Alaska – Here we come!

After talking about it for years, we’re finally heading for Alaska. Alaska is on many people’s bucket list, and we’ve been seriously looking at making the trip since before I retired. This year, everything seems to be lining up for us, and – barring more unforeseen events – we’ll reach Alaska this summer.

The concept of the journey as the destination is especially applicable to this trip. With about 4,000 miles one-way from home to Denali, and probably about 10,000 miles for the entire trip, this adventure is all about the journey. While there are lots of things we plan to see, and Alaska is literally the end of the road, calling Alaska our destination is a bit like calling the entire southwest our destination. (Alaska is big – you could fit Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Nevada into Alaska and still have room for part of California.)

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How to Get Annabelle Home (and What to do with Annie)

So we find ourselves in southern Arizona with a truck, fifth-wheel and a motorhome. Not the best plan, and not one that I really recommend. But here we are.

We briefly contemplated taking both RVs along for the remaining two months of our trip. But besides having no navigators (we’d both be driving a vehicle), figuring out how to fit a fifth-wheel, truck and motorhome on every campsite (if it was even allowed) seemed a stretch. And several places we’re going have no more campsites available so we can’t reserve a second campsite for the motorhome.

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Winter 2018 Plans

Winter 2018 will be different for us, as we’re having Christmas in Texas instead of the frozen tundra up north. That means instead of heading south after Christmas, we can head south as soon as the doctor okays Oma for travel. (Oma broke her ankle in October.)

Since the spring break crowds kept us from Florida last winter, our plan is to head south to Florida and visit my aunt in The Villages, then head west to Texas. We’re not going to have a lot of time in Florida, Alabama or Mississippi, but we’ll make a few stops along the way.

After Christmas in Houston, we’ll head west through Texas and New Mexico into Arizona. Our plan is to check out many state parks and several national parks and monuments that we haven’t seen before. Our turn-around point will be the Sedona area, which we’ve never visited. After Sedona, we’ll work our way back into Texas, camping with the grandkids near the Texas panhandle over spring break. We’ll finish our winter with two weeks on Galveston Island, where we can enjoy the beach and Gulf and visit the kids and grandkids before returning home.

On the road again

Finally! After more than a month and a half of being stuck at home, we’re back on the road. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I have more weeks of healing before my wound is fully closed (estimates range from ten days to more than a month). So we’re adjusting our plans … again.

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Destination: Washington (DC)

Did we say we were going to Washington? And you thought we meant Washington state (perhaps jumping to that conclusion from the maps we included)? Really, we meant Washington DC. You must have misunderstood us.

Okay, so maybe the plan was to go west until we hit the ocean. Six weeks of antibiotics and a minor surgery later, that plan is no longer viable. It would be late September by the time we make it to Washington state, and October on the northwest coast and in the mountains is getting pretty iffy weather-wise, especially with the truck camper (not as well insulated and pretty cramped on crummy days).

Time for plan B.

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Destination: Washington

Our travel plans this summer / fall are to head back out to the west coast again, this time focusing on Washington instead of Oregon. And we’ll be taking the truck camper, not the fifth-wheel.

We’ll be starting by meeting the local Excel fifth-wheel group at a summer outing. (Not sure what the reaction of the Excel group will be when meet them for the first time, not in our Excel, but in our truck camper.) From there, we’re meeting friends in Grand Marais. After that, we have only one commitment, a solar and small inverter install in Oregon.

The entire rest of the trip is mostly unplanned. We will definitely hit the Olympic pennisula. We also expect to go through the Cascades in Washington, including Mt. Rainer and Mt. St. Helens.

If we feel like staying on the road, we'll head south as the weather gets colder. Who knows where we might end up?
If we feel like staying on the road, we’ll head south as the weather gets colder. Who knows where we might end up?

Beyond that, it really depends on how we feel and what the weather does. The truck camper is definitely not as comfortable as the fifth-wheel, so we may decide to head home after a couple of months. On the other hand, if we’re still enjoying ourselves, we may work our way to the south, following decent weather, and not come home until Thanksgiving. It’s great to have that flexibility.

Snowbirding

Approximate route for this tripAfter our granddaughter’s birthday, we’ll tackle something new for us – being snowbirds. We’ve never had a trailer/rv out in true winter (January/February) before, and getting safely from the cold and ice of the upper-midwest to the relative warmth of the south introduces new complications.

Unlike last time, for this trip we are mostly winging it. We have two reservations for the entire trip (and one is for our daughter’s driveway). We’ve given ourselves almost two weeks to get from home to Houston, but we won’t be able to leave until we have at least two days of decent traveling weather. That basically gives us one week of buffer before we start falling behind plan.

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Here Comes the Sun, Part 2

If your eyes glaze over when you read about Watts, Amps, Amp-hours and math of any kind, you may want to skip to Part 3. That said, this section is not very technical and the nasty arithmetic can be skimmed over. If you really want to learn about RV solar, two places to start your education are Jack Mayer’s overview of RV electrical and solar and AM Solar’s education section.

HOW MUCH SOLAR?

Because of our residential (electric only) refrigerator, we need a fair amount of electrical power each day. The rest of our trailer actually is pretty efficient. The lighting is entirely LED and uses little power. The water pump, furnace and hydraulic system are all standard for RVs, although if we needed heat frequently while off grid we’d consider supplementing the furnace with a portable propane heater that does not require electricity. We do have some parasitic loads, but the battery monitor shows them as only a few amps (@ 12V). We can use propane to heat water and cook with. The 42″ TV is pretty energy efficient (compared to TVs of yesteryear) and we don’t have to turn it on if we’re short on power. Appliances like the convection oven and air conditioner just aren’t an option when running on solar, so we do have to live a little differently if we’re not connected to “the grid.”

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Here Comes the Sun, Part 1

We were able to order our fifth-wheel with almost everything we wanted already installed. We added a few other items when we picked up Annie in March, such as our battery monitor, and wifi and cell extenders. Solar panels were the last thing on our list that we wanted to add. I’m not aware of any solar installers with great reputations in Wisconsin (or even the midwest). Since we were heading to the Oregon coast, we decided to wait and take advantage of one of the most recommended solar installers in the country, AM Solar, located in Springfield, Oregon.

But let’s back up. Why did we want solar? Our fifth-wheel really likes 50A hookups, but we made sure that we could also camp comfortably if we don’t have hookups. For example, many national parks don’t have hookups, and we’ve seen plenty of places where the most scenic campsites (overlooking water, for example) also don’t have hookups. Also, hookups usually mean that you’re close to other RVs, and we prefer some distance from the neighbors, given a choice. Without electrical hookups, you can live off of your batteries for a while, depending on the size of your battery bank and how much electricity you use. In our case, we can survive on our four batteries for only about 24 hours before we have to start recharging them. We tried to ensure that we had hookups on this trip prior to reaching Oregon, but even so we still had three nights of no hookups.

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Trip Segment Overviews – Summer 2015

Updated Google Maps route with Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Black Hills added
Our seven travel segments shown on Google Maps

At this point in our planning, we had seven travel segments identified that we needed to account for.

While we don’t have to plan/book every night of the trip, many of the places we want to stay get quite full (especially sites that can handle a 33′ fifth-wheel plus 22′ truck). For summer weekends, most of the Oregon state parks were booked solid by January 1st, and some parks were booked solid even during the week. National Parks and state parks elsewhere are about as bad. Even private RV parks near popular locations had limited availability. This unfortunately meant that we needed reservations for many of our stays if we wanted popular locations (and we do). Even for areas we chose not to make reservations, we still need to allot a specific number of days so that we could plan the timing of the later reservations we need to make.

Making our reservations and the associated planning took us several months. As we leave on our trip, we’ve been done with our early reservations for a couple of months, although we’re still making occasional adjustments when availability opens up due to cancellations. I’m not going to list our entire current itinerary – hopefully you’ll find the blog interesting enough to follow along and find out where we end up. However, here is a brief preview of each travel segment.

Home – Texas

Due to the timing of a personal obligation and when we want to reach Texas, this will mostly just be four days of driving. We are hoping to sneak in a few hours of exploration at one of our stops.

4 days of travel, plus 9 days with Texas daughter

Texas – Grand Canyon

We have to cross most of Texas, all of New Mexico and a good chunk of Arizona. There will be a lot of driving, but we are hoping to incorporate a couple of interesting stops along the way.

8 days of travel, plus 4 days at the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon – Yosemite

We’ll be south of Death Valley on this segment. Planning for very hot weather and few stops.

2 days of travel

Yosemite – south Oregon coast

Besides Yosemite and Sequoia, we are also planning to include another scenic stop plus hopefully some wineries.

12 days in the Sequoia & Yosemite area, then 8 days of travel

Oregon coast

Our stops (though not our time) are almost entirely planned on this segment due to the popularity of the parks on the coast. We’ll be spending a month on the coast, working our way from south to north. Annie will also be getting solar panels installed during this time.

32 days including an inland stop for her solar panel install

north Oregon coast – Black Hills

We are going to abandon the direct route for a while and meander through Oregon and Idaho before hitting the plains, mostly staying 2-3 nights at each stop. One factor in our planning for this travel segment is that we want to arrive in the Black Hills after Sturgis ends.

23 days, plus 4 days in the Black Hills

Black Hills – Home

With less than 1,000 miles to home and after 3 1/2 months on the road, we’re mostly planning one-night stops for this segment . However, we will meet up with our other daughter, son-in-law and grandkids for a weekend as we get closer to home.

5 days including a weekend with our midwest daughter

All of this is subject to change (stuff happens), but that’s what the trip looks like at this point. Over the course of an estimated 110 days, we are currently planning 37 stops ranging from 1-8 days each (3 day average). We are anticipating eight days of no hookups (power only from batteries plus solar and/or generator) and 36 days with full hookups (electric, water and sewer, which means that we can take long showers and do laundry). And my 7,000 mile estimate looks low, due mostly to the meandering route we’re planning from the coast through Idaho.

We’re very excited about most of our planned stops. We should be able to see a lot of interesting and beautiful areas and have a lot of photographic opportunities. We hope you follow along with our adventures over the next several months.