In total we spent 19 nights above the arctic circle. It sure was super cool. The Alaskan arctic is pretty different than the Canadian arctic, and we are glad we got to see both. We had bumped into several people before we drove the Dalton that said that driving the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay “wasn’t worth the trouble,” and at this point we are just completely confused as to what they were talking about. It was a beautiful area and totally worth driving the rough road to see. Maybe in a lesser vehicle it wouldn’t have been any fun, but the truck handled it great and we were super comfortable. We guess that’s why we have the truck, anyway. We had also heard horror stories about how aggressive some of the freight truck drivers were, but we found them to be very friendly and there were fewer of them on the road than we expected. There were a lot fewer overland people on the Dalton than we expected. We saw quite a few adventure motorcycle riders, but only 2 other expedition rigs. The Dempster Highway had many times more overland people.
We are still continuing to find great camp spots on public land tucked away in the wilderness. We still haven’t found the need to stay in any campgrounds, but there aren’t really any campgrounds up here anyway. The wildlife has been pretty great recently. We were walking along a river bank right near the truck one evening, and looked over into the bushes to catch a glimpse of a large wolf watching us from nearby. It vanished into the undergrowth as soon as we turned toward it, but it was pretty cool. After dinner, we sat in the truck looking outside hoping to see a wolf again, and we spotted a very large grizzly on the opposite side of the river eating berries (we have found and eaten both wild raspberries and wild strawberries ourselves). We ended up listening to an audio book and watching the bear from afar for about an hour.
We also spotted several large herds of musk ox on the tundra north of the Brooks Range. We had previously been able to see to 2 older males, but we were able to view a group of about 30 that were resting on an island on a river. They were super chill and we enjoyed several hours of just sitting and watching them from nearby. It was neat to get to watch them do their thing (sleep, mostly). 🙂
The Brooks Range is a really beautiful place. We especially liked the area that is about 120 miles north of the arctic circle (along the highway) just north of the Atigun pass. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been. Sheer rocky mountains covered in moss and tundra. Not bad.
Other than just being chronically covered in mud these days, the truck is running really well. We seem to have daily little mechanical maintenance items (tightening bolts, resoldering some wiring for the turn indicator, chasing a gear box leak), but it’s all going well.
Note: Well, because of limited internet in remote places, it looks like our blog is going to be a good bit behind our travels for the foreseeable future.
At this point in our trip, we had made it to the arctic ocean in both Canada and Alaska via the only two roads in North America that cross the Arctic Circle. It’s pretty cool to have gotten up this far north. It’s quite a neat environment. The Canadian and Alaskan arctic environments have some similarities but they have quite a few differences, too. Yvonne really wanted to see some caribou and musk ox, and we were able to spend time with several of both. The Brooks mountain range was really impressive and a lot prettier than we expected.
The weather was quite nice on our drive north. The daily highs varied between the 50s-60s during the day and the lows hovered around the mid 40s at night. It was bright and sunny, cloudy, foggy, rainy, and everything in between. A lot of the time it was vert windy. The winds are actually way nicer than no wind. As soon as the wind drops down, about a million mosquitoes converge on you. With higher winds, it is quite nice to walk around outside.
The road conditions along the Dalton Highway are pretty much what we expected. Nothing too terrible, but generally fairly rough and lots of mud. At this point we’ve done over 2,000 miles on dirt/mud roads and the truck is starting to show it.
We did spend a few hours working on some German tourist’s van in the middle of nowhere between the Brooks Range and the Arctic Ocean. The sidewall of their passenger rear tire got split by a rock. All ended well, but we were all soaking wet, muddy, and cold by the end of the tire change. It took about 2 hours and we used a bunch of our tools including the onboard compressed air system on the truck. For a variety of reasons, we had to cut their spare tire mount system off with a hacksaw. Once the tire change was complete, their van wouldn’t start. After some troubleshooting, we discovered that their battery terminals had been shaken loose by the rough road. This place is pretty hard on vehicles; we’ve had to help 3 different vehicles so far on the arctic roads.
The truck is still very comfortable and doing well. We’ve had numerous little fixes and fluid leaks, but we are still feeling confident. We are starting to plan our route south and we think we are going to pretty much be on our original schedule. It’s still light 24 hours a day up here, so we are hoping that we might be able to catch some aurora in a month or so when we are further south.
We have been enjoying exploring central Alaska. We have been noting that a lot of our camp spots have really required high ground clearance lately. It’s pretty impressive what kind of road conditions the Mog can handle. Some of the roads we have been on are more like rocky streams than roads.
With several fires burning in Alaska, we decided to slow down a bit and relax near the Susitna River where there was almost no smoke in the area. It was nice to just sit for almost a week and relax. With the weather so nice, we were able to roll out the awning and spend some time reading with the sound of the river. We also got in some pretty sweet rock skipping practice as the river bank had some great flat skipping stones.
It is interesting on the trip how we see lots of wildlife for a few days and then go a few weeks without seeing much. We did have a bit of a treat while camped along the Montana Creek. After we had been there for a few hours, we realized that the creek was completely full of giant red salmon. Some of them were easily in excess of 2 feet long. It’s easy to miss them, but once you see them, the water was just full of them. Thankfully, there were no bears feeding on them, so we spent the better part of a day trying to photograph and watch them. Our attempts at underwater salmon photography were somewhat uninspiring.
We had gone a long stretch without needing to do any truck maintenance, so we took the slow time to check on a bunch of things and make little fixes. It all went pretty well and was nice to do in a leisurely manner.
Replaced amber habitat side reflector
Replaced driver side front running light bulb
Checked oil levels in all portal hubs
Changed engine oil and replaced oil filter
Replaced windshield wiper blades
Resoldered electrical spades on flasher control box
Rerouted forward portal hub vents
Resecured bikes on roof
Removed and stowed cab tip pivot lock pins and chains
We felt really good about reaching our goal of visiting the Arctic Ocean in Canada, and we were excited to start heading west into Alaska. Our overall plan is to head north in Alaska and visit the Arctic along the Dalton Highway. We look forward to visiting the Arctic again, but in the meantime, we have enjoyed our time in southern Alaska.
We have visited Alaska before and we had a mental list of places we wanted to visit again. It’s such beautiful scenery but it is interesting to see how much the climate has changed since we were in these same areas 8 years ago. Some of the glacier recession is really apparent. Knowing how much some of the areas are changing makes us appreciate the opportunity to see them even more.
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.