! It had consumed us in the night, just as we had let down our guard. The Amoeba-like monster had engulfed us and caught us with our top up! Yes – when we dropped the top we heard cracking. I guess we’re just doing our parts to create business at our local canvas shop in Wyoming.

The truck had been plugged in and I had started the vehicles earlier. Now they had been running for quite some time and after packing things up and getting the camper ready to roll we wandered over to the restaurant for breakfast; we had officially wussed out. Sausage and eggs for me and a spinach omelet for Ruth, we took a moment in the warmth of the restaurant to compile pictures and logs, upload photos and send email, brush teeth; then we hit the open road.

8:10 PM (-27F/-33C)

We just returned from the Gold Pan Saloon and Restaurant – at our hotel – where we had a fine meal of a steak sandwich for me and a spinach and Chicken Alfredo pizza for Ruth. Did I mention Ruth likes spinach? Upon entering, we had spied the only available seating, at a table near the opening of the mine shaft-like entrance, and excitedly took a seat, even though there were ample residuals left on the table by the previous occupants - apparently overlooked by the service staff. We soon discovered the why-fores of the table’s vacancy however; whenever somebody came or went an arctic blast would hit us full brunt, and it was a busy night – “Wednesday Night Hot Wings” and apparently the locals know about it.

So now it’s time to get some sleep. We chose the Gold Rush Inn, an historic downtown Whitehorse hotel – the same place we stayed on our way up here three years ago – for a chance to regroup and examine our options now that the minus 33 degree monster had won his battle over we mere mortals. This will be our first night in a real bed in almost a month since we sold our bed back in Fairbanks.

The drive from Talbot Arm to Whitehorse was uneventful and held beautiful clear skies and amazing scenery in bright sunshine. Ruth began to get the impression from all the sunlight that the outside temperatures had warmed, but was rudely reminded at every outhouse stop that we were still in the arctic north.

Roads were mostly clear with patchy hardpack and we were able to keep highway speeds at about 90 – that’s kilometers – which is Canadian for miles and equates to about 55 mph. Interestingly, we discovered ice-road truckers are not bound by any such speed limit laws.

Whitehorse is named after an adventuresome horse some 250,000 years ago that migrated here from southern regions. His coat became frosted over and ever since, all his offspring have had genetic permafrost coats, giving off a peculiar white cast in the dim arctic light.

We’d parked in the “extended-length vehicle” section of the hotel parking lot – which is about three miles away – quickly grabbed our essentials and made a mad dash for the lobby. After we paid for our room the desk clerk told us we couldn’t shower for a little while because maintenance personnel were doing their best to repair a main water line leak. Huh! You couldn’t tell us that before we paid?

We got into our room and began unloading the frigid contents of our bags, watching in a moment of panic as the room air temperature dropped a full 10 degrees before settling out. Our shampoo and conditioner were frozen – guess they get that a lot up here because they had shampoo and conditioner dispensers hanging on the wall of the shower. Our hand lotion – an essential item in anybody’s arctic survival gear – was frozen, but the hotel again came to the rescue. They had these cute little lotion samples in teensy-weensy bottles. You’ve seen these before, they are the same as the ones you put in your luggage whenever you check out of a room and throw away when you get home. Our toothpaste wasn’t frozen as we have taken to carrying it on our bodies in an inside pocket alongside our water bottles.

Eventually the hotel water was restored; we showered and made our way downstairs to the mineshaft for supper.

Day 2 Pics

* This post was last edited 02/06/15 02:42pm by Dave Pete *   View edit history

joe b.

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Posted: 11/07/13 07:50am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I keep getting an error message trying to pull up the photos on google+. Both days.

Dave Pete

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Posted: 11/07/13 12:24pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I'm sorry you're having trouble Joe. I've tried a few checks, including both my other computers and other family members who are not part of my log on or Google+ and they are having no problems accessing the pictures. I had an uncle who once had similar problems viewing my pictures, even though he also posts pictures on Picassa. We could only finally determine he had a computer setting preventing the link access. I suspect your computer has a similar setting.

racer4

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Posted: 11/07/13 12:29pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

The Photos work for me. Maybe because I am logged into google (gmail)?


Chris and Pat
2016 Ram 3500 Limited, Cummins, Aisin, Dually, 4.10 axles, Auto Flex Air Ride Suspension, Pace Edwards JackRabbit, Transfer Flow aux fuel tank
2017 Cedar Creek 36CKTS, Disk Brakes, 17.5"


joe b.

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Posted: 11/07/13 12:41pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks, will try a different computer.
On edit: different computer worked. Didn't like my iPad I guess. The photos make me
Cold just looking at them and remembering the years we lived in Nenana and other
Communities in the Alaska Interior. Knowing me, I would have waited till next spring
To pack up to move. LOL

* This post was edited 11/07/13 07:23pm by joe b. *

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