Alaska Bound, Part 1

Here’s part 1 of a yet-to-be-determined part series on our migration from Minnesota to Alaska. As we’ve mentioned previously we own Mean Eugene (aka “Eug”), a 1994 Setra (Kässbohrer) S215 motor coach. Our acquisition of it is a pretty interesting story in its own right, but that’s a story for another day. For now, the important piece is that we bought it for two reasons. Short term, it was to be our 40′ moving van. Longer term, we wish to do a full conversion into a motorhome and use it to travel the country.

After purchasing it, I spent a fair amount of time prepping it for the journey. There were mechanical issues to be addressed, requirements for RV registration/plates, and requirements to be insured. This story begins at the end of all of that, as we began loading old Eug for the 3,400 mile journey from Minneapolis, MN to Homer, AK.

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Packing Mean Gene

The plan was pretty straightforward. Three guys, a coach full of belongings, and 3,400 miles to travel. Hit each day hard and put as many miles behind us as possible. We had pretty low creature-comfort expectations, but I also didn’t want to spend 60 hours behind the wheel staring at one another. I had four requirements: 120V power, music, a TV, and a place to lie down. Since nearly everything else was going to be covered with belongings, other nice-to-haves like a restroom or a functioning sink weren’t in the cards. In the days leading up to our departure, I started making each of those a reality.

I picked up a power inverter from a surplus electronics supply store in Minneapolis and wired up that sucker. I threw one outlet up in the front, near the remaining seats. Who knows what we’d want to plug in there, but I knew it’d probably come in handy at least once. While I was wiring things up, I also threw in a few 12V power plugs knowing full well that we’d need a place to charge our phones. I threw two plugs up by the passengers, and one down by the driver.

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Next, I installed a new radio and a set of speakers. It was nothing fancy – the entire interior’s likely to be replaced as part of our conversion. I just needed something that worked and was easy to install. I opted for a head unit without a CD player because… well… it was 2015. Who uses CDs anymore? Not me. Bluetooth, baby.

Up next was the TV. After far too many trips to Twin Cities area Best Buy stores looking for the right TV, I settled on a 32″ LED TV that ran off of 12V power. In the short term, I’d just plug the adapter into my 120V outlet, but in the future I could hardware it into Mean Eugene’s 12V power.

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On road entertainment
The passenger zone.
The passenger compartment.

Lastly was a place to sleep. We’d spun 2 of the chairs around to make an area where 4 people faced each other, and the seats all reclined. That’d work in a pinch, but the real source of relaxation was going to be our futon. A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away I was an awkward teenager. Somewhere in the midst of my high school years, I killed a Saturday garage sale-ing through my town. That’s the kind of fun I got myself into. Anyway, 100 hard earned dollars later, I had acquired someone else’s old futon. That futon is still with us today, and was slated to be the couch while on the road. It was to be loaded last.

Moving, particularly across the country, is a great chance to purge all of the crap one collects. Items you think you might use, but never do. Things that get thrown into a box years ago, never to be seen again. Clothes that are no longer worn. Things of little value that are easily replaced. And the inevitable cans of paint, and other hazardous materials that seem to pile up after a few years of home ownership. We made what seemed like endless trips to the dump and Goodwill.

That still left what felt like an endless stream of belongings to move. A vehicle as large as Eugene can carry a lot of stuff. The passenger compartment alone is roughly the same size as the largest UHaul truck. The luggage compartment underneath adds a remarkable amount of additional storage, and the storage compartments above the wheel wells add even more. Most people who move to/from Alaska sell most of their belongings and re-buy at their destination. Having spent years accumulating a garage full of tools and equipment, rarely at retail prices, I had no desire to sell these items for a fraction of their worth in MN and repurchase them at a premium in AK. The fuel economy wasn’t going to change much with the weight difference if I sold half my belongings, so the strategy was the same as a USPS Flat Rate box: if it fits, it ships.

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Just about ready to be filled.

That all sounds well and good, but every vehicle as a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). It’s the maximum amount of combined vehicle, passenger, and cargo weight that the vehicle chassis is designed to move safely. Anything more and you’re exceeding the strength ratings of your axles, and the stopping power of your brakes. Our unladen weight had recently been measured at 32,800 pounds. Mean Eugene’s GVWR is a respectable 44,713 pounds. Just under 12k seems like plenty of room for our belongings, but some quick back of the napkin calculations had me worried. For starters, Eug has two fuel tanks with a combined capacity of 232 gallons; fuel alone consumes nearly 1,750 pounds! Then there’s furniture (which, thankfully, we didn’t have too much of), all of our kitchen cast iron cookware, 700+ mason jars (some full of food), snowblower, chest freezer, tool chest, 400+ pounds of wood pellets for the smoker, etc, etc.

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Basement storage
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More basement storage
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Loading up
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Making sure we’ll have room for the futon

The 48 hours prior to our trip to the scale were nerve wracking. Of course we started entertaining the “what if” scenarios. What if we’re overweight? What if we have to unload items? What will we unload? Where are the items that weigh the most? Are they accessible?

Finally, judgement day was upon us. The house was empty. The bus was full, and it was time to head to the nearest truck stop with a CAT Scale. As luck would have it, they were also one of the least expensive places in town to purchase diesel which is a) rare for a truck stop and b) awesome when you’re buying 200+ gallons of fuel. All fueled up, we rolled onto the scale and everyone held their breath.

Phew - some breathing room
Phew – some breathing room

Phew! All that elevated blood pressure for nothing! We had ~4k pounds to spare! Interestingly, the nearly 8k pounds of weight we’d added was nearly imperceptible behind the wheel. If we add 18% of the GVWR to our pickup, you can absolutely feel the difference in acceleration and braking. Eug didn’t break a sweat. I credit that almost entirely to the 12.7L Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine pushing us down the road. With enough horsepower and torque to pull a fully loaded semi, a motor coach was nothing.

The last task before we hit the road was to build a makeshift wall. The last thing we needed in a hard braking scenario (or god forbid, a wreck) was to have 8,000 pounds of stuff come flying forward at us. The theory was simple. Mount two pieces of angle iron going across the bus: one at the top, one at the bottom. Put a sheet of plywood behind that support steel, and use heavy duty ratchet straps to snug everything up and hold it all in place. The futon frame was included in the ratchet strap loop to prevent it from sliding around too. With everything secured, we were ready to go.

After saying goodbye to friends/family, it was time to hit the road. Immediately after closing on the sale of our home, Mama B dropped me off at the old house to meet up with my two other drivers. I have the great fortune of being friends some some top notch folks, and two of my favorites were almost giddy with excitement when asked if they’d be willing to help me drive Eug up to Alaska. I sealed the deal with an offer to fly them home and fund a thank you fishing day (assuming no breakdowns and a timely arrival). In hindsight, that was probably unnecessary as I’m sure they would’ve both jumped at the opportunity, even if they had to pay to fly home.

One last trip to Al's Breakfast in Dinkytown before taking off.
One last trip to Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown before taking off.

Shortly after noon on Friday, we pulled on to I-35W headed north. We were off!

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