Just North of Normal Part 1 – Traveling to Alaska in Third World Style

I have a lot of friends who have been all over the world. Thailand, Loas, China, Mexico, Cambodia, Nepal, Grenada, Belize, etc, etc. I too, have been to many of those places. It’s great seeing new cultures, getting diarrhea from new food (Thailand), puking every 30 minutes for 48 hours straight from food poisoning (Mexico), or riding the punctual, clean public transit in Hong Kong (A clean and punctual public transportation system should be considered one of the wonders of the world, in my opinion). But getting to these places can be expensive. I have a cheaper solution to relieve that travel itch, however temporary it may be.

Think about it. You spend $1000 on a plane ticket so you can travel comfortably to the far end of the world. What do you do when you get there? You experience the local culture which means riding tuck-tucks around, traveling in cramped buses full of chickens and goats, sweltering in the heat, pooping in uncomfortable positions (China) and having things go drastically wrong so that you find yourself in awkward and dangerous situations. But all those highlights of travel can be achieved must easier and with less cost.

For example…

My brother gave me and my wife a free round trip to Alaska. Of course, like any generous gifts from my brother, it came with some ulterior motives. He lives (part time) in Alaska and has been trying to get me and my wife to relocate up nort. This is an easy sell for me because I already own 9 acres on the Kenai Peninsula which I bought when I was convinced that I wanted to be a hermit in the wilderness 4,000 miles from where I grew up. But then I met the beautiful women that is now my wife. She just shudders whenever living arrangements in Alaska are discussed.

“Brrrr. Igloos. Snow. Cabin fever. Bears. Death. Ice. Snow. Deaths. Ice. Ice. Ic…” At this point I interrupt her.

“No income tax.”

“Yea, because you’ll be dead.”

It goes on and on in similar fashion. In an effort to get some more nieghbors, Matt has arranged the trip knowing that once a person has visited Alaska, hooks get set deep in the heart that draw you back. And therein lies his ulterior motive.

A few months ago, Matt began hedging his generosity a little. “Hey, do you want to drive up to Alaska instead of flying?We’re going up in June. You guys can come with us then fly back.”

I agreed, a little suspicious of any vehicle Matt gives me to drive. Sure enough, about two weeks before we were slated to leave Matt called me.

“Hey, we can’t take the limo because we need it to drive to book signings,” Matt explained. Matt had written a self published book about driving his limo to Alaska called “The Adventures of A Traveling Dog Salesman.” It is an interesting book although it reads as though it’s been proofread by a five year old foreign exchange student. Nevertheless, it has made him a local celebrity among the conservative Mennonite population in Pennsyvlania. Apparently it doesn’t take much to entertain them although I grew up with Matt so maybe the novelty of his exploits escape me. Matt did something that was weird and almost got people killed? Meh,  what’s new?  Matt then proposed a solution, “Would you be willing to drive the Rabbit?”

The Rabbit in question was purchased for $800 (which was about $750 too much) and featured a tiny diesel engine miracously held in place by rust and a lot of zealous prayer on the part of whoever was driving the car. I agreed to drive it, of course. My life can always use more fervent prayer and I’ll put up with a lot to get a free trip to Alaska. Shucks, I’d ride a donkey if I had to.

Then, three days before the trip I learned that the Rabbit had ran into some small mechanical problems. “The rear axle fell off of the Rabbit,” Matt informed me. “But don’t worry, we’re welding it back on.” As it turned out, the car was so rusty that there was nothing to weld the axle to. So the Rabbit was retired to it’s namesake’s natural habitat; heavily wooded land with lots of undergrowth.

Since Matt was an avid collector of of high mileage used cars that even low balling Craigslist shoppers didn’t want, there was no lack of alternatives. We were taking the 27 foot RV. 27 feet sounds spacious until you realize that Matt has 7 children, all each cuter than the last. Cuteness doesn’t make up for lack of space, however, and after four days the cuteness factor may not be able to counteract the cramped elbows and sticky fingers. As I write this, I’m sitting at a table tapping away on my iPad. We are going 55 mph down a toll road but judging from the sounds this Mallard RV is making, we’re approaching reentry into the atmosphere. It also smells like burning rubber, which believe it or not, loses its appeal after several minutes. The back corners of the RV are covered in silver gasket tape from top to bottom end in an effort to keep water out. Whether the tape actually works is of little consequence because the air conditioner on the roof is making the carpet in the hallway wet. I guess we could just turn it off but it is keeping the inside of the RV at a cool 89 degrees, which is better than the sweltering outside temperature of 92 degrees. Of course, the windows don’t seal very well so the breeze helps keep the burning rubber smell to a minimum. Yes, we could open the windows the whole way but then a few kids might get squeezed out. And that wouldn’t be good at all. The bathroom is so tiny that the when you close the door the door handle is competing for space with your knees. That’s a good thing, however, since you want to keep a steady hand on the door handle because the door has no locking mechanism.  I suspect the shower is merely a refrigerator sourced from the local morgue with a hose stuck through the top end.




I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’ll take adventure in any form I can find it and this trip already feels like an epic adventure in a faraway land but we’re only a few hours down the toll road. Big budget adventure for an affordable price.

More updates to follow. Stay tuned!

BTW, no adventurer is complete without an epic beard. Once you grow your beard, keep it awesome with Bush Pilot Beard Balm.

Read Just North of Normal Part 2

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