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Old 07-13-2011, 07:55 AM   #1
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My cross-continent RV trip 2011

My wife and I have for most our 16 years together, thought it would be great to get an RV. However, I already spend/waste way too much time and money on some material things, such as electronics. So I've deliberately stayed away from other toys like motorcycles, boats, RV's, etc. Specifically with an RV, I've never been able to justify one as being remotely practical.
Well, I just spent a year in Iraq. One of the things that happens in an environment like that, is re-defining what's important to a person, and puts desires in perspectives. For me, one of my daughers is 7 years old now, and the other is 2. I'm looking to get some good family time. They love RV's now, but 10 years from now they could very well not want to do anything with mom and dad like camping.
So I still can't justify an RV as practical, but decided to "seize the moment" and take the plunge anyway. My wife liked the idea of having the coach accessible as we motor down the road, which meant looking at a Class A or Class C. I can't afford a new Class A, and even most of the used ones that are not base models (I was hoping for a diesel) was cost prohibitive. So I settled on a Class C, going for a nicer used one than a lower-end new one to suit our budget and desires. (for one, with a family of 4, including 2 growing girls, we wanted some personal space for everybody, trying to avoid crowding)
Being me, I did a bunch of RV research, and then found a good one, through eBay of all places. Put a good bit of faith in both God and the seller, which I felt good about. Ran into several snags, but they all worked out in the end. I bought early,to give time for inspection and registration, then put the RV into storage.
On the way back from Iraq, I stopped in Alabama to graduate from my master's degree. I flew in the wife and girls, then afterwards picked up the RV and we drove home to Alaska. Long drive, but we did this intentionally to get to know each other again, and me to get reacquainted with North America again as well.
So I went from a place where this was quite the norm:

... to picking this up for the journey:

That was packing up the RV to start the trip. 2008 Gulfstream Endura "Super C", built on an International 4200 commercial truck chassis with a VT365 turbo diesel engine.
This is the route we picked out, each marker representing where we spent the night. 15 days of travel across 4,800 miles.

Most days were 400-500 miles, although we stopped early on more than one night because it was getting late. And then I allotted extra time to days seeing the sights in Jackson, WY, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, Calgary, Banff, and Lake Louise, where those few days were not just 500 mile travel. Although it was mid-June and the start of the summer travel season, we decided against doing advanced travel reservations. It ended up working just fine, actually. When we were pretty sure where we'd be ending up the night, often just 1-2 hours prior, we'd use our RV campground listing books (very useful) and call up a campground at which we'd like to stay. On only one night were we not able to get a campground of our choosing, and had to scavenge, which ended up working out fine. (more about Banff/Lake Louise later)
All in all, it was a great trip. Being a travel trip, and not a vacation, we did more driving per day than I would have liked, and didn't have near enough time to spend at the sites along the way. But we still got plenty.
37' 2008 Gulf Stream Endura 3632 Class "C+" International Truck Chassis w/VT365 Diesel
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Old 07-13-2011, 08:01 AM   #2
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Unfortunately, right as we picked up the RV, the ABS brake controller failed, which put the rig out of commission. But, the good news was, we had a few days as I did my graduation, and we were literally one block away from an International Truck dealership. That's one benefit of having a rig built on a commercial truck frame--any truck service center can work on them, and they're built for heavy-duty long distance trucking. I have to say, the International guys in Montgomery, though, were spectacular. And the controller was covered under my RV warranty I got through the Good Sam Club, which was awesome, so it all worked out fine.

Me as we're actually hitting the road to start it off.
The first day, we got a late start as we packed up the RV. But this was planned, and we headed just up the highway through Birmingham. Stopped by the galleria mall because I'm a BIG Lego fan. Don't get a chance to get to an authentic Lego Store very often.

Then stopped for the night just outside Birmingham, in Jasper, I believe. Our first night experiencing RV camping. What fun! Did all the hookups, jack levelers, etc. Worked great.
I think every RV'er has stories, though, of doing something silly/foolish and causing a mess, or worse, some damage. (i.e. not fully hooking up the sewer line and getting a leak, or driving away with an awning out) We did have one of those moments--apparently, in checking out the RV and prepping for the trip, one of us tried out the shower knobs, and then didn't turn it the right way to shut it off. And my wife had learned a trick from family, that when looking for extra storage space for the drive, so that stuff isn't rattling around the coach, you can put something in the shower. You see where this is going. When I pressurized the water system, my wife came screaming out, that I was getting all the stuff soaked in the shower. Lesson learned.

Unfortunately, the next morning, we discovered a huge water puddle in the middle of the interior coach floor. But with some troubleshooting, we quickly discovered that it came from a leaky water line underneath the kitchen sink, which was readily accessible, and we could put a catcher bowl underneath the leak when needed. Couldn't fix it myself, but we could leave the water system unpressurized, and then when we needed water, just use the exterior water source, or turn on the water pump, and slide the catcher bowl in place. Fortunate again!
The picture was the site in the morning, with all slides and awnings out, before packing up to hit the road.
Next day took us through Memphis, Tennessee, and ended up near North Little Rock, Arkansas. The following day, we drove through Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa has the United States' newest Hard Rock Cafe property, a casino and hotel, so I checked that off my list--I've now visited 162 Hard Rock Cafes in the world, and once again am back at 100% for all North American Hard Rock properties! We stopped at the Hard Rock in Memphis as well, although I had previously already visited.
After the brief stop in Tulsa, we continued on to Wichita, Kansas for the night, and had dinner at an Old Chicago's restaurant there. This is my other favorite restaurant chain, with awesome pizza and pasta. I always hit them whenever I drive through somewhere in the country that has one.
The following day was a rather boring and long drive through Kansas to Denver. I'm not a big fan of Kansas. But from using the air conditioning hard in the highest temp which we saw in Oklahoma, 104 Fahrenheit, it got very comfortable from Denver on, even using the heater in the mountains of Wyoming, Montana, and Canada. Having grown up in Colorado, there was just something about driving back to and through the state. As we got to western Kansas and entered Colorado, there once again was a subtle shift that just felt... homey. There's something about the thin air in Colorado, the look of the eastern plains, especially as you start to see the Rocky Mountains in the distance. It smells different during and after a rain--a smell I love, and it's not the same in other parts of the world.
After seeing family in Denver, we stopped just short of Jackson, Wyoming as we got to the first focus of the trip. Jackson was a delightful town, still with some old western feel to it. We very much enjoyed it, and then after lunch went into Grand Teton National Park. While it was nice, and very pretty, we had a bad spat of weather, and weren't really able to see the mountains. Very sad, as I've seen some gorgeous pictures of the Grand Tetons.
Grand Teton National Park almost continues on directly into Yellowstone National Park, and we stayed the night in a campground just inbetween them. The next day was devoted almost entirely to Yellowstone, which was utterly gorgeous. We had some of the same weather in the southern end, with low cloud ceilings, but the landscape below was still gorgeous. We stopped for lunch by pulling off into a picnid area on the side of the road by Yellowstone Lake. Put up the awnings, and had a great view to go along with the meal.

After lunch, we stopped by geysers, which were FASCINATING. I've never seen such a field of interesting geologic phenomena in just a few acres. Highly recommended to check it out sometime.

Over the continental divide! This was one of maybe a dozen crossings we did, back and forth, inside Yellowstone and up the rest of the drive home.

Of course, we HAD to stop by Old Faithful. We weren't sure if we were going to make the next eruption, so we were scurrying to the site. But we actually ended up waiting about 5 minutes when we got there, so we were good.

This pic was actually later in the eruption, not at full blast. Most impressive. I hope the phenomenon isn't lost on the public that comes to watch, in the light of today's technological spectacular laser, lights, and music shows. This one is 100% nothing but the power of the earth. Very cool.
Yellowstone is most amazing. There are all sorts of areas of the park, different from each other. Flood plains, high bare mountains with snow, lush forest, caustic geyser fields, huge blue lakes, prairie, etc. Through the day, we drove through almost the whole park, seeing all sorts of sights. This one is from the North Rim, a part of a great canyon with river rapids and waterfalls.

... and this. THIS is what I was missing in Iraq. THIS is part of the America that I love. You don't get this in the Middle East. So tranquil and beautiful.
37' 2008 Gulf Stream Endura 3632 Class "C+" International Truck Chassis w/VT365 Diesel
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Old 07-13-2011, 08:02 AM   #3
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Even leaving Yellowstone to the northwest was beautiful. I don't think I had ever been to Montana before, and it was gorgeous. Stayed the night west of Bozeman, in Three Forks, MT. This was intentional, as we had placed a very large order for wheat and organic food stores to bring up with us to Alaska. There were a few things that we bought to take advantage of this trip, as most everything is available to buy in Alaska, but there are a few select things that are more rare, or cost a lot to ship up. Bringing them with you on a drive can save quite a bit of money. The wheat and food stores weren't a problem, but a couple other things actually caused a problem at the Canadian border--more about that soon. So we picked up a very small cargo trailer to pull behind the RV, and continued.
Since we picked up a bunch of weight between Denver and Three Forks, I bumped up the tire pressure to the maximum the next morning. This actually took a HUGE amount of time, as I could get to the tire valve stems on the inside tires of the rear duallies, but the stems were rigid, and I had the worst time getting the tire air chuck fully onto the stems to pump in the air. I actually had to crawl under the RV and get to the inner stems from the inside. With the compressor failing a couple times, it took FOREVER. Eventually, though, we were on our way.
What an AMAZING drive north through Montana and to the Glacier National Park! From Helena, I highly recommend staying off I-15, and turning left to go up the Eastern edge of GNP. Beautiful. And then GNP itself was more stunning. This year had been much more cold than others, with lots of extra snow, so the famous Going to the Sun road through GNP still wasn't plowed and open, even in late June. Even if it had been, we couldn't have driven our RV, but would have taken the park's shuttles through it. But it's okay, we still got our complete fill of beauty and scenery, with craggy mountains, snow, glaciers, and serene high valley lakes.

We stopped for dinner in the northern GNP by pulling on the side of the road, eating by another lake with amazing mountains around. There was no shortage of great views on this trip. The sun was setting.

37' 2008 Gulf Stream Endura 3632 Class "C+" International Truck Chassis w/VT365 Diesel
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Old 07-13-2011, 08:04 AM   #4
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No offense to anywhere else, but I've been all around the world, and seen all but a couple of the world's major mountain ranges. I have to say that this trip confirmed for me, that my favorite mountain range is the Rockies, although I'd be hard pressed to decide whether I like the USA or Canadian Rockies more. They are so utterly magnificent, with the raw size, the variability throughout the range, the features, etc.
That night, as I mentioned, we had a problem crossing the border, based on some of the items we brought with us, even though we SPECIFICALLY researched the exact custom rules, and called ahead to confirm. It was really frustrating. We got turned away, to come back the next morning when agents could confirm information. We did, and spent hours going through details, even though we had done all the work ahead of time. It was maddening. I hate to say it, but those people who are 100% up front and honest about "non-mainstream" items they bring through the border are given quite the hassle, while those who just fudge the issues often have an easier time. Of course, those who have it easiest are those who don't take anything with them at all across the border. It doesn't change what is right and wrong of course--you still comply with the law. I just wish it were easier for law-abiding citizens who show that they're in compliance, to get through and go about their lives. Let's make it hard on the bad guys, who are actually BREAKING the law, people!!!
Anyhoo... here we are crossing the border much earlier in the day.

At the end of crossing the border, our 2 year-old was climbing on a chair inside the RV, fell, and hit her head. As we drove into Canada, we became concerned about it and how she was doing, so we called our nurse advice line, and ended up going to the emergency room just to be safe. So we got to experience Canada's healthcare system. For sake of neutrality, I'll withhold my assessment of the experience. But it did take a good bit of time. Of course, that was more important than any other travel plan to us! We spent the rest of the day in Calgary, which was nice, although I wish I had known of better things to do in Calgary. When I go to a strange new city, I don't just want to go to a routine mall, or zoo, that you can get in any big city. I want to know what makes that city stand out from others. If the zoo is the best in the country, then I want to see it! Otherwise... I can go to a zoo anytime, and if my time's limited, I'd rather spend it on the SPECIAL things. By sheer luck, we spent the night at a campground located at the Olympic park where the 1988 Olympics were held. While we didn't tour any facilities, it was pretty cool to drive right by the ski jump, skating rink, and other things where the Olympics were. I've been in several other cities where Olympics either have previously been, or have been planned to be, but this was only the third time I've been to the actual Olympic facilities.
The next day was all about Banff and Lake Louise. These places have been on my bucket list for some time, as I've seen pictures, and I must say, I was NOT disappointed. I'd love to go back and spend even more time there in the future. Great weather that day. Spectacular scenery. (seeing a theme in my scenery descriptions?) Here we are, parking on the street, with a beautiful background.

It was great to walk down main street and do some shopping, and we had a nice lunch at a cheese fondue restaraunt with buffalo, elk, and vinison. Then we took a tram up to the top of a neighboring mountain, with a hike and views to die for, especially from a ranger station on the next ridge over.

Look carefully at this next picture, and you can see a thin rock mountain tower that stands out to the side of this precipice. Lovely.

And then we were off to Lake Louise, just up the highway from Banff. This was one of my favorite spots of the whole trip, and definitely something that I had worked into the plan as a focus from the beginning. A MUST see, and we were not disappointed. Absolutely beautiful. I wish my camera, and the late afternoon's lighting could have done the place justice.

We actually had dinner that night on the back veranda of the Fairmont hotel on Lake Louise, which is quite famous with many beautiful pictures out there. What a great dinner, with an idyllic setting. Since we had been on the road for almost a week and a half at that point, I entertained the idea of getting a room there for the night. But... I decided to save the $400 (yes.. and that's for a basic room without a lake view) and we went to the campground. Unfortunately, they were all full in the town, so after looking at options, we pushed up the road, and ended up pulling off the highway into a provincial park and dry camped for the night. ("camping" without any power or hookups, just on whatever you've got in the RV) Worked great, and saved a boatload of money. I pulled into a campsite that was a bit too tight with trees, and even though we got out just fine in the morning, it took a chunk of extra time with maneuvering.
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Old 07-13-2011, 08:06 AM   #5
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We spent that night in Whitehorse, which was the last "significant" city we went through on our drive. All the others were town-sized. Very pleasant, but small! As you can see here, not every campground was spacious, with grand views. This one in Whitehorse, was nice, but they really packed us in like sardines. Thankfully, I became quite adept at maneuvering that big RV in and out of places, so we didn't have a problem, even with the trailer.

And then we crossed back into Alaska! Although I feared problems with customs at this last stage, it actually went VERY smooth this time, and was fantastic. After being away for a full year, I can't explain what a great feeling it was, to re-enter my home state! Similar to driving into Colorado, it just looked and FELT like the Alaska that I knew and loved.

But for those who don't fully understand and appreciate the true nature and size of Alaska, entering Alaska to drive home is comparable to saying you drove from the East Coast, and finally crossed the Mississippi to drive into the western United States. We still had a full day and a half drive left! We spent the night in the nice little town of Tok, Alaska, and then split off the Alcan Highway to drive southwest towards Anchorage. This is a gorgeous drive, especially as you get further south, with mountains, valleys, and glaciers.
Soooooo... we found ourselves home after:
- 1 year in Iraq
- 15 days driving
- 5,000 miles
- 500 or so driving hours
- Average of 6-7 mpg (ouch)
- About $3.90/gallon average of gas in the US for diesel, $4.75 USD in Canada
- 9 bear sightings (some with multiple bears)
- Countless other wildlife sightings
- 0 speeding tickets (yay)
- One crunched DVD case (casualty in extending the RV slideouts one night)
- One small crunched rear bumper corner (think this was my fault)
- One trip to the emergency room
It's good to be home. :T
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Old 07-13-2011, 09:12 AM   #6
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Welcome Home!
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Old 07-13-2011, 09:39 AM   #7
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Tear in eyes(I wasn,t there something iwill never be able to do) thank you for all the pictures--now ive been there
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Old 07-13-2011, 10:20 AM   #8
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First let me say, "Welcome home, safe and sound. And thank you for serving."

Second, what a wonderful report. We're going to Glacier, Yellowstone, and SW Colorado this Fall via the Badlands and Blackhills in SD and I can hardly wait. I wish we had the time to go on up into Canada but that will have to wait. Since driving to Alaska is on our bucket list, I'm saving the Canadian Rockies for that trip.

Looks like you got yourself a very nice rig. And good for you for wanting to make memories with your children while you can. They grow up way too quickly.

Here's hoping you many more wonderful family adventures in your RV.

Fran & Tom/ 2 rescue cats - BP (2015), Peaches (2003) & in spirit - Aja (1996-2014), Tipper (2002-2017), and Snippet (2002-2020). 2011 Winnebago Vista 30W/2008, 4 door Wrangler 4X4
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Old 07-13-2011, 12:25 PM   #9
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great story. welcome home. great choice of rig too.

John & Colleen Weston & Cassie(our cat) -Olympia,WA
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Old 07-13-2011, 02:42 PM   #10
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Thank you for your service and sharing your adventures. We are headed to Alaska next summer. I'm looking forward to seeing Fairbanks again where I spent a good chunk of my military time. By the way our trips are with 14 year old twin girls. You are right to travel with them while they'll go. There will be a time when Mom & Dad aren't their first choice of travelling companions.
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Old 07-13-2011, 04:53 PM   #11
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Thank you so much for sharing in this wonderful trip. And welcome home........
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Old 07-13-2011, 07:14 PM   #12
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Welcome home and thank you for your service. That was a great recap of your family adventure. Some very beautiful scenes you shot.

Enjoy the Rig
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Old 07-13-2011, 09:37 PM   #13
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Chris, thanks and welcome home. Here's hoping that you and your family enjoy many wonderful journies in you MH.
Travel well, travel safe,
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Old 07-13-2011, 10:48 PM   #14
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Great share Chris, and like the others said, thank you and welcome home! Nice to hear you enjoyed our little portion of Canada! I live just north of the border in Alberta, and I love the rving I get to do so close to home and I always love hearing others enjoy it too!

Hope you get the chance to share many more trips with us!
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