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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
7 yrs and 6 days - end of the road

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The Fortunate Findings of the Keen Eye

Aug 8, 2015
by John

Patching the van up took more than a replacement shock. A spindle and a wheel bearing decided to have a havoc party, who knows which one started it, taking out the front passenger hub. Fortunately all of the parts were on hand at another Anchorage shop so she was all fixed up the same day our new shock was installed. A big thanks to Total Truck for the free shock install and the lead to get the rest of her sorted. It was a downer budget wise, a happy moment to get the most important team member back to health. Chris at Ujoint Offroad is looking into parts reimbursements from the manufacturers, it was all less than one year old. Shit happens, shake it off and keep on moving.

While in Anchorage we sort of hibernated. Mostly confined to parking lots, we ended up going to four movies, chilling in the van, and talking with other parking lot dwellers. It's always wonderful to meet veteran travelers in the most unexpected places. Many stories were shared and we received some great tips on places to visit. Feeling the need to bounce, we ran the grocery store gamut once the van was fixed and we took off down the Turnagain Arm to the Kenai peninsula.

It was late and we were elated to be out of the city so we ended up stopping at a pull out about 40 miles down the Arm. We're starting to become wayside warriors, developing ninja skills for finding some great free camping spots.  There's a balance between available facilities and noise. In the Yukon it was really easy, as most pull outs have pit toilets and trash receptacles. Alaska waysides are hit and miss, some have pit toilets but most don't... many are located very close to the road. A literal gut check is required to choose wisely.

Turnagain Arm, AK, USA

Owooooo, owooooo

Our plan was iffy regarding Homer, we had surveyed every local we met for their opinion, so we headed to Seward and Exit Glacier. Everything we had read said it was one of the best places for glacial cruises and wildlife viewing, albeit at a rather high price. Completing the drive down Turnagain Arm was wonderful and we rolled into Seward around noon; the streets were bustling as there was a passenger cruise ship in port. We scored a great free 2 hour parking spot and explored the pier by foot. Within thirty minutes we had booked an 8.5 hour cruise with Major Marine, a locally owned company, for the following morning.

The cruise company also threw in some half price coupons for the Seward aquarium so we figured why not check it out. We're suckers for places that take in injured wildlife and have rehabilitation programs. It was a very cool place to explore located right on Resurrection Bay in the main downtown area of Seward. It was such a beautiful day we grabbed a coffee and wandered along the waterfront trail checking out the availability of the campgrounds, being within walking distance of the marina would have been nice for catching our glacial cruise.

Seward, AK, USA

Not bad Seward, not bad

Living on the road, especially without any substantial income, has us scrutinizing the cost benefit of almost everything. It's not as though there is a matching amount of income for every expense. All the years of scrimping and sacrificing are always present, reminding us of what it took to be able to spend now. Maybe one day we'll be a little more carefree with spending, that is obviously not the current case. Dropping $390 for an 8.5 hour cruise tour was significant, in the words of another passenger, the experience we had was definitely "worth the price of admission".

Seward Harbor, AK, USA

Yeah, yeah it's pretty early in the morning... where's the free coffee

Within 45 minutes of leaving port we were watching a humpback whale, the first of three that day. We were both in awe, Mandi a bit teary. That's when our fellow shipmate uttered his words regarding the trip being worth the expense. The tour had just started and most of us felt it was already cost effective. Fin whales, Dall's porpoises, sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals and orca were our hosts, not to mention all of the birds and glaciers. The forecast was for rain, we got lucky and it was a beautiful day. Weather permitting, we totally recommend doing this.

Kenai Fjords National Park, AK, USA

Uh skipper, we going the right way?

Kenai Fjords National Park, AK, USA

Photo bombing bastards

Kenai Fjords National Park, AK, USA

It must be nice

Kenai Fjords National Park, AK, USA

Why do they get fresh seafood while we get a boxed lunch?

Ogive Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, AK, USA

Ancient freeze ray did exist

Kenai Fjords National Park, AK, USA

No high five

Kenai Fjords National Park, AK, USA

How do we know that's Willie?

What better way to end a great day than to hang out with other Pan-Amers, Perky Mog. Through Instagram we knew we'd both be in Seward around the same time, just so happened they arrived while we were at sea. It was a great reunion even though all four of us were pretty wiped out. We sat around chatting while Brad and Oksana shared their dinner with us, thanks again! The following morning we chatted some more, rig talk this time, then parted ways. Overlanders have a schedule even though we all claim otherwise.

Spring Creek Campground, Seward, AK, USA

You're not puny JaMvan, Perky is just big boned

Spring Creek Campground, Seward, AK, USA

Might just have to hang that on the wall

We headed towards Exit Glacier to find a wayside for the night so we could get up early to hike to the icefields the next morning. Fat chance, we slept until 11 so we had to settle for a hike to and around the glacier itself. A mild disappointment, the icefield hike gains 4000 feet over 4 miles so our bodies might appreciate the unexpected change in plans. Dropping back into town to grab a few random groceries we ran into Perky again. Something tells us we will run into each other a few more times during our journeys, a welcomed happenstance.

Still unsure about Homer we headed to Cooper Landing. There were a few free campgrounds and a hike to Russian Falls to get a glimpse of the salmon run and potentially bears. We met a couple great local families at Kelly Lake who convinced us to take the drive to Homer, at the least to see what all the hubbub was about and grab a locally grown meal. Why not? We backtracked a bit to hike to Russian Falls, lots of fish but no bears, then to Deep Creek Beach on the way to Homer. Not seeing feeding brown bears means there's still an unchecked box on my bucket list.

Russian Falls, Kenai Peninsula, AK, USA

Probably not the top of the gene pool

We eventually made it to Homer and had a wonderful breakfast at Fresh Sourdough Express. Trying to recall the name of the restaurant had us naming three that we've eaten at during the past couple of weeks. Granny B's in Anchorage and Salmon Bake in Seward, all great breakfasts. We walked around Homer a bit, reminds us of Cedar Key a little, then drove out to Peterson Lake for the night (another free campground). A couple from Anchorage suggested we visit Hope instead of Whittier, a great recommendation.

There isn't much to Hope but it is a beautiful drive and a really laid back place. We wandered around town then drove out to the Resurrection Trailhead to free camp. It sits along a creek that was full of salmon so we spent a couple hours ambling along the shore peering at the beautiful fish. Their jockeying antics are endless, nature TV. The sound of the rushing creek was almost overwhelming due to how peaceful it was there. One of the best places we've free camped so far.

Realizing that we have an obligation approaching (we had made a reservation for Denali after we got a tip from Brad and Oksana), we meandered away from Hope stopping to check out Six Mile Creek. When we packed the van and learned we couldn't fit our kayaking gear we decided to sell it. Being in areas that have some really nice, yet friendly, whitewater makes us wish we still had it. We had already stopped by an outfitter in Anchorage to price and size up a two person inflatable kayak, we're both trying to figure out how we can make it fit. We're also trying to solve the no bike situation. We need less regular crap and more sporting shit... ah, that's why they named them Sportsmobiles.

This time driving the Turnagain Arm we decided to make a stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. They provide rehabilitative services to local wildlife, $25 well spent. Our one gripe is that it is drivable as well as walkable. Being all gravel roads, the animals and the walking patrons suck in a lot of dust. There is already a shuttle service so hopefully one day they'll make it walk or shuttle only. None the less, hanging out with all of the animals was unbelievable. Mandi got teary eyed again after we spent about 10 minutes almost entirely alone with the brown bears.

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, AK, USA

Happy to see us eh?

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, AK, USA

Ummm, where's Bob?

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, AK, USA

And peeps keep asking us about alligators

We really enjoyed the Kenai peninsula and could spend an entire summer here. It's obvious why it is the playground for the residents of Anchorage. The wildlife and scenery are abundant, the friendly faces more so. For us it is the epitome of what we thought Alaska to be. We've been told that the weather has been unseasonably wonderful, we're grateful to have been so fortunate.

Navigating by 'Alaska' tag - Navigate by Date
Say what? (8)
David Elliott
Aug 8, 2015 at 06:01 PM
If you hit Anchorage again, check out Simon & Seafort's Saloon and Grill. [ ] Amazing place.
Aug 19, 2015 at 07:10 PM
Thanks David,
We already rolled through by the time this entry was posted. It's on the list for next time.
Aug 9, 2015 at 09:55 AM
Your post remembers me so many great memories!
Looks like you both still enjoy the free traveller life in Alaska.
Hope that the van won't do some new mechanical surprises... All the best for your coming adventures!
Aug 19, 2015 at 07:17 PM
Thanks Claude-Alain!

Alaska and the Yukon have been wonderful, just a ton of driving. We think we should have allotted five months or more to have taken it a bit slower like you did. Hopefully the hub will be the worst that happens.
Wally Hufford
Aug 11, 2015 at 10:07 PM
Hi John and Mandi,

It was great meeting and talking with both of you on the road near Teklanika Campground in Denali National Park. Hope you found some blueberries to pick and enjoyed your bus ride to Wonder Lake. We are looking forward to following your adventures. Also, check out my blog when you get a chance. Just google "basecamp Nikiski" and it should show up. Your picture will be there as soon as I update it!
Aug 19, 2015 at 07:22 PM
Likewise Wally!

We found a really large patch about 100 yards from where we were all chatting. We later found a huge blueberry, crow berry, and cranberry patch on the Denali highway, the cranberries weren't quite ripe yet. Thanks for the mention on your blog: and keep getting those girls out there!
John and toni
Aug 14, 2015 at 02:00 PM
I was on the road system with our van (we live in Cordova, a ferry ride away) week before last and was watching for you on the Kenai, you may not have been on the road yet. I was in Ninilchik for Salmonfest and then spent a few days on the Russian, was hoping to check out your ride, our interior is almost finished. The plan is to drive it out to Colorado for the pop top installation this fall then on for points south. Anyway, sorry I missed you, we'll be watching the blog as we decide just how far south we go. jb
Aug 19, 2015 at 07:33 PM
Hey John and Toni!

We rolled through a few days after the Salmon Fest, sucks we missed each other. That's the problem with keeping a blog, we're almost always behind (about to write about Denali, Valdez and McCarthy while sitting in a library in Haines). Keep in touch as we don't expect to drop into Baja until November.
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