2015  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Denali AKA Mt. McKinley

 

   
 
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   FINAL STAGING IN GREAT FALLS, MT 
BEFORE DRIVING TO ALASKA:  CAMPING @
MALMSTROM AFB, CYCLING ALONG THE MISSOURI

SATURDAY, MAY 30

 
"The next best thing to being on a trip is reading a map before you go  
and dreaming of what's to come."
 
~ Chuck Woodbury, editor of the online RV Travel Newsletter
 
 
We have lots of maps to peruse, and we're dreaming of what's to come this summer!

I know I've said that since we began full-time traveling by RV, we don't go on "trips" any more. Driving around the USA is our lifestyle. However, going all the way to Alaska sure sounds like a "trip" to me, maybe because we have to go through another country to get there.


These bison in MT remind us of the ones we've seen along the Alaska Hwy. in Canada.

After spending almost a month in Colorado Springs we finally feel like we're on our way to Alaska. We're itching to get up there because the weather has been so unseasonably mild in Alaska and northwestern Canada this month.

When we drove the Cameo to Alaska three years ago we did our final staging at Malmstrom AFB because Great Falls is just a couple hours south of the Canadian border on I-15. Many folks continue north and west through Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, AKA the "Eastern Route," to reach the southern end of the Alaska Highway.


Scenic terrain along I-90 in northern WY but clouds hid the Bighorn Range.

We figured what worked so well three years ago should work well for us again, and it did.

We stayed only two nights at the Gateway FamCamp at Malmstrom AFB this time. That gave us enough time to stock up on a few more things, put the Odyssey in storage on base, get in a long bike ride on the River's Edge Trail, and get our ducks in a row for the border crossing.

SCENIC DRIVE FROM COLORADO TO MONTANA

We took two days to drive 868 miles from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to Great Falls, staying one night in the parking lot between Sam's Club and Walmart in Casper, WY.

That's the third time we've stopped there. The stores were packed late Thursday afternoon but we had room to park the Cameo and two vehicles.

This time we even got to enjoy a rainbow:

That day we had sunshine in Colorado but ran into some storms on I-25 in southern Wyoming. Traffic moved pretty well in Wyoming despite the rain and all the road work on the freeway. There just isn't much traffic in Wyoming!

There was plenty in metro Denver and the communities along the Front Range in northern Colorado. I enjoyed the great scenery on I-25 between Colorado Springs and Denver before the traffic got heavy:

 

 

We could see rain to the west and south that day but didn't get wet until we got closer to Casper, WY:


Rain to the west


No traffic in sight -- love it! The rangeland was very green in both Colorado and Wyoming.


The 80 MPH speed limit in WY surprised me. We go about 62 with the Cameo.


Uh, oh. Can't avoid the rain any more.

The second day (Friday) the weather was mostly rainy with three very foggy sections through northern Wyoming:


Into the void . . . scary enough in a passenger vehicle,
even more nerve-wracking if you're hauling a 9-ton camper!


You know you're out West when you see a freeway exit that goes to just one ranch.

We finally saw some sun when we reached the Montana border.

Although it got progressively sunny as we headed west toward Great Falls, I was disappointed that we couldn't see the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming or the Beartooth and Crazy Mountains in Montana.


Approaching road work


Meeting another 5th-wheel in MT

We ran into extensive road work the second day on I-25, I-90, and the two-lane highways we took from Big Timber to Great Falls (US 181, 3, and 87).

A bumpy five-mile gravel break on US 87 north of Harlowton was the worst.

While we were slowly negotiating the rough gravel I called Jim on the phone (I was driving behind him in the van) and joked that this was practice for the gravel breaks we'd have through the Yukon and Alaska.

He was having enough trouble keeping the Cameo from self-destructing that he didn't find my comment particularly amusing. We were both glad when we hit pavement again.

One of my daily journal observations after reaching Great Falls was this: "It was a long way to Alaska from Virginia in 2012. It's even a long way from Colorado!"

Oh, dear, tired of driving and we aren't even in Canada yet!  

GATEWAY FAM CAMP AT MALMSTROM AFB

Malmstrom has two RV parks, one inside the gate with older, smaller spaces and Gateway, which is newer, has larger sites, and is just outside the gate so we don't have to go through security every time we come and go from the campground.

We were surprised to see that fewer than half of the 25 sites at Gateway were occupied when we arrived late Friday afternoon. We chose a site long enough for all three vehicles and with no one on our doorside or behind us:

 

All the sites are pull-through with lush grass on either side of the paved pads. They have full hookups with 50-amp electrical service and free WiFi that works pretty well. Although cable TV isn't available we can get the major stations and PBS.

One reason we like this RV park is all the grass, which is thick and bright green this spring. The dogs love rolling around on it.

In addition there is a very large field adjacent to the campground where I can walk the dogs off-leash. The meadow and grassy areas are full of ground squirrels they like to sniff out:

 

 

The campground is quiet, with nice views to the south and west. We slept well here both nights.

All this costs just $24/night or $130/week.

PREPPING FOR ALASKA

We will stop here on our way back from Alaska, too. Not only is it convenient, but we also have to come back to retrieve our minivan. We're leaving it in the RV storage lot at Malmstrom. It's just $15 a month for a secure, gated location -- two gates, really, if you count one to get on base.

Although having the van is convenient when we're driving around the Lower 48, it's totally impractical for several reasons to take it all the way to Alaska.

We had no problems leaving it at Andrews AFB in Maryland when we went to the Canadian Maritimes last summer. Jim took some additional precautions at Malmstrom, though. He bought a solar charger for the battery instead of disconnecting it. He spread moth balls on the ground around the vehicle to discourage rodents from taking up residence and/or chewing through wires and hoses. For the same reason, he put steel wool in the exhaust pipe.

We left contact information visible on the dash. The MWR office also had our contact information. As he's done previously any time we've left the van "at home," Jim also filled the gas tank most of the way and put Sta-Bil in it.

We've also been "downsizing" items in the camper so we aren't hauling unnecessary weight all the way to Alaska.

It's a humorous concept, if you think about it -- downsizing in an RV??? We're already living with a lot less stuff than most people find "necessary."

How could we live with less than that??

We wouldn't have even thought about it if we didn't have an extra vehicle. But there is so much room in the back end of the minivan that it makes perfect sense to store some things there that we (hopefully) won't need in Alaska.


Pretty spring flowers along the River's Edge bike path

It gets very hot in Great Falls in the summer so we had to use some discretion about what we put inside the car. For the past few weeks we've been setting aside items that we really don't need for the next four months and that can be safely stored there -- some clothing and shoes; some dinnerware and cooking utensils; some food staples like sugar that we rarely use; extra towels and bedding; some office supplies and books; a couple games; maps, files, and other travel information we don't need up there; Christmas decorations; RV tire covers and other vehicle supplies we probably won't need; etc.

Although we did some restocking in Great Falls we're extra conscious of the weight we're carrying and what might be confiscated at the Canadian border.

For example, we've consumed most of our fruits and veggies because it's difficult to keep current on exactly what is and is not allowed on any given day. We know raw eggs and raw chicken products are being confiscated now after bird flu outbreaks in the Lower 48 so we cooked the remaining eggs and chicken -- both are allowed if cooked.

We also gathered in one place all the information we might need when we cross the border tomorrow -- passports, vehicle registration, proof of insurance, dog vaccination records, bear spray, and such.

We aren't worried about border crossings, just hoping they are all as easy as they were three years ago during our first Alaska trip. This summer's itinerary will necessitate several additional crossings between Canada and the U.S.

Jim's been busy the last few weeks getting all three vehicles ready for the trip -- the van for storage, and the truck and Cameo for the long journey. We don't need new tires or any big-ticket repairs, just some extra cleaning and routine maintenance to try to prevent any malfunctions along the way. The last thing we want is a breakdown through remote areas of the Far North.

We have insurance and emergency road service for the truck and camper that works in Canada. We also have supplemental health insurance for Canada.

What we don't have is a special Verizon phone or MiFi connection for Canada -- too damn expensive for only a week through Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon on the outbound and return. Options with other providers are too complicated.

We paid our bills a month ahead so we won't need the internet or our phones for that. We'll use our dumb phones (we don't have smart phones) only for an emergency and possible campground reservations. We'll check our e-mail, weather predictions, road conditions, and news online with public WiFi where we can find it.

This should work for a week or more, in case we get delayed like we did in 2012. When we get to Alaska our Verizon phone and MiFi service will be the same as before.

Even though Alaska feels like being in a foreign country in some ways, it IS in the United States!

CYCLING ABOVE THE MISSOURI RIVER

With all our chores done for the drive to Alaska, we still had time for a good bike ride today on the River's Edge multi-use trail that follows the Missouri River for 20 miles or more. Although there is a path on the west side of the river we've only ridden on the east (near) side of the river during this and prior visits to the city.

Here are some of the pictures I took today:


Rainbow Falls and Dam, one of the five waterfalls in the area that
gave the Lewis & Clark Expedition so much grief


Sculptures of Sacagawea, Clark, and Lewis along the River's Edge path

Above and below:  Black Eagle Falls and Dam

Jim wanted to do a 50-mile ride while we were in Great Falls but it began raining while we were on the river path.

I did a total of 9 miles before bailing. Jim did 17 miles there, then another 20 or more on base after the rain stopped.


Part of the River's Edge bike path; it's quite hilly at the northern end.


Look, Ma -- no hands!

Jim's concerned that he might not get in another long ride before his planned 148-mile race in Haines, AK. He rode hard today, though, so that should count for something if he isn't able to do a longer ride as we're traveling through Canada.

We're beginning the next leg of our journey to Alaska tomorrow. We're psyched up!

Next entryour tentative summer plans for Canada and Alaska

Happy trails,

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

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2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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