A second washer/dryer had been installed with a $300 tank of diesel thrown in for our trouble. Ken has replaced the azimuth motor for the satellite dish and it is rising and aiming itself without any intervention from him. We have discovered that some of the tar spots on the front bumper of the almost brand new Jeep are dings despite our faithful use of the stone guard. So once that has been touched up, we will be back in the good condition we were in when we left for the Alaska adventure in May.
We have read and learned from the blogs of many other travelers which helped immensely in planning and deciding how to spend our time in Alaska. So it only seems right to share some reflections for those who will travel those semi paved roads behind us.
We've been fortunate to visit many wonderful places in the world and can honestly say that Alaska is like none other. It should be on everyone's "must see" list. Even though we were plagued by uncooperative weather, now that we are home and have taken a cursory look through the photos from this summer, we are impressed once again by all the wonderful scenery. It's surprising how many "blue sky" photos we do have. Between the scenic coastal areas, the dramatic mountains, the myriad lakes and rivers, the forests both thick and drunken, the wildlife - what an amazing place!
The people of Alaska were special as well. Perhaps because the state is so huge and people both native and tourist so few and far between, we always felt welcome and appreciated. Our interactions with the grocery store clerk who was collecting $50 for six food items and the tour guide who was collecting ten times that for a boat tour, were warm and positive. People don't live in Alaska by accident. Most of the folks who look like us have fallen in love with the place and stayed after an initial visit and want you to feel that love as well. The natives are equally passionate about their land and are anxious to share their culture, handicrafts, and traditions.
Alaskans hold some ambivalent attitudes about their beautiful land and its contents. On the one side they are ardent conservationists. When they look at most other parts of the world, they can see that man's activities have plundered and destroyed what nature has created. There are signs that this is happening here as well. Great thought and energy is focused on keeping the salmon healthy. If this fish were to disappear, the effect on the food chain would be devastating and many people would lose their living and/or starve. But how much fishing is too much? There is great resentment of the fact that most of the land in the state is held by some sort of government agency state or federal, although those holdings have preserved the land and its contents in their original condition. But in modern times Alaska was created by people who wanted the land to create wealth - from fur, gold, coal, copper, oil, etc. And these activities destroy what makes Alaska Alaska. People need to make a living. If you are hungry and cannot afford the high priced food sold at Fred Meyer, you are going to pick up a rifle and shoot an elk. Life in Alaska raises the question men all over the world should be asking - how can mankind flourish and live on the planet without destroying it?
When you come to Alaska, bring lots of money. On those rare occasions when we went out to breakfast - $30 for the two of us, lunch at least $40 without anything to drink, dinner at least $60 ditto on the drinks. And the tip rose exponentially as well. Campgrounds ranged from $0 for just a spot to stay for the night to over $40. Our motor home requires 50 amps to run appliances well and that was a rarity. If we had 50 amps, it was reflected in the surcharge. Gas and diesel were surprising cheap, especially in Anchorage and Fairbanks. When we planned this trip last winter, there were dire warnings about the price of fuel. We're glad we ignored them and encourage others to do so, too. While we never worried about finding groceries of some sort, the prices took our breath away. We had to keep reminding ourselves about the journey that good had made before it was being sold to us. I was glad that I had brought as many non perishables with us. Tours on land, sea and air are also very pricey. Our philosophy was that we are here to do what there is to do and we tried to do it all, but those credit cards were smoking by the time we left.
When we left home we had a choice between using our satellite dish for TV or internet. So far north those two services do not come together on a dish our size and eventually disappeared altogether farther north. We chose TV and were happy with that decision since many Alaskan campgrounds provided adequate internet. This was not true in Canada and in the Yukon particularly. Service was very limited and additional fees were charged.
Although we are probably not totally objective, we feel that Alaska is best seen by RV. For those who do not have the luxury of time and cannot spend four months "seeing it all," we would recommend flying to Anchorage and renting an RV there. Because so many folks are doing just that, competition keeps the prices low compared to other places where we've researched similar options. Campgrounds are plentiful and it is legal to camp along the road in pull offs. Those were plentiful as well. Although we made reservations along the way, they were not necessary. There was always somewhere to stop. The area between Fairbanks to the north and Valdez to the south contains many of the most important areas to see and do not involve driving vast distances. But when you include the drive to and from our home in metro Chicago, we drove almost exactly 10,000 miles this summer.
Cruising in Alaska is worthwhile too. The trip up the inland passage from Seattle/Vancouver and the many island towns that are in the panhandle are picturesque and full of culture and history and cannot be visited by vehicle. But on a cruise ship you are arriving with 2,000 others and your Alaska experience is not the same as it is when you are driving a road where the next vehicle won't pass for ten minutes. Cruise often offer land tours as well, but you are still in a bus or train with herds of other people. If you take this sort of trip, your Alaska will only have a scanty resemblance to ours.
If you have medical problems, think twice about coming to Alaska. Anchorage was the only city that had a Walgreens and most of the towns had no pharmacies or doctors at all. One man told us about falling off his roof and breaking his arm and having to take a $10,000 plane trip for medical attention. The Coast Guard functions as the ambulance service in Alaska. Bring your medications with you and stay healthy.
You hear lots of frightening stories about driving in Alaska. They were true in the distant past, but have no relevance today. Construction plagues drivers in the lower 48 and is ongoing in Alaska as well. Plan to drive slowly and savor the scenery. The time you lose driving at this speed will be made up for the fact that you will be sharing the road with few other vehicles. Seeing a red light is much rarer than seeing a moose or bear on the road.