Christmas in Tahoe

This was our first Christmas as a family in Tahoe. Nina and I had previously spent at least one other Christmas in Tahoe, but not as full time residents and it was before the children were born. There are a few cool thing about spending Christmas up here, including:

  • It’s white (at least it was this year!)
  • We got to cut down our own Christmas tree in the woods near our house and carry it home.
  • It didn’t matter that the ice machine in the refrigerator doesn't work, even when Nina needed a Baileys at midday on Christmas Day. She just walked outside, grabbed an icicle from the eaves and popped it in the glass. Christmas is saved.
 Christmas Day

Christmas Day

On the whole, we did have a pretty laid back Christmas Day - just the five of us. No one was staying with us at the time but we did get to Skype Granny, Grandad and Auntie Naomi. In the days leading up to Christmas we had friends from San Jose visiting us (Seeling, Jayden and Clarisse – sans Newton) and a couple of days after Christmas we had Esther, Gracie and Liam staying with us. The kids had a blast playing with their friends and cousins. On New Year’s Day we’re having more guests coming to stay with us – Mei, Albert, Madeleine and Miles – and it’s their second time in just over a month! I’m telling you, if you like having guests come and stay with you (which we do, a lot), then move to a place like Tahoe.

Another cool thing about the house we’re in is that there’s an extreme sledding hill just outside the back of the house. For the past week and a half, it’s been a daily activity for the children to go outside and spend an hour or so sledding.

Also, what’s really fun this year, is that the boys are old enough to go off skiing by themselves. Also, they know the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski area well enough to their friends and cousins with them and show them the best places to go on the mountain.

 The ice that saved Christmas

The ice that saved Christmas

So, we hope everyone else had a wonderful Christmas and look forward to seeing as many friends and family as possible in 2016.

Winter Is Upon Us

As I mentioned in my last blog (my word! was that just yesterday?), I thought I’d drop some notes about what’s it’s like to live in Tahoe during the winter. Well, winter is here and it’s snowing already! Yesterday, we had the third winter storm of the season – and it’s not even Christmas. Two weeks ago we were skiing at Sierra at Tahoe on Thanksgiving weekend. Today's Friday, and guess what? Screw work, I took the day off and going skiing with the Rhys. OK, so when I say “Screw work”, that’s a little misleading, since I don’t have a job. But, hey! “Screw looking for work”. What a rebel!

I actually snowboarded, instead of skied. I thought it would be more fun since there was powder. I think it’s the first time I’ve snowboarded in four or five years. My back aches tonight. I’m not in my forties anymore, you know! Anyway, it was a pretty cool day, since there was hardly anyone on the slopes and no lift lines.

The boys are actually signed up with a ski program called Rippers at Sierra at Tahoe. Each week, on Thursday, they’ll get to ski with a group of other homeschoolers on the same homeschool program as them. That’s their whole school day. Is that cool, or what? What’s even more cool is that it’s paid for out of their annual education allowance that they receive from the charter school that they’re registered with. Rhys and Dylan were supposed to be skiing with their fellow homeschoolers yesterday, but it was snowing too heavily. Really, there was just too much snow!

So, if you’re thinking about going skiing this year, then consider coming to stay with us in South Lake Tahoe. This is especially directed at you guys back home in the UK! You haven’t been to Tahoe to ski for at least 10 years, so get your skates on J and get over here. Not only did the resorts open earlier this year than they have done for several years, but they’re also expecting El Nino to drop bucket loads of snow starting in January. You can never be sure, but it looks promising.

Anyway, after a day like today, I’m wondering if it’s Nina who should be returning to work, not me.

 Coyote photographed from the boy's bedroom

Coyote photographed from the boy's bedroom

I didn’t take any pictures of us skiing, but here’s another one of the coyote outside our house again today :-) Down boy!

Catchup

For whatever reasons, I have not posted a blog or any photos to the website for nearly 4 months. I try to convince myself that there are legitimate reasons – like, I’ve been looking for a job, we’re making sure the children are settling into their new home, etc. But, I think the real reason is that I’ve been procrastinating about what to write about now that we’re not traveling and living on the RV the whole time. Yes, we’re actually living in a house again. What’s interesting about that? Huh?

Well, OK, living in a house is more conventional that traveling full time in an RV with 3 children. However, over the past few weeks it’s struck me just how much fun we’re having, how interesting life can be living in the mountains and how boring life could be if we don’t take a few chances and just see what happens. Don’t get me wrong, Nina and I still have to deal with a bunch of stuff that any other family with 3 crazy children may have to deal with, no matter where they live. Also, homeschooling is hard work - fortunately Nina does nearly all the teaching now J, since I’m looking for work. Yes, I still don’t have a job! Another stressor.

Anyway, here’s the plan. I’m going to start blogging again and periodically add photos to the website. The topics of future blogs may include, but won’t be limited to:

  • How difficult it is to be an engineer living in the mountains when all the jobs are elsewhere (e.g. Silicon Valley)
  • What it’s like to live in South Lake Tahoe – especially through the snowy winter months (it’s snowing right now J)
  • Updates on the fun things the children get up to, in particular the things they wouldn’t be doing if we still lived “down the hill”
  • The outdoorsy things we get up to and the wildlife we experience (see pictures and below)
  • The trips take in our RV.
 Grasshopper pie for birthday cake

Grasshopper pie for birthday cake

So, over the next few days, I’ll upload some photos from the past four months and will hopefully have time to post some retrospective blogs about some of the things we’ve been up to since leaving Alaska and settling in South Lake Tahoe.

By the way, today is Anwen’s 6th birthday. Hooray! This time last year we were celebrating her birthday in Llanelli. My how time flies.

For now, All the Best.

Wildlife snippet: Just yesterday, Rhys saw a Cooper’s hawk swoop down and kill a Rabbit in our back yard. Today, through the front window, he spotted a coyote carrying a dead squirrel in its mouth. The photo of the coyote shown here was taken about 5 mins after we first saw it and by that time it had stashed its kill and was out hunting again.

 Cooper's hawk with its kill

Cooper's hawk with its kill

  Unlucky  rabbit's feet

Unlucky rabbit's feet

 Our neighborhood coyote

Our neighborhood coyote

Anniversary!!

 One year ago. On our brand new RV!

One year ago. On our brand new RV!

It’s a radroadtrip anniversary! We set off from the RV dealer in Des Moines in our new Forest River Georgetown 351 DS exactly 1 year ago today (14th August 2014). Wow! It’s hard to believe it’s been a year. Rhys and I actually left Roseville, CA, on 3rd August 2014 with the SUV jam packed with so much stuff that he had to sit in the front passenger seat with his legs crossed on the seat.

Sometimes, I feel we’ve barely seen or done anything, when I consider we’ve been travelling a whole year. Then, when I look at the photographs, or talk to the children about what we’ve done, things we’ve seen and places we’ve been, it feels like we’ve achieved an incredible amount. My children are already telling me which places they want to visit next. I hope they remain adventurous and continue to enjoy travel throughout their lives. Right now, though, they are quite excited about settling down – especially about making new friends that they will be able to meet on a regular basis. None of my children are shy, that’s for certain! They all make friends very easily, so no matter where we settle, friendships and socialization will not be a problem, I’m sure

What next? Well that’s the question! We have to settle down, find gainful employment and make sure we do what’s best for the children. I know some families lead a continuous nomadic life, even with several children, and it really works for them. For us, it was a great adventure, and we all benefited from the journey and the exposure to so many places and experiences. However, to continue with the nomadic life any longer would not be what’s best for our children. We’ve all learned a lot about many things, including ourselves and each other.

Please don’t stop checking into www.radroadtrip.com – I’ll continue with updates to our blog and photo journal. Obviously, we will continue to travel, but from a home base from now on. We’re keeping the RV and plan to use it much as possible. In the blog, I will put a little more emphasis on reporting on the children and how their schooling and homeschooling is working out. The more we get into the homeschooling, the more passionate I become about it. Hopefully, it’s not just me - the boys have both expressed that they would prefer to continue homeschooling, rather than return to school. Anwen, on the other hand, really wants to go to school – so we’re going to put her into kindergarten and keep a close eye on how things go for her.

Wow! I almost forgot to mention where we are now. We’re back in California – in South Lake Tahoe, as a matter of fact. This is the place we’re trying to make our home. We love it here. In the words of a barman I once met (about a week ago, actually) – “Stay where you play, and commute to work”. Or, in my ideal world “Stay where you play, and work from home”.

It’s been an amazing year. Au revoir!

The Davies Family

Exit Alaska

Goodbye Alaska :-( We’ve been in Alaska for 3 months, visiting several regions, driving on most of its major highways, viewing some of its wildlife but, in reality, only scratching the surface of all that it has to offer. It’s been a wonderful and maybe, just maybe, a once in a lifetime experience for the whole family. It’s true, that on occasion we did have to coerce one, or more, of the children into doing something or visiting somewhere they weren’t keen on by playing the “but we’ll never be here again (together, as a family)” card. Already, though, the children are recounting memories of places and events they encountered on our journey with fondness and enthusiasm. It’s quite satisfying to me, as a parent, I must admit :-)

Anyway, it’s not over yet! Let me get on with reporting on the most recent leg of our journey before I start reminiscing and getting all nostalgic. As I foretold in my previous blog entry, we caught the Columbia ferry down the Inside Passage from Haines, AK, to Bellingham, WA. It was a three day trip, saving us 1500 miles and about 7 days of driving, bypassing Canada (Yukon Territory and British Columbia) and dropping us back into the “lower 48 States”. Anwen was, indeed, simply ecstatic about sleeping in a bed on a boat! I’ve now promised to take her on a father-daughter only cruise when we’ve settled down again – and either Nina or I has a job to finance it! The boys also enjoyed to journey – especially as they had friends to play with the whole way. The family with two boys a little older than Rhys who stayed next to us in Oceanside RV campground in Haines were on the same ferry. We hardly saw Rhys and Dylan during the daytime, as they went off and played with their buddies.

 Humpback whale breaching

Humpback whale breaching

The ferry trip itself was very pleasant for all of us in fact. Lots of people - all in the same boat, so to speak – socializing, sharing stories and generally being relaxed (no doubt relieved they weren’t driving on the Alaska Hwy again!). Several of the passengers were musicians and on a couple of occasions they got together for a jam and treated the rest of us to a session of blue-grass/folk/Americana. Pretty cool.

There were also some good wildlife viewing opportunities – including humpback whales, bald eagles and several sea birds. I managed to take some photographs of the whales breaching almost completely clear of the water - but they were quite far away. On a couple of occasions other passengers were asking me about my zoom lens. I was happy to give details and show one or two of the photos. One of those passengers, it turns out, was a freelance filmmaker, photographer and bear biologist. When I learned that I put my camera away.

Next stop? Who knows! Well, actually I know, but I’m trying to build an air of mystery.

Haines (Part II)

 Joyce at the shrimp and salmon feast

Joyce at the shrimp and salmon feast

We spent our final week in Alaska in Haines – the place we enjoyed so much when we first arrived in Alaska at the end of April. In my original blog regarding Haines I jokingly stated I’d found a new place to live. Strangely, as we travelled from Valdez to Haines, it did feel like we were returning home and all of us were looking forward to coming back here. Now that we’re here, it feels like we’re on vacation. I guess it may be difficult to comprehend what I mean when I say “it feels like we’re on vacation”, considering we’ve been travelling for almost a year now and haven’t had jobs or regular school to worry about. The whole week had a relaxing feel to it. The children made friends with local children at the playground and went to play there every day. Rhys and Dylan also went fishing down at the harbor with two boys staying in the RV next to us – I didn’t need to be with them every minute to fix their gear, unhook the fish, etc. I relaxed and read books. We all went to the local swimming pool a few times and the children met their new friends there. We didn’t worry about visiting the local attractions or taking any long hikes since the children were all enjoying mixing with other children as much as they could – something they’ve missed being on the road for almost twelve months. All in all, it was just, well, relaxing!

On our final night at the Oceanside RV campground in Haines, Joyce (the owner) put on a shrimp and salmon cook-out for all the campers due to leave Haines on the Columbia ferry the following night. It was a fun, friendly and, at times emotional event.

What next? Well, the next leg of our journey will provide us with another perspective on the Alaskan experience – we’re catching a ferry from Haines to Bellingham, WA. It’s a three day trip, saving us 1500 miles and about 7 days of driving, bypassing Canada (Yukon Territory and British Columbia) and dropping us back into the “lower 48 States”. We’ll be travelling on the Columbia ferry – the biggest in the Alaska Marine Highway fleet. Anwen is simply ecstatic about the prospect of sleeping in a bed on a boat! However, Rhys isn’t so keen on the idea, having watched a documentaries on the “Concordia” cruise ship and Exxon Valdez oil tanker disasters. To make matters worse, the ferry company called me on Friday to let me know that the departure from Haines was going to be delayed from Monday evening until Wednesday morning because of mechanical problems with the vessel.

Valdez

 Dylan And Rhys with their Pink Salmon

Dylan And Rhys with their Pink Salmon

Valdez – the (in)famous port town in the Prince William Sound. In 1989 the Exxon Valdez oil tanker left the port of Valdez and soon became the vessel involved of the largest oil spill in US history (until the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010). That incident, its environmental impact and the clean-up effort are still probably the first things that come to mind for most people when the name of Valdez is mentioned. Last week we spent 4 days in Valdez and were rewarded with some of the most spectacular scenery of our trip to date, and some of the best wildlife viewing experiences so far. Oh, and we also caught some more fish.

Valdez is a natural harbor, nestled between some of the highest coastal peaks in the world (up to 7000 feet). The drive into Valdez along the Richardson highway is beautiful, even if the road surface leaves a lot to be desired. There are some great hikes around the area starting within the town, or very near to the town. We decided to take a hike up the Mineral Creek Trail and must have viewed at least 10 waterfalls in the 4 mile round trip. Also, along the way, we managed to pick about a pound of salmon berries – a favorite food of the local brown bears, so we kept our eyes open for bears.

Guess what? We went fishing again. This time for pink salmon, near the fish hatchery. Both Dylan and Rhys managed to catch a decent sized salmon and I hooked one so big, that my line snapped. No, really, it was huge. Our fridge and freezer are now so full of fish I’ve had to limit how much the boys are allowed to catch. Also, to make matters worse, Anwen also wants to fish.

 A sea lion catching a salmon

A sea lion catching a salmon

We weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the pink salmon coming in to spawn. Right next to the hatchery we watched sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters and sea gulls all feasting on the abundant fish. I even managed to photograph many of these predators on scavengers catching and eating the salmon (check out one or two of the photographs).

After leaving Valdez, we had a 700 mile drive back to Haines. Unfortunately, that meant driving back along the worst part of the Alaska Hwy again. It took us 3 days to complete the journey and it was not something I really wanted to do, but, on the bright side, we were treated to some great bear sightings along the Haines Hwy as we descended into Haines.

More on Haines (and our “Exit Alaska” plans) in the next post.

Friends and Fish

Friends and fish have been the themes of the past week. Our friends, the Cheung family (Seeling, Newton, Jayden and Clarisse), from the Bay Area joined us in Seward for the whole week. It was especially great for the children – Rhys and Dylan had a blast with Jayden and Anwen and Clarisse were inseparable.

 Dylan's first catch. At midnight!

Dylan's first catch. At midnight!

In Seward, the highlights were the Alaska SeaLife Center, the Exit Glacier and a five hour cruise through the Kenai Fjords National Park. The weather was rainy early in the week, but glorious for the cruise on Thursday. The cruise (run by Major Marine tours) was narrated by a National Parks Ranger and also ran a Junior Ranger program which kept the children involved. One of the highlights of the trip was viewing a fin whale – the second largest animal on the planet (after the blue whale). Photos of whales are never that interesting, though – unless their breaching, of course.

On Friday, we headed north and returned to the Portage Valley RV Park for 3 nights camping, with the Cheung family staying in cabins within the same park. This gave us a good base to visit the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) and drive to Whittier on Sunday for our second cruise of the week – into Prince William Sound. On Saturday, when we visited the AWCC it rained the whole time, which meant I didn’t even take a single photograph, because I didn’t want to get my camera wet. Don’t laugh. However, on Sunday, we couldn’t believe our luck with the weather for the cruise – another beautiful sunny day. Once again, the cruise was narrated by a Park Ranger which makes a big difference. The highlight of this cruise was probably cruising through the icebergs right up to Surprise Glacier.

The boys and Clarisse were keen to fish all week. At the beginning of the week we tried fishing off the beach at Seward Harbor, but only Rhys managed to catch a tiny, 3 inch, rock fish (which we threw back). We’re not really geared up to fish for the king salmon which can be caught off the same beach. At the end of the week, just a quarter of a mile from our campground in Portage Valley, we went fishing for trout in a stocked pond. Success! On the first night, Jayden caught his first fish and on the second night Dylan caught his first (even if we did have to fish past midnight!). In total, the boys caught six trout on the second night (we threw one back). That’s fine, except, I’m the only one in our family who eats fish.

 A Boatload of trout!

A Boatload of trout!

Well, the Cheung family, have now headed up to Denali and we’re making our way to Valdez.

PS I just noticed that my last 3 blog entries have fish in the photographs. Now I realize why, whenever I mentioned we were planning a trip to Alaska, so many people asked me if we were going there to fish. At the time, I responded "No, not really". How naive I was.

Beer and Birds

Beer and birds - the Kenai Peninsula has plenty of both. Oh, and there’s a lot of fishing goes on here too!

The campsite we stayed at in Homer was pretty cool – about 5 miles from the touristy Homer Spit, 2 miles from the Homer Brewing Company and 100 yards from a bald eagle nest (with 2 eaglets). We were very happy campers.

 Mine's the big one :-)

Mine's the big one :-)

I didn’t take too long to decide that I just had to go halibut fishing whilst I was in Homer – when in Rome… Nina and the children weren’t interested, so I went alone. Well, not exactly alone – there were ten others on the charter boat, named Whistler, for the 6 hour fishing trip. Halibut fishing is not difficult. The boat goes out about 25 miles, you put a big weight on a line and half a herring on the hook, drop it in the water, let it hit the bottom and between 30 seconds and 5 minutes later (when you feel a tug on the line), reel it in and “Viola!” – a nice big fish. Or, in my case, an octopus and a halibut on the same hook. Now that is cool! It was a little sad to see the deck hands kill the octopus, though. It was a beautiful creature. There’s a limit of two fish per person, and one of them has to be 29 inches or less. There’s no limit on the size of the second one. I caught about 7 or 8 fish altogether and kept throwing them back – not because I wasn't satisfied with the 32 and 33 inch ones, but I just wanted to get my monies worth in terms on time spent fishing. In the end I settled for 34 inch one, since all but one of the other passengers had finished fishing and the rest of the passengers seemed to be waiting for us.

Rhys, Dylan and I also went fishing off the beach at the end of Homer Spit. Not too much success, but Dylan did catch his first fish and was chuffed – even if it was too small to keep. Now everyone’s getting into fishing and even Anwen asked me to buy her a rod and reel. So, I did.

We spent a lot of time watching bald eagles on the beach last week. Okay, okay….. I spent a lot of time watching bald eagles on the beach last week. It was fantastic. There were so many. I must have taken about 6 or 7 hundred photos. I’ve put a few on the photos page.

After leaving Homer we spent one night back at the Fred Meyers parking lot in Soldotna. It’s free to park there and just a 50 yard walk to the St. Elias Brewing Company. Once again, we were happy campers. After Soldotna we continued around the Kenai Peninsula to Seward, where we’ll be staying for the next 5 nights. The children are all super excited because we meeting friends of ours from the Bay Area – Seeling, Newton, Jayden and Clarisse. Rhys cannot contain his excitement at meeting up with his friend, Jayden, whom he’s known since he was 18 months old.

Update: 23 June 2015 – Back to Nature

Back to Nature. This is why we came to Alaska, after all.

First stop was Portage, and we were greeted to the campsite by a bald eagle perched just 20 yards form our RV (and that’s not the closest we got to bald eagles this week, I can tell you!). Portage is a small place within the Chugach National Forest, off the beautiful Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. Just up the road from the campsite is Portage Lake and Portage Glacier. We took the tame hour long ferry ride onto the lake and up to the glacier. Interestingly, Portage was near the epicenter of the second most powerful recorded earthquake in history – the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.

From Portage we headed south and onto the Kenai Peninsula. First overnight stop, the Fred Meyer parking lot (it’s a supermarket) in the town of Soldotna. Not the most attractive of campsites, but it’s free, has a dump station and fresh water, and, much to the excitement of our family, a Starbucks for Nina and free WiFi for the boys. So much for returning to nature!

The Kenai Peninsula is fisherman’s heaven – red salmon, king salmon, trout, halibut …. you name it, they have it. I finally stopped procrastinating and bought a license to fish in Alaska. I also bought waders and a fly rod to fish for salmon. Never fly fished before, but you have to start somewhere, right? So, why not Alaska? All the gear – no idea!

Just 15 miles down the Sterling Hwy, and we stopped off for 3 nights at Johnson Lake State Park and Campground. It’s a popular place with locals – nearly everyone we met here had travelled less than 30 miles to camp and we didn’t see a single other RV from a rental company or from out-of-state. We fished for trout from the bank of the lake and from our inflatable raft. Rhys caught 3 trout and I caught 1 – I ate 4 trout J

Next, a one night stop at Deep Creek State Recreation Area - another popular spot for Alaskans. This place is a hotspot for halibut fishing and wildlife. In one morning there must have been at least 60 charter boats launched from the beach for halibut fishing. Looking across the Cook Inlet there are several large volcanos in view - a reminder that we’re currently located on the Ring of Fire.

Last night we arrived at Homer for a 5 night stay – the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World”. I’m tempted to go on a halibut fishing trip, but it’s a bit pricey. We’ll see – I have 4 more days to procrastinate.

It's hard to believe we've been in Alaska for 2 months already. It's been such an experience, and there's still so much more we have to see and do. Finally, it's worth mentioning that Sunday was summer solstice and where better to experience it than in Alaska. The daylight hours here have played havoc with our body clocks. Even after sunset it doesn't get really dark and getting the children to sleep is not easy (understatement!). Even Rhys - "Mr. I Get Up When the Sun Rises" - is having a problem getting up at a decent time. This morning was a record for our children - in bed until 11 am! No worries, we still have 13 hours of daylight left to do our stuff.

 Rhys caught dinner for daddy

Rhys caught dinner for daddy

Update: 15 June 2015 – Return to Civilization

Since leaving Denali NPP, we’ve spent 11 nights in 3 campgrounds in 3 towns/cities – Talkeetna, Wasilla and Anchorage. One may consider it a return to “civilization” – but that has its pros and cons! One ironic thing is that we’ve probably seen more wildlife in the week after leaving the National Park, than we saw in a week within the park. Within an hour of driving down the highway we saw a grizzly bear crossing the road much closer than the one we saw in the park.

First stop after leaving Denali was Talkeetna: only 180 miles from the Teklanika River Campground, but the drive took us nearly all day due to road conditions. Talkeetna is a small town which is probably best known as a jumping off place for climbers who may catch a flight to a basecamp to climb Denali. It’s also a popular tourist stop for people who want to catch a “flightseeing” trip over Denali or jump on a train to take them up to the Entrance area of Denali NPP. Talkeetna also has its fair share of cafes, restaurants and bars, so for us it was a welcome break, a chance to eat out, have a few drinks and relax. The children spent hours playing with other children at a school playground just across the road from our campground. Playgrounds are now high on our children’s list of priorities since they’ve been missing interaction with other children during our travels. That’s one disadvantage of travelling during the school year, but now that schools are out for summer, that’ll change.

Next stop for us as we headed south was Wasilla, home of Alaska’s largest Walmart and Sarah Palin. I couldn’t see Russia from where we were staying, but it was cloudy most of the time. Wasilla also has the Headquarters of the Iditarod (the 1000 mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome) based there. At the Headquarters they offer visitors a chance to ride a “sled” (with wheels) behind the sled dogs for 45 seconds for just $10 a person – bargain! The children really enjoyed it, though, and absolutely loved holding the sled dog puppies. Now I’m really under pressure to get a dog when we finish our trip. Close to Wasilla is Palmer, where we visited the Reindeer Farm – also very enjoyable for the children. Apparently, there are only two differences between caribou and reindeer – reindeer are domesticated, caribou are wild, and reindeer can fly. Don’t expect to learn much more at the Reindeer farm, but it is fun to feed the animals there. Oh, and by the way, only female reindeer have antlers in winter, since the males shed theirs in the autumn. Hmmm? Makes me wonder about Rudolf.

And on to Anchorage – Alaska’s largest city. It’s actually a very nice city in terms of location and outdoor facilities and attractions. The parks and bike paths we used are outstanding and the views (particularly over the Cook Inlet) are beautiful. We were treated to another, apparently quite rare, view of Denali way off to the north on a wonderfully clear day. Nina and I took the opportunity to bike ride the Tony Knowles path along the edge of the Cook Inlet. The whole family spent hours at a playground near the Westchester Lagoon and one evening, we were there past 10 o’clock and it was still packed with young children. The daylight hours here play havoc with the body clock. Another favorite of ours was the Alaska Museum – one of the best museums we’ve visited so far on our trip. That said, the boys spent 4 hours playing with legos at the museum, rather than walking around taking a look at the exhibits! It seems a shame to mention the less attractive side to Anchorage, but it’s interesting all the same. Whilst I was walking around the Anchorage Saturday Market, I witnessed a pick-pocket getting apprehended. OK, that happens. But what followed was somewhat bizarre. Some guy, wearing a Muay Thai T-shirt and looking like an MMA practitioner, but apparently unrelated to the accused, took exception to the way the man was being held on the ground. So, after some heated discussion he pushed the security person of the accused and then pushed the other man off. Unfortunately, for Mr. Muay Thai, the second guy he pushed the produced his police badge. It was interesting to watch the nervous twitch develop in the cheek of Mr. Muay Thai in the 30 seconds it took him to decide to run for it through the crowded outdoor market. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only incident of anti-social behavior we witnessed in Anchorage. So much for civilization!

And so, back to nature. We’re heading down to the Chugach National Forest and Kenai Peninsula – first stop, Portage. Nina and I are really looking forward to this leg of the journey. The opportunities for viewing wildlife and glaciers and enjoying the great outdoors appear to be endless on the Kenai Peninsula. Almost immediately upon leaving Anchorage on the Seward Hwy we were treated to a beautiful drive along the Turnagain Arm – one of the most scenic drives we’ve had (and we’ve been on a few!). Our only concern about it is the wildfires on the Kenai Peninsula – apparently, they’ve even made it onto the BBC news.

And so, until next time…

 and they're off ......

and they're off ......

 Don't blink .... you'll miss it

Don't blink .... you'll miss it

Update: 6 June 2015 – Denali is Different

We’ve just finished our seven night stay in Denali National Park and Preserve (NPP). After leaving the park I took my first shower in 8 days and I enjoyed it so much I barely grudged paying the extra $4 on top of our camping fees for it.

Denali is different! It’s different to any other National Park I’ve visited. The experience was different to what I was expecting. It’s, well, different. I wonder if the hordes of retirees who “explored” the park through the windows of a bus knew what to expect. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a beautiful place, with an intact ecosystem, wonderful animals, huge glaciers and the tallest mountain in North America. The park is well organized, a flagship for conservation and a model for wilderness preservation. Within the park, visitors can hike anywhere they want. There are virtually no trails. Instead, hikers are encouraged to pick a hill, valley, riverbed, wood, or wherever, and just hike off and explore. I think it’s the perfect place to experience peace and solitude if that’s what you’re seeking.

We camped at the Teklanika Campground which is 29 miles down the only road into the park – mostly unpaved. There are no hook-ups for water, sewage or electricity at the campsite so we were dry-camping for 7 straight nights, which is a record for us. It took a lot of planning (well done Nina) and discipline for us, as a family of five, to stay there for that length of time. We has to avoid using the toilet and shower on the RV, because our black and grey water tanks would have filled up within about 2 days. Instead, we had to use the campsite vault toilets, carry fresh water to the RV from the only tap in the whole campground, carry grey water back from the RV, when we had finished washing our dishes and not shower the whole time we were there. Also, we couldn’t take our car into the park, only our RV, and couldn’t drive the RV once we’d set up camp. Instead campers have to either catch a bus down the 1 road within the park, ride a bike down the same road or walk anywhere they want. Staying within Denali NPP, even in an RV makes Yosemite Valley look like a 5 star luxury resort, by comparison. That said, we had a great time and enjoyed the opportunity to return to basics and nature, with no phone, texting, email or internet for the whole week.

What did we do? Well, we walked – a lot. Right next to our campsite was access to the braided Teklanika river. We walked up and down the river, crossing streams, looking for wildlife and signs of wildlife. We saw tracks left by bears, wolves, caribou, moose and possibly a lynx. We only actually saw caribou when we were hiking, though. When we caught the bus further into the park we did see some of the wildlife – a mother grizzly bear with 3 cubs, dall sheep and a red fox. Also, at the furthest point of our bus journey at Eielson Visitor Centre, we did get a great view of Denali (Mt McKinley) – which is lucky considering that it’s hidden by cloud about 2 days out of every 3 and many visitors never even get to see it.

Possibly the highlight for me was walking on the tundra. We caught the hikers bus to a place called Primrose Rest Stop and just hiked out onto the squishy tundra. The children loved it – at least they did until we realized that we (I mean me) had misread the bus schedule and we had to wait 3 hours for the next bus back to the campsite. Actually, we didn’t exactly wait – we walked for 3 hours, because it was too cold to stand around and it was the one time we hadn’t packed snacks for the hike. Never mind, I’m sure the experience won’t have scarred them too severely and they’ll be able to and back and laugh about it someday – maybe.

At the campground, we went to a Ranger Program (lecture) every night and didn’t even have to force or bribe the children to go. Also, we enjoyed a virtually electronics-free week. We all read, played cards and board games and explored the areas nearby.

We thoroughly enjoyed our week in Denali NPP but I should warn that it may not be the ideal place for the casual camper. Don’t expect to see tons of wildlife if you only have a day or two to visit. You may get lucky, or you may not. The wildlife has 6 million acres to wonder within the park (and there are no fences so they may wonder beyond the park boundaries). So, the wildlife may be pretty sparse. Also, a view of Denali is not guaranteed – it’s only visible about 1 day in 3. That said, I’m sure that anyone who is lucky enough to see Denali will be in awe – it’s a simply a stunning mountain.

For Nina and I, the experience of camping within Denali NPP for 7 straight nights left us with a certain feeling of accomplishment. OK, so we didn’t actually summit Denali, or even climb any big hills, but we did manage to dry camp with 3 children for a whole week.

 Denali: Seen from Eielson Visitors Center

Denali: Seen from Eielson Visitors Center

 Wolf tracks next to Dylan's foot

Wolf tracks next to Dylan's foot

Update: 24 May 2015 – Interior Issues

As mentioned in my last posting Interior Alaska can be a challenging place to explore with young children. Interestingly, Denali National Park and Preserve reports that the average age of visitors to the park is 62, which truly surprised me, considering that it’s a huge wilderness area. However, it’s easier to understand that statistic when you see that many of the visitors arrive at the park on buses operated by the cruise ships. It’s not just challenging for families with young children, though, it’s challenging for everyone. Indeed, Chris McCandless, a young man aged 24 died in the park in 1992 after hiking in on the Stampede Trail, becoming sick and failing to exit the wilderness. His story was published in the book called “Into the Wild” by author Jon Krakauer and later adapted into a film of the same name directed by Sean Penn. Anyway, we have no intention of hiking off deep into the wilderness with our children, but there are many reminders that things are different in Alaska which make it live up to its reputation as The Last Frontier.

Ok, so we haven’t been in any life-threatening situations in Alaska yet, and hopefully never will be. However, being one of the first (sometimes the first) RVers to arrive at some of the campsites has given us an indication of some of the difficulties people have to face when living in Alaska. The last three campsites we’ve stayed at (including Denali NPP) have had issues with fresh water, frozen sewage systems and no electricity. In Denali NPP the sign read “There is no fresh water in the park. Welcome to Alaska!”. So all visitors should come prepared – unless you’re on a cruise ship.

Anyway, back to the update of our journey. We left Fairbanks on Thursday and travelled down the George Parks Hwy (I told you they give names to all the roads) to Denali NPP. We booked into the Riley Creek near the entrance to the park for 2 nights, which was the longest we could stay since the campsites were booked because it’s Memorial Day weekend. We hadn’t even realized it was a holiday weekend! Several weeks ago booked a campsite inside the park for the first week of June so we’re going to come back to Denali again, anyway. In the park we did see a mother moose and two calves and go to visit the working sled dogs. On Saturday, we drove about 30 miles south of the park to a place called Cantwell and booked into the Cantwell RV Park, which has running water, a sewage dump and electricity. Woohoo! A chance to shower, dump our tanks and fill up on fresh water. Apart from that, and the opportunity to connect to WiFi, there’s no other reason to stay at Cantwell as far as I can tell. Apparently, we need to drive another 100 miles south to the nearest grocery store.

Tomorrow we’re driving a little further south on the Parks Highway, but not too far because we have to return to Denali at the end of the week – with lots of fresh water and a fridge stocked full of supplies for a week in the wilderness (in our RV).

 Why the long face?

Why the long face?

 Now the children want a dog.

Now the children want a dog.

Update: 18 May 2015 – To Fairbanks

We made it. We reached the end of the Alaska Highway, and beyond. My first thoughts were “I’m never doing that again”. My next thoughts, “*&^% I’ve got to drive back that way”. The Alaska Hwy, particularly in Canada from Haines Junction, YT, to Beaver Creek, YT, is truly awful. It’s not the sort of road anyone could possibly enjoy driving in their own RV. In his heyday, Hannu Mikkola may have enjoyed it in his Audi Quattro. On Monday, we only saw about a dozen other vehicles on the stretch of the Alaska Hwy we were driving. Unfortunately, one of those vehicles – an 18-wheeler – threw up a rock big enough to put a chip the size of a quarter (or 10 pence) in the windscreen and scare the hell out of me to boot. It took 3 days to drive from Haines to Fairbanks and for long stretches on the Alaska Hwy I had to drive at 10-15 mph because the road surface was so bad. Rhys estimates that the RV magnifies every bump by a thousand times – I tend to agree with him. Nina has already investigated the possibility of catching a ferry from Alaska to Seattle to avoid driving the Alaska Hwy through Canada on the way back. Unfortunately, all the ferries through to September are fully booked (by people who know better than to drive the Alaska Hwy).

Enough whining. The highlights of the drive included our first sightings of a grizzly and a couple of moose. Also, some of the scenery that can be viewed from the highway as it skirts the St. Elias Range is truly spectacular.

The official end to the Alaska Hwy is in Delta Junction, but Hwy 2 carries on westward to Fairbanks and then on to Livengood and Manley Hot Springs (another 251 miles). Fairbanks has a surprisingly “big city feel” to it after several weeks visiting only small towns and cities since leaving the lower 48. I’ve become accustomed to driving about 400 miles from one set of traffic lights to the next over the last few weeks, so having to sit at traffic lights every couple of blocks in Fairbanks is particularly irritating. On the surface, reading the guidebooks and visiting the tourist information office, Fairbanks appeared to be a cultural hotspot, with several highly rated museums, a university and many tourist activities. However, now we’re here, and have already visited some of the “Tripadvisor 30 Top Things to do in Fairbanks” attractions, I must say it’s been a bit of a disappointment. I’ll leave it at that.

So, instead, we made our own fun … and as a result, we had one of the best days of our entire trip so far. We pumped up our inflatable raft and took to the Chena River. The boys and I launched the vessel from the riverbank within the RV park (which happens to be named Riverview). We floated for several hours down the river all the way to Fairbanks travelling through, of all places, Ladd Army Airfield (there’s a huge military presence around Fairbanks). On the way we saw a pair of nesting osprey and a pair of moose. In Fairbanks, we met with Nina and Anwen and Rhys swapped with Anwen to let her cruise down the river for a few miles (it’s only a 3 man boat).

By the way, we’re not actually staying in Fairbanks, we’re actually in North Pole, AK. No, really … the place is called North Pole. It’s even harder to swallow when you consider the temperatures have been around 75F/24C for the past few days.

At the moment we’re trying to plan our next steps. Alaska Interior (or Interior Alaska?), as the region is known, is proving to be a challenging place to explore with young children and keep them entertained/interested for one reason or another, so we’re having to rethink our original plans. Keeps life interesting!

 

 The Alaska Hwy (typical conditions for the last few hundred miles in Canada)

The Alaska Hwy (typical conditions for the last few hundred miles in Canada)

 Hooray! It's over! Until we return :-(

Hooray! It's over! Until we return :-(

Update: 11 May 2015 – Beachcombing

 How hard do crabs pinch?

How hard do crabs pinch?

A week of beachcombing and bird watching. Every day for the past week, the boys have wandered down onto the beach (right in front of the RV) at low tide to observe what creatures have been left behind by the ocean. Rhys’ favorite activity was finding Dungeness crabs. Dylan’s favorite activity – picking them up. Dylan was also fond of letting the sea stars (starfish) stick to his fingers or touching the sea anemones to watch them close.

Friday was a fantastic day for bird watching right in front of the RV. The juvenile and adult bald eagles came down to the beach to feed on a fish carcass for the whole morning. It was amazing to watch – and photograph. Also, out in the bay we were treated to a display of a couple of humpback whales rolling and slapping their fins on the water. They were pretty far out, so not so easy to photograph, but it was still a treat to see and hear.

It’s also been a good week for catching up with schoolwork. Haines has an excellent library and even Anwen was keen to go there every day. When we go to libraries in the towns we visit, it usually to use their WiFi rather than get access to books. Each afternoon, after the library, Rhys, Dylan and Anwen also got to play with the local children down at the park.

All in all, it’s been a great week for us in Haines, with fine weather also allowing to explore the areas nearby, including Chilkoot Lake, Chilkat State Park and Fort Seward. To top it off we treated ourselves by eating out at the Fireweed Restaurant in nearby Fort Seward and I sampled a few of the local Haines Brewing Company ales J

 incoming bald eagle

incoming bald eagle

Next, we’re on our way to Alaska’s interior, which means getting back onto the Alaska Hwy at Haines Junction, in Canada, and then driving west about 600 miles to Fairbanks, AK. It’s a little strange to think that the majority of Alaska (the interior) can only be reached by road from Skagway or Haines (in South East Alaska) by driving through Canada.

Update: 4 May 2015 – South East Alaska

I’ve found a new place to live – Haines, AK. OK, so we’re not really going to settle here, but it’s my favorite town/city of the trip so far. It’s at the northern end of Inside Passage, about 75 miles north of Alaska’s capital city, Juneau. We arrived in Haines last Monday via a one hour ferry trip from Skagway. We checked into the aptly named Oceanside RV park and were one of only two RVs in the campground. On Tuesday we took another ferry as foot passengers to visit Juneau for 3 nights. The Juneau trip was expensive even without taking our vehicles and we were somewhat limited on what we could see and do when we got there because it rained most of the time. We were lucky to have a break in the rain on our second day there, though, and that allowed us to hike up near the Mendenhall Glacier. I think the highlight of the trip for the boys was the 4.5 hour ferry ride to Juneau when they got to walk out on the deck in winds that blew them of their feet.

We returned to Haines on Friday and, fortunately left the rain in Juneau. Haines is pretty quiet at the moment and even when the tourist season begins in a couple of weeks it will only see about as many tourists in the whole season as Juneau may see on its busiest single day. I’m really enjoying Haines and the fact that we’re camped right on the edge of the Chilkoot Inlet able to look across the sound to the snowcapped mountains on the other side. The people here are great, too. Everyone has a story to tell and a sense of adventure. Several of the families here travel to places like Mexico (with their children) for a few months each winter. We’ve decided to stay in Haines at least until Friday. The weather forecast is good, the pace of life is slow and the scenery is stunning.

We have seen some interesting wildlife (including humpback whales, orcas, porpoises and mountain goats) but I didn’t manage to take any decent photos.

Before I sign off, I’ve got to tell you about the only other RVer in our campsite at the moment, Gerry. He arrived yesterday afternoon in his class C RV with a small dirt bike on the back of his rig. I’ve since found out that he’s 66 years old and from Texas. Nice man, I was talking to him this morning. Anway, Nina, the kids and I went out for a drive and a hike late yesterday afternoon and saw him riding around on his bike near where we were going to hike. Fine. When we got back to the campground Joyce, the camp owner, came over to our rig to sort out a problem with cable TV. Whilst she was there, she told me that Gerry had had and accident on his bike, fallen off and hurt himself and had to have a ride back to the campground with his bike in the back of a pickup. She said he seemed a little shaken up, and had gone to bed early to rest. This morning, when I saw Gerry outside looking over his bike, I went over to see if he was OK or need any help with anything – maybe a ride to the medical center, or whatever. He said he was OK, didn’t need any help and was going to drive his RV over to the medical center for some x-rays. It turns out, he’d broken his collar bone, fractured four ribs, punctured his lung and had to be airlifted to Juneau. What a tough old dude. Now, none of this is funny – apart from the fact (maybe) that he hadn’t told his wife, who’s still in Texas, that he’d bought a brand new motorbike on his way up to Alaska!

 I didn't realize We were s close to london

I didn't realize We were s close to london

Update: 24 April 2015 – The Alaska Hwy

Dawson Creek, BC, Canada - Mile 0 on the Alaska Highway. That’s where we were on Monday afternoon. By Thursday evening we were almost 1000 miles away in Skagway, Alaska, US. It’s been a week of driving. By the end of the first day of driving (from Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson) I was wondering if anybody in their right mind would ever drive the Alaska Hwy. The scenery was just mile after mile of boreal forest, hardly any wildlife to see (at this time of year anyway) and some awful road surfaces that you really shouldn’t drive your RV on. However, the rest of the drive was a completely different experience (except for the terrible roads surfaces!). The views were often amongst the best we’ve seen through the windshield of our RV, at least. The wildlife was great. We’ve seen black bears, caribou, bison, stone sheep, porcupine, deer, eagles, falcons, owls and, very occasionally, human beings . On Monday and Tuesday we just boondocked in turnouts by the side of the highway. On Thursday, we got up and spent most of the morning playing and soaking in the natural hot springs at Liard River – which are free at this time of year.

Arriving in Skagway so early was a change to our original plan, but it’s definitely paid off. Almost everything is closed there right now and won’t open until May, when the huge cruise ships start coming in. For us it’s just a great opportunity to relax in one place for a few days and try to enjoy the more natural aspects of the area. Anwen spotted a sea otter just this morning as we walked along down at the harbor.

On Monday, we’re catching a ferry (RV included) to Haines where we’ll spend a few days and try to arrange a trip to Juneau (Alaska’s capital).

 Dawson creek, BC: Mile 0 of the Alaska hwy

Dawson creek, BC: Mile 0 of the Alaska hwy

Update: 19 April 2015

We’ve been back on the road for 9 days since leaving Nine Mile Falls. So far we’ve stayed in 7 different campsites in 9 nights. Mostly we’ve been bunny hopping northward at about 100 miles per day, apart from the last leg which was about 250 miles from Prince George to Dawson Creek. Dawson Creek is where the Alaska Highway starts and from there it’s 1250 miles to Tok - the first real town after the Canada/Alaska border.

Travelling through Canada, at least British Columbia, is a little different from the US.

  • Canadian drivers appear to be a more aggressive, though the Canadians are very calm and friendly face to face.

  • The campsites we’ve encountered so far are very basic – but many campsites haven’t opened yet, so maybe we’ll see some more upscale campsites later in the year.

  • The wifi at all the campsites we stayed so far has been awful.

  • Canadians refer to the highways by name, not by number and that can be a little confusing when some maps on show the numbers. So far we’ve travelled on the Gold Rush Hwy, the Caribou Hwy and the John Hart Hwy – without leaving Hwy 97 as far as I can tell.

  • A lot of places don’t take US credit cards –especially if they don’t have a chip.

  • Supermarkets don’t sell alcohol.

  • The units they use are metric (litres, km and Celsius) – but that’s OK, I am European after all!

So, tomorrow we start along the Alaska Highway. Our first stop in Alaska may be Skagway, rather than Tok. We’re still planning our itinerary, but a ferry ride from Skagway to Juneau looks like it may be a fun thing to do.

Hello Canada

Sunday was another milestone day for us – we passed 6000 total miles in the RV and also crossed from the US into Canada. Presently, we’re spending a couple of nights in Vernon, British Columbia (BC), about 100 miles north of the border. We left Nine Mile Falls (Spokane), WA, on Friday and travelled just 100 miles to Grand Coulee Dam, staying one night in Spring Canyon Campground, about 3 miles from the dam. The damn is enormous and is the biggest hydroelectric power station in the US (sixth biggest in the world). After Grand Coulee we travelled north and camped just 4 miles south of the Canadian border, in Oroville, WA. The highlight for me in Oroville was seeing 3 beavers swimming in the Osoyoos Lake when I went for a walk the evening we arrived.

Everyone in the family is doing fine. Rhys and were a little sick for a few days last week, but nothing serious, and we recovered before getting back on the road. We may not be spending as much time on schoolwork as we should, but Rhys, Dylan and Anwen are all doing really well. This afternoon was a culinary field trip opportunity for us. We visited an Artisan Cheesery, a Chocolatier and a Meadery and Honey producer. I must say, we all enjoyed the samples and probably spent way too much money in each of the shops. My particular favorite – the Blueberry Bliss mead (honey wine)!

Most people we talk to are a little surprised we’re heading towards Alaska so early in the year. The weather here in BC is cool, but still very mild compared to the average for this time of year so we’re going to ride our luck and continue pushing north. BC is beautiful and there’s plenty to see here as we pass through so we’re not going to rush it. We are, though, well and truly on our way to Alaska now – only 2300 miles before we get to Fairbanks.

frvstration

noun | frvs·tra·tion

: a feeling of anger or annoyance caused by being unable to do something or go somewhere in your RV.

I’m reluctant to use the word “stuck”, since we’re staying in a lovely house in a beautiful state park, but that’s how it feels. We’re stuck in Spokane. I was expecting to stay here for about 1 week, whilst we waited for some work to be done on the RV. When I took the RV in, they estimated it would take a couple of days. That was 2 weeks ago. The work that needs to be done on the RV is pretty straightforward, but necessary for our trip to Alaska. There’s a leak in our windscreen and the main entry door needs to be adjusted because there’s a gap at the bottom allowing a draught. The delay has been due inefficient communications between the dealer and manufacturer regarding what’s covered by warranty and the cost of the work.

The frustration comes, not necessarily from having to stay in one place for almost 3 weeks now, but more to do with opportunities we’re missing out on. In many areas on the West Coast, the Pacific Northwest Canada and even Alaska, the weather has been exceptionally mild for this time of year. It’s perfect weather to explore these areas – before all the pesky tourists arrive :-)

To be honest, though, there is one other thing that’s prevented us from driving to Alaska – Anwen’s passport. We forgot that it was due to expire in March. We all need passports in order to enter Canada.

Well, things are about to change. The RV dealer, has indicated that the work will be completed today (I won’t hold my breath) and the mail-forwarding provider we use has FedEx’d Anwen’s passport to arrive today. If all goes to plan, we’ll be on the road tomorrow.

One thing that’s encouraging about all this, is that the children are all keen to get back to travelling – despite the fact that they’ve had access to cable TV in the house. They’re missing the RV and looking forward to more adventures and new places. That’s cool.