Ask anyone and they’ll tell you… the people of Alaska, those who live here, are the best part of Alaska. You can just feel their love of summer… you can just tell that they know… More
After a mentally and physically challenging trip up the Dalton Highway, we had to hunker down a bit and rest up in Fairbanks, Alaska. So we joined the 75 or so other RVs staying at the Fairbanks Walmart Resort with our friend Nick of the Travato Base Camp Facebook group. While there, we checked out the Fairbanks Information/Cultural Center and learned quite a bit about the native people and their culture as well as how this northern, remote part of Alaska came to thrive and grow.
We also met a fellow NC Tarheel, Dave Friedrich, who was here on a mission. He rode his BMW motorcycle from the coast of NC to Alaska to honor his son who gave his life defending our freedom in Iraq. Dave explained to us the concept of the Tour Of Honor rides and surprised us as he took out a flask filled with part of his son’s ashes and showed us how he travels all over the country spreading his son’s ashes and honoring his memory. It was a touching and emotional moment for us as we made another lifelong friend on this journey in our van.
From there we started making our way to Denali but only made it as far as Healy, where we had a great lunch at the 49th State Brewery and got to experience the BUS from the movie “Into The Wild”. We then hopped in the vans and drove to the end of the Stampede Road, which is where Chris had been dropped off, had crossed the river and had found the infamous bus. It was one of those awesome moments that we got to be in the exact spot where we’d just watched in the movie, with those sad feelings still sticking around after watching Chris’ last days as he struggled to survive in the wild of Alaska.
It did not go unnoticed though that both of our experiences during this portion of the trip were very much related. Dave’s son, Chris, gave his life defending our country and fighting so we can have the freedom to live our Happy Life. Chris lost his life living his very own happy life… like so few he chose to leave everything behind and live his Happy Life as far out in the wild as he could go. He made it to the spot in his life and in Alaska he wanted to get to, but unfortunately the spring thaw raised the rivers to the point that he could not get back as he’d planned.
We find ourselves doing the same… trying to find and live Our Happy Life. We are much more conventional than Chris was in doing so, but far more adventurous than most our age… trying to strike that happy balance. Here’s hoping you find your Happy Life too and that you have the courage to strike out in that direction. Until then, we really appreciate each of you watching as we continue our journey.
Living Our Happy LIfe – Fairbanks to Healy
Why would a retired couple in a 2WD van tackle driving all the way to the end of “THE” Dalton Highway in Alaska? The answer is not that simple. But we think it boils down to a few things.
1) It was a huge challenge! Only 1% of those who visit Alaska go further north than Fairbanks and of those only 10% of that 1% go to Coldfoot (half way to the end of the Dalton) and only 1% of the 1% go all the way to the end and see the industrial town of Deadhorse. We love challenges. So off we went.
2) We came to Alaska to go as far north as you could possibly go… so that meant traveling the famous highway that was featured on TV shows like Ice Road Truckers, The Most Dangerous Jobs In America and The Most Dangerous Roads In The World. Crazy, right?
3) We wanted to see beautiful scenery and wildlife that can’t be seen anywhere else. So beautiful scenery? CHECK! Wildlife? Not so much but we did see the one species we hoped we’d see that can only be viewed in the true north, the Musk Ox. What we learned is those trucks that fly up and down that road actually scare off the animals we were trying find and take pictures of. BUMMER! But we did get some great shots and the last 2 minutes of this video has some pretty cool captures.
4) We wanted to meet the people who choose to live and work in this remote area of the world. That was the real jewel and if you’ve been following us for very long you know that’s a pretty constant theme. We love meeting new folks and getting to know their stories.
So, would we recommend you tackle this very dangerous and treacherous stretch of highway? Well, it depends. You see we traveled with another Winnebago Travato owner and that company provided a degree of safety so if you can caravan we say do it. If not, make sure you have extra gas, extra spare tires and don’t mind replacing your windshield and maybe a few dental fillings when you get back.
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So many great things to love about being in Alaska that its hard to list them. But all the free, remote places to camp have been such a great surpise. And getting to spend time with good friends and experience this with them has been so cool.
Today’s video is a perfect example of both: Alaska boondocking paradise by the river and then off to Chena Hot Springs Resort
So what does a van sleeping in a tent site, a singer with skinny legs and a million dollar view for only $25 per night have in common? We learned they are all related to each other as we visited New Bern, NC as we wrapped up our really fun Outer Banks adventure. We originally planned to stay at the national park campground near New Bern but found out just days before we were to arrive that the damage from Hurricane Florence had not been repaired and the campground was closed. So we took to RV Parky to find a replacement place to stay last minute. Up popped the New Bern KOA. A KOA? No way… we have stayed at our share of KOA’s in the past but these days we prefer parking our Travato van somewhere near no one in a national or state park as far out in nature as we can get. We don’t like paying a lot of money per night to park our van either. None of that usually screams out KOA but we had little choices and we gave it a try.
Wow! What a surprise when we pulled in and spoke with the manager. We quickly learned that the New Bern KOA was named the 2019 KOA Campground of the year! A pleasant conversation with the manager ended up with her offering a beautiful tent site with the best view of the campground for only $25 per night! Score! So we watched the most majestic sunset from the swings at the waters edge that night and went to sleep to the singing of the spring peepers just outside our windows.
With just one day to explore New Bern we headed into town the next day in search of breakfast, fun and shopping. Breakfast was at a place we have long loved, The Bakers Kitchen. French Toast with “Butter Syrup” put a smile on our faces and off we went to explore and shop. There’s a lot of that to do in the historic town of New Bern and that was no surprise. But what was a surprise was when we got to spend so time with a street performer. His music and his heart were both wise, pure and good and his toothless smile and humor warmed our hearts. His words about his skinny legs “we are what we were” talking about inheriting his “skinny genes” from his grandmother was one of the funniest yet wisest things we had ever heard.
So what was supposed to be a quick stop at a KOA on the way to something important and fun after this stop turned out to be one of the biggest gems of this journey to NC’s Outer Banks. New Bern is worth a right or left turn off the bridge and some time to leisurely stroll around a NC city that is more than 300 years old and still getting more and more interesting.
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As we were traveling around Florida in our Winnebago Travato 59K we made a list of MODs or modifications we wanted to make before we left for another trip. We showed most of those mods in this video, https://youtu.be/Aj9zeaU_3xs, watch it if you have not done so already. In this video we share with you our thoughts about how these modifications have really worked out for us… did we love, like or hate them.
Freezer Pool Noodle: So did you know you can keep your 59K refrigerator from freezing the things in the bottom section by just adding a pool noodle? We didn’t either until we found this mod and this one was a LOVE IT mod. It really worked. Not one frozen egg or water bottle in the bottom section and the freezer did not build up ice around the sides. A great mod for sure and simple. We just bought a grey piece of pipe insulation from Lowe’s and cut it to size and that was it.
Microwave Removal Storage Area: Do you keep stuff in your microwave and use it more as a storage area than you do a microwave. Well, we did and we decided we could use the extra storage more than the microwave so took it out and replaced it with a cabinet we built and in doing so doubled the storage in that area. Did we like it? YES!
Over The Door Closet Shelf For Shoes and Stuff: We first saw the over the door shelf in Gary Varner’s van and loved it. After some searching for the parts and a little bit of work with a hacksaw we made this simple mod. Verdict? We LOVE it!
Bungee Pocket Storage: Many of you may already have this mod in place and you may like it, but the version of these bungee storage containers that we bought just will not stick to the walls under the bed. And, it’s a pain in the butt, more like pain in the back and knees, to get things in and out of these so… we HATE this mod and would not recommend it.
Shower in our 59K First Time: Have you taken your first shower in your 59K yet? Until this trip we had not and geez do we feel stupid for waiting so long. It is a piece of cake to put the curtain up and the convenience gained from showering in your own van is immeasurable. We LOVE it!
Extra Sewer Hose Storage On Black Tank: We bought an adjustable 4” sewer hose storage tube from Amazon and thought it would add a great space in between the bikes on the bike rack to store the two rugs. Well, the big rug would not roll up tight enough to store in there and if it did it would be such a pain to roll that thing that tight every time we packed up that we would not use it. The door entry rug does fit and that’s pretty nice. But having it on the bike rack makes putting the bikes on a lot harder for the amount of extra storage it gives so the verdict? We Kinda-Like it… but won’t be leaving this one on as we head to Alaska or in future trips.
Thule Storage On Top: You’ve seen it up there… that big brown or black bag or now the Thule. Many of you ask if it helps and if it hurts our driving and MPG. Well, of all the mods we have done to our Travato this has to be our favorite. We keep a ton of stuff up there and it stays safe and dry and it does not seem to impact the MPG or the driving experience much at all.
During the last part of this episode we discuss with you how we did planning this 3-week trip to the OBX. What we liked and what we wish we’d done differently. And we celebrate our 4-legged fur baby Maggie’s 6th Birthday! Happy Birthday Maggie!
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Just a thought to share as we prepare for our biggest trip yet. Life is full of bucket lists… some big… some small… Those bucket list items or dreams drive us to make decisions about how we spend our time. When we’re young we spend it working and dreaming about a bigger house, bigger vacations, better cars, promotions and well, stuff. When the time comes for you to put all that structure aside and retire to a life of well, non-structure it can be difficult. Many lose their purpose. Many are lost. Many actually lose their health and rapidly stop living.
Lynn and I vowed to make the most of our “golden years”… you know those years after you’ve given up the structure of a daily job and routine and opted for the freedom of choosing what you see and what you do with all that time on your hands. How you spend it makes a big difference. We have retired friends who are much, much more active than we are and they continue to amaze us. We also have friends who seem to lose focus in these golden years and just exist, not really knowing what is next. That’s where the wisdom of the “dash” comes in. I’ve heard it said that we all have a dash in our lives whether we want it or not. It’s the dash between two numbers… two numbers that we cannot choose… the date we came into this world and the date we left it… and that dash… that dash. That dash and more importantly, what we do with it is the ultimate bucket list. At a time when many have time on their hands to make the most of that dash, many choose to slow down and in doing so get weaker and weaker, both mentally and physically. You see, growing old sucks! There’s no two ways about it… it sucks. But what’s the alternative? For us that sucks worse… right?
So how do you make the most of your “dash”? I’m betting it’s different for each of us. And what do you do if you want different things out of your dash than your spouse does? I don’t pretend to have the answers but I know I am so fortunate to be married to my best friend who loves to dream as big as I do, who sees the good in people and finds fun in everything we do and is always ready to face the next big adventure hand in hand and has the same desire to make the most of our “dashes”… together.
So with our “dashes” in mind tomorrow Lynn, Maggie and I begin a journey to check off another major bucket list item as we head out on a 3-4 month trip to Alaska in our van. I’m not sure we are doing the right thing but I do think that if my 90-year-old self could come back and tell the 61-year-old self what really matters, that 90-year-old self would not say stay home in your golden years and watch more TV. I think he’d say get off your butt, dream big until you can’t dream any more and get out there! Hike, bike and explore and see… see as much as you can while you have 4 good knees and the desire to take chances. So with that we’ll set out the biggest trip we’ve been on to date, likely more than 15,000 miles. We’ll fatten up our dashes with epic memories or as my grandmother used to say “movies in our minds” and we’ll check off one of our biggest bucket list items. Is that what’s important? Heck no! Not even close! What’s important is that we will talk non-stop, plan non-stop and experience the wonder that is known as the last frontier together.
We wrap up our adventure to NC’s Outer Banks by trying to stuff as much site seeing as humanly possible, at least humanly possible by us at our age, into one last day before we head back inland. It turns out as much as we had explored during our 5 nights on the island we still had a pretty long list of things we wanted to see. That included Bodie Lighthouse, Jockey’s Ridge, Pea Island for shelling and Nags Head Woods Preserve for a hike.
So off we drove from our great little campsite in the Oregon Inlet National Park campground to see as much as we could. First stop… well, we could see it from our campsite so that one was easy… Bodie Lighthouse. Man, we enjoyed this old lighthouse that was full of history. In fact it is the only lighthouse we’ve ever visited that limits how many can be on one flight at a time, one person and how many can visit the lighthouse in one day. Why? Because it still has the original staircase. Most other lighthouses have had improved/safer staircases installed after they became more of a tourist destination but Bodie, pronounced BODY like your BODY, still has the original spiral staircase that keepers climbed many times per day since it was erected. Those stairs are not attached to the wall of the lighthouse and you can actually feel the whole staircase moving a little as you climb, a very unnerving kind of feeling at first. The view at the top is well worth the climb though… we could see home for these 5 nights from the top of the lighthouse… stunning!
There must be a rule or something but if you come to NC’s OBX you must visit Jockey’s Ridge, the largest moving/shifting non-beach-bound sand dunes in the US. We found it to be not as hot as others had suggested it would be but it was a workout to climb to the very top of the highest dune where we could watch a hang gliding class learning to fly and land.
Not far from the saltwater of the coast is a nature preserve that resembles more of a jungle than a coastal hike, known as Nags Head Woods Preserve. The main trail was flooded and we could not hike it so we chose instead to hike the Roanoke trail which took us out and back 1.5 miles to a white sand view of the sound through the actual sound of spring peepers, birds and insects. Something for all your senses to marvel at.
Then we decided we had had enough… we were out of daylight and energy and we skipped Pea Island and headed back to our campsite to batten down the hatches and prepare to leave the following morning for places further inland as we neared to end of yet another awesome adventure trip in our Winnebago Travato van.
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