We moved onwards from Chicken, with our first destination being Tok. There, it had been suggested we should purchase diesel at a good price and Steve found an RV Park with an RV Wash. Both of us were carrying pounds at least, if not tons of mud from the TOW Highway and could not get our buses anywhere near the Yukon Carwash BEFORE Chicken! So we booked TWO NIGHTS allowing an ENTIRE DAY for de-mudifying.
The HIGHLIGHT of this RV Spot, other than the RV Wash Pad, was the Pancake Toss. If you successfully get a pancake into a bucket from about 10’ away, your breakfast is free. The proprietor would neither confirm nor deny that the pancakes being tossed were what was served for the free brekkie… Have you every noticed how aerodynamically UNSTABLE pancakes are? Probably not – well NOW YOU KNOW! None of us got a free breakfast (though a few “lucky” campers did).
After this, we stayed ONE NIGHT in North Pole where I retrieved my replacement Amazon Order. Then moved on to Fairbanks, proper. We actually bought diesel in Fairbanks instead of Tok after careful consultation with our “Gas Buddy.” WITH a Fred Meyer Frequent Shopper Card given to us on the spot by the clerk (FM is a HUGE Grocery/hardware/garden/sporting goods store ala Walmart or Canadian Tire), diesel was $2.96/GAL — !!! That is about HALF what we have been paying in Canada!
In Fairbanks, we stayed at a City Park – Pioneer Park. This turned out to be a GREAT location – right downtown. Just a parking lot, really, but around the corner from the Minor League Baseball Stadium and right on the Bike Path along the Chena River. I have mentioned MANY times how rare it is to find legitimate RV parking within city limits. If such an option presents itself — and there are actually a couple in Fairbanks — we IMMEDIATELY gravitate there!
We were able to secure several spots in the Pioneer Parking Lot. Several? YES! One for Steve and Kathy, of course, but we also found our stalker-friends from Chickenstock already ensconced at Pioneer. Technically, I suppose, since they arrived at Pioneer First, it was our turn to stalk THEM! Bob and Kathy, whose site at Chickenstock was next to ours and, so, joined together to create our large patio space there, reprised this in Fairbanks!! And, Chip and Ruth, a couple I had met in the ferry line in Dawson City also pulled in.
We felt a little like Carnies, moving from town to town, setting up our trailers for a few nites to take advantages of locals before moving on!
Soft or Hard. Hard or Soft. SOOOOO many difficult choices!
The park itself, despite being a parking lot only as far as RV facilities, was AWESOME. As mentioned, right downtown for easy access. But also a historical venue. It seems Fairbanks, as it modernized, used the park as a place to move old buildings to. SO there would be an old victorian house, and a sign saying that it was a former brothel, moved from such-and-such a street. A BUNCH of log cabins that used to be so-and-so’s house, or the Blacksmith shop. There was a Train Museum with Alaska Steam Locomotive No. 1 that is lovingly cared for by volunteers AND actually runs a few weekends a year. AN Aviation museum with all sorts of Bush-aircraft. And TWO Ice Cream Options! Soft or Hard. Hard or Soft. SOOOOO many difficult choices!
I wish more cities would create an RV spot in their centers…it creates a LOT of traveling goodwill cuz RV people definitely travel! And Talk to each other! And spread the word about wonderful places we visit. Like Fairbanks, which we now KNOW to be a wonderful place!
For example, a German couple, Werner and Gabi “checked in” to Pioneer Park one night. They had a Very special RV – the “Assault RV” version – military grade, able to not just GO offroad, but CONQUER offroad. Their plans, after leaving Fairbanks (where they, like we, were enjoying the park and the Solstice Festivals though not so much the Baseball – discussed below) was to drive up to Prudhoe on the North Slope/Arctic Ocean. Even though that was still 500 miles from here, they considered Prudhoe to be the beginning of their journey – to PATAGONIA!!! And NOT the clothing manufacturer, either! Now THAT is a long-range journey!!! And I am guessing many roads that would make the Top Of The World seem silky-smooth.
You can be SURE they will spread widely the word of how welcoming Fairbanks was – why don’t other cities follow suit???
And, it turns out, Pioneer was nearby to our secret Fairbanks Party-Hardy [SIC] Weapons: Peggy and Rick from Chickenstock. Most people would say “Party-Hearty” but “Hardy” seems appropriate for folks living this far north! Peggy stopped by the Pioneer Park on her way home from work (she lives 2 blocks from PP). She disclosed a WHOLE WEEK full of fun stuff to do. First, she said, COME OVER TO RICK’S TONITE – he has some musician friends who are rehearsing at his place for their gig later in the weekend. How could we (and why would we) refuse such hospitality!
After a quick BBQ dinner with the Pioneer-dwellers, we rode our bikes over to Rick’s! Rick lives on the second floor of a semi-industrial building; appointed MAGNIFICENTLY and with a fantastic deck to enjoy views of the midnight sun and the Water Bombers, who can fly 24hrs with full daylight to various fires in the area. Fires that turn the sun RED. Delightful even if you didn’t consider the musicians in his living room.
And, overlooking his expansive and fenced yard, where he AGAIN offered space for RV WHERE YET while we drive north of the Arctic Circle. More on THAT in a minute. It kinda restores your faith in humanity when people you’ve just met are SO GRACIOUS and magnanimous!
While we were at Rick’s, both Rick and Peggy outlined ALL the wonders of Fairbanks for us – which were magnified by the holiday weekend upcoming. This is the Summer Solstice, which is a HUGE celebration – perhaps the biggest of the year in Fairbanks. In no particular order, here are the things, after discussion with P & R, we tee’d up:
- Midnight Sun (minor league) Baseball Game. Played at Midnight, but NOT under the lights cuz it doesn’t get dark!
- Ballroom Dancing at Pioneer Park
- Music and a picnic on the Lawn at the Botanical Garden
- A BBQ at Peggy’s (we had a couple of Pork Tenderloins on board, HOPING to invite Peggy and Rick for a meal after meeting them in Chicken).
- Music at the “Howling Dog” (“THE” place for music in Fairbanks, apparently) where Rick’s rehearsing-friends were playing on Sunday
- Rick also said NOT TO MISS the FABULOUS Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum.
- The solstice festival itself, where the city closes streets downtown for food and music.
- And, OF COURSE, hanging with Rick and his Church-group musicians as they jammed on the night before we left our coach and headed north.
All of that in 5 short days at fantastic Pioneer Park.
At Rick’s, conversation abounded, in addition to music. Everyone talked about how MAGNIFICENT summer is in Fairbanks – and how great it is that you have almost 24 hours of daylight each day to enjoy. I know that the weather we experienced in Fairbanks was MUCH WARMER and MUCH NICER than what was being reported in the Chicago Tribune!!!
A lot of that sounds JUST LIKE spring in Chicago except 2 months later!
Laura, a housemate of Rick’s, said it is not so nice, weather and sunlight-wise the rest of the year. She did say winter can be spectacular, in a dark (the flip-side to summer light), 40F-below way. Aurora’s are often visible, even as soon as the end of August and especially if you drive a little north out of the city. “Breakup” as they call it, is springtime, when the river ice finally breaks and flows downstream, the snow melts and the roads “breakup” (dissolve) into potholed-strips of broken asphalt. Breakup can be an ugly time!! She described exactly how the snow melts, revealing MANY layers of Dog Poop.
Following the above list, more or less, we had a GREAT TIME in Fairbanks. A Nice, flat city, perfect for getting around on bikes. An EXCELLENT Walmart for stocking up, in addition to the Fred Meyer mentioned above. Music on the Lawn at the Botanic Gardens was AWESOME. The band, though using a different name, was one we saw and liked at Chickenstock!
At one point they stopped playing and turned around, facing away from us. Were they showing us their backsides for a reason? Was a full moon about to appear? Unclear why – were we being disrespectful? NO!! on cue, the Alaska Rail Passenger Train went by, mere feet from the stage, blowing its horn. It was DEAFENING – the musicians knew the timing, clearly, and decided to stop, face the train and wave, as did the ENTIRE crowd. People on that train must think Fairbanks is the friendliest city EVER!
The Fairbanks Ballroom Dancing Club had their Solstice Ice Cream Social, it turns out, in the Pioneer Park’s Dance Hall building. Not 500ft from the bus! We turned up to show off our rust for the dancing elite of Fairbanks. Lo and Behold, we met a couple on the floor that had been at Chickenstock the week before. I would say “Small World” but not really – there aren’t that many people OR music OR Dancing options in Alaska, so it is not all that surprising we’d run into the same folks serially at such opportunities.
We had to leave the Dance early to make it to the Midnight Sun Baseball Game – a Tradition that has been carried on for 114 years!
This game, between the Fairbanks Goldpanners and the Seattle Studs (you cannot make names like that up! My mind wandered towards thots of their mascot, but I dismissed those as quickly as I could!) is played NOT under the lights, because at midnight in Fairbanks on June 21, it is NOT DARK. In fact the sun has not yet set, which it does (BARELY) for about an hour at 12:30 am.
The Gold Panners are a College Summer team in the Alaska League – they barnstorm all summer, giving college players a chance to work on their game in a low-minor environment. Typical Minor (Miner?) League Baseball – even more minor than most.
Baseball is PART of the show, but not all of it. Lots of whacky promotions, and people having a good time. At EXACTLY midnight (or as close as possible between innings), a choral group comes on the field and sings the Alaska Flag song.
This event is WELL attended – they have to bring in temporary bleachers. Fortunately, the “stadium” is about 3 blocks from Pioneer park, so we could just walk.
During our time in Fairbanks, we had decided we MUST head north on the Dalton Highway, which is the road towards Prudhoe, at LEAST as far as the Arctic Circle. Gotta do it, if just to check it off the list… We had been warned by EVERY Alaskan we talk to (and Peggy and Rick Reaffirmed) NOT to take the bus to the Arctic Circle. This is one of the MOST DANGEROUS roads in the world – Made famous by the Cable Show: “Ice Road Truckers.” We were told Gravel all the way, NOTHING for hundreds of miles, HEAVILY traveled by BIG trucks screaming at way-higher-speeds than we would dare, heading to the oil fields.
When Rick offered his yard for us to leave RV WHERE YET, that solved half the problem. The other half was “how to get there.” There are Bus Trips. We could rent a vehicle. But, I decided (Liz was not entirely on board with this decision) that this is WHY we traded the clown car for the Jeep! A factor in the decision: all of the other options were EXPENSIVE! So Liz (our Secretary of the Treasury) did eventually get on board.
I should mention, while at Pioneer Park, Chip and Ruth pulled in (we met them briefly in Dawson City). They have a Clown Car and they DID drive it up ALL THE WAY to Prudhoe. I know this because “I Survived the Dalton Highway Summer 2019” was written in the mud on the side. Plus, a couple of panels were missing AND the windshield was cracked!!! So, we COULD have made it in the clown car if we were willing to come back without some of it, but I am even MORE GLAD we traded it in!!
Even with the Jeep, people had other recommendations for our safety. They suggested, and I purchased a spare-spare. That is, I bought a second wheel and tire, both used, and tied them to the roof. AND, I bought a second CB Radio and antenna for the Jeep. For the record, with all of that, the Jeep was still less expensive than the other options to take us North!
In keeping with Alaska ethics, if you get into trouble, a trucker WILL stop to help, but you have to be able to contact one; hence the CB radio! Steve, at Auto Trim Design (An Auto Electronics shop in Fairbanks) kindly offered to let me use an “SWR meter” to tune the CB antenna for best range and performance (awesomely nice of them!). And I bought a 5-gallon gas can and a couple gallons of water.
Peggy, tho, had the best recommendation of all. She said, Don’t stop at the Arctic Circle – keep on going to Wiseman, where Berni and Uta have the BEST Bed and Breakfast EVER!! “Only” 2 hours past the Arctic Circle (so, about 7 hours total north of Fairbanks!). WHY NOT!
When I called for reserves, they only had their TOP CABIN available for a TOP PRICE. But of course, everything up there is expensive – a truck-stop room (part of a former Pipeline Worker Dormitory) in nearby Coldfoot Camp was nearly as expensive. I negotiated a bit – the Cabin sleeps 4 and includes Breakfast. I told Uta that we can only eat 2 breakfasts, no matter HOW delicious I was sure they would be. She knocked $70 off the price (must be a HELL of a breakfast, I remember thinking!).
The Negotiation Complete, we left for the farthest point north that we’d reach this summer, and probably EVER in our lifetime. You’ll have to wait ’til the next post to find out how things went!