The problem was getting worse. We had made it to Alaska. Passed through customs without a hitch. Then stopped to refill our power steering fluid reservoir and headed for the nearest town. Right before we entered Tok, we pulled off the road to refill the power steering fluid reservoir again and switched drivers. I had taken the wheel through the last of the Yukon and across the border dodging potholes that pitted the US portion of the Alaska Highway. But I didn’t want to have to deal with the muscle it would take to turn the van if the power steering fluid ran out before our next turn.
The power steering problem began way back in June when we were on Malcolm Island visiting some friends. We were able to get the issue (a leak) diagnosed but didn’t have time to have it fixed before we needed to jump on a ferry and head north. We had already planned to do a house sit in Wasilla, Alaska, and figured that would be the best time to get the leak fixed. We started calling Ford service centers but the earliest appointment we could get anywhere in the state was in Wasilla on July 21, four days after our house sit was over. Our plan until then was to hope the leak would be slow and to keep the fluid topped off.
By the time we hit Watson Lake, Yukon we were topping off the fluid several times a day. We realized we needed to find a fix sooner. We continued on stopping to see the sights but once we got to Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon, we started looking for a solution in earnest. Greg thought if he could just find a hose he could replace it himself. We found a Napa store. No hose. We checked with the local Ford Dealer. No hose, no appointments any time soon. Ford gave us a short list of other places we could check. We drove around town but had no luck finding anyone who could help us. We drove back to Napa and bought more power steering fluid.
The next day we decided to put the sightseeing on hold and drove straight to Alaska.
As we pulled into Tok, I saw a sign that said RV Repair. Maybe they could help us. This is one of those small shops with old cars, RVs, and junk surrounding its perimeter. A young couple and their dog seemed to be living in their van, sans one wheel, in the parking lot. We stopped by and made an appointment with one of the mechanics to look at it the next day.
The RV shop diagnosed the problem right away but told us they needed to order the hose. They said they’d call us when they located it the next day. By afternoon the next day, we hadn’t heard from them so Greg walked over to see what was going on. He talked to our sleep-deprived mechanic. The guy had been up all night towing one of those giant RVs out of a ditch. They wouldn’t be able to get the part for a week and a half, the day our house sit was scheduled to end. We could cancel the sit or figure out something else.
We didn’t want to cancel the sit. But we were worried that if we continued to drive we could harm the power steering fluid pump. In the end, we decided to limp our way down the Glenn Highway to Wasilla. This nearly 300-mile drive would take us all day as we stopped every 20 minutes to top off the power steering fluid.
As we pulled into the Wasilla Walmart, the power steering pump still seemed to be working. Hurray! We hadn’t caused any more damage. We stocked up on groceries and spent a night in the parking lot. The next day we moved to a cheap campground in town. We had been corresponding with and trying to make a plan to meet some old sailing friends, Andrea and Scott, who were also traveling in Alaska. Once I told them where we were and that we were basically immobile they came and found us in the campground. They unloaded the backseat of their jeep truck camper, we hopped in, and we all went off sightseeing. We spent two days with our friends before they had to go off to other adventures and we had to go to our house sit.
Our house sit was great! Just what we needed since the campground was kind of dreary and it rained almost every day we were there. The house was comfortable. We had a few showers, got our laundry done, cleaned the van, and got to spend time with the sweetest dogs, Lucy and Lilah.
After the house sit we went back to Walmart. It rained. We felt like we’d rather be sitting in the rain on the pavement than in a campground so we stayed at the Walmart until our appointment with Ford. On our appointment day, we were sure that everything would be painless and done quickly because we had thought ahead. Back in Tok when they told us how long it would take to get the hose we realized it would probably take any other place just as long. So we called Ford and asked them to go ahead and order it. We offered to give them our credit card number and prepay for the part. But the person Greg talked with said no worries, they’d order it and they didn’t need our credit card number. Guess what? They didn’t order the part.
Our assigned advisor told us that they’d have to order the hose from California. The quickest they could get it would be Monday (this was Thursday) and they could install it on Tuesday. He gave us a quote on the price – which included the express mail on the part. “Do you really think that we should pay for the shipping?” Greg asked. Our advisor promised to remove this cost from our bill.
So we went back to the campground for 4 days and back to Walmart for one. We were at the dealer first thing Tuesday morning. Three and a half hours later we drove away with no leak and $1032.52 poorer. Yes – this is the cost with a $150 discount to offset the shipping. I was dumbfounded.
And our total expenses for July were…
Here is the breakdown of categories…
All in total including what we spent on power steering fluid in June and July our problem cost us $1132.47 (the hose cost almost $400 dollars and labor around $200 an hour for three hours). They told us that it looked like the hose was rubbing on something and developed a hole. And what really gets us is that we think that the problem might have originated when we took Ballen Blanca to a Ford Dealer in Oregan. They fixed a transmission leak and we suspect they didn’t reassemble something correctly. Of course, we have no proof of this and no recourse since the problem is fixed now.
In retrospect, we need to stop taking the van to Ford Dealers. But for us with all of the traveling, it seems easier, although more expensive, than trying to find a reliable local mechanic in a new town everywhere we go. But Ford has let us down one too many times.
Even without the repair cost, it was an expensive month. Too expensive. Gas cost too much, food cost too much, booze cost too much. Everything cost too much here in Alaska. So much of the state is inaccessible. Many of the most amazing sights cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars because you have to either fly in, boat in, or hire a guide. People drop lots of money in Alaska because it is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. But every day is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us. And there is still so much we can drive, walk, and kayak to. We are on a mission now to still have an amazing time but also to save money. But maybe still splurge a little now and then.
So after nearly 3 weeks in Alaska dealing with the van problem, we finally hit the road. Right away we did something amazing – we kayaked to a glacier. It was free! We could have paid $90 to take a boat to see the same glacier but I guarantee you our view of it was so much better for free.
The Camping Report
First our camping/sleeping stats (all camping is free unless otherwise indicated):
1 – night rest stop on a lake
11 – nights in a parking lot
2 – nights in a random spot off the road
7 – nights in a city campground ($70)*
1 – night in the van in the driveway of a house sit
4 – nights house sitting
2 – nights in a National Forest
2 – nights at a trailhead parking lot
1 – night boondocking on the street
* You may have noticed that the entry on the Expense Report for camping is $130. This includes a prepayment for camping in Denali National Park.
Number of miles driven: 1738 (this makes our July gas cost about 41¢ per mile).
To see all of our expense reports, click here.
If you are interested in reading other expense reports from nomads who really know how to live cheaply while still having a good time, check out the blog from our friends Mark, Liesbet, and Maya at Roaming About.
*All pics are click to enlarge.
Right now we are on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. It is raining. It rains a lot here. And unfortunately, we only have about 3 1/2 more weeks left in Alaska until we have to start heading south. We will be spending most of the month of September crossing the continent to Atlanta, GA. There, we will house sit for the sweet and lovely Jasmine in Cabbagetown for three weeks. Obviously, our time in Alaska has become too short. And I might not have too much time to keep up with this blog (unless it keeps raining) – which I hate since I’m already behind. But hopefully, adventure awaits and I will only fall farther behind as we collect more amazing things to write about.