2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   THE FINAL NUMBERS ON OUR ROAD TRIP TO ALASKA

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10

 
"I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into  
the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within."
 
~ Lillian Smith
 
 
All of the RV trips we've taken have been meaningful in much more esoteric ways than just "by the numbers," especially this one because we experienced and learned so many new things.

The plethora of entries about our Alaska trek, including the recent series of summaries, observations, and tips, should give you some clues to the journey that took place within me.


One of my "coolest" experiences was hiking through snow past Exit Glacier to the vast Harding Icefield
near Seward; you can see the glacier and ice field (background) in the photo above.  About 5% of Alaska's 
land mass is covered in ice but most people never set foot on either a glacier or an ice field.  (7-7-12)


The trail to the Harding Icefield was "opened" by rangers just a few days before I hiked up there
alone in early July. It was a memorable experience with spectacular 360-degree views.  (7-7-12)

This entry focuses on numbers for this trip and a comparison with some of the previous summer and winter trips we've taken with 5th-wheel trailers.

COMPARATIVELY SPEAKING

If you decide to take a road trip from the Lower 48 states to Alaska, YMMV (your mileage may vary) substantially from ours. So will your expenses.

It's fun for us to compare our trips since we've been compiling some statistics from each of them for a few years -- miles we put on the truck and camper, number of nights we were on the road, and the average cost per night for camping.

Although we keep good financial records we've never added up the costs for gas/diesel, propane, food, and other items. We don't need to. We are rather frugal people who live well within our means. We lead an increasingly simple life so we can splurge on some of the things that give us the most pleasure -- like this trip to Alaska.


Water flows from the unique spring at Giant Springs State Park in Great Falls, MT.  (9-18-12)

We left Alaska on September 6 and crossed back into the U.S. on September 12. Most of the photos in this entry are ones I took on our way back through the states from Montana to Virginia, where we still own property.

We spent several days in Montana drying out the camper from all the moisture it absorbed in Alaska, enjoyed more warm, dry sunshine in the Black Hills area of South Dakota, and finally concluded our Great Alaska Adventure on October 8 when we reached our house near Roanoke. That's where we began the trip in early May.

 
Cody tries to keep up with Jim for a short distance on a trail
above the Missouri River in Great Falls, MT.  (9-18-12)

DURATION OF TRIP:

May 12 to October 8 = 150 nights in our camper, almost five months out from and back to our house in Virginia

ROUTE:

Outbound from May 8 to June 12:  VA, WV, KY, IN, IL, MO, KS, CO (we spent almost two weeks in Colorado Springs), WY, MT (our "staging area" for the next part of the trip was Great Falls for a few days), Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, and finally Alaska

We were in the South Central and Interior parts of Alaska from June 12 to September 6, almost three months.

Return from September 6 to October 8Alaska, the Yukon, BC, AB, MT, WY, SD, IA, IL, IN, OH, KY, WV, VA

MILES ON VEHICLES:

2010 Carriage Cameo 5th-wheel coach: 11,435 "camper miles"

2008 diesel 2WD Dodge Ram 2500 truck: 15,825 miles (over 94,000 total miles on it now)

Diesel fuel efficiency = approximately 12 MPG over hill and dale, which is pretty good considering we're towing a 14,000+ pound camper. That's dry weight, not including any water, food, clothing, and all the other necessities and niceties we lug around with us.

Above and below:  scenes from the Michelson Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota  (9-28-12)

Gas and diesel prices were near all-time highs this summer in the Lower 48 states; they were higher in comparison in Canada and Alaska. We haven't added up the cost of fuel for this trip and never have previously. Because of the greater distance we drove on this trip I can guarantee you that we spent more on diesel fuel this time than ever before.

We decided several years ago that the price of fuel isn't going to deter us from traveling in an RV. We might have to modify the distances we drive some day but that's not going to prevent us from living this lifestyle.

Eventual health matters might, or a loss of interest in gallivanting around the continent, but not the cost of fuel.

AVERAGE CAMPGROUND FEES:

$16.85/night for 150 nights

This figure is only for CG fees, not additional gasoline (generator) or propane we use when we don't have electrical hookups or adequate sun to fully charge the solar panels and batteries. Even when we do have electricity we still have to use propane to run the stove and oven.

In addition to being our most expensive trip for diesel fuel, this was also our most expensive trip for campground fees since we started averaging those costs in 2009. We expected the fees to be higher this time but we ended up spending even more than our prediction.

That's OK. We still did much better than folks who stay more than we do at private campgrounds, which can easily cost $30-50/night and more in Canada and Alaska.

On another long bike ride on the Michelson Trail and through Custer SP in the Black Hills of SD  
Jim got very close to some bison (above) and a long line of bighorn sheep (below).  (9-26-12)

In the Lower 48 states we do a lot of inexpensive and "free" boon-docking on public lands, mostly National Forest Service and BLM property.

We did very little boon-docking on this trip. We had some opportunities but the cool, wet weather worked against that MO in Canada and Alaska this summer.

When it's raining it's infinitely more comfortable to camp with electricity than to use our generator and solar power to run our propane space heater, furnace, stove, lights, etc. Electric heat is drier than gas heat. Every time we used propane this summer to heat the camper or cook our meals on the stove it added more moisture to the interior of the Cameo, exacerbating the problem with foggy windows.


More bison at Wind Cave National Park, just south of Custer State Park   (10-1-12)

Even with electrical hookups approximately two-thirds of the time we still had a lot of moisture build up in the camper throughout the summer. By late August we were battling mildew and double wooden doors that wouldn't close properly because they'd swollen. It took several days of hot, sunny, dry weather in Montana in September to thoroughly dry out the interior of the camper again.

Several more days like that in South Dakota were even better for the camper -- and us!


The Cameo was dry as a bone by early October at our full-hookup campsite at Ellsworth AFB.  (10-2-12)

We did save money by staying in relatively inexpensive campgrounds along the way:

  • several military posts and bases (the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in May, Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls in June and September, Valdez Glacier CG near Valdez, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage three times for a total of almost six weeks, Seward Military Resort, Seward Air Force CG, Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Ellsworth AFB in Box Elder, SD);

Above and below:  Ellsworth AFB often has dramatic sunsets. 

 

  • several city and provincial campgrounds in Canada;
  • a couple state parks;
  • some national parks and forests (half price for us old geezers);
  • and a very few private campgrounds, most of which cost significantly less than campgrounds with the usual exorbitant fees charged for amenities we never use.

We had only two or three nights with fees in the mid-$30 range. Those were in Canada. That's expensive for us but 'way below what a KOA and many other private campgrounds charge nowadays.


This scenic, spacious "free" parking spot at Sam's Club in Sioux City, IA was nicer than some of
the expensive 'real" campgrounds where we've stayed! Note the light over our bedroom slide . . .
I joked in a previous entry the reason why we adjusted so easily to the Midnight Sun in Alaska.

We boon-docked several nights outbound and on the return at Walmart and Sam's Clubs in the Lower 48 states and in Calgary. That practice is even more popular in Canada than the U.S.!

We also spent the night in nice turnouts along the road in Alaska at least three times when traveling between destinations. Those were all "free." (I've explained on this website several times why there is no such thing as "free" camping.)

COMPARISONS WITH OTHER TRIPS

I've gone back to my travel notes from 2007 and looked at our ten most recent "summer" and "winter" trips from our house in Virginia to points out west. We have the number of nights in campgrounds and the truck mileage for all of those trips. We've averaged our camping fees for our last six trips and tracked camper mileage for the last five trips.


Upper Roughlock Falls in Spearfish Canyon, Black Hills of South Dakota  (9-24-12)

We bought our Virginia house in 2004. Although we made RV trips out West that year and in 2006, and from GA to ME and back when we ran/hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2005, I haven't taken the time to look up the numbers from those years.

Here are some stats since 2007 for comparison purposes. I could get even more detailed than this . . .

WINTER TRIPS

Duration:  "Winter" trips have lasted from a low of 53 days to a high of 131 days; most began sometime in November and ended sometime in March/April, averaging 104 days. All were in warm, Southwestern locales (southern TX, AZ, NM, CA). Two also included some time on the way back to VA in the Southeast (MS, LA, AL, GA, NC).

Distance:  Since we aren't typically gone as long on our winter trips as our summer trips, our truck and camper miles have been a little less in the winter.

We always put more miles on the truck because of the driving we do when the camper is stationary at a campsite. Truck mileage ranged from 5,631 miles on the shortest winter trip to 10,171 miles on the longest one. Camper miles for the last two winter trips averaged 4,587 miles. I know we had more camper miles than that during one previous winter trip but we didn't keep track of them.


Golden paperbark birch leaves on the trail to Roughlock Falls  (9-24-12)

Campground fees:  Until last winter we usually stayed primarily at public and military campgrounds on our winter trips so we had electrical hookups. That's more expensive than boon-docking on "free" BLM land but much less expensive than staying at most private campgrounds or RV resorts..

I know our average winter campground fees in 2006/2007, 2007/2008, and 2008/2009 were higher than they've been the last three years but we didn't keep complete records back then. We reduced the average cost in 2009-2010 to $11.18/day and in 2010-2011 to $9.39/day by doing three to six weeks of light campground hosting duties at Brazos Bend State Park in Texas during both of those trips.

This past winter we really saved on campground fees by staying two months at a long-term visitor area (LTVA) in the southern California desert near Imperial Dam at an average cost of less than $3/day. We also stayed at some other inexpensive National Forest Service and "free" BLM sites. The average during our 2011-2012 winter trip for all 119 camping nights was only $5.79/day.


Bright fall colors along the scenic byway through Spearfish Canyon  (9-24-12)

Our cost was higher, of course, if you add in the new solar panels we purchased last winter. We got a good price and Jim installed them himself, which saved a bundle of $$$. We figure we've already recouped the cost this year by being less dependent on electrical hookups at campgrounds -- and at our house. We use them to power the TV, lights, computer, and other things on the circuit in our open family/dining room.

SUMMER TRIPS

Duration:  "Summer" trips have usually been longer in terms of time, spanning from spring (early May) to late September or mid-October (fall). The longest trip was 153 days in 2010 and the shortest was 100 days in 2007.

The average number of nights in the camper on these trips was 135, which is more than four months. Two have been just under five months in duration. We didn't take a summer RV trip in 2008, one of only two times since 2004 that we didn't journey from VA to the West in the warmer months (in 2005 we journeyed from GA to ME along the Appalachian Trail).


The Black Hills of South Dakota are full of interesting rock formations.
These are at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.  (9-26-12)

Distance:  Truck and camper mileage are usually higher in the summer than on our than our winter trips, too, not just because we are gone longer but we also tend to wander through more states in the summer. Destinations have traditionally been the cool Rocky Mountain states of NM, CO, WY, and SD, with occasional  forays to MT, ID, and NV. This summer was our first to trek through Canada and Alaska. The only other exception was in 2005, when we did our Appalachian Trail Adventure Run/Hike from Georgia to Maine.

Truck miles since 2007 have ranged from a low of 10,310 that year to 15,825 miles this summer. The average has been 12,916 miles per summer trip (not including the miles from CO to OH and back to CO for a funeral during the middle of our 2011 trip; we left the camper in CO).

Camper mileage since the summer of 2010 has ranged from 5,535 to 11,435 miles, with an average of 8,176 miles per summer trip.


More large rock formations at Sylvan Lake  (9-26-12)

Campground fees:  Campground fees are usually fairly low in the summer because we've done a lot of boon-docking at "free" and low-cost public lands sites out West.

We averaged $9.94/day for 153 nights in 2010, $10.62/day for 150 nights in 2011, and $16.85/day for 150 nights this summer. Although we don't have all the figures for the summers prior to that I'd guess our campground expenses averaged $12-$14/day in 2006, 2007, and 2009.

I hope these figures show you how affordable even very long RV trips can be. There are numerous ways to save money while enjoying the scenic byways and terrain in North America.

Next entrynow what??  our tentative winter travel plans

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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