Truck Camper Adventure is pleased to present this interview with Alex Blasingame. Alex and his wife, Julie, visited Alaska last summer and this interview is about their epic trip. First, a few facts. At 663,268 square miles, Alaska is the largest state in the U.S. and is home to 20 federal parks, over 100 state parks, and two national forests. Of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S., 17 are in Alaska, including Denali Mountain, which, at 20,320 feet, is the highest in North America. If that isn’t impressive enough, more than half of the world’s glaciers can be found in Alaska. Due to its abundant natural beauty, the state is on the bucket list of many truck camper adventure seekers. If you recall, I first interviewed Alex 15 months ago. I highly recommend checking out that interview as well.
Thanks, Alex, for taking the time to talk. Before we go into the specifics of your epic trip, can you first tell us a little about your truck and truck camper?
Alex: We have a 2007 Ford F-250 super cab, long bed with the 6.0 liter PSD (we bought new) and a 2002 Lance 815 (also bought new). Our camper has been on a couple other trucks that we’ve owned in the past.
How long was your trip to Alaska? When were you there?
Alex: Our expedition in Alaska lasted approximately 34 days, traveling as far north as Prudhoe Bay and as far south as Soldotna, Seward and McCarthy. We had actually entered Alaska twice, once on a side trip to Salmon Glacier through Hyder, Alaska, next to Steward, Canada, but the main Alaska expedition started on June 27, 2015 and ended on July 30, 2015.
How many miles did you put on your truck?
Alex: The Alaskan part of our trip was approximately 3,400 miles long. In total, we put about 16,520 miles on the truck.
Wow, that’s a lot of miles. What preparations did you make before you leaving on your trip?
Alex: Because of the distances involved, we did a lot of things to prepare for this trip. Most of the work was done to the truck to mitigate possible breakdowns during our travels. These are the main things:
- Installed an upgraded EGR cooler exchanger and a new water pump from Bullet Proof, also a new oiler cooler was installed since it was showing signs of clogging.
- Installed an auxiliary 40 gallon fuel tank.
- Installed an extra overload spring and an extra leaf spring for additional support on the rear axle.
- Installed a custom-built generator box to prevent theft.
- Purchased a Smarter Tool, 1,600 watt running/2,000 watts (peak) generator.
- Removed the back seat and built a flat platform for additional storage capacity.
- Installed new GoodYear Wrangler All-Terrain LT285/70R17 tires with Kevlar reinforced side walls.
- Assembled a wide assortment of tools and emergency items like tire plugs, coolant, extra fuses, two bottle jacks, tire chains and other miscellaneous items.
- Installed the air conditioner window unit in the truck camper. Traveling in the lower 48 during the summer would take us through some hot and humid territory.
Did you do any research to prepare for your trip?
Alex: Yes, I conducted a lot of research, about a year’s worth. I talked to anyone who had been to Alaska or who had lived there. I downloaded several maps, visited several websites to locate free RV dump sites and free campgrounds at state, county, national park, US Forest Service, and BLM locations. Due to the distances involved, I also researched the locations of all diesel fuel stops along the route to Alaska. Of course, I also researched the “must see” sights in Alaska and the associated drive through Canada. An invaluable resource is the MilePost publication. This turned out to be a very useful tool in our travels. If you bring any book with you to the Great North, bring this one.
How long did it take before you reached Alaska from your home in California?
Alex: We originally started on June 5, 2015 and two days into the road adventure the engine started to became very hard to start and we had to turn back to get the truck fixed. The problems were leaking “dummy plugs” in the heads. Six days later we were back on the road. We crossed the Alaskan border on June 27, 2015. So we’re talking about 16 days that included several stops in California, Oregon, and Canada.
What places or roads were on your “must see” list?
Alex: We compiled an extensive list of places we wanted to see, but also kept it flexible enough to change it if needed. Our list included Salmon Glacier, the Dalton Highway, the Old Denali Road #8, Exit Glacier, Pioneer Park, the Matanuska Glacier, and the McCarthy and Kennecott Mill and Mine.
Did you suffer any breakdowns or mishaps?
Alex: The only real mishap we experienced during the entire trip was near Salmon Glacier. We had taken a drive down a side road to take a closer look at some abandoned equipment. This route took us to a gravel area along the river. There was some snow on the ground that I had to plow through. As I was doing so my wife, Julie, said to me, “how deep is that snow?” Of course, I answered that it “couldn’t be that deep, you can see the road on the other side.” Well, I fell into one of mother nature’s unseen traps as I plowed into a partially frozen creek. The passenger side, front wheel had broken through the ice and our truck was resting on its frame. We were completely immobilized several miles from the Salmon Glacier overlook.
Did you winch yourself out?
Alex: We tried twice, but were unsuccessful both times. The first attempt was with a sand anchor, but the ground was too hard for the anchor to take hold. The second attempt we used a Suburban as an anchor point. Unfortunately their vehicle was behind us and as you’d expect the cable broke. These good folks lived nearby and called a tow truck for us, but we had to wait until the next morning before it arrived.
So you boondocked on a partially frozen creek all night? I bet that was an experience.
Alex: Actually, it turned out to be a safe spot and a really nice boondocking location. About 10:00am the tow truck out of Steward, British Columbia showed up and we were back on the road in less than hour. The cost for the pull out was $400 US or about $480 Canadian at the time. We weren’t able to get a new cable and fairlead until we arrived in Fairbanks a week later.
Did you do any hunting or fishing while you were up there?
Alex: The only shooting I did was with my camera. I did some fishing, catching mostly Arctic Grayling and one Red salmon in Soldotna. The fish were delicious!
Did you encounter any wildlife like bears and moose?
Alex: Yes, we encountered several black bears in Canada. In fact, I took many fine photos of them. In Alaska we encountered many moose and their calves along with one encounter of a grizzly bear during our trip back down the “Haul Road,” plus a lot of different birds.
What about the mosquitoes? Is it true they can get pretty bad up there?
Alex: Yes, they were really bad. Unfortunately for me they seemed to really like me. I was bitten so much that I would scratch the bites in my sleep. The Alaskans I talked to about this called it having “sweet blood.”
Did you use a repellent?
Alex: We brought along a several bottles of repellent, including one with 100 percent deet, but I still got nailed hard by those little beasties. They got me along the rivers and creeks where I had fished. The most effective means I had to protect myself was mosquito netting.
Did you mostly boondock while you were in Alaska?
Alex: We did all kinds of camping while we were up there. I kept a detailed log. We stayed in fee areas, like RV parks and campgrounds, a total of 17 nights; overnight parking in places like Walmart for 22 nights; and true wilderness boondocking a total of nine nights.
How many batteries are in your camper’s 12 volt system?
Alex: Our Lance 815 came originally with one house battery and that was fine until we installed a Dometic CR-1110 compressor refrigerator. The compressor fridge consumes a lot of amps so we installed a large Interstate 4D battery and upgraded the charge wire from the alternator with a 4 gauge wire.
Aside from your alternator, how did you keep your batteries topped off while you were off-the-grid? Did you use a generator solely or did you use solar as well?
Alex: We used our portable generator only twice to keep our batteries topped off. With only an 85 watt solar panel it didn’t do us much good. We did stay at an RV park a few times to do our laundry and to recharge our batteries.
How well did your Dometic CR-1110 compressor refrigerator work up there? Did your batteries ever get low from running it?
Alex: The compressor fridge worked great no matter how hot or cold it was outside. There were a couple of times I ran the generator just for the sole purpose of recharging the batteries; otherwise, my truck’s alternator kept the batteries effectively charged enough for running our refrigerator.
What were your favorite places that you visited and favorite trails that you explored?
Alex: Wow, that’s kind of difficult to answer since this was our first time there. I’d have to say our favorites were the Dalton Road, the Old Denali Road #8, the McCarthy and Kennecott Copper Mill, Pioneer Park for their Salmon Bake and the Loose Moose Cafe, and the Matanuska Glacier.
So basically everything on your original list, eh?
Alex: Yeah, pretty much.
How much daylight did you have on your trip?
Alex: The more north we traveled the more daytime there was. In Fairbanks, at the time of our arrival, we had about 21 hours and 35 minutes of daylight. On our trip up to Prudhoe Bay and Deadhorse nighttime ceased to exist. I have a photo of the sun still up at 11:45 pm, several degrees above the horizon. It never went lower than that.
What impressed you most about Alaska?
Alex: The people and its size, I’d say that 99.9 percent of the Alaskans that we came into contact with were friendly and helpful. Aside from the people, Alaska is one huge place with lots of greenery and places to explore. I believe you could spend a lifetime there and not see of all. One Alaskan told us little story about visiting Texans and how they brag how everything is so big in Texas, Alaskans simply tell the Texans that they could cut Alaska in half and make Texas the third largest state in the union instead of the second largest.
What were the highest elevations you reached during your time in Alaska?
Alex: The highest altitude was Atigun Pass on the Dalton Highway at 4,739 feet, this road is maintained year around for operations in Prudhoe Bay and Deadhorse. The next highest pass was Maclaren Pass on the Old Denali Road #8 which tops out at 4,086 feet.
How was the local cuisine?
Alex: In Fairbanks we were told about a small cafe called The Loose Moose where we ate moose patty sandwiches and bought some patties to take with us. The Salmon Bake at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks was very good. It was an all-you-can-eat affair with grilled Salmon, prime rib, salad bar, soft drinks, desserts, and adult drinks extra. In Seward, we did have Halibut nuggets at a restaurant and bar, other than that the fish we ate was what I had caught.
The food sounds great. Did you eat primarily at restaurants?
Alex: No, we ate mostly in our camper, things like chicken, burgers, steaks, eggs, bacon, soups, sandwiches, etc. Food is expensive in Alaska and shopping at major markets such as Fred Meyers helps keep costs down and helps with getting fuel discount points.
What advice would you give to those who are considering a trip to Alaska?
Alex: If you’re going by road through Canada make sure you call your credit card companies since Canada is a blocked country, we forgot about that and had to make those calls from Canada. Carry extra fuel with you, one of the potential fuel stops was out of business. Keep updated on what foods you can take across the borders, coming and going. Make your itinerary flexible to changes. During the tourist season there is also a lot of road construction in both countries. Carry some money with you and keep it under a $1,000, customs at both borders don’t seem to have a problem with this amount. Bring mosquito netting for body protection from the mosquitoes. I also recommend that you bring along some kind of window blackout; otherwise, you may have trouble sleeping because of the amount of sunlight.
How was the cell phone service up there?
Alex: Cell phone service outside of the major towns is non-existent and internet access is usually in the larger towns only. There were some restaurants along our route that did have internet, but only if you were a customer.
Was your trip to Alaska worth the time and effort?
Alex: Without a doubt. It was worth all the time and effort.
Are planning on going back?
Alex: Yes, we’re planning on going back in 2017 or 2018. Next time were targeting Alaska only so we can spend more time there and we’re planning on leaving in July instead of June. We were too early for the real bear watching and since we’ve been there once already we’ll know where to go and what to avoid.
Thanks, Alex, for talking with us about your Alaskan adventure.
Alex: Thanks for the opportunity to talk about our trip. If there are any questions from your readers, I would be happy to answer them here in the article comments.