Friday, June 22, 2018

Day 1, Day 2 Driving an RV in Alaska

We spent the night in the parking lot of Great Alaskan Holidays. That was our first day in Alaska, flying in and spending the night at the company's parking lot. It was quiet and we were tired. They give you access to the rig because they know that for the most part, you arrived late and are tired. In the morning, bright and early, we were to watch a video and then be on our way! We had the rental for the week, and we intended to make the most of it!

The video was GREAT! We were thinking, geez, with all our experience, this is going to be a waste of time, but it wasn't! We learned a couple of things. One was, why people bottom out on the back of their rigs leaving parking lots...why? Because they drive straight out instead of on an angle. Many of the gas stations in Alaska have fairly steep entrance or exit driveways, so we were glad to learn about this tip. They also had tips about going around obstacles which we found helpful, and were sure that many people, newbies mostly likely, don't realize how far forward you have to go before turning the rig and where tail swing comes into play. Eldy remembered the tip about don't make your turn until the rear wheels have just passed where you want to make your turn to allow the full length of the rig to be where it needs to be so you don't hit anything or anybody.

It took us a little while to get checked in and get going on the road, so we got a late start to our second day in Alaska. We were headed to Denali, and were thinking that being this early in June, we might be able to get a spot at Riley Campground in Denali. Eldy had seen a couple of openings that morning, but once we got there in mid afternoon, they were gone. We had our trusty Mileposts 2018 directory, which Sparky had on her lap every time we went anywhere in Alaska. A quick shout out to the Mileposts directory, it's indispensable!  At every mile marker, this directory tells you what to expect--it's updated every year so you get the latest info on driving conditions, highway repairs, construction zones, frost heaves, animal sightings, and much much more. It even has local history tidbits! We stopped at Mile Marker (MM) 174, because Mileposts said it was Hurricane Gulch. Oh, wow! It was quite the view! There was still snow in the parking lot! 

For the record, it was quite the views all week long. 

Onward we went. We finally decided to boon dock at MM 314.6.....The number of pullouts is AMAZING in Alaska and the Mileposts directory tells you if the pullouts are wide or small and what side of the road they are on. Technically, you could stay as long as you wanted to and never have to pay for a site....there are wide pullouts every few miles for the most part, and some are farther away from road noise than others. They are FREE.

At MM314.6, they had an outhouse, a picnic table and terrible mosquitoes! We hoped that was not a harbinger of what our week was going to be like. (It wasn't. Mosquitoes were not bad at all the rest of the week.) We were so happy to be on the road!

Tomorrow, Day 3.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Renting a Motorhome in Alaska- Part 1--renting the RV

Well, by now you know that Sparky and Eldo love Alaska. We've been there four times, twice on a cruise, and three times renting motorhomes. As we no longer own our 40 foot Tiffin Phaeton, we have to rent an RV if we want to travel by RV. Eldy says that even if we did still have our Tiffin, he would not take it to Alaska. Why, you ask? Because of the possibilities of rough roads and windshield cracks and chips due to passing traffic throwing up rocks and stones or construction zones with loose gravel. The roads for the most part are good, at least the main highways are. But every year, there is frost heave and winter damage, and even on the main highways of Alaska, you will encounter roller coaster rides from the frost heaves, and summer construction where they try to repair the worst sections of road that got hit the hardest over the winter. 

We had to get out of the heat this summer for at least a little while. Eldy had been researching for weeks and weeks to get the best airfare. We are lucky in that we have FOUR airports to work incoming and outgoing flights from where we live in Bradenton. So for weeks and weeks, he went back and forth working on airfare and rental pricing of motorhomes. He would check to see if it was cheaper to leave from one airport but return to another one. (It was). Is it cheaper to have one stop instead of non-stop? (Sometimes it is and worth having a layover "break" from long flight hours). We have previously rented from a company called AK Motorhomes. We were very happy with them, but they are a much smaller company and don't have as many choices of rigs to go traveling in. They advertise their units as new, but are not always available once you get to their site. 

You have to compare RV rental companies very carefully when you decide to go to Alaska. Do they charge for linens? For cookware? For a coffee pot? For chairs? Do you get unlimited mileage? Do you want insurance? What time is check in and check out? Have you read the reviews for each company? You have to think about when your flight back home leaves and how many hours you will be sitting in the Anchorage airport waiting to go home as far as your checking in the motorhome when you are ready to return it. AK Motorhomes is just one company we worked with. We've rented from them twice and never had a problem with either rig. Last year we rented a Coachman, 27 footer, but it was actually longer than that when we picked it up and older than we thought it would be. There are many options for are a few:

This year we rented from Great Alaskan Holidays. Wow, what a rig!  And WOW! What service and staff! this is a fairly big company. They have about 500 RV's in their fleet. We rented a 2019 Minnie Winnie--a Winnebago which was a 32 footer, but actually is closer to 33 feet in length--too long for Riley Creek Campground in Denali, in case you are wondering.  The campground only accepts up to 31 foot RV's. The cost was 159.00 per day and it completely furnished with bed linens, quality towels and plenty of blankets. (We used all four of them!) If you want chairs, that's extra. Coffee pot is extra. Everything was new and in terrific shape, even the queen mattress, nice and firm.

We arrived in Anchorage after closing hours, but they have the rig all ready for you. The key is in a special spot, you let yourself in, spend the night, and the next morning, you check out after watching a 45 minute video all about RVing--how to empty tanks, how to drive an RV, how to leave parking lots, etc. We actually learned some new tips that we had never realized in the three years that we full timed. What's surprising about this is, if you never have driven a motorhome before, they send you out the door with only having watched the video. Although the video was VERY thorough, that was it. No tour of the rig, no explanations or demonstrations on how things work, and that was a scary thought. WE were very comfortable of course, on just seeing the video, having been RV full timers for three years, but NOT very comfortable knowing everybody gets the same introductory video and that's it. We really think the company ought to assess each customer's experience and tailor a how-to session based on that. Maybe the video is so complete, they don't need to do that! 

They offer collision insurance, but you are not pressured into taking it. We did, and we are glad we did. It was peace of mind having it with all the road construction and loose gravel sections that we encountered on the main, supposedly GOOD roads/highways. The company has an incredibly high percentage of chipped and broken windshields and we didn't want to take any chances with a 2019 rig. 

We were extremely happy with the company. Their service was fantastic, their check in and checkout staff terrific. We had a minor problem with leaving a towel behind at a campground and Eldy dropping the glass carafe coffee pot, and we were envisioning ridiculous charges for replacement, but nope! Nada. No charge. Their staff was readily available to answer questions, the manuals in the rig were excellent as far as helping you figure out minor problems and they have a staff ready for emergencies. Great Alaskan Holidays is an excellent company to deal with, and we highly recommend them!

See you on the road in Alaska!