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Alaska is the last great RV adventure

February 20, 2005|by JEFF JOHNSTON/Motor Matters

Alaska! The mere mention of the place can get an adventurous RVer's blood flowing a bit faster. Exploring Alaska is a great pastime, but just driving there from the lower 48 is one of the last great RV adventures.

Although much of the country is still buried in winter's icy grasp, now is the time when many RVers start planning their Alaska getaways. It won't be long before spring arrives and Alaska wanderlust burns bright in many an RVer's heart.

Fortunately, you need not be a diehard, grizzled adventurer with professional mechanic skills and a Navy navigator's sense of direction to drive to Alaska. Almost anyone can go and thoroughly enjoy the adventure.

The first step is to buy the latest issue of The Milepost (www.themilepost.com, The Milepost/Morris Communications Company LLC, 735 Broad St., Augusta, Ga., 30901; 800/726-4707), which is the absolute must-have book for north country travelers. The Milepost has intricately detailed mile-by-mile descriptions of natural features, road conditions and every possible type of service or supply available to an RVer. Until you peruse this book, you can't really grasp how valuable it is for an Alaska traveler.

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Another valuable map to have along is the DeLorme Alaska edition of its terrific Atlas & Gazetteer map book series (www.delorme.com; 800-561-5105). Between these two books, you can find your way anywhere in Alaska, and also locate what's there to see.

The Trailer Life campground directory (www.tldirectory.com; 800-234-3450) includes a large section on campgrounds and related RV facilities in Alaska. It's also a handy item to have along.

There are almost as many urban legends about driving to Alaska, as there are ways to enjoy the trip. The early history of the highway gave rise to many of those legends, such as the notion of carrying along two or three spare tires, adding a protective screen to one's windshield, and carrying many gallons of extra fuel to make it between stations. Those ideas don't apply anymore, although an unprepared motorist can always find a way to get into trouble by being foolish enough.

The suggestions listed apply to travel on the main highway. Once the adventurer takes a side route to less-well-known areas, the level of preparedness goes up in relation to the ruggedness of the highway.

Basic vehicle preparation, the type that's used before medium- or long-distance trips in the lower 48 states, will also get you to Alaska. All expendable items, such as tires, windshield wipers, shock absorbers, batteries and the like should be in good condition. The same applies to all engine belts, hoses and similar items.

The entire Alaska Highway has been paved, but it's always under reconstruction and repair. Be prepared to encounter many miles of gravel. As long as you slow down appropriately in the gravel areas, you should have no problems with excess flat tires. Slowing down, and not following too closely, also helps avoid windshield and headlight damage, due to rocks being kicked up by other drivers.

While fuel is readily available, it makes sense to top off your tank more often than in the lower 48. Once I reach 1/2 tank, I start looking for a station. The next fuel stop may be 100 miles away, so stop when you can to avoid running out. Driving late at night may change this, as not all stations are open 24 hours.

Carry a fairly complete first-aid kit. When you're 75 miles from the nearest town, you're also 75 miles from the nearest hospital, and most accidents are serviced by ambulances, not rescue helicopter flights. Figure how long it would take the ambulance to reach you, and double back.

Be prepared.

Most fuel stops in remote regions of the Yukon Territory are like small self-contained cities. They typically include gas and diesel, a service station or mechanic, a restaurant, bar, laundromat, maybe a video arcade, an RV park and other conveniences. The next such location maybe be 100 miles or more up the road, and similarly equipped.

Cellphone service is spotty along the highway, so place calls when you're closer to civilization. You may do well to take along a few prepaid phone cards, and know how to use them, should you need to place a call from a remote location without wireless service.

The upshot of all this is that you can drive about anything you want to Alaska, and an RV is a natural fit for an adventure along the most exciting and inspiring drive in north America. Once you try it, you'll want to go back again . . .and again.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2005

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