Alaska Bound, Part 4

Here’s part 4 of a yet-to-be-determined part series on our migration from Minnesota to Alaska. We resume on Saturday morning (day 2) in Minot, ND.

In Minot I saw something I don’t think I’d ever seen before in my life: diesel was less expensive than gasoline. I’ve spent my life in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and a short stint in upstate New York. Gasoline was always cheaper in those states. For example, at the Super America gas station near our old home in MN a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline currently sells for $1.49. A gallon of diesel will run you $2.05. In Minot (remember, this was back in July before the bottom fell out of the oil market – I’m sure it’s cheaper today) on Saturday morning, diesel was $2.69 to gasoline’s $2.79. From Minot to Homer, diesel would stay cheaper than gasoline. When you’re getting around 7.5-8 mpg, every little bit helps.

Somewhere between Minot and the Canadian border, my phone finished downloading all 34GB of my music library and we collectively decided to add Best Of Lynyrd Skynyrd to the library. We had music for the mountains! Woohoo!


Headed north to Canada

My professional navigator (also referred to as Google Maps) had us crossing into Canada at the Portal, ND Port of Entry. Mama B and I had read all sorts of fascinating stories about traveling through Canada to get to Alaska. I’m generally averse to police or pseudo-police agencies that wield an exceptional amount of power and can make your life very, very unpleasant should they wish to do so. Police, TSA, Customs and Border Patrol, Fish and Game, etc. I try to make their lives as easy as possible and our interactions as short as can be. That goes double in foreign countries.

First and foremost: Do not travel through Canada with firearms. That bears repeating. Unless you have a good reason to bring them in, and you’re willing to deal with a pile of paperwork don’t travel through Canada with firearms. To facilitate an uneventful passage through customs I had copies of any supporting info they might ask for: declaration list of all the belongings packed into Eug, a copy of my rental agreement in Homer to prove I actually had some place to be in Alaska, our scale receipt back in MN showing our total vehicle weight, an insurance identification card showing coverage in Canada, and of course our passports. We’d heard that Canadian Border Patrol may also want proof of your ability to fund your trip while in Canada, including any potential breakdowns along the way. All of it was at the ready. We had zero interest in trying to sneak anything by the agents at either side. Mama B diligently read the guidelines before we departed, to make sure we weren’t inadvertently bringing anything across. We had our i’s dotted and our t’s crossed, but we were all still a bit nervous as we approached the border. This morning could significantly impact the rest of our day (if not trip) if it went poorly for whatever reason.

Still on US soil.
Still on US soil.
View from the GoPro as we talked to the officer at the guard house.

The customs experience was all around fairly straightforward. After giving some info to the first guy at the guard house, they had us park and go talk to some folks inside the building. I didn’t ask (see comments above about interactions with law enforcement agencies) but I assume it was due to the size of the vehicle, and its potential contents. I imagine a passenger vehicle would’ve been allowed to continue on after the initial chat with the officer at the guard house. Inside we began the classic DMV-like waiting game. The employees were generally friendly, but in no hurry to accomplish their tasks. Unfortunately we were not allowed to wait in Eugene. Not only would the seats have been more comfortable but we could’ve killed the time playing Super Mario World, Lego Star Wars, or Halo. I tried pulling out my phone to play my favorite time killing game, but that plan was stopped dead in its tracks. Apparently I needed to download an update before I could play and I wasn’t sure if my cell phone was now pulling signal from a US or Canadian tower. I wasn’t about to pay $200 in data roaming charges for 30 minutes of game time. First World problems, I know.

In one of the interview rooms within earshot of our chairs, some lady was talking to a border patrol officer. As another officer went in and the door opened briefly, we heard the lady say something to the effect of “and I then I was like, ‘well you’re going to arrest me anyway so […]'” before the door closed again. I really, really would’ve loved to hear the rest of that conversation.

A while later, we were called up to the counter to talk with an officer and give our passports. The questions were all the standard, run of the mill questions. Why do you want to come into Canada? How long will you be here? Why are you going to Alaska? Who are these two clowns with you? Etc, etc. When she came back with a smile and stamped passports, it was inspection time. Since Eugene’s front entrance door has a bit of a hitch in its giddy-up, I offered to operate the door for the inspection officer. I only have one key, and the last thing I needed was for a border patrol agent to accidentally break it in half trying to unlock the front door. So us three guys and the officer headed “oot” to Eug. (I’m sure we sounded ridiculous to the Canadians too, but their “out”s as “oot”s were quite pronounced.)

The GoPro was rolling while we waited for the officers to finish their inspection. That's Mechanic Guy on the right, and me with my pile of paperwork in the middle. Tree Guy on the left was probably looking at the surrounding vegetation.
The GoPro was rolling while we waited for the officers to finish their inspection. That’s Mechanic Guy on the right, and me with my pile of paperwork in the middle. Tree Guy on the left was probably looking at the surrounding vegetation.

We were directed to wait in front of the vehicle (within eyesight) while the officer inspected the contents inside. Because of the “wall” we’d built behind the futon, he was only able to access the passenger compartment up front. He spent a fair amount of time in there digging through god knows what before bringing in another agent. Great. It turns out the officer had found some nicotine patches in a ziploc bag that Mrs Mechanic Guy had sent along in his backpack. Mechanic Guy and the officers chatted for a few minutes, before they were satisfied. The first officer asked the second if we needed to bring down the wall for them to inspect behind it, and my heart skipped a beat while waiting for his response. The absolute last thing I wanted to do today was unload all of my worldly possessions at this border entry point and then load them all back in again. Thankfully he didn’t want to see back there. They didn’t even open a single luggage compartment underneath! After talking to Mechanic Guy we were given the all clear, piled back in, and hit the road.

On the road again.
On the road again.
Yours truly, behind the wheel.
Problem #1

Back on the road it was canola fields and oil pumps as far as the eye could see. The weather was still fairly comfortable (albeit windy) but it was definitely cooling down. When the sun would beat down on us, it was relatively warm. As it started to fall, however, we tried turning on the heat. That’s when we learned that the heat wasn’t working. Having experienced this once before with Tree Guy on our way up from Florida, we removed an access panel and attempted to manually operate the valve that had previously stuck. On the FL->MN trip, the pipe was hot on one side of the valve and cold on the other. Manually operating the valve gave us hot coolant on both sides and warm air at the dash. In Canada, it was cold everywhere. We weren’t even getting hot coolant up by the driver compartment, which meant even if that valve was open, we wouldn’t be getting any heat. Shoot.





They Do Things Differently Up Here

It didn’t take long past the border before we started becoming accustomed to everything in the metric system. We became pretty good at doing quick conversions in our head. I recall being surprised at how low the speed limits were in construction zones and going through small towns. It was always just outside the transmission’s sweet spot for cruise control. Any inclines would force the transmission to shift and it’d get in this funk where it’d want to downshift and then immediately upshift over and over again.

Shortly after entering Canada we encountered the weirdest intersection. I guess technically it was an interchange, as I think it was an off ramp from one highway to another. With the overpass currently under construction they had a temporary intersection installed in what felt like a really odd place, particularly considering the type of roadway and the speed limit on it.


In the rural areas we also came to love the Important Intersection Ahead signs that littered the route. Any time another highway intersected the one we were on, we’d find one of these signs and a flashing light to alert us.


On our way into Edmonton, AB I again hunted for a reasonably priced hotel. At first I chose based on price alone and found a good rate at a place in downtown. After realizing how large Edmonton is and that downtown could mean a good sized metropolitan area with poor parking options, I called the hotel to see if they had room for us to park old Eug. They did not. Plan B. I found us a new place on the west side of town and we pulled in after dark. The warm beds, and hot shower felt great after having the cool air blow on us for a few hours prior.

Trip Stats
  • Miles Traveled: 729
  • Total Miles Traveled: 1,228
  • Miles Left: 2,153
  • Repairs Attempted: 0
  • Repairs Completed: 0

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