We just finished the hot water heater installation. While we were working on the water system modification, we also added the provision to winterize the water system. We made a little fitting that snaps into the jerry can quick disconnect under the sink so that compressed air can be used to blow all the water out of the system.
We ended up going with the 12V Elgena NC6-E Water Heater from Total Composites. It seems like a nice little unit, and we think it is about the right size for the intended use. It takes a little while for the water to come up to temperature, but after testing it, it seems to play nice with the solar panel system in the truck. The water heater draws around 200 Watts, so as soon as the heater kicks on, the charge controller starts charging the batteries. With 600 Watts of solar panels on the roof, the battery capacity never drops below 100% while the hot water heater is running on a sunny day. Pretty slick.
We put a quick disconnect in the shower to easily disconnect a stainless braided 5 foot long shower hose and spray head. It’s a nice length because it can reach out through the door of the habitat, so you can choose to shower indoors or outdoors. Prior to our trip, several people said that they liked to shower outside and we were a bit skeptical. However, we found that we completely preferred showering outside during our trip, so I’m not sure that we would use this setup to shower inside very often, but it’s all set up for indoor or outdoor showering with hot water now.
We’ve also been doing a lot of little things on the truck. The truck is in about the best shape it has ever been.
We are going through more of the video clips that we made along our trip. This is a timelapse of one of our camp spots in the Yukon along the Dempster Highway between Tombstone Provincial Park and the arctic circle.
Now that we have the truck all cleaned up, we have moved it back to the hangar to do a little bit of maintenance and some minor mods. Our driveway is at a terrible slant for doing some work, so it’s great to have it back in the super level hangar for a while.
The first thing on the to-do list was to change the engine oil. It’s always fun to work on this truck because everything is super accessible. I always dread changing the oil on smaller cars because you have to jack them up and crawl underneath them. Not so on our Mog! It’s great to just sit cross-legged and comfortably drain the oil and change the filter at eye level. The filter is also a super easy to service paper cartridge inside of an o-ring sealed aluminum casing. We’ve always been happy with how serviceable the truck is.
While I was at it, I serviced a few other things. I changed out a ball valve that I installed to turn off the auxiliary air system. The ball valve that I had previously installed was working fine, but I didn’t like the handle on it, so I replaced it with a much nicer valve. While I was down there I did a lot of other little things like inspect the air system and lubricate the battery box locks. I also got a good chance to inspect the chassis. Everything looks great. Overall, a good day of maintenance and the truck is happy.
Now that we are back, we are starting to go through little video clips that we shot during the trip. It’s kind of fun because we can relive little bits of the trip as we go through the files. We think we will probably post some video clips periodically in the coming weeks.
We shot this series of clips leaving an area that we really liked along the Dempster Highway in Yukon, Canada. This spot was a bit south of the arctic circle. We really liked this area for a lot of reasons. The geography was pretty interesting with big, treeless scree covered mountains that were in clouds most of the time. The lower elevations were covered in scrawny muskeg forests. We camped in the area several nights and the weather changed continuously while we were there.
A lot of the time it was gray with clouds moving quickly through the valley. We were also treated to some warmer weather, rain storms, and really amazing rainbows while we were there. This spot gave us some of the best wildlife viewing along the Dempster Highway. We saw many Dall sheep, grizzly bears, and falcons.
At this point along the Dempster, the truck was pretty covered in mud. We also drove this area pretty slowly keeping an eye out for wildlife and just enjoying our time. Other than being a generally rocky area, the road was pretty good.
Now that we are home, we spent quite a bit of time inspecting the truck and cleaning everything. It did great on the trip and shows very little wear. The bulk of the cleanup was just washing little bits of arctic mud out of the nooks and crannies of the exterior. The exterior cleaned up really nicely. We gave the whole habitat interior and cab a nice deep clean. We thoroughly wiped everything down, vacuumed, touched up paint, etc. The inside of the habitat looks almost exactly like it did when we finished it in the spring.
We were really happy with the way the Tern Overland windows handled the nasty conditions up north. They didn’t leak at all, the integrated blinds and screen were awesome, and the double thickness was super warm and cozy. We were a little bit concerned that they would get scuffed by tree branches, but it didn’t end up being as bad as we thought. They did end up with some scuffing, but this week, we tried a 3-part polishing compound that really cleaned them up. They look as good as new, so we are really happy with that.
There were a few things that we had mentally been keeping track of to work on when we got home. We cleaned, prepped, and re-painted a few areas on the undercarriage of the truck that had gotten a bit chipped by pebbles along the way (front of the fuel tank and rear fender guards). We replaced the rear muffler mount as we didn’t like how it behaved on the rougher roads; it’s much better now. We also fixed a minor clearance/rubbing spot on one of the rear fenders. Basically, the to-do list was super small considering the length of trip that we went on.
The truck is in super great shape now. Other than the hot water heater upgrade work that we are doing, the truck is ready to take on another adventure.
In the spring as we were finishing up the truck, we had some specific dates that we wanted to hit for starting our summer travels. The prime window of travel in the far north is pretty narrow, and we wanted to make sure we got there as soon as some of the river crossings opened. As our departure time approached, we had made it pretty much through our entire truck to-do list, but we decided to defer installing the hot water heater until we got back. Surprising as it might seem, we did the whole 5 month trip without a hot water heater and really didn’t miss it. We found that because we stored our water inside the habitat that it was always in the 70-75 degree F range which was quite comfortable for washing hands, face, and dishes. For showering, we would heat a specific amount of water in a kettle on our alcohol stove. We had a digital thermometer and we would heat the water to 107 degrees F. It actually worked perfectly; the water temperature was great and it really helped us ration water as we knew exactly how much we were showering with.
Now that we are back, we are finishing the hot water installation. There is a large area for the hot water heater reserved underneath the forward dinette bench behind the shower wall. From the beginning, we only planned to plumb hot water to the shower as the kitchen seemed fine with room temperature water.
Originally, we planned on installing a sailboat calorifier that would take hot coolant water from the engine and circulate it through a heat exchanger in the calorifier’s insulated tank. We liked that it would heat the water while we were driving using waste heat and that we could use our engine pre-heater to heat the water when not driving. Some of the downsides to the calorifier option is that the calorifier that we have is really larger than we would ever need; it is 5.8 gallons. Also, it has some system complexity by tying the engine coolant system to the habitat hot water system.
On the trip we were really pleased with how our solar and lithium battery combination performed. Even when the weather was cloudy for several days in a row, we used a lot of power extensively in the evening, and we had the truck in a dark ferry hold, the lowest we ever got the batteries was 88% charge state. This lead us to start thinking about using some of the battery and solar capacity to run an electric hot water heater. There are several nice, small 12-volt electric hot water heaters available now. Even at full power they only draw 200-300 watts, so with full sun on our 600 watt solar array, they wouldn’t even put a dent in the battery capacity. They are smaller, though, at only 1.5-1.6 gallons, but in a way that is nice because it would heat quickly.
So we are in comparison mode and looking at the pros and cons of the systems. Both would be great for different reasons.
Well, that sure was a great trip, and we are so glad we set aside the time to take it at the pace we wanted. It is really a long distance and it would have felt rushed any other way. We are also glad that the timing worked out as well as it did. We originally wanted to take this trip 9 years ago using our old Jeep Wrangler and our roof top tent, but it didn’t work out for many reasons. In a way we are glad that it got delayed. 9 years ago, you couldn’t drive to Tuktoyaktuk. That being said, we suspect that a lot of the places we went will become crowded in the near future. Talking to locals, it sounds like they are expecting a lot more people in the coming years and we are glad that we were only the 3rd vehicle to drive to Tuktoyaktuk this summer (and this summer was only the 2nd summer that the road to Tuktoyaktuk was open).
On top of that, climate change really is apparent up north. Some of the areas we visited this summer we had previously been to 8 years ago. It really is clear that many of the glaciers are retreating, some of the mountains have less snow on them, forests are struggling with drought/disease, and there were some pretty impressive record-breaking high temperatures this summer. The cause of the change is naturally up for debate, but there is no sense denying that it is changing. It makes us even more thankful for seeing it when we did.
The truck was a champ and it was the perfect vehicle for the trip. It was so comfortable and we were happy to call it home. Its highway speed ended up being perfect and well matched with semi-trucks. Our high ground clearance, awesome approach and departure angles, and 4WD let us safely get to places that we wouldn’t have been able to get to in another vehicle (even our Jeep Wrangler). We did use 4WD several times and diff locks to get unstuck a few times, but it was really the huge ground clearance, large tires, and awesome approach and departure angles that we relied on day after day to get to cool camp spots. For a big truck, it’s awfully small (in a good way)!
Anyway, we are thankful that we were able to take the time to go to such beautiful places. Many thanks to all that have helped us in preparation for and during our trip.
Now that we are home, we plan on changing things up a bit, so we think we will list the truck for sale shortly. It’s a great vehicle, and we will miss it, but we went on the trip we have been planning for years and it’s time for us to do some other things.
Trip at a Glance
Number of Days – 133
Total number of Canada/US border crossings – 8
Number of ferries/barges – 13
Miles on Pavement – 9,478.3
Miles on Dirt/Mud/Gravel – 2,521
Miles on Ferries – 618.7
Total Miles – 12,618
Average Fuel Cost – $3.909 USD/Gallon
Average Mileage – 10.7 miles per gallon
Average Mileage – 22 liters per 100 km
Nights above Arctic Circle – 19
Number of meals that we ate out – 2
Number of campfires that we started – 0
Number of photographs taken – >5,000
Total number of old friends we met up with – 19
Number of vehicles that we helped – 4
Number of times we used fuel from jerry cans – 17
Number of times we got stuck – 0
Number of times we almost got stuck – 2 (thankful for 4WD with diff locks!)
One of our favorite parts of the whole trip was all the wildlife that we had the opportunity to spend time with. We kept track of all the large animals that we saw along the way.
Grizzly – 6 (including 1 cub)
Black Bears – 22 (including 4 cubs)
Elk – 1
Stone Sheep – 12
Dal Sheep – 16 (including 4 babies)
Moose – 14
Bison – 43 (including 12 babies)
Beaver – 7
Bald Eagle – 14
Golden Eagle – 4
Wolf – 1
Caribou – 11
Musk Ox – 95 (including about 5 babies)
Owl – 2
Humpback Whale – 2
Gray Whale – 12
Lynx – 1
Salmon – far too many to count
We really avoided organized camping on our whole trip. Finding wild camp spots in the northern wilderness was quite easy and we consistently found beautiful places to camp with no one around for miles and miles. For the middle 4 months of our trip, we didn’t stay at a single organized campground. We really came to enjoy our privacy in wild camp spots. It was a bit of a shock to us to get back to the lower 48 and remember how densely populated everything is and how many more people there are.
This was exacerbated by the fact that we chose to drive 101/1 right along the coast to avoid traveling through the warmer areas inland. Campgrounds really aren’t our thing (we prefer fresh air to breathing other people’s campfire smoke), and we feel a little bit ridiculous in our rugged off-road truck in a campground, but it just seems to be the reality of the west coast these days. That being said, we actually ended up staying at some nice campgrounds along the Oregon and California coast.
Our driver side front wheel bearing had been making a little growling noise periodically for a while. As we headed south into California, it became obvious that we needed to do something about it. Luckily for us, Expedition Imports in Vallejo had all the parts we needed and we decided to get new front brake pads and discs while we were at it. We also picked up two new tires at Expedition Imports to replace two tires that were pretty used up from all the rough roads we have been on. The truck is in awesome shape now, and the ride home was super smooth and the truck did great.
We definitely had mixed feelings about our trip coming to an end, but we always love driving the Pacific coast, so it was a nice way to finish up our trip. As an added bonus, we were able to meet up with quite a few friends and former co-workers along the California coast in our last few days.
We are home now and it is a very interesting feeling after being out in the wilderness for so long. We definitely got used to living in a cozy, small space. Our house seems too big now, and we already miss the fresh air and wildlife.
The truck was the ideal vehicle for our trip, and the trip was everything we had hoped it would be. We really don’t think we could have gone to many of the places we went in a lesser vehicle, so we are glad that we chose a Unimog as our base vehicle.
As we were heading south through British Columbia, we wanted to spend some time on Vancouver Island. It seemed like the most efficient way of seeing Vancouver Island was to catch a ferry from the central coast of British Columbia at Prince Rupert to the northern end of Vancouver Island at Port Hardy. We also liked this change to our route because we wouldn’t have to retrace our steps down the Alcan in central British Columbia. As it was, the 18-hour ferry trip along the inside passage was really pretty. We saw several humpback whales and really enjoyed seeing the British Columbia coast from a different vantage.
Once on Vancouver Island, we met up with Andreas and Katie from Total Composites and enjoyed several days of them showing us their favorite camp spots. It was nice to slow down a bit and enjoy the Vancouver Island coast. Another customer of Total Composites joined us and it was neat to check out their large Mercedes 1824 expo truck that is in work.
The ferries on our trip have really been great. We were surprised to count the number of times we have been on ferries and river barges on the trip; in total we have been on 13 ferries/barges. It’s really a great way of getting around, crossing rivers, and sometimes getting a break from driving.
On our way north, we passed through the Olympic Peninsula quickly, so we were happy to spend almost a week checking out all the green forests, forestry roads, and coastline as we were on our way back home. It’s really one of the prettier areas of our trip, but definitely more populated than we had grown accustomed to.
After hurrying through Skagway to avoid weather, we needed to slow down a bit. However, the weather front really did hit Yukon and northern British Columbia right when we got there. We had two nights of ridiculous wind from the north followed by a morning of driving through 100 miles of snow. It was pretty great and made a really awesome, crisp, frosted look to the landscape. However, we decided it was best to keep moving south as we had some ferry plans leaving mainland British Columbia that we wanted to maintain and we wanted to avoid a weather delay.
Wild camping in central British Columbia has proven to be a challenge both on our way north and then again on the way south. As always, we try to avoid organized campgrounds, but for some reason in central British Columbia, we sometimes had to drive pretty far to find good wild camp spots. That being said, the landscape really was pretty with the dusting of snow. The western route along Highway 37 is way more scenic than the Alcan. All that being said, one of our prettiest camp spots of the trip was camping on a mining road above the Salmon Glacier in British Columbia near the Alaskan border. The glacier is beautiful and it was neat to be repeatedly engulfed in clouds. Cool camp spot.
We were told by numerous people that there was a neat place to watch bears fishing for salmon in the Hyder, Alaska, area. It’s a little ranger station run by the US Forest Service. We usually try to avoid organized things like that, but it was really cool to see a grizzly bear fishing from the safety of their boardwalk. In general, throughout the trip, we have been amazed at the number of salmon visible in just about every stream.