Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Day 25 through day 36

It's time to wrap this up.  From this point forward, it is all about getting the van repaired and getting back home.  Our trip to Alaska is for all intents and purposes over.

I checked with a NAPA store in Smithers, BC and they confirmed that they had an air filter.  We stopped there around lunch time and paid an outrageous amount of money for this filter.  Twice what it would cost normally, but we had no choice.  They let me install the filter in a spot located next to their building.  Unfortunately, the problems did not go away.

We drove onwards and decided to find a hotel room in the town of Quesnel, BC.  I needed to get online and figure out what I can check next.  I even posted on Airforums hoping someone would have the answer.  Several people did.  Both suggested that I check the turbo intercooler hoses for any abnormalities.  Once we got checked in, I went back out to the van and started checking the hoses.  I didn't see anything wrong with them other than the lower hose was caked in oil and dirt.  The upper hose did seem a bit soft.  I posted my findings on Airforums and was told to clean the upper hose, wrap it in duct tape and then place tie wraps around the hose spaced out evenly.  I was told this would prevent the hose from expanding under pressure.

The next morning, I went back out and removed the upper hose and made the repairs as directed.  After cleaning up, we fueled the van and headed south.  We knew that there was a town down south called Kamloops and that it was a good sized place.  We hoped that we would be able to find some help there.  But, after driving with the newly mended upper hose, it seemed that the problem was not nearly as apparent.  Gone were the misfires that had plagued us for days and thousands of miles.  The van was running strong even under load.  Finally, we could relax a bit.

Unfortunately, this good fortune, like most, was soon dashed and not did the problem come back it was now worse than ever.  Now, in addition to the misfire, we were getting a puff of black smoke along with the misfire.  And just before we reached Kamloops, we lost the turbo boost again as well as the check engine light was illuminated.  This is not good.  We are on a busy road, coming into a larger city with even more busy roads.  I cannot trust the turbo to be there when I need it.  Should we call for a tow truck?  It's about 20 miles into Kamloops so we decided to risk it.  We were able to take it easy getting into town and right at the first exit was a huge diesel engine repair place.  We parked and I went in to plead my case.

At the service desk, I was told that they did not work on Mercedes/Dodge diesel engines.  The man said, "why don't you take it to the Mercedes dealer?".  To which I replied, I am from east TN and until this very minute knew nothing about this town much less that there was a Mercedes dealer.  They gave me directions and off we went.

It was a short drive to the dealer and we were encouraged to see another Sprinter-based RV just leaving the service area.  I went in and explained our problem.  The tech came out and took the van back for a diagnostic test.  It wasn't 30 minutes later and we had the diagnosis.  Both intercooler hoses were shot, the turbo resonator and hose were suspect and all would need to be replaced.  They had checked on local availability and found nothing nearby.  Parts would have to be ordered from Toronto.  Monday is a holiday and the dealer will be closed (Canada Day).  It would be Tuesday at the earliest before the parts would arrive.  I am not a happy camper but am between a rock and a hard place.

I get online and find a nearby hotel and make reservations for 5 nights.  The dealer agrees to keep the van plugged in so our refrigerator would continue to run and keep our food cold.  We also are told that we could stay in the van if we want.  We grab what we need and the shuttle driver takes us to the hotel.  As we were checking in I explained our situation to the desk clerk and he took pity on us and upgraded our room to a very nice room with a great view of the city.

We spend the next five days relaxing, googling, sleeping and eating.  I think we tried every restaurant within walking distance.  On Tuesday, we walk back to the dealer to wait for our van to be ready.  The parts didn't arrive until 11 am, but they got right on the case and by about 2 pm, we were on the way, wallets lightened to the tune of $636 USD.  Much less than I would have expected from work done at a Mercedes dealer.

The van runs great even going up and over several steep hills with long climbs.  The plan is to make it to Grand Forks, BC and cross into the US there.  In retrospect, it would have been better to go to Cascade and cross over so that we would have been on 395 which leads to Spokane.  The border crossing goes well.  It is a little-used spot and the agent is a chatty type who gives us more information than we needed on the best way to Spokane.

We make it to Kettle River CG just in time for the sun to go down.  We are both exhausted but glad to be back on the road.

After a good nights sleep, we start our trek down to Spokane where we will jump on I90 east.  As the sun starts to rise and gets high in the sky, it starts to get hot.  I switch on the air conditioning.  Nothing.  Hot air.  This is not good.  We still have several thousand miles to go and no air conditioning.  So, we put our windows down and headed south.

After getting on I90 here in Spokane, we did not exit the interstate system until Corbin, KY.  We arrived home on Saturday, July 7.  It was a brutal ride with no air conditioning, but we did not have any other issues with the van.  We did not camp anymore after that night at Kettle River choosing to stay in hotels each night.

We had a great time on this trip to Alaska and back despite the issues that we experienced.  Yes, the weather wasn't the best, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway.  Would we do it again?  Maybe not.  I would like to go back to British Columbia and spend more time there.  It is truly a very beautiful part of the world worthy of further exploration.

Thanks for tagging along!

Day 24 Meziadin Junction

We reluctantly packed up and headed out of Boya Lake CG.  This is such a pretty spot.  If you decide to visit, bring your kayak or canoe.  If you don't have a kayak or canoe, you can rent them near here.  The water is so clear in the lake, it is amazing.  At the registration sign, there is an artesian well where you can fill your water bottles.  It runs slow, but the water is good.

Our goal today is to make it to Meziadin Junction where you can pick up 37A and go to Stewart/Hyder.  Hyder is in Alaska and is where they have the bear watching viewpoint.  Unfortunately for us, the salmon are not running and the chances of seeing a bear are pretty slim.

Our first order of business today is to get fuel.  We didn't fuel up in Watson Lake yesterday as the price was higher than we paid previously and I thought fuel would start to get cheaper as we traveled south.  Boy, was I wrong!  The first place to get fuel was in Porter Lake.  We drove up to the pumps only to find that the store was closed and the pumps were not "pay at the pump".  So, back on the road heading further south.  Our next opportunity to get fuel would be at Dease Lake.

The newly paved road that we were traveling on yesterday ended at the entrance to the campground.  The road is still OK, but not nearly as nice as before.  The scenery is fantastic and we don't even notice the roadway surface.  Upon arriving at Dease Lake, we find the highest price we have ever paid for fuel:  $1.60 per liter!  This works out to 4.99 a gallon USD!  Normally $100 CDN will cover a refuel, today it costs us $116 CDN.  This is due to the price and that the tank is below 1/2 full which is where I would normally refuel.  Oh well, it's only money.

The weather is still very overcast and wet.  Not a heavy rain, just enough to have to wipe the windshield occasionally.  Every once in a while, we get a glimpse of blue sky and our hopes are recharged that we will be getting out of this bad weather soon.  At one point we saw a fox right on the side of the road.  He looks to be in pretty bad shape and we wonder if he is sick.  Looked mangy and underfed.  We didn't stop to try to pet the poor guy.  Then, a few miles down the road, we saw his brother.  He seemed to be in much better shape.

Van Haulin' is running OK and is liking the fact that there haven't been any steep climbs today.  But, I have noticed that when any load is placed on the engine that it is misfiring.  Not a hard misfire, but you can tell something is wrong.  I have the fuel filter but haven't swapped it out yet.  The plan is to get to our stop early and change the filter.  There hasn't been any place that we have seen to buy an air filter yet.  We wonder where these people go to do their shopping.

What's that blue stuff in the sky?

So, we drive on until we get to the junction of 37 and 37A and continue south to the Meziadin Lake Provincial Park.  This is equivalent to a state park in the USA.  We find a spot in the shade and pay our $22 CDN for our spot.  We get set up and I break out the tools so I can change the fuel filter.  I guess I have been delaying doing this as I don't have any internet access to research how this is done. I find that the park has wifi for sale so I sign up for a 24-hour pass.  I don't remember the cost, but it's about $10 or so.  Well worth the price.  I do a search for the fuel filter swap and find a procedure.  Changing the filter is actually pretty easy as it is right there in front.  The total procedure takes about 1/2 hour.  Having that done, we can now relax and enjoy the view.  The lake is another beautiful spot to be and the skies have cleared.  We enjoy the sun for the first time in weeks.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Day 23 Boya Lake

Correction to yesterdays post.

Teslin is after Whitehorse, so the turbo boost problem didn't occur until today.  So, up until the end of the day yesterday, we were just experiencing a rough running engine but nothing too bad.  We stayed at the High Country RV Park, right off the AK Hwy at the main turn off to go into town.  Very nice place.  We got lucky and got a spot without reservations.  YMMV.

So, our general plan today was to continue backtracking on the Alaskan Highway to Highway 37 and head south on the Cassiar Highway (37).  It is 258 miles to the turn-off and is just before Watson Lake.  Watson Lake is where the signpost forest is located.

We packed up and went into town to find the NAPA store.  Went right to the location shown on the map, but they were nowhere to be found.  With no internet, we were unable to locate the store.  I remember seeing another auto parts store over by the Walmart and drove over there.  I explained what I needed and the man checked the computer and said he had the fuel filter, but not the air filter.  I took the fuel filter and also a short piece of rubber hose that attaches to the top of the filter as a drain hose. Mine had rotted away.

After that, we got back on the road heading for the Cassiar.  This was always our plan to go back out of Canada this way down into Washington and then back home.  The Cassiar is supposed to be a very scenic drive and we are looking forward to the drive.

After about 100 miles we came through Teslin, YT and crossed the bridge.  After the bridge in the first really steep climb and this is where we lost the turbo boost the first time.  I won't go back over all that again as I reported it as if it happened on yesterday's post.

We lost the turbo boost at some point later that day, but I can't remember where it was.  I do remember that we were climbing a steep hill in the truck lane and came upon a truck pulling two 48' tankers and he was struggling to get up the hill.  I pulled out to pass and immediately lost the turbo.  I didn't even make it past the first trailer.  The truck was moving so slowly and the truck lane was running out so I had to actually brake to get back behind the truck.  Thankfully, there was nobody behind us traveling at the speed limit.  That would have been messy.

At the top of the hill, I pulled into a rest area and checked the air filter again.  Keep in mind that we have no internet and cannot get online to do any research.  At this point, I am still thinking I have a problem with the air filter.  I pull the air filter out and look it over.  Still looks good, but not as good as a new one.  I put it all back together again and head out.  I have a normal turbo boost again.  This reinforces my thinking about the air filter.

We arrive at the turnoff to the Cassiar Highway but decide to continue on into Watson Lake to see if they have any auto parts stores.  It is about 15 miles into town and worth checking.  Unfortunately, there are no auto parts stores at all.  We head back to the turnoff to the Cassiar.  Before leaving the junction, we check our maps and books to see what campgrounds are available and how far away they are.  We find one called Boya Lake which is a provincial campground.  We decide to make that our destination for the day.

Not a half mile from the junction we see signs for road construction from this point all the way to the BC/YT line.  Great.  The road is in poor shape and I am questioning this decision.  Maybe we should just get back on the AK Hwy and head for the nearest big town.  Fort Nelson would be the best bet at 324 miles.  It is a good sized town and seemed to have most anything you'd need.  We talked a little about our choices as we were driving this horrendous road.  Next thing we know, we see a sign welcoming us to BC and the road changes to the best road we've seen so far!  It was a really nice road.  Smooth, freshly paved, a pleasure to drive.

So, we decided to stick with this route as we thought we might head into Hyder, AK tomorrow.  There is a bear watching park there where you can stand up on an observation platform and watch bears fish in the river below.

So, the rest of the day was sent leisurely driving down this wonderful road with all this beauty around us.  This allowed us to relax a little and enjoy the drive.  No steep climbs and no more issues with the turbo for the rest of the day.

We arrived at the turnoff to the campground and were amazed at how clear the water was at the lake.  We found a pullover site and set up camp.  It was still raining a little, but we didn't care. We got out and walked around the campground.  There was an Airstream trailer in one of the spots and we spent some time talking to them.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Day 22 Haines, AK

After a peaceful nights sleep we, awake to a light drizzle and overcast skies.  Nobody else in the campground seems to be awake yet.  I am a bit worried about getting out of this spot as it is actually about a foot or more lower than the road and with the rain the ground is soft.  After breakfast, I get dressed and go outside to take a look at the situation.  Even though the ground is soft, there is plenty of gravel embedded in the dirt and I also spotted a huge pile of gravel across the street if I needed more.  The mosquitoes are out, so I get back in the van and prepare to back off the mountain of lego blocks I used to get the van level the night before.  I back the van down to the ground and then go out and retrieve the leveling blocks and clean them off as best I could.  They are still a mess so, I just store them on the step to the sliding door.  I back out with no problems and we are on our way.

Our plan is to backtrack on the Alaska Highway to Haines Junction and then head south into British Columbia and then back into Alaska to visit the town of Haines.  This is a total of 382 miles for the day.  It would be a long day, but we have options if we decided to break this trip into two days.

On the way into Alaska, we didn't want to stop and take the obligatory photo in front of the welcome sign.  The sign is on the left side of the road and a bit hard to get to if there is traffic around you.  We stop on the way out and take the photo.  Actually, there are some motorcycle riders there and one of them volunteers to take the photo for us.

The first goal is to make it to Canada and get through customs without any issues.  As we approach the gate, the butterflies start to build up a bit but not nearly as bad as when we made our first crossing back at Waterton Lakes.  I pull up to the window and hand over our passports and greet the agent cheerfully.  It is Sunday morning and if I worked there, I'd be grumpy for sure.  As in the past, he asked us a bunch of questions.  The key to success is to listen to the entire question and answer in as few words as necessary.  He seems satisfied with my responses, welcomes us to Canada and hands back our passports.

The crossing is real close to the town of Beaver Creek and there is a restaurant there that we wanted to stop at on the way out.  You should stop here if you get the chance.  It is called Buckshot Betty's Restaurant and Cafe.  You can't miss it.  We went in and are settled into a booth near the front.  We order coffee and are instructed that the coffee is self-serve as is water if you want that.  I order a traditional breakfast of bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns while Sharon orders a cinnamon roll.  As we wait for our order, we discuss the trip so far.  We are still amazed that we did that loop in such a short time.  We had planned to be gone for months but looks like we will be back home in less than two months.  There are no regrets though as we feel like we saw enough of Alaska on this trip.  When you add in the Canada provinces, it is almost a scenic overload.  Our necks hurt from swiveling our heads looking for the best viewpoint.

Our meal arrives.  Sharon's cinnamon roll is more like a cinnamon loaf.  It is huge and like any good husband, I help her to eat the monstrous portion of sweet goodness.  My breakfast is also very good and I consume most of that.  I think breakfast is my favorite meal.

We load up and start the trek to Haines Junction where we will depart the Alaska Highway and pick up Highway 3 for the trip down to Haines.  Driving along through here takes you mostly through the valley along the rivers and lakes.  There are some small hill climbs, but nothing too steep.  I notice that when we are climbing that the van is not running as smoothly as it should.  It acts like it is missing under load and I wonder about the air and fuel filters.  As we drive along, it starts to get worse and worse.  I tell Sharon that we are having problems with the van and need to find an auto parts store and buy new filters.  The next town of any size is Haines Junction.

We are able to maintain speed all right but the degraded performance concerns me.  Soon, we arrive in Haines Junction only to find no auto parts stores.  Even if they had one, finding parts for a Mercedes Sprinter van out here would be a miracle.  So, we are now at a major crossroad on our trip. Do we get off the main highway and go to Haines or stay on the Alaska Highway and make tracks for Whitehorse.  The safest thing to do is to head for Whitehorse and that is what we decide to do.  Being stranded on the main highway would be bad enough, but being stranded on a smaller more remote road would be much, much worse.

Just before Whitehorse is a small town called Teslin.  There is a river crossing here with a steel decked bridge that made me wonder how anyone on a motorcycle could ride across this bridge.  The steel deck is made up of U shaped sections just wide enough to fit the front tire of a motorcycle into and deep enough that if your tire went into that groove, that you could possibly lose control and crash.  Go slow across this bridge, it seems dangerous to me.  Right after that bridge is a very steep climb.  Steepest so far of the day.  As we are heading up, the van seems to be struggling and about 3/4 of the way up we lose all power.  We are in limp mode.  I quickly check my mirrors and note that there is nobody behind me.  I remember that there is a parking area at the top and we limp into the parking lot.

I open the hood and take a peek at the air filter.  I can see that it is full of dirt and debris and needs to be cleaned at the very least.  I break out my toolkit and remove the filter from its housing.  This requires removing several other parts first but isn't too bad.  I inspected the filter and see that in addition to the debris the foam prefilter is badly deteriorated and needs to be removed.  I clean the filter best I could and replace the filter and all the other parts and stow my toolkit.  We head back out onto the highway and we have normal turbo boost.  Relieved that I might have solved the problem makes the rest of the trip into Whitehorse more relaxing.  It is still missing some but not as bad.  So, I know we need an air filter for sure.  I also want to change the fuel filter as a precaution.

We arrive in Whitehorse and check several stores none of which has the air filter.  I did find a fuel filter and purchased one.  We check into an RV park for the night relieved to at least be in civilization.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Day 21 Back to Tok

We were up and at it early this morning.  After a quick breakfast and squaring away the inside, I went out and retrieved the power cord and hose.  I also, took advantage of our sewer connection and emptied the holding tank.  This configuration of the Airstream Interstate has a combined black and gray water tank.  The valve is electrically operated from inside the van.  The weather was wet and cold as usual so I had to make quick work of this task.

As we were leaving, we tooted the horn at the Sweet Cheeks Bakery folks and proceeded towards the edge of town.  We needed fuel and stopped at a place on the outskirts of town where the price was a bit less than in town.  We paid $3.86 a gallon.  More than all the other places in Alaska, but cheaper than any place in Canada!

We will be taking the Tok Cutoff Road at the junction of Hwy 4 and Hwy 1 in Glennallen.  We've heard a lot of bad things about this road.  The alternative is to stay on Hwy 4 to Delta and then the Alaska Hwy back to Tok.  

It was foggy and rainy as we approached the summit but we stopped at the Worthington Glacier State Recreation Center.  We were the only ones around.  You can hike up to the glacier, but due to the weather, we decided that the shot below was good enough.  Plus, we had left our bear spray in the van again.

Van Haulin in the parking lot, ready to make his break.

The Tok Cutoff Road has some spots that aren't good, but then there are some spots where it is good.  Much like all the other roads we've encountered so far.  When you get to a bad spot, you slow down.

We are glad that we came at this time of the year.  Even though it has been rainy and cold, we've really enjoyed the weather.  It is really hot and humid back in TN.  It was fun seeing what remained of the snow.

Another thing that surprised us was how fast we were able to make the tour around the paved roads in Alaska.  I know we could have spent more time at each place if the weather had been a bit more cooperative.  Maybe next time.  When you look at a map of Alaska you will notice that the area where the paved roads is a tiny fraction of the rest of the state.  They could divide Alaska into two separate states and Texas would be the third largest state!

Our plan is to stop in Tok for some souvenirs and to top off the fuel tank.  This will be the last place to buy fuel prior to re-entering Canada.

It is 253 miles from Valdez to Tok.  The scenery isn't the best we've seen but still better than a lot pf places we've been.  We want to try to get as close to the border as we can today.  It is another 90 miles from Tok to the border crossing.

There are several campgrounds that we can stop for the night.  One is called Lakeview which is a Fish and Wildlife campground and it is free.  If we get there early enough, we might be able to score a spot.  If not, there are lots of pull overs where we could stay for the night if we needed to do so.  We've not done that at all this trip, preferring to stay in campgrounds.

We stop for fuel in Tok.  There are three stations there.  The Chevron is the most expensive, but you can use their dump station with a fill up.  We didn't need to do that so drove on down where the other two stations are.  Once is a Shell station and the other is a no name.  The Shell station is packed and the no name is empty.  Same price, so we go to the no name and fill up at $3.47 a gallon. 

All the miles driven from Tok and around Alaska and back to Tok totals up to 1770 miles.  

We arrive at the Lakeview campground and find a lot of spots still open.  We choose the best one for us and pull in.  It isn't very level and it takes 4 lego blocks to get the passenger side front tire up high enough to be level.  It is muddy as well, but it seemed to be holding.  Of course, it is still raining but we get out and walk the loop to check out the lake.  It is peaceful here.

As the afternoon starts to run into night, more and more campers show up and soon the campground is full.  Everyone must be tired as it is quiet here and we have no issues sleeping.