Thursday, January 29, 2015

Under the Hood: Preparing for road trip to Alaskan wilds

iStockphoto

(MCT) - We're off on another lengthy road trip to Alaska from California. My wife Julie and I have made the trip twice previously, and it provides spectacular scenery, wildlife viewing, a history lesson, and some high adventure.

The trip through Northern California, Oregon and Washington is nice, but the real fun begins after crossing into British Columbia. We travel 560 miles north through the most beautiful scenery via the Western Access Route to Prince George, the only large city we'll encounter in Canada. We then run 300 miles west to the Cassiar Highway, the remote, narrow and winding 500 mile shortcut to Watson Lake BC. From there, we rejoin the Alaska Highway for another 550 miles through Yukon Territory to the Alaska border. Continuing on, it's another 600 miles or so of great scenery, including the Matanuska Glacier, to our destination in Moose Pass on the Kenai Peninsula. Fuel stops can be few and far between, and breakdowns simply can't happen as the nearest repair facility could be perhaps 500-800 miles away. We tow a heavy, oversize boat, so great care and preparations have been made to truck and trailer to insure reliability.

The truck received all new belts, hoses, filters, fluids, a new front wheel bearing and battery, and careful attention to tires, brakes, U-joints and such. I've packed a spare fuel pump, fuel filter, and tools to re-secure or replace whatever may break or jiggle loose. The roads we'll travel are mostly paved with occasional gravel sections and heaving. Sometimes there's a huge rippling of the pavement - a real surprise if not seen in time!

The trailer received new brakes, and all wheel bearings were replaced and packed, along with two spare tires. Spare trailer parts include two leaf springs, two loaded hubs (bearings already lubed and installed), spare boat tie-downs, lights and other miscellaneous parts.

Canada's provincial parks offer some great camping with meticulously clean and possibly weekly repainted tables, outhouses and such. You learn quickly to shun the beautiful, green, tree-lined campsites and opt for ugly gravel bars to mitigate the voracious clouds of mosquitoes. On our return drive in August, we'll spend extra time on two great side trips: to Skagway, via the South Klondike Highway and White Pass with incredible views; and to Hyder, a postage-stamp-sized town near the southeastern tip of the Alaska panhandle. Practically surrounded by Canada, the 90 or so folks there rely on Canadian services but stubbornly fly or barge in their groceries. They say Canadian food just isn't the same! This side trip always provides spectacular bear, wolf, porcupine and glacier viewing.

Seven-dollar-per-gallon fuel and Cheetos are something to become accustomed to, as well as pumping your own water from park wells, and incredibly friendly and helpful locals and other travelers. In B.C., I believe every sentence said by a local ends with "Eh?" Once in the Yukon or Northwest Territories, they don't seem to do that. In Prince George, one has to resupply at Canadian Tire. This amazing store is like a Wal-Mart, Tractor Supply, Wheel Works, Bass Pro Shops and Home Depot all combined - I could browse there for days.

We'll spend eight or nine days making the trip north and possibly twelve on the way home. We'll miss some neat places on the bypassed Alaska highway, such as Fort Nelson (great private auto and airplane museum), Muncho Lake (great fishing), Liard Hotsprings and countless other interesting and scenic wonders.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. Readers may send him email at under-the-hood(at)earthlink.net; he cannot make personal replies.

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Brad Bergholdt McClatchy-Tribune News Service