Friday, April 30, 2010

Steese Highway

For the first leg of my Alaskan Summer travels, I've decided to drive the Steese Highway from Fairbanks to Circle and back.

The Steese Highway is a highway in the Interior region of the U.S. state of Alaska that extends 161 miles (259 km) from Fairbanks to Circle, a town on the Yukon River about 50 miles (80 km) south of the Arctic Circle. The highway was completed in 1927 and is named for U.S. Army General James G. Steese, a former president of the Alaska Road Commission. It is paved for about the first 60 miles (97 km) and around the town of Central and gravel for the remainder, much of it narrow and winding. (From Wikipedia)

There are several factors for me in choosing the Steese. First is that it is one of the few roads in Alaska that I have not yet driven, and thus an area that I have not seen. Second, most folks around here say that it is really pretty and that getting to the mighty Yukon River is a treat. Third, and perhaps most important, is that it's a nearby road in case the weather turns lousy and I have to beat a hasty retreat.

That last factor may sound a bit silly after wintering here, but it's not really. Since both my truck and camper have been "de-winterized" I'm not well set up for really cold weather anymore. Plus, when the roads are frozen in winter they are far more passable than when they are muddy in spring. (Keep in mind that more military campaigns have failed miserably due to mud rather than snow!)

I've been told that it's pretty early yet to be embarking on Alaskan Summer travel, but my "Road Rig" is all ready to go and I'm going a bit stir crazy waiting here at the Express in Fairbanks. So, as soon as the current bit of nasty weather we're having clears up I'm going to get after it!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Alaskan Summer 2010 About To Begin

As promised, I took a couple of weeks off just to hang out and recharge from the winter in general and the Iditarod campaign in specific. Everyone -- human and canine -- is still in the Nome area on their Arctic Adventure tours, so it's been very quiet around here. I've wrapped up a few odds and ends, but mostly I've pretty much hibernated and watched the snow melt.

I have also just moved into "big town" Fairbanks, and am temporarily living at the Holiday Inn Express -- my home away from home! There was a brief window of opportunity when my camper was sufficiently unfrozen from the ground that I could get it free, but before the roads became so muddy that I wouldn't be able to drive it out. So, I timed it perfectly, packed up my stuff one day and headed into town. If I'd waited any longer, I think I'd be stuck there for another month or more.

I'm at the Express because I've taken my camper to a local RV service place to be "de-winterized" and overhauled, in preparation for some Alaskan summer traveling I have in mind. Imagine the entire contents of my camper dumped in a motel room and you'll have a pretty good picture of my situation. The staff here know me well from my various overnight visits during the winter, and they are being very nice about my situation.

I hope to hit the road sometime around the end of the month... Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Road Rig Rulz AK Winter!

As I wrap up my winter in Alaska, I just have to give props to my "Road Rig" for how outstandingly well it performed throughout the entire hardship tour.

First, Darth was fantastic, easily the MVP of the whole winter. He did everything I asked of him, from cold morning starts at -40F to middle-of-the-night rescue missions of other broken down vehicles at -70F. Whether he was carrying more than his share of Iditarod drop bags, or driving "back door" and carrying huge dog boxes on a caravan to Anchorage, the lad did it all with reliability, style and comfort for me. I never had a doubt about him and that peace of mind was worth a lot!

His reliability was especially important because we spent so much time out in the wilds on our own, often hundreds of miles from any other people or vehicles. Whether driving across blizzard-swept mountain roads, or waiting in remote locations -- where he often had to idle for hours at a time because there was no place to plug him in -- he never so much as gave an inkling of anything other than smooth running perfection. I know it may sound crazy to sing the praises of a truck, but when your life depends on him it only seems fair!

I also can't say enough good things about my Arctic Fox camper. The factory advertises that the camper is "good" below freezing down to about 20F. I can tell them now from extensive personal experience that the camper is "very good" down to about -20F, and quite comfortable down to -40F and below. True, you have to shove some insulation into the seams of the slide-out, add some weatherstripping to the door, forget about running water and a few things like that, but the heater keeps it toasty warm and that's pretty amazing. My camper may get less credit than my truck, but it is no less exceptional in performance.

With that, I'm officially wrapping up winter in Alaska. I'm cooking up ideas for what's next... Stay tuned!