Pack the fishing rods and coffee. For part two of Alaska Week, Linda Hanney goes combat fishing on the Kenai and Russian rivers. Run salmon, run!
We knew we had to interview Linda Hanney after reading her Alaska trip summary from her blog:
“We left on July 6th driving a 2001 Ford three-quarter ton diesel pickup with 182,099 miles on it. Our camper was a Northstar 850SC pop-up pickup camper. We returned on August 17th after thirty-nine days. We drove 10,002 miles and used 666.725 gallons of fuel. We averaged 15.001 miles per gallon and paid, on average, $4.522 per gallon of diesel. Our total fuel costs were $3,015.
I guess the reason I found these figures interesting is because I saved $3,000 for the trip. With higher fuel prices, I figured that amount would probably only pay for the fuel. Right on there! Bottom line, it took close to $4,000 for this trip. Hopefully, this information will encourage others thinking about a similar trip. There are other options including cruises, flying in, and renting an RV or car. Still, there wasn’t any part of this trip that I would leave out. The road trip across Canada is beautiful. If you have time, do it all. Or, do as much as you can. It’s worth every cent you will spend.”
Above: Linda and Dan starting the Alaska Highway
TCM: How did you get into truck camping?
Linda: Before we bought out truck camper, we had a Class B Roadtrek. We decided it was not feasible to own a vehicle just for travel, so we sold it and bought a pick-up truck. We live in a rural area and use our pick-up for upkeep and hauling. That’s how we decided to go with a pick-up camper. In the early 1970s we traveled to California using a pick-up camper. Over the years, we’ve owned all types of RVs but have decided that the pick-up camper makes the most sense. So, I guess we’ve come full circle.
TCM: What made you decide to get a Northstar pop-up camper?
Linda: We like the Northstar because of the cassette toilet. For us, finding a dump station is such a hassle. The cassette toilet can be dumped in any outhouse. We also like the way the Northstar camper is so open. When we crank up the top and open all the windows it feels like we’re outside. We have camped off the grid in beautiful settings. We open all the windows and it is like we have a panoramic view or we can open the see-through coverings and it feels like we are in a screened in porch. We could have had some more insulation some nights, but we just piled on the blankets. It is a good, affordable way to camp.
Above: Linda’s Northstar 850SC in Alaska
TCM: Why did you choose a pop-up truck camper to go to Alaska?
Linda: The Roadtrek was seventeen feet long, but the living space was really small. We both decided the Roadtrek was not the vehicle we wanted to take for that long of a trip, but we wanted to retain the one-vehicle way of traveling. We wanted something we would feel comfortable in for the trip to Alaska and other longer road trips we plan to take now that we’re both retired. It’s easy to load for the spur of the moment short trips we love to take. The Northstar 850SC suits our needs for living in a space. It feels better to us than the cramped van conversion. We especially like that the top comes down. It helps with fuel mileage and is compact. It just travels so well even in high winds. We are also forever turning around because we miss a turn or, more likely, I want to take a picture. We needed something maneuverable, and not too bulky. We also like having four wheel drive.
TCM: Have you ever used four wheel drive while truck camping?
Linda: Yes, we have used it two or three times on Alaska backroads. We would have been in a bad situation had we been in the Roadtrek, but the four wheel drive truck got us out.
Above: Klunane Lake, Yukon Territory
TCM: How did you plan for your trip to Alaska?
Linda: We had hoped to make the trip to Alaska about three years ago, but then needed to stay home for our parents. To start the research, I bought a copy of The MILEPOST. Then, when we made the decision to go this past summer, we got an updated copy. It’s a wonderful tool to plan a trip to Alaska. It tells you places to see as well as fuel and camping information. I recommend getting that book before you go on a trip to Alaska.
I went onto Google and did a blog search for Alaska. That search brings up other people’s travel blogs. There are some wonderful writers out there who detailed their trips; where they stayed, what they saw, and just things you don’t read other places. I printed the blogs out and read them like a book. I really enjoy personal writing.
The Alaska state tourism office will send maps and informational booklets. I used the resources Alaska has to offer online where you can order information about different areas of the state. The most help was from people who had already been there. Our neighbor travels to Alaska every year to go salmon fishing and knows the state well. He told us what not to miss on the Kenai Peninsula. He was a wonderful resource. We have friends who have taken cruises to Alaska and we learned a lot from them too.
TCM: How did you prepare your truck camper rig for the trip?
Linda: We bought four new tires and had the truck checked mechanically. We tried to think through what we would need and not need ahead of time. I knew from reading blogs that we wouldn’t be plugged in that much, so we prepared the camper for off-the-grid camping, including buying another battery. We left all of the electrical appliances at home and bought a coffee pot that worked on the stove. We just took the things that we knew we would use.
I thought out our clothes carefully. From blogs and our neighbor, I knew it was not going to be warm. We only took enough clothes for three changes, plus a few more shirts and underwear. When choosing clothes to take, we thought in terms of layering. All of those fit under the bed. We took the back seat out of the truck and put in plastic storage containers for fishing and rain gear.
My husband took out the table that Northstar provides and made another stronger table with plywood and folding legs for a stool. It provided a bigger base to climb in and out of the bed. That worked really well.
I like to have electronics. We set up a routine for charging the computer and phones and not run down our batteries. The second battery in the camper served as a backup especially when we were in one spot for several days.
We also added a bike rack before the trip. It’s actually very simple. We already had the aluminum tray that the bikes set in. It was made for small motorcycles and hooks into a receiver hitch. Dan removed all the receiver hitch hardware and bolted a bumper jack in the middle of the aluminum tray. We set the bicycles in the tray and tied them with a bungee cord to the bolted jack. One end of the aluminum tray is bolted onto a swivel that my husband already had, but you can order them from the web. The swivel has to be heavy duty. We used a bi-pod, but you could use a tripod, that we put under the tray to hold it when it swings out. A support cable hooks from the jack on the camper to the upright on the bike rack so it won’t put too much strain on the bumper or the swivel if the support falls or we want to just quickly hop in the back. It did amazingly well and cost about $130.00.
We have this thing about timing ourselves getting into the camper. We used to be able to stop the truck, unlatch the top, open the back door, take the steps out, wind up the camper top, open the refrigerator, get two beers, and sit down within sixty seconds. Now, moving the bicycles out of the way adds about thirty seconds to that. We felt it was worth a little extra hassle and time in order to have the bikes with us. We had a bike lock with us and we maybe locked it once or twice when we were in Anchorage where we thought the bikes needed to be more secure.
Above: Pictures of Banff National Park – one of their stops on the way to Alaska
TCM: Tell us the route you took from your home to Alaska.
Linda: We spent two days in Colorado with our son and family, a day and a half in Montana visiting my cousin, then Glacier National Park, Banff National Park, and on to Alaska. The trip there on the Alaska Highway is beautiful through British Columbia and the Yukon. The Cassiar Highway back is just beautiful as well. There is a lot to see along the way.
Our Alaska trip was six weeks long. We could have easily taken two to three months if we would have taken the time to do extra things along the way. We kept saying, “We have to come back”. It’s almost overload to do everything and try to appreciate all that you’ve seen in one six week trip.
TCM: What did it feel like driving into Alaska after all your planning and driving?
Linda: It was awesome to finally get there. The terrain hadn’t changed much going from the Yukon into Alaska, so it wasn’t so much that we were seeing different scenery. I was worried about the border crossing, but there were no problems there. I remember feeling that we had looked forward to that moment for so long and now we had finally arrived. I actually felt tearful. I’m a retired rural carrier, and one of the the first things I noticed was a line of mailboxes. We were back in the United States but a long way from home. It is hard to explain how excited we both were at that point.
TCM: What was it like to have it be daylight for so long during the day?
Linda: I’m glad you brought that up. I loved the long days and that we could be out fishing all times of the day and what should have been night. When the salmon ran, we were up at 4:00am and out until about midnight. We didn’t feel tired, but we did read in other people’s blogs to be careful about driving. Your brain is saying that it’s daylight so you didn’t have to go to bed. That was really a neat part about being in Alaska that time of year.
We spent some time talking to people who lived there and they said they let their children play until 11:30pm because they have such short days in the winter.
Above: Sockeye salmon from Kenai River, Soldotna
TCM: Was fishing a big part of your Alaska trip?
Linda: Yes, it was. We had never fished for salmon before our Alaska trip. While we were up there we learned the history of what the salmon do and how they spawn and die. It was all very interesting. Salmon fishing was probably the main part of our trip, but we also wanted to see all the sights.
We weren’t the only ones out fishing for salmon. It was crowded while we were fishing on the Kenai River at Soldotna. Just as we left Soldotna, the salmon started running on the Russian river. There were people combat fishing there, just as there had been in Soldotna. Combat fishing is where everyone lines next to each other along the shore. People come in from all over the country with canning equipment, smokers, and deep freezers. They go home with some serious quantities of salmon. There are limits of three to six fish each day, but the salmon are big. Our neighbor ships his salmon home, so we went in with him. There are businesses that help with that, but it’s fairly expensive. There is nothing better than fresh salmon, though. We have a lot of good memories about that part of the trip. As a side note, Centennial Campground in Soldotna is really a neat campground. That was one place we paid to camp for a longer length of time. It was worth it to have a place to park. It had no hook-ups, but got us close to the river.
TCM: You also went digging for clams. What was that like?
Linda: We went clamming at Ninilchik Beach. It is a big beach with plenty of room for everyone. We managed to get about thirty clams. It took a while to develop a technique. First, we looked for a little air hole in the sand. We shoveled in the sand, hopefully not hitting the clam and breaking it open. After digging a shovel full, we dropped down on our knees and started digging with our hands.
The picture above shows how deep my husband, Dan, went down to get the clams. The camp host at the Ninilchik State Park campground showed us how to clean the clams. He was extremely helpful.
TCM: What tips do you have for traveling and camping in Alaska?
Linda: Alaska travel sent us some materials that pretty much said that if there’s a place to pull off, they don’t care if you camp there. In Canada they want you to stay in a designated area. However, we found several places off the road where we camped on our own. Forest Service roads are good to watch for. We did pull off and park in Alaska.
Above: The strip of land is the Homer Spit on the north shore of Kachemak Bay. The mountains and glacier are across the Kachemak Bay from Homer.
I bought a map in the visitor’s center in Kenai that showed the state parks in Alaska. Alaska has beautiful state parks and the camping fees are low, although many do not have plug in services available. Most all have fresh water and many have dump stations.
Above: Photos taken in Denali National Park, Alaska
TCM: Did you make any reservations in advance?
Linda: The only time we made a reservation was in Denali National Park. I made it a day ahead on the internet. If you want to have hook-ups, I’d decide where you wanted to stop and call ahead. The MILEPOST has places listed. I will say, it never seemed crowded except salmon fishing at Soldotna and Denali.
Don’t forget to talk to the locals. They were very helpful and were always friendly and willing to share information. I lost my cell phone and the lady who found it would take nothing as a reward, but she did stay and talk to us about net fishing, which only locals can do.
TCM: Tell us about the picture of the bear and her cub at Fish Creek.
Linda: Fish Creek is a United States forest service area. At Fish Creek, there were spawning salmon running. Around the corner came a mama bear and her cub. We were up high on a platform so there was no worry, and they were there about a half hour. The mama was teaching the baby how to fish for salmon. We were so fortunate to be there at the right moment. It was also neat having the people there to tell us about the salmon and bears. All during our trip we found the National Park and Forest Service Rangers to be informative and interesting.
TCM: Are you planning on going to Alaska again?
Linda: We are planning on going back. Next time we will put our pickup camper on the ferry and travel the Inside Passage.
TCM: Thanks Linda. If you go again, please let us know. The Inside Passage ferry is supposed to be amazing.
Linda: I certainly will.
Linda’s Top Ten Alaska Destinations
1. Denali National Park: Denali National Park offers pristine beauty with abundant wildlife. You can see Mt. McKinley if you’re lucky. The rangers have numerous educational programs.
2. Denali Highway: Denali Highway connects Richardson Highway to Parks Highway. The 135 mile remote, unpaved, original entrance to Denali National Park has similar views as the park with opportunities to stop on your own schedule.
3. Fishing and Clamming: Fishing on the Kenai River for salmon and digging for clams on Ninilchik Beach are local traditions and a fun, hands on feel of the state.
Above: Wildflowers with Aleutian Range in background, near Homer, Alaska
4. The Town of Homer: The 4.5 mile spit and surrounding backroads offer views of the Kenai mountains, volcanoes, and glaciers across Kachemak Bay with a foreground of lush grass and wildflowers. Stops should include the Islands and Oceans Visitor Center, Pratt Museum, and the Two Sisters Bakery.
Above: Sunset from Anchor Point across Cook Inlet, Kenai Peninsula
5. Sunset: At 11:15 pm on clear evening, the 27th of July presented a colorful and leisurely thirty minute sideways sunset over the Kenai mountains and Cook Inlet from Anchor River State Recreation Area near Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula’s Sterling Highway.
Above: Campground along Tutshi Lake, South Klondike Highway
6. Skagway and Klondike Highway: The Skagway and Klondike Highway navigates through a moonscape of recently glaciated regions and then drops down through coastal mountains to the quaint town.
Above: Their dirty camper in Seward, Alaska
7. Seward and SeaLife Center: Seward is a clean and colorful city along Resurrection Bay offering bayside camping adjacent to bike trails and close observations of Alaska’s sea life and educational exhibits at the SeaLife Center.
Above: The Exit Glacier Trail
8. Exit Glacier: Exit Glacier is part of the Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward. The walking trail allows up close sights and sounds of a living glacier.
9. Hyder: The National Forest Service’s Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site has a bridge for viewing bears fishing for salmon. There is an access road from Cassiar Highway that has a close view of Bear Glacier and then continues through Bear River Canyon to Stewart, British Columbia adjacent to Hyder, Alaska, the state’s most southern tip.
10. The Alaska Highway and Cassiar Highway: The Alaska Highway and Cassiar Highway offer beautiful, memorable journeys.