A pandemic closes the border, a parts shortage delays the rig, a shut road cancels the plan, a dead ATV leaves you 20-kilometers out, and a tipped canoe dunks you in the middle of Deadman’s Lake. So what did Les and Irene do? They kept on truck camping.
Your planned truck camping trip of a lifetime happens to coincide with a once-in-a-century pandemic that closes international borders, roadways and other essential services. None of us live forever and it’s time to go. What do you do?
Answer: Keep on truck camping.
The 2021 Ford F-350 and 2021 Bigfoot 25C10.4 you ordered take longer than normal to be completed and delivered due to material and chip shortages courtesy of the aforementioned pandemic. You’re going to miss the weather window to explore the Yukon. What do you do?
Answer: Keep on truck camping.
You finally hit the road in your brand spanking new rig. It’s late, but there’s still time for the adventure you’ve been dreaming of. Then, the only road forward is closed courtesy of the previously stated pandemic. What do you do?
Answer: Keep on truck camping.
You get 20-kilometers (12.4 miles) into the remote Yukon wilderness and your ATV refuses to start. You’re far from the reaches of cellular service, nobody will be passing by, and it’s cold even before the sun goes down. What do you do?
Answer: Keep on truck camping.
Paddling out Deadman’s Lake, your canoe capsizes spilling you and your wife into the water. You make it to shore, but your winter coats and boots are all at the bottom of the lake. What do you do?
Answer: Keep on truck camping.
After the trip, you think about what happened. All the pandemic obstacles, literal roadblocks, the conked-out ATV, the nearly lost tippy canoe, and that favorite pair of boots that will ever dry and ask yourself, “Well, was it worth it?”
Answer: You’re darn right it was. And you’d go again.
A long road trip is hardly ever all fun and games. As Les and Irene Wilks remind us, you have to focus on the stunning landscapes, amazing people, lucky animal sightings, and everything you experienced and learned over the miles or kilometers. Things can and will happen that threaten to stop the adventure. The trick is to work through the challenges and keep on truck camping.
Thank you, Les and Irene, for sending in your inspiring story.
Keep On Truck Camping
by Les and Irene Wilks
My truck and camper were ordered just after the New Year in 2021. Both were held up by Covid-related supply problems and the computer chip shortage. My Ford F-350 arrived in June and my Bigfoot 10.4 arrived on July 30th, minus the generator. The generator finally arrived in January of 2022 to complete the rig.
Why I Bought A Gas Truck
I am a retired long-haul truck owner-operator and kept my 1999 semi-truck long past the usual trade-in time. All the new emissions diesel engines were very unreliable and their owners were going broke due to their trucks being in the shop and on the (tow) hook continuously.
That and the article about Rick Johnson’s gas truck led me to choose Ford’s 6.2-liter gas engine. The new big-block Ford gas engine is too new to judge its reliability, not to mention even worse gas mileage and pushrods.
Another advantage of the gas engine is carrying spare fuel for my ATV. A diesel engine would require carrying two kinds of spare fuel.
So far, the 6.2 has handled British Columbia’s big mountains well and the engine braking was surprisingly good on the downhill grades. Long-haul truck drivers are used to gearing down and we take our time up and down the long mountain grades to save our equipment. Easy does it. Take your time.
The Ford’s 10-speed transmission certainly helps. This current model Ford Super Duty has been around for a few years and is hopefully reliable. Ford is coming out with a new model super duty in 2022 and I wanted to avoid it and the new model bugs and problems. Lastly, I purchased the Lariat model for the honking stereo and dual-zone heater and air conditioner.
Why I Bought A Bigfoot
The reasons we went with the Bigfoot 10.4 are its dry bath with a separate shower, the open view with big windows on both sides and the rear, and the solid two-piece fiberglass construction suitable for our British Columbia backcountry adventures.
The combination of space utilization and abundant storage in our 10.4 is about perfect. The hidden storage under the carpet in the dinette just fits a Remington 12-gauge police special shotgun with folding stock for bear and cougar protection.
The two solar panels are good for a few days of fall cloudy weather camping when we use the furnace and watch movies in the evening. The two roof vents are covered allowing them to be fully open in the rain. During intense rainstorms, not a drop gets in.
Unfortunately, Bigfoot needed to exchange the water heater and battery box locations due to the new style water heater being two inches longer. The water heater no longer fits in the bathroom under the counter space. That’s a bummer. I was mindful of your review pointing out that the hot water tank being in the bathroom was advantageous, so this change was disappointing.
Now the two 6-volt batteries are not in an easy slide-out tray which makes it hard to top off the water levels. I am not sold on lithium batteries as they are expensive and not useful below freezing.
My camper hangs off the back of my truck so I have to watch the hitch extension grounding, but that’s the price for our roomy bathroom with a shower for my old 74-year old bones and a happy wife. We also really like that Bigfoots are built right here in British Columbia which saved on import duties, exchange costs, and we were able to support a Canadian manufacturer.
Our Home Built Bush Trailer
We tow our home-built bush trailer with a 450 ATV inside and square back kevlar canoe on top. Our trailer has lots of storage in the front cabinets and inside for a small outboard motor, spare propane tanks, and a fire bowl. There are no campfires during forest fire season. We also carry firewood when permitted, spare fuel in large jerry cans, and lawn chairs.
The trailer hitch is a long removable square tube to enable turning the trailer more than 90-degrees to the truck when turning around on narrow forest roads and positioning the trailer at campsites. Removing the trailer hitch square tube makes stealing the trailer impossible.
A picnic table held up with chains folds out of the side and clothes drying racks clipped onto the sides. I designed and built this trailer almost 50-years ago with some upgrades. It is still going strong. This trailer weighs under 3,000-pounds fully loaded. Our milage for the whole 5,000 to 6,000-mile trip was approximately 10.75-miles per gallon.
Our Delayed Trip North
Due to the camper arriving late, we left for our planned trip up the Dempster Highway into the Yukon without a trial run. We depended on our previous experiences, notes, and check-off lists from previous adventures in our old Volkswagen Westfalia camper van and an old Dodge Class B camper van converted to a four-wheel drive vehicle.
We set out in mid-August, much later than we had hoped for, heading north up Highway 1 through Fraser Canyon. At my age, I wasn’t about to wait for next year.
There was a lot of smoke from the forest fires and we found out the highway was soon closed behind us. Long-haul truckers are used to pulling over anywhere to sleep and our self-contained camper enabled us to do just that.
We stopped in Dawson Creek to see Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, dump our tanks for the first time, top off our water and fuel and get any supplies we discovered we hadn’t brought due to the big rush. Continuing north we stopped at a nice pull-out right next to the Laird River for the night. Then we stopped at the Watson Lake Sign Post Forest.
Pressing On To Dawson City
Due to our late start, we headed towards Dawson City. We took Highway 4 which is a gravel road between Watson Lake and Carmacks rather than the south paved route through Whitehorse.
We had heard many tall tales about how bad the Dempster was and wanted to test our new equipment on the gravel road. The first day was dry and dusty, and then overnight it rained and the road turned muddy.
In Dawson City, we washed the mud off at the wash bay for $20 at the campground just outside of town.
We spent two nights at the Goldrush Campground and RV Park, filled up with food and fuel, did laundry, and explored the town. The campground is right in town so you can walk everywhere.
Then we were off on the Dempster Highway. We started up the gravel, dirt, and mud road enjoying the spectacular scenery, and found a place to drive off-road for the night. Isn’t four-wheel drive great?
The next day we drove up to the Eagle Plains Motel and Campground (pictured below) where we found fuel, a restaurant, and simple tire repairs.
We stayed at the campground for $25 and used their grotty campground shower. The next day we left the trailer behind and proceeded up the Dempster. The scenery became even more spectacular as the tree line faded and colorful lichens took over.
There was a stop at the Arctic Circle display and then we went onwards north.
A couple of hours after crossing into the Northwest Territories, the road was closed, so we had to stop at the top and turn around and head back south. Due to Covid, we were not allowed to go down the hill to Fort McPherson at the free ferry crossing.
We had inquired at Dawson City before leaving and expected to find the road closed due to Covid. Apparently, people in that area were unwilling to vaccinate, getting very sick and consequently locking themselves off from the world.
We met a friendly lady in uniform at the road closure site and had a nice chat. She said that even the big rigs who deliver up there had only 36-hours to accomplish their delivery and leave.
She also told us that they had seen beluga whales swimming upriver for the first time in a long time and that there had been an unusual rainfall locally which had perked up the local vegetation.
So we turned around and headed back to Eagle Plains stopping many times to admire the very colorful lichen that covered hill and dale and the fall colors as the trees had started to turn.
In Eagle Plains, we had a nice dinner. It was our first restaurant meal since Covid and we hid away in the corner. Then we hitched up the trailer and made a last visit to the still grotty showers.
Heading south the next day we saw a grizzly sow and two cubs walking beside the road. At home, we occasionally see black bears in the yard, but thankfully no grizzlies.
We also saw a skinny red fox hanging out by the road perhaps hoping for handouts. Many birds filled the small lakes beside the highway.
Before leaving I ordered, “The Milepost Alaska Travel Planner” which also includes the Yukon, Northwest Territories, northern British Columbia, and Alberta. The thick book was very informative with mile-by-mile information on all our northern journeys. Due to Covid, Alaska was closed to us Canadians.
We didn’t visit the much recommended Tombstone Territorial Park due to time constraints. Winter was just around the corner in the north and I’m not much of a hiker.
We had planned on unloading the ATV to go up a side road recommended in the Milepost book, but the weather was cold, wet, and stormy putting the kibosh on that.
Arriving in Dawson City we spent another $20 in the wash bay getting the mud off and then returned to the Goldrush Campground and RV Park owned by a very friendly couple from southern British Columbia.
We saw two shows at Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall and took in the sights including a big sternwheeler next to the Yukon River. The home hardware had an amazing collection of hardware and stuff, something we noticed at other one-stop backcountry stores on our northern journeys.
The Dawson City area used to mine gold from huge floating dredges so we visited the biggest one on the way out of town.
Realities of the Dempster Highway
The Dempster Highway was not as bad as I expected but, if it had rained a lot, the mud would have been worse. We carried a tire repair kit and an air compressor, but I think now that it was overkill. We didn’t see anybody with a flat tire or a breakdown.
We saw a few ordinary cars travel the Dempster. Some had spare tires and jerry cans strapped to the roof. Most of the vehicles were four-wheel drive SUVs and trucks, even a few modest Class C motorhomes. And yes, we saw some truck campers!
We were rushing to complete the far north part of our trip before the snow came. As we headed south we were not in such a hurry. On the way to Whitehorse, we stopped at the Twin Lakes government campground for a couple of nights. The campsites are near the highway but, since there was not much traffic, it was fairly quiet.
The first afternoon was spent on the lake (pictured above) checking out the waterfowl and admiring the fall colors. The second day was cold and blustery so we sat bundled up on our lawn chairs loafing and reading. It was our first day off since leaving home.
In Whitehorse, we stayed at the Hi Country RV Park, which was another nice, clean place. We visited the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre near the airport where there is a real Douglas DC-3 twin-engine airplane weather vane on a post and the McBride Museum.
We tried to get on the sternwheeler tour, but it was booked solid both days.
It’s a nice drive on both sides of the Yukon River. You will see lakes, a dam with an impressive spillway and fish ladder, and the pedestrian Miles Canyon Suspension Bridge over the river.
Good Advice From A Local
Leaving Whitehorse we headed south towards Carcross, first taking a side trip up Annie Lake Road. Taking the local’s advice we skipped Annie Lake and drove 17-miles down the road and over two bridges to a large open camping area next to the river.
While sitting next to the river with a sundowner, two kayakers came past and spoke to us. Later two paragliders spiraled above us and landed right beside our campsite. They stayed for drinks and waited for their driver who had dropped them off up the mountain.
The next day we drove our ATV 20-kilometers (12.2 miles) on the bush road up the mountain that they told us about. The views and scenery were spectacular and we saw a red fox with a big bushy tail.
We stopped many times to take photos and eventually the ATV refused to start. It had a previous problem with the electronics indicator on the dash disabling the start function which I thought had been repaired. After much cursing and banging around, we finally got it to run.
I carry a large emergency bag with a fire starter, stove, and food, but did not look forward to a 20-kilometer walk back to camp. It was now September 7th and we were warmly dressed, but it’s cold up there in September in the Yukon mountains.
The Nice Town of Carcross
The next day we traveled south down the highway to Carcross, a nice little town on the river with a pedestrian footbridge over the river. The touristy stuff was mostly closed up for winter and there were no restaurants open. That’s why we travel in a camper!
There is a nice sand dune area near town, but we did not take the ATV out due to its starting problems. We traveled back up to the Alaska Highway and over to the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, Number 37, and on down towards Prince Rupert. The highway is paved all the way, but narrow and bumpy in spots.
We camped on the side roads and went down to a forestry campsite on Morchrea Lake.
We stopped at Jade City 71-miles north of Dease Lake, which has lots of interesting jade items and old equipment. We tried to stop at Gitanyow to view the totem poles, but the road was closed due to Covid.
We viewed the Gitwangak Battle site. It seems the chief built the village on the domed hill so nobody could attack them. We also viewed the totem poles and burned-out church at Gitwangak village.
The ATV dealer in Terrace, British Columbia found the starting problem; a switch. Of course, they did not have the switch in stock and it would take weeks to get there.
So we went down the Yellowhead Highway #16 beside the scenic majestic Skeena River towards Prince Rupert. On the way, very heavy rain washed all the mud out from our undercarriage. Luckily the truck didn’t hydroplane on the Ford-supplied Michelin Mud and Snow tires.
We arrived at Rupert and stayed at the Prince Rupert RV campground. It is the only one in town and was very crowded. The showers had nowhere to hang our clothes or sit down or put anything on, so we showered in the camper.
Our back door was three feet away from the trailer behind us and they charged us 10-bucks a day to park our little trailer in an unused space.
The sun was shining, which is a rare event in Rupert, so we hustled into town to check everything out. We walked along the waterfront and enjoyed a seafood dinner in a nearly empty restaurant.
The next day we visited the Museum of Northern British Columbia and had another seafood dinner. We had planned to take the ferry to the Queen Charlotte Islands, but the weather forecast was for rain, rain, and more rain. That was another result of the late start.
A close friend of ours lives in Golden, British Columbia. His granddaughter was also visiting so we headed on over there through Prince George and over to Jasper and down the Icefield Parkway to Golden.
The Icefield Parkway is a spectacular drive and a road that I hadn’t been on for quite a while. It was worth the return trip.
We visited Golden for a little over a week and went to see the Golden Suspension Bridge. Then, we went west over the Rogers Pass through Revelstoke and onto Neskonlith Lake for the night.
I haven’t been to this lake for many years and it was nice to revisit. It’s funny how those places we previously have been to are different when we finally return after many years.
We drove through Kamloops and onto Deadman’s Lake up the Deadman Lake Road. There had been a big forest fire there lately and the devastation was hard to look at. The fire had come very close to our camp area on Deadman’s Lake, but the camp area had survived and was still green.
The view from across the lake was also devastating because the fire had burned all the trees everywhere and it was all black. We have camped there many times in the past and missed the green.
The cries of the loons echoed off the escarpment on the other side of the lake. Hopefully, the loons will survive.
Capsized Canoe and Hypothermia
We took the canoe on the lake to do a bit of fishing. Due to a combination of events, we ended up in the lake swimming and the canoe was upside down. We also lost our boots, winter coats, and fishing rods in the process.
Since it was October 1st, the water was brutally cold but we had our special paddling life jackets on and slowly swam to a camp on the shore.
By then we were suffering from severe hypothermia and had to walk in our stocking feet a fair distance back to camp. My hands were so cold that I had a hard time turning the key in the camper’s door lock but we finally got in, cranked up the heat, and tossed our wet clothes out the door.
Some time in the heat and cuddling in bed stopped our shaking and warmed us up. We were very lucky and it was good we weren’t way out in the center of the lake.
The next day we hiked around the lake to the canoe where it ended up upside down near the shore. We lassoed the outboard to drag it to shore and emptied out all the water for a careful close to shore paddle back to camp. That was the end of our trip and we headed home.
The outboard went into the shop and was successfully resurrected. Good thing it wasn’t in the salt water.
Our Latest Great Adventure
So that ends our latest great adventure. We were on the road for 51-days. It would’ve been much longer if Covid hadn’t held up the camper delivery.
Since we were in the middle of a Covid pandemic we wore a mask everywhere when we were around other people and tried to avoid other people. Traveling in a truck camper did help us accomplish that.
We are very happy with the truck and camper combination. Thank you for your helpful magazine. The total truck weight fueled and loaded up and with the trailer connected is approximately 13,400-pounds. That’s well under the 14,000-pound GVWR of our truck.
Throughout the trip, everything on the rig worked as it should; no breakdowns or flats. The whole rig handled surprisingly well. There was no sway and minimal leaning in the corners with no suspension mods.
Later this year, Covid willing, we will travel across Canada to the east coast for three months. One last tip; If you’re canoeing in very cold water, stay close to shore, and wear your life jacket!