Baby Bison, don't tread on that pretty flower...

Baby Bison, don't tread on that pretty flower...
Custer State Park, SD; June, 2010

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Columbia, TN, United States
I am a Christian, married over 43 years to my gorgeous first wife; in 13th year as professor of education at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN; 4 children and 9 grandchildren.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Road Tripping on a Budget

Driving the ALCAN Highway (Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska) had been a lifelong dream. Watching episodes of IRT (Ice Road Truckers) on the History Channel only increased that desire. With my wife’s support I planned this monumental road trip somewhat apprehensive about my physical stamina and the trip’s affordability. I learned several lessons on my recently-completed 28-day, 12,800-mile solo, round-trip from Tennessee to the Arctic Ocean.
First, I had no control over the cost of transportation. Once I decided that my Nissan Sentra was my travel mode and that I would start in Columbia and end in Hobbs, New Mexico at the home of three of my grandchildren, I began figuring a “best guess” on the cost of gas, oil changes, flat tires, buying a full-sized spare, and car washes (especially after driving the dusty Dalton Highway to the Arctic Ocean). What I didn’t expect was $72 for a Dawson City oil change and not finding an open car wash in Fairbanks on a Sunday morning. I had budgeted for the higher cost of north-of-the-border fuel, but my mathematically-challenged Type A brain was frustrated by trying to convert price per liter to price per gallon.
Additionally, I had no control over the price of the tours and excursions. The IditaRide Real Alaska dog sled experience, two glacier/wildlife boat tours, Riverboat Discovery ride down the Chena River, sea kayaking in Resurrection Bay…these all cost what they cost. I did avoid national park entry fees with my All Access Pass for which I became eligible when I turned 62 last December ($10 for free entry the rest of my life for all the passengers in my car – though only the Invisible Man joined me on this trip). I also could do nothing about cost of museums and similar attractions such as the Yukon Wildlife Preserve outside Whitehorse, the Ice Museum in downtown Fairbanks, and the Musk Ox Farm near Palmer.
The two major expenses over which I had some control were lodging and food. I spent seven of my 27 nights in hostels. This was positive and negative. It was inexpensive (between $20 and $35 a night depending on location and accommodations) compared to hotels, resorts, or bed and breakfasts. I had access to a hot shower (bathed every second or third day whether I needed it or not) and kitchen privileges. I also had free WiFi in most of these until my laptop virused-out on me in the second week (spent three fruitless hours with techies in Fairbanks). The downside of hostels was the late-night, noisy arrivals (12:30-2 a.m.) of roommates. The only reason I stayed the other three times was that new owners of the Nauti Otter Hostel in Seward were remodeling with no other boarders; they let me have a private cabin for three nights at about the rate for the ordinarily half-as-expensive “dorm-style” bunk rooms my other nights. I decided I could rest better and save money sleeping in my car. I did that 20 nights adapting well with a body pillow doubled on the floor of the passenger side for my feet, a fully reclined body-conforming bucket seat, three different size pillows, and coats/covers of varying weights. Ski cap, hooded sweatshirt, and gloves helped with my comfort during chilly early morning hours. I even got adept at curtaining out rest area or campground lights or the infamous midnight sun in whose land I reposed.
Finally, I chose to control food costs by grocery shopping frequently for healthier/cheaper produce and easy-to-eat flip-top cans of tuna and beans. I “roughed it” by eating the beans cold. One permitted splurge was the prime rib/baked salmon meal on the glacier/wildlife cruise out of Whittier. Yum!
I had a great trip, stayed safe and relatively comfortable, learned a lot about solo travel, and came in under budget. I needed only regular oil changes, replacing one windshield wiper, and changing one flat tire. I was thankful for the full-sized spare, since my car's original donut spare might not have made the 60 miles of dirt and gravel between Atlin (where the tire was flat) and the paved highway to Watson Lake where I could get it repaired. Many seem to be not quite as fortunate as I was.
Paraphrasing what the Little Engine puffed many decades ago, “I thought I could! I thought I could!” I did!

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