We have really appreciated the beautiful places that we have visited. After making our goal of arriving at the Arctic Ocean, our travel back south has been slow and relaxing. One nice thing about backtracking on a road that you have previously traveled is that you have a better idea about where you would like to spend time. We spent several days at a few camp sites that were particularly nice. There also were a few stretches of road that were particularly scenic and we enjoyed driving them at night when the arctic sun was low on the horizon and producing a beautiful evening glow.
There was a huge variety of road conditions. In some places, the road conditions are quite poor: lots of pot holes, washboard, and deep gravel. But there are some places, like specifically in the Northwest Territories, where the road conditions are exceptionally nice and highway speed on the gravel surface is very comfortable to drive in our truck.
We’ve had the pleasure of meeting several other expedition truck couples like us. It’s nice to share experiences and vehicle build details with like minded people.
Our blog is a good bit behind our travels as we have had almost no internet connection for weeks. We are trying to catch up a bit while we can. We were one of the first vehicles of the season to cross the Peel River heading north towards the Arctic Ocean along the Dempster Highway. When we got to the river, the cable barge was not set up for the season. We camped on the road leading up to the south river bank for about 36 hours waiting for the cable to be strung for the barge. As a result, we were able to cross the river on June 2nd.
When we reached the Arctic Ocean on June 3rd, the ocean was still frozen all the way to the coast, so it was tundra right up to a gravely coast and then ice as far as we could see. It was cold and windy, but oddly not as cold and windy as our home in California often is in the winter.
In total, it took us 24 days to go from California to the Arctic Ocean; we stayed in designated campgrounds only 3 of the 24 nights. We reached the arctic coast at Tuktoyaktuk, a small Inuvialuit Northwest Territories town, and we were some of the first visitors to Tuktoyaktuk this summer. Historically, you could only reach Tuktoyaktuk via an ice road only in the winter, but the road we took from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk has only been open since November 2017, so
having visitors in the summer is very new to this small community.
We crossed over the Arctic Circle 5 days before arriving in Tuktoyaktuk and the scenery changed pretty quickly after that. We have seen quite a bit of wildlife and the views have been all we had hoped for and more. We spent an afternoon with some cool Dall sheep in the middle of nowhere, just us.
We are super impressed with the solar charging system on the truck. We basically use as much power as we want and it’s always been fully recharged by breakfast in the morning. We’ve met a number of travelers from different countries and they have been super nice. It’s a neat transient communal feel as we have bumped into people multiple times along the way. One couple had a truck much bigger than ours.
Multiple times along the way, we have remarked that we are happy with everything we did with selecting and preparing the truck. It feels really secure having a bigger vehicle up here and we are thankful for all the little details that we did during preparation. It’s a good vehicle for the environment, and it is super cozy.
We’ve learned over the years that when running all terrain or mud terrain style tires on our other vehicles that frequent tire rotations really extend tire life. Although more aggressive tread has awesome performance on unpaved roads, they always seem to wear a little odd when driven on pavement. As the miles added up on our trip, we started looking for a good opportunity to rotate the tires on the truck and get the spare tire into the rotation.
After some consideration, the best opportunity presented itself the day after we crossed the Artic Circle along the Dempster Highway. We found a reasonably level gravel pit with nice firm soil. As an added bonus, the shape of the gravel pit protected us from the gusty Arctic wind.
We were really pleased with how well the chain hoist and rear tire mount worked. We also found that we had done well in provisioning for tire / wheel work. The entire rotation took less than 2 hours and then we used our on-board air system to balance all the tire pressures.
One thing that we have learned on our trip is that everyone has different experiences on a road depending on weather. One vehicle may make it through an area easily and totally clean, while another vehicle may get a day of bad weather on the same stretch of road and subsequently end up in pretty muddy conditions. Our first day on the Dempster was pretty wet and muddy. As a consequence, we had to bucket wash and scrape a lot of mud off the wheels in order to complete the tire rotation.
Overall everything went smoothly and it’s nice to have inspected everything and be treating the tread the best we can.
Our habitat sure is cozy. We are really appreciating the insulation of the walls and windows as we enter the Arctic. While we are up and about doing things, we are pretty comfortable even with a window cracked open. We have been finding that we only run our little Planar heater in the evening and when we first wake up in the morning. It’s really nice to reach up from bed and turn the heater on to let it warm the habitat while we wake up.
Fuel availability has been adequate on the trip, but it does require a little bit of planning. We prefer to not fuel up all of our supply from one location in the event that they have contaminated fuel, so we’ve been pretty conservative in not letting the tank get too low. That occasionally means boosting our main tank with a jerry can of diesel between fill ups. It’s been working really well and we always have significant margin on range with what we have in the tank. We have also started the habit of adding a lubricating cetane booster diesel additive every other fill up. We can audibly tell that the engine likes it. It doesn’t improve mileage, but we can tell the engine runs smoother with a little more cetane added.
On the trip it has been interesting that there are long expanses with no wildlife and then we’ll come through an area and encounter a lot of wildlife in a short amount of time. We have definitely been enjoying spotting bears, moose, sheep, bison, and elk. It’s impressive how the miles slip by while we are looking for wildlife along the way.
The weather has been really exceptional and there have been very little mosquitoes. There have been some really nice afternoon rains. They make everything look fresh and rinsed and produce some seriously amazing rainbows.
As we crossed the Arctic Circle it was pretty cool to see the sun staying up all night. There is beautiful golden sunlight from about 8pm to 8am. Having it be light all night makes us really appreciate the built-in light blocking blinds in our windows.
For years, every time we saw a photo of a pretty place or someone recommended a location, we put a pin on a Google map. Over time, that map got pretty big and was peppered with pins. As coordinating our trip grew closer, we also started extensively using iOverlander.com to find wild camp spots on public land and interesting back country points of interest. Our Google map really started to become the basis for our travel plans, but it was only accessible with internet access.
We found a nice GPS based, free app for our GPS enabled iPad that would show our GPS location on downloaded maps called Maps.me. The really sweet breakthrough was when we exported our Google map pins and imported the file into Maps.me. What we have now is an iPad that has all of our pins with their text descriptions overlaid on a road map with our GPS location. We have found it to be an awesome way of navigating to our specific points of interest way off the beaten path with no cell coverage.
We have been finding some great camp spots as a result and we have been avoiding organized campgrounds. One benefit of several of the wild camping locations have been beautiful, crystal clear snow melt streams that we use to top off our water supply. The jerry cans for our drinking water have worked really well and we are glad we went that route over an installed RV water tank. We are also really happy that we spent the money on the Seagull filter that allows us to purify stream water without worry of pathogens.
We have been putting a lot of miles on the truck now and it has been doing well. As we have headed north, the pavement has ended and we are now on dirt / gravel / mud tracks as we head toward the Arctic Circle on the Dempster highway in the Yukon. Road conditions seem decent but very weather dependent. A little rain on the road quickly makes a mess of the truck. As the roads have gotten rougher, we have discovered that it is really helpful to cover the jerry can and fuel tank caps with plastic bags and rubber bands. It saves a lot of time while fueling and keeps the whole fueling area dirt / mud free.
Speaking of mud and dust, our shower double functioning as an entry mud room has been working really well for us. It’s nice to have an area to come into the habitat and take off our shoes without tracking dust and mud into the habitat. It’s easy to just sweep up or wipe up the shower pan to get rid of all the grime later. It’s really helped keep the interior of the habitat clean and taking off our shoes has become normal practice.
We are really enjoying the change in scenery as we work our way north. We always thought that the boreal forests that we saw in Alaska were cool, and we’ve enjoyed watching British Columbia slowly transition to a sub-arctic climate.
The further north we go, the more wildlife we are starting to see. We are really getting used to driving the truck now, and it feels smaller on the road every day. It’s a shock to get out and realize it’s still big. Seriously, though, it is feeling pretty routine to drive, maneuver around fuel stations, and pull off on the shoulder for wildlife viewing.
We’ve had some pretty cool firsts: we put the truck on a ferry and it was super sweet. $19 to save us 4 hours of driving is not too bad! We also had a good border crossing into British Columbia. We had everything in order so it went very smoothly. Mostly, the border crossing agent wanted to know where he could get a truck like ours. He actually seemed sort of serious about it.
British Columbia is an interesting place. It almost reminds us of California in that it has a lot of variety.
The days are getting much longer, and it’s not getting fully dark at night anymore. It’s also been interesting because we have been watching the season reverse. When we left Washington state, it seemed like early summer. As we’ve driven north, it has started to seem more like early spring and now we have been passing through areas where there aren’t leaves on the deciduous trees yet.
From the beginning of our habitat design, we put a lot of thought into ventilation and air circulation topics. We generally like air that is moving and dislike stuffy environments. We also were concerned with carbon dioxide buildup from such a tightly sealed habitat. As we live in the dry Mojave desert, we had been warned by many of humidity buildup issues that we might have when visiting humid areas.
Now that we have been on the road for a few weeks, we have been able to evaluate our build and ventilation strategies. We have been in some dry and extremely humid environments. In fact, as we are writing this, we are in a temperate rain forest listening to rain on the habitat.
One of the first things that we have noticed is that for some reason, we are comfortable in a much wider temperature range in the habitat than we are typically comfortable with at home. We have an indoor/outdoor digital thermometer on a cabinet in the habitat, and we find it really convenient for paying attention to the thermal environment.
We have also found that we have our small Sirocco II circulation overbed fan running basically all the time. It is quiet, hardly uses any power, and really keep the air moving. The fan helps evenly warm up the habitat when running our Planar 2D diesel heater, it promotes good air transfer when sleeping with the overbed windows slightly open at night (we always have at least 2 windows slightly open while sleeping), and it helps cool down and ventilate the habitat while cooking with the windows open.
On the topic of cooking with the windows open, we have found that it is nice having the large window directly behind the stove and counter open while using the alcohol stove. We have been really pleased with how the stove works, but it is nice (and important) to have good ventilation while running it.
We have been surprised at how little we have had to use our heater. Even with the windows cracked at night (by the way, the fine screens on our EuroVision windows have been doing an excelling job at keeping even small insects out), just our body heat and the small amount of waste heat from the refrigerator is enough to keep the habitat 25-30 degrees F above outside air temperature. If it is a little chilly in the morning, we just run the heater for a few minutes to encourage us to get out of bed.
We have also been using the heater to help with humidity. After showers or coming in with wet clothes after a hike, we have found that it is nice to heat the habitat up pretty well with the heater to help evaporate all of the water and then we run our Fantastic vent fan to blow all the hot, humid air out. So far everything has been quite dry. To date, the only humidity issue we have had was related to the insulating plug that we made for the Fantastic Vent. The top surface of the plug seems to get damp if we leave it installed for a few days, so we have stopped storing it in the fan opening and we only put it in place when we want to block out light.
Overall the truck is running really well. With all the work and upgrades that we had done, we had assumed that some issues might crop up early in our trip. We planned the beginning of our route to cross paths with several of our friends in case we needed a helping hand, but everything has been working nicely.
We have had a handful of maintenance items that we have done over the first few weeks.
Tighten alternator belt (the tachometer had been periodically bouncing)
Tighten fan belt (there was a periodic squeak at high RPM or rapid RPM change)
Check clutch drain plug (no oil from rear engine seal)
Fix transmission leak (improved seal on forward/reverse shaft linkage)
Checked power steering filter
Fuel additive (started adding lube + Cetane boost every few tanks)
We have also been carefully tracking our fuel consumption. There is a slight variability from fuel we burn using our habitat heater and engine pre-heater, but we are averaging 10.5 mpg regardless of what kind of driving we have been doing. We have done long highway stretches at 60 mph and quite a few long dirt tracks averaging 20-30 mph. Our fuel consumption seems surprisingly steady regardless of driving type.
Well, we’ve started heading north. Things are going well so far, and we are really enjoying the truck. We are starting to fall into a daily routine and are figuring out all the finer nuances of living in a small space, driving a big vehicle, and navigating back roads.