In this episode we travel to America’s northernmost and most isolated road: the James Dalton Highway in northern Alaska.
I come to you from the comfort of my car, parked at my workplace parking lot. I try to take advantage of my downtime to record the podcast, as when I get home in the evening I am tired and life sometimes gets in the way.
The James Dalton Highway in Alaska
The main theme of this episode is a road trip we made on America’s northernmost road. Although it is not ideal for a big rig, I know of people who have done part of it towing a large 5th wheel. We also saw our share of class C, trailers, and camper vans.
I am not going to go into every detail of the trip on this post. Also I didn’t have time to cover the whole road trip in this episode. I will have a part two for sure. Here we are only going to cover Fairbanks and the trip from there to the halfway point: Coldfoot. In part two we are going to go fro Coldfoot all the way to the Arctic Ocean, so stay tuned for that.
Next, I am going to post some very useful links that I used to plan this trip, and some pictures of our epic journey in Alaska.
A while back we learned that one the first campgrounds we ever visited in Key Largo was closing down soon, so we decided to make a farewell trip to Point of View RV resort. The fact that it was half price during its last month of existence was quite enticing. This was also one of the newest campgrounds on the Keys so all the facilities were top notch.
This time we encountered a lot of traffic going to down to the Keys as it was Easter weekend. The campground, as it is normal in the summer, had a little bit of a party atmosphere. Part of the campground was already under construction; bungalows or whatever they are going to build.
After a nice afternoon frolicking in the swimming pool, we go to Dennis Latin Cafe to order some Cuban coffee, and then dinner. We opted for Sundowners and it was a great choice. Nice ambience, live music, craft beer, and tasty seafood appetizers. We didn’t get much of a sunset but it was nice. As day turned into night we continued at the Pilot House for a nightcap.
On the next day we drove down to Islamorada to meet Paul and Lorena of The Motorhome Experiment YouTube channel. They were staying down at Curry Hammock State Park, so this was more or less the halfway point. We had a great time eating lunch at the Islamorada Fish a Company, and exchanging travel stories. While in Islamorada we also visit one of my old stomping grounds: the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar, now part on the Postcard Inn
That was our long weekend in a nutshell. Lots of relaxing by the pool and meeting new friends.
In this episode we speak about RV inspections, RV upgrades, we interview YouTube creators and full time RVers Paul and Lorena, John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo, and talk fire safety.
Point of View RV Resort
There are two RV resorts closing down in the Florida Keys, one of them is Point of View RV Resort, where we stayed last week and from where we recorded a segment of the podcast. The other one in Knights Key in Marathon. Point of View had a bit of a party scene but it was fairly new and all the facilities were very nice.
Fred asks about campgrounds in the Homestead area suitable for a big rig with a toad. I recommended Miami Everglades RV Resort which is an Encore / Thousand Trails property and is conveniently located halfway between Miami and Florida City.
Frank and Shelly ask about digital video. I use two main cameras besides my phone. The main camera is a Sony FDR AX33 and my secondary action camera is a Sony FDR X3000. I edit my videos with Final Cut Pro X, but I also recommend iMovie for beginners and Adobe Premier if you are on Windows.
We talk about John Pennekamp State Park, which is a future destination for us. It is a very popular place for snorkeling and kayaking. They also have a glass bottom boat tour that goes out to the coral reef.
RV Fire Safety
I found an article on RV Share that talks about fire safety tips
A couple of weeks ago we decided to return to Delray Beach and Boca Raton to explore the area a little more.
RV repairs and updates
Right before this trip I decided to take advantage and do a couple of maintenance tasks I had been meaning to make. First was removing and eventually replacing one of the Winnebago decals which had become pretty badly cooked by the scorching south Florida sun and was starting to show its age. Second, the latch that holds the door open has started to disintegrate in Florida heat and should no longer work.
After that we departed for Delray Beach and stayed at the same RV park where we stayed last time: Del Raton RV Park. The name is a nice play on Delray and Boca Raton, as the Park stands very close to the city limits of both towns. I spent the day working on some videos, barbecuing some burgers, and catching some rays at the beach.
In the afternoon we visited downtown Boca Raton, mainly an upscale shopping and dining center called Royal Palm Place.
It was a short, yet fun weekend and I hope you like our video of it.
Remember to shop at Amazon by following our link, it cost you nothing extra and we get gas money. It is a win-win situation. Thank you!
In this week’s video we are doing something a little bit different. We managed to get some tickets to Ultra, which is this huge electronic dance music festival that happens in Miami every year in March. EDM fans from all over the world come to listen to the biggest DJs playing the latest hits. There are nine different stages playing different varieties of electronic dance music.. The DJ stands up high, like a priest, as to the more hardcore fans this type of music is akin to a religion, and there is something to be said for the messages of love in in some of the lyrics. It is also a spectacular show of lights and sounds.
I am going to give you an introspective behind the scenes window into what the festival really looks like. It is not as crazy or even crowded as you are lead to believe by the images on TV, unless you want to go to the crowded areas.
Ultra Music Festival has its roots here in Miami dating back to 1999. It was names after Depeche Mode’s album “Ultra”. It originally took place at Collins Park in Miami Beach, but as the festival grew, they moved it Bayfront Park, in downtown Miami. In 2016 attendance was 165,000 fans.
In this episode I go through our thought process to choose our rig, our purchasing experience, and our maiden voyage. Let the fun begin.
My wife and I have a Winnebago Micro Minnie 1706 FB. At the time that we bought it, it was the shortest and lightest towable that Winnebago made.
These units turned out to be so popular that Winnebago vastly expanded their towable lineup. And you would have thought that lot of research went into buying this thing. You would think that I checked every single system in the unit, like John Huggins or someone with a little more sense would have done. Not me! I only had two major concerns: that it would fit in the driveway next to the house, and that it was light enough so that I could tow it with my existing SUV. I did check the brochure to make sure it had adequate holding tanks. It came with this innovative technology called a tankless on demand water heater by Atwood; the latest trend. In theory I could have endless hot showers, they didn’t say how hot but it looked great on paper.
Before this we had little experience RVing in fact. We started thinking about it more or less 10 years before we actually decided to bite the bullet and get our rig. Back in 2008 or 2009, we went to the Palm Beach RV show, just to look around. We were clueless about RVing. In 2010 we went to Alaska because I wanted to drive on the Dalton Highway, which is Americas northernmost road. While most of the road is unpaved and probably not suitable for most RVs, we did see our share of class C’s and trailers. We thought it would be cool to do this with an RV, have our own bathroom and not have to use the outhouses. After that we did a couple of trips renting class C’s and for the most part we loved the experience, especially a trip we did in the Four Corners region.
During that trip we really got the RVing bug. We had gone to the Tampa RV show, and we were sure that what we wanted was a gas engine class A, something under 30 feet because we wanted to camp at some state and national parks, and that seemed to be the length limit. We were fixated on a Winnebago Itasca model, the 27N. Had there been a diesel pusher under 30 feet, that would have been our first choice. Winnebago does make something they call a class A diesel under 30 feet, based on the Mercedes Benz Sprinter chassis, but it is really a B+ disguised as a class A.
This was 2014, and on that summer my dad got sick and passed away. And when that happens in someone’s life sometime it is a wake up call. I started thinking: what if I die and I never get to travel in my own RV and live the RV Dream? This was around the same time that I saw the brochure for the Micro Minnie. At 7′ wide and 19′ long, it fit in my driveway like a glove, and although it was on the heavy side, I still could tow it with my Kia Sorento if I traveled light, so we said, let’s go see this rig. I want to see it in person. So we went to la Mesa in Ft. Myers “just to see it” and as soon as we stepped inside it just felt right. It felt like we belonged in there, which is a very subjective and emotional way to choose an RV. I would not recommend this if you are spending 100K or more. But it was $21,000 marked down to $16,600, so after a short deliberation I had one of those YOLO (you only live once) moments, signed on the dotted line, and the rest is history.
They were very quick to let me sign the papers, but when we arrived on the following Friday to take delivery, they looked at my SUV, and I could see the expression in their faces. Are you seriously expecting to pull this trailer with that car? Old Kia doesn’t look like much but, tongue weight 500lbs, check. 3500lbs tow capacity check, barely. That’s where I was pushing it because the Micro Minnie is just under 3000 dry, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I figured I would have to tow with my tanks empty and take it slow.
Then they started adding line items to my bill. It turned out I needed a new hitch, and a weight distribution system, and anti-sway bar, and a break controller. I had obviously not done nearly enough research on trailers. Up to that moment I had done mostly research on class A’s. It had never crossed my mind I would end up getting a trailer until that series of events in the summer of 2014 accelerated the process. I said, let’s make it as safe as possible, and while we’re at it let’s add and extended warranty and gap insurance. Then during the walk through when I had to hook it up to the car with the manual jack, I started breaking a sweat just going up and down, so I said, in for a dime, in for a dollar, how much does that electric jack cost? To make a long story short the final bill came up to around $20,000.
We didn’t care! We were so excited. We were going on our maiden voyage, with our yet to be named brand new RV.
The RV had come with a complimentary one year membership to Thousand Trails but we decided to save the thousand trails for some other time and rough it out at a nearby state park called Koreshan Historic Site, right on the Estero River. By the way Thousand Trails is probably a great deal if you are fulltiming but if you are vacationer/weekender like us in south Florida it was not worth it. There was nothing within reasonable distance so it was very unlikely we would use the 60 nights included in the package. There were some Encore properties we could go to, and in fact we did go to some of them later on, one of them the infamous Fiesta Key, and we would get a discount.
Going back to out maiden voyage, it was so exciting. We were now part of the club, and total newbies. One thing is to know the theory and another one the practice. I won’t go into how many tries it took to back up the trailer into our back in site. Eventually I parked the thing, not exactly straight and not exactly where I wanted it, but we managed. Luckily it wasn’t too busy in early September. Then, how do we detach the trailer from the car? Luckily I had filmed the guy who gave us the walk through so we watched the video, step by step and got everything figured out. There was a nature trail, and at that very moment I discovered a Florida I had never seen. I had lived in Miami all of my adult life, in the same state, but I had no idea this existed. RVing had changed our lives.
The historic site here consists of some buildings that used to belong to a sect founded by one Cyrus Reed Teed. They founded this place in 1894 as New Jerusalem. Teed died in 1908, and by 1961 it had become a ghost town, so the land reverted back to the state. Nowadays you can tour the structures, and the state park is very picturesque. There’s exotic vegetation from all over the world, and you can kayak on the river.
While we were in the area we also explored other campgrounds for a future visit. I had heard from a good friend of mine, a fellow musician and RVer, about this RV Park right on the beach called Red Coconut. It is located on Estero Island, at Ft. Myers Beach, so we went there an reserved a campsite for a future trip. WE reserved site 18, which is not officially waterfront, but since it is the first site, on the northern side of the park, and the beach access is right next to it, you get unobstructed views of the Gulf of Mexico. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, since I am actually going to talk about fort Myers, and fort Myers Beach in more detail in a future episode.
By the way when we returned home I managed to back the trailer into my driveway on the first try. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this.