Alaska Bound, Part 3

Here’s part 3 of a yet-to-be-determined part series on our migration from Minnesota to Alaska. Finally, we’re on the road.

The Schedule

The idea was to cover roughly 12 hours a day, each of us taking 4 hours probably in 2-hour shifts. With 60 hours of driving, that meant 5 days of travel time. Knowing full well that something would come up, some days we’d start late, weather, road construction, wrecks (hopefully none that we’re involved in), and wildlife could all delay us I planned for a healthy buffer. We were to depart on Friday morning. Five solid days of driving would’ve put us in Homer on Tuesday night. A day for customs on either side and a day’s worth of late starts, sleeping in, and longer than planned meal stops would put us into Homer on Thursday night. Bad weather, mechanical issues, and any other unplanned events could eat up two days before Mechanic Guy and Tree Guy would need new flights home. If we hit Homer by Friday evening, we’d still have time for a day of fishing on Saturday. Not wanting to jinx it, I didn’t book a fishing charter even though I really wanted to get the Guys out halibut fishing.

Late Already

It didn’t take long before we started eating into the extra buffer time. We ended up leaving Minneapolis a few hours behind schedule, but hey, who’s counting. Since it was my voyage, my vehicle, and I had the keys in hand I took the first leg through the Twin Cities and away from civilization. I had the most hours under my belt, but I’m by no means a professional driver. Tree Guy spent a good amount of time behind the wheel as well; he graciously flew down to Florida with me after I purchased Mean Eugene and helped me drive it back to MN. Mechanic Guy hadn’t had much road time before the trip. To his credit, he catches on quickly.

The drive northbound started out warm. We had the window (yeah, singular) open, and the HVAC system moving as much air through the bus as possible. Eugene has A/C and I could’ve sworn it worked coming up from Florida, but it hasn’t since. It was fine though; the temp wasn’t out of control and with a decent clip down the road a good amount of air came in and kept us comfortable. I already gave a shout out to Dick Lorntson at Precision Frame, but boy was it nice driving. Eug wasn’t the straightest driving thing in the world coming out of Florida, and he had one heck of a clang/clunk/bang every time the front right wheel hit a bump. After Dick replaced my control arm bushings, installed a few new tie rod ends, and trued up the tires Eug was a whole different vehicle.

Every road trip needs a pitstop at a greasy burger joint.
Every road trip needs a pitstop at a greasy burger joint.
Plan B

About an hour into the drive I realized that in all of my preparation I’d omitted one crucial item: music! I’ve uploaded all of my music to the cloud and I stream it through my phone to my vehicle. Works great…when you have cell coverage or have some of the music cached on the phone. Eugene’s primary music source is bluetooth, and we had a lot of miles ahead of us in Canada where cell coverage would either be expensive, or nonexistant. So I did what any sane person would do. I made sure I had room on my phone, and then I told it to download my entire library. All 34GB of it over the cell network as we raced to the border. I’d been paying for a grandfathered unlimited data plan with Verizon for who knows how long, and my monthly usage almost never exceeded 2GB. Finally, time to cash in.

A while back I’d purchased a GoPro with grand plans for its use, and the Alaska journey seemed like a great opportunity to dust it off. I wanted a time lapse of the entire trip from start to finish. In addition to getting a nice video at the end, I hoped the GoPro would catch some good still shots. Little did I know that the GoPro’s battery is terrible. Well, it might not be terrible for what it’s designed to do, but it’s not designed to run for a day straight. Not even close. Somewhere along the way Mechanic Guy sifted through the container of GoPro parts looking for some way to rig up a mount/housing that would allow us to plug it in while on the road. Short of permanently altering the only waterproof housing I own, it wasn’t going to happen. So we resigned ourselves to about 90 minutes of footage between charges. Many of the photos shared here were taken from the GoPro. You’ll have to look through the rain drops, bug splatters, and windshield wipers. It was rare that we stopped to take pictures of the scenery – cell phone and GoPro shots through the glass would have to do – we had a schedule to keep and fish to catch.

Farm Country

Western MN and the majority of North Dakota are, well, not the most interesting drives. It’s flat, uneventful farm land with straight roads that seem to go on forever. The most eventful thing happening on the road through these parts of the world is wind. Man does it get windy! I imagine describing the effects of wind on a bus or semi with trailer to someone who’s never driven anything larger than a minivan is probably something like trying to explain the discomfort of childbirth to every male on the planet. Unless you’ve experienced it, you just don’t get it. This is probably a terrible comparison, but there’s no good way to explain it; you have to feel it. And just about the time you’re feeling comfortable, an 18 wheeler decides to pass you and totally changes the dynamics of the air hitting (or now not hitting) the bus. It keeps you on your toes, that’s for sure.

Another thing I found interesting on the drive through ND, MN, and Saskatchewan is the degree the terrain has on your ability to anticipate the day’s weather. In the vast plains you can see for miles and miles. (I admit, The Who was played a time or two during those hours on the road.) There are no surprise storms in these parts. You can see a storm for hours off in the distance before you finally catch up to it. That struck me as noticeably different than the constrained visibility found in urban areas and mountainous terrain, where changes in weather can seem quick even if they’ve been brewing for a while.

Speaking of storms and rain, we encountered some pretty heavy rains in ND. A few strong but small systems came rolling through. One hit while we were on the road and it never ceases to amaze me how confident other drivers are in the face of adverse driving conditions. We’re talking flash flooding level rainfall here. The windshield wipers can’t keep up, and then some idiot comes screaming by in the left lane going about 80 mph in a Mitsubishi Eclipse hydroplaning all over the place. {eyeroll}

We didn’t stay at this rest stop to wait out the storm.

We stopped for dinner at Perkins in Jamestown, ND and normally a Perkins stop wouldn’t be eventful enough to warrant mentioning on a blog. But! Not only did they not have corned beef hash, the waitress didn’t even know what it is. What!? Maybe we’re the oddballs and corned beef hash isn’t something the rest of the world eats, but us Three Stooges were shocked (and obviously disappointed). While we ate, what seemed like another 2″ of rain fell. North Dakota’s rain would turn out to be a bit of a bellwether for the trip. It rained. A lot.

If you want corned beef hash, steer clear.
If you want corned beef hash, steer clear.
The tint was really hampering the passenger view out the front, so we ripped it off.
The tint was really hampering the passenger view out the front, so we ripped it off.

We spent the night in Minot, ND at some random hotel I booked on my laptop while someone else was rolling down the road. Thankfully they had enough room in the parking lot for us to take up 5-6 spots. If I recall correctly, they even had one of the most enjoyable hotel breakfasts any of us could remember having in a long time.

Trip Stats
  • Miles Traveled: 499
  • Total Miles Traveled: 499
  • Miles Left: 2,882
  • Repairs Attempted: 0
  • Repairs Completed: 0

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