How to Drive to Alaska

August 17, 2017 — 2 Comments

Eight months of circuitous travel around the United States delivered us to our most challenging journey yet: how to drive to Alaska. Most of the stories we heard from other travelers were of fairly successful trips with the occasional speed bumps, but it still didn’t quell the fear that comes with a such a journey. But the time was here and curiosity could not be tamed.

Driving to Alaska

As we headed up from Seattle, our point of entry to Canada was Vancouver. We found two major routes – straight up the Alaska Highway (sometimes called the Alcan) or a “kinda” shortcut on the Stewart-Cassiar highway that would meet back up with the Alaska Highway in the Yukon. Stewart-Cassiar was even more remote with increased wildlife sightings but decreased reception and service stations, but as we were ready for adventure, we chose the latter.

We left Vancouver and stocked up on supplies before the trip. We filled up with groceries in Washington before crossing the border which was a good idea because Canada was more expensive. I was pretty sure our monthly expenses were going to double when factoring in the more expensive groceries and gas, so this was okay. Continue Reading…

According to my 21 year old self, I was going to be a multi-millionaire at my current geriatric age of 35. Sure, this was the same 21 year old who was doing death rides in shopping carts, throwing watermelons off of apartment balconies and drinking too many Natty lites*… so I don’t really care if he’s judging me now!

I didn’t have a plan then, I only had hope. Hope won’t make you rich, but I have learned what will – something much more exciting than watermelon tossing – passive income!

What I’ve learned is most of us can’t become rich off of our salaries alone due to two reasons:

  1. Lifestyle Inflation: spending will increase to consume full income no matter how much one makes
  2. Salary growth (or lack there of): our salaries won’t grow fast or high enough on our own to make us rich

We live in a system that uses our emotions against us to drive us in a direction that’s not to our advantage. You were more than comfortable in your sweet 1993 Chevy Lumina with maroon interior and cheap Ikea furniture when you graduated college and got your first job, but it’d be an utter embarrassment if you still had the same dull trophies one full year after that, right?? I sure thought so, and I let lifestyle inflation dictate a very small savings or investing rate.**

As for the salary growth, unless you’re able to pull in a huuuggeee income from doing things like being a dirty politician or packaging bad car loans into debt instruments to leverage against and sell to Wall Street banks, you’re going to need some additional assistance to get rich. This might seem dire, but there is hope.

Hello lack of hope, meet Passive Income

Passive income is money you get through automatic channels you’ve previously set up that require very little effort from you. They’re sweet, but they take some time to get going because usually it is returns you make off of your own money. Other people define passive income more loosely like selling a book you wrote on Amazon or selling handmade leather bracelets on Etsy, but those don’t sound passive to me because they require a lot of work and I’m not good at leather working***.

Let’s review the more common types of passive income:

  1. Investing
  2. Real Estate
  3. Building a network of drug dealers
  4. Pimping
  5. Rodan and Fields

1. Investing

I’ve been investing since I was 14 when I bought some gold coins that I would later sell to purchase my first truck. My first stock investments came in the biotech and dot com bubble in 1999-2000 when my dad let me throw in some money to his account as we played the market. It was amazingly fun when our portfolio was going up 10% a day, but when it all came crashing down it took my dreams of my first million before high school with it. I could’ve worn a class ring on every finger and had my own harem of cheerleaders.

My next investments came after college with my first company-provided 401k and an eTrade account with a few hundred dollars of “play money”. It started building up very slowly after a few years to five figures (probably less than $11k) and this is when I realized I would need to make the returns come faster if I ever wanted to be rich. Forgetting my earlier lesson of getting burned in the market, I started playing with futures, options and penny stocks and once again lost most of it. If anyone tells you to day trade or start playing with those dangerous asset classes to get rich, run.

It took me quite a few years to finally realize what investing was all about. Small additions of money invested consistently over the long term in a safe, diversified portfolio. No get rich quick schemes, no day-trading and no pyramid schemes. As you progress in your career, you’ll need to continue bumping up your dollar contributions to really see your nest egg grow and you’ll start to experience compound interest, which Einstein called “the eighth wonder of the world”.

Compound interest happens when your money has babies of its own, and eventually those babies start to have babies. Obviously, the more money you have, the stronger and faster the effects of compound interest. Once your nest egg starts growing big enough, you’ll see passive income really kicking in as your stocks start throwing off dividend payments. Also, unless you’re wasting all of your money on penny stocks, you should see some major gains in the values of the stocks which you can eventually sell for a profit… yielding more passive income.

2. Real Estate

We jumped into the real estate game when we rented our house out in Dallas after fixing up the ‘ol Airstream and traveling North America. We’re lucky to clear over $1,000 a month on our mortgage, so we’re creating a positive passive income. We may lose this stream of passive income when we’re done traveling, but for now it works.

I don’t have too much experience with real estate yet, so I’m not going to BS you, but it’s definitely a secondary passive income stream I want to develop. My goal would be to start acquiring some properties using the 1% rule (gross income should be greater than 1% of the house value) and see if I like it.

The problem is you still need your salary to have enough money to invest in the beginning.

Even when we were both working last year, there were days when the stock market movements would make or lose more money in a day than we made from work! That’s when passive income starts getting exciting… especially when we’re in the middle of a bull market like the one we’re in now. However, obviously, you gotta have some money before you can start buildling these passive income streams.

You need to do all of the dirty little things like budget, sell stuff on Facebook, live off of one income (if your family has two), put the kids to work, make sure the pets pull their own weight and work more. You have to be serious about this for a long time before your money can start making money. You’ll have set backs along the way like a big drop in the stock market, but as long as you’re still investing, that’s a good thing, because you’re able to buy stocks for cheaper.

This is how getting rich will work for the majority of people. Sure, there are phenoms like Mark Zuckerburg who invent an entirely new industry and make billions (maybe this is what my 21 year old self planned to do), but for the majority of us, it’s nose to the grindstone… or better yet, budget to the grindstone.

 

*Don’t judge me, it was in college… and those particular memories were from the summer when I stayed in Stillwater and co-directed a summer camp

**I think it was actually a negative savings rate

***You’d think I could learn while living in a camper for a year, but much like “learning to play the guitar”, my lack of artistic ability may always prevent me from being a proper hippy

Entering the month of May meant we had survived eight months of nomadic living; no permanent place to lay our head at night, always in search of the next great camping site and a return to the basic needs and wants of life. Some people ask us what our favorite place has been while others ask us how we’ve survived that long in a tiny camper without killing each other, both very valid questions!

We were lucky enough to catch up with many friends in April and this continued into May as we headed to Portland. We spent a few days with a friend there who just happened to have an extra apartment! We also made a side trip to catch up with family for a few days in Colorado and Oklahoma before heading north… to the last great frontier… Alaska! But first, we must cover May.

Total May Cost: $4,044
Total days in the camper: 21
Total days out of camper: 10
Cost per day: $130
States Visited: Oregon, Washington… and British Columbia, Canada!
Total Miles: 2,400 (+ 4,600 side trip) Continue Reading…

Our ways of living and cultural norms have changed. As a cynic, you can blame it on brainwashing from the capitalistic way of life that makes us work most of our lives to try and get by or gain more wealth, or you can describe it more innocently as the natural progression of civilization towards a more productive approach to living where we all have a better way of life. Either way, it has manifested itself in what I view as two opposing ways of life: Living versus “making a living”.

Simply put, living is what humanity did for tens of thousands of years and it usually meant just trying to survive. Our life was focused on gathering enough food to survive the winter, keeping a sufficient supply of water, protecting ourselves from mean animals and mean people, and if all goes right, having babies. It was a hard life where the average lifespan was half of what it is today, but it was a life living in accordance with nature and there was usually much less “work”.

Making a living is something we were able to change thanks to capitalism in the last three centuries. With a more structured civilization combined with advancements in production and manufacturing, an individual or group of individuals were able to make a surplus of goods. This allowed others to focus on additional things, besides simply living, and created market places where we could buy everything we needed, and only needed money to do it. To make the money, we switched to making a living so we could have enough money for the living.

There are major benefits to this switch which have allowed for advancements in manufacturing, health care and technology and have provided a longer life span for most people along with more opportunities for education, societal advancement and healthy living. But there must be some kind of trade-off, right?

These thoughts came to mind while we were walking through Redwoods National Park in northern California. Some of the trees are over two thousand years old and are the tallest living things on Earth. Walking through them brings awe and serenity as you tilt your head backwards as far as you can without falling over just in an attempt to see the tops. The native tribes lived in the areas for tens of thousands of years before they were pushed out, hardly making a negative impact on the land. They most certainly respected the giant redwoods as important creatures in their ecosystem and did little to impact their existence. They were “living” off the land and appreciated what mother nature offered.

Then the Europeans and early American settlers came around, looked up at the massive redwoods and thought, “Holy crap, I could make a lot of money if I cut those down, sawed them up, floated them down the river and sold them.” The entire coast was filled with these redwoods, but after the loggers’ “productivity”, there’s only small areas remaining (estimated at 5% of the original) that were protected by state and national parks. The land lost its value to people from a spiritual perspective and instead changed to a commodity that was only as valuable as what could be extracted from it.

This became even more evident when we visited the beautiful Silver Falls State Park in central Oregon where an eight mile hike takes you through pine forests and some of the most amazing waterfalls you’ll see in one compact area on this entire continent. It was once considered to become a national park, but it didn’t make the cut (put intended) because the hillsides surrounding the falls were described as graveyards of tree stumps.

We learned part of this from a video they showed which had a similar narrative as most of the Americas – native tribes lived there for centuries until they were pushed out by early settlers and corporate interests. This time it was the loggers who valued the land for the massive old growth pines that occupied most of it. Shortly after, it was fully logged and became a barren land with the same beautiful waterfalls cascading through a desert-like landscape. A fellow purchased the land to see if he could make some money off of it, but it was so barren that no one was interested in the waterfalls any longer. But he was entrepreneurial and found that he could charge a nickel to spectators to watch him push old cars off the 150+ foot falls!

Talk about a major change to the environment – from old growth forests with incredible falls to barren land marked by rusty old cars – in a matter of years! Luckily, someone had the sense to clean up the land up and let it reforest.

I get it, the western way of life is to make a living, and there’s no way we could all eat if we didn’t participate. But imagine how a Native American felt as she watched a single tree, then an entire forest of redwoods fall. I’m sure she would’ve been quite confused at why anyone would need to do that. Or how about the plains Indians who watched entire herds of American Bison killed for profit or only pleasure. It must have shocked them.

Can we have one without the other?

Unless you’ve won the jackpot or got rich through an inheritance, you’re going to have to make a living – at least for a while. You’ll need to find a good career where you can use your job as a tool and make as much money as you can. For most people, this will demand the rest of their life as they work to pay off their crap they continue buying.

But there is another way. What if you could make a living for 10-15 years while you save up enough money and invest so you can move on to living? When my parents left their jobs for retirement, they quickly left the working world behind and started exploring their hobbies. Gardening, reading, beekeeping, visiting family and traveling are some of their highlights. They no longer need to worry about making a living because they managed their money well and receive enough in pensions and social security to keep them going. They’re living and we all enjoy the benefits – especially the extra time and honey!

They had to wait closer to retirement age though. I don’t want to wait that long, I want to start living now. This is why we decided to take control of our money ten years ago, so we could go on with living today and why we’re currently exploring North American in our Airstream. We’ll make money again in the future, but we’re lucky that we’ll be able to decide the terms. I want our “making a living” to coincide with the way we want to live our lives… making a difference and helping others while enjoying what living has to offer.

April had a lot to contend with after the stellar March report of low spending and magnificent scenery. However, April had an Ace in the hole that made it an even more special month – meet-ups! We were lucky enough to meet up with Susan Cooper, the legendary blogger who’s helped me from the start, our friends from New Orleans, a friend in Roseville and a friend in Portland!

Total April Cost: $3,393
Total days in the camper: 27
Total days out of camper: 3
Cost per day: $113
States Visited: California, Oregon
Total Miles: 2,590

Summary

We started the month still reeling from the damage Penny Lane sustained during the drive into Yosemite, but the pain was tempered after we received an incredible camping spot for six days (without prior reservation) in the National Park. From there, we were off to all of our friend meet-ups as we finished California and by the end of the month would end up in Portland. Three of the visits were with friends who lived there, but one visit was with friends who were flying into meet us in wine country. They agreed to meet us, but with one condition, they couldn’t be blamed for a high spending report! Our $109/day spending surprised us as it was on the low-end, so even though I hid a few expenses during our wine country week, we still came in below expectations!

Spending Details

The Good

At this point in the journey we had spent three months exploring the southwest and only conversing with strangers who we met along the way. This can sometimes result in instant friendships as is did with neighbors in Joshua Tree and Death Valley, but more often than not, it doesn’t. But April was guaranteed friend time as we were to meet up with friends in various cities as well as friends who flew in to share a vacation.

But first, came Yosemite National Park. We’ve been fortunate to see many beautiful places, but this park ranks at or nearly at the very top! It’s a great one to visit even if your only plan is to drive around and never put on hiking shoes. From the towering monoliths of El Capitan and Half Dome, to some of the tallest waterfalls in North America, there’s beauty every direction you turn, but there’s even more beauty when you make it up some trails. We completed 4-5 pretty good hikes ranging from five to ten miles to see more waterfalls and get off the valley floor, but there’s still so much more we could’ve done if we were later in the season and snow didn’t block our paths. If you’ve never been, you should definitely add it to your list.

After we left Yosemite, we coordinated a dinner meet up with an old coworker and friend who lives in Roseville, California. We worked together for a few years and occasionally met up when we traveled for work, but we hadn’t ever meet each other’s significant others. I’ve said it from the beginning, but one of the most rewarding parts of the trip is to meet friends in their home and their city, people who we may have never seen again if we didn’t arrange it. We had a great dinner and got to tour their newly remodeled home. It was nice to get reconnected back to a former life, even if it was only for a night.

The next day we arranged to meet up with one of my favorite virtual people who I had never met before, Susan Cooper. We connected six or seven years ago as we were both starting our blogs and were trying to figure out how to make them big time. You know, those blogs you read about where the creators are making millions of dollars posting pictures of their dog. Well, neither of us have made our million, but we’ve been lucky to meet some interesting people through the process. We met Susan and her husband in one of their favorite little spots outside of Sacramento. They were incredibly nice and our only regret was we didn’t get to spend more time, but they graciously invited us to stay with them next time we’re through. That’s one thing we thought we’d have plenty of when we started this trip – time – but as we always do, we made ourselves rush as we squeezed them in between Yosemite and wine country.

Up next, we headed to Healdsburg in Sonoma County with our friends who were flying in from New Orleans to meet us in one of their favorite spots. You’d think there would be amazing little campgrounds everywhere in wine country, but surprisingly, there’s not! We ended up in a “full-timer” RV park where our campers were stacked in like row houses and Lucy had to search the whole lot for some grass*. It wasn’t the serene woodsy campsite where we wanted to show our friends how we lived with one in nature, but it was a place to park it at least.

We spent five days exploring the Sonoma area and were lucky enough to meet some of their friends who they knew from their many previous trips. From the “father of organic wine-making” Lou Preston (you should try his win, it’s really good) to some really great artists, we got to meet some really interesting people. We were even lucky enough to get an invite to a dinner at one of their houses with great conversation – and more great wine. It’s so amazing that people will take in strangers and make them feel so warm.

After all of the friend stops, we had two weeks to make it up the coast and into Portland where Jocelyn would have to fly out at the end of the month. We spent four days at one of our most amazing campsites yet in the King’s Range National Conversation Area, which lies within the Lost Coast. It’s one of the most rugged coastlines we’ve ever seen and the difficulty of traveling there meant we were nearly the only people at the site. We hiked up the coast a few miles to see the northern most colony of elephant seals and explore the natural beauty where the mountains meet the coast.

One of my most anticipated parks came next, Redwoods National Park! I’m obsessed with big trees, and the tallest trees on earth didn’t disappoint. We had some really fun hikes within the state and national parks and really enjoyed getting to spend time with these ancient wonders. Yes, I’m one of those weirdos who talks about trees like they’re people.

As mentioned earlier, we were pretty happy with our overall spending. We’ve established a new “west coast” norm which seems to be around $40/day cheaper than the east coast. Our food budget was one of the lowest yet as we have seemed to maximize our meal efficiency with Trader Joe’s, but as we head into Canada and Alaska, these number will quickly shoot up – unless of course, we can catch our own fresh salmon**.

The Bad

All of our expense items were pretty well under control, even though I laundered some extra money that was spent our vacation-trip. That’s the good part of being the trip accountant, I know how to hide expenses when necessary.

We also had some additional travel expenses as Jocelyn flew back to Dallas to emcee event at our alma mater, Oklahoma State. I stayed back at a state park just south of Portland with Penny Lane and Lucy as it was too difficult to find sitters for both of them that would’ve allowed me to travel. It turns out, we probably picked one of the worst parks for me to spend six days.

We’ve stayed in parks before where it was pretty obvious people were living in them full time. Most public parks (state or national) limit the amount of time you can stay because of that exact reason – they don’t want people moving in full time. But as we’ve learned, not all campgrounds enforce it.

As we’ve been exposed to more socioeconomic diversity on the trip, we’ve definitely gained empathy for people in tough situations. People who lost their jobs, lost their homes and are doing everything they can to hold on. However, we haven’t gained empathy for people who aren’t honest. We had a previous strange experience outside of New Orleans where we had a load of laundry stolen from the dryer, so our tolerance for this was already low.

Luckily, at this park we didn’t have anything stolen, but there was more than one time we caught some of the “locals” in the park surveying other people’s property, which is usually the first step of “the steal”. There was an unsavory crew of 3-4 barely functioning RV’s where people were always loitering around. I’d walk by and say hi, but usually no more response than an untrusting stare back at me. It wasn’t real cool, but I wasn’t worried enough that it made me leave… I’m pretty comfortable in protecting my own property thanks to by big companion – Lucy!

It was more of a nuisance that reminded me of the life in the real world.

The Ugly

I don’t think I have an ugly for this month. The expenses were under control, we had great times with friends and we saw beautiful scenery.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you about Oregon. The southern coast is filled with incredible beaches where beautiful stretches of sand meet the rugged coast. It’s filled with state parks that presumably get packed in the summer, but during our visits we had miles of coastline seemingly to ourselves. Lucy loved running up and down the beach, chasing birds and seeing what smelly stuff she could find.

I guess the only thing that could’ve been better was the weather – so maybe I do have an ugly. Everywhere we went around California and Oregon we heard about their record rainfall and snowfall this year. We felt it as we had many days in a row when we didn’t see the sunshine, but instead a lot of rain and cold. We had at least three to four weeks of this damp, cold weather that made us ready to get off the coast. Portland was our first trip inland, but I’ll cover that in next month’s review. The good news is we’ve found warmer and dryer temperatures now!

 

*Interestingly, as we’re on the west coast, there’s many places where it’s easier to find “grass” than grass
**It’s funny, because everywhere we go we wish we brought our fishing poles. But then we remember we’re not big fisherman, and we usually end up giving up pretty quickly because we aren’t any good at it

Friend time — the pictures on top are in wine country with our friends from New Orleans. The picture on the bottom is with Susan Cooper and her husband!

The Lost Coast! This pristine land in northern California is a protected conservation area with ~26 miles of untouched coastline.

Up the coast from California to Oregon – beautiful beaches

Pictures from Redwoods State and National Parks

The top picture is from Mendocino, CA – the place we’ll retire to (if we ever get rich); the other two are from the California coast

Yosemite National Park

More from Yosemite National Park – just beautiful!