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The International Writers Magazine: Planning Road Trip to Alaska: From Our Archives

North to Alaska (Part One)
Sam Black

Goals were something I always needed in my life even when I was young, young as in my twenties. I had short range goals and long range goals. I had three long range goals back then, traveling to New Zealand and Australia, writing a novel, and driving up the Alaskan Highway from the USA to Alaska. 

I started my first novel and completed it (not published as yet) working on a second novel, took thirty days to see New Zealand and Australia all in this millennium. Well I had one more long range goal to accomplish from my younger days or about 40 years ago.

When I turn 65 the idea of taking the Alaskan Highway trip would make a great birthday present to me. I called an old Air Force buddy, Tom Bailey who I’ve only seen twice in 43 years, but stayed in contact with and asked him about driving the Alaska Highway. Tom has lived in Alaska for over forty years. He informed me to bring a motor home up and fly home. He ripped several pages out of an old Anchorage yellow page directory and sent them to me in Arizona via snail mail.

            I called the first two RV rental companies in Anchorage and the second one, Clipper Ship RV Rental loaded my name, phone number, and address in their computer and all I had to do was send them a check for $500.00 for a security deposit and I would be scheduled to drive a 27 foot motor home to Alaska from South Bend, Indiana in May. Needless to say I was as excited as a golfer that just made a hole-in-one. The only difference, I didn’t have to buy drinks at the clubhouse.

            Being a single man I called several male buddies to see if they wanted to make the trip and share the expenses. I have nothing against females in fact I really like them, but I guess I just wanted this to be a guy thing. I had several excuses from my calls; a wife at home, kids going to college, too old to make the trip, and one guy was a rabbit breeder and he had to be home. What the hell did he do watch them. After a couple weeks I called two old US Air Force buddies both from Maryland. Jim Jarmon told me in five seconds he would go no problem. He was married and made the decision without asking his wife. Now that guy has brass balls or no brains. Well Jim’s wife, the sweetheart she is let him go without a fuss. Mike Sacrey on the other hand asked his wife, received permission and sent me a check for part of the $500.00 deposit within a week.

            After several phone calls to Anchorage and asking hundred’s of questions I figured I was prepared to make the trip now all I had to do was wait. I bought an Alaska Highway guide, The Mile Post. Don’t make the trip without it. The Mile Post gives all the RV parks information along with restaurants, gas stations, places of interest, plus maps with mileage from one city to another. You also get history of each city and also land marks along the way.

            On Saturday May 12th the following year I flew from the Phoenix, Arizona to Indianapolis, Indiana. A good friend and former employee of mine, Thor Hodges met me at the Indianapolis Airport along with his two sons. Thor is in his late thirties. It was my 65th birthday and we were going out to dinner. Thor is a policeman for Columbia City, Indiana located in northeastern Indiana. Thor is also the head wrestling coach for the high school.

            After a nice meal at a sports bar, we checked into the Radisson Hotel which was walking distance from the airport. Jim Jarmon and Mike Sacrey would be flying into Indianapolis the next morning from Baltimore, Maryland. Thor would drive us to South Bend, Indiana in his Suburban to pickup our RV and head North To Alaska.

            I was glad Thor had the Suburban because the three of us Alaska bound old timers had more than enough luggage to spend the whole summer up in the North Country. Winter clothes consume a lot of space in your suitcase.  Yes, it is cold in Alaska in May. With a stop for lunch at one of our countries high cholesterol fast food places we made the trip in two and half hours.

            We arrived in South Bend around 1400 at a private residence where we picked up the RV. The residence owner, Barney picked up the RV at Coachman Motor Homes in Nappanee, Indiana less than thirty-five miles from his house. He had all the paper work, and a motor home was all furnished with blankets, dishes, linens, pots and pans and other cooking utensils. The only problem there wasn’t any 27 foot motor home to be found. A twenty four foot RV was sitting in the driveway. The reason as Barney explained to us, the plant ran out of parts on the 27 foot and they wouldn’t have it ready until Tuesday. We could wait or take the 24 foot. The three of us looked at each other for ten seconds and the decision was made. We were taking a 24 foot RV today.  Over the past ten years Barney had driven motor homes to Alaska many times for Clipper Ship Motor Homes.

            After getting a very quick orientation from Barney and his wife we boarded the RV even though we were short three feet. We departed South Bend city limits at 1500. I mapped the whole trip out months before and sent itineraries to Mike and Jim giving them dates and places we would camp for the night. I asked them for their approval. No changes were made until this day.

            My itinerary had us staying in South Bend for the night at a hotel to have a comfortable sleep, having a nice dinner, going to Wal-Mart and loading the RV down with food, cleaning supplies, toilet articles, and then getting liquor from a liquor store. We would get up at the crack of dawn the next morning and head for parts none of us had seen before. It never happened. We boogied on into Michigan without stopping just like most guys would do on a trip like this.
            I had been driving since we left Barney’s and we were one-hundred miles north of South Bend cruising down interstate highway 31 toward Grand Rapids, Michigan when I said, “maybe we ought to find a camping site.” The other two agreed and we saw a RV park by a small lake seventy-five miles later. The exit took us to Big Rapids, Michigan a small town adjacent to the interstate.

            We decided to fuel up our home away from home. I pumped the gas while the other two guys went inside to use the facilities and check to see if they could buy liquor on Sunday.  They were informed by the clerk that Michigan sells liquor on Sundays and Wal-Mart has liquor. They got directions and off we went.

            Our next stop, you guessed it, a Super Wal-Mart a few miles east of the gas station. I parked the RV and the Jim and Mike headed for the liquor department in Wal-Mart. I was checking the road atlas in the RV when a local police car drove up and parked right in front of the RV. He got out of his patrol car; right hand fixed on his Smith and Wesson 45 and walked slowly over to my window. “You purchase gas at the Texaco station back by the interstate.” His hand still fixed on his 45.
            “Yes sir.” I said looking at the cops 45.
            “You never paid for it.”
            “Wow! I thought they paid for it, their in Wal-Mart buying some things for our trip.”  Seconds later Mike and Jim have their arms full of liquor walking towards the RV.
            The cop checked our vehicle registration and temporary tag on the left side window. He asked me for my driver’s license and when he saw Arizona on the license he looked at me and said, “If you’re heading to Alaska what are doing in Michigan?”
            Mike spoke up with his sharp eastern accent, “We heard they had free gas here.” Mike spread a large grin as he spoke. Jim and I stared at Mike.
            The cop never smiled, but looked somewhat puzzled and agreed to let us go provided we headed back to the Texaco to pay our bill. The cop followed us and went inside with Mike while he paid the bill.
            We drove to the RV Park and selected a spot from only three spots that were left. We paid the owner and then headed back to Wal-Mart to buy some groceries after we drank a bottle of wine and laughed about our experience in Big Rapids, Michigan.

            Buying groceries was a real treat. Mike and Jim haven’t ever shopped or cooked. Two things I failed to asked them months ago.  Their wives do it all. Including dishes, and cleaning up. Since I would be doing all the cooking I bought what I wanted and knew how to fix. After giving Wal-Mart over two hundred-fifty dollars not counting the booze we bought earlier we pushed two full grocery carts to our RV. All expenses on this trip will be split three ways. Jim was elected the bookkeeper. Mike a former FAA officer and a pilot was selected as our navigator.

            We sat down to our first meal eating hamburgers, along with potato salad, baked beans from Wal-Mart’s deli and a couple of Miller Lites a piece. The time after I washed the dishes cleaned up the kitchen and put the dishes away was 9:45. We put on two-hundred nineteen miles today and were ahead of schedule by that much.

I decided to take the large bed in the back since I planned the trip and the oldest not to mention cooks need their sleep.  Mike opted for the bunk above the cab and Jim the largest of the three had to make up his bed everyday. He slept where the dinette normally sits.

It was a couple hours later; I was asleep and Mike was snoring extremely loud when Jim’s bed collapsed dropping his two hundred ten pound, six foot two inch frame twenty two inches to the floor. After several vulgar words from Jim and me raising myself up to see what all the commotion was about. Mike’s snoring seemed to increase every minute. After several more grumbles from Jim, we managed to get back to sleep.

 I became rattled again by Jim’s bed slamming to the floor. The time on my alarm clock read 03.47 using one eye to see the illuminated clock. Mike was still snoring. More vulgar language came out of Jim’s mouth. “You can bet your x*(#@x Uncles farm I will have this fixed by tomorrow night.” I laughed.  More obscene words flew from Jim’s mouth as he scrambled to put his bed back together.  Jim is a very skilled carpenter by trade and makes his living at it. One hour later the alarm sounded.

Part Two: Mackinac Bridge, Upper Peninsula of Michigan and into Wisconsin.                

© Sam Black - December 2008

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