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coffaqcof 09-16-2012 04:19 PM

49th State Down, Notes from Alaska
Long story short, no problem. The trip took 22 days, covered 9800 miles, crossed multiple mountain ranges, drove the Alaskan highway both ways, ticked passed 100K, took the Dalton up to Coldfoot in the Arctic Circle, and all I can say is this Jeep is a towing machine. Getting to Alaska takes the Jeep's (and co-pilot's) states covered to 49, and added 3 Canadian provinces to mix as well. The TT is 26', and weighed in between 5700 and 6100 depending on what the tanks were carrying. I kept the tongue weight between 610 and 680. No issues, no flats, no damage to the Jeep or trailer. 2 oil changes for the Jeep and a lube on the trailer axles along the way were the only mechanical items that needed attention. Averaged 9MPG over the entire trip, a headwind on the way home killed my mileage. When I left Alaska I was at 12.2mpg, but fought a headwind anywhere from 10-20 mph for the last 4 days thanks to hurricaine Isaac remnants. 1 pucker moment on the way home, I was doing 70mph through an underpass and when I came out a side wind made the trailer decide it was going to check out the left lane no matter what the Jeep was doing. A quick goose of the gas to pull it back towards the Jeep and straighten the set to each other, then a solid application of brakes got it back under control. Needless to say, I kept it under 60 the rest of the trip, the headwind helped keep the speed down too.
Longest day was just over 16 hours driving, longest distance covered in a day was 730 miles. We arrived in Fort Nelson BC after 16+ hours and decided we could not make the miles planned for the rest of the trip to Denali. We replanned the next few days and took about 100 miles off each day, bringing the planned distances to around 500 miles per day. Between the road, the construction, and the fuel stops these were still long days (12-14 hours) but we were able to get in before dark each night, which was a definte improvement. Fuel availability is low, usually every 50-75 miles. But many of these camps are closed, and some have closed since just last year, so you end up having to hit almost all of them. The gas sucks, most only carry regular, and it's stored in above ground tanks that are 40-50 years old. I'm sure a new fuel filter will be needed soon!
The main stops were a day touring Seattle, a couple days exploring the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, and a few days at Denali National Park. We took the Western Access route up, and I took the Eastern Access route home.
Denali is simply spectacular. Get there in your lifetime, your soul will be better for it. McKinley was gorgeous, luckily we took our tour on a clear day, which is rare. We were able to see it perfectly. In the park we also saw caribou, a grizzly mom and cubs, foxes, golden eagles, and sheep.
The Dalton was awesome. I dropped my wife off at Fairbanks Int for her flight home and headed to the Arctic Circle with just my copilot. Much of the road is barely 2 lanes wide, most of it is gravel, and the views are cheated by trying to put them into words. I stopped at 5 Mile, drove the Beaver Slide, the Roller Coaster, 25 mile, Oh $hit Corner, etc. Made it into the circle, stopped at Coldfoot Camp for fuel, turned around and headed back to Fairbanks. The round trip took a full day, which is all the time I had, so I didn't proceed to Deadhorse.
We'll make this trip again when we retire, and take 2-3 months to enjoy it more, but I'm glad we did it even on this compact schedule. The Jeep (and the copilot) have now been through 49 states and 3 Canadian Provinces. Eastern Canada is in the planning stage for next year.
The ride home took 8 days, with the shortest distance at 450 miles and the longest at 580. I ended up driving past sunset on a couple days, but took it slow and used all the lights on the rig, and didn't have any issues.
Here's some pics, hope you enjoy (and use your WK to it's full capabilities, it is one hell of a machine)
He's no mere dog, he's my copilot! He took a leak on the sign before we moved on, just cuz he could.
The workhorse
Playing around snappin pics out the sunroof
Approaching a wildfire around Ellensberg WA
Into the smoke crossing the Columbia
Still dark
Here's a bit of the fire
View from our camp in Port Angeles WA
Exploring the 101
Back at camp

coffaqcof 09-16-2012 04:20 PM

Re: 49th State Down, Notes from Alaska
Taking a ferry across Puget Sound
Crossing into Canada
The first international walk. As always, the copilot shakes on command, one of the best commands I've taught him. Helps immensely with keeping critters out of the Jeep and trailer.
This was a really cool stretch of road. It was like driving in a train set. There were multiple sets of tracks, the road, and a river all crossing back and forth for several miles.
Getting an early start on what ended up being a 16+ hour day
Dawson Creek, the start of the Alaskan Highway
One of many mountains along the way
Another fun stretch of road around Muncho Lake. No rails, barely 2 lanes wide, no shoulder, no problem!!

coffaqcof 09-16-2012 04:22 PM

Re: 49th State Down, Notes from Alaska
Jeep posin
The signpost forest in Watson Lake. My father in law asked me to hang one of the plates from the car he drove to Alaska in 1977 here. It was an honor.
There is something about this trip that words cannot describe, but it is simply understood between people that have done it. I'll be hanging a plate off the Jeep next time we go, right next to his.
Herd of bison hanging out along and on the road.
Getting another early start
Whitehorse, we're almost to Alaska.
The biggest weathervane I've ever seen, it's in front of the airport in Whitehorse
Another great mountain approach
Haines Junction, getting closer!

coffaqcof 09-16-2012 04:23 PM

Re: 49th State Down, Notes from Alaska
This was by far the most fun campground we stayed at, it's in Tok. These folks were a blast, from the sourdough pancake toss, to their version of breakfast in bed, breakfast delivered to your site. Really, really cool. The husband was hilarious, and the wife a genuinely nice person, they make this camground a great place to stay.
The bugs were thick by now, luckily it was mostly gnats. We missed mosquito season by about a week from what the locals told us, such a deal!
Hung a set of XD flaps when we got into Canada, and left them on until I hit Edmonton on the way home. It definitely helped save the trailer on the gravel sections of road.
Days were much longer now. This was 9:20, it was still light enough to walk the dog without a flashlight at midnight. Really crazy.
Chilly start this morning
Our first moose sighting
The Jeep asking Santa for something good
My copilot thought it was time for a driver change, but he was more tired than I was

coffaqcof 09-16-2012 04:24 PM

Re: 49th State Down, Notes from Alaska
Here's some good pics of the road. The 'little' ripples are frost heaves, and if you hit a big one, one with a sharp angle, or a close together set going too fast, you'll wake up bleeding in the forest. Now imagine 2000 miles of road like this, each way. You build a sick relationship with it. It's your only way to make it where you're going, so it becomes your lifeline, but it kicks you in the a$$ every chance it gets. Unfortunately my wife is not comfortable driving with the trailer, so I drove every mile of this entire trip.
Here's where the relationship feels right, every time you get a view like this, which is very often.
Another moose sighting
Heading into Denali

coffaqcof 09-16-2012 04:25 PM

Re: 49th State Down, Notes from Alaska
McKinley was incredible. Our guide works 6 days a week all season, and she said this was only the 6th or 7th time it had been this clear all year.
Grizzly mom with cubs in tow
We saw the aurora on our last night in Denali. Pics were tough to get, I'm no pro, but here's a couple that turned out. The light on the horizon is sun glow, darkness is a subjective thing up here. This was at 2:30AM, and there was still light on the horizon. The vertical smudgey looking thing was a green aurora.
Passing 5K on the trip. My longest previous trip in the WK was somewhere around 6500 miles, needless to say, this trip is likely the longest I'll take in this Jeep. Next time we come this way, roles will be reversed and the RV will be towing a Jeep. Who knows, with the lifetime Maxcare, it may still be this one!
Starting up the haul road to Coldfoot.
Big repair going on, pilot car used to guide traffic through
5 Mile
Roller Coaster, pics (and a video I shot) do not do it justice. This is a vertical descent with a vertical climb out, really cool
Beaver Slide

Made it!!

coffaqcof 09-16-2012 04:26 PM

Re: 49th State Down, Notes from Alaska
They're not kidding about this corner. Southbound it sits at the end of a long 9 or 10% grade.
More incredible views
Coldfoot here I am
Now time for the cleanup, at least in theory. I've washed the rig by hand 3 times since this night, and it still looks like hell. There are bug stains on the front end that won't come out (clay bar is next), marks from the mirror straps, and still a ton of dirt in the wheel wells. I cleaned out the radiator as much as possible, probably got about 3lbs of gravel out of it so far.
Time to head home. The first day of the return trip, I had a moose mom and foal run across the road in front of me, saw 2 grizzly cubs literally standing on the side of the road, and 3 wild horses (2 adults and a foal). The pics of the horses were really blurry except for this one.
Foggy start this day, luckily it cleared in a couple hours as the sun rose.

coffaqcof 09-16-2012 04:27 PM

Re: 49th State Down, Notes from Alaska
Some more Jeep worldwide shots
Passing the bison herd again. More out this time than on the way up.
The WK clicking passed 100K trouble free, freedom inspiring, nationwide exploring miles. I still remember taking it for a test drive, the odo had 6 miles on it.
And that's it, what a trip!!
Drop a line if you're planning to take this road trip. I can definitely provide some info that will make it easier. Here's some of the basics - get new tires. If your shoes have more than 10 or 15K on them, get new ones, or carry multiple spares. I got this set of BFG Rugged Terrains about a month before the trip. Due to a screwup with the RV dealer, the hitch did not drop enough to allow use of the MT's, but I needed new rubber on the stock rims anyway. These are in the stock size 245/65/17.
Get the latest issue of the Milepost. This book is published each year, with info from the previous year regarding all approaches, the Alaskan Highway itself, the Dalton, and several other highways in northern Canada. It gives details literally kilometer by kilometer. Where gas is available, where lodging is available, where wildlife is common, where large construction projects are underway or planned, where frost heaves are bad, where the grades are, how steep they are, how long they are, anything you can imagine. It literally lists microwave towers on sections where there is nothing else going on, just so you know where you are in relation to the book. This book is priceless on this journey. Drop $20 on an electronic deer alert. We saw everything except sasquatch, and deer. We didn't see a single deer. I'm not saying the alert was the reason, but I can't say it wasn't either. Better safe than sorry. One PITA was that I kept forgetting to turn it off when pulling into fuel stops and campgrounds. Every head would turn before I realized the thing was still on. No biggie.
Go with the Rock Tamers mudflaps if you're towing. I purchased both the Inventive XD's and the Rock Tamers. They're priced very similarly. The XD's served their purpose, but on the way home the passenger side flap tore clean in half vertically. Luckily I saw it in the side mirror before it scratched up the bumper too badly. The hardware is solid as hell, but the flaps are not. The rock tamer flaps are much heavier duty. The biggest plus to the XD's is that they can be removed from the hitch while it's on the vehicle, the tamers require the hitch to be removed to install/uninstall.
Get (and use) clear vinyl bra protection film on your headlights, front bumper, hood, etc. I purchased it, but didn't have time to install it. I brought it along thinking I'd have time to install it if needed, but I never had the time. It will save your paint, lights, etc. ALWAYS slow down to a crawl when approaching oncoming traffic on a gravel section of road. Most people don't slow down at all, and a rock flung from a vehicle doing 60 hitting another vehicle doing 60 will do damage. I was lucky enough to just get some chips in the windshield. They're repairable, will be calling Safelight this week.
Get some gas cans. I carried 2 5-gallon cans. I didn't need them, but was glad I had them. Looking back, I should have filled them with premium fuel when I could, and used that to improve the crap gas sold at sooo many lodges and RV parks along the way. You'll also definitely need them if you drive late into the evening or especially late into the night. Many of the lodges/parks that sell fuel close early, like 9 or even 8PM.
Bring tools, alot of them, all of them. I didn't need so much as a screwdriver (aside from the lube gun for the trailer axles), but I saw trailers that had lost wheel assemblies, pickups with busted u-joints, tow vehicles and an RV that had cooked their engines, busted windshields all over, and flat tires around nearly every corner. Aside from the frost heaves, there are chuckholes the size of smart cars scattered here and there. Hit one and you'll need a new axle. I had about 100lbs of tools with me, and slept better knowing I did.
You can't motel-hop this trip. Very few of the lodges/RV Parks actually have motel accommodations. You can do it with a tent, alot of motorcyclists were on this road camping overnight along the way. If you go this route, go between June 15 and Aug 15, outside this window, the mornings are quite chilly. We had 2 nights go below freezing.
If you're going alone, at least get a dog. A good one. Mine is no junkyard killer, but I've watched him stare down coyotes more than once, and I know he'd give his all to protect my wife or myself from wildlife or whatever else might come along. Along with teaching him to shake on command, I taught him to 'scout' over the last couple years. I tell him to 'scout', take him off his leash, and he'll head 35-40 feet up the trail and if it's clear, he'll bark. If it's not, you only hear silence, at which point I assess the situation as to whether we need to clear out or help him with whatever he found. This trust will help ease the stress of being several hundred miles from civilization with no cell service.
Install auxilliary lights, as many as possible. If you do end up driving after sunset, you'll need them. Not so much in Alaska itself, where darkness is just a matter of degrees, but definitely in Canada. We saw pickups and SUV's loaded with lighting, some looked good, some were a bit over the top, but the really interesting views were the cars with light bars. The oddest was a 2nd generation Saturn sedan with a light bar across the grill with 3 8" lights on it. Looked bizarre.
Despite the trials and challenges along the way, I can't wait to do it again. You'll miss Alaska as soon as you leave it. It leaves a mark on you that I can't explain.

Robert Palmer 09-16-2012 06:07 PM

Re: 49th State Down, Notes from Alaska
Oh man Bob what an interesting trip seeing all of these places! Wish I could take off and do that! Been a long time since we have talked!

Seems like you and the family had fun. I really am jealous of you!


Alex 09-16-2012 06:19 PM

Re: 49th State Down, Notes from Alaska
Dude, awesome photos, awesome story, awesome timeline sequence, man I just had to comment on this. Looks like you had a great time! Some of the photos you took look like they were taken right out of National Geographic. Really spectacular stuff!

coffaqcof 09-16-2012 10:01 PM

Re: 49th State Down, Notes from Alaska

Originally Posted by Robert Palmer (Post 684294)
Oh man Bob what an interesting trip seeing all of these places! Wish I could take off and do that! Been a long time since we have talked!

Seems like you and the family had fun. I really am jealous of you!


Thanks Joe, it has been awhile! I haven't been on the garage in a long time, I check in every few months, but there haven't been many new ideas, mods, or discoveries on the WK in quite some time. This was by far the trip of my life so far, I'm counting the years until I can do it again the right way taking 3 or 4 months instead of 3 weeks. This was a crapload of driving with a few stops along the way, but there was soooo much more to take in and explore, I just didn't have time to do it.

coffaqcof 09-16-2012 10:05 PM

Re: 49th State Down, Notes from Alaska

Originally Posted by Alex (Post 684299)
Dude, awesome photos, awesome story, awesome timeline sequence, man I just had to comment on this. Looks like you had a great time! Some of the photos you took look like they were taken right out of National Geographic. Really spectacular stuff!

Thanks Alex. I'm just glad some of the pics came out well. We took so many from the car that came out blurry, or with bug splats on them, or mirriors in them, or whatever. We took about 3500 pics, and half are garbage, but some of those that came out came out really well. I'm glad I could share the story with other Jeepers, and especially other WK owners. I know some have had their hands full with this model, but mine has been nothing but a pleasure from day 1, I guess I should count myself blessed. I've been coast to coast and border to border and beyond with it, and there's no signs this rig is slowing down any time soon.

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