Winter Wakening’s

Although we are really just two thirds of the way through the calendar ‘fall’ it certainly feels like winter outside with highs struggling to reach 25° F (-4° C) even on sunny days while bottoming out in the low single digits and a paltry 3.5” (8.9 cm) of ‘snow pack’.  Paradoxically, I’ve been becoming more and more active regarding projects and have completed a number which had been ‘hanging around’ for the better part of a year or more.  Many of said ‘projects’ involve preparing for the oncoming winter; I’ve written of these in previous postings.  In Alaska, there is a regular cycle to living semi-rural and it is strongly tied to the seasons.  Most long time Alaskans do not give these much thought; such cycles have been a part of their annual existence since they can remember.  But, as a relative ‘newbie’ just now preparing for his fifth winter, I always find myself reflecting on these cycles and what they entail.

Just today I swapped my bedding and, before I completed the swap I took time to disconnect the air line from the pump to the connector on the air bladder of my Sleep Number bed, apply a thin layer of Vaseline to said connector, reconnect and then proceed with changing the bedding.  I learned a while back that as my Sleep Number bed has aged it tends to slowly leak air from this connection and when the bedroom air temp varies by more than fifteen degrees this leakage is exacerbated.  It is very noticeable in the winter when the air temps in the master bedroom can vary from 50° F to 65° F (10° C to 18° C).  The Vaseline helps form a good seal which holds the pressure in the bed’s air bladder.

In ‘tune’ with doing the aforementioned once finished I first put on an electric sheet I purchased a few years back followed by the regular sheets, blankets and quilts.  If the air temp in the master bedroom is allowed to drop into the middle fifties or lower for any period of time the bed chills right down to that temp as well.  This makes climbing into it for the first time come evening a most ‘invigorating’ experience!  Being able to activate the electric sheet maybe ten minutes before I actually plan to lie down warms the bedding quite nicely and makes it ‘oh so comfortable’ to climb in.  I rarely sleep with the sheet turned on as I find it too warm even at a very low setting but if we see another cold spell like we saw last January when we bottomed out at -40° F (-40° C) a couple of mornings and never rose above -16° F (-26.6° C) for three consecutive days I will no doubt sleep with it on as I did during those cold days and nights.  During this extreme cold spell the air temp in the master bedroom dropped to 46° F (7.8° C) by the early morning and that was darned cold!

A while back I removed the last of my light blocking barriers from the south and west windows in the master bedroom.  I used to have such barriers up in most of the second floor windows but last spring I applied a clear layer of IR blocking film to most of the east, south and west facing windows in the house which dramatically reduced the heat generated by the almost continual summer sun.  In addition, I’ve been trying to wean myself away from needing a very dark room in which to sleep and thus far I’ve had some success.  This summer I discovered thanks to the aforementioned film the second floor is much cooler in the summer.  Prior to applying it I used much of my light blocking materials to reflect back the incoming light and hence the heat.  I’m slowly learning what works and what doesn’t north of 62 degrees north latitude…

Come this fall I’m dealing with a brand new paradigm involving my ongoing exercise routine which currently consists of taking at minimum 11,000 daily steps – for me the rough equivalent of walking 4.3 miles (6.9 km) – every day.  I began this routine with just 4,000 daily steps back in March so I had no real experience with doing so in the extreme cold but more importantly in the darkness.  From the time I arise, generally between 05:30 and 06:30, I try to do a minimum of 1,200 steps every hour.  The purpose is to force me to abandon my network and get up and move!  As such, I am generally stepping every hour – and my Garmin vivosmart 3 PFM makes sure I do so – until 14:00 if not later.  But this means the first four to five cycles are done when it is still very dark outside.  I have donned my headlamp and taken the kidz out for a few morning walks but I’m always concerned about surprising a moose.  Even with the headlamp I cannot see very well and could easily surprise some of the local wildlife; I count on the kidz to scent out such animals long before I can see them but they are not infallible.  Therefore, since October I’ve been doing a majority of my morning stepping indoors.  While this does work it is much more boring and it puts more stress on my legs and associated joints as I do quite a bit of stopping/starting and making 180 degree turns as I navigate my ‘track’ around the second floor.  Not doing my stepping is simply not an option; I have to do so daily to help manage my hypertension and late onset Type 2 diabetes and it is instrumental in my current 43 pound (19.5 kg) weight loss.  Because of this I’ve sucked it up and done virtually all my steps indoors but as I mentioned this gets to be very boring. 

The darkness is a tough barrier but so is the lack of real stable footing in the great outdoors.  We currently have just 3.5” (8.9 cm) of ‘snow pack’ and the bottom 1.5” (3.8 cm) of that depth is hard frozen ice.  This makes footing questionable at best even using walking staffs.  If we’d get an additional 6” plus (15.2 cm plus) snow atop this icy snow layer the traction issue would be negated; in this case the more snow atop that darned ice the better!  However, until this happens I’m forced to deal with potentially slippery conditions and I cannot forget what the fall I took on March 27, 2015 did to my life and to my bank account!  But having lived this long in semi-rural south central Alaska I know I just have to adapt to what Mother Nature gives me and ‘keep on keepin’ on’.

In keeping with ‘new paradigms’ regarding winter preparations I now have a travel trailer (Forest River R-pod) so for the first time I went through the ‘winterization’ process a few weeks back.  There really wasn’t much to it; first I went through the interior and removed anything which wouldn’t do well in below zero temps like water jugs, low carb salad dressing and similar.  Then I splashed small amounts of non-toxic antifreeze into the kitchen sink, bathroom sink and toilet.  Finally, I spent an hour figuring out how to drape a 16’ by 20’ tarp over the unit.  I did so on a calm day but even so it was a struggle and a learning experience.  I finally ‘un-nested’ an eight foot nesting aluminum pole, inserted the pointed end into a corner grommet on the tarp and carefully worked it over the top of the R-pod.  I then began to tie down each of the four corners using some nylon rope, the grommets and any available weights like stones or large pieces of tree trunks.  Once completed the tarp protects the roof and a portion of the sides.  While not particularly pleasing to one’s eye it should help prevent any freezing rain or similar from penetrating into the unit.

So goes the ‘song of the seasons’ and with these efforts along with a host of others I’m now ready for winter.  This is a good thing as we bottomed out a few days back at -1.3° F (-18.5° C), the first below zero reading of this season, and I’m sure there will be many more to come.  Now we just need to pick up a few feet of snow and we’ll be looking good.  I’m sanguine with settling in for another cold, dark and (hopefully) snowy and cold winter.  But I also know that come late March into mid-April I’ll once again be hearing the seasonal shift’s song and organizing my preparations for the upcoming spring.  Maybe it is age but I must admit, I do take comfort and pleasure in these Nature driven routines…

 

On ‘The Road’…Again (Part Three)

Once again a reminder; unlike so many video series I’m not going to waste space and the reader’s time recapping ‘Part Two’.  If you are new to this blog or you missed it please read the previous entry.  I’ll pick this up on our departure from The Super 8 motel in Fox Creek, Alberta.

I awoke early on Saturday morning (09/23) to a deep rumbling sound; I staggered to my feet and peered out the window to see thick fog and the ghostly silhouettes of numerous semis parked on the access road in front of the motel.  One of these was the source of the noise; had I known I might have tried for a different motel but Fox Creek is not large at a bit less than 2,000 people and most of the motels face the aforementioned access road.  Deciding I was up for the day I figured it was good to get an early start and we hustled across the next ninety minutes to get our morning routines handled and everything collected, packed up and loaded into the Escape.  I gave the kidz one last chance to take care of business, stopped in the lobby to grab some coffee and we were off.

My goal was Fort St. John (BC) which was 248 miles (399 km) distant.  While not a long drive staying there was based upon the next town with any real lodging being Fort Nelson and that was another 237 miles (382 km) or almost double the distance.  In addition, I would pass through Dawson Creek in 201 miles (324 km) and thus start my 1,264 miles (2,034 km) on the fabled Alaska Highway.  Although the eastern two thirds of this road had been ‘okay’ on the trip down, at least by Alaska Highway standards, I hadn’t been pulling an 18 foot (5.5 meter) travel trailer.  Therefore, I decided discretion is indeed the better part of valor and elected to reserve a room in the Fort St. John Super 8.

At this point many of you are probably wondering why I wasn’t using the R-pod to overnight.  I could have done so as the water and battery issues had been repaired but this late in the season I was finding many RV/trailer parks were closed and most of those still open were offering limited services as in just electricity.  Under such conditions I elected to continue to spend money and stay in motel rooms.  In addition, my canine companions were spending most of each day confined to the back seat of the Escape.  To then confine them to the almost as small floor area of the R-pod overnight just seemed unfair; while motel rooms are hardly palatial they offered much more room than the R-pod.   Finally, my poor ‘little’ angel – Anana – is really struggling with arthritis so giving her a warm place to sleep with at least a rug to sleep upon was the least she deserved.

The fog was with us for the first hour or so and then the sun burned it off and we saw partly cloudy conditions.  The Garmin led me on some very ‘back’ roads through northern Alberta and when we finally popped out onto a larger road we were crossing into British Columbia.  I dutifully shifted my clocks to from MDT to PDT, stopped to fill up the Escape’s tank and we continued onward.  We reached Dawson Creek around 11:00 and, as usual, the town was bustling with traffic.  I never cared for Dawson Creek; the place reeks of being a ‘tourist trap’ and I just wanted to get through it ASAP.  We did navigate it fairly swiftly and were soon heading WNW on The Alaska Highway with minimal traffic.

I had my first real scare regarding taking the R-pod downhill as we approached the Taylor River and the town of Taylor.  The incline is 9% plus and it has a couple of sweeping turns before crossing the bridge over the Taylor River which uses that open steel mesh surface.  I HATE such surfaces as it makes the vehicle feel as though it is shifting back and forth far more than it actually is which is disconcerting to say the least.  I knew of this portion as I’d driven it while relocating and on the way to Montana but somehow I managed to space out regarding its approach.  By the time I saw the Taylor Bridge in the distance and realized I was on the steep decline I was already doing 77 mph!  In this moment I had another key learning; when driving downhill one must switch from driving with the tachometer to driving with the speedometer!!  I shifted out of overdrive, checked my rear view mirrors and began to apply the brakes.  Thankfully the descent covers a long distance and with no traffic behind me – at least in my lane – I was able to get our velocity back under 50 mph (81 kph) before the final sharp turn onto the bridge.  I really berated myself for not paying more attention to my surroundings!!  I knew this situation was coming up yet I allowed my attention to wander and almost ended up in a very bad situation.  I’d like to blame it on fatigue but that would be a lie; I just became complacent and almost paid a nasty price.

We made Fort St. John in the early afternoon but the kind staff at the Comfort Inn gave us our room even though it wasn’t even 14:00 local time.  I unloaded, gave the kidz water and then loaded ‘em into the Escape and drove to a small park on the west end of town.  There we played, ran around and generally reveled in the sunny weather and cool temps.  I then hit the local grocery for some food and we returned to the room for any early evening.

Sunday dawned partly cloudy and cool; we were on the road by 07:30 which was pretty early considering we were ‘only’ going as far as Fort Nelson which was just 237 miles (382 km).  However, once again this choice was predicated on the knowledge the next lodging beyond Fort Nelson was just a single facility in Toad Creek which was another 117 miles (188 km) distant.  This is ‘life’ when traversing The Alaska Highway; one must balance the distances with the weather, road conditions, vehicle capabilities, traffic and especially the availability of lodging.  I also knew that road conditions were going to deteriorate once I was west of Fort Nelson and we’d be heading into the foothills of the Canadian Rockies.  The weather remained partly cloudy and seasonal with limited traffic so I was able to make good time with a stop for gas.  A bit further I found a small pull-out and I stopped so the kidz could stretch their legs, take care of business and drink water.  We were entertained by a flock of ravens who are the equal of any Mockingbird I’ve ever heard with regards to a huge vocal repertoire.  We made Fort Nelson in the early afternoon but the great folks at the Super 8 recognized me – actually, they recognized the dogs whom they adored – and allowed us to get into our room just a bit after 13:00.

I was able to do a couple loads of wash, get the kidz to a park for exercise and hit the grocery store.  I also spent a few hours downloading my still and video files, organizing and cataloging them and creating yet another email update.  A couple of the housekeepers stopped by to see Anana; she reveled in the attention and proceeded to get both of them covered in dog fur but they didn’t mind.  We settled in for the evening and I decided Monday’s goal would be Watson Lake.

We were up and off Monday morning at 07:00 after I grabbed a cup of coffee in the lobby; I wanted an early start as Watson Lake was 319 miles (514 km) distant and portions of the road had been in rather poor shape on the trip down.  Additionally, this portion would take us into the Canadian Rockies with all the steep inclines and the narrow sections around Muncho Lake (YT) were exacerbated by numerous blind curves.  I also knew this was the first of two long throws of driving with very limited services.  I knew I purchased fuel in Muncho Lake while heading to Montana but that was about the only open gas station on this leg.  Thankfully there was almost no traffic and the weather held up although we did hit rain around Muncho Lake (YT), where I gratefully filled up with gas and we saw a rainbow, but we quickly drove out of it.  The trip was quickened by the gorgeous scenery but I remembered my Taylor River experience and didn’t allow myself to become too enthralled!  By mid-afternoon I found a scenic pull-out maybe 60 miles south of Watson Lake so we availed ourselves of the chance to stretch our legs and savor the view.  The kidz took care of business and drank copious quantities of water.  I was looking at the gas level as we turned into this pull-out and noted I might not make Watson Lake; as there’s no services in that stretch I elected to empty one of the 2.5 gallon Jerry cans into the Escape’s tank.

In another 75 minutes we made Watson Lake and began to look for lodging.  The facilities were very limited but I found a motel (Andrea’s Hotel) which accepted pets.  They had metered internet service but I was never able to get my laptop to connect.  We went through the now well-oiled routine of unloading our stuff, getting the kidz water and exercise and settling in.  The room wasn’t much even by Alaska Highway standards but it was serviceable.  Having driven such a long distance in good stead and needing just one 2.5 gallon Jerry can of fuel to finish the leg I was feeling very good about making the remainder of the trip in fine shape.  I’d been very careful to hold my rpm’s below 3,500 even when it meant slowing my speed to 40 mph (64 kph) or less on the inclines.  I’d dealt with a couple of 8% plus declines and hadn’t had to brake much at all by planning ahead and kicking the transmission out of overdrive on such descents.  I awoke very early, as in 04:00 early, the next morning and decided to take the kidz out for some solid exercise.  We walked around 1.5 miles (2.4 km) and I watched the fog roll across the town.  I was very annoyed to see a car with Quebec plates had pulled in front of the Escape leaving no more than maybe two feet (0.61 meters) of space.  I’d parked away from the hotel along a sidewalk in an effort to leave the single vehicle spaces available but apparently they had filled up later in the evening.  A large pickup had pulled in behind the R-pod but left almost 4 feet (1.2 meters) of clearance.  I hoped the car would be gone by the time I needed to depart; sadly, this was not the case so I spent a frustrating fifteen minutes jacking the Escape/R-pod combination back and forth until I could finally clear the offending car.  As it was very frosty that morning I left a: “Thanks for NOTHING!” note on the windshield frost and we departed.

Well, I guess this tale is going to require yet another installment as I’ve reached well over 1,900 words and there’s still almost three days remaining.  Once again, I’ll leave you with some images from this portion of our adventure:

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Heading Into The Canadian Rockies

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Canadian ‘Rocky Mountain High!’

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A Lone Mountain Sheep just north of Muncho Lake (YT)

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Snow in The Canadian Rockies

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A Plaque at a Scenic Overlook Around An Hour South of Watson Lake (YT)

Watson Lake Sunrise

Foggy but Gorgeous Watson Lake (YT) Sunrise

One ‘The Road’ Again… (Part Two)

When I began this account I envisioned it would be two parts as there was so much to recount.  However, after getting just part way through this section I came to understand I’ll need at least three segments and possibly a fourth.  Yes, my verbose writing style contributes to the length but as I mentioned earlier there’s a lot to share as this was a 25 day adventure.  And, somehow, I find it fitting a tale involving Alaska and things ‘Alaskan’ should be extremely large.  Unlike so many video series I’m not going to waste space and the reader’s time recapping ‘Part One’.  If you are new to this blog or you missed it please read the previous entry.  I’ll pick this up on my departure from Dave’s farm in the middle morning of Monday, September 18th pulling the R-pod for the first time.

The first 22 miles from Dave’s farm were all single lane back road driving and I took it very slow as I tried to get a ‘feel’ for the R-Pod.  Thankfully, there was minimal traffic as I was well under the posted 55 mph (88.5 kph) speed limit.  I’d never towed anything close to this size and the Escape felt sluggish and unresponsive.  Once I made I 90 I headed west until I reached MT 287 and then headed north to Helena.  I was having issues even maintaining 65 mph (104.5 kph) on I 90; once I turned north on MT 287 the speed limit dropped to 65 mph (104.5 kph) but the road became mainly a single lane.  This tasked me with keeping the R-pod in its lane and allowing upcoming drivers to pass me.  When I made Helena I headed north on I 15 for Great Falls.  During this stretch I had my first taste of steep, as in 7%+, grades.  Many had sweeping turns incorporated into them and while easily navigated in a car or even small truck these produced a bit of angst for me pulling the R-pod.  Still, I persevered and we finally pulled into Great Falls in the early afternoon.

We returned to the same Comfort Inn we’d stayed at on the way down and were able to procure the same room.  Then we headed out for ‘Pierce’s RV Center’ which I discovered was located right downtown.  This was my first experience towing the R-pod in a city with moderate traffic and it was a bit of white knuckle drive.  However, we made it; I spoke to the folks at the counter and was able to drop off the trailer in their lot.  The return trip with just the Escape really demonstrated the difference pulling such a trailer can make!  I spent the remainder of Monday decompressing, exercising the kidz, downloading/cataloging my still and video imagery and writing an email update.

Tuesday was a ‘throw away day’, I exercised the kidz a bit, had the Escape checked out at a Valvoline Service Center, did some shopping and picked up another 2.5 gallon Jerry can.  Pierce RV Center called around 16:00 to say the R-pod was ready; since it was so late and I’d already booked Tuesday night I told them I would pick the unit up first thing Wednesday morning.  We were up and on our way by 08:30 and made Pierce’s RV Center by 09:00.  All my requested repairs were handled (water leak and lack of battery power) so I paid $190 and hooked up the R-pod.  It was a sunny day but very windy; I was a bit concerned about the wind but I had no choice as I’d already lost far too many days, not to mentioned dropped WAY too much money, on motel rooms.  We headed north on I 15 for the Canadian border and eventually Calgary (AB).  It seemed like a good start but ole Murphy has a way of making one eat one’s words!

Within maybe twenty minutes I was hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life and nasty cross-winds (according to NWS they were 15 to 25 mph sustained – 24 to 40 kph – with gusts to 40 mph – 64 kph) were pushing the R-pod all over the road.  This, in turn, was pushing the Escape in all sorts of crazy ways.  In addition, my lack of experience with trailers caused me to forgo properly loading the R-pod; I had far too little weight on the trailer’s tongue which caused the Escape to gyrate up and down like a pogo stick on steroids.  By the time I’d completed 250 miles of the 319 mile (402 km of 514 km) distance my hands were aching from my death grip on the steering wheel and continually clenching my teeth had given me a terrible headache.  More than once after a huge gust almost sent me off the road I honestly thought about pulling off the road, unhooking the R-pod and leaving it to its fate.  Since this really wasn’t an option all me and the kidz could do was soldier on.

We finally made the outskirts of Calgary around 15:45 and I realized the Comfort Inn at which I’d made reservations the previous night was almost right downtown.  A gnawing fear surfaced within my mind; such a location was most unlikely to accept dogs yet I’d included the fact I had two canine companions when I made the reservation on-line.  However, it was too late at that point so I followed my Garmin GPS.  We were driving on a main thoroughfare (Macleod Trail SE) with three lanes to a side; the traffic was heavy as it was rush hour.  I saw portable signs warning of road construction starting that day but really had no other options.  We drove onward and as I approached my destination I gingerly worked over into the left lane as the Garmin indicated a left turn to the property.  Suddenly the left lane just stopped and the center lane slowed quite a bit.  I had no clue but thought maybe an accident..?  I started looking to transition to the center lane but no one was going to let me in; typical of city drivers pissed off by traffic congestion.  I’d driven in such nonsense while living in Chicago and to be honest I couldn’t blame the other drivers for not wanting this trailer in front of them ‘cause they couldn’t see over or around it.

We inched forward and I suddenly saw the reason for the problem; the damned construction had just closed the left lane with no advanced warning!  To say I was livid was a grotesque understatement!!  I must’ve sat at the barrier for five minutes before I finally pushed my way into the center lane and crawled along with the remainder of the traffic.  But it wasn’t finished yet; in maybe 0.5 miles (0.8 km) the construction had closed the center lane, again with no advanced warning!  I was apoplectic with rage; good thing the Escape’s steering wheel is thickly padded!  I once again had to fight my way into the left lane and continue into Calgary.  All told I needed almost 50 minutes to travel 1.5 miles (2.4 km) in the horrible congestion and miasma of irritated drivers.  I finally could see the Comfort Inn in the distance but I had no idea the ‘fun’ was just beginning…

At this point I must say my Garmin Nuvi 2957 GPS had performed flawlessly and did so for the remainder of my trip; however, it did fail me just once and it was in downtown Calgary.  The GPS told me to make a left turn onto 63rd Avenue and pull into the Comfort Inn parking lot.  I could see the left turn but it appeared to turn into a very small strip mall adjacent the motel.  I assumed the mall access street connected to the drive through entrance of the Comfort Inn and made the left turn across Macleod Trail SE and then a right turn onto the small street in front of the stores.  The final right was a tight one and the R-pod just cleared a parked car; it was then I realized this road did not go through to the Comfort Inn!  I had no experience backing the R-pod and while I knew intellectually how to back up a trailer – ya basically have to do the opposite of what you would do if just driving a vehicle – I’d had no practice.  I thought I saw this ‘street’ turn to the left at the end of the parking lot so I proceeded forward and turned…and then panicked as I realized I’d just turned into a dead end alley!

I needed maybe a minute to calm down and assess the situation; the alley was maybe one and a half car widths wide.  To my right was a concrete wall maybe seven feet high topped with a cyclone fence.  To the left were the rear portions of many buildings; it appeared as though the alley might once have continued but it was barricaded with another concrete wall and a large dumpster was now occupying the alley.  I once again freaked out as I was sure I was completely stuck with no way out.  For what seemed like a lifetime I just sat there wondering what the Hell I was going to do.  Then ole reality took hold and I knew if I was going to extricate myself from this dilemma I had to do it.  I noticed to my left was a place for delivery trucks to probably back in to make deliveries as a small dock was visible.  Now when I say delivery trucks I mean the types that do small deliveries within cities, not semis.  A plan began to form and I acted upon it.  I backed up just a bit, cut the wheel hard left and slowly pulled the Escape as far into the dock area as I could.  I almost managed to get the R-pod in line with the Escape; I exited the vehicle and walked around to the rear.  I had maybe four feet of clearance between the rear of the R-pod and said concrete wall.  I jumped back into the Escape, set the steering wheel and slowly backed up until I was almost touching the wall.  Then I cut the steering wheel hard left and pulled forward to the dock.  I then backed up slowly until I was almost touching the wall which caused the R-pod to slowly angle its rear end to the right.  I continued this slow, laborious ‘dance’ until I could just barely clear the dock with the front end of the Escape.  This allowed me to timidly pull back into the alleyway with the R-pod just clearing the dock.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief, adjusted my seat and slowly drove forward.  As I passed a stairwell I noticed two gentlemen sitting on the steps; they applauded as I drove by.

I managed to get the R-pod back onto Macleod Trail SE for just another block and then maneuver the R-pod into the Comfort Inn parking lot.  As I looked at the high rise structure I was sure such a motel would not take pets.  However, I also felt like I’d endured enough for one day so maybe I’d get a break.  HAH, Mr. Murphy must have been rolling on the ground laughing at this point!  Sure enough, I checked at the desk and discovered they didn’t allow pets.  I briefly considered leaving the R-pod where it was, confining the kidz to it and taking the room.  But they’d been such great troopers and so willing to endure the cramped confines of the Escape for weeks on end I just couldn’t do it to them.   In addition, I couldn’t be sure they might not awaken at night and vent their dissatisfaction through howling.  The desk clerk was very kind in canceling my reservation without charge and calling another motel (South Calgary Travel Lodge) maybe 2 miles back the way I came – I remembered seeing the facility – to see if they would accept pets and had an opening.  Thankfully, they were ‘yes’ on both queries so I headed out to the parking lot and once again pulled the R-pod onto Macleod Trail SE but was now heading south.  I needed another half hour to make the motel; I was never so pleased to haul all our gear into the room and just collapse on the bed after feeding and watering the kidz.  I was almost undergoing a mental meltdown and I wasn’t sure I could take much more.

During the drive into Calgary I had noted my mileage was down to 10.2 mpg (16.4 kpg) and this had added to my stress.  The Escape has only an 18 gallon (68 liter) gas tank which meant even with a full tank my range would be 184 miles (296 km).  I knew there were two stretches of The Alaskan Highway where services were more than 220 miles (354 km) apart.  Sure, I had some Jerry cans and could fill them but even with both 2.5 gallon (9.5 liter) filled I’d only add another 51 miles (82 km) to my range and that might not be enough.  The weather had turned much cooler in Alberta with that damned wind continuing along with cold rain; I tried to imagine myself standing on the side of The Alaska Highway with Jerry cans in hand trying to hitch a ride in such conditions or worse.  I felt like my world was coming to an end and once again I thought about just finding a parking lot, unhooking the R-pod and beating feet back to Talkeetna.  I wasn’t even sure I could face another day of driving like I had just finished.  But, once again, mean ole ‘Mr. Reality’ took over and I had to try to figure out my next steps.  I knew I could purchase larger Jerry cans for fuel.  A couple of friends diagnosed some of the day’s handling issues to improper weight distribution in the R-pod and suggested more weight in the nose of the trailer.  I decided to do this so before shutting down for the evening I took the kidz out and then moved the portable generator to the very front of the R-pod and bungee corded the two filled 2.5 gallon (9.5 liter) Jerry cans to the generator.  I then called it quits on ‘the day from Hell’ and fell into an uneasy sleep.

I awoke to wind and cold rain and really considered staying another night in hopes the weather conditions would improve.  When I started this trip I had intended to spend time in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper national parks on my way back to Talkeetna but that was before the reality of this situation was driven home.  In addition, I checked the weather in the parks and they were seeing snow above 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) so that nixed any thought of visiting them.  I therefore checked my mapping software and decided a bedroom community of Edmonton (AB) – Leduc – would be my destination.  While only 166 miles (267 km) distant after the previous day that sounded like more than enough driving so we loaded up and headed out for Leduc.  Within 20 miles (32 km) of Calgary the rain began to transition to sleet and finally wet snow.  My decision not to try for the national parks was vindicated as I worked to keep both the Escape and the R-pod on the road.  The winds were still there but at much lower speed and were more of a tail wind than cross-winds.  Shifting the weight to the nose of the R-pod dramatically improved both the ride of the Escape and the handling of the R-pod.  After an additional 70 miles (113 km) we drove out of the snow and the road conditions also improved.  I also began to learn that if I kept my speed between 52 mph and 58 mph (84 kph and 93 kph) I saw my mileage increase to 12.1 mpg (19.5 kpg).  At this rate I could safely traverse those long distances on The Alaska Highway with just an additional maybe 10 gallons (38 liters) of gas.  I decided maybe the future was looking up.

We made Leduc early in the afternoon but were allowed to get into our room.  As it was just 13:50 I did exercise the kidz, fed them and gave them water and then we drove into the area to seek out gas cans.  I was unable to locate a source but I also knew we’d be driving past Red Deer (AB) the next morning and thanks to spending five days in the town during the trip down I knew right where a Walmart was located.  We went back to the motel room and called it an early night.

Friday dawned clear and cool with almost no wind and I was pleased!  We managed an early start and by late morning I was gingerly navigating the Red Deer Walmart parking lot looking for an out of the way place to park.  I did manage to find two additional five gallon Jerry cans which I purchased.  We then found a cheap gas station – cheap is relative in Canada! – and I filled both and bungee corded them in the nose of the R-pod as well.  This improved the ride even more.  Our destination was Fox Creek (AB) which was again a short throw of just 183 miles (295 km) but was predicated on the fact the next place with lodging would’ve added another 80 miles (129 km) and I just wasn’t ready to try that especially given we lost almost two hours in Red Deer.  It was on this leg I made an important discovery; I found I should drive using the tachometer rather than the speedometer.  By keeping the tach below 3,500 rpm I was maintaining around 55 mph (89 kph) and I saw my gas mileage improve to 13.3 mpg (21.4 kpg).  I was now confidant I could tackle those lengthy expanses almost void of services on The Alaska Highway with ease.  The weather was dry and sunny in Fox Creek and made for a great afternoon.  There was a large field in back of the Super 8 where we stayed and I ran and played with the kidz for almost half an hour.  Then we drove to a small local park where we did a bit of trail walking.  We finally returned to the room and enjoyed a restful evening and night.

At this point I’m going to stop as this is already too long (3,122 words, if interested…) and there’s still quite a bit of this ‘odyssey’ left to share.  I will tease you a bit by saying the next leg took us onto the fabled ‘Alaska Highway’ where we had some good times, and a few not so good, while traversing 1,257 miles of this road.  The scenery was, as expected, majestic and with light traffic and my slowly increasing learnings regarding the R-pod for the first time since I starting towing the trailer I was sure we’d make it back to Talkeetna.  Stay tuned for ‘Part Three’; I’ll leave you with a couple of images from this portion of ‘The R-pod Odyssey’:

Snow North of Calgary

Snow and Sleet North of Calgary

Escape-R-pod-Qanuk

Qanuk Standing in Front of the R-pod & Escape at the Leduc Super 8 Motel