We Have Reservations... by Dave Hileman

…for not about the Alaska trip. So far we have three days at a campground 31 miles into Denali where once you park you cannot move your vehicle for your stay. We have the night in Wrangle I wrote about last week and we have the trip to Sitka finally planned. It was an interesting process. Sitka has a National Park site, so it is a must visit. Access to Sitka is by boat or plane. But reasonably priced transportation is rare. Only the Alaska Marine Highway would really qualify but it goes once a week to Sitka and returns once a week - all at odd hours and lengthy travel times. Plus there is a funding challenge in Alaska for the ferry and they are not sure yet which routes will be cut. So that seemed sketchy. We finally figured out that we could take a seaplane from Haines AK, to Juneau at 7:00 AM and get there for a 10:00 commercial flight to Sitka with no over night in Juneau. Then on the return a 6 AM flight back to Juneau (only one that day) and get a touring ferry back to Haines at 4:30 that evening. So we have three nights on the island in a small cottage a short distance from the park and from downtown. Not sure yet how we will get back to the airport at 5AM. The red on the map is the whole island, Sitka has 18 miles of paved roads and would be a dot among the red. Should be cool - I never was on a float plane before! We are now working on a bear tour plan.


Little Adjustment by Dave Hileman

My truck has chrome trim rings on the dash and that was not comfortable for me as bright flashes of light can trigger migraines and avoiding that was difficult at times. So my grandson, Kellen, and I added changing that to our list of projects yesterday. And this is the result!


I now have nice, non-reflective white (matches truck) trim in the cab. Kellen is adapt and figuring out how things work and we were able to remove and, after painting, install these again.

Also if you are tracking the issue with the truck I wrote about twice already, the transmission to the fan clutch motor became a radiator that was leaking and causing the fan motor to act oddly. So new radiator, new hoses et al, tune-up (overdue) and new filters and the truck is ready except for new tires next month and an oil change. Hope that service will provide us with reasonably reliable transportation to and from the 49th state.

It is BIG by Dave Hileman

Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve is in south central Alaska. The park and preserve form the largest area managed by the National Park Service with a total of 13,175,799 acres an area that would swallow six Yellowstone National Parks. It also has the second highest mountain in North America as well as 9 of the 16 highest in NA. The Bagley Icefield covers much of the interior. The boomtown of Kennecott exploited one of the world's richest deposits of copper a century ago and the abandoned mine buildings are a National Historic Landmark. The park has two rough gravel roads, one about 11 miles on the very north and one of 68 reaching into a small village and the mine area. We have scheduled a night in a lodge near the mine as the 68 mile road takes a long time to drive IF you don’t get a flat tire. So we plan to drive in one day, stay the night and drive back the next. Ought to be a spectacular place. Last year this vast park had fewer than 80,000 people enjoy the space.


The long, long agonizing wait is over! by Dave Hileman

Tens of thousands of you have asked “When will Two Lane Touring get some T-shirts?” Actually no one ever asked that question but we can dream, right?

I however did ask my creative granddaughter, Addie, to design a t-shirt that CJH and I could wear on our trip to Alaska, or at least on the two warm summer days in Alaska. And she designed this:

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I am just thrilled with how it turned out, Addie did a great job and Kellen did the technical stuff to get it all online etc. So we ordered a few in different colors and now all we have to do is wait for that warm Alaska summer. We are set. Here is a closer view of the art work.

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The design on the front of the shirt is the tire/ camera aperture that is the wheel in our TLT logo.

The design on the front of the shirt is the tire/ camera aperture that is the wheel in our TLT logo.

NOT the Transmission (2 photos) by Dave Hileman


So, what a relief. It is still needing a repair, two actually, but the transmission is not only ok, it is in good condition. The whirring noise was not a slippage in the transmission but a faulty fan motor clutch that was intermittent. There was also three cylinders that were miss firing. So, now we are off to a different repair center where I leave the truck on Wednesday.

MANY thanks to Roy at Cottman Transmission. He not only diagnosed the problem he did so in the time promised and for no charge. Really! The shop is highly recommended on social media platforms and I can see why. He also patiently explained all of the process and answered all of my questions. So, a big thank you to Roy and his staff and a high recommendation for their shop if you are in Raleigh (or North Carolina for that matter) and need someone to replace a clutch or ascertain an issue in your transmission call Roy. Stellar job.


Eek! by Dave Hileman

So, we did a short trip to make sure everything was working well in the trailer. Good news, it was. However, we did uncover a huge problem, the official truck of TLT started to experience slippage in the transmission. It occurred both with and without the trailer and grew slightly worse from the onset of the issue until we got home. I stopped on the way to see if it was fluid and the Ford mechanic said it is a sealed unit, cannot add fluid. He thought it was the 1, 2 and R module (4, 5 and OD are separate) but I doubt that as it twice did the whirring noise at highway speed with no apparent reason to shift or change gears. So, thanks to a lot of time on the internet I have dropped the truck off at a transmission specialist this afternoon. Waiting on his call Monday early afternoon.


60 Days Out by Dave Hileman

The bed of the truck is being repacked. Tires were ordered today for first of May install. The trailer is just back from the hospital. A successful operation for a leak was done and water system checked, all is well. Also two minor recalls from Oliver were inspected but did not require repairs. We are restocking the Oliver as well and plan a short trip to Columbia SC for a new church opening Sunday and then a couple days at the beach to check over everything. We are also making specific plans for six of the National Park sites including Arctic Ocean, Bears, Abandoned Mine Town, More Bears and Glaciers on land and sea. I am also starting to look at specific birding locations for my “really want to see” list. It numbers 26 species. Not that all of them are realistic.


Scope by Dave Hileman

This is more than just the Alaska journey but it fits here. The yellow pins are places visited and photographed. The red pins are places not visited - the majority, or places visited and not photographed, ie pre-camera days. So all of the red pins are in our plans. The trip to Alaska will also include the parks in S/W South Dakota, one on the edge of Wyoming, two in North Dakota (and one revisit), as many as possible in Alaska and as many as 10 on the way home through Washington, Idaho etc.


Video Information by Dave Hileman

We have been planning this trip for a long time and one of the really good tools is YouTube. We have found three in particular to be worth watching: Long Long Honeymoon, Keep Your Daydream and The Motorhome Experiment. All three have been to Alaska recently and all three have decent skill at video, although we like the first two more that the latter. You can see with these programs various campgrounds, roads, attractions and even issues that arise. We are watching several of them for a second time now that we have more of an itinerary and a better understanding of where things are located. There are other good videos as well, some from Alaska tour operators some from the state but just explore your destination - there are likely lots of videos to watch.


Food by Dave Hileman

We plan to prepare most of our meals for the Alaska trip. Breakfast is usually cereal or toast in the trailer, lunch is a light meal like apples, almonds, cheese and yogurt. Dinner will be something we prepare each evening for the majority of the time. Depending on where we are it might be every day on the Alaska Highway or near Wrangell-St. Elias NP and less often in Homer, for example, where there are lots of tempting restaurants. Because of the higher cost of food in both Canada and Alaska we will take lots of staples from home. Our plan is to get a couple of items each grocery run here (with appropriate dates) and take them along. We have storage in the trailer we have never used that will hold a fair amount and a new bin for the back seat of the truck that will take two or three bags worth of groceries. These are the first two bags we have gathered. A bonus of this plan is that we are picking up the things on sale. Like the rice dish here, we have five for the trip all bought at half price. We cannot take food for 4 months but staples, maybe most of them.


Milepost Arrived by Dave Hileman

We have been waiting for this insanely detailed 700 plus page book of not just the Alaska Highway but of every highway and gravel road in Alaska. It provides details even down to what the signs you are passing say, what stores might be ahead, where to find a library or a campsite or… Just a great tool and needed as the planning is getting more detailed each day. There is also a large pull out map that is an additional planning tool to go with our larger Alaska map.


Map! (2 photos) by Dave Hileman

I found a decent map of Alaska. Finally. I love maps, paper maps. I like looking at options, this road v that road, how close do I come to an interesting side route, old town or lake. The gps is a great tool for getting you to a specific address but I like to plan the route and use the gps for the last few miles. Or to get out of a town to the road I want. And I really like spending time on the satellite views on Apple maps or Google earth. But when you really want to know where you are in relation to somewhere else, the scale of the trip and the alternate choices you cannot beat a paper map. And it never needs to be charged! I have been looking for a good Alaska map for weeks but finally found this one and it is perfect for our needs. We have already made two adjustments to our travel and I am sure more to come.


Curt and Jackie by Dave Hileman

Many people influence all of us in different ways. The primary reason we are towing a travel trailer with a plan to visit more than 400 parks across the United States is due in a large measure to the enthusiasm for both camping and National Parks that we met in Curt and Jackie McSherry. 

We had another trailer when our boys were small. It was definitely pre-owned and its systems were poorly understood by the new inadequate owners, us! It was a solution to some of the challenges of traveling with a family on a small budget but we were glad to sell it because the whole experience was not great, even though we were able to see some wonderful places. 

We met Curt and Jackie at church when they came to Williamsburg, and we admired their small RV, a Rialta. I had visions of traveling and parking anywhere in a small camper - but considered it just a dream. Then, the McSherrys chose not only to sell it but to offer it to us at a very good value. They also provided their advice about how to use an RV and camping in general - it was excellent counsel. We benefitted from their kindness and excitement for the project. So we were off, to Yellowstone and Glacier, to Florida and South Carolina, to Maine and Prince Edward Island. And we were able to park it just about anywhere. The Rialta helped us to gain a better perspective on our travel habits and the beautiful sites we visited just made us want to see more. The desire for a more robust shower and more headroom than the Rialta could provide and to leave the campsite without taking the “house” along moved us to the Oliver trailer which has taken us 30,000 miles to 27 states. And we are preparing for another 20,000 miles and many more states. 

Curt and Jackie headed to Alaska a few years ago but an unfortunate accident in Canada cut short their plans. We hope that the photos and diary of the journey that they started us on will delight them. Thanks to two wonderful people who are great examples of faith and faithfulness - a joy to share their friendship.

Curt and Jackie pay a visit to the Oliver.

Curt and Jackie pay a visit to the Oliver.

Found! by Dave Hileman

You already likely know that driving to Alaska means you are driving across a portion of Canada, right? You may also realize that means you will spend money in Canada and you need Canadian money. The last time I was in Canada was on our trip to Prince Edward Island in 2011, I think. So a few days ago looking for something, I don’t recall what that was, I opened a little box and found money, Canadian money left from our trip to PEI. Now it is not a lot but at this stage $40 is half a tank of gas in the Yukon and we are glad to have it!


Data by Dave Hileman

Cindy keeps a nice daily diary while on our trips and I post each day so we already have a system for some information but I wanted a bit more and to be more consistent so I built a spreadsheet.

I have:

Date, Miles, Campsite, Campsite Cost, Fuel, Fuel Cost, Weather, Issues

Any other suggestions?

Forgot by Dave Hileman

I meant to post a photo of my spiffy new warm hat with the post from a couple of days ago and I know you did not want to miss it. Sure. Note the red pins in Alaska. Some of those technically represent two parks. For example there is Denali National Park and Denali National Preserve. DN Preserve surrounds much of the National Park, the difference being land use. The preserve permits some hunting, some ATV and snowmobiles etc. But they are a separate park under the mystic rules of the NPS. And we will need to be in both to actually visit all 418 parks. There are four or five parks with this structure in Alaska. The five northwestern pins and the one at the head of the Aleutians are the most challenging to get to visit. You can only drive to three of these parks and two preserves.


Still Spending! by Dave Hileman

Planned maintenance on the truck also leads to unplanned expenses. The mechanic noted that the drive shaft support bearing was badly worn and needed replaced. So we spent an unplanned additional 400+. And it will not be the last I am sure. Also the decision to go with new tires has been made. Not bought yet but decided. I think I am going to get Michelin DEFENDER LTX M/S. The advice was that this is a “slightly” more aggressive tread than the standard LTX and would be great for the type of gravel roads we will encounter in Alaska. They are also highly rated on wet roads and I have heard that it “might” rain in the great north:) I will get these in early May so we have a bit to make sure all is well and will have 100% warrantee for a part of the trip. I have found a company that also has three stores in AK, so that may be an advantage. Since the tires I now have on still have 20k tread life, I will store them in the garage and put them back on when we return and get lots more use from them. Anyway that is the plan. 


Clothes by Dave Hileman

Like tires, see the kind and helpful comments on 1/29 post, we plan to both take and use them. Figuring out what to take and how much is interesting. We will have days that are hot, especially on the way home, and days that are both cold and wet. We need - or at least every piece of advice reads - layers. So we have been adding layers to our collection of clothes. High on the list is waterproof outwear and we are not sure that is covered. We have upgraded hiking boots and more warm socks, so that is good and added medium weight gloves and warmer hats for both of us. And we both have new jackets from the REI (oops it was the North Face Outlet) store that should be really good for cold days. Packing is not an issue as we have room for a lot of clothes in both the trailer and the truck we just don’t want to take stuff we don’t need. It becomes a chore to sort through two bins of “things you never wore” to get the one thing you need. Anyway, plans go on.

Four Months Out! by Dave Hileman

So we have set a tentative day to leave on this Alaska trek, May 29th, four months from today. It seems like a long time as we have been planning and reading about what, where and how for over a year but 4 months does not seem like long enough. It is yet there is a lot to get done in the midst of busy work loads for us both. 

The route is still being determined but we have waypoints that are set. First goal is South Dakota in the southwest portion where we will visit five parks then due north to ND and three parks then across Route 2 in Montana and into Canada and the Canadian Rockies. We have plans in AK but they are not finished except for arrival in Denali on July 15th. Main routes in Alaska are not too difficult as there are not many prime roads. We are finding a lot of lessor roads that are very intriguing.

Everything is out of the truck to be cleaned, sorted, repacked. Some work there. The truck needs to be checked out and a decision as to tires made. We do plan to use tires - the steel wheel option being ruled out, just not sure if we need new ones. And a spare spare too. The trailer has two factory recalls but I got an appointment locally to handle that end of February. We will plan a two night jaunt to check out things on board in April. 

Still working on how to handle bills, mail etc. Lots of details. I am rechecking all our passwords for both laptops and phones with all the programs - amazing how they get out of sync.  We are also planning what kind of meals we can do and buying food, not yet but soon, to store. Want to take staples from here both Canada and Alaska are expensive. Things like coffee, peanut butter, cereal, canned soups, dried beef, sugar et al.

Making more decisions on camera gear but some things are done and here, “L” bracket and bag are great. Lots to learn on the software yet.

I need to order and install large mud flaps on the truck and I am looking at covering materials for the front of the trailer to keep rocks from pitting and cracking the fiberglass. Also need to get everything cleaned and all the windows caulked. 

A myriad of little details like loading sufficient books on the iPad and Cindy’s Kindle, replenishing first aid and prescriptions, getting documents together, and writing new checklists. (I wrote about that and am trying to learn how to link to my own single day posts.) Click HERE to see if I learned anything

These are a few of the things we will be talking about before we leave on Journey Alaska. As usual suggestions and advice is welcome.  

I am also working on myself. I have never been on a vacation without a tight schedule. I know that does not even sound like a vacation to most of you but I wanted to see a lot in a little time. This is really going to be different. I was figuring out how to get to SD in two days and realized I could take three, or be really radical and use four. Hard to adjust your patterns.