Wednesday, December 31, 2014

'14 Travel Review /'15 Outlook

WOW, what great experiences we had in 2014. We are in our eighth year of living in a house on wheels and have now been to all 50 states and 11 Canadian provinces in that time. This year we put 13,085 miles on Opus while traveling north from Arizona to Alaska, then south across Canada and the northern US to WashPA, on to Betty's RV Park in Louisiana and finally ending the year in South Florida. We stayed in 65 places, a third of those were just for one night as we covered a lot of miles on the Alaska trip. On average we traveled 200 miles per travel day, the most we have done since going on the road. Alaska is far. We also put 10,459 miles on the CRV. Our RV park expenses were a bit higher than usual with several parks in Alaska being over $40.00 a night, far more than we normally pay. The cost of fuel ranged from a high of $5.96 a gallon in British Columbia to a low of $2.79 this month in Florida, the least we have paid since 2009. That said, it was worth every penny.

We started the year in Mesa and spent the remainder of the winter in Lake Havasu and Yuma, Arizona and Desert Hot Springs, California. Overall, the weather was very good (one of our winter goals) with typical warm desert days and cool nights. We did experience a SoCal earthquake and bad winds but it was still one of the warmest areas of the country. We crossed paths with many RV friends while exploring the area.  Our friends Allan and Sharon joined us with their RV for a few days and Tom and Georgie did a personal mail delivery to California where we had a great time hanging out in Palm Springs with the upper crust. In early April we stopped in Tehachapi to see the famous railway loop that lets the trains climb over the mountains. We spent a week in Las Vegas to have Opus serviced and to buy a few needed items for our trip to Alaska. There we had the last warm weather we would have until August on our way back from Alaska.

We left Vegas on April 17th and took a month to drive the 1300 miles to the Canadian border. We knew we were pushing it weather wise traveling in the mountains this early in the year and we had many cold days, but no snow. We added three national parks, Great Basin, Craters of the Moon and Glacier, to our visited list and explored historic Arco, ID and Butte, MT. In Butte we had a fun, fun time when we crossed paths with Dan and Merlene. In Twin Falls we put new shoes on the CRV and did a much needed clutch replacement. In a couple of places we just hung out waiting for the weather to improve before starting our trek to Alaska.

After crossing into Alberta on May 14th we were north of the lower 48 for 87 days while driving 6687 miles before crossing back into the lower 48 in North Dakota on one of the greatest adventures we have ever experienced. (That statement does not come lightly from a couple who bicycled across North America and also for six weeks in Europe.) On our first stop in Alberta we added Waterton National Park to our visited list. We then took a week to travel the 720 miles to Dawson Creek, BC and Milepost zero of the Alaska Highway.

Heading north on the highway is a trip through history and nature unlike anything we have experienced. The mountains were spectacular and we saw many bears, coyotes, moose, caribou, Stone sheep, fox, swans, eagles and bison right along the road. We soaked our bones in Liard Hot Springs, roamed the sign forest in Watson Lake and learned about the sourdoughs who rushed to the Klondike in search of gold in Whitehorse. On our first day in Alaska we visited with SKP friends John & Lori, Wallace & Wanda and Bennett & Bea. What a small world it is even when you are off in far away places.

1477 miles and 12 days after leaving Dawson Creek we arrived in Fairbanks for a week of exploring. With Fairbanks as our base we took an excursion to the Arctic Circle and drove to Chena Hot Springs for more bone soaking. We learned more Alaska history at the Museum of the North, the Morris Thompson Culture Center and on the riverboat Discovery. After Fairbanks we then traveled 275 mile to three different locations around Denali National Park. Yes, Denali is so large that it is possible to view it from several vistas along the route, if it is not hidden by its own clouds. We were very happy to be part of the only 30% of Alaska visitors who get to see the mountain. We actually saw it several days. In Denali we took an excursion into the park's interior and, in addition to seeing the beautiful mountains, we saw the big five of wildlife; moose, caribou, wolf, Dall Sheep and grizzly bears. The real high point though was taking a flight and landing on a snow covered glacier high on the side of the mountains. From Denali it was about 100 miles to the Anchorage Wasilla area where we had Class of 07 mates, Alaskans John and Lori, as guides to give us a personal look at the area. We went to the Iditarod Museum, Independence Mine and hiked on Hatcher Pass. In Anchorage we went to Potter Marsh, Earthquake Park and the Native Alaska Heritage Center. We had a real downer there when we had to replace the head gasket on Opus. Bad news we had to have it done, good news we were not hundreds of miles from a repair facility when it happened so the repair was one day and out.

From Anchorage we headed to the Kenai Peninsula for several stops in towns along the beautiful Alaskan coast. Our first stop was in Seward where we hiked to a glacier, toured the Alaska Sealife Center and did a cruise to see sea animals. We then went to Ninilchik for two weeks of fishing and fun with many new friends. We did a couple of day trips to Homer and Kenai, saw many eagles, checked out the Norman Lowell Art Gallery and I got the chance to catch a 71 pound halibut, very neat. The next stop, two days and 500 miles later, was Valdez where we took another cruise for a up close look at the Columbia Glacier and saw a humpback whale. We also saw Wallace and Wanda one last time and I caught my six fish limit of pink salmon in about an hour.

Next was a 700 mile, three day drive to Haines where we met Germans, Bjorn and Britta, for the first time, saw many more eagles, visited three local museums and hiked to the top of Mt. Riley for a beautiful 360 degree view of mountains, glaciers and the Inside Passage. From Haines we put Opus on the ferry for a one hour trip to Skagway, a neat old Kondike gold-rush town. This saved us 350 miles of driving.  While there we took a day trip on the White Pass & Yukon Route and experienced an earthquake. We did a day cruise to Juneau where we toured the capitol building and saw Mendenhall Glacier. On the return to Skagway we experienced another real highlight when we got to see Humpback whales bubble feeding, which is the most incredible wildlife event we have ever seen. From Skagway it was another 700 mile, three day trip to our last Alaska destination, Hyder, where we saw Salmon Glacier, the largest in Canada and got very close to grizzlies and black bears feeding on salmon. Another of our great wildlife experiences.

From Hyder it was a 3200 mile, two week sprint back to WashPA with stops in Winnipeg to see Gary & Anita whom we met several years ago at Betty's and Marcel & Sonya whom we met in Alaska. While there our "Nevercold" fridge started to die so we detoured to Shipshewana, IN to have a new Amish cooling unit installed. We sure hope this is the last time dealing with the fridge.

We then spent two months in WashPA doing our annual personal maintenance at the doctors and dentist. We had a great time with family, our many old friends, and had visits from RV friends Bill & Gisela and also Richard & Valerie with whom we visited Frank Lloyd Wright's, Kentuck Knob. We helped the local economy with many visits to our favorite local eateries and enjoyed many evenings of great local music. We took in a Pirate baseball and Pitt football game and had a fun time in the city. We played euchre with the old card club, attended the Brown Jamieson wedding and had John's wonderful wood-fired pizza, always a real treat. Nanc ran the Washington Labor Day and the Pittsburgh Great Race and I took a sightseeing flight over WashPA.

We headed for warmer climes in mid-October but first went north to Cleveland for the wedding of the last of six Yanni children, Liz. It was a great weekend seeing the whole family and many other friends. Next it was further north to Michigan for Opus' service at Spartan Chassis. Even after a trip to Alaska and being ten years old, they found him to be in good shape. From there it was a quick 1200 mile, four day drive to Betty's RV Park in Louisiana, our favorite stop. Even though we have been there many times to see our good friend Betty we still find new things to do every time we visit Acadiana. At Betty's it is all about the people and it was great seeing many old friends and many new ones during our six week stay. As always, we enjoyed the music and the food which is a big part of our stay in Abbeville.  We also did a tour and learned how sugarcane is grown and harvested.  

From Betty's we did 1,000 miles in five days of easy driving while checking out some gulf coast areas and visiting friends and family. In Biloxi we saw Class of 07 mates, Ron and Linda, who gave us an up close tour of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR where they were volunteering. Next we checked out the Panama City area as a possible destination for a longer stay in the future. We then spent three days with Nanc's sister Judy and her husband Bill in Apopka. It was a chance to get caught up with them since it had been a while since we have had an extended visit. We are ending 2014 in Jupiter where we are celebrating the holidays with our friend Mary Lou. We had a chance to see my brother Rick and his wife Denise, who were returning to Florida after a cruise. South Florida has become our favorite winter spot with its great weather and so many great things to do.

As 2015 starts we are heading to the Keys for what we hope will be a warm January. We had planned to stay in South Florida for February, but we will be going to New Orleans for Richard's and Valerie's daughter Marissa's and new son-in-law Karl's wedding reception.  It's great having a house on wheels!!  After the wedding we plan to hang out at an Escapees park in Texas or Alabama and hope to take a vacation to some tropical spot. In mid March we will be going back to Betty's for six weeks of more friends, food, music and fun. During the summer we intend to travel in the Southeastern states before our annual return to WashPA in August and September. Then we will go to the Outer Banks for a month or so before heading back to Florida for the winter. This will be our first time staying in the same winter area two years in a row. As always, these plans are written in the sand and can be changed at any moment.  Ahhhhh, life on the road, we never tire of it.