2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   GREAT FALLS, MONTANA: ACTIVITIES AT
   GATEWAY FAM CAMP, MALMSTROM AFB

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 16

 
"Travel does not exist without home. If we never return to the place we started, we  
would just be wandering, lost. Home is a reflecting surface, a place to measure  
our growth and enrich us after being infused with the outside world."
 
~ Josh Gates, American adventurer, explorer, and photographer
 
 

Weíre baa-ack!  Itís a relief to be in our own country again.

Even Alaska felt a bit foreign since itís so far away and so different in many ways from states in the Lower 48. I imagine Hawaii is like that, too. It's the only state I haven't visited; Jim went there several times before we met.

I don't agree with the quote above about needing a home, however. I subscribe to JRR Tolkien's sentiment that "all who wander are not lost."


One of many colorful sunsets this week at our campground

Jim and I feel at home in many places, including Montana -- even though we haven't had a sticks-n-bricks house there since 2004. In fact, we'd like to sell the house we currently own in Virginia because we prefer to wander. Wandering doesn't feel at all like being lost to us. We haven't felt the need to have a home base for several years.

And we aren't in any hurry to return to Virginia now. We're just glad to be back in the Lower 48.

I've included some sunset and nature photos from the campground in this entry. Although we miss the long hours of daylight we enjoyed all summer it's nice to be able to see sunsets well before bedtime.

Another unmistakable sign that fall has arrived in Great Falls and winter is approaching is the change in the trees, flowers, and other plants from our visit here in late spring. Green leaves and grasses have turned gold, orange, and brown.

GATEWAY FAM CAMP

We are camped for a week at the Gateway FamCamp at Malmstrom Air Force Base, where we stayed for a few days at the end of May to "stage" for our trip through Canada.

The campground is more full this time but we still had a choice of six or seven sites when we arrived four days ago.

   

The site we chose faces east toward a large grassy area on our door side. We have 50-amp electricity, water, and sewer connections.

There is a nice restroom and laundry room nearby. We didn't do much laundry the last couple weeks while we were on the road so much and it was easier and less expensive to do it on base than somewhere in Canada.


We have lots of room, especially on our door side.

We have a strong free WiFi signal so we wonít have to use the MiFi except to do financial transactions or other secure online tasks. We can get the major TV channels and other stations Jim is interested in.

The cost is $24/night or $130/week. We paid the weekly rate minus the average for one night, using an Air Force coupon we had for one free night.


Medal of Honor Park at Malmstrom AFB

There is another, smaller campground on base. One advantage of the larger campground we're in is that it is outside the main gate so we donít have to go through security every time we come and go. It is patrolled several times a day by base security personnel and there is a campground host on site so we feel safe.  

Another advantage of this campground is being able to walk around all the grassy areas and huge, hilly field that has pathways mowed.

RECOVERING (?) FROM OUR TRIP TO ALASKA

I've mentioned before about our travel fatigue. We've done a lot of miles and experienced/seen a lot of new things this summer.

We originally planned to stay at Malmstrom for just four days but extended it to seven because of the lower weekly rate and the most excellent weather forecast for warm, dry, sunny weather. A week has also given us more time to thoroughly clean the camper, launder things like throw rugs that we havenít washed in a while, do some mechanical things to the truck and camper, and just rest.

After seven straight days of driving from Fairbanks to Great Falls we can use some rest. We've been pretty busy so far, though.

Above and below:  sunset views from a hill in the field near the campground

 

 

One reason for pretty sunsets this week has been particles in the air from wildfires to the west of us.

When we get back to Virginia in a few weeks we'll have driven the truck about 15,000 miles and hauled the seven-ton Cameo for about 10,000 of those miles. A lot of things could have gone wrong with our 2008 Dodge Ram 2500 pick-up truck and 2010 5th-wheel coach under such conditions.

An additional stressor was knowing that Carriage, Inc., the long-lived manufacturer of the Cameo, went bust earlier this year after being in business for 44 years. We had concerns about getting service and/or replacement parts if we needed any due to wear or breakage.

I'm happy to report that we've had very few vehicle problems this whole trip. Most of that was due to preparation (prevention) and vigilance.

Before our trip we read all sorts of blogs and other websites re: taking an RV to Alaska. Some of them were fellow Cameo owners so we knew it was possible to take a large 5th-wheel up there successfully. It's not the most practical type of camper to take to Alaska -- a truck camper or small motorhome would be more ideal -- but it's what we've got and it worked out well for us.

Every RVer whose account I read, regardless of the type of camper they used, reported various problems along the way, from chipped windshields (gravel flying up from oncoming or passing vehicles, mostly trucks) or flat tires to major mechanical breakdowns like broken axles.

Some problems RV travelers reported were no fault of their own, just bad luck. Others may have been preventable. We tried to learn from all of them.

Jim got the truck and camper in the best possible shape before we entered Canada in June -- fluids, tires, brakes, etc. That really helped because we had no problems due to lack of maintenance or faulty parts.

We were just lucky that we didn't have any windshield chips from flying rocks because that's more difficult to prevent.

OTHER ALASKAN TRAVELERS

We aren't the only folks in this campground who spent part or all of the summer in Alaska. Great Falls is the main gateway into Canada for the eastern route to Alaska.


There are still some scattered clumps of both of these daisy-types of flowers
and other wildflowers in the grassy areas surrounding the campground.

On our first day here we talked with Bruce, the campground host, and mentioned that we just returned from Alaska. He and his wife havenít been up there yet but want to go next summer. Bruce had lots of questions for us re road conditions, things to do and see, where to camp, etc.

He's wise to talk to as many people as he can before making the trip. You can learn so much that way. We don't consider ourselves experts on Alaska but we're happy to share information with folks.

Bruce told us that one of the men who regularly hosts at the Russian River Campground where we stayed in early July comes here before and after his summer job in Alaska. He hasn't come back through Great Falls yet -- guess we weren't the last ones out of Alaska! <wink> It would have been fun to talk with him.


Several kinds of fluffy seeds in these three photos

 

We have found some other folks in the campground this week who just got back from Alaska so we've been comparing notes with them.

One is a couple who used to live in Soldotna, AK. We had fun talking to them about their adventures on the Alaska Hwy. during 35 trips between Alaska and the Lower 48 in their lifetime. Wow. I can't imagine making that trip so many times!

Jim talked with another fella in the campground who's done the trip 20 times. During his military career the man was assigned to JBER (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson) in Anchorage and Eielson AFB near Fairbanks. He's retired now and goes back in the summer just because he loves it so much up there.

Above and below:  Have you ever seen a little pine tree with so many cones??

Jim also talked with another couple in a 5th-wheel coach who just arrived from Alaska. They started down the Cassiar Hwy., which we considered but didn't take because of the lousy weather prediction. The road was in such bad shape that they turned around after 30 miles and returned to the Alaska Hwy. 

Guess itís a good thing we didnít come back that way. That information makes us hesitant to try it in either direction on the next trip, too. The roads in remote areas of Canada should be better at the end of summer than the beginning. If it was that bad now, I wonder what it was like in June?

OTHER ACTIVITIES

It hasn't been all work and no play this past week. We've also gotten out to ride our bikes, walk with Cody, and replenish our food/supplies with tax-free goods -- there is no sales tax in Montana.

In the next entries I'll show scenic photos from the impressive bike path along the Missouri River and Giant Springs Heritage State Park.

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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