Living in Alaska – Life in the Last Frontier » A Fork in the Road

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traveling to Alaska, the 49th State

A Visit To Alaska

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Living in Alaska – Life in the Last Frontier » A Fork in the Road

was written by Susan Stevenson , 2018-01-04 06:01:53

be sure to visit their website, source link is at the end of the article

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.

“Which road do I take?”, she asked.

“Where do you want to go?”, was his response.

“I don’t know”, Alice answered.

“Then”, said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.” ~ Lewis Carroll

It is Christmas day, and I am sitting in the living room with Steve, watching television. We had leftover roast for dinner – a feast I prepared last night for Christmas Eve. It’s always so delicious the second day, after the vegetables spend the night marinating in the au jus.

We ate early today – a little after 2pm. We tend to eat much earlier in the winter – no doubt because of the very short days. We often lose track of time, and now that Steve is retired, we have even less of a reason to pay attention to the clock. Needless to say, when the sun starts moving down to the horizon at 1pm, my brain and body convinces me that the dinner hour is nearing.

I find myself dozing off between 7-8pm. Sometimes it’s even earlier. A few hours later, Steve will rouse me from the sofa, and guide me up to bed. Only 3-4 hours after that (usually around the 2am hour), I find myself awake again, and ready to face another day. As always, winter is the season of messed up sleep patterns. Sometimes I’m happy for this schedule, as I get to see beautiful aurora displays like those I saw at 2am in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve.


“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” ~ Lewis Carroll

I have been composing this journal entry in my head for months. (I wonder when I will finally publish it?) It has only been a matter of months since I began thinking about change, and life, and goals, and most of all, family. Sure, I’ve written about how much I miss my family many times throughout the last nearly 15 (!) years that Steve and I have lived here in Alaska. After my granddaughter Juliet was born (July 2016), I started thinking a lot more deeply about family, and opportunities for family time. Then, later last year, Steve started having problems with anxiety and was having a difficult time adjusting to full-time retirement.

We spent the next few months planning our summer roadtrip to the Lower 48. We were so excited about picking up our new travel trailer – the first step in our loosely-constructed retirement plan. We were also thrilled about seeing family and friends, camping in our new RV, and visiting as many National Parks as we could while we were down there exploring.

Planning for such a long excursion takes time and organization. Organization is my strong suit. The first thing I did was buy a notebook. I left it out on the coffee table or kitchen counter – jotting thoughts and plans in it as they came into my head. Writing things down is mandatory for me. And I must admit I have a love of list-making (and crossing things off of it).

I stressed myself out unmercifully in the months leading up to our departure. By the time we were within two weeks of hitting the road, I was having panic attacks and feeling anxious. I was also having nightmares about Steve towing the new RV, driving in the mountains, something happening to our house while we were gone, and a mixed up list of weird stuff. The closer we got to departure, the more tense things were. (As always, as soon as we pulled away from the house, a lot of the anxiety abated)

I’ll be honest with you – the trip had its share of anxiety, stress, small and large misunderstandings, and some tense breakdowns in communication. But are any vacations perfect? Especially long excursions? With that being said, the trip was also full of family, and friends, and love, and beautiful scenery, and a really beautiful travel trailer that we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know. We also shared a lot of laughs and made wonderful memories. But we also learned a lot. Which is exactly what we had to do if we are going to embrace this RV lifestyle as more than just the occasional camping trip.

When we were first married, and having those “what do you want to do when we retire?” conversations, we always talked about buying an RV and seeing the country. Making the decision to sell our old camper and purchase a new – more comfortable and modern – camper was a no-brainer for us. This was step one in our *retirement plan*. The three month trip around the country last summer was step two. We had to make sure we could really do this for longer than the usual camping getaway.

As I wrote earlier, it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. There were glitches. There were stressful issues we needed to deal with (like tags and licensing long distance, trying to find a campsite over July 4th weekend, and getting Steve a refill on his medication while on the road). There were personality conflicts too. Two people living in less than 350sf isn’t the easiest.  But it’s hardest in the beginning, when you’re still trying to find a place for your stuff, while figuring out the personal space too. (Which recliner do you want? Do you have a preference for where you sit at the table? Which side of the closet is yours?)

We were also dealing with health issues along the way, so the stress levels were even higher than usual. (Steve was having a hard time adjusting to some of his newest meds, and was experiencing some unpleasant side affects, and I was having problems with altitude sickness and overexertion in CO, with my asthma condition making things even worse). When we were not having a good day, I honestly wondered if this extended RVing thing was right for us.  I’m sure Steve had the same worries. When we returned to Alaska, we both had our medical care fine-tuned, and I’m happy to report that we’re both feeling much better now.

We both relaxed once we were home. We were both so happy to see our house and our yard and our beautiful trees. Things were lush and green, and our lawn maintenance guy had our lawn looking beautiful. And we could spread out again.

Autumn crept in. And the temperature dropped. And the leaves fell. And the light disappeared. And it was time to get the house ready for another winter: scheduling boiler tune-ups, checking weather stripping and caulking, and raking leaves.

I flew to WI in November for several weeks. I was with my family for Thanksgiving, which was such a joy! I wished that Steve could be there with me, and was so thankful that friends invited him to have Thanksgiving dinner with them. At least he wasn’t alone.

I had several worrisome phone calls from Steve while I was in WI. He sounded so depressed. The darkness was really getting to him. He was pretty much a shut-in, as he didn’t want to go out and do anything. He had several anxiety attacks while I was gone.

In the meantime, it was 64F in Reedsburg WI on Thanksgiving Day. The sun was shining brightly, and Brandon had the windows open in the house to cool things down. Becky worked hard in the kitchen, preparing a feast for us. Although the winter days are short in WI too, they are not a brief 6 hours. Later that evening, while talking to Steve on the phone, we came to the decision that it was time to leave Alaska. Possibly for good.

The original plan was to give snowbirding a try, come back to AK in March or April, and then decide if we were going to make snowbirding a lifestyle, or leave AK altogether. But I have been so stressed out about finding someone to watch our house while we’re gone.

Leaving a house alone through the winter is risky – not only weather wise, but also security wise. So, at the very least, we would need a house sitter who would preferably be willing to stay here most of the time – if not all of the time. I don’t know if I could travel all over the country if I was worried about our house way up here in AK – especially in the winter.

And then there’s the expense. Even if we’re not living here, we still have to pay the mortgage and utilities. This is not conducive to a stress-free life.

When I first came to terms with leaving Alaska (several days before Steve was fully on board), I was really sad. Alaska has been our home for 15 years (this June). Fifteen years spent in one of the most beautiful states in our country. What a blessing this has been for us! What an opportunity we were given! Now, although I still feel sad about leaving, I have been instead focusing on all the amazing things that Steve and I have seen and done and experienced over the last 15 years. And I am hopeful and excited about the amazing things that Steve and I will see and do and experience all over the rest of our country (and our second favorite country: Canada).

Making this decision is so hard for so many reasons, but we also believe that it’s the right decision for us right now. That’s about as sure as we can be at the moment.

The new tentative timeline is to talk to a realtor in the early spring. If we decide this is really it, we will need to list as soon as we can, as most people want to be settled before school starts (mid August). We don’t plan to leave AK until September, as we want to enjoy the summer here, but depending on what happens with our house, that could change.

Which leads to downsizing. Serious downsizing. Forever downsizing.

Being a military family kept us in check, for the most part, when it came to accumulating lots of stuff. With weight limits placed on every military move, we knew we’d be paying dearly if we went over. The army moved us every three years. This is the best way to stay on top of clutter and unnecessary stuff. But we haven’t been packed up and moved since 2003. We have stuff.

So we have been de-cluttering. We have been purging. I plan to start selling and donating and giving away. I only want to move mementos, personal effects (clothing, etc), and a few choice pieces of furniture (antiques).

I think the most difficult thing for me has been evaluating belongings as to whether they are really needed. But since Steve and I finally came to the same conclusion that we should move, I have found it much easier to stand in the middle of a room and look at my surroundings objectively. Mostly I ask myself “Is it worth paying the transportation cost to get that to a storage unit in the Lower 48?” Because that’s what it’s going to be – a storage unit. Which we will pay for every month until a) we decide to settle or b) we give it away or donate it because we realize we don’t need it after all.

Eventually, we’ll settle down somewhere in a stick-built home. As older folks, we don’t expect we’ll be able to spend the rest of our days in an RV.  I’d like that to be as close to my kids and grandchildren as possible. Chris and Kimmie are due Feb 6th, and we just found out that Brandon and Becky are due with baby 2 at the end of April! Even if we put down roots in another cold location (like WI), we can still snowbird as we originally planned to do from Alaska. At least we’ll be a lot closer to the rest of the country.

But right now, we are entertaining the thought of being full-timers, instead of just snowbirders. If our house sells, we are thinking we might just enjoy being mortgage free for awhile, and live in our camper for a year or more. Which takes us back to the conversation about two adults living in less than 350sf!

If any of my readers full-time or snowbird, I am totally open to any advice, info, etc! Email me at   [email protected]

So this is where we stand. I hope to update periodically, so that you can follow our journey. But I know it’s been so many months since I updated and I’ve probably lost a lot of readers. If you’re still here, thank you. Big changes ahead….

I didn’t want to end this entry without sharing some photos from the last year. I know I have been very lax about writing here. It has been a very busy year. And also a very emotional year. It has been so hard for me to be so far from my family – especially now that I am a grandmother. I can’t stand being away from Juliet. She is growing so quickly and I want to be an important part of her life.

Cherished Family Memories

When we arrived in Madison, it was sunny and beautiful, and we were surrounded by family and love and so much energy. Spring was in full swing, with balmy temperatures and spring flowers.

Our reason for traveling early in the year, was to attend my eldest son’s college graduation. He has worked so hard for this, for a long time. We are so proud of him for finally reaching his goal!

While in Madison, I made great use of the local Dollar Tree stores to help outfit our new camper. We needed everything. We decided that we would just buy everything new for this camper and retire the 15-year old stuff we’d been lugging around in the old camper. It’s no secret that I’m a frugal person. Let me tell you – the Dollar Tree has some awesome stuff for only a buck! (There is no such thing as a dollar store in Fairbanks) I decided on turquoise as my accent color and spent a lot of time engaged in retail therapy all over Madison. Sheets, towels, dishware, rugs, blankets… I haven’t shopped like that in a long time! I have to admit that it was rather fun. Steve, on the other hand, was taking care of the important (and boring) stuff – like hitches and generators and jacks and hoses, etc.

Our camper was ready for inspection and pickup on May 22nd. The dealership is located outside Chicago. We chose it because of the proximity to my kids; just in case we had to have warranty work done, etc. We’d at least have a place to stay without incurring hotel costs. We were both excited as we made the hour drive to pick up our new home on wheels.

When we first saw it, we were shocked by just how large it is compared to our old camper. The old camper from front to back was about 30′. The new one is 10 feet longer and also about a foot taller. Talk about intimidating!

After the hitch was installed on Steve’s truck, and the walk-through was complete, we were handed the keys and sent on our way. Fortunately, there is a huge parking lot across from the dealership, and we were able to practice turning and backing up, etc. Steve was towing like a champ only a few days later.

We managed to find a campsite at nearby Lake Kegonsa State Park south of Madison, and we stayed there until after Memorial Day. Then we moved to a campground about 50 miles west of Madison. Lake Kegonsa only has electric hookups, and we wanted to make sure all the systems worked correctly, so we moved to the second campground which had full hookups.

We stayed in the Madison area until June 4th. It was wonderful to have so much time with my boys and their families! Especially on Mothers Day. It’s been decades since I spent a Mothers Day with my sons.

Here is our camper at Lake Kegonsa, south of Madison WI:
Camper at Lake Kegonsa
Our next stop after Madison was the Kansas City, MO area – where we spent 10 days visiting with Steve’s son Eric and his family, while also sightseeing around the area. We camped in Odessa, which is actually closer to where Eric lives, and we drove into the city several times to enjoy the museums and farmers market and the beautiful fountains. And we ate BBQ.

Steve and me with Eric, Lacy, and granddaughter Regan (and Raven in front):
Steve's son Eric and family

As serendipity would have it, Steve’s daughter Kayla and her husband Robby (and Steve’s grandson Colt) happened to be about an hour outside Kansas City, en-route to Nebraska (from NC) for a goat show. What are the odds of that?! Unfortunately, Eric couldn’t join us for a quick meetup, but we did get to have breakfast with the three of them, which was unexpected and wonderful.

“These are the people’s parks, owned by young and old” – Harry S Truman

We were both sad to say goodbye to our families, but we were also very excited about our upcoming trip.

Steve and I have seen all 50 states. We intend to go back and see many of them again. And, until we left for this trip, we had visited a little more than half our National Parks already. Why not make our retirement travel goal about seeing all of our National Parks? But instead of just visiting the ones we haven’t seen yet, we plan to revisit the ones we have as well. (So I can get a sticker for my National Park Passport Book)

With our goal in mind, we researched a route west and then north to Alaska – visiting a few new parks, as well as revisiting others. Our first stop was Colorado – where we spent 3 weeks camping on the Air Force Academy base in Colorado Springs. While there, we visited Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park. We also took several long scenic drives to check out other beautiful parts of the state. Staying in Colorado Springs was a great choice, as there is a lot to see and do, and the surrounding landscape is gorgeous. Also, while staying in CO, I had a chance to meet an online friend in person for the first time (Rita in Pueblo), and also spend some time with friends who used to be stationed at Fort Wainwright (Stella and Jay).

From Colorado, we headed north into Wyoming. We found a place to camp in Boulder, WY for a few days over the July 4th holiday, as the parks and recreational areas were booked solid. At first we thought we’d be a bit bored in such a small town, but we ended up going to a rodeo in the next town over (Pinedale) and having a wonderful time with the locals.

Our next stop was Grand Teton National Park, which Steve and I visited about 23 years ago when we were still tenters and hauled all our gear in rental cars or on airplanes. The memory that sticks out from our last visit is camping through a horrible rainstorm with crashing limbs and bushes – while signs warned of a nuisance black bear in the area. Needless to say, no one slept that night. This time was much better, as we were lucky to secure a campsite inside the park – within walking distance to the lake, and ranger programs and hiking trails. We stayed four days.

Next, we visited Yellowstone (our second visit). Yellowstone was horribly crowded and not at all easy to navigate. There was road construction going on, as well as building and parking lot renovations within the park. And frankly, summer is the busiest season, so it’s our fault too. With all that being said, we stayed just outside Yellowstone for 5 days. We drove different loops in the park each day, and also checked out some cool stuff in West Yellowstone, where we were camping. I also met another online friend, who was working at Yellowstone for the summer. What a fun job she had! (I loved the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center)

Leaving Yellowstone, we continued north to Glacier National Park – our last stop in the US. We spent 8 days in Glacier, and thoroughly enjoyed taking scenic drives, hiking beautiful trails, soaking up the scenery, and having a few relaxing days too. I went to a night sky talk, put on by the rangers one evening. Glacier National Park is a designated Dark Sky Park. The Milky Way was amazing! These programs are such a valuable resource (and FREE!). We also met up with another friend who used to be stationed at Fort Wainwright in the old days (April).

Another cool thing was seeing the cabin we stayed in, when we visited in the early 90s. It doesn’t look like they changed a thing. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. (Photo below)

Milky Way over Glacier National Park

Milky Way, Glacier National Park - a Dark Sky Park

Continuing our National Park Tour, we took advantage of Canada’s Discovery Pass (in celebration of their park system’s 100th anniversary) and visited Banff and Jasper – spending several days in each area. We enjoyed several hikes and drove a few scenic loops, while also taking time to just relax. The weather was beautiful – especially after suffering through record breaking heat all over the country.

Our drive up the Alcan was uneventful (which is good). As always, the scenery was gorgeous. The campgrounds we stopped in along the way served us for what we needed: overnight accommodations. We decided to spend an extra night in Whitehorse and do the tourist stuff the second day, and I’m really glad we did. It was a nice respite from dusty driving on a lot of dirt and hard pack roads (ongoing construction).

Inhale Peace, Exhale Stress

Despite thousands of miles on the road in the months prior, nothing could keep us away from Valdez once tourist season was over. It’s our favorite time to go, and the fishing’s not bad either. We stayed at our usual RV Park adjacent to the duck marsh. Because we have a huge picture window at the back of our camper, we asked if we could park backwards in our spot and use the hookups for the site next to us. This way, we would have an unobstructed view of the flats. It was breathtaking! On windy days, I enjoyed reading there while the fireplace warmed me. The drive up and back was absolutely gorgeous with fall colors.

More fall photos…. (Richardson Hwy and Pipeline, Raven, our yard in fall)

After Road Lottery Weekend in September, my friend Joyce and I went to Denali for the day to do a little hiking, and to drive the road to mile 30 looking for wildlife. We were surprised to see that they replaced the park entrance sign with a new one. From what I understand, a local artist made it for the park. We hiked down to a suspension bridge near the entrance and were lucky to see a bear foraging along the road.

As the days grew shorter, the stars appeared again. And soon Lady Aurora was back too. This was taken from a corner in my neighborhood. (The lit up house is not mine)

Aurora over my neighborhood - September

Today’s moments. Tomorrow’s memories.

I was missing Juliet so much (and of course everyone else too), that I visited again in November. In just a few short months, there were so many changes! When we last saw her in June, she was crawling occasionally. When I saw her in November, she was running and climbing and quite mobile. I’m glad I was able to see her again and not miss all of this. I was also so happy that she remembered me.

Season’s Greetings!

The camper is wrapped up for winter, and we have about a foot of snow on the ground. When the temperature goes above zero, we like to get outside at least for a short time and breathe in the fresh air. Staying in our pajamas is mandatory some weekends! The shorter days mean beautiful, drawn-out sunsets.

I am happy that we are gaining daylight hours again.

Christmas was a low-key affair here. I didn’t even bother putting up the tree, because I didn’t want to have to deal with packing it all up again a few weeks later. But Steve was so sweet and wrapped our address pole at the end of the driveway with colored lights. Inside, he hung lights in the kitchen window, and in the dining room window. Seeing the colored lights when I got home, made me smile. Especially against the beautiful snow. The lights in my kitchen window are a lovely frame for the beauty beyond.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

The months ahead will be filled with quite a bit of organization and planning. Some days I feel scared about the big changes ahead. And other days I am very stressed because there’s so much to do to prepare. But most of the time I’m excited about the future, new adventures, and most importantly – more time with family and friends.

I plan to continue blogging, but I don’t expect my entries will be regular. If you have been reading me since the very beginning (nearly 15 years!), you have been with me through some of the most memorable days of my life. I am so grateful for all of you.

I also want to take the time to thank all of you who have chosen to hang my yearly calendar in your homes and offices over the last decade. I have decided that 2018 will be my last Alaska Calendar. Ten years of calendars is a nice round number.

Until next time…

Whatever’s good for your soul… do that.



Read Original Living in Alaska – Life in the Last Frontier » A Fork in the Road Article Here

a trip to the state of Alaska

Traveling To Alaska, the 49th State

You might notice that the most valuable writing are not all encompassing scholastic investigation but pragmatic stories showcasing people and small communities. But, ironically often it is the largest organizations that provide the more interesting and informational content. Obviously there is also a role for tourism and hospitality statistical reports or policy analysis. Well written articles about a visit to Alaska like Living in Alaska – Life in the Last Frontier » A Fork in the Road assist us to survey the far reaching ideas of sustainable travel.

Regardless of whether it is a product of marketing programs or common patterns more often than not buyers prefer sustainable tourism and want to be responsible tourists. Alaska is a travel destination where responsible tourism is critically important.

Travel specialist highly recommended destinations for anybody seeing Alaska is

Chugach National Forest. Just a third as large as Tongass National Forest, in Southeast Alaska, Chugach is still the second-largest national forest in the country and an extraordinary combination of forests, rivers, lakes, mountains and glaciers. About the size of New Hampshire, Chugach includes a geographic diversity that’s truly unique among national forests. The 5,940,000-acre forest is spread throughout three different landscapes, extending from the Kenai Peninsula east across Prince William Sound to encompass the Gulf Coast encircling the Copper River Delta, then east from there as far as the Bering Glacier. Wildlife is without a doubt plentiful particularly for all those that take the time to hike away the roads and highways. Black and brown bear live in virtually all of the forest, foraging on open tundra slopes and in intertidal zones. At the end of summer, bears have been observed feeding on spawned-out salmon along streams and rivers. Record setting moose inhabit the Kenai Peninsula and the Copper River Delta. Dall sheep sometimes appear on Kenai Peninsula mountainsides, mountain goats tend to be found upon steep hillsides along Prince William Sound, the Copper River Delta and sometimes above Portage Valley. Boaters and kayakers on Prince William Sound may see Dall porpoises, harbor seals, sea otters, sea lions, Orcas and humpback whales. More than 214 species of resident and migratory birds inhabit Chugach National Forest. Seabirds, which include blacklegged kittiwakes, nest within sea cliff colonies by the thousands. Ptarmigan scurry over alpine tundra, bald eagles perch on shoreline snags and Steller’s jays forage around the underbrush. The Copper River Delta safeguards one of the largest known concentrations of nesting trumpeter swans within North America as well as the total population of dusky Canada geese. Nesting waterfowl are joined in spring and fall by many of migrating shorebirds. Chugach provides a variety of sportfishing possibilities; anglers can cast for rainbow, lake and cutthroat trout as well as Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling and all 5 species of Pacific salmon. Many of the fisheries are simple to get to; roadside lakes and rivers abound providing fishermen a chance to fish without needing a boat. Chugach’s most noted fishery is the red salmon run of the Russian River where anglers are often standing elbow-to-elbow along the river bank during July and July. Chugach is one of the handful of spots left in the world where glaciers spill out of the mountains and into the seas. When combined with the Bagley Icefield from which it originates, Bering Glacier is bigger than Switzerland. Columbia Glacier is one of the largest tidewater glaciers in the world while Portage Glacier and its Begich-Boggs Visitor Center is one of the most widely used places to visit for vacationers in Alaska.

a trip to Chugach National Forest in Alaska, the Last Frontier

A Vacation In Chugach National Forest in Alaska, the Last Frontier