Checkout the unabridged story of the Alaska Adventure at:
Now that our 2800-mile inauguration into RV ownership is complete, traveling by RV has taught me a few things about camping and human nature. Some of these revelations came while sitting behind the wheel and staring out at 2800 miles of road while others stemmed from the 4-hours spent scrubbing bugs off of the front of the motor home at the end of the 2800 miles. Nonetheless…
After much consideration, I have concluded that traveling by RV is exactly that: traveling. It no longer qualifies as camping. Having progressed from tent camping to the VW Westfalia camper van and then to a pop-up tent trailer prior to joining the ranks of the motor home indebted has provided the necessary insight to draw this conclusion. In the aforementioned variations of camping, each one was a step up in amenities, comfort and, with a little imagination, luxury. However, there is one key distinguishing element that separates these other forms of shelter from the motor home and defines the difference between ‘camping’ and ‘traveling’: the outhouse. With the tent, van and tent trailer you were quite limited to where you could camp due to basic bodily needs. As such, campgrounds were built around facilities that filled this need which would otherwise involve squatting over a log and using leaves. Moreover, this basic bodily need usually arises in the middle of the night where upon stirring restlessly for a bit, a person would relent to waking their spouse in order to escort them through the dark to the camp facilities. I was the designated escort.
Some campgrounds have very nice facilities with running hot water and even showers. In particular, the facilities found in Oregon State campgrounds are extremely nice. Not Taj Mahal nice, but nice in relative campground terms. However, there are the other extremes too: the decade old, hole-in-the-ground, spider and fly infested abyss without a seat. Or even worse, the ones that even the spiders and flies wouldn’t inhabit.
Conversely, the RV takes this amenity with you where ever you go or spend a night; sans the spiders and flies unless you are very poor housekeeper. Having your own personal throne to sit upon in semi-privacy (because the walls in the RV’s are NOT at all sound proof) is the key distinction between traveling and camping. Some people might argue that this deprives you the true experience of camping and I will accept that because after all, simply traveling is just fine with me.
Observing other drivers from the helm of the RV has lead to some insight regarding the primordial core of human nature. Specifically, being a driver of a vehicle behind an RV is apparently equivalent to the 7th level of Dante’s inferno. Even on narrow two-lane roads with blind curves, motorists trailing an RV are overcome by a biological involuntary reflex that is not that different than the ones that keeps your heart beating, eyes blinking or lungs pumping. This reflex is the spontaneous extension of the right leg against the gas pedal. It is as fundamental as any phobia, fetish, craving or subconscious thought but is also much more systemic. It is the undeniable need to pass a motor home resulting in the loss of all common sense or self preservation. This holds true even when churning along at 10+ mph over the speed limit as well as on blind winding roads or even parking lots.
Although our motor home big and clunky, it is no slouch on the road given that it is powered by a 6.8-liter Triton V10 pumping out 300+ horsepower. Of course hills remain the nemesis of any RV but on flat ground speed limits are easily maintained. Yet even when a pushing along at a fair clip above the posted limit people are still driven to pass (pun mostly intended). Even more interesting is that once these people pass they frequently end up going slower than you were to start with–just as long as the RV is NOT IN FRONT. Even the most gentle and timid little ol’ grandma turns into a fierce speeding demon, pushing the redline on her 10 year old Corolla, just to be out in front where she can now slow back down to a comfortable pace of 5mph below the speed limit.
I highly suspect that there is no limit to this uncontrollable impulse. In fact, if ever given the opportunity to mount a pair of Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 afterburning turbo jet engines –the same ones used on the F22 Raptor stealth air-superiority fighter—with each engine producing a peak thrust of 35,000 pounds and achieving a supersonic cruise speed, grandma would undoubtedly still try to pass. Of course this is purely hypothetical and ignores the basic limitations in the applied physics of such a notion since the exterior awning on the RV would hardly sustain mach 1 before tearing away from the RV.
We pushed off early today after a quick walk to the river and a few more photos. We stopped in Whistler for a latte (yes, Starbucks) after navigating the RV through the narrow corridors of the village and bouncing our way down streets littered with molguls (ie: cars). We sipped our coffee in procrastination of ending our vacation but returned to the RV in fear that the parking enforcement would complain about us taking up multiple spaces. My theory, however, was that if we paid for an hour’s worth of parking but took up 6 spaces then we should be fine for 10 minutes.
Heading further south, we pulled into Horseshoe Bay and had lunch out on the patio of the restaurant overlooking the harbor. We had developed a substantial appetite after circling the back streets of the small town in search of a parking spot. The RV sure seemed a lot smaller back at the expansive lot of the RV dealer and park next to the mammoth class A rigs. This was also our first meal “out” since we left my aunt and uncle’s place in Wasilla over a week ago.
With excuses for procrastination running out, we finally pushed on to the boarder. The crossing back into the US was effortless. In fact, I was a bit surprised and disappointed that the customs agent didn’t pick up on the fact that our residence was in Seattle yet the plates on the RV were Alaskan. Another interesting contrast between the US and Canada was noted. When entering Canada, the primary questions were regarding firearms. However, the US boarder agent was only intent on knowing if we had any fruit. Apparently, alien citrus has been deemed the next biggest threat to national security now that Bin Laden has been fed to the fish.
Arriving home was truly a bittersweet moment. It is always good to be home but it also signifies the end of the best and most memorable experience we have shared. In our absence, we had the house painted. Pulling up, we were anxious to see the house and if iridescent orange had been a good choice. Luckily I had left Kat in charge of final color selection and the neutral tan that greeted us at the far end of the drive way looked fantastic. The cat, the fish, and the bird all survived the three weeks of social deprivation—not that the fish were really all that social to start with. The cat has decided that it likes being petted and fish still seem adverse to it. The only causality of our absence was a circuit breaker that tripped during the painting resulting in a defrosted freezer. Still, we can’t help to wonder what the repercussions of the career would be if we just called in “sick” for another week. Alas, the imminent return to work will be a harsh reality.
Final Tally: 2,885 miles driven in our new RV from Anchorage to Seattle. 3,450 miles total for trip.
Number of pictures taken: 1,623 (seriously!).
We woke with a leisurely start to the morning that included writing up the previous day’s adventures and looking at our pictures when we realized that checkout time was nearing. The camp Gestapo lady could be heard warming up her truck for an 11:01 intercept of anyone still in their campsite past checkout—an obvious intent on exploiting the British Columbia park system that she would clearly not tolerate. We quickly prepared for departure, retuning the awning to the upright and locked position, securing the aft cabin and triple checking that the outside hatches were secured. As we pulled out of our campsite at 32 seconds past 11:00, the blue truck with “Camp Host” written on the side rounded the corner of the far end of the campground. At maximum maneuvering speed of almost 7 miles per hour we headed for the camp exit passing by the “poo dump’’ station knowing that would be an easy trap. We did manage to exit the threshold of the campground where I am sure the pursuing camp host truck screeched to a skidding halt and with fists raised in the air the camp lady was cursing us in her defeat. Whew! Time: 11:02. That was close.
We continued on south, clearly refugees from the BC park system. After topping off the fuel in Clinton, we took another side tour. With the work week already shot, though we were both eager to get back to the office (and no sarcasm there, really, honest), we decided to take the Sea to Sky Highway south through Whistler. Kat had never been there. I have skied Whistler may times, albeit many years and 50 pounds ago. However, I had never seen Whistler in the summer nor been north of there either.
The road (Highway 99) from Cash Creek south towards Whistler was awe inspiring meaning that many portions of it induced clenching of the glutes as the road wound along cliffs. The scenery was spectacular—when you dared to steal a glance. During the construction of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks, a sergeant stationed at a relay station on the road wrote in 1942: “The Alaska Highway winding in and winding out fills my mind with serious doubt as to whether ‘the lout’ who planned this route was going to hell or coming out!”. The Canadians obviously took this as a challenge to build a road with even steeper hills, more curves and punctuate it with an absence of guardrails along the sheer vertical drops. The canyon which we traversed was quite spectacular with the river channel carved out several hundred feet below and with a scattering of plush farmed plateaus amongst the dry ravines. The contrasts made it one of the most interesting views of the trip—when you dared to steal a glance away from the road.
Little did we know that this was just the warm up to the punchline of road building. In the town of Lillooet, the Fraser River, Highway 12 and any sane or rational person heads east to Lytton. We, however, continued south on 99 though the canyons towards Whistler. Kat actually held her breath for 32 miles as we traversed down winding 20% grades to the creek side. She only took a quick breath to exclaim “What?! We are going back up?” just as the road then climbed back up the opposing sheer cliff so that we could enjoy another roller coaster ride down. After the worse was behind us, we stayed at the Nairn Fall Provincial Park.
That evening we took a 1.9 km hike to the Nairm Falls with Kat vigorously ringing her bell to thwart off any bears. It must have worked, since we didn’t see any…or any other wildlife…or any other people for that matter. The falls were amazing, cascading down 197 feet though tortuously carved rock. Unfortunately, like much of what we have seen this trip, the sheer impressiveness of it cannot be sufficiently captured with a few snapshots. Following the hike, we unwound by snuggling up on the couch and watching moving back in the RV. Tomorrow we make the final leap home.
We woke to an eerie fog that had settled over the provincial campground at McLeod Lake and found ourselves to be the only remaining tenant out of the total of three for the night. The campground was nice with lots of grass parking areas which was a welcome change from the seemingly endless supply of mud that we track into the motorhome. After a walk down to the lake’s shore, we motored on leaving the resident squirrels to fend for themselves.
The road from this point on was much improved. Apparently the Canadian highway improvement crews haven’t gotten around to installing the potholes yet. We made good time with a stop in the town of Prince George for a latte. According to Google Maps, there are three Starbucks in Prince George. However, we only took the time to visit one after squeezing the RV into a parking lot that was designed for only compact cars. With a bit of skill and luck, you can actually park the RV while only taking up 14.5 parking spots and on top of 3 Priuses.
The surround landscape continues to be rolling farm land and reminiscent of eastern Washington. There is a notable increase in traffic and most of the roadside roadhouses are intact–most are even open. We camped at another provincial campground, this one at Lac La Hache (of which, like several of the places we have stayed, I am not entirely sure how to pronounce it). Many of the campgrounds we have stayed at also have a camp host as well as a self registration station or a shack at the entrance with a staff to help empty your wallet. This site was alittle different.
Lac La Hache has a resident camp host who is responsible for going from site to site collecting the fees. Shortly after picking our campsite, a blue pickup with “Camp Host” written on the side rolled up and a skinning little old lady got out and swaggered on up to our RV. One downside to having and actual camp host collect fees is that you cannot pawn a US personal check to cover the cost. Though I do suspect I may still get a nasty-gram from two Canadian Provinces regarding foreign checks left in the camp drop boxes. But in my defense, it wasn’t posted to the contrary!
After refusing the personal check, the grey haired host actually seemed genuinely disappointed that we did have cash. After engaging her in a bit of conversation, it turns out that the sole driving encouragement for her to keep living is to catch people trying to sneak by without paying. She gladly elaborated how she would block the exit with her truck in the morning if she suspected that a late arrival the previous night was trying to sneak out early and dodge the fees. Her techniques had been honed with training stemming from what I concluded as actual WWI interrogation experience. She was even proud of being crafty enough to feel the hood of the vehicle to see if it was still cold—indicating that they had stayed a while and the driver was not just passing through.
Like many campgrounds, this one has a fee for the dump station. The tenacious camp host also watches this like a hawk to see if anyone is try to “sneak in a poo dump” without the 5 dollar cover charge. Anyone skimping would be confronted and “sometimes ey just wanna to shoot ‘em” she pronounced. Since we had pulled through the loop past “poo dump” station to the far end in order to top off the potable water, she inquired as to where our receipt was from the self-pay box and cheerfully exclaimed that there was an $89 fine for not paying. The sign at the “poo dump” station, however, stated: $5/discharge (seriously). Conversely, potable water was free. I challenged her to go ahead and pull the cap and drain lever on our holding tank and if two days worth of “discharge” didn’t spill out into the campsite, I would gladly pay the $89 fine. She reluctantly backed off and upon hearing another RV pulling into the park and raced off fearing they might try to skimp on the “poo dump”.