Airstreaming to Alaska – Chapter 13: Tok to Valdez

Posted January 25, 2023 – Narrated by Carmen
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Airstreaming to Alaska

Chapter 13 of the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series.

“It’s from an Aleut word, Alyeska. It means ‘that which the sea breaks against,’ and I love that.”

Alaska, land of myth and mystery.

It’s Shangri–la, Xanadu and Tír na nÓg.

It’s Through the Looking Glass …

Where The Crawdads Sing,

The Fortress of Solitude,

and Beyond The Wall.

Before the cruise ships found it, getting to Alaska was a heroes journey of purpose and destiny – a trek that required talent, experience and superior genes. Even Today, over-landing there and back is like dancing on stairs.

If you don’t pay the AlCan tax (losing an axel or windshield, your pride or your stride) then you are one lucky duck.

Romanticize Alaska and she will break your heart. Idealize her and she will out you as a fool.

Alaska doesn’t play truth-or-dare, because that would imply that your pitiful ego is worth her time.

Truth is, Alaska’d just as soon kill ya as look at ya. She’s crazy-beautiful, but make no mistake, engagement – on her terms – is undeniably coherent, logical and uncomplicated. “Look at me” she says, “Hear me out.”

At first glance, nothing’s there. That’s because there’s so much there, there. Our perception needed time to acclimate.

Alaska is all about layers piled upon layers. Once you begin to see them, it’s like having eyes for the first time.

In the beginning, the free-ranging sun caught us off guard as it moved across the tundra flanked by a Bob Fosse chorus line of long-legged stratus clouds. The show, literally, never stopped because, here, Darkness has been conquered.

Even from the roadside you can identify layers of forest, lava domes, flow deposits, shield volcanoes, stratovolcanoes, glacial ice and several different climates.

Alaska’s layers extend into the culture.

We marveled that for thousands of years Alaskans have engineered a fragile truce with this volatile place.

Against all odds, Alaskans joyfully weave a proud legacy into the elements,

charm the land

and reap reward.

We may call it survival, but Alaskans call it joy.

valdez

Alaska is layers of soul, mystery and sorrow,

heroism, ambition and long-lost dreams.

The vastness overwhelms. Alaska is bigger than we envisioned. Even while outfitted with GPS and maps, this was a labyrinthine journey.

The Drive

The majority of the 77 mile, 3-hour stretch from Chicken to Tok is on the Taylor Highway.

taylor highway

A combination of pavement and graveled dirt, the 64 miles to the Alaska Highway junction was in slightly better condition than the Top of the World Highway.

Still, legions of pot holes forced us to the wrong side,

and the snow heaves prompted frequent stops to consider our options.

Tok

On an Alaska roundtrip, Tok is the only village overlanders will see twice: once upon arrival and again, on the way out. Remote, quiet, and low key, the residents here live the subsistence lifestyle, hunting moose, bear, rabbit grouse, and ptarmigan.

First, we washed the rig.

tok

Then, we pulled into our friendly, clean and hospitable refuge, Tundra RV Park.

tundra rv park

After settling in for a three-night break from the road, we made time for Fast Eddy’s.

Later, we stopped in for a nightcap at The Tundra Bar. How lucky can you get?! Earl, the honorary Mayor of Tok, treated us to a complimentary moose call.

Gulkana

This was one of our favorite fee-free overnight destinations.

gulkana

As guests of the Ahtna Athabaskan Villagers, we had a glorious Alaska experience on this Wild and Scenic River

gulkana
gulkana
gulkana

We arrived early to ensure a spot on the shore of Gulkana River at the site of Old Gulkana Village in the Copper River Basin.

gulkana

Between Tok and Gulkana we could have enjoyed the entire season, but we had a five-day reservation on Prince William Sound. So, the next morning we had to pull ourselves away and move on to …

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

The largest National Park in America, Wrangell-St. Elias is 13.2 million acres with several visitor centers.

Due to poor road conditions the rangers didn’t recommend driving into the park. Heavy rain was projected for the next few days, so we attended a ranger talk and watched Crown of The Continent, a film about the park. Then, we took a stroll around the grounds and explored the museum.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Copper Center

We stopped at Copper Center intending to have lunch at the Old Town Copper Center Inn and Restaurant. But, with the virus on the loose again and no open-air dining option, we skipped lunch and took a quick tour of the museum which had recently opened after a two-year closure.

copper center
copper center
copper center
copper center
copper center

It began to rain heavily with patchy fog so we moved on to our first coastal village destination …

Valdez

valdez

We could barely see what we were missing.

In fair weather, the 117 mile drive through the Chugach Mountains on the Richardson Highway into Valdez must be spectacular. We hoped to see some of this area under clear skies on our way back.

The rain never let up but thanks to the LuLu Belle our Valdez experience at Bear Paw RV Park wasn’t a total loss.

lulu belle
lulu belle
lulu belle
lulu belle
lulu belle

Jim had a fascinating (though wet and miserably cold) day on the water.

During a brief break in the rain we took a self-guided walking tour around the village.

valdez
valdez
valdez

Soggy, cold and exhausted from days of mud, fog and travel-fatigue, we drove over to the west side of the bay to fetch dinner like pros.

valdez

Jim seasoned our locally sourced salmon with some California sunshine and we closed our eyes and thought of a warm, dry southwest day. The magic worked!

What a happy surprise! Our adventurous San Diego friends, Ben and Ruth, from An American Stream happened to see us drive by. Later, we met up on a heated patio to exchange Alaska stories over cocktails and watch the news about the historic heat wave of 2022.

Here’s to roughing it in The Great North in the good ol’ summertime 🥂

valdez

Alaska is from an Aleut word, Alyeska (al-lee-YES-ka) which means, “that which the sea breaks against.” Those words attend to a bundle of conflicted feelings and impressions I gathered about Alaska: Futility and Bliss, Expanse and Limitations and, as Ben puts it, “the Agony and the Ecstasy.”

Alyeska also describes that electric thrill when some indescribable beauty so arrests my heart’s imagination that it ups and tries to muscle past my fear and bone, determined to press on and go before me – lashing against my chest as if it can fly, go aloft, take wing.

valdez

Chapters in the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series



If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.


46 thoughts on “Airstreaming to Alaska – Chapter 13: Tok to Valdez

  1. Thanks so much, Carmen and Jim, for these extraordinary (and lyrical) accounts of your trip to/through Alaska. We had hoped to hit the road in an Airstream Classic last year, but “life happened” and we’re now headed for a multi-year adventure in the opposite direction … to live in Cuenca, Ecuador! In the meantime, since I doubt we’ll ever get to Alaska except via a cruise ship-railway visit (and even that is probably years away), I’m thoroughly enjoying my (very comfortable, risk-free) armchair travels through you.

    1. Hey Carol!

      We are happy to reserve you 1st Class seat in perpetuity! It’s always great to hear from you, but Ecuador 🤩 is of our dream-destinations! Have any extra seats 🧳🧳🧳?

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

      1. Carmen and Jim — Thank you! 😉 Seriously, though, if you ever decide to come visit Cuenca (the “Athens of Ecuador”), let us know! We just leased a lovely, quiet condo with an extra bedroom and bathroom and a huge patio — so not only would you have a place to stay, but tour guides and interpreters (if you need that), too! Carol

  2. Your writing is so exquisite and perfect and your pictures are sublime. You put me right there with you. I would have had 7 heart attacks by now. They would have had to pry my white knuckled fingers off of the dashboard. Especially on the road to Chicken. It would have been hard for me to keep going, keep going, keep going.
    (Exhale) But I’m so glad you did it and are back home. Can’t wait to read the next chapter.
    My heart is closely bound up with, and cannot be separated from yours.
    God speed to you both,
    Linda Sanders

    1. Hey Linda 💕 Our hearts – those brave little conquerors – are the exception to the fundamental rules of time and distance. If I could follow my heart I be giving you a hug right now. xoxo

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

    1. We are happy to have you onboard, Becky. It was cold and wet but when the fog cleared it was like as if someone had lifted a receiving blanket to display a newborn. Mesmerizing. Impossibly beautiful. I do want to see Alaska again someday, in fairer conditions, but next time I think I’ll fly in.

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  3. I so look forward to your blog posts – they are incredible! The writing, the photography, the honesty. So love it all. Thank you for sharing. I knew this trip wasn’t for the faint of heart, and I don’t see us taking it any time soon in our motorhome. 🙂

    1. Hey Brenda! Yes … if only there was a perfect way to see Alaska. Maybe someday there will be a very long elevated bridge from Whitehorse to Anchorage with exits along the way?

      Puddle jumping in a plane with amphibious floats would be perfect except then you’d need a car, bed, water, filters, tanks, a pilot or a license …\

      Cruising the coast is nice but I don’t like to eat icing without cake. The interior is my favorite.

      I guess, to truly see Alaska you have to overland. Or fly to Whitehorse or Anchorage and rent an RV – that is many an RVers preference. But with so few appealing ways to overnight in hotels and motels, it’s my opinion that RVing is the most preferable way to go.

      We’re just grateful that Beauty and The Beast handled those roads and challenges and, of course, that we didn’t die.

      Thanks so much for the encouragement Brenda! Great to have you with us!

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

      1. Funny, that is how we got into RVing – flying to Anchorage and renting an RV. Best decision ever! And, like you said, the best way to see the interior of Alaska. We also took a small float plane out of Homer to Katmai National Park to see the bears on Brooks Falls. Once in a lifetime event I am sure!

  4. The rewards are views you’ll never forget, memories for a lifetime…and tales that will make your friends jealous.

    1. Hey Ann! Most of our friends think we’re off our nuts but, yes, the views and the memories and the ongoing conversations about our trip to Alaska are treasures we will always cherish.

      Thanks so much for being with us.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  5. Your photos are always so amazing. I love following your epic journey. Please stay safe and have a fantastic time!

    1. Hey Kathy!

      Safe is our favorite word! Will do! And thank you for looking out for us!

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

    1. Hey Ben!

      Sometimes there’s just not enough rum, Cap’n! Cheers to you and Ruth!

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  6. Drooling! we made the trip in 2011 and are planning a return this summer, every picture, story just makes the trip more likely.

    1. Hey Traveler! Isn’t trip-planning the best!? January is summer-travel planning month for us and it’s almost as exciting as being there. We hope your next Alaska trip is the ultimate – that you will have good roads, good weather and plenty of great times. Watch out for August – it’s a rainy month – maybe not as rainy as last summer, but the locals say it’s to be expected. Wish we had known that. Oh well, good thing I’m a sucker for clouds.

      Safe & Happy Travels, Traveler!

      Carmen@LIB

    1. Hey Funniest Man In San Diego! We miss you too. We’re sitting on the side of the road in Alpine waiting for the hurricane-force winds to calm so I-8 can open. It’s crazy. We’re here with maybe a couple thousand truckers trying to figure out how to continue their deliveries and at least a couple hundred RVers. We’re okay though, having lunch and watching the craziness.

      Can’t wait to see you and Sam again. Maybe Savannah? Atlanta? Ashville?

      Let us know. xoxo,

      Carmen@LIB

  7. So glad to enjoy your posts. We too will never be able to take this journey, but we are with you in spirit and prayer. We have owned several airstreams and have enjoyed years of comradery with club members. We couldn’t buy these adventures; we are so happy for you. God Bless You on your travels.
    Dennis & Edna White from IL

    1. Hey Dennis & Edna from IL!

      We are grateful to have you and your powerful prayers with us. Thank you.

      There’s reason to believe that our Beauty went to Alaska with previous owners, and – with the way she handles herself there – maybe someday she’ll go again but NOT with us.

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  8. Who knew that this expanse of beauty exists in the U.S. of A! The amazing photos and descriptive words tell a story of the creation we don’t all get to see. Thanks for bringing us along on this trip with you. Looking forward to the next leg of the journey.

    1. Hey Barbara!

      We know how fortunate we are to have this Alaska opportunity. We knew that if it wasn’t this year, it would probably be never. Thank you for being here so we can share the experience.

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  9. We’re traveling to and around Alaska next year with our 28ft International (knock on wood), and I’ve been taking notes of places you enjoyed the most. Thank you!

    1. Hey Shelly!

      If the weather is dry enough and the roads are good you will want to drive into Wrangel St. Elias. We wish we could have.

      Feel free to email us any time if you have questions. We can make recommendations but we missed so much because of wet conditions. I hope you are able to see some areas we couldn’t reach.

      Thanks so much for being with us.

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  10. My boyfriend has lived in AK for 18 years and he is learning what the Airstream lifestyle is like with the help of your blog!

    1. Hey Lindy!

      Whoa! Thanks for letting us know. Airstreams seem to like Alaska. Beauty came back in better condition than we did. 😆

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  11. You two approach each post with so much creativity and ingenuity. I love all the references, writing, and photos.

    I surely thought July would be a great month to visit Alaska, but you guys had a lot of rain and fog, too. Just like good friends of ours who explored the state in August and September.

    This trip must have been exhausting for a lot of reasons – the road and weather conditions as much as changing your usual routine of not driving long stretches and staying a while at campgrounds. But, it’s nice to see you still had the eating and drinking out splurges. 🙂

    1. Hey Liesbet!

      Yes. It was a more rigorous travel schedule than what we are accustomed to. The rain just wouldn’t let up. So much scenery was lost behind the fog. And, the road conditions were worse than we expected. Still, it was incredibly beautiful and we’re glad we went.

      It’s interesting that when I search images of “Alaska Highway” only perfectly gorgeous roads appear. It’s like the internet is engaged in magical thinking about the AlCan.

      I feel it’s important for our followers to know the road conditions – which can change dramatically from year-to-year – are probably much worse than before the pandemic. And, with the wet summer of 2022 there wasn’t much time for road work before winter. I wouldn’t be surprised if the AlCan, Top of the World and Taylor are even worse next summer – not to mention the Cassier which is in better condition but also had some seriously bad spots.

      Thanks so much for checking in with us Liesbet! We wish you well on your South America adventure.

      Hugs to Maya 💕🐾

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  12. Wow, spectacular photos!! Only for the adventurous at heart! Does AAA provide road service in Alaska? 🙏🏻

    1. Thank you!

      I can’t answer your question. We have AAA insurance, but we didn’t use it in Alaska. I would expect that roadside service is available but there are probably higher fees in the lower 48. Alaska is bigger than California and Texas combined with less than a million people. If you break down there and need emergency service you will probably have to wait a good long while before one of those rare Alaskans with a tow truck show up to help you. Maybe that’s why we saw so many abandoned vehicles on the roadside. It crossed our minds many times that at any moment we could encounter a situation that requires us to leave our rig in Alaska and fly home. I’m sure it often happens there – maybe more lately with supply chain problems. Everyone carries several spare tires and many come equipped with an extra axle. Preparation is key. That, and driving VERY carefully.

      Hope that helps, Albert!

      Thanks so much for being with us.

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  13. Thank you for the beautiful, delicious, well penned Alaskan journey!!! We fully intend to trek this with our Airstream in the near future but your writings/photos gave me great pause as it dawned on me the courage it takes traverse this stretch of land (not to mention the toll it will take on our rig). We’ll, I’m not gonna miss out on this adventure so “GIRD YOUR LOINS”

    1. That’s the spirit, Christine! You GET it! Overlanding to Alaska is a BIG DEAL. Only 5% of tourists drive there. It’s a true adventure that any person of average resources in North America can attempt. There’s truly nothing like it. Go forth and conquer!

  14. This was one beautiful trip. Thanks again for bringing us along on this virtual journey. Looking forward to the next leg of this trip.

    1. Thank you Barbara!

      We’re excited about the next entry, too.

      Thanks so much for being with us!

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  15. “Soggy, cold and exhausted.” I felt that. I really did.

    While your photos are gorgeous, I could feel every bump and rattle of that pothole filled road, I could imagine the frustration of those seemingly endless dark, gray, rainy skies, and I could picture trying-but-failing to warm up when the cold was so impossibly deep. Of course, over time, the sharper more difficult memories will fade in favor of the beautiful landscapes and fascinating people you met along the way, but it’s nice to have this narrative to remind you – and educate others – about the realities of an undertaking like this.

    1. Yes, Laura. If we had never gone I would have always wondered if we made a mistake. Then, we went, and the whole time I was thinking we’d gotten in over our heads. Now, more and more, as our experience cures over time, I’m glad we went. The moments of ecstasy were indeed worth the long jags of agony. And, I’m surprised to have captured any useful photos at all. I’m only now discovering them. I didn’t edit as we went along because most of our time was spent traveling and just surviving.

      I noticed that most overlanders travel in caravans. We prefer to travel alone, but I can understand the feeling of group security with an experienced leader. But if we had traveled in a tour group we would have missed some spontaneous side trips that were our favorite moments. And most caravans only stayed a day or two in each place. We stayed a few days to a week in each location and each time the views appeared only rarely and most days it wasn’t clear enough to see across the street, much less across a bay or valley. It was a lot of wait-and-see while making frequent, long runs for propane because the best camp spots were dry.

      We don’t want to leave the impression that each and every day was glorious. I hope others are luckier than we were and have sublime conditions. About 20 years ago my mom and dad had a fabulous experience. But I’m sure the roads are worse now than they were then. Some of the more experienced overlanders we met said the wildlife was more prolific a decade ago. No one should expect, post-covid, that the old campground directories are up to date. While we were there – top of the season – campgrounds were closing because they didn’t have enough help. Many “for sale” signs were displayed at private campgrounds and the public campgrounds were understaffed as well.

      This blog began as a journal for our family and friends so they would know that we are okay. We keep it positive, avoid drama and have no loyalties to any brand. Some people on Facebook said I was being too negative – but this is our experience and our impressions and we’re sticking to it. I mean, after we arrived in Valdez we saw an RV being towed in that had obviously had a head-on with a large animal. Things happen in Alaska. And we want our readers to wrap their heads around the facts before they go and if they do go to prepare for anything.

      Always Wonderful to hear from you, Laura!

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Hugs to Thor 🐾💕

      Carmen@LIB

      1. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Facebook over the years, it’s that you’ll never make everyone happy. If you’re too positive, people will claim you’re glossing over the realities or, worse yet, give you the old “must be nice.” If you’re too negative, people will say you’re being mean or unfair, or worse yet, that you should appreciate that you even have the ability to do the thing you’re complaining about.

        What can I say? People are insufferable. 😉

        To me, the important thing is to just be honest – about all of it. If you like it, say so, if you don’t like it, say so. Otherwise, your blog quickly loses value. If people don’t like it, they can find something else to read.

        Re your comments about caravans, our 2020 Covid-derailed Alaska plans were for us to travel with another experienced RV couple we are good friends with. We didn’t want to do the caravan thing for the reasons you mentioned, but we also had a decent dose of fear about what we might encounter and figured four heads would be better than two when trying to solve problems in the wilds of Alaska.

        Sadly, we’ll never know how it would have all worked out which is why I am so enjoying this blog series of yours.

        Stay well!

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