September 21 – October 3, 2015
On September 21, 2015 we crossed the border into Alaska, about a month after we left Northern California. It was an important milestone for us; it represents the beginning of our Pan-American Journey (Alaska to Argentina) and seing the “Last Frontier” was a dream that Joe had since he was a kid.
We knew that we were taking a chance being so late in the season but we did not realize that literally everything closes on September 15. The weather was kind of crapy however we were determined to make the best of it.
The best part about travelling at this time of the year is that you can boondock (free camping with no hook ups) just about everywhere and since we are self sufficient we would just find a nice spot often in a National Forest or State Park and be just about the only ones there.
After a pit stop in Fairbanks we drove along a scenic route to the Chena Hot Springs Resort. Founded over 100 years ago it is world famous for it’s legendary healing mineral waters. They also offer a campground for only $10 a night.
That’s when we experienced our first night of freezing weather and our heater (Webasto Dual Top) failed on us in the early morning hours. We had no internet or cell phone reception so we decided to drive back to Fairbanks. One of our Hellwig Air Bag (suspension) had burst so we had to get that fixed as well.
We spent the night in the Walmart parking lot making phone calls trying to figure out the issue with the heater and getting a new air bag sent to us. Marc from XPCamper recommended that we put an additive in our diesel tank that runs our heather, which we did, and it seemed to work, so we headed to Denali National Park since it was the only sunny day on the 10 day weather forecast.
The drive was absolutely gorgeous and we got to drive into the park up until mile 30. The bus tours we already done for the season so we did not get to see all the Wildlife, that the park is famous for, but it was still a wonderful experience just being there. We camped at Denali’s only campground still open and woke up to no heat and snow. Our only option was to get to Anchorage where our new free air bag was being shipped thanks to Mike from Hellwig Products who really came through for us. We still had to pay $ 200 to get it installed but at least it was fixed. The concept of the Hellwig air bags is to provide safety and stability for the load you are carrying in addition to your suspension.
As far as the heater is concerned we went to two different Webasto certified shops but no one was familiar with our unit. Joe was able get the unit working again by using the Diesel sold in Alaska which is winterized (mixed with additives to prevent freezing). Since we had filled our tank earlier we still had the regular Diesel which becomes a gel in freezing temperature.
While in Anchorage we decided to stay in a hotel for three nights while we sorted out our issues. Since it was pouring rain the whole time we were there, we visited the Anchorage Museum and tried some of the local restaurants and decided that we were going to take the Ferry to go back. We still had to drive 750 miles (1200 km) to Haines.
About 2 hours outside of Anchorage we stopped at the Matanuska Glacier and were able to experience the ice up-close. What a unique opportunity! We met a young couple travelling from Colombia and got to share our stories. One of these moments that will stay with us for ever.
We spent another night of boondocking in a Recreation Area near the glacier. We left the next morning around 8:30 am and drove 600 + miles to Haines. We went through 3 snow storms, 100 miles of road construction, one US State (Alaska), two Canadian Provinces (Yukon and BC) and Alaska again, 2 border crossings, saw a grizzly bear, long horns sheep and finally arrived in Haines, Alaska at 10 pm setting up camp in the line to catch the 7 am ferry the next day. Ouf what a day!!!
Oddly enough the name of our ferry vessel was the M/V Matanuska just like the glacier we had visited the day before. It was a 2 day trip in the Inside Passage of the Alaska Marine Highway System taking us from Haines, AK to Prince Rupert, BC with stops (from noon to 4pm) in Juneau and Ketchikan. We got very lucky and finally got two beautiful sunny days, so we were able to take in the beauty all along the way. We really enjoyed it and it saved us the long drive back. We highly recommend it on your way North or coming back from Alaska. You can bring your own food in a cooler and use the microwave and toaster in the dining room. You can also use the cafeteria which has good food at fair prices. It cost us $932 ($680 for the vehicle/$252 for 2 adults) and $197 for the outside cabin. Driving would have been 920 miles (1480 km) and seeing this part of Alaska was well worth it.