* RV Travelogue 2013 *

1-15 JAN, WETUMPKA AL -- We started out the new year wrapping up holiday visits with our kids and grandkids in Alabama. This time we stayed in the RV park at historic Ft Toulouse/Ft Jackson National Historical Site just south of Wetumpka. Ft Toulouse is a very peaceful location about 2 miles from the local Post Office, Walmart, and other shopping. We frequently saw deer in and around the park, and armadillo or wild turkeys are occasionally spotted also. Utilities in the park are good other than the water being a bit rust colored even after our sediment filter did its thing. The drinking water filter did clear it up, and we noted no "off" taste. There are no sewer connections at the sites, but there is a dump at the entrance/exit.

16 JAN, CLINTON MS -- It was a cool morning with light mist as we departed Ft Toulouse. Based on readings from our TireTracker TPMS I decided to top off two tires that were reading 5-10 lb lower than their optimal pressure. In the process, I found a leaking valve core on an inside dual. After some effort I found the valve core had been turned too far out in an effort to make it work with the new 4" extension. When the core was properly tightened, it no longer leaked ...but it also no longer worked with the extension! I managed to get the old 3" extension back in place, added the original "alligator cap", and got the tire inflated to the proper pressure. On the other inside dual, there was no problem topping off the tire pressure. Keeping the tires at the correct pressure can be done with the on board compressor, but is much easier since I bought a small portable 150psi compressor. With the tires up to snuff, we drove to the sewer dump at the park exit where we dumped the tanks and attached the car to the tow bar. Out on the highway we noticed acceleration to highway speed was taking a bit longer than normal. Then we noticed we were having trouble maintaining cruising speed on even the very slightest inclines. By the time we reached I-20 in Eastern AL we had concluded we needed to change the fuel filter ...knowing that diesel engines SlidesSnoware sensitive to fuel starvation, and that diesel filters do clog easily. We always carry an extra fuel filter, and several years ago paid over $500 to have the single fuel filter on our Cummins engine moved from the original very difficult to access location, to a location very easy to reach from the engine access door. We pulled over at a "truck stop/cafe", and found that the filter was too tight to remove by hand and that we had failed to included the filter wrench in the tool kit this trip! And the so-called "truck stop/cafe" had nothing more than fuel and a few meager food items. So we drove about 20 miles West to Meridian MS where we found the local Walmart where we bought a filter wrench and some groceries. The filter was fairly easy to change, and after getting the engine primed and running again we were back on the road full power restored. Due to the problems and delays, we decided we would be unable to reach our intended destination for the night in Louisiana, and would stop instead in Clinton MS just West of Jackson, hoping that would get us West of the cold front that had been creeping through the area for several days, bringing freezing rain and snow to many areas. Just about dark around 5pm, we arrived at Springridge RV Park in Clinton MS. We have stayed here before. The sites are considerably unlevel end to end, causing some issues with safely leveling longer motorhomes, but is workable for a short stay. With Good Sam discount, our cost for the night was $27. The temps dropped below freezing overnight, and snow was in the forecast, so I closed the large lounge slide before going to bed. That proved to be a smart move as we woke the next morning to apx 4" of snow. It was a very wet snow, and after daylight began to melt off the streets rapidly. But while watching our neighbor prepare to depart, saw him having problems getting his slides retracted ...the snow on the tops packed tightly as he retracted the slides and jammed the tops outward at an angle. He had to extend them, and clear the snow off ...which he did by getting a broom and climbing the rear ladder to the slippery roof ...yikes!! But it had to be done if he didn't want to want a couple of hours for the snow to melt on its own. I was hoping the cloth topper awning on our bedroom slide would help me "dump" the accumulated snow over the side as I brought the slide in, but I found the snow was too wet and heavy for that to allow the cloth to roll up properly, so I got out my step ladder and extendable squeegee and pushed the snow off the topper before we could get underway. Just a few miles out of town we found dry highways Westward. After a stop at Flying J in Greenwood MS for a 79 gallon fuel-up and sandwiches at Denny's, we arrived at our homebase in Whitehouse about 2:15pm.

21-25 FEB, YARD GUESTS -- YardGuestsGood friends from Florida were the first "Yard Guests" at our home base. This was absolutely as we have parked in their yard about once a year for the past seven years ...they recently bought a fifth-wheel RV and were finally able to return the favor! We have 50a & 20a outlets on the side of the shop by the RV cover, and 50a & 20a outlets on the rear of the house by the driveway. After checking out the options our guests elected to park immediately in front of the RV cover. Getting in place was relatively easy, but getting out required some backing exercise ...too bad we don't have a circle drive!! This parking position allowed vehicle access to the driveway pad and shop behind the RV, and with my extra water hose we were able to reach the water hookup on the back of the house. Our motorhome does not need more than 20a electric when not in use, so with an 50/30a adapter they plugged into the 50a outlet on the shop for their 30a RV. On Saturday, on Friday the guys did our annual golf outing, and the ladies went to the Brookshire's World of Wildlife Museum and Country Store in nearby Tyler. After sore muscles & feet from golf, we put in a day's work repairing the third bay/lean-to on the South end of the shop. I had wondered if I wanted to repair it or just wait for it to fall down, but with a bit of encouragement and assistance, the repair project began with replacing several roof joists and better securing the metal roof. More repairs will follow on my own. We had a great visit and look forward to our next visit ...our yard, their yard, or on the road!!

5-8 MAR, BOERNE TX -- On a beautiful Tuesday, we headed SW toward Boerne TX and the SMART SMW Regional Muster. It was a great day to be traveling WSW, and we got great fuel mileage due to the strong tailwinds ...apx 8.3mpg! On arrival in Boerne we filled at a Valero with 51 gallon of diesel at $3.89 a gallon. We enjoyed the Regional Muster activities, ate too much, and spent too much while wandering through the many antique & curio shops in Boerne. Last summer we replaced the burned out bulb in our outside grab handle with an LED from Flying J. OdyCrash We never were happy with the dim light it put out ...it was designed as a dash light and due to the way the socket in mounted in the handle frame, the bulb was pointed wrong for the plexi handle to catch much light. While checking out the tiny supply store in the RV park office we found a 914 bulb in the led "corn cob" style that looked like it would be much more effective. We bought the only one they had for $9 and some change, and are VERY impressed with the output. About two weeks before this trip we also replaced all the "floor lights" inside with LEDs. They are festoon style bulbs, but smaller than any we had been able to find. From a tip on an RV forum, we found the F30-WHP-12v Fuse LED Bulb - SMC LED Festoon for $2 ea from SuperBrightLEDs. We ordered 4. They are polarity sensitive, so if they don't work when installed, they need to be reversed in the socket. They have one tiny led disc in each bulb, and are fantastic. Since we bought the motion activated porch light last year, we like to leave it on when parked and when the RV is "stored" in our back yard, allowing the light to come on when we (or anyone else) might approach it at night. When the porch light switch is on, both the grab handle and one festoon "floor light" is on just inside the entry door. Now they are all LED bulbs, so they burn very little electricity and should also last much longer. LED bulbs are a great upgrade for RVs as they burn as little as 1/10th as much as the comparable incandescent bulb, saving precious battery power. On our last day in Boerne, while driving on rain slick roads, we encountered a Chevy Silverado pickup which wanted to be in the same space we were headed for ...the result was not good for our Honda Odyssey. The Odyssey was 13 years old. We bought it in 2004 with 95k miles on it. It now has just under 195k miles on the odometer, PLUS apx 55k miles being towed. The side impact spun us around in circles at least 2 1/2 times, and destroyed the front end of the car. In addition to the visible damage, it also appears the front end was pushed a bit to the left of where it belongs. The tow bar base plate probably protected it from more damage as it does not give at all. After removing several dangling parts and applying several bungee cords to the rubber body panels hanging low, we drove it back to the RV park, and towed it 340 miles back home the following day. Due to the age and mileage, our insurance considered it "totaled," so I removed the base plate, auxiliary braking system, and trailer hitch before turning it in for salvage. If we can find a used Odyssey in the right year range, some or all of that equipment may be re-usable. On our return trip we had cross winds and didn't get quite as good mileage as we did going south. We filled up at a Valero in Jacksonville TX with 56 gallon of diesel at $4.09 a gallon. The SMART Muster was held at Alamo Fiesta RV Park just off I-10 in Boerne. It was a decent park with a great rally building, but the sites were too short for 40' RVs with towed vehicles, and the free WIFI was worthless regardless of where we tried to use it. Our cost at Alamo Fiesta RV Park was $26/night.

14-18 MAR, YARD GUESTS #2 -- YardGuestsJust a month later and we have another "yard guest," this time friends from SMART. We have signed on to be the Assistant Wagon Master/Tail Gunner for the SMART Alaska Caravan this summer, and the Wagon Master couple stopped by to coordinate plans and to attempt to get us "spun up" on caravan activities. Caravans are one of the benefits of SMART membership. There are many RV and commercial groups that run RV caravans, but SMART caravans are not as costly as the others, and in the case of the Alaska caravan it is longer than the higher priced caravans! Some members originally join SMART because of the many caravan opportunities, and then stay on for the other activities they also enjoy. This time the guests were in a 40' motorhome, their full-time home. They elected to park on the slab in front of the shop, and fit nicely in that location. After a few days of visiting and working on caravan plans, they pulled out and headed on Eastward.

13-15 APR, SETTING UP A NEW "TOAD" -- NewToadAfter the 2000 Odyssey was totaled last month, we bought a 2005 Odyssey for a replacement toad. I decided to do most of the installation of tow equipment myself, partly because I have the time, and partly because I am simply curious and want to know what is under the pretty cover. I ordered a new Blue Ox baseplate, additional bulb wiring kit, and Roadmaster Brakemaster 2nd vehicle kit & seat bracket from internet vendors. Installing the base plate, tow wiring and brake kit requires removal of the front bumper cover, bumper, and headlights. The bumper (square piece of sheet metal) is not re-installed, being replaced by the much stronger steel baseplate. It was interesting to compare the baseplate installed in 2004 NewToad on our 2000 Odyssey, with this one. The 2004 version was attached by 3 bolts on each side, for a total of 6. We noted after the bumper cover was ripped off in the accident that one bolt on each side was broken off/missing. The 2013 version has a total of 6 bolts on each side PLUS a safety cable wrapped around the frame on each side! The installation wasn't particularly difficult, but did require drilling of 4 holes on each side. The most difficult part of it all was requiring an old guy to do all that work bending over or on my knees!! I was surprised at all the sore muscles I developed during the process. While poking around under the back bumper cover to install the tow light kit removed from the totaled car, I found that trailer lights had previously been installed and had been clipped off. After checking out what was there and comparing it to what I had removed from the totaled car, I removed most of what was there, replacing it with my salvaged parts, and had trailer lights working in about 10 minutes ...no trailer hitch as yet, but that is planned for later. We have found it very handy to have a trailer hitch on the Odyssey, and with rated towing capacity of 3,500 lb it does tow a trailer very well. I also salvaged the 6-prong electrical connector from the totaled car, and used in to install the tow lights on this one, using a new "additional bulb" kit that is very simple to install on a car that has sufficient room to add a bulb in the taillight or brake light housing. Click HERE to see more detail of the baseplate installation process on our Tow Setup details page.

2-3 MAY, BULLARD TX -- Our first real "RV trip" with the new toad ...but the setup had already been tested with a 22 mile round trip tow to the nearest Allison transmission service place and back. We had a leaking transmission seal on the NewToadmotor home, and had to leave it for a week while they ordered parts. It should have been just a couple of days, but first they "forgot" the parts had not come in, and then they got one wrong part, but after a couple of calls and showing up telling them I was there to pick it up, they managed to get the job done 8 days after we left it. Anyway, we got the coach back on Tuesday, got two new tires on the way home, and then made a short drive on Thursday to Bushman's Camp just south of Bullard TX ...12 miles from home ...for a rally with the Ramblin Rose WIT folks. Bushman's Camp is part of the Kiepersol (KE) Winery properties, and is the nicest RV park we have seen in East Texas. They have very nice facilities, gated security, and reliable free WIFI! In spite of a sudden cold snap (90's one day and 40's with high winds the next), we had a great time. We had thought we might want to take a winery tour, but found the only scheduled tours were on Saturday at $5 each, and available other days only by special arrangement and at $10 each with minimum of 4 persons. The wine tasting room charged $1 per 1 oz taste also, so we didn't bother to check it OR the gift shop out at all. They also have a B&B and restaurant on the grounds, but with a strict fairly formal dress code in force our group decided to go to pass in favor of a nearby Tex-Mex restaurant. We woke early on Saturday, and left before 8am so we could get back to our nearby home in time to make the monthly community breakfast at our local church. Our cost for the two nights at Bushman's Camp was $26 per night ...not bad for the great facilities!!

17-20 MAY, WOODWARD OK -- Setting off on our summer adventure, we left home in East TX about 8:30am. After apx 450 miles, with stops for lunch, fuel and LP, and a couple of doggie walks, we arrived at Boiling Springs State Park between Woodward and DogPenMooreland at almost 6pm. We saw a new RV park on the South side of Woodward on our way through town and stopped to see if they had any vacancies. It is a very nice RV park, nice level concrete sites with plenty of grass around, all carved out of the top of a hill just off the highway. But like other local RV parks, they were full. We found out later that they were completely booked before they got the park completely built!! There is lots of oil field and windmill activity in the area, and added to tornado recovery from the storm a year ago, all local RV parks have been filled for several years. Fortunately, the state park has a rigidly enforced stay limit so we travelers have a place to park. The local RV parks are filling the role that the vanishing mobile home parks used to fill. We got a nice site at Boiling Springs, but the pull through didn't work as a pull through due to a bushy tree very close to the road on the exit turn. While here, we had bad storms passing by on both sides the first night. The next two nights we had some wind, but areas 150 or so miles to the south had very serious tornadoes with a great deal of damage. The weather was unseasonably cool most of our visit. We enjoyed seeing family and friends. The last day we visited the local Atwoods and bought three "dog pen" kits. Linked together, they provide a great opportunity for outside exercise for Molly. She really loves her outdoor time, and especially likes to pay fetch. And after some wire cutter treatment, we can slip one shorter section under the steps and have a yard that we can open the door to release the dogs into! Click HERE for more info on our dog pen/portable "yard" setup. The four nights at Boiling Springs cost us $21/per night ...with the Senior Citizen discount that I didn't even ask for!!

21-23 MAY, ENID OK -- It was a relatively quick drive to Enid OK, apx 100 miles, and just enough Pumpjacklight rain enroute to get the motorhome kind of dingy and the car filthy. We refueled at Meno at $3.60/gallon ...the lowest price we have paid for diesel since a year ago this month. We arrived at High Point RV park after 2pm and got a pull-through site with satellite access. After hooking everything up, we got out the car wash brush, hosed off the car, wiped it with the brush, and rinsed it off. That got it looking pretty decent, and to where we could see out the windows. The motorhome needs a wash too, but we'll do that later as we have a lot of driving ahead of us for the next couple of weeks. This RV park has a working oil well in the park. It is powered by a large electric motor, so much quieter than the pump jacks we remember from our childhood. We have seen it operate in the past, and although it still appears operational it did not run during the three days we were here this time. We had a good visit with family in the area, though a shorter visit than our normal week. The weather was very pleasant ...even a bit on the cool side one morning. Our 3 nights at High Point cost us $27/night with the 10% Good Sam Club discount.

24-26 MAY, YODER KS -- We left Enid about 10:45am, and headed North on minor roads through several very small towns. It was a pretty drive, apx 145 miles, Fairfieldto our destination in Yoder just SE of Hutchinson. We were here for a 50th Anniversary celebration for the high school that I, my brother, and older sister attended. They both graduated there, but I left after my Sophomore year. Even the school colors have changed!! ...they were black & white back in the day, now mostly red & white with some black thrown in sometimes. Brother and sister and spouses were staying in a B&B a couple of hundred yards from our RV park, so visiting was easy. We explored the shops in Yoder, and several antique/junk stores in Hutchinson and a couple of other nearby towns. The hardware store in Yoder is one of the most interesting stores in the area, with items you simply won't find in other places. It stocks an excellent assortment of items of interest for the local Amish community. A couple of hundred yards on the other side of the RV park from the B&B is the Carriage House Restaurant. They provide a wide menu of wonderful dishes, and cinnamon rolls too big for most people to finish in one sitting! Yoder is a quiet little town, and very pleasant place to visit. And if you want some excellent quality old-style furniture a fair prices, there are several stores in the area providing a great selection. The Hitchin' Post RV Park has 20 sites, 10 each pull through and back-in, and is a self check-in type park ...pick your site, fill out the registration envelope, insert cash or check, and drop it Yoderin the container in the kiosk. We had plenty of room with maybe 5 other RVs in the park. We had a good time exploring the area, and had a good visit with brother and sister and friends who were also here for the 50th event ...in fact, brother and sister and another couple stayed at a B&B just a couple of hundred yards from the RV park. After the school event on Saturday, we stayed over Sunday for worship in a local church and lunch with friends who live in the area. About 8:30 Sunday morning, with the windows open due to very pleasant weather, our dogs started going crazy as the procession of Amish buggies began past the RV park enroute to Sunday Meeting. The procession went on off and on for about an hour, one or two at a time, accompanied by one young man on a bicycle. Our cost for 3 nights at Hitchin' Post was $20/night.

27 MAY, SIEBERT CO -- We hit the road about 8:15am on Memorial Day and had an adventure getting through Hutchinson. We were traveling on K-96 northward through Lyons, and rather than following what I thought might be right, we followed the only signs we saw toward Lyons. And there were NO signs for 96 all the way through town. On what appeared to be the last stretch out of town, after I decided the obsolete GPS in the motorhome was confused, I stopped and got the newer portable GPS out of the toad. On this rare occasion, it agreed with the older motorhome GPS, so I pressed ahead and indeed that narrow little street was K-96 business, which was about as narrow and rough as I remembered it to be nearly 45 years ago! As it was Memorial Day, there was little traffic. A few miles west of Nickerson we saw the interesting sight of a motorcycle parked in the on-coming traffic lane, and no one visible around! It was a pleasant drive Nortward to I-70, and then Westward, with a lunch stop at a Love's Subway near Colby KS. After skirting the south side of a fast moving rain/hail storm that gave us just enough rain to barely wash off the windshield, we arrived at Shady Grove RV Park in Siebert CO about 2:30 local time, having gained an hour when we crossed into the Mountain Time Zone. Shady Grove is about 3/4 mile off the interstate in the little town of Siebert. It covers 1/2 a city block, surrounding the owner's home. In spite of being in the owner's "yard", the RV park is well organized and easily accommodates big rigs. As we pulled in, a gentleman stepped out and guided us to a stop by the office. When he introduced himself the name sounded familiar ...turned out we were stationed together in the Air Force nearly 30 years ago in Arizona! Most of the rigs in the park ...and the park owner ...were military vets, so we felt right at home! Our cost for one night at Passport America rate was $18.

27 MAR-2 JUN CASPER WY -- Back on the road again about 8:15, our first destination was the Flying J in Limon as we were pretty low on fuel. The low fuel light was on by the time we got there, and we took on almost 83 gallon at $3.72/gallon. A few miles West of Limon, we left I-70 at Bennet to create our own bypass around Denver to avoid the toll-road bypass and city traffic. Obviously we were not the only "big rig" to do this as we saw several tractor-trailers on the same route North on CO 79 to Prospect valley, then West on CO 52 through Ft Lupton Ft Caspar(where we found another Love's Subway for lunch) to I-25 at Dacono. It was a beautiful drive North on I-25 through Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming. We arrived in Casper at 4pm, stopping at the Flying J for more fuel. This Flying J was NOT the normal layout, no RV pumps, and very tight truck pumps. AND you could not pay at the pump, AND when you go inside you have to tell them how much fuel you are going to get and then PREPAY for that amount!! Crazy place!! I took a wild guess of 40 gallon, they zapped my credit card for $130 telling me that if I pumped less the balance would not be charged, and we pumped just over 33 gallon @ $3.89/gallon. We were not quite full, but close enough that I didn't want to deal with this crazy place anymore, so after a tight u-turn to get out of the box canyon that passed for a big truck parking lot, we pressed on to a few exits up the road and found our way to Ft Caspar RV Park, located behind historic Ft Caspar. The RV park has 88 or so sites, 18 of them pull-throughs. We called ahead a few hours out, and after some searching by the staff they reserved a site for us, telling us it would likely be a back-in. When we arrived right behind two other motorhomes, we were sent to the last pull-through, AND on the right end of a row which means no rig on our "patio" side! That works great for more room and more privacy. Of course there is very little grass, and lots of dirt/gravel, but sites are level and we even had a small tree in our "yard" area. It appears most park residents are somewhat permanent, with heavily insulated "skirts" around the bottom of most trailers. The first few days in Casper were very cool, and very windy. We didn't get out much other than checking out a nearby antique shop. Finally, Saturday and Sunday were beautiful sunny days in the high 70's. I got a 9 mile trike ride in on Saturday on the "3 Crowns Trail" along the North Platte River and around the 3 Crowns Golf Course that is built on a former oil refinery site. And after Sunday morning worship at First UMC in Caspar, we visited the museum and the re-created buildings of Ft Caspar. Also on the site is the early Mormon Ferry site and the site of a slightly later very long toll bridge across the North Platte River. The Passport America rate is good for only two nights here, so for our six night stay the cost is the same as the weekly rate (7 nights for the price of 6) would be. Our cost per night for six nights (after surcharges and taxes) was $40.50 ...pretty steep for most places, but rather normal for this part of the country.

3-4 JUN REED POINT MT -- After six days in Casper, we hit the road at apx 9am, headed for Montana. After a stop in Sheridan WY for lunch (our normal Subway), we encountered high winds in Southern MT for the last half of the 350 mile drive. Reed PointWinds were "22mph gusting to 44," Reed Pointand made driving a large vehicle somewhat unpleasant. In addition to "floating" the spring-loaded windows awnings on the driver side of the coach for the first time in several years (after I tightened the springs), the winds also affected fuel mileage, and we stopped ahead of schedule at the Pilot Truck stop in Columbus MT for 60 gallon of diesel at $3.85/gallon. A few miles later we arrived at the Old West RV Park in the tiny town of Reed Point, home of "the world famous" Waterhole Saloon (just beyond the Hotel Montana on the right side of the pic) ...an authentic old west saloon complete with watering trough and hitching posts. In addition to having an interesting building with license plates on the ceiling and thousands of coins driven into the support timbers, they make a pretty good burger!! Other than the Post Office, the RV Park, and a small closed service station with a for sale sign, the saloon is apparently the only business in town. It took us maybe 5 minutes of slow strolling to make it from the RV park to the saloon on the other side of town. With the Passport America discount, the cost of our two nights at the Old West RV park was $20/night.

5-12 JUN, GATEWAY FAMCAMP, MALMSTROM AFB MT -- Snow-capped MtnsWe left the peaceful town of Reed Point at 9:35am and had a beautiful sunny drive apx 200 miles NNW to Great Falls MT. After the first 15 or so miles we were on 2 lane state highways. For most of the drive we had beautiful snow capped mountains on the Western horizon. With one brief "doggy stop," we arrived at Malmstrom AFB Gateway Famcamp at 1 pm ...we found no Subway are other fast food enroute, so did not stop for lunch. Malmstrom AFB has two famcamps. Gateway is located just outside the base and is a newer RV park with pull-through sites, 50a service, laundry, and free wifi. The annex is the older park, located on the base, and is limited to 30a, back-in sites, and most of the sites are small. With the weekly rate, our cost for 8 nights at Gateway Famcamp was $20.20 per night.

!! North to Alaska !!

13 JUNE-22 AUGUST on the SMART 2013"North to Alaska" Caravan. -- After the original Assistant Wagon Master had to cancel in March due to family health issues, we signed on to be the Assistant Wagon Master/Tail Gunner for the 2013 SMART Alaska caravan. SMART runs many RV caravans, and this is the longest one. This popular caravan is normally limited to 20 RVs, but we ended up with 22 this time. Each RV receives the current issue of Milepost Magazine and each participant a hooded rain-proof jacket with the SMART logo on the back. Also included is a TourSaver coupon book with 2 for 1 opportunities to have fun and save big bucks, and an end-of-caravan memories book with pictures & stories of our caravan. The cost of the caravan covers campgrounds, many meals, and several entertainment venues. The 71 day trip starts in Great Falls, MT, and covers 6,100 miles through Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon Territory in addition to 36 days in Alaska. As the Assistant Wagonmaster/Tail-gunner, in addition to helping with Wagonmaster with daily caravan details, we are involved in meal planning, inspecting each rig before departure from the United States, creating and executing the departure plan for the 7 groups on each driving day, and bringing up the rear to ensure no one is left behind. And, we are "volunteer" leaders. We get no salary, etc, but in return for our labor, our caravan costs, fuel, and campground fees are paid. This is a "once in a lifetime road-trip," and one we have talked about wanting to do for several years ...now here we go!!

13-14 JUN, GATEWAY FAMCAMP, MALMSTROM AFB MT -- Caravan participants began to gather at Gateway Famcamp at Malmstrom AFB, Great Falls MT about June 3 or 4. Gateway Famcamp We arrived on the 5th. The Wagonmaster and two others were already there, and others began to arrive daily. We spent several days in planning with the Wagonmaster couple and checking up on previous telephone arrangements on base for pre-ordered food from the commissary, a picnic pavilion and grill, and other details. We also had to get some Canadian cash and make changes to our Verizon cell phone accounts so we can have voice service in Canada. We began the rig safety inspections as people were available, with some being sent to the "Famcamp Annex" located on base as we ran out of available space at Gateway. Like many other famcamps, it is "first come first served" with no reservations, so we had to work rigs in as they arrived depending on open sites. The "annex" has 30a site, and smaller sites, than Gateway. We did some shopping followed by pre-cooking, vacuum packing, and freezing some meat for later use along the way. Two days before departure we had the caravan organizational meeting followed by a "cook your own steak" dinner. Some members had some problems to be taken care of, including a few found in the rig inspections. The most serious problem found in the rig inspections was a loose baseplate on a car which would have resulted in damage to the vehicle and possibly an accident had the baseplate come off the car while it was being towed by the motorhome. The owner found a place in Great Falls that dismantled the front of the car and re-secured the baseplate in just a few hours. In tuning up our OEM Alpine GPS for the journey we discovered that it did not have maps for Canada. It has always been marginal, even after a $300 2-DVD software update a few years ago. We thought we might use the Garmin Nuvi that we bought last year for use in the car, but found that the "Canadian maps included" did not include anything but major roadways (which the car on the screen often departed from into the void...) ...if you want usable Canadian maps you have to buy a memory card that costs more than we paid for the GPS!! So we bit the bullet and bought a new Rand McNally RVND 7720, a GPS designed specifically for RVs. It has an awesome 7" screen! We are liking it a lot, and it is already proving it's worth even though we do not yet know all of its capabilities.

15 JUN, FT MACLEOD, ALBERTA -- After the initial travel briefing the night before, we set out early on the 222 mile journey to Ft Macleod, Alberta. One of the Tail-gunner duties is to put together the travel plan for each driving day. We normally travel in group in groups of three at 15 minutes intervals to avoid creating a large traffic jam. Before we even got started, one rig discovered a low tire on an inside dual the night before departure and had trouble working with valve extensions installed two days earlier, so made a appointment at a local tire place for early on departure morning. As the tail-gunner, we sent our travel group of three others on ahead and went to find the problem rig. Via cell phone, we found they had taken a wrong turn and ended up at a different tire place than we had been told, but we found them. Ten minutes later, we were headed out of Great Falls for Canada. We caught up with our travel group at a rest area several miles North, and five RVs hit the border check point together. For most it was a quick process consisting of several questions about weapons, alcohol, food, pets, and/or cash carried. But one motorhome was pulled aside for inspection. After waiting for an hour in a parking lot apx 1/4 mi inside the border, we sent the others on and settled in to wait for the rig being inspected. Finally, after three hours, we got word via our GMRS radio that they were past customs and headed North. They were somewhat shaken by the experience, so we took the lead, arriving at Ft Macleod in later afternoon, too late to make the journey to the Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump Museum. We went out to supper, and were back in time for the travel meeting for the next day's journey. At the travel meeting, we learned of the first minor accident of the caravan. A fifth wheel trailer experienced minor damage to a wheel well when they turned too short and hit a post.

Canmore 16-17 JUN, CANMORE, ALBERTA -- The 168 mile journey to Canmore included passing through Calgary, where many stopped for fuel. Our group stopped at the Flying J where we took on 42 gallon Lake Louise of diesel at apx $4.60/gallon. The group ahead of us was just leaving. After getting some sandwiches for lunch, we got back on the road. The first challenge was to pass around Calgary. In spite of printed directions and maps, and GPS's, our leader made a couple of wrong turns, but we quickly got back on our assigned route and made it around the south side of town and NW toward Canmore. Toward the end of the journey, we began to see the Canadian Rockies, complete with majestic and rugged snow-covered peaks. Spring Creek Mountain Village RV Park in Canmore was overshadowed by beautiful peaks, and had a river running past the park a few feet to the rear of our RVs. A few miles to the west, part way up the mountain, is Lake Louise. We spent two nights in Canmore, taking in the "Oh Canada, Eh?" dinner show, and exploring Lake Louise and Banf. The scenery was very impressive, especially from the chairlift/gondola ride up the mountain opposite Lake Louise. A fill of gasoline in Canmore cost us $5.11 per gallon!

18-19 JUN, HINTON, ALBERTA -- After getting all the rigs started at their assigned times, we headed up the mountain past Banf and Lake Louise, turning off Highway 1 onto the Icefields Parkway. This Icefields two lane road goes past some beautiful country to the very spectacular Columbian Icefields/Glacier. We had a group tour via bus and "ice buggy" Terra Bus out onto the huge glacier where we were able to get out and take a brief walk around the glacier. It is an impressive sight, even more so as you stand on the glacier itself. The Columbia Icefield is apx 328 to 1,197 feet thick and receives up to 23 feet of snowfall per year, with winter temperatures falling to 50 degrees below zero. It feeds eight major glaciers, including the Athabasca Glacier. One of the most interesting peaks in it that we saw was the Snow Dome (11,340 feet), which is located on the Continental Divide where Alberta meets British Columbia. It is the hydrological Icefields apex of North America: water falling on Snow Dome's summit flows into streams that drain into three oceans: the Arctic, the Pacific, and the Atlantic. From this point on, our road ran beside a river that was flowing north to the Arctic. While at the icefields we discovered our towed car battery was completely dead ...a new problem with this Honda we have been towing just two months now. We put the battery charger on it, plugged into a rear outlet on the motorhome, and ran the generator for the remainder of this leg to get the battery re-charged. After spending approximately 3 hours at the icefields complex, we headed on past Jasper to Hinton, stopping at Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls along the way. Both are very impressive, with thousands of gallons of water rushing through some very narrow cuts in the rock cliffs. We also saw small bears in the trees alongside the highway a couple of times, accompanied by many cars stopped with careless motorists trying to get close-up pictures of the bear! By the time we arrived at Hinton, we had been driving in the rain for some time. The rig that started out with a problem tire arrived with a flat dual, caught by one of the parkers on arrival. Something had become stuck between the dual tires, causing one tire to go flat and seriously damaging the other. Both tires had to be replaced. This is a prime example of the need for a tire pressure monitoring system on an RV to warn you of problems like this before you experience a double blowout on a remote highway! We had a rest day at Hinton ...some went out sight-seeing in spite of the rain, while many took advantage of the cool wet weather to get some rest.

20-22 JUN, DAWSON CREEK, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- While preparing for departure from Hinton in the cold and drizzle, we heard news of major flooding in Calgary, and of a bridge washed out and mud slides having closed Highway 1 out of Canmore. Most AlCan of Canmore was without power. Had we been there two days later, we would have been trapped! We were glad to be on the road and headed for Dawson Creek where we would finally meet up with the famous Alcan, or Alaska Highway. Enroute on the 286 mile drive to Dawson Creek, we stopped for a break and muffins/bagels at the visitors center in Grand Cache. As we were preparing to leave, our energetic pup Molly, having been cooped up inside during several days of rain, slipped out the door at the visitor's center and ran several laps around the parking lot before we persuaded her to return to the motorhome. We then headed on to AlCan Grand Prairie where many of us planned to refuel. After finding the Flying J consisted of one pump island and was a "card lock" (credit cards only), we headed on to a Husky station near the Walmart on the West side of town. By previous arrangement, one rig in our group of three broke away to visit a quilt shop and the local Costco. The other, traveling behind us, missed the turn to the Husky and found another station. We refueled with apx 60 gallon of diesel at $4.45/gallon, then went to the Walmart parking lot across the street where we had agreed to regroup. About a hour later we got a report via radio from the quilting rig that the other rig had tangled with a sign in a filling station/car wash, and had damaged the patio awning. He (a retired RV mechanic) helped them secure the awning and went on to Costco. About another hour later, the unfortunate couple appeared in their car, telling us they had been lost for the past two hours, and needed to return to the gas station. I sent the third RV on toward our destination. The wife stayed with Jean while I went with the driver. After some confused searching we finally found the service station/car wash, exchanged insurance information, picked the damaged motorhome from a parking lot nearby, and returned to our meeting place. We finally arrived in Dawson Creek just before 7pm. After arrival we learned that one of the fifth wheel trailers had experienced a blowout and some minor fender damage on the drive, and had managed to replace the tire with a spare on a very narrow shoulder. At Dawson Creek, the temperatures were in the high 70's on arrival. We had a pleasant two days there, visiting the visitors center, the Alaska Highway House, and doing a "poker run" to a number of local tourist attractions. Our day of touring ended at Sewell Valley Wild Game Farm where we saw the animals, and then had a dinner of caribou, elk, and buffalo.

23 JUN, FT NELSON, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- On this leg of the trip we swapped roles with the Wagon Master and led the first group out rather than bringing up the rear. Moose About two miles from the RV park, we made a left turn onto the Alaska Highway, and headed NW along the path that US soldiers struggled up to build the Alcan through the wilderness back in 1942. This first 270 miles is pretty much just a wide path through the trees, with very little to break up the trees, trees, and more trees other than the sharp descent to the Peace River Bridge, followed by the climb out on the other side. Other than seeing a moose along the tree line a couple of times, we had a very uneventful journey, stopping twice along the way at large pull-outs for doggy walks and lunch. We are seeing more and more wildlife alongside the road as we travel, including moose, bears, and Forest Buffalo. Another travel group got this picture of a Moose crossing the highway right in front of them! We arrived at the RV park as another caravan was processing their rigs in, and before long the drive was packed with a double lane of RVs. The temperature was 93 degrees!! ...record temps for the area, and predicted all the way up into Alaska. We thought we were leaving the heat behind us in Texas this summer!! During the parking maneuvers, one of our motorhomes turned too short and nearly pushed a small tree over, damaging two basement compartment doors. As luck would have it, one of the ladies working in the RV park is married to a local body shop owner. He did wonders in repairing the door, having it back on the RV and sealed up by 10 pm (which is long before dark in this area!). While he was working on the door, we had a group dinner, prepared by our cooks for the day, travel group 2.

24-25 JUN, TOAD RIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIAFtNelson -- Back in the tail gunner position, the group had a relatively late departure. After getting everyone else off, we departed just after 11am with one other RV. It was a relatively short drive of 116 miles. The terrain gradually became more mountainous, with a couple of pretty steep climbs. We stopped for lunch near the top of the first long climb, overlooking a river far below. Our second stop was at Tetsa River where we followed the signs off the road to small store/filling station. They were out of fuel, but did have some absolutely incredible hot buttery cinnamon rolls for sale for $5 each (which of course was why we stopped there)! We arrived at Toad River in mid-afternoon, surrounded by beautiful tree-covered mountains, a lake with moose and elk grazing on the far side, and miles from anything related to "civilization". In late evening, and early morning, a large bull Moose could be seen swimming and feeding in the water off the far shore. Another interesting site were the busy beavers working on their lodge by the beaver dam near the highway end of the campground. The campground has the best WIFI we have seen since leaving home, about 10 channels (off and on) of free cable TV, weak electric power, poor drinking water, zero cell phone capability, and unbeatable scenery. The grizzly bear photo on the left was taken by a member of our group with a very long telephoto lens ...we DID NOT get that close to a bear!

26-27 JUN, WATSON LAKE, YUKON TERRITORY -- In spite of some road construction and rain, which together made a mess of our towed car, it was a beautiful drive just over 200 miles from Toad River to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory. SignPostForest We passed beautiful emerald colored Muncho Lake, winding along the foot of the mountain alongside the lake. About an hour into the drive we stopped at Liard Hot Springs for lunch, and for a dip in the hot springs. It was cool and rainy, and the hot springs felt great! It was about a 1/4 mile walk along a board walk from the highway to the springs, and the mosquitoes were out in force. Once in the steaming water, the mosquitoes left us alone until we exposed our freshly washed and heated meat to them when we got out! There are changing rooms at the springs so you don't have to expose much skin on the walk out and back. Between the hot springs and Watson lake we saw a number of forest buffalo along the road as well as several lone black bears. We are using a home-made windshield cover on the towed car to help prevent gravel nicks, and this leg it saw some heavy use as there were several fresh chip-seal sections ...tar covered with dirt and gravel. The fleece-lined vinyl cover was a mess on arrival in Watson Lake, and the hood of the car and grill area was caked in wet sand and gravel with spots of road tar in abundance. We took on apx 20 gallon of diesel at about $5.72 a gallon before leaving Toad River, then filled with 81 gallon at apx $5.42 a gallon in Watson Lake ...saving $10 on the discount they gave our group. After being towed apx 8 hours, we found the Honda battery again very low, but it did start. We have no idea what occasional battery drain problem is ...perhaps it is time to put in a charge-line from the motorhome to the toad so it will trickle-charge while being towed. The main attraction in Watson Lake is the "Sign-post Forest." The mass of several thousand signposts was started in 1942 when a soldier on the highway building crew was tasked with putting up a sign post with locations and distances. He added his own hometown, and soon others followed suit, and the collection began. Each SMART Caravan adds a sign to the collection, this time a brass plaque with each travelers' signature.

28-30 JUN, WHITEHORSE, YUKON TERRITORY -- It was an uneventful 270 mile drive from Watson Lake to Whitehorse, with more beautiful scenery but this time we saw no wildlife at all along the road. We did find more construction/chip seal but this time it was not raining so the dust was quite heavy. The chip seal was not as fresh on this drive, so we had a great deal less flying gravel. The RV parks are getting tighter as we go north, and 50a electric is no longer seen. SSKlondike They all have WIFI that works to one degree or another ...mostly less ...and free catv. Many of us have satellite TV in our RVs, but the further North you venture, the less likely it is your satellite dish will work as the satellites are over the Equator and the dish must be aimed lower and lower until the satellites are eventually over the horizon. Pioneer RV Park is a busy park on the East side of Whitehorse. It includes fuel pumps where we got a discount of 3 cents/liter. The price of fuel per liter didn't sound all that bad until the total for a little of half a tank for the car came to over $60!! I did the math and found the price was $5.50/gallon! Yeow!! Members of our group who have visited Canadian liquor stores have had even worse sticker shock ...before the local store receives alcohol products for sale there is a 130% provincial tax added on, then the local store also adds federal tax. I believe some of our group may be on the wagon while in Canada!! And trying to bring it with you would not help as Canadian customs limits each tourist to 750ml of alcohol on entry ...more will result in confiscation or payment of the hefty tax before entry into Canada. Whitehorse is a bustling town with population of 28,000 ...the entire Yukon (twice the size of Texas) has a population of only 32,000. The surprising thing to us was the high proportion of young people (late teens/early 20's) in town, many zipping around on bicycles or skateboards. We noticed the same thing in Skagway and other "tourist" towns, and later learned that many of the young people are college students from other places who come to these areas for summer jobs. Our first night in town, we took in the local vaudeville show, "Frantic Follies," a tongue-in-cheek history of the Klondike area. We also enjoyed a bus tour of the local area, and a self-guided tour of the SS Klondike, one of the larger stern-wheelers that used to haul cargo and passengers up and down the Yukon River. On Sunday we visited the Whitehorse United Church, a part of the United Church of Canada which is a denomination made up of United Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational Union, EUB, and Assoc of Local Union Churches.

1-4 JUL, SKAGWAY, ALASKA -- On July 1 we left the Alaska Highway, taking the Klondike Highway 106 miles Skagway south to Skagway AK. It was another beautiful drive, this time with an 11.5% descent for apx 14 miles, going from about 3,000 feet at White Pass to sea level at Skagway. There were a few gravel sections of road, some rain, and up in the pass some very thick fog. After clearing US Customs, we were in Skagway in just a few minutes. The customs inspector was curious about the license plate on the motorhome, asking if it is a vanity plate. I explained that it is an Amateur Radio/HAM Skagway Operator plate, and he said, "So that's what all the antennas are about!" Then gave us the typical HAM farewell of "73's!" as a final comment. Skagway is a stop for cruise ships, with 4-5 ships in port nearly every day. That makes the few blocks of downtown quite crowded with tourists looking for souvenirs! On Tuesday, we rode the White Pass & Yukon Railway from Skagway up to Whitepass (just inside the Canadian border), and back. It is a 3 1/2 hr ride from sea level to 3,000 ft and back with beautiful scenery along the way, including a view down on Skagway harbor where you can see a couple of the cruise ships tied up. On Wednesday, we took the Fjord Ferry 80 miles down the Fjord to Juneau and back, with a brief stop at Haines. Read more about this side-trip in the next entry. On our return to Skagway, we had the opportunity to view the local fireworks display beginning at 11pm. It doesn't get really dark in this part of the world this time of year, but it was far enough into twilight that the fireworks were well visible. Visiting Skagway is a tradition for the SMART Alaska Caravan, allowing us to be in the United States for the 4th of July, and to join in the local 4th of July Parade. We decorated a couple of the fifth wheel tow-trucks, and carried flags and other patriotic gear. Our group was awarded cash prizes for "Most Patriotic" and "Judges' Choice".

3 JUL, JUNEAU, ALASKA VIA "FAST FERRY" -- Skagway On July 3, we took the Fjord Express "fast ferry" down the fjord via Haines AK to Juneau. With apx 3 hours in Juneau, this is an 8 hour experience. The aluminum catamaran is a neat experience, with stops of opportunity along the way to view whales, seals, sea lions, bald eagles, and other incredible sights. Eagles were especially visible in the streams and shallows near Juneau, sitting patently in trees or on sand bars, waiting for a tasty salmon to come along. Whales could be sighted by the mist of a "blow", followed by surfacing, and then very often a tail flip as they went back below the surface a few minutes later. A Skagway short distance south of Skagway the ferry made a short stop at Haines to take on passengers. Haines is less commercialized than Skagway, with only one cruise ship in the harbor. Haines, like Skagway, is accessible by only one road coming in from the North. It is a short distance between the two towns by sea, but a very long drive to the North through Whitehorse and back south by car. About mid-way down the fjord is a lighthouse on an island, and we were told the lighthouse is for sale by the government. Juneau, the capital of Alaska, is accessible only by sea or air. In spite of being the capital of the state, Juneau has the feel of a small city. It is between steep rock mountains and the bay, with some buildings running up the side of the mountains. Right downtown is a float plane dock, with planes taking off and landing frequently. We had a pleasant few hours in Juneau before it was time to head back to the ferry for the trip back to Skagway. Each direction was 3 hour by boat, and one hour by bus on the Juneau end. On the return trip out of Juneau, we stopped at the beautiful Mendenhall Glacier a few miles from town, complete with icebergs floating down the river away from the glacier. Cost per person for the complete ferry experience was apx $120.

5 JUL, WHITEHORSE, YUKON TERRITORY -- We led the group on the return trip from Skagway to Whitehorse, departing at 9:00 am and heading up that 11.5% grade 14 miles to White Pass and the Canadian Border. Due to the extreme weather and lack of usable space at the border, US Customs is 12 miles South of the border, and Canadian Customs is apx 8 miles North of the border. We arrived at Canadian Customs behind a group of tour buses. We made it through customs just before the closed the gate on the rest of our group to walk across the parking lot to process a train through customs. The entire group made it through customs after a total of 45 minutes, and we headed on North, stopping at Caribou Crossing Trading Post just north of Carcross for lunch. Some of us had stopped here on the way down to Skagway, going through the wildlife museum and viewing the sled dogs out back (and petting some pups). From Carcross on North to Whitehorse the drive is much easier than the south portion of the drive, with gentle grades and more great scenery. When we arrived at Pioneer RV Park East of Whitehorse, we refueled with "cheap" fuel, 60 gallon of diesel at $5.16/gallon. Our cars and RVs were very dirty after 10-15 miles of gravel/dirt/dusty roads just inside the Canadian border. Group 1 is the parking team, so we checked in with the RV park, put together a parking plan based on the sites we were provided, rig size, and estimated time of arrival. After about 45 minutes, other groups began to arrive. In spite of much congestion due to another caravan group arriving over the same time period, by 4pm we had all rigs checked in and parked. Some folks dashed off for some quick shopping in Whitehorse while others rested ...we went to work on the departure plan and cooking plan for the next travel day. When we have a cooking event the next day, we pass out the food and utensils the evening before just after the travel meeting. The cooks are in the second group to depart.

6 JUL, CARMACKS, YUKON TERRITORY -- We had a relatively short drive from Whitehorse to Carmacks, just over 100 miles, designed to break the long drive to Dawson City into two days. We stopped about halfway at Braeburn Lodge to indulge in very large cinnamon rolls ...each one large enough to feed a small family! We arrived at Carmacks in mid-afternoon, just across a local street from the Yukon River, and in the middle of nowhere. There was no CATV, no local channels, and the "free" wifi was limited to 60 minutes only, gauged from the time you first logged on. We had a group meal on our evening in Carmacks, and a short devotional service on Sunday morning before departure.

7-8 JUL, DAWSON CITY, YUKON TERRITORY -- It was a 226 mile drive to Dawson City, the heart of the famous Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800's. As normal, we trailed the group. It was an uneventful travel day, with miles and miles of trees, changing from Aspens to Evergreens and back again to Aspens. GoldDredge We stopped for lunch at Pelly Crossing, and for rest stops at Moose Crossing and the Tantini Rest Area. Tantini is an interesting location, the site of a major fault line where the continental shelf shifted at some time in the past. The resulting valley to the East of the Klondike Highway is absolutely beautiful. There were many rough spots in the road, some frost heaves, and a few short gravel sections. The 226 mile drive took us 6 1/2 hours for an average speed of 34mph ...not too impressive, but a least we didn't break any rigs. Some of our folks did see the result of going too fast when they came upon a Class C RV towing a Jeep stopped beside the highway. He had passed many of our groups along the way, and then his towbar came apart from the abuse. Although it went into the ditch, the Jeep was not seriously damaged. He was fortunate, although replacing the towbar will be expensive! Dawson City is a nice small town on the Yukon River. The only paved street is the Alaska Highway through town ...all others (about a 15 block or so square) are dirt. Two former residents of great pride are poet Robert W. Service, and author Jack London. Both came to the Klondike as young men seeking their fortune in the gold rush, and both found fortune and fame in writing. The log cabin that GeoBlackFerry Service rented during his time in Dawson City is preserved and open for tours. We sat for a very interesting reading of many of his pieces by a woman in period dress, perhaps the most interesting being "The Cremation of Sam McGee." We also got a tour of one of the largest gold dredges built. The dredges "panned" for gold on a very large scale, digging a little lake in front and filling it in behind as it made its way along a creek or river. The large worm-like dirt & gravel tailings left behind are a part of the scenery in this area of the Yukon. The pic here is a diagram of how the dredge worked. We had a caravan prepared breakfast the second morning, and all had the opportunity to go to Diamond Tooth Gertie's to view the nightly can-can show and trying their chance at the slots.

9-10 JUL, TOK AK -- The 186 mile drive from Dawson City west to Chicken, Alaska and on to Tok is perhaps the most interesting of the trip. It begins right in Dawson City where the highway ends at the Yukon. A free ferry across the fast-flowing river is provided by the Yukon Territory government. The Milepost Magazine warns the wait can be 3 hours during times of "heavy" traffic, and our 22 rig caravan was definitely heavy traffic. We used our normal departure of 1 hour for the first group, followed an hour later by the other 6 groups in 15 minute intervals. The TopOWorldHwy first group took 45 minutes to get across, and the last group took 2 1/2 hours. Each round trip takes apx 15 minutes, and each trip West carried one or two RVs, several cars, and some foot traffic. The return trip always had a few cars and sometimes an RV or two. A tractor trailer carrying a piece of large construction equipment got solo use of the ferry, and it was riding VERY low in the water going across. On our trip, we had our 40' motor home with car being towed, a car behind us, a car beside us, two small class C RVs beside us, and a car bringing up the rear. After getting off the ferry and making a steep climb, we were on the Top of the World Highway, a very nice gravel road. Due to very fortunate rains the previous day and night, there was very little dust. We were able to run up to the posted speed of 40mph until we caught up to the previous group that was running timidly at 25-30. We stopped for apx 45 minutes for lunch, and caught them again after less than 30 minutes of driving. After a few more rest stops, TopOWorldHwywe reached the Alaska border, apx 60 miles from Dawson City. It was very cool, and sprinkling, and after we got through customs we stopped at a pull-out ... apx 4,050 miles since we left home. While we were stopped it rained heavily for 15 minutes or so. Even without the rain, the nice gravel road deteriorated rapidly after we got into Alaska, becoming much narrower and less well-maintained. About 10-15 miles into Alaska, we encountered heavy mud in recently plowed/constructed areas. At the worst point, we were going uphill, trying to maintain forward motion, and watching the rig in front of us sliding sideways in the road while knowing we were next, and we TopOWorldHwy did not dare slow down for fear of being stuck in the mud. We all made it through, and the road got a tiny bit better after that for the apx 42 miles to Chicken AK. Chicken has a population of 12 or so in the summer, and 7 in the winter. The "town" consists of three businesses, all of which sell fuel, all of which sell various things to eat, all of which have gift shops, two of which have RV sites, and at least one of which has a pub. A couple of miles out of Chicken we found paved road once again, and eventually re-joined IA2 ...aka The Alaska Highway ...for the short drive into Tok. We laid over a day in Tok, primarily to rest up and to have a chance to clean the vehicles a bit. As bad as the outside of the car looks in the picture, under the hood was unbelievably worse. There was mud packed in everywhere! The RV park had an RV wash rack, for fortunately they also allowed us to wash our rigs while parked in the sites. We didn't get them totally clean, but they still looked and rolled much better after a few hours of washing. We had a group meal the evening we arrived in Tok ...a bit late due to the travel conditions, but it doesn't seem as late when the sun doesn't set until close to midnight. Aside from cleaning up the vehicles and resting, we did some grocery shopping in the small grocery/general store in Tok, refueling the morning we departed, taking on 69 gallon of diesel at $4.42 a gallon. Fuel definitely is less costly in the US than in Canada!

11-15 JUL, FAIRBANKS AK -- The drive from Tok to Fairbanks was a smooth one, with a sighting of the Alaska Pipeline alongside a long bridge along the way. We have noticed that while the rivers in Canada were running very full, many rivers in Alaska are either very low or completely dry. This is partly due to the difference in terrain, as the Fairbanks area is a much Pipelinedrier climate than that in the Yukon and British Columbia. It was also pretty warm in Fairbanks, in the high 80's and low 90's for the several days DogSledTngwe were there. The RV park where we were in North Pole, just East of Fairbanks, had inadequate electrical infrastructure to handle the load of 50a sites running air conditioners. Several afternoons we were losing electric service repeatedly as the inadequate main circuit breaker for two rows of RVs kept tripping. We finally gave up and ran our generator for several hours, as did many others. Our group had a great dinner at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks ...and Alaska Salmon bake ...followed by a vaudeville-type show highlighting the history of the local area. The next day we went to Gold Dredge 8 North of Fairbanks where we were taught how to pan for gold ...and we were successful!! Between the two of us, our results were valued at a total of $41!! ...which we then paid to have put into transparent locket-type earrings for permanent display. At the same location, we got a close-up look at the Alaska Pipeline, a a look at the "pigs" used to clean the inside of the pipe. The pipeline is not bolted down so it can "float" on its mounts for expansion and contraction in addition to earthquakes. The finned towers are installed beside the pipeline when it is running over permafrost ...they help keep the permafrost chilled and frozen. Where there is no permafrost, the pipeline is normally buried. We also took a riverboat tour of the Chena River, including a float-plane take off/landing demo, dog-sled training exhibition, and dis-embarking at an indian village for tours and demonstrations. Look at the eagerness of the leader dogs to go! ...as soon as she hooks up the last pair, the driver will unleash the modified four-wheeler, and off they will go. The four-wheeler has no engine, and has beefed up brakes to keep the dogs under control. Caravan members also took advantage of the opportunity to visit the base exchange and commissary at Ft Wainwright in Fairbanks, and the Santa Claus House at North Pole AK about 10 miles East of the RV park. We attempted to attend worship at a local church in North Pole, but found their website failed to provide the correct summer worship times, so ended up having an early lunch instead. While all the above was going on, we were looking for a solution to a problem with GoldPanning disappearing coolant in the motorhome's diesel engine. We had poured over a gallon of coolant through the system in the previous 600 miles, with no evidence of leaks on the ground, and no irregularities evident in the oil level or exhaust. We replaced the pressure cap on the coolant surge tank in Tok on the off chance it might be faulty, but no cure. still the coolant CoolantSeallevel in the recovery tank was dropping several inches each travel leg. After searching the town for the Fleetguard ES Compleat coolant we use, we finally found 3 gallon. The good part of visiting several locations to find the coolant was that we talked with a number of mechanics along the way. Those discussions were pointing to two possible problems, either of which would eventually become a potential serious engine failure. We also found only two places in Fairbanks that would work on motorhomes, and agreed with one to be there where they opened at 7:30am on Monday. They got it into the shop at 9am, and after a couple of hours searching found a small leak from a coolant tube high on the passenger side of the block ...neither of the possible serious problems earlier suspected! The tube is sealed by a small rubber grommet. The original grommet showed evidence of being pinched/improperly installed ...but it did last 10 years and nearly 70k miles! The part was $7.36 and the labor was only $120 ...hard to believe (most repair shops won't even walk past us for less than $500!!), but perhaps indicative that the tech was not actually working on it all day. We paid out and headed back to the RV park about 5pm, hoping this repair would cure the problem.

16-19 JUL, DENALI NATIONAL PARK, AK -- We left Fairbanks at 10:30am in the last group of the caravan for the apx 120 mile drive to Denali Motel & RV Park just north of Denali National Park. About half way we stopped in the little town of Nenana for lunch, and to visit several local attractions.NenanaChurch The Visitor Center is in the old train depot, and also houses a small railway museum. A block away is the early 1900's Episcopal mission church, a very neatly maintained log building. Snow VehicleNenana is the site of the annual Nenana Ice Classic, a lottery based on guessing when the ice will break up on the Tanana River in town. A wood tripod structure is set up on the ice, and when it moves, it trips a clock to mark the time of the breakup. There are thousands of entries each year, guessing the date and time. Multiple winners share the jackpot, just as in any lottery. This year, the single winner who guessed a time on the record breaking late date of May 20 took home $348,000.00!! About 30 miles after Nenana, we stopped briefly at the Tatlinika Trading Post. Pictured is an interesting vehicle we saw in the yard out front, a true testament to the creativity of a guy with a need, a welder, spare parts, and time on his hands. Denali is a beautiful national park, most of it virtually untouched wilderness. Privately owned vehicle traffic is extreme limited inside the park, with bus tours the normal way most visitors see a portion of the park. Rangers patrol the park by dogsled most of the year. Denali is the home of Mt McKinley/Mt Denali. The mountain was named for presidential candidate McKinley by an admirer in the early 1900's, and for a time the park was known by the same name. Now the park is called Denali (an Athabascan Indian word meaning "The Great One"), and many also recognize Denali as the correct name of the mountain. Our first night MonksHoodin the area, our group enjoyed the Cabin Dinner Theater, with all you can eat BBQ ribs, salmon, and vegetables along with a show about the history of Denali National Park. The next day, we checked out the visitor center and other attractions and picked up our pre-ordered tickets for a tour the following day. We took a 4 1/2 hour "Culture and History" bus tour into the park, watching a video on the early history of Denali, and then riding a tour bus several miles into the park. Along Denalithe way we saw Dall Sheep way up on the ridges, the antlers of a Caribou hiding in the brush, and incredibly beautiful country. What started as a dismal cloudy day blossomed into a day of beautiful sunshine, but most of the mountain remained shrouded in clouds. In the picture here, the brighter white area in the center of the picture is the bottom of Mt Denali/McKinley shining out from under the clouds. Our guide told us that perhaps 30% of the visitors to the park get to see the mountain unveiled. This rugged wilderness could be deadly in more ways than one, including through one of it's beautiful and delicate blue flowers. This one is known by many names, including Monk's Hood, "the queen of poisons", aconite, wolf's bane, leopard's bane, women's bane, devil's helmet or blue rocket. After our return to civilization, we checked out the many gift/souvenir shops across from the hotel area, then returned to the RV park so we could walk Yoda and Obewan, the tiny Yorkie dogs of friends who took the 12 hour bus tour deeper into the park. Our ride on an old tour bus was long enough, I cannot imagine how painful a 12 hour ride on an old school bus over wash-board dirt roads would be! Our last day was spent resting, doing some odd jobs of cleaning and fixing around the motorhome, and preparing for the next leg of the trip on South to anchorage ...working out the travel plan and order of march for our 22 RVs. While at Denali we had to buy gasoline for the car ...$4.59/gallon = $70 to fill up a Honda!!

20-21 JUL, ANCHORAGE, AK -- We headed South from Denali under heavy cloudy skies, winding through beautiful mountains. Before long, the valley opened wider and we began to see snowy mountains in the distance. The driving was great, and the trip uneventful. We stopped a few times along the way for photo ops, doggy walks, and lunch. Near Wasilla we found some huge ice cream cones! Just North of Anchorage in Eagle River we found a fuel stop recommended by one of our travel mates from the phone ap GasBuddy. It was indeed the cheapest fuel prices we have seen at $4.10 for another 60+ gallon of diesel. Getting off the divided highway and into the station was easy, but getting back to the highway was NOT easy as the access road did not go to the next on-ramp, and there was no room at the station to turn large rigs around. With the help of the GPS, about a mile off the highway we found a residential street that let us go around a three-sided block, and back to the highway we went. We had only one day in Anchorage this time ...a Sunday ...so we found a local United Methodist Church for worship and a good Mexican restaurant for lunch. We also found a Lowes where we could buy parts needed to repair the air line to the auxiliary brake in the towed car that we found torn almost in two at the last stop. After Lowes, we found a nearby Walmart where we replenished personal supplies and bought many of the items needed for the Halibut/Salmon dinner we will cook for the group at our next stop. No time this stop for haircut or sight-seeing, but we will be back in Anchorage for several days next week. The weather was beautiful, and we got the towed brake line repaired and back in working order for the next travel leg.

Cook Inlet22-24 JUL, HOMER, AK -- The drive South from Anchorage to Homer was one of the most scenic yet, but also one of the more challenging. The first leg South on the Seward highway offered beautiful mountains all around, and was a great highway. A good bit of the time we were running alongside Jewel Lake & Turnagin Arm, the Northeasterly extension of Cook Inlet. In the first hour of travel, one fifth-wheel rig in our travel group discovered a tire problem and decided they needed to travel no faster than 50mph. With posted speed of 65mph, heavy traffic, no passing zones, AND a state law that you MUST pull over if 5 or more vehicles are behind you, we decided to let the slower rig travel on their own and to take the remainder of our group on to the RV park so we could get to the destination on time and get the parking plan organized. We alerted the following group and the tail-gunner, and they eventually had to swap some tires on the problem rig. When we turned West, still on AK1 but now on the Sterling Highway Homeracross the Kenai Peninsula, the road rapidly deteriorated Homerinto a narrow, winding, rough road with no shoulders at all, and with heavy traffic. Much of the time the "scenery" was limited to the trees lining the narrow roadway. After several miles the road began to get wider and better until we finally began to curve southward again as we began to run alongside Cook Inlet. Through breaks in the trees we could sometimes see the water, and on the far side beautiful majestic snowy mountains, including a couple of recently active volcanoes. We stopped at a couple of turnouts along the way for photo ops, and finally topped the hill over the town of Homer with an incredible view of the Inlet and Home Spit jutting out into the water. Here we are, with Homer Spit in the background. The other picture is some of the businesses on Homer Spit. At the fish market on the spit, we paid $450 for apx 8 lb of Halibut and 12 lb of Salmon for our group dinner. Some of the group went Halibut fishing, some went clam digging, and all did some sight-seeing. And of course we had some more Halibut Fish & Chips ...Halibut isn't cheap, but it sure is good!!!beautiful, and we got the towed brake line repaired and back in working order for the next travel leg.

25-27 JUL, SEWARD, AK-- From Homer to Seward, we re-traced part of the route south from Anchorage, turning south at about AiklitGlacier the 2/3 point in the 166mi drive. Heading south from the junction of the Sterling and Seward Highways was very scenic as we dropped down to sea level as we approached Seward. Seward is the location of an Army Recreation Facility with RV park and cabins, and an abandoned AF Recreation Facility. There are several civilian RV parks, and the entire waterfront was turned into a city park after the earthquake of 1964 which decimated much of Alaska, including the Seward waterfront, with not only an earthquake but several tsunamis. Seward is nestled between mountains, and while we were there, very calm waters and beautiful sunshine. The days started with low clouds which soon burned off into clear skies. On our first full day, we took a group tour on the Kenai Fjord Tours boat down Resurrection Bay and through the Chiswell Islands into a neighboring fjord in the Kenai Fjords National Park up to the Aiklit Glacier. This tidewater glacier comes off the largest icefield in the United States, and is apx 1 mile wide where it meets the waters of the fjord. To get an idea of the size, we were apx 1/4 mile CoastalDefenses StellarSeaLionsfrom the glacier in this picture ...note the tour boat on the water just to the left of center against the ice. The claps of thunder-like-sounds when the glacier calved ice into the sea were awesome. This was apx an 8 hour tour. Along the way we saw lots of wildlife, including many humpback whales, the endangered Stellar Sea Lion (in the pic), and cliffs covered with nesting birds. The picture here is a WWII coastal defense location that is now home to thousands of nesting birds. The tour was capped off with a stop at Fox Island for a dinner of prime rib, baked salmon, and king crab legs. On our second day in Seward we got a $12 car wash which didn't get the car clean, but at least got the large chunks of dirt off.

28-31 JUL, ANCHORAGE, AK -- About half of the caravan members decided to travel apart from the caravanMooseLyingDown TuftedPuffinon this leg, so we had only three of our normal travel groups. After the last one pulled out, we headed to downtown Seward to visit the Alaska Sealife Center. The "rv parking" area is not adequate for more than a class C motorhome w/o a tow, but the lot was pretty empty and we managed to park sideways across several slots. The Sealife Center was a very interesting place, with a variety of sealife both outside and inside. We found especially interesting watching the variety of birds (Tufted Puffin, Horned Puffin, Murre, and others) diving far below the surface of the water tanks. Watching them through the underwater windows was neat, as they dove deep and swam for quite awhile before having to surface. After lunch in the snack bar, we got the motorhome out of the tight parking lot and headed north toward Anchorage. A little over halfway, we pulled off to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This facility is located alongside the Seward Highway on the beautiful CaribouFamilyTurnagin Arm/Jewel Lake area about 45 miles south of Anchorage. There were a variety of outdoor creatures including bears, buffalo, musk ox, caribou, reindeer, deer, and others. Many of the animals here are orphan/rescue animals. We parked behind two other caravan rigs, and spent an hour or so walking through the "loop" with pens/pastures on both sides. The other two rigs left about 5 minutes before we did, and we joined the heavy traffic behind them for the final stretch into Anchorage. We had four "free" days in Anchorage with no caravan activities scheduled. We did some re-supply shopping trips for both the caravan and personal use, got a long overdue haircut at JBER/Elmendorf (that's former Elmendorf AFB for those who aren't up on the latest military designations), and received some mail parcels including a "Toad Charge" kit which should resolve the problem of the car battery gradually going dead as the car is towed behind the motorhome. We started towing this 2005 Honda Odyssey in April, and had no problems even on the 3,000+ mile trek from Texas to Montana and beyond. But somewhere in Canada we began to experience a dead car battery about every third or fourth travel leg. We learned to put the battery charger on the car after two trips, Uluand began to research ways to charge the car battery from the motorhome while towing. Disconnecting the battery would work, but that would disable the emergency breakaway brake system. We considered creating our own crude charge line, found a slightly above crude model designed for use with the Brake Buddy auxiliary brake system, and then found Toad Charge. The Toad Charge system is a "smart" charger setup that includes a 15a circuit breaker and a small "brain" that causes it to charge the car battery only as needed. All the required parts, wire, and connectors are included. We didn't like the connectors for the umbilical cord between the car and motorhome, so went to a local auto parts store to buy better connectors. Our last day in town we took the trolley tour of the downtown area and Earthquake Park (saw an "airpark" that includes and island and lots of water along with more private planes than you have ever seen together in one place ...they use wheels, fat wheels, pontoon or skis depending on the season!), viewed a movie about the devastating 1964 earthquake in the downtown visitor center, then hit several souvenir shops and the Alaska Ulu Factory. If you like chopped veggies, you need to check out an Alaska Ulu knife & bowl-cutting-board set! It is also a great tool for filleting!!

1 AUG, GRANDVIEW RV PARK, SUTTON AK -- We left the RV park just before our group today, stopping for $300 of diesel at $3.16/gallon on our way out of town. As the other two rigs passed by, we joined the caravan. We broke the long drive from Matanuska RiverAnchorage to Valdez into two days, stopping the first night at Grandview Cafe & RV Park. The address is Sutton, but it is a long ways from Sutton or anywhere else!Glacierview Much of the drive way alongside the very wide Matanuska River. At times the meandering river and mud flats was several miles wide, particularly closer the Palmer. The picture there is one of the more narrow areas as we got closer to Grandview. A few miles before Grandview we passed Glacierview, named for the incredible views of the glacier to the SE. At one point we saw a dirt access road going off the highway toward the glacier, but not adequate for an RV caravan to travel. It was an easy 100 mile drive from Anchorage, bypassing Wasilla and going through Palmer. The terrain went from relatively flat to mountainous, and we had several good climbs and wonderful vistas along the way. At Grandview, we had a pizza feed in the cafe for supper, and the "camper special" breakfast the next morning before departing. Very high on the cliffs across the highway we could see tiny white dots, which with binoculars could be seen as a herd of Dall Sheep. This was the kind of place where many wanted to just sit for several days and rest while soaking in the views in every direction. We left 3 rigs in Anchorage awaiting parts for repairs, and one searching for a lost dog. All plan to rejoin us either at our next stop in Valdez, or the following stop in Tok. As we have to backtrack a bit from Valdez, it is about equal distance to either.

2-5 AUG, VALDEZ -- The drive down to Valdez was another beautiful one. During the first part of the trip we were looking MtWrangellat the Wrangell Mountains in front of us. Mt Wrangell is the largest active volcano in Alaska, and has been gradually "waking up" since the massive 1964 earthquake. Areas of the mountain that once had 160+ feet of ice and snow are now bare rock that is often 180 degrees at the surface. The mountain regularly emits plumes of steam, particularly on cold days. Two rigs in our group needed fuel, so we stopped in Glenallen where they bought diesel at $4.58 a gallon and regular at $4.35. After lunch and a quick visit to the little visitor center nearby, we headed south, stopping about 30 minutes later at the Wrangell St Elias National Park Visitor center. This national park is absolutely huge ...6 times the size of Yellowstone!! Like Denali, much of the park is not accessible by vehicle. The remainder of the drive to Valdez was either gradually or radically downhill as we saw rivers, lakes, and terrain filled with mountains covered with lots of snow and SalmonHatcheryglaciers. After noticing a very deep green gorge developing on our right, we began a long descent and gradual turn to the right as we started the drop from 2,000+ feet down to Valdez at sea level. We had some of the ever-present road construction, with several miles of wet gravel. We knew ahead of time there would be some gravel roads on this stretch so had put on the toad windshield cover before departing this morning. One rig that uses no windshield cover, AND has a full width mud flap on the RV, had dozens of rocks piled in the wiper area of the car, and some even on the trunk lid. After 3,000 miles of caravan travel, with many gravel construction areas, his windshield is covered with tiny nicks and looks like it has been sandblasted. If you are traveling to Alaska (or anywhere there are lots of gravel roads), the last thing you want on your RV is a full-width "gravel guard/mud flap." In actuality, they cause much more damage than they prevent, especially when they are hanging close to the road. 6-8" should be their ABSOLUTE MINIMUM height from the road surface. Ours is at the right height, but we removed prior to the trip and have not decided whether or not to re-install it when we get back. In Valdez, we stayed at Bear Paw RV Park in the heart of the action, right across SailboatIcebergthe street from the small boat harbor. Valdez is another city that was wiped out in the 1964 earthquake. It is the terminus for the Alaska pipeline and had then as it does now many very large fuel storage tanks. The earthquake swallowed up much of the dock area, setting the oil tanks aflame. And when the later tsunamis struck, they carried the flaming oil slick over what was left of the town, destroying what had survived. Valdez was re-built on a new townsite on more stable ground and partially sheltered from Prince William Sound by rock cliffs. We took a group cruise to the Columbia Glacier, the largest we have seen. Columbia is one of three large glaciers flowing off the same huge icefield. Columbia is in a retreat cycle, putting off huge icebergs. Of the other two glaciers, one is in a state of status quo, adding as much as it sheds each year, and the third is in a growth cycle. Several miles from the foot of the glacier where the icebergs where somewhat thinned out, we encountered a sailboat moving along! Along the way to and from the glacier, we saw Bald Eagles, Sea Otters, Stellar Sea Lions, and a pod of Orcha Whales. Across the inlet from the Port of Valdez is the terminal end of the Alaska Pipeline. Two large oil Orcha Whalestankers were docked and loading oil when we left. One was already gone, and the other was on the way out of the sound on our return trip. Just outside Valdez Narrows is where the Exxon Valdez ran aground on a hidden reef. Unlike before that disaster, pilot boats and tugs now escort all tankers are very low speed through the narrows and out beyond the reef toward the Gulf of Alaska. Between Valdez and the oil terminal is a fish hatchery. Thousands of salmon are bred and released each year at Salmon Gulch, and later return to complete their life cycle of spawning and dying. A steel gate (fish weir) is erected across the small river at Salmon Gulch to direct the fish into the hatchery where they are artificially spawned and processed. In the picture above right you can see literally thousands of salmon at the gate. Most eventually make it into the hatchery channel on the far side of the gate, while some die in the effort. This is a good area for bear watching, as Grizzlies come to feed on the plentiful salmon.

6 AUG, TOK -- We led the group in an early departure from Valdez for the long drive back inland to Tok as we began our retreat from Alaska and return to the "lower 48." It was around 250 miles, with the first part very scenic, and the second part mostly just trees and more trees with occasional snowy mountains in the distance. Tok is where we re-joined the Alaska Highway/AKA Alcan Highway.

7-8 AUG, DESTRUCTION BAY, YUKON -- Before departing Tok, we refueled across the street from the RV park, 69 gallon of diesel at $4.46/gallon. After an easy 80 miles to the Canadian border we hit bad highway again ...dirt, gravel, and construction vehicles along with rain and one-way traffic. The clean cars and RVs BC Speed Controlwere quickly dirty again. A good bit of the rest of the day was at speeds of 30-45mph depending on highway condition. There are many frost heaves and bad seams in this section of road. We hit Canadian Customs about 20 miles past the border just after a long stretch of construction and pilot-car-led one-way traffic. Perhaps the huge cluster of vehicles helped the inspection process as we made it through customs quickly with no hitches. The rest of the drive to Destruction Bay, Yukon was about the same, with short pieces of good road interrupted with long stretches of severe heaves and dips and several very dusty extensive gravel patches. A few times we had difficulty seeing the road due to the heavy dust from other vehicles. On arrival in Destruction Bay (on a very large lake rather than a bay), we had a group dinner. Other than visiting a small nearby museum at mile 1093 of the original Al-Can Highway, there was little to do here. We laid over here for two nights as a rest-up, with many doing vehicle maintenance on the free day. Another fifth wheel was discovered to have a broken spring, and a mechanic was found to help with repairs. A short distance up the road in this very remote area of Western British Columbia we found this full-size plywood "speed control device", decked out in two-sided RCMP-like paint job ...hey, don't laugh ...it was effective! We had a caravan bison burger fry the first night, and a BBQ beef meal the second complete with entertainment.

9 AUG, TESLIN, YUKON -- 62 gallon @ $5.13/gal On the travel leg to Teslin, we traveled "independent" ...apart from the group, with a substitute tail-gunner for the day. Because the first group was leaving at 7am, and we had to be up early to have the coffee and muffins out one hour before departure time, we were ready to Whitehorse Muralleave early. With our sub tail-gunner briefed to pick up the coffee and muffin supplies before departure, we pulled out at 6:50am, ahead of group 1. We arrived at a visitor center & museum we wanted to visit right at 8am as they opened ...but just the visitor center was open that early and not the museum and cultural center. We got our Yukon Passports stamped, then headed on East, arriving in Whitehorse at 10am. Part of our mission today was to get out Yukon Passports completed with at least 20 stamps each so we could be in the annual drawing for 2oz of Gold for anyone having at least 10 stamps, and 5 oz of Gold for anyone having at least 20 stamps. We completed 21 stamps each in Whitehorse by visiting various tourist facilities, and then turned the books in on arrival in Watson Lake to enter the drawing. The other part of our mission was shopping resupply for both ourselves and the caravan. We visited both Walmart and the Canadian Superstore, spending over 4 hours in Whitehorse, and seeing at least half of the caravan come and go visiting some of the same places. The picture here is one of several large murals painted on blank walls in downtown Whitehorse. This one is on the back side of a large business, and gives both visitors and residents a taste of local history.

10 AUG, WATSON LAKE, YUKON -- We had planned to stay at Johnson Crossing West of Watson Lake on our trip back to the US, but when confirming the caravan reservations in April and May were unable to contact that campground so did a repeat at Watson Lake. That required a bit of back-tracking the next morning to the Cassiar Highway, but not a lot. We learned later than Johnson Crossing was one of many, many businesses along the Alaska Highway that closed over the past two years when the number and size of RV caravans dropped dramatically due to high fuel prices. We saw a considerable number of shuttered businesses (fuel stops, campgrounds, lodges, and motels) along our journey on the Alaska Highway this summer. The Milepost Magazine, published each year for travelers along the Alaska Highway, tries to be up to date on which locations are open and closed, but even it misses some that closed after publication. This is not an route where you do not thoughtfully plan ahead for fuel and lodging, taking nothing for granted. We got our Passports turned in at the visitor center nearby on arrival, and had a brief worship service the next morning before the first group departed for Iskut.

11-12 AUG, ISKUT BC -- Heading back West apx 10 miles, we turned South on the Cassiar Highway, probably the worst/most dangerous road we traveled in the caravan, much of it narrow with no markings, no shoulders, and abrupt deep ditches on each side. Jade CityThere were also ample frost heaves and chuck holes to contend with. Fortunately traffic was not heavy, but meeting or being passed by fast big trucks (most running double trailers and probably 30+ wheels) was normally a "hold your breath" experience. If a rare "turn out" was available when truck traffic loomed, pulling over for a minute was a good choice. The highlight of the day was our stop at Jade City, almost half way South. Outside were huge boulders of raw Jade, saws where they cut the stones they mined nearby, and bins filled with raw jade chunks of various sizes. Inside the store was just about anything you could imagine made out of jade, from very small animal images to counter-tops. About 4pm, several miles South of Jade City, we joined two other of our travel groups in a large pull-out area. As they departed, we turned toward our motorhome and noticed something strange ...the towed car shield and the car appeared to be wet. On inspection, we found it was all covered with oil. The leak was apparently very recent as there was no dust on the oil on the car in spite of frequent dusty gravel patches on the road. A quick check found dripping hoses under the engine area. After some dirty inspection we found a rubber hydraulic hose had been bundled with a number of tougher hoses with wire ties, and one of those hoses had worn two holes in the hydraulic hose. There was no cell service for at least a 200 mile radius, and even if there were and we could call our road service provider, we were miles from any large vehicle repair facilities. We also could not contact our caravan mates or our destination about 100 miles south, so we were on our own. After some consideration, one of our travel partners took me by car 20 miles south to Dease Lake. The "town" consisted of a fuel stop/store, a few houses, and an RV park. RV park managers are normally very helpful in finding local mechanics, but this one was not. Neither was the station/store, other than to sell me two gallon jugs (well, two 4-liter jugs actually) of hydraulic oil. The local mechanic, Charley, was closed on Sunday ...end of story. We were wanting only a few parts to use in splicing the hose, but it made no difference. Then we saw a sign for car repairs pointing to a house along the road. We turned in, found a young man, got a couple of clamps and piece of pipe from him, and off we went back North. After putting a bucket under the hose to catch any remaining fluid, I cut and drained the hose, removing a piece a couple of inches long with the two worn places. The piece of pipe was too long, so I dug in my parts bin and came up with a plastic hose splice I have had for many years. I was able to get the splice inserted into the two hose ends just far enough to get a good clamp bite. Then we added the two Iskutgallon of oil plus about 1/2 gallon of what we caught in the bucket. That filled the reservoir, and we had a successful repair. While under the motorhome I noticed a couple of drips of coolant, but was focused on the leaking hose and thought nothing of it. Now 4 hours behind schedule, we headed south. The car and rear of the motorhome quickly had a layer of dirt on top of the oil, and was a terrible mess. About 70 miles South we met our Wagonmaster coming North to find us, having given us up for lost. We made it into the campground after 8pm ...nearly 11 hours for a 217 mile journey. After parking I checked for oil leaks and found none, but did find coolant dripping from the bottom of the radiator area. By the next morning, the coolant overflow bottle was empty, and the level was dropping in the surge tank. The top of the side-mount radiator is not visible, and I could tell only that a small hose from the surge tank disappears into a hole running along the top of the radiator. The first place we know of that could accomplish a repair is in Prince George, apx 550 miles away, so again, we are on our own. When trying to resolve our earlier coolant leak problem, I bought a new pressure cap that has a pressure release lever. I decided to try running it to the next stop with the release lever open, filling the surge tank with coolant past the sight glass. It took over a half gallon of coolant to get it to the desired level ...not full, but above the sight glass. We were in a very remote and beautiful area, with a grand view down the valley toward a small lake.

13-14 AUG, STEWART BC/HYDER AK -- Shortly after leaving the RV park we stopped at the fuel station a few miles south for fuel as we had been told there is Glacier near Stewartnone in the Steward/Hyder area. There were several cars at the pumps with locals filling with fuel and shopping. After 15 minutes waiting with no cure in sight, we pulled out and headed for the next of two stations we knew of along the route. Apx 100 miles South we filled with 62 gallon of diesel @ $5.37/gallon (translated from $1.42/liter) at Bell 2 Lodge just Stewartpast the Bell 2 River bridge. Most places we have been lately have thick swarms of mosquitoes, but here they added swarms of tiny blow-flies. In spite of some good climbs, the engine temp stayed in normal ranges with the pressure cap released, and no coolant expanded to the overflow tank. More importantly, there were no coolant drips either while running or after turning off the hot engine. It looks like we have a temporary cure. As we went South, the highway gradually got better, wider, and finally there were center and shoulder lines again!! The clouds began to close in and it began to mist, and then to rain lightly. We had been wanting this kind of weather for some time as it will help soak the crusted mud off the bottoms of our vehicles!! It also helped some in cleaning up the dirty oil mess on our car. The last 20 miles into Stewart was winding through a narrow canyon, sometimes with a rushing river beside the road, and once with an awesome glacier ending near the highway! We arrived on schedule in the rain, convinced our temporary solution to the coolant leak will work at least for awhile. Now to decide ...do we stop to have it fixed in Prince George? ...do we do it in Washington state? ...or do we wait until we get home in early October? The next day was clear and sunny. Stewart is right on the border, and winding along the water we drove around the mountain to Hyder, Alaska. There is no US customs at the border here as Hyder is totally land-locked with this one road in and out. SeafoodExpressThe road does go beyond Hyder a bit along the river to a wildlife viewing area and a glacier of two, but eventually ends. Hyder BearAs we turned around at the edge of the tiny town we saw a large black bear sauntering through a yard near the road. We stopped to take a look, and he turned his head, looked us over, and kept on his saunter, chewing on leaves or grass along on the way. We managed to snap a quick pic with the cell phone. As we went back across the border we went through Canadian Customs. It was brief. On our way back to the RV park, we checked out a couple of the few stores in downtown Stewart. Later in the day we returned to Hyder for a dinner of Halibut fish & chips at "Seafood Express" ...an eatery with the kitchen/galley in a converted school bus. The Alaska license plate on the front of the bus was current in 1983. Our group had to eat in two shifts as the covered "dining room" behind the bus could seat only about 22 at a time. We have acquired a taste for Halibut, and will be looking forward to our next chance to eat some. Returning to the RV park, we again went through Canadian Customs, seeing the same agent who questioned us earlier in the day. As we departed Alaska for the last time on the caravan, he handed our passports back w/o looking at them and told us to "Have a g'day."

15-16 AUG, KSAN VILLAGE, HAZLETON BC -- Another day of coastal rain and fog ...we added a bit of coolant to the motor home coolant surge tank and got the caravan headed out in the rain in our normal groups of three. Several miles inland the rain lessened and the sun came out, but then we turned South on the Trans-Canada Highway and the clouds returned with a bit of rain again off and on. We did a late lunch stopTotemCarver at the little village of Gitanyow, a native village that has preserved some of the old totem poles. Contrary to popular belief, totem poles are not a religious symbol. They are rather something of a "family tree", bearing symbols of importance to the family/clan and it's heritage. It was very interesting looking at the assorted totem poles, watching the carver at work, and talking to the locals.TotemCarver The little store offered fresh hot dogs, chicken fingers, chicken nuggets and fried. We tried for hot dogs, but too many of our caravan had been there before us so we had to settle for the very good chicken fingers with our fresh fries. Again the motorhome ran fine in spite of the leaking coolant system, and we completed our relatively short day to Hazelton in mid-afternoon. Hazelton is actually an "area" that contains South Hazelton, New Hazelton, and Old Hazelton. In Old Hazelton is also the old native village of Ksan. We stayed at Ksan Village Campground beside/above a broad rushing river. This campground is such a contrast to what we have seen over the past two months ...most RV parks have been wall to wall gravel, but this one is wall to wall grass except for nicely paved streets. The very long pull-throughs sites are wonderful. On the grounds is a collection of native "long houses" and a museum. On our first evening, we were able to attend the weekly native dancing. They were a colorful group wearing one of our favorite color combinations of red and black, and including several very young members. On the second evening the campground served us a BBQed Salmon w/potato salad dinner. The salmon was slathered in bbq sauce ...it was better than it sounds, actually quite good. We also got to visit a local doctor and pharmacy for some antibiotics before the bbq'ed salmon dinner our second night in town. One great part of our visit to the clinic was the awesome free WIFI ...the fastest and best we have seen in months!! The last night in Hazleton we had an auction of the left-over food supplies and containers with proceeds going back into the caravan fund.

17-18 AUG, PRINCE GEORGE, BC -- Shortly before departure from Hazleton one of our travel mates in an earlier scheduled group reported a problem retracting his leveling jacks. We sent the rest of his group on, and eventually sent all the groups including ours on their way while we tried to get the jacks to retract. Finally, after calling his road service and making a Monday appointment (this was on a Saturday) for a mobile service out of Smithers BC about an hour East, we made some final efforts and suddenly had success. Had our "final efforts" not been successful, our caravan guidelines would have us (the Assistant Wagonmaster/Tailgunner) leave the troubled rig behind as they were in a safe location, and had a resolution (an appointment for a fix). Fortunately, we did not have to leave them behind! Now that their rig was ready for travel, we started our engine to check our coolant situation. Since it seems to be leaking while parked only, we decided not to waste coolant by refilling what has been lost until we are ready to depart. With an alarm sounding and a "Service Engine" indicator lit on the dash, we poured a bit over a gallon of coolant into the surge tank until the alarm ceased and the light went off. With the patch to the blown hydraulic line holding, and the coolant leak controllable for now, we will make it back to Washington state before finding a repair shop. The two RVs departed the campground about 2 1/2 hours behind schedule, and headed East. The transition from wilderness to settled country was soon very apparent with houses and even farms regularly visible alongside the road. Traffic also increased a good bit. The road was in excellent shape, and the 290 mile drive was relatively easy. Along the way we stopped in Smithers to pick up lunch at the local Subway and McDonalds (across the highway from each other), and a couple of times for dog walks and leg stretching. We stopped at Flying J in Prince George for 69 gallon of diesel at $4.92/gallon ...back under the $5 mark!! ...and arrived at Southpark RV Park in Prince George at 5:30pm. We had just enough time to hook up the power, wash up, and change clothes before we had to head out to the caravan group's "Farewell Canada" dinner. We had a great buffet at the Carmel Inn. The next day we attended worship with a United Church of Canada congregation and hit the local Walmart (the first Supercenter we have seen in two months!) for some supplies.

19 AUG, CACHE CREEK, BC -- After adding about 1.8 gallon of coolant to get the alarm to stop (we also added a bottle of Risolone Stop Leak), we led the group from Prince George to Cache Creek in honor of our 41st wedding anniversary. We departed with three other rigs at 8am and had a great travel day through semi-arid country ...a real departure from our recent travels. This area resembles much of the Southwest United States, complete with an abundance of Sagebrush and many Weeping Willow trees along the way. Just before our destination we encountered highway construction with two delays, costing us almost 1 hour. Consequently, group 2 was close behind us but the RV park owner had assigned sites based on rig size that we had provided to her so we were ready to park them fairly quickly. The RV park was pretty nice, with good tree cover and long pull-through sites. We got a take-out pizza for supper (quite appropriate as we had pizza the night we were married, and this was our anniversary), and were ready for the travel meeting by 7pm.

20-21 AUG, LYNDEN WA -- Again we added coolant, but thanks to the Stop Leak, this morning it was only about 3/4 gallon. The 116 mile drive from Cache Creek to Lynden WA was very scenic country, moving South from Cache Creek through Fraser Canyon before leveling off to Abbotsford and then South to the border HellsGatecrossing at Sumas WA. Toward the South end of Fraser Canyon we stopped briefly at Hellsgate Airtram, the steepest non-supported tram in North America, MtBakercarrying passengers down to river level where there is a gift shop, restaurant, and other attractions. It was indeed steep! A little further South, the border crossing was fairly easy with only about a 10 minute delay waiting in traffic. Amazingly, we caught up with group 1 just across the border ...most of the caravan were busy buying fuel, much cheaper in the US than in Canada. We followed group 1 for several miles before pulling off for fuel in Lynden where we took on 68.9 gallon @ $4.19/gal ...that may sound high priced to some, but it sounded pretty good after paying around $5.50 in Northern Canada and Alaska! The next day was spent in closing out the caravan accounts. We bought the coffee supplies container & contents (not much in contents at this point!), and that evening we had our farewell dinner at a nearby apple orchard/distillery with a great view of Mt Baker to the SE. They product apx 1.7 million pounds of apples a year, and got into distilling Vodka and other spirits when they found they could not sell that many apples each year, especially since many are damaged in process. Bellwood Acres has a beautiful facility, with the majesty of Mt Baker off in the distance. While in Lynden we tried to get our Dish network TV working again. It was suspended for 60 days, and was to be working again on the 18th, but we had only a few info channels. After 2 hours or so on the phone with three different techs, we had a couple more channels and they were telling us either "that receiver won't work because you have a digital receiver on your account," OR "that receiver is obsolete." But they could not explain why it worked fine two months ago. We finally gave up talking to them and figured we would find a friend with Dish service in their home and see if it would work there ...on to that later. We had some similar frustrations for several days with Verizon Mobile in getting texting back on our phone plan. Each time we were told it was fixed only to discover later that it was not. Out of frustration we selected a slightly different text plan and it finally worked.

And the 2013 North to Alaska Caravan is over, with a total of 6,084.4 miles driven in 71 days.

22-30 AUG, BELLEVUE WA -- Once again we added apx 3/4 gallon of coolant to silence the low coolant alarm, then left Lynden apx 9:15 heading South to the Seattle area to drop the motorhome off at Cummins NW about 110 miles South in Renton for them to replace the bad hydraulic hose, check out the coolant leak, and check for a leak on the air suspension that others have not been able to find. We took the offer of a room with friends from the caravan while the motorhome WD40is repaired. The next day Cummins NW called to tell us that there are four coolant leaks, including one in the radiator top-cap that requires the side-mounted radiator to be pulled and sent out for repair. So, we will be "visiting" our caravan friends for most of next week! Fortunately, they love dogs! ...we'll see how much they still RosieOnJacks like them next week. While relaxing after the hard travel schedule over the past two months, I found time/energy to wash the towed car. It got covered in mud more than once, and in spite of a couple of high dollar wash jobs it was a mess. In addition to the dirt, being towed on freshly "chip sealed" roads had covered it from end to end with flecks of road tar. I used most of a can of WD40, spraying it on and scrubbing with a shop rag, and then doing a normal wash with my normal wash n' wax solution. In spite of fears that I might be scratching the clearcoat, it came out looking great, and with the WD40 under the normal wax, it really sheds water! Now we need to have the inside shampooed, but that will have to wait. All things considered, we had a very pleasant week waiting for "Rosie" to be repaired. Cummins NW called about 5:30pm on Friday before Labor Day Weekend to tell us the motorhome was ready, and that we could pick it up at our convenience as they are open to midnight and the caller said "I will be here all night." We were out to supper with two cars, so after dinner the guys headed for Renton to get the motorhome while the ladies returned to Bellevue. Back in Bellevue, we parked the motorhome in front of our friends' home for the night, as they sometimes do with theirs, and ran an extension cord to get the refrigerator started cooling down. We had emptied the refrigerator and freezer when we dropped it off, and added our stock to that of our friends. We did notice that the coolant overflow bottle was empty on the motorhome ...no doubt Cummins failed to check it after it cooled down following the road test, during which air was purged from the system.

31 AUG-1 SEP, OSBURN ID -- On Saturday morning with the motorhome engine cool I added apx 1 1/4 gallon of coolant to the surge tank and overflow bottle. Then we loaded food, other stuff, and the two dogs on board and were on the road again, heading Eastward a bit after 9am. As we drove across the coastal mountains to inland Washington, we were struck with how dry the inland area was compared to the coast ...a contrast of green to brown. Although the traffic was heavy, FleaMktwallaceIDwe had a pleasant drive across Washington state, stopping a few times for doggy breaks and at a truck stop Subway for lunch. Checking the GasBuddy ap on my Android phone, we learned that diesel was 20 cents/gal cheaper in Idaho than in Washington, so we waited until Idaho exit 2 before pulling into a Flying J for 67.5 gal of diesel at $4.05/gal. A few miles later, with a total of 365 miles for the day, we arrived in the small town of Osburn ID and the Blue Anchor RV Park. We have stayed here a couple of other times, and called them when we stopped for lunch to ensure they had an open space for 2 nights. The two nights gave us time to unpack all the stuff from the car (tools, etc that we did not want to leave in the motorhome while it was in service), and to get back into the travel groove. We also decided to try our Dish receiver again and now everything works as it should ...guess it just took more time than their techs thought it would. We visited the small United Methodist Church in Wallace on Sunday morning, and spent a couple of hours browsing the huge flea market the city had going on along the bicycle trail under the I-90 "bridge" that crosses over the Southern edge of the entire town. Our cost for 2 nights at Blue Anchor, with Good Sam 10% discount, was $27/night.

2 SEP REED POINT MT -- We left Osburn a little after 9am on Monday with our sights set on Old West RV Park in Reed Point MT. We stayed there for a couple of nights on our way North and figured it would be a good stop again since out Passport America membership will give us a 1/2 price discount there. The 424 miles went smoothly, although we never saw the sun due to heavy smoke in the air from various forest fires in the region. We arrived in Reed Point at 6pm local time after crossing into Mountain Daylight Time. The new owners of the park have it looking great. We had a pleasant night there for $20.33. Oh, and we have been keeping an eye on the coolant overflow bottle and it is now at normal level when cold ...Cummins just failed to complete the job with a final coolant level check.

3-4 SEP ELLSWORTH AFB SD -- With an early start about 8:15, we were back on I-90 Eastward. About 40 miles later we stopped in Laurel MT for 73.9 gallons of diesel at $3.94 a gallon ...sure like these prices better than the $5 gallon prices in Canada!! But the fuel pump at the Pelican Truck Stop would allow only $75 of fuel with each swipe of the card ...that is under 20 gallon!! How do they expect anyone except a very small car to fill up??? We swiped our card three times before the pump refused to take it again, then used a second card for the remaining 16 gallon we needed to fill up. We could take the card inside for pre-authorization, but then we would not get the 5% cash rebate our primary card gives us for paying at the pump ...I guess we had to earn our $11.55 today by swiping the card three times. On down the road, just South of Hardin MT we noted the GPS was telling us to exit I-90 for US 212 East. Some quick GPS comparisons indicated this would save 50 miles, so at the exit for Little Big Horn/Custer Battlefield Park we turned straight East. This took us on a very nice 2-lane US highway across the plains of SE Montana for apx 175 miles, rejoining I-90 near Spearfish SD. There were a few small towns, some great scenery, a few pieces of road construction, and very little else. Finally, after just over 400 miles, we arrived at Ellsworth AFB just after 4pm. Entering the Commercial gate, we were directed into the huge inspection barn. After a quick check of ID cards, the exit door was opened and we were on our way. While driving across US 212 we had called the Famcamp and made a reservation, and the camp host had our information waiting for us. This is a nice, recently upgraded famcamp. The facilities are quite nice with the exception that many of the sites are not level. It is very unusual for a concrete site to be termed "excess slope" by our automatic leveling system, but it happened here. After putting two levels of lumber under the front jacks, we managed to get level, then had to get out the high-rise steps to make getting in and out of the motorhome workable. We didn't do much beyond resting except to check out the local Cabelas. Our cost per night for two nights at the Famcamp was $20.

5 SEP MURDO SD -- On preparing to depart Ellsworth we discovered the slides would not come in, and subsequently found the hydraulic leveling jacks would retract but would not extend. HWH MotorAfter some testing it appeared the hydraulic pump motor was not running. We called our road service, Coach-Net, and they connected us with a tech. At his direction we checked battery charge level (good), a couple of fuses (good), and hydraulic fluid level (hard to tell with slides out and jacks extended). Coach-Net then referred us to Land Roamer, an RV mobile repair service. Land Roamer called and told us he would be there "later this afternoon." This was about 9:30am. Sure enough, a bit after 2pm Toby/Land Roamer called and asked that I meet him at the base visitor control outside the main gate to escort him in. He quickly diagnosed the pump motor as the problem, removed it, took it apart, and determined the brush ground screw was faulty. The screw seemed to have welded itself in place, but he finally got it out, reconditioned the brush bracket surfaces, and filed down a new screw to fit. After re-assembly, the motor tested good, so he re-installed it and everything worked as normal. We paid for 2 hours of his labor, and he billed coach-net for the service call. As we had reservations over 500 miles away for the next night, we hit the road at 5pm and drove just over 100 miles, crossing into the Central Time zone and arriving in Murdo SD just after 8pm local time. After refueling at Pilot with 70 gallon of diesel at $3.96 a gallon, we went a block west to the American Express Inn & RV Park. We had called them and made a reservation as we left Rapid City. They have a large RV park down the hill behind the motel, including about 10 fairly new nice long concrete pull-through full-hookup sites. The free WIFI worked well. Our cost for one night was $30+tax.

6-9 SEP OFFUTT AFB NB -- Back on I-90 at 8:45am, we headed East toward Sioux Falls and then South to Offutt AFB just south of Bellevue NB near Omaha/Council Bluffs. SunsetOverOffuttAlthough it was quite warm, with a heat index warning for the area, we had an uneventful drive, stopping for lunch at a truck stop Subway, and later for fuel at a Cenex station in Iowa about 80 miles from our destination. Here we got 51 gallon of diesel at $3.89 a gallon. We arrived at the Offutt AFB Famcamp about 4:15pm. Soon after parking we found four other SMART members also headed for the 2013 National Muster in Sedalia MO. We got in on the chapel picnic on Sunday morning as they held service in the pavilion building directly adjacent to the famcamp. And on Monday we did a little exploring at the local Cabela's and in downtown "old" Bellevue. The only hitch to our stay at Offutt was a broken water main which put the area on a "boil water" advisory as we arrived. We had enough water in our on board tank for drinking, and used the local water for washing clothes and showering. They didn't start digging for repairs until Monday before our Tuesday departure, so it didn't affect us much. The Famcamp here is in a small recreation area on the base lake located off-base and immediately behind the base. Sunsets over the lake with the base in the background can be spectacular. Our cost for four nights was $20 per night.

10-22 SEP SEDALIA MO -- We left Offutt just after 9am. It was a warm but uneventful drive 268 miles South to the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia MO where we will be involved in the 2013 SMART National Muster. We stopped at a Subway in St Joseph MO, and arrived in Sedalia in early afternoon. FMCA is having Sedaliaa large RV rally immediately before ours, and they were beginning to arrive at the same time we were. Although we are FMCA members, we had not planned to participate in this regional rally. So, disregarding all the friendly waves trying to guide us into the rally parking area, we went to the "overnight camping" area where we will be until the FMCA rally attendees depart on Sunday. (Another RV group we are members of, Good Sam is having a rally immediately AFTER the SMART rally, which we also are not planning to attend ...we can do only so much at a time!!). Before going into the campground we stopped nearby for 52 gallon of diesel at $3.81/gallon. We are part of both the National BOD and the planning and execution group for this year's annual muster, so we arrived a week before opening ceremonies to help get things ready. After a couple days of simultaneous Muster Staff and National BOD meetings, we moved to the regular rally parking areas on Sunday afternoon. Both areas have full hookup sites, with the overnight area having only 30a electric and the regular rally areas having 50a electric. On Monday we joined in Tour 1 for the Sedalia Area Poker Run. The run took us to a number of sites around the area, getting us acquainted with local attractions and people. Sedalia is a very old and well-kept city with a number of very interesting old buildings and homes, particularly in the downtown area. Sites visited included Whiteman AFB, Montserrat Vineyards, the Court House, Scott Joplin Store & Foundation, Pettis County Museum, The Katy Depot, Hotel Bothwell, Sierra Bullet Outlet & Factory, and the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art at State Fair Community College. Following the day's adventures we had a steak dinner. Like many in the group, we ended up with a full house poker hand, but our 10's over 6's was easily overshadowed by an Aces over 40&8 BoxcarKings full house. But we did win the trivia questionnaire about the places we visited with 22 of 33 correct answers! The Muster officially began on Wednesday with the opening ceremonies, and it was a whirlwind for our group of volunteers. The first day set the pace as we cooked 320 hamburgers and 300 hotdogs for the welcome cookout. We had great support from the local area, including a very energetic 79 year old speaker to the men's luncheon from the local "40 & 8 Boxcar Association". If you don't know the story of the 40 & 8 boxcars during WWI and WWII, you need to bone up on your history! As the host regional director, Paul was the Muster Chair, and we both were involved in working many events during the week. We had a great group of over 100 volunteers working under the direction of Muster Master Jerry, a retired Navy Chief. The group worked in planning together for three years, and their dedication paid off as everything went very smoothly all week. The final count was 209 RV's (although one was a tent!) plus three members staying in motels due to rig problems. Other than some turf conflicts with the FMCA group that was rallying immediately before our group (we had no problems with the Good Sam group that came in on our heels, and several of our group who are also FMCA members were seriously questioning why they wanted to remain FMCA members...), we had a great time all week. We even got a good deal on an RV wash including polishing the aluminum wheels!! Our cost for the 12 days averaged out to a bit over $19 per night.

23-29 SEP VAN BUREN AR -- After going with the muster treasurer and muster master to settle up with the fairgrounds, we had a Subway lunch before hitting the road South RV Park or Trailer Park?just before 11:30. It was a 320 mile drive down to Van Buren AR where we visited family for a week. After calling the RV park we decided to break our normal rule of refueling before arriving at an RV park as the owners were leaving NLT 6pm and our GPS said we would arrive just after 5:30. We stayed a week at Park Ridge RV park east of Van Buren, spending the days resting and doing little catch-up and cleaning things around the motorhome and evenings visiting family members. One little task was converting two 12" fluorescent fixtures to LED strips ...a fantastic improvement! The RV park is right on the river, and like so many RV parks now is over half filled with obviously permanent residents. As "trailer parks" have gradually disappeared, many RV parks have become trailer parks for permanent residents rather than temporary stops for recreational vehicles. While some RV parks maintain a semblance of being temporary residences, others don't. This is one that is losing the temporary appearance battle with many rigs with literally truck loads of stuff crammed under the trailers and motorhomes, and some like the picture here with permanent porches and fences and tents/canopies somewhat covering all the "stuff" piled about!! The challenge for RV park owners is to strike some kind of balance between permanent residents who provide a steady/permanent income, and the RV traveler who pays a higher price per night, but a varying income amount each month. With Good Sam discount, our cost per night here was just over $28. We had a great visit with family, and on a Monday morning we headed South on the final leg of our trip to Alaska and back. Along the way, we stopped for a brief lunch, and also for just under 79 gallon of diesel at $3.79 a gallon ...a great price compared to the $5.++ per gallon we saw in Canada!!. We arrived back at home base just after 3:30pm after stopping by the post office to pick up our mail after 4 1/2 months on the road. No, it wasn't 4 1/2 months of held mail ...just three weeks or so. Most of the time we were gone, we had our mail forwarded to our Escapees mail service address, and had them forward mail to us monthly.

17-19 OCT MINEOLA TX -- After getting caught up on house chores and partially adjusted to "stick house" living again, we took a three night outing with the State Rally of the Texas W Club, the state chapter of WIT (Winnebago Industries Travelers). The rally was just up the road in Mineola TX where the city has a very nice civic center that includes just over 200 RV connections. Most are full-hookup sites with 50a electric, with 20 or so 30a water and electric hookups just north of the building. The utility arrangements are a bit odd, with utilities shared between concrete slabs in the center circle, and utilities totally jumbled on the newer outer circle ...depending on whether you pull in nose first or back in, most sites have electric on one side and water sewer on the other, while some have sewer available on either side. All sites are designed to cluster 4 rv's close together sharing multiple connections on the same power pole and water hydrant, but the placements of the utilities would make utility connections very interesting if the park were totally full. Fortunately, our group was about 60 rigs, so each was able to arrange parking with workable connections. We had a good weekend, with vendors, entertainment, a Halloween party, and door prizes. We won a nice folding chair in the door prize drawings, and scored a couple of good deals in the silent auction. And we had time to do some wandering around in some of the antique stores downtown. In spite of abundant sandburs, the dogs had a good time too, except for a good yelp! when a wet nose was applied to a metal power pole that apparently had a bad ground. Our voltage meter confirmed a problem, and we reported the hazard to management Halloweenbut saw no efforts to fix it while we were there. After Sunday devotions with the chapter chaplain, we made a leisurely drive the 40 miles back to Whitehouse, stopping briefly at Walmart to pick up a walmart.com order, and for lunch at What-a-Burger on the way.

25-26 OCT HUFFINES TX -- The weekend before Halloween, we drove 100 miles NE to tiny Huffines, TX, no car in tow this time. We didn't see any town associated with the name, but did find the rural home of family members who have an annual Halloween party. We parked the motorhome in the yard, hooked up to 15a power. That works as long as we don't have to run the ac. The LP furnaces work fine on a low amp connection. Saturday evening saw 30+ cars in the yard, with 100+ people milling about playing games and grazing through the food tent. The party was complete with food, games, pumpkin carving contest, pumpkin pinata for the little kids, hay rides, and a haunted house. After worship at First UMC in Atlanta TX just North of the Huffines area, we headed back SW, stopping for fuel in Tyler where we got just under 58 gallon of diesel for $3.65 a gallon. We got back to the house with enough time to get the car unhooked, the motorhome parked and stored away, and made it to the church in time to indulge in the products of a chili cook-off ...unloading had to wait!

8-9 NOV, RURAL ALBA TX -- After a couple of weeks at home, we joined the Ramblin' Rose WIT group for the annual Thanksgiving rally at the MudBell Ranch south of Alba TX. Our hosts were members of the chapter, and former president. Over the years they added several RV connections, and most are still usable. We figured out a much better, more direct, route this year and skipped the winding narrow road we took last year South out of Alba. This road was much better. We had a great time with 7 rigs present, and most of the time spent either indulging in food or table games. We did have a bit of "entertainment" on arrival day when one rig tried to take the obvious most direct route across the grass to what looked like a pull through site ...but it had rained a lot recently and the intended route included the drainage area from the house yard. They got just far enough to avoid blocking the drive for later arrivals. An attempt to pull the rig out with a tractor only gained some tractor tire ruts in the driveway. The tow truck that arrived next was a bit undersized, but was able to winch the rig out in spite of the wrecker being dragged a bit backwards, blocked tires and all. With our motorhome weighing apx 10k more than this one, I doubt the little tow truck would have been able to do the job had we been stuck! The spots where we parked up on the high part of the yard still gained some tire impressions, but as long as we didn't break the grass cover we were good. I think the grass was the only thing holding the dirt pudding together!! After Thanksgiving potluck on Thursday night, followed by leftovers for Friday lunch, and dinner at a Mineola restaurant on Friday night, we all departed for our homes on Saturday morning.

5 DEC, MERIDIAN MS -- As forecasters were predicting an epic ice storm, we loaded the motorhome on December 4th in 80 degree weather. On the 5th, we woke early and departed just after 8am in temps just over 40. Partway through the day our windows suddenly fogged over on the outside, and the temp gauge on the dash went up 20-25 degrees in just a few miles. We did drive in rain off and on, but other than that it was smooth sailing. After a doggie stop or two, and a stop at Flying J in Pearl MS for 70 gallon of diesel at $3.77/gallon, we arrived in Meridian MS around 4pm. We had planned to stay at a place on the North side of town where we have stayed a couple of times in the past, but when we called we found they were full up. We called Bonita Lakes RV park on the South side and they had a few openings. Construction in the area has most parks in the area at capacity. Bonita Lakes was very easy access. We got a pull through site with concrete pad long enough for both the motorhome and car. They had good WIFI and catv, both at no additional cost. We spent a peaceful evening and paid $25 for the night.

6-31 DEC, WETUMPKA AL -- Once again it got cold overnight as the front passed us. We left Meridian in temps in the high 40's, and when we stopped for lunch at a Subway in Selma AL it was in the 80's and very humid. After a stop at the Entec just North of Montgomery on US 231/Wetumpka Highway for 37 gallon of diesel at $3.65 a gallon, we arrived at Ft Toulouse/Jackson in mid-afternoon. Since our stay last year the park is now on city water, so no more rust colored water! But they ran out of money so did not get sewer connections run to the sites. It was a bit over 80 degrees when we arrived, and we confirmed our suspicision that the house ac had quit working. The compressor is running, but the outside fan is not, so cooling is minimal. But the temps fell again overnight, and stayed in the 30-40 range at night and 40-60's during the day, so we didn't need air conditioning. And while the unit also in our heat pump, we also have two LP furnaces. We found that with setting the furnace around 60 at night, and the using the furnace to bring the temp up to the mid-60's in the morning, a small electric heater kept us very comfortable the rest of the time. We called a local heating/ac guy who referred us to someone else who didn't return our calls, so we will find a certified service location after we return to Texas in January. We enjoyed time with our kids and grandkids during the rest of December, probably the consistently coldest December we have spent in Alabama with none of the typically intermingled 70 degrees days folowed by tornado warnings. Our cost for 30 days at Ft Toulouse/Jackson, with 10% military/senior discount, was $10.16 per night.


Our total RV mileage for 2013 was 13,662 miles ...our highest ever. That total includes apx 6,000 miles on the Alaska caravan plus apx 3,000 miles to and from the starting and ending points.
- CAMPGROUND COSTS totaled $2,054.70 ...we cannot calculate an average cost per night for this year as we had 71 nights on the Alaska caravan at no cost to us, and at least 5 months in our own backyard. We generally avoid any place with "resort" or "KOA" in their name. We did not overnight this year at any Walmart, truck stop, etc.
- COST FOR DIESEL FUEL was $7,874 with avg cost per gallon of $4.21, and avg 7.33 mpg (includes apx 100 hrs of generator use at up to .5 gallon/hr). Our per mile fuel cost this year was 57.5 cents per mile. This includes fuel cost over the 6,000 mile Alaska caravan with costs up to $5.50 per gallon.
- COST FOR LP GAS was $75 (total of 25 gallon in 2 fills of our apx 37 gallon tank). We use LP gas for stovetop cooking, occasional water heater or refrigerator power when electric is not available, to power two LP furnaces (one 35,000 BTU and one 25,000 BTU) when temps are below the point where the heat pumps will work (apx 35 degrees), or if it is cold and we do not have electric "shore power" available. The stove top, refrigerator, and water heater use very little LP, but the two furnaces are LP hogs.
- MAINTENANCE COSTS for the year were high, totalling $9,700. That includes routine chassis service and all repairs, and this year we had to replace two tires at a cost of $1,200 and have the radiator pulled and rebuilt at a cost of almost $5,000. We budget about $300 per month for maintenance, intended to cover the cost of routine maintenance each year and tire replacement every 7 years. Obviously, that didn't cover the bill this year! It is a VERY GOOD idea to have some $$ in reserve for unplanned repairs.
- MOTORHOME INSURANCE runs us apx $1,800/year. That includes full replacement cost in case of accident or fire that "totals" the motorhome. The cost of insurance varies widely for RV'ers depending on driving record, credit record, state of residency, and other factors. Most RV insurers require "fulltimer" insurance if you live in your RV more than 5 months of the year. We dropped from "fulltimer" to "part-timer" in 2011. The rates went down $100/year, then went up $300 the next year! We recently got a quote from another RV insurer for considerably less, and will be checking it out in more detail.
- TOAD COSTS This year we had to replace the totaled 2000 Odyssey with the 2005 Odyssey in March. For the 2005, we paid $1,267 for 100k service, $650 for new tires, apx $900 for towing equipment, and fuel for 4.1k miles at apx 15 cents per mile and avg cost $3.50/gallon. Avg mpg for the 2005 Odyssey was apx 17.6. The 2005 Odyssey has apx 112k on the odometer at the end of the year. We towed it apx 13,100 miles this past year, and drove it only 4,100.

Visited States map

MT, NC, NB, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, WV, WY = 38
Visited Provinces map

PLUS Canadian Provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, and Yukon Territory

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