We spent the entire month of August in Alaska. After resolving the issue with our power steering fluid hose at the end of July we were free to roam around and explore. We found lots of wonderful things and had many special experiences. We saw lots of glaciers and we actually hiked on one. We saw wildlife – sea lions, caribou, bears, Dall sheep, musk oxen, and sea otters. And added lots of new bird species to our life list. We saw the highest peak in North America, Denali, from both sides. We watched surfers on a bore tide and saw salmon on their final journey jumping up a waterfall. We petted a few sled dogs and met up with a friend. We learned more about Alaska, its history, and its people at a few museums. And learned even more about Alaska from the Alaskans we met. And we drove north as far north as one can drive in the US, spending the last day of August celebrating our month at the Artic Circle with a cold Alaskan beer.
It was a great adventure especially considering it was cold, raining, and overcast most of the time. I know I shouldn’t be complaining but although we were prepared to be cold we weren’t prepared for our little propane heater to start having an issue. It wouldn’t light. Due to the very high cost of gas, we ran the engine sparingly for heat in the morning or evening.
We also weren’t mentally prepared for the almost daily rain and overcast skies. We made the best of it and spent rainy days indoors – at libraries, in museums, and driving to our next stop. We watched the weather and chose our destinations accordingly, every once in a while ending up with an amazing day where the weather and sightseeing all came together. But still, we weren’t able to hike as much as we wanted and ended up skipping a kayaking destination due to the bitter cold and annoying drizzle. Then there was that fateful day we decided to ignore the weather and went hiking anyways.
We were camped down the road from a glacier – very much off the beaten track. iOverlander told me that if we drove down the road as far as we could go before the road became undrivable, we could park, and then hike the rest of the way to the glacier. So we did this, driving over bumps and straddling ruts until we decided the road was too bad to go on. It was a cold day so we bundled up. We put on layers, long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts, and our ski jackets (which we rarely ever wear). We dug out our knit hats and gloves. I threw my camera bag over my shoulder and ventured outside the van. There was a slight misty drizzle. Ugh. But we hadn’t hiked for many days and were determined to get some exercise, so we headed out anyways. We were probably parked around 3 miles away from the glacier. The drizzle came and went. We lost the trail and just continued to head to the big white ice mass in the distance, climbing over moraine mounds and through the outwash plains. It always seemed like at any minute we would top a moraine and have an amazing view. But clouds were setting over the glacier and it never felt like we could get close enough. We were probably another mile from the toe of the glacier when we finally turned back. Despite our long walk, we hadn’t shed a layer of clothing. And all the outside layers and some of the inside layers were soaked by the drizzle.
Once back at Ballena Blanca I slung my camera over the driver seat chair and we started stripping off our wet clothes. In our dry clothes we were still freezing so we turned on the engine, turned the heat all the way up, and started to drive. We were soon warm and found another amazing place to camp on the Denali Highway.
Our plan was to spend the next day in the van driving the length of the Denali Highway and exploring whatever we found along the way. Almost immediately we saw a swan. We’d seen swans before on this journey but we had yet to see a Tundra Swan. We stopped in the road and I pulled out my camera from its bag that was slung over my seat and took a few shots. The swan was too far away to see the yellow dot over its eye that would identify it as a Tundra Swan so I enlarged the picture in my viewfinder. It was still hard to tell so I clicked the arrow to look at the next shot, but the camera started downing something weird. Then I noticed that the lens was fogged. It was wet. I had forgotten about it the day before and left it in the wet camera bag all night. I extended the lens and set it on the dash to dry out. Big mistake. It didn’t work again after that.
It’s an expensive camera. We were on our way to Denali and I no longer had a camera I could shoot wildlife with. It was a huge disappointment. It put me in a bad mood for at least a day, maybe two. When we left Denali we headed to the closest major city, Fairbanks. There I took it to a camera repair shop. The repair guy was super nice but he said that there was nothing that he could do. He suggested I contact Sony to see if they could fix it.
I haven’t done anything about the camera yet. I have been making do with my phone and an old point-and-shoot. Whatever the solution – replace the camera or get it fixed, it’s going to make a sad expense report.
Our total expenses for August were…
Here is the breakdown of categories…
Our biggest expense in August was gas! We drove 2788 miles making our cost per mile for August about 40¢ per mile. The most we paid for gas in Alaska was $8.07 per gallon. Ironically this was in Prudhoe Bay where they pump oil out of the ground.
Our second biggest expense was food. Food is also really expensive in Alaska – especially in less traveled areas even if those less traveled areas have big chain supermarkets. I think I paid somewhere around $8 for a bag of bagels at the Safeway in Valdez. As we went around the store, I just told Greg to stop looking at the prices. There was no penny-pinching in Valdez.
But you might also notice, especially if you have read one of our expense reports before, how small our alcohol expense was. We decided to focus a little more on our health – one of the reasons we were desperate for a hike. This may also explain some of our high grocery costs. Healthy food is expensive!
The camping expense, which is a lot higher than usual, reflects a prepayment for a camping reservation in October. We are going to New Orleans for a very special event and booked a stay in a Resort RV Park!
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.
The Camping Report
Here are our camping/sleeping stats (all camping is free unless otherwise indicated):
4 – nights in a parking lot ($2 at the Russian River overflow camping lot)
2 – nights at an NWR campground
3 – night at a rest stop
3 – nights at Cabelas
1 – night at unmanaged/abandoned campground
1 – night at Base Camp Private Campground ($30)
6 – random/odd place off the road
1 – night on BLM land
3 – nights at a National Park campground ($60*)
3 – nights in a grassy field behind a sports complex
1 – night at a trailhead
3 – nights at a BLM campground
* Once again the camping expenses don’t reflect was is stated in our expense report. The $60 for camping at the National Park was prepaid in July.
A Few Personal Achievements
One thing we like to do when we travel is to use the iNaturalist app to collect and identify new species. I tend to take pictures of the megafauna, birds, and anything that moves fast and Greg takes pictures of plants and sometimes slow-moving bugs, mollusks, and tidepool creatures. During August we hit 1000 documented species. We have been rapidly adding them since then and currently are up to 1057!
Here is a map of all the areas where we have documented species:
If you are interested in seeing pictures of some of the plants and animals we’ve collected like Dog Pelt lichen, Slimy Spike, or Dog Vomit Slime Mold, check out our iNaturalist page here. You can also follow us on our iNat page. This is the best way to know where we are at any time because we add observations almost daily.
Our next big achievement is that we both finished number 1 in the diamond league in Duolingo!
Currently, Greg and I are in South Dakota sitting in a library in Spearfish. We have to be in Cabbagetown to house sit a lovey Doberman Pincher, Jasmine, while her people are away having adventures in Europe for three weeks. Unfortunately, I have not been keeping up with the blog. Our time in Alaska was too short and too jam-packed despite all the bad weather. And now as we travel to the other end of the country we are trying to take it easy and as slow as we can while still meeting our deadline. But once we hit Atlanta I should have lots of time to catch up and share all that is amazing that we found in Alaska.
(All pics are click to enlarge. Once you have them enlarged you can view them in a slide show. Also, you can hover over the pics to see captions.)