Alaska Road Trip 2009

Extended road trip through the American West, Canada and Alaska

20090521 through 20090910, 112 days total

Last update: 200909014 from San Diego, CA

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Two glaciers merge in northern British Columbia, Canada.
Canon 1DsM3. All photos copyright, Bill Caid 2009. All rights reserved.

New Capability - Track our current location!

After our mechanical issues that we suffered in southern Utah, we purchased a SPOT geo-location transmitter. This device reports your position through a satellite network and plots your path on Google maps. Additionally, the device has the ability to send messages through the satellite indicating that you are "OK", "Need assistance" or are having an emergency event. We hoped to not use the emergency capabilities of the device, but after the last trip, we felt that being prepared was the best solution. To follow our progress and see our current location in "near real time" see Bookmark this location to see our position over time. It shows the last 50 positions.

Go directly to the Trip

The Team and Equipment

The away team for this trip consisted of only one vehicle and 2 folks. Kathleen and I went in our turbo-diesel Mercedes Unimog 1300L with our now-proven Alaskan camper. We would have loved to go with another vehicle, but this was planned to be an extended duration trip and therefore would have been a great imposition on any partners who had "real" jobs.

As always, we were prepared for primitive camping. But, analysis of the available road system suggested that we would always be within several day's travel of "civilization". Our research seemed to indicate that we would have cell phone coverage for a big portion of our trip, but that is always dependent on where, exactly, one travels. We planned to bring our normal compliment of gear and leave nothing to chance. Knowing that we would be away for so long, I purchased additional spare parts for the truck as well as a significant amount of tire repair components including four spare tubes. For this trip, we will be running our "new" set of Michelin 395/85R20 tires. But, these tires are so big that it is impossible to bring a full size spare without significant re-engineering of the camper setup (which I elected not to do). So, we brought tire repair components instead and are hoping that we will be able to repair any issues we encounter. We do have a spare, but it is significantly smaller that the tires that are mounted. The spare is a 14.5R20, which is not a small tire, just smaller than the 395's.

The Trip

Kathleen and I have traveled extensively in the arid portions of the west. However, we have not spent much time in the mountains. And, except for a ski trip to Whistler and our Rocky Mountaineer train trip, we have never been to Canada. Since both Kathleen and I were between jobs, we decided to make the best use of our time. We had both been wanting to travel to Alaska again since we last visited there in 2007. The 2007 trip was via plane and train, but this time, we wanted to drive there with our 1300L Unimog and camper. So, we repaired a myriad of niggling problems, made a few enhancements and set our course north to Alaska. Our plan is to travel north across the Mojave desert of California and Nevada into central Utah and then north generally along I-15 to Glacier National Park. Crossing the border at Glacier, we will then travel along the axis of the Rocky Mountains in British Colombia and then northwest into Alaska. Our current plan is to go all the way to the Arctic ocean, but that plan may have to be adjusted depending on road conditions, weather and the calendar.

Trip Details

The link table below contains links to the daily adventures that include photos and dialog about what we saw. We will attempt to update pages from the road as connectivity permits.


Links to Daily Adventures
Part Dates Adventure Locations
San Diego to Lehi, UT
Timpanogos Cave and Logan, UT
Logan, UT to Helena, MT via Eastern Idaho
Helena, MT to Waterton, AB, CA via Glacier National Park
Waterton, AB, CA to Jasper National Park, AB, CA
Jasper NP to Teslin, YT
Teslin, YT to Fairbanks, AK
Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs and Coldfoot, AK
Coldfoot to Prudhoe Bay, AK
Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks, AK
Fairbanks to Kenai Peninsula
Kenai to Lake Eklutna, AK
Lake Eklutna to Valdez, AK
Prince William Sound Boat Tour, Valdez, AK
Valdez to Skagway, AK
White Pass and Yukon Railroad, Skagway, AK
Skagway, AK to Lake Kinaskan, BC
Lake Kinaskan, BC to Hyder, AK
Lava Flow to Vancouver, BC
Vancouver, BC to San Juan Island, WA
San Juan Island to Tofino, BC
Tofino, BC to Bellingham, WA
Bellingham, WA to Palouse Falls, WA
Palouse Falls, WA to Sheridan, OR
NWMF Part 1, Sheridan, OR
NWMF Part 2, Sheridan, OR
Sheridan, OR to Reno, NV
Reno, NV to San Francisco, CA
San Francisco to San Diego, CA



We finally arrived back at our home in San Diego after 112 days (16 weeks) on the road. Our camper is quite small and one of the detractions is that to setup, you must move your internal cargo from point A to point B. While this was a minor annoyance, the small footprint of the camper allowed us to go anywhere we pleased. The add-on basket on back decreased our departure angle, but generally speaking, this had no impact on us.

Our trip lasted from late May to early September, a total of 112 days. During that time, we passed through the states/provinces of: California, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska, Alberta, Yukon and British Columbia. We saw many, many beautiful things, but both Kathleen and I agree that the scenic highpoint of the trip was in Hyder, Alaska. We traveled the dirt roads to the north of the village and got above the glaciers that are in the surrounding mountains. The views were breathtaking. The headline photo on this page shows one of the many glaciers in the area.

Our trip encompassed nearly 15,000 miles and we consumed about 1400 gallons of diesel fuel which cost about $4500 total. This translates into an average cost per gallon of $3.20 for fuel. This number is high because EVERYTHING costs more in Canada; they have taxes on taxes and fuel prices there are much more than the U.S. Our most expensive fill up was in Deadhorse, AK on the arctic ocean at about $4.80/gallon.

We traveled about 130 miles per day average, but that number includes "down days". Our plan was about 200 miles per day when we were actually rolling, and we came very close to that estimate.

I changed the fuel filters twice, changed the oil twice and rotated the tires twice. We had 6 mechanical failures that required actions on my part to prevent damage or repair the hardware. These failures were:

  • Oil pan leak. When I replaced the diesel engine in 1998, I had an engine pre-luber installed. This pre-luber pump creates oil pressure in the block before starting the motor, thus reducing, or eliminating, start-up wear. After 11 years, the suction line that was hooked into the oil pan decided to come loose. Since the suction line was near the bottom of the oil pan, nearly all the oil in the motor drained out risking catastrophic damage to the engine. Luckily, I was able to find the problem and shut down the motor before damage was done. The fix was the bottom of a soup can and some JB Weld two-part epoxy glue. The fix is still functional and got us from Alaska back to San Diego. Total down time: 2 days.
  • Air line failure. I had the air compressor on the truck replaced in 1996 when I first bought the truck. The replacement was done by Pacific Freightliner in San Diego and one of the things that was required was a flexible hose to connect the new pump to the existing hard lines in the air system. After 13 years of service, the hose fatigued and failed near Sooke, BC. I was able to do a temporary fix that allowed us to drive to a shop that made us a new hose. The hose was $60 CA, so I got 2. Total down time: 1 day.
  • Radiator leak. To the best of my knowledge, the radiator in my truck is original equipment. That mean that the radiator is nearly 31 years old. It was serviced during the 1998 engine rebuild, but it started leaking. The solution was to add some Aluminaseal. The fix held all the way from Alaska back to San Diego, but the radiator needs to be replaced. Total down time: 0.
  • Power steering belt. These fail from time to time, so I carry several with me (along with at least one of ever other belt). We repaired this at the side of the road on our way to Tok, AK. Total down time: 2 hours.
  • Turbocharger oil line. I replaced this line only a year ago, but I was unable to get "good" hose. The repair started leaking at some point in the trip, but the hose never fully failed, it just leaked and made a mess. I acquired the "good" high-pressure, high-temperature hose at a NAPA in Joseph, WA but did not install it for another week at NWMF. Total down time: 0 (we were already "down" at NWMF and I repaired it there).
  • Hydraulic clutch line. We were lucky on this one. You will not go far without a clutch and the line failed in the parking lot of an auto parts store. The clutch had been misbehaving earlier in the day, so I was already seeking spare parts. But, in the end, I was unable to come up with a repair and had to wait for the factory part. We stayed in a low-budget motel in Wenatchee, WA so there was no real hardship associated with the repair, just time and money for the hotel. Total down time: 4 days.

Traveler's Advice

Plan ahead on fuel. Diesel is not available everywhere. Water availability is always an issue depending on your capacity and planned route of travel. No water was available at Deadhorse Camp on the arctic ocean. You must plan ahead and monitor your consumption unless you like being dry. Ice is generally available except in remote areas. We ended up buying a "premium cooler" that had rubber seals around the lid to prevent dust contamination of the contents of the cooler. There is nothing better at the end of a hot day than enjoying a cocktail made with muddy ice.

To do a trip like this, you must be able to effect minor repairs on your vehicle. And, to do this, you must have both the correct tools as well as spare parts or a repair kit. You should carefully inspect your "kit" before you leave to insure that you have all the tools required including wrenches, pliers, hammers, bars, jacks, etc. Our kit is extensive on tools, but light on spare parts. We carry repair items, but how do you forecast whether a part will fail or not? If you KNEW it was bad before you left, you should have replaced it in the comfort of your driveway, not at the side of the road.

Miscellaneous Information

We used our credit card at ATMs to get cash in Canada. This was an easy way to get local currency at a good rate and not have a big wallet-full of foreign currency when you return to the states. Canada is more "wired" than the U.S. so your credit card can be used almost everywhere. In the end, most of our cash went to pay for camping fees in back-country areas. All provincial campsites have an associated fee depending on the amenities and location. You will always spend more than you think, whether it be that dinner out or the train tour, so set your expectations accordingly.


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Copyright Bill Caid 2009