Crossing Canada going to Alaska

Crossing Canada, going to Alaska

We are crossing Canada to Alaska and have to overcome numerous obstacles along our way. We’ve had trouble starting in and crossing Canada. These obstacles were not anticipated, and most of them we can’t do anything about. Our troubles crossing Canada are the reason we didn’t publish last week’s blog update. Some of our troubles we have solved,, and others we are still working on.

View from our campsite in Arizona heading north to Canada.
View from our campsite in Arizona heading north to Canada.

Many of our troubles were caused by our location in Canada. Some of our other troubles are merely stuff failing to work when I want it to. I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, and we don’t have any show-stoppers. Our trip to Alaska is not at risk.

Beyond halfway

We are in Dawson Creek at the start of the ALCAN highway. The highway starts in Dawson Creek, north of Edmonton. We are at mile marker zero. We will be on the ALCAN highway for the next fourteen hundred miles.

Our campsite in Sand Hollow at the southern end of Utah.
Our campsite at Sand Hollow at the southern end of Utah.

The ALCAN highway will probably be the subject of next week’s blog post. If you count our starting point for this trip across Canada as Tucson, Arizona, where we turned north, we are now more than halfway to our northernmost point in Fairbanks. We will be in Fairbanks (assuming that our troubles crossing Canada don’t get bigger) just before the summer solstice in June.

Our route starting on January 1st this year. Crossing Canada going to Alaska. We started north in Tucson.
Our route starts on January 1st this year. We cross Canada and go to Alaska. We started heading north in Tucson on March 22.

So far we have been on our “summer” trip through Canada to Alaska for forty-five days and have traveled northbound for 2,600 miles. Included in the 2,600 mile total; 1,600 miles were spent crossing Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Montana. The last thousand miles have been in Canada. As I write this, our last fuel stop was in Grand Prarie, Canada. Before that, we got fuel in Great Falls, Montana, and Edmonton, Canada. From our current location, Fairbanks is an additional fifteen hundred miles. Then we turn south.

At the edge of winter

For our trip north, we have been pushing our luck just as winter turned slowly into spring. Campgrounds in Utah, Idaho, and Montana were still closed due to the late snow melt. In Idaho, we had a little replanning to do on the fly. We were unable to stay at two different campgrounds.

Timpanogos Mountain next to Provo in Utah.
Timpanogos Mountain near Provo, Utah.

We had trouble in Idaho Falls when our slides failed to move. We didn’t stop but kept going north. Thankfully, the slides were in, and they didn’t fail in the out position, so we could still drive. So far our troubles crossing Canada don’t include major mechanical failures of major RV systems. If you missed it here is a link to the story about how we fixed our broken slides. Fixing our Broken RV Slideouts

Mountains covered in snow east of Ogden.
Mountains covered in snow east of Ogden.

We started seeing snow in the mountains when we got to Saint George, Utah. By the time we got to the Salt Lake area, the mountains were completely covered with snow. In Utah, they were hoping for a slow warmup because flooding was expected from the record-setting snowfalls. Flooding at our campsite at Utah Lake State Park was a real risk (after we left). As we drove through Salt Lake City, Little Cottonwood Canyon to the east was closed due to avalanche risk and post-avalanche snow removal. We timed this leg of our trip just as the snow in the Salt Lake Valley was gone and before the snowmelt in the mountains.

No driving in the snow

As we drove north through Idaho, we were traveling with snow on both sides of the road. We were lucky that the roads were clear of snow and ice even though the temperatures at night were still below freezing. We crossed into Montana on April 28. In one day, we drove two hundred miles (high milage day for us) and spent a cold night in Butte, Montana. Then after eighty more miles the next day, we spent the next week in Helena. In Helena, it was almost spring with snow still on all the surrounding mountains. At Helena, we were surprised that it was early enough in the year that we had the entire RV park to ourselves.

In Ogden they ran out of room to store snow plowed off the roads. This snow pile covered a parking lot.
They ran out of room in Ogden to store snow plowed off the roads. This snow pile covered a parking lot.

On our route, the deepest snow was to the east of Salt Lake City. After spending the week in Helena, we learned that locations north of Helena didn’t get nearly as much snow as did the areas to the south of Helena. North of Helena, we only saw snow on the ridge tops. Spring was arriving in Montana north of Helena. Only two weeks prior to our stay in Helena and Ogden, the campgrounds had two feet of snow.

Great Falls

We arrived in Great Falls for our rally point a few days earlier than expected; mostly because there wasn’t any reason not to show up early. The Montana Campgrounds that I wanted to visit were still closed. If it wasn’t a snow problem, it was a mud problem. Our campground in Great Falls was having water and sewer problems. So the water was turned off for two days as they were digging and finding leaks. The campground problems didn’t change our stay, and the rest of our group trickled in.

Tami driving through Idaho.
Tami was driving through Idaho.

Our friends from San Diego also changed their reservation to our campground because one of their friends had major slide-out problems. Their slide-out required a large repair. Unlike our slide-out problems, which required a part from an auto parts store, their problem required replacing motors and gears. In our group (including our friend from San Diego), we all have Tiffin Busses. Until our friends from San Diego arrived, we had the oldest RV in the group.

This picture was taken at a rest-stop in southern Montana.
This picture was taken at a rest stop in southern Montana.

Newer RVs also have problems that are being addressed. One heater was getting repaired in Edmonton. It is not that our older RV doesn’t have problems; rather, they all have problems and are under constant maintenance. Over the course of the summer, I hope I don’t get envious of all the newer rigs in the group.

Troubles crossing Canada

Our troubles crossing Canada started when we first crossed the Sweetgrass border, crossing north of Great Falls. Crossing the border was uneventful for all six RVs in our party. We stopped for the night in a tiny town named Milk River, only eleven miles north of the border. Our friends from San Diego stayed with us in Milk River and the other four RVs continued another fifty miles to Lethbridge.

Banff National Park established 1885.
Banff National Park was established in 1885.

Our stop was to get Canadian currency at our first opportunity. From there, Bill and Kathy (our friends from San Diego) turned west to Waterton Lakes National Park, which is the Canadian half of Glacier National Park, and we headed north to Lethbridge to rejoin the larger group.

Welcome to Canada

After a series of very fast questions, the Canadian Customs agent said, “Welcome to Canada.” Even before we crossed the border, my cell phone switched from Montana cell towers to Canadian cell towers and gave me our first greeting about our arrival. It pinged, and the text message said, “Welcome to Canada.” The other thing my cell phone said was, “You have unlimited data, nice.”

Downtown Banff, the city inside the park.
Downtown Banff, the city inside the park.

If I had only scrolled down the message a little, I would have noticed that my cell phone message also said: “Device Removed.” This was a kick in the teeth. How do “Unlimited Data” and “Device Removed” work together? Thanks, Google!

These mountains in Banff were topped by smoke from the Alberta wildfires.
These mountains in Banff were topped by smoke from the Alberta wildfires.

We prepared in advance for cell service while crossing Canada, and one way we did so was to get a Google Fi phone and a “free” extra data SIM. The extra data SIM was so that we could use our computers without it going through my phone. This extra data SIM would power our internet activities while crossing Canada. Now,, it doesn’t work.

Cell service in the United States

In the United States, there are three tower-building cell phone providers. There used to be four until T-Mobile purchased Sprint. Now, there are three. Other than T-Mobile, there are AT&T and Verizon. Any cell phone plan you can buy in the United States uses one of these three providers. We carry unlimited data plans on all three providers (three separate plans). We pay for all three providers because sometimes, only one of them works. Three independent sources give us redundancy so that if there is cell service, we can get it.

The Banff Hotel covered in smoke.
The Banff Hotel was covered in smoke.

My cell service worked great in Great Falls the day before we crossed into Canada on all three providers.

Cell service while crossing Canada

Cell service is available in Canada but not with United States cell companies. Instead, with partnership agreements, our cell phones roam to local coverage if they have an agreement. We knew our AT&T plan would not work while crossing Canada, which became real the instant we crossed the border. We thought our Verizon plan would work while crossing Canada, but this failed at the border, too. I am still trying to get Verizon to work, but I don’t have any progress to report. We were also assured that our Google Fi plan would work seamlessly. Not so! We went from three cell phone data providers to zero in Milk River.

Spending the night at Dan's Custom Sausage.
We are spending the night at Dan’s Custom Sausage.

Fixing the problem

In Milk River, I spent all evening and most of the following day trying to get cell service. At least my phone still worked, and after hours on the phone, I could establish the connection for the removed device. Google Fi had shut off my service at the border. “Welcome to Canada”. After hours on the phone, the Google Tech Service representative said the only real fix was sending me a new sim card to my address in South Dakota, followed by me being somewhere in the United States to turn the service on. That wasn’t a solution.

We think that this fire was a controlled burn and fire break along the road. Previously I though it was set by a passing motorist.
We think this fire was a controlled burn and fire break along the road. Previously, I thought it was set by a passing motorist.

One of the things that I was ready to do was to reestablish service, and according to the technician, I had to go back to Montana to establish service. Then, after fixing the problem in Montana, I could cross the border. Google FI Tech Support assured me that this might work, with no promises. Re-crossing the border might not work, but at least it was a better solution (if it worked) than waiting for the mail to catch up with me in Alaska.

Inside the West Edmonton Mall they have this wave pool and an Ice Rink.
Inside the West Edmonton Mall is a wave pool and an ice rink. I am sure the people in Edmonton go to the mall to escape winter. We went to the mall to escape the smoke. It is quite the place.

After discussing the problem with Bill, he suggested that if I could establish a data connection through his Starlink Satellite service, Google wouldn’t know we were in Canada, and we could fix it by pretending we were in Montana. This worked, and I was able to reestablish service while in Milk River.

Money problems

Remember that we stopped in Milk River, only eleven miles north of the border, to change money to Canadian currency. As you can imagine, this also didn’t work. It worked for me but didn’t work for Bill. His debit card lacked an ID chip and was utterly useless. Eventually, we solved this problem, leaving Bill with enough cash for his trip to Waterton. Part of the solution was to leave Milk River and head for Lethbridge, where the group was waiting for our arrival. Instead of going directly to Waterton from Milk River, Bill accompanied us to our next campsite in Lethbridge.

The West Edmonton Mall is huge, by far the largest mall I have ever been inside.
The West Edmonton Mall is huge; by far the largest mall I have ever been to. Near this pirate ship, they have a pool that includes a seal lion show, just like Sea World.

We picked the Lethbridge Casino Parking lot as our campsite. The weather was excellent, and we didn’t need anything other than a flat spot to camp. While camping in the casino parking lot, we went to the casino for dinner and breakfast the following day. The food was good. The other part of the money solution was that Bill could get more Canadian money at the casino.

Smoke while crossing Canada

Without a doubt, wildfires in Alberta are causing us the most trouble. Our last clear sky day was in Lethbridge. Every day, we’ve had wildfire smoke. A small window of the clear sky teased us daily, but smoke dogged our every move and even caused some new routing to stay away from the fire hotspots and road closures.

Air Quality in Alberta
Air Quality in Alberta. Right now,, we are in the blue area. This afternoon,, we will be in a yellow area. We went around the dark red area.

So far, we have lost reservations in four different campsites and had to route around a closed road section that is one of the burn areas due to the fires. This year, there are nearly one hundred wildfires in Alberta, and twenty-five of them are burning out of control. The total acres burned in Canada this year are nearly 2000 times the number of acres burned last year at this time of the year.

Google Map of the Red Creek Fire area.
Here’s a Google Map of the Red Creek Fire area. At the end of this week, this fire zone will be the next location we have to deal with.

Generally, the fires in Alberta, where we were, and British Columbia, where we are currently, are between us and our goal of crossing Canada to Alaska. The air quality in Edmonton, where we left yesterday, was as bad as it gets. In the evening news, there is the hope for a cold front and rain, but rather than a gentle soaking, British Columbia reports thunderstorms with new lightning-caused wildfires.

British Columbia Fire Zone Map
British Columbia Fire Zone Map. This map is the same as the fire zone in the previous picture.

Next week, we will have to keep a keen eye on closures in the area to the north of Dawson Creek.

This isn’t our first problem with smoke and wildfires on our route. In 2018, we left Washington, where we were getting ash falling on our RV, and we didn’t stop driving until we got to the Oregon Coast. Here is a link to that story. Smoke in Washington

Quitting on a sour note

I hate to end on a sour note with smoke and fires in every direction, so I will end by telling everyone that we are very impressed with Alberta. It sounds so self-centered to me when I complain about the inconvenience that the wildfires are causing me. My heart goes out to the locals who are far more affected than just inconvenienced.

Mile Marker Zero, the start of the ALCAN highway.
Mile Marker Zero, the start of the ALCAN highway.

Yesterday we found a HEPA air filter that promises to help with the smoke, I hope it works. Some rain promises to help a lot.

Nice farm in southern Alberta.
Nice farm in southern Alberta.

Alberta’s landscape is beautiful, and the people are so very nice. Next week, I will give you an update that hopefully includes us getting further north, past the fires, and into clean air when we depart Alberta, cross British Columbia, and head into the Yukon Territory.

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Windy Windy is a weather app that includes forecasts for things such as wind, clouds, and rain. It also reports and predicts air quality. It is like having a personal global weather forecasting service. Some of the pictures on this post came from this website.

Dan’s Custom Sausage

Alberta Road Conditions

Alberta Emergency Alerts

British Columbia Road Conditions Map

British Columbia Emergency Map

British Columbia Emergency Alerts

Google Maps Google Maps also has an overlay of fire problems. After opening Google Maps, hover your cursor over the Satellite image then select “more” to see the available layers. Under Map details, select the Wildfires overlay.

Fixing our Broken RV Slideouts

Smoke in Washington


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8 thoughts on “Crossing Canada, going to Alaska”

  1. I’m getting nostalgic. We were on our road trip at this time last year. Without the smoke! I wish you well on the ALCAN!

  2. The smoke from the Canadian wildfires has reached Colorado. Our sky is rather smoky & I can’t see the snow-covered mountains to the west. I mailed your envelope last week. Please let me know when you get it. Safe travels for you & Tami.

  3. We ran into smoke as we crossed Idaho, Wyoming, and now Nebraska. I’m sure the countryside is beautiful here in Nebraska but we can’t see far enough off the road to see it. We will be in Banff in 1 month and wondering if it will change by then. The whole thing may be a bust. We have a reservation with one private park that says they will not refund us if we don’t show up. Not sure what we are doing. I was told that our AT&T and Verizon worked in Canada. You now have me very worried. We are going to have to check into that further for sure. Be safe and enjoy the adventure. We are hoping for the best.

  4. I wondered what happened to you guys, but I had faith you were alright. I am glad to hear you travel in a group. RV problems are a given, but finding obsolete parts is not fun. Can’t wait to switch to Tiffin. Gorgeous pictures. Good to know about Cell Service, Will book that information in the old brain. Good night moon, that mall was fabulous. Glad you were able to temporary escape the smoke.

  5. Turnbull’s Travels

    Sorry about all the smoke you’re experiencing and hoping by the time I’m reading this you are out of it. Thinking ahead to Fairbanks, check out the Midnight Sun baseball game…played every year on June 21st for about 100 years.

  6. We took the same trip and route on our 1800 Goldwing in 2019 and looking forward to doing it again next spring in our View. Don’t miss swimming in the hot springs.

  7. Pingback: Across the Yukon on the Alaska Highway - FoxRVTravel

  8. Pingback: How to Plan (and Take) an Epic RV Trip Across Canada to Alaska - FoxRVTravel

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