Runtrails' Web Journal
Previous       2012 Journal Topics       Home       Next



"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on,
deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."

~ Miriam Beard

(Continued from the last page.)

I've had a lot of time during and after our grand summer adventure to Alaska to think about the things we did and saw. While it's difficult to articulate just how I've changed because of it, I can readily say that this was the best trip I've ever taken -- and I've been traveling all of my adult life (and some when younger).

Jim and I have had some interesting discussions on the long journey back to Virginia. I'll let you know about some of those thoughts in this entry.


Despite all the time we spent in Alaska this summer there are plenty of things we didn't do and places we didn't see. My attitude is similar to other trips we've made -- that just gives us new things to do on our next trip there.

Golden aspen leaves brighten the boreal forest at Creamer's Field, which
has several miles of pleasant hiking and biking trails.  (Fairbanks, 9-4-12)

At this point I'm more eager to go back to Alaska sooner than Jim is but even I am "tourist-ed out" because of the enormity of this trip.

Jim got real tired of both the wet weather and all the driving. He prefers to do most of the driving because he gets bored in the passenger seat. He also prefers that I do the navigating. Our maps and GPS don't always agree with each other, which can be very stressful in metro areas where there is more traffic and less time to make impromptu route changes.

Whoever was driving also had to be constantly on the lookout for gravel breaks and wandering wildlife:

One of many dusty gravel sections of the Alaska Hwy. in the Yukon  (6-12-12)

We went into this trip with eyes wide open re: the amount of driving we'd be doing. We deliberately drove fewer miles each day than we do when we're going from Point A to Point B in the Lower 48. You just can't make that kind of time on roads in the Far North.

Besides, we didn't want to just blitz through the miles, even in Canada. We really did look at it in terms of a journey.

With few to no reservations we rarely had to be anywhere at a particular time. Some days in Alaska we'd go only 100 miles from one destination to the next. That's pretty rare for us.

Another rail at Creamer's Field in Fairbanks  (9-4-12)

I do have a rather wry observation to make about going to Alaska vs. returning to the Lower 48.

The long drive through Canada to Alaska in June was exciting. Everything we saw after we left Great Falls, MT was new to us, a grand adventure. Even the unexpected five-day delay in Watson Lake, Yukon due to road washouts and mudslides was an adventure; although a bit frustrating at the time, it was so unprecedented that it gave us more to talk about all summer!

The drive back through Canada to the Lower 48 in September was a different story. It was just long.

We were "tripped out" after three months north of the border and didn't have the energy or motivation to try a new route south so we could explore some new places we had planned to visit on the return. (The wintry weather on the new route was also a big factor that changed our minds.)

Golden aspen leaves that blew onto a spruce at Denali NP  (8-28-12)

Even though our trip wasn't over yet, it was a relief when we got back to Montana. We needed time to just rest, decompress, and prepare for the next leg of this journey back to Virginia.

We have no regrets about staying in Alaska until early September because we got to see some beautiful fall color at Denali National Park and spent a few days in Fairbanks.

Bright colors in the taiga (sub-alpine level) on Healy Ridge in Denali National Park  (9-2-12)

Above and below:  close-up views of leaves, berries, and lichens on Healy Ridge  (9-2-12)

By then, however, we were real tired of the rain, humidity, and chilly temperatures we had for much of the summer. We can count on one hand the number of days we had over 70 F. Although we weren't acclimated to the 80s it was a pleasure to finally bask in hot, dry sunshine when we got back to Montana again.

For various reasons I doubt we'll be going back to Alaska for another two or three years.

By then selective memory should kick in and we will have pretty much forgotten the rain, cold temperatures, and long distance to get there and just remember the awesome scenery, abundance of wildlife, and cool things we did like flying over Denali!


I already miss Alaska and have wondered aloud what the Anchorage area is like in the winter . . .

Jim said I'd have to make that trip by myself! After living in Illinois and Montana for 55 years he's actively tried to avoid snow since he retired.

Animal footprints in early snow on the 4,000-foot ridge above
the Eielson Visitor Center at Denali National Park  (8-29-12)

Worse than the snow for both of us, however, would be the long hours of darkness in the winter. We both suffer somewhat from SAD (seasonal affective disorder). It was downright depressing when we lived in Montana and it got dark at 4 PM. It would be infinitely worse to have only a few hours of daylight/twilight in South Central Alaska during the winter.

We did, however, absolutely love all the hours of daylight during the summer in that area. In June and July it was light when we went to bed at 10-11 PM and light when we got up in the morning.

We quickly adapted to the light when we were trying to go to sleep. I joke that we've had practice with that at Walmart and Sam's Club when we've parked our RV in their lots overnight -- nothing is as brightly lit as a Walmart parking lot!

Because of the long hours of daylight in the summer, we didn't start seeing sunsets
in Alaska before bedtime until the middle of August. This one is in Denali NP.  (8-27-12)

On the drive back to the Lower 48 we talked about some of the things we might do and places we might go in Alaska and Canada next time that we didn't do this time, as well as things we might do differently to make the road trip more pleasant.

Here are some of the things we've considered:

1. Any trips we take to Alaska in the foreseeable future will be road trips in our own RV. There are enough things we enjoy about Alaska to spend several months again the next time. Our decision to maximize the amount of time we were there this summer was a good one. It takes so long to get to the Last Frontier, you may as well stay as long as possible. At some point if we are unable to do that much driving we will consider flying to Anchorage and renting an RV for a shorter visit. 

If we had left Alaska earlier than we did, we would have missed the spectacular fall colors at
Denali NP at the end of August/early September. I took this photo during a shuttle bus ride.  (8-29-12)

2. If we take the Cameo to Alaska again we need a better hitch and pin connection for a smoother ride. Jim's researching that now. [We did get a new pin and hitch before our second trip to Alaska in 2015.] We don't expect the highways to or within Alaska to improve significantly, so we will have to improve our ride.

3. It would probably be a more comfortable ride to Alaska in a quality motorhome with better suspension and springs than a truck-trailer combo but we have no plans to get a motorhome in the near future.

Another photo from the bus, with 20,320-foot Denali in the distance; when the clouds
passed on by, we had magnificent views of the peak farther up the park road.  (8-29-12)

4. If we have a motorhome we'll also want a "toad" for convenient travel when we're parked. We'd likely also sell our other passenger vehicle, an 11-year-old Honda Odyssey, because of its age and difficulty towing without wrecking the suspension (there are tricks with Odysseys to avoid that, but they are a hassle). It would be nice to have a small SUV-type 4WD vehicle to tow behind a motorhome so we could explore more of the dirt roads in the Far North. That would be a good thing to have in the mountains in the Lower 48, too.

 5. Whatever type of RV we take up there next time, we'll consider getting an auxiliary fuel tank that holds more than the five-gallon container we filled with extra diesel through the Yukon and northern British Columbia -- especially if we travel more remote highways like the Cassiar with fewer gas stations. Even if there are regularly-spaced fuel stations, we could buy more diesel in larger towns where the cost is lower than paying exorbitant rates in smaller towns. Of course, hauling more weight might negate the cost savings because we'd get fewer miles per gallon . . . but at least it would offer peace of mind in remote areas of Canada.

Not the radiant blue sky we often had earlier in the month on our first visit to
 the park, but still a clear view of The High One from Eielson Visitor Center  (8-29-12)

6. Although nothing happened to our house in Virginia while we were away it would have been a serious problem if it had been damaged in a storm, burned down, ransacked, etc. The worst that happened during this trip was the recent death of the nice neighbor who has been mowing our lawn and providing some security for our house the last eight years while we've been roaming the continent. Other nice neighbors volunteered to fill that role until we got back.

For the past five years we have vacillated about selling our house. The lousy housing market has been the only reason we haven't tried to sell so we can go truly full-time in an RV. On our way back through Alaska we were pretty sure we'd start prepping for a sale next spring because it appears that the housing market is slowly improving. Without a house and other property to worry about, we'd have more fun in Alaska -- and everywhere else we travel.

Passengers on the shuttle bus take a brief hike in the taiga near Polychrome Pass.  (8-29-12)

7. I'd like to explore some of the other routes to, from, and within Alaska, including the Cassiar, Yellowhead, Bighorn, Campbell, Klondike, Taylor, and Dalton Highways and the Icefield Parkway.

8. I'd also like to do more side trips off the main highway routes. Some examples are to visit a couple towns that require a boat ride, such as Cordova or Juneau. Other side trips are on paved roads -- Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK on the Cassiar Highway, the Atlin-Carcross Loop south of Whitehorse, Haines and/or Skagway, AK, and Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta. Some potential side trips are on dirt roads -- up the Elliott and Dalton Hwys. to the Arctic Circle or beyond, or the Top of the World Hwy. in the Yukon east of Chicken and Eagle, AK. (There's a funny story about how Chicken got its name. If we ever go there, I'll tell you -- or you can just Google it now!).

A shaft of light pierces the clouds and highlights a stand of golden aspens
in the valley below Mt. Healy's ridge in Denali National Park.  (9-2-12)

9. Next time we will have the most updated GPS software in our truck or motorhome, topo software on our computers, paper maps, and Milepost edition. Some of our information this time was two or three years old and caused minor detours.

10. We will also have a better camera the next time, and know how to use it before we start the trip. I'm pleased with the compact 16-megapixel Sony with 16X zoom I bought in June for photos of scenery but it's too slow for sharp indoor or motion shots and doesn't have enough zoom for distant wildlife pictures.

We'll probably think of more things later.


Life is too short to put off going to Alaska if it's something you've always dreamed about. It's a very special place, well worth the time and money to get there.

It still looked more like summer than fall when we got to Fairbanks.  (9-3-12)

As Jim and I get older, more and more of our relatives, friends, and acquaintances are dying. The causes of death vary widely but most of these folks died earlier than the average mortality charts would suggest.

Although our health is good now, each year we feel increasingly vulnerable to the ravages of time and random bad luck.

Sunflowers and other plants love the long hours of daylight in the summer in
Fairbanks. This is an old homestead outside the visitors' and cultural center.  (9-4-12)

Each time someone we know dies, I think not only of what I'd do if I was widowed suddenly but also what I'd be leaving undone if it was me who died. I look into my mental "bucket list" and still see lots of things I want to do before I check out.

I've still got a lot of living I want to do but I don't have a crystal ball to know how much time I have left to do it. I'm glad I took the opportunity to visit Alaska while I was still able to enjoy it.

Hopefully, Jim and I will be able to make several more trips up there during our lifetimes.

More colorful flowers brighten the Riverwalk in Fairbanks.  (9-4-12)

This trip is barely over and we're already making tentative plans to see and do some new things on our 2012-3 winter trip. This time we might just stay in the Southeast (Florida or south Georgia, e.g.) instead of the Southwest so we don't have as much driving.

When we are able to sell our house our life will be One Big Trip. Until then, we'll continue doing Serial Extended Trips interrupted by treks back to Virginia to make sure our house is still standing.


If you have any questions about our trip to Alaska, feel free to e-mail us. We'll respond personally and/or put the information on the website.

Next entry:  the final numbers on our road trip to Alaska

Happy trails,

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

Previous       Next

2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil