Alaska: Exploring the Last Frontier Via Truck Camper

My wife, Lindsay, and I were pretty naive when we set off to visit Alaska in our customized flatbed truck camper. Ok, we were incredibly naive. We had never camped in our rig before the day we left everything we knew behind in our hometown in Florida to meander toward Alaska.It was our dream to drive from Alaska to Argentina over the course of a few years. Less than six months before we left, we found on a well-worn Lance 845 short-bed camper. Despite the fact that we didn’t own a truck to carry it, we sensed that somehow all the pieces would come together in time.

A few weeks later we found a Ford F250 with the legendary 7.3L diesel engine. Sure it had 445,000 miles on it. But this engine was known as the “million-mile engine,” so we felt certain we could squeeze another 25-30,000 miles out of her. She had a long flatbed, perfect for customizing the space we wanted to build beneath the camper.

Having thrown together everything we thought we’d need for such an adventure, we set off to drive to Alaska. But along the way we wanted to visit as many states as we could, dragging our feet until June or July, which we perceived would be the perfect time to make our run on Alaska.

We were from Florida, remember? We didn’t like the idea of cold and snow!

Fast forward three months and we found ourselves staging our journey to Alaska in Spokane, Washington. Lindsay, has Crohn’s Disease and she was fortunate to be able to receive intravenous medication in a handful of states across the US. However, the limiting factor in our journey was that she was required to receive her medication once every eight weeks.

Spokane was the closest infusion center we could find to the Canadian border. So after timing her last infusion we set off across a rarely-crossed border into British Columbia (BC) and began our northward trek toward Alaska.

There is very little sense driving through Canada if you don’t stop through the magnificent beauty of the Canadian Rockies. And as much as we wanted to get to Alaska, we could not pass up wandering through Revelstoke, Banff and Jasper National Parks for a few days before finding our way to Dawson Creek and the start of the Alaska Highway.

The morning we pulled out of our overnight parking spot at the Dawson Creek Walmart, having planned every strategic fuel stop for the next 1,500 miles or so, was cold and rainy—a great sendoff to the Last Frontier!

The first few miles were mundane as we drove a well-maintained road that led through thick forest. We were always on the lookout for wildlife. But it was sparse.

Eager to reach Alaska we put 466 miles behind us when we pulled into a boondocking campsite just outside the Liard River Hot Springs. We learned that the further north we drove the longer the sun remained in the sky.

So after a long, lazy morning of soaking in the hot springs, we decided to nap and not set out on the next leg until mid-afternoon. We imagined we would see more wildlife traveling through the extended evening hours.

Two hundred and fifty miles later we checked off half a dozen species of wildlife as we crossed between into the Yukon and took a long break to explore the Sign Post Forest of Watson Lake.

We boondocked along the Swift River, thinking that moving water would keep the mosquitos away. This was not so much the case. And the next morning Lindsay woke up to celebrate her 32nd birthday with a mosquito net wrapped securely to her face.

Despite our theory on starting the drive in the late afternoon, there was no joy in sitting by the river and we spent the next three to four hours chasing mosquitos out of our truck as we pressed on through the Yukon.

We stopped briefly in Whitehorse, both to fuel up and to enjoy a plate of poutine to celebrate Lindsay’s birthday. I promised her we’d be in Alaska before the sunset.

Onward we drove and the tame wilderness of BC turned more rugged and raw as we churned toward the Alaska border. We did stop once for pleasure, to enjoy an impromptu (albeit cold!) bath in Kluane Lake. But from there it was a steady drive toward the Alaskan border.

True to my word, we crossed into Alaska just after 10pm, surrendered a few Canadian apples and potatoes to customs, and camped at a nearby lake. Enjoying the last of a near-midnight sunset, we gave each other a high five and let ourselves dream about the adventures to come as we had officially arrived in Alaska.

We were in no rush to leave the next morning, and with only 259 miles to Fairbanks, we made the somewhat uneventful drive north with the steady guidance of a massive mountain range that seemed to tower in the distance to our left.

At this point, we have to say that, for the first time in our Alaska journey, we felt pressured by time. We had inflicted a strict driving schedule on ourselves. But in Whitehorse, we checked the weather forecast in Deadhorse and learned that there was a “freak” storm on its way. It was expected to drop several feet of snow and leave the region wet and miserably cold for several weeks. We didn’t have weeks to sit around Fairbanks waiting and we knew better than to try to brave the storm.

So we spent the night staging our drive up the Dalton Highway in the Fairbanks Walmart parking lot. Unlike other mornings, we woke early the next day, filled our Thermos with hot coffee from McDonald’s, and began our epic drive north along the frost-heave-filled Elliott Highway to the start of an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime drive along the Dalton Highway.

That, in itself, is another story. But essentially we reached Deadhorse in 15 hours, just a half-day before the arrival of the storm. We averaged 30 mph along the drive, which we learned was actually quite fast. And we booked passage with a tour operator to finish the remaining 15 miles from Deadhorse to the Arctic Ocean where the cold north wind pushed chunks of ice (dare we say “icebergs”) into the shallows.

There we took our shoes off and stepped into the Arctic, having reached the top of the world. There was only one thing left to do at that point (after I stripped down and boldly immersed my entire body in the unwelcoming sea)—to turn our truck camper south and begin our drive toward Argentina.

You probably don’t care how incredibly beautiful the landscapes are along the Dalton Highway. Or about how we had a herd of no fewer than 2,000 caribou greet us along the road. You’re probably thinking more about the dangers of the infamous highway and the fact that we did in fact have a tire blow out and leave us stranded several hours.

You may also wonder how we fared racing the winter storm. In short, we survived and drove straight back to Fairbanks, where a clear sky and 80-degree temperatures awaited. We had spent less than 48 hours for the entire trip because I was afraid of a second flat tire that I’d rather have closer to Fairbanks.

From Fairbanks, we found a campground in the village of Nenana where we wanted to spend a few days resting and recovering from the Dalton. We spent nearly $50 in quarters and two hours of our time at a car wash trying to remove the Dalton mud caked to our truck and camper. Months later we’d still be cleaning mud from the truck!

From Nenana, we simply wandered Alaska, knowing that the sand in the hourglass was slowly running out but that we were in no hurry. We had no predisposed notions about any place we visited, nor did we have any bucket list for things to see and do.

So we did what we did best, and wandered into Denali on a day when the peak actually revealed her majesty. Then we circled south to the Kenai Peninsula to begin our tour of what we would later call the five fingers of Alaska.

Our first stop was Homer, where we spent several days camping on the beach at the spit. Our camper door opened to a pebble beach where we stacked stones to form our own fire pit and burned drift wood to keep us warm as the sun set very late in the evening sky.

Our next stop was Seward, where we spent most of our time camped in the city park along Destruction Bay. We walked around town and found our favorite spot in the marina where playful sea otters floated in the turquoise water. We made friends with other campers and explored the reaches of the city on our bike vowing to return to spend more time one day.

After leaving the Kenai Peninsula we recognized that we were on our return to the Lower 48. We drove the beautiful down-and-back stretch of highway to Valdez, where we spent two full days at Solomon Gulch watching sea lions, bears and bald eagles feast upon the salmon that were running upstream into the nearby hatchery. We camped at the foot of a glacier and fell asleep to the creaking of the ice as it gently crept at sloth speed down the mountain.

Our next stop really took us away from the heart of Alaska as we returned to the AlCan Highway and cut back south through the Yukon, retracing our northward steps. We detoured again to drive to Haines, where we spent a few days catching up with friends we had made in Denali.

As photographers we all spent the afternoon and evening hours waiting for “Speedy,” the famous Grizzly bear who roamed the shores of the Chilkoot River, swatting at salmon every few feet along the shoreline.

Reality really began to set in as we turned off the Alaskan Highway onto the more remote Cassiar Highway and made our way through BC to cross once again into Alaskan territory at the tiny “ghost town” of Hyder.

Before we left Washington we met a man who told us the best halibut sandwiches could be found in Hyder at a place called “The Bus” (sadly the owners shuttered the business recently). He was right. Not only did we find the best halibut sandwiches were indeed served there, but also we had the opportunity to spend two days long-line fishing for the halibut that filled our bellies!

In Hyder we knew we had little time to spare before Lindsay needed to receive her next intravenous treatment. We skipped back through BC in good time with little to stop for as the entire provence seemed to be caught on fire.

We pulled into SeaTac Airport at 4am, just shy of eight weeks from the day we left Spokane, where Lindsay boarded a plane to return to Florida for her next infusion. There she would say hello to friends and family we hadn’t seen since we left, collect our mail and tidy up any other arrangements that are hard to keep up with when you live in your RV full time.

Driving to and around Alaska in our truck camper was truly a bucket list experience for us. From the first dream we had to drive from Alaska to Argentina, to driving the North Slope and reaching the Arctic to handing over a few more Canadian apples and potatoes at the US border—the journey is one that has become a part of who we are and we always plan to spend our “next summer” returning to Alaska.

We hardly touched the surface of everything to see and do in the Last Frontier. And as Lindsay has learned to treat herself more holistically (successfully!) we know that whenever we do return we will have far more than eight weeks to explore a part of our country few reach, but all should plan to visit at least once in their lifetime.

About Chris and Lindsay at Called To Wander

Chris and Lindsay Harvey, along with their two cattle dogs Everest and Huckleberry, have been traveling mostly full-time in their RV since 2018. Having started their journey in an attempt to drive from Alaska to Argentina, they quickly fell in love with life on the road and have chosen to spend their time touring the North American continent. Former Lance 845 owners, they run a website and YouTube channel where they document their experiences and help others pursue adventure on the road.

About Chris Harvey 1 Article
Chris and Lindsay Harvey, along with their two cattle dogs Everest and Huckleberry, have been traveling mostly full-time in their RV since 2018. The couple now runs a website, calledtowander.com, and YouTube channel where they document their experiences and help others pursue adventure on the road.

3 Comments

  1. I’m a 45 jimmy and I drove into Anchorage in a 1 1/2 ton 45 Jimmy (GMC) in 1971. 2 St Bernards in the back, and a canoe. Great trip up and took the ferry out of Haines back to Ketchican and waited for the pipeline to start. Got a job on the pipe and was making $14/hr, 6/12s or 7/10s , Came back to Portland and started my own construction company Highway was 1200 miles of dirt or ice depending on which season you traveled. I’ll go up 1 more time before I pass

  2. I read your story with great interest, your journey reminded me of our first journey to Alaska (2015 & 2018). In which we learn to cope with the long daylight hours and setting a time to stop driving for the day. May you guys return to Alaska and spend more time as well as taking in more of Canada and the road to Tuktoyaktuk, Canada.

Leave a Reply (You Must Be Logged In)