We originally planned on driving the Alaska Highway for our return trip from Alaska to the lower 48, but our truck,”Ole’ Bessie,” didn’t like the idea very much. In fact, she was pretty adamant…
“If you want to see the Alaska Highway so bad, why don’t YOU tow 10,000 pounds down to Montana?!?” Bessie croaked. “Besides, you haven’t even bathed me in a year. A YEAR!!!!”
….She had us there…
“Come on Bessie,” Guillaume pleaded. “If you make it down to the lower 48, we promise not to sell you for parts.” He lied.
“My gears are tired.” She whined. “I need a vacation. You should take me on a cruise.”
Bessie continued to complain and eventually threatened to die somewhere in the middle-of-nowhere. Although it pained us to miss the Alcan Highway, there is no arguing with Ole’ Bessie. We decided to take our tiny house on the Alaska Marine Highway.
Tiny House on the Alaska Marine Highway
The Alaska Marine Highway marks the third ferry trip for the tiny house! Our first ferry ride was an 11 hour trip from Nova Scotia to Maine. The second was a 15 minute ferry crossing the Yukon River just outside of Dawson City.
Starting in Haines, Alaska, our boat – the Columbia – cruised down the Alaska’s inside passage for four days before reaching its final destination in Bellingham, Washington. Guillaume and I splurged for a no-frills cabin because we weren’t allowed to stay in our tiny house. I was bummed about this at first, but when I realized how loud it can be on the car deck, I was thankful for my semi-silent berth. Unfortunately, Salies (our dog) had no choice but to stay in the tiny house. Dogs are not allowed in the cabins or above deck on the Columbia. I felt terrible and visited her as much as possible. My only solace was that she had the best doggy digs on the boat.
The Boat Ride
Sunset was my favorite time of day on the boat. The Inside Passage is unbelievably picturesque, calm and, in some places, very narrow. I stepped out on the deck every night to warm my cheeks in the orange glow and to watch as Alaska slowly disappeared behind the wake. Goodbye, I thought, I’ll be back.
I spent the majority of the boat ride reading books, relaxing and reflecting on our travels. There’s nothing like a good cellular detox to put things in perspective. I was, however, disappointed the onboard bar had closed this season. Apparently, until last year, passengers used to socialize, play games, dance and enjoy live music on the ferry. Not anymore – the government shut the bar down, claiming they didn’t have enough financing. Now passengers just stumble around all day long, bored of watching the waves and with no where to congregate. Bummer.
The ferry stopped at a few Southeastern Alaska port towns, allowing us to stretch our legs and explore. Due to the nature of the accelerated ferry trip, many stops happened in the middle of the night. The only two stops we were able to enjoy were Sitka and Ketchikan.
Sitka in 2 Hours
The ferry terminal provided a cheap roundtrip shuttle service to downtown Sitka. The shuttle even allowed dogs, which was a delight for our pup.
In Sitka, two hours is only enough time to walk up and down main street, grab lunch or a beer, and then return to the ferry terminal. We grabbed a quick lunch at a local food truck serving (of course) Alaskan salmon, mac n’ cheese, and fries. It was delicious! Afterwards we enjoyed a few Alaskan beers on the porch of Larkspur Cafe.
Before we knew it, our quick glimpse of Sitka had come to an end. We had to either: re-board or watch our ship sail away with everything we owned. The choice was pretty simple…
Ketchikan in 7 Hours
The ferry’s longest stop was in Ketchikan – a whopping 7 hours! Guillaume, Salies and I needed a little exercise so we decided to walk from the ferry terminal to downtown Ketchikan – about 2 miles each way.
I’ve been to Ketchikan before, so I knew the layout of the town. The first four blocks, sandwiched up against the cruise ship dock, are infested with tourist junk shops (in my opinion). Most of these shops are owned by the cruise lines, so they aren’t authentic or local. One positive outcome is that the hundreds of people exiting the cruise ships stay mostly within these four blocks. I’m not a huge fan of crowds, but I understand the town of Ketchikan relies on tourism for their livelihood. Even so, we decided to broaden our spectrum a bit.
We skipped the jewelry sales and overpriced trinket shops to stroll through historic and picturesque Creek Street – a former red light district. Afterwards, we ventured a few blocks over to the fish ladder and observed half-dead sockeye salmon navigating their way upstream. These tourist attractions are a bit of a hike from the docks, and although they are still crowded, it’s nothing compared to the shopping district.
The last time I visited Ketchikan, I hiked Deer Mountain Trail. The trailhead is located within walking distance from downtown and offers fantastic views on a clear day. If you want to get away from the crowds, and you have the stamina to hike a moderate trail, I highly suggest this as an alternative to the typical attractions.
Arrival in Washington
We made it back to the lower 48 and the first thing we did was allow our dog to pee on grass – she had been forced to pee on the cement car deck and us to mop it up with paper towels. Altogether I’m thankful we took the ferry because of the truck, but I think if I had to opportunity to do it again, I’d prefer to drive the Alcan Highway.
Maybe next year we’ll make the big drive, but first we’ll need to trade in “Ole’ Bessie.”
Service dogs are allowed on deck on the Alaskan Marine Highway. I’m not sure how it happens, but I’ve seen some dogs on those ferries that look suspiciously like regular dogs with a red vest and a patch that says service dog. I may even know a local who does this 😉
Yeah, we knew about it. She might be able to pass as a service dog but I’m not sure that something we’d want to do 🙂
It seems your truck would make it a lot further towing an actual streamlined house. AKA…a travel trailer?
Potentially, but that specific truck and engine have a reputation of failing, whether you tow or now. And the failures we are seeing are the ones that people report regardless of towing…
Yes, the powerstroke has some known issues (especially if it’s modified–is yours stock or modified?),but your mileage says that your trailer (which resembles little so much as a box semi trailer in terms of aerodynamics) is imposing a huge load on your tow vehicle. 3/4 and 1 ton vehicles typically get 10-12, you’re getting 8. Many guys are getting 10mpg with a 16000 lb fifth wheel trailer every bit as tall as your home.
Recommend a fairing for your home along the lines of what semi drivers have–there is a reason called “25% improvement in fuel economy” that they are using them. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a topper on the pickup or something directly mounted on the home, but if you don’t do that, you’re going to be burning out another pickup very quickly.
Yeah, it’d probably help you’re right. I’ve seen those wings on top of trucks. We’re not towing quite as much now but we do need to improve our towing. We use a reader to get more info from the engine as we tow and usually try to keep the engine load under 70% if we can help it.
Not quite sure what you’re doing with a reader–you can estimate the power output (at least around sea level) simply from the tachometer. If I’m reading you right, though, you’re showing about 70% of rated power in towing, presumably around 1800-2000 rpm with that engine.
Somehow that’s not consistent with the mileage you’re getting unless you’re in about third gear at 45mph or so most of the time. (and you might be seeing some high temperatures as a result, since you’ve got less wind over the radiator) I’ve got to wonder if you’ve been limping along for a while and then the “nth” thing went wrong in Alaska.
Which is to say that unless you have transmission/suspension/frame problems as well, or unless you just really want a new truck, you might be amazed at what a few grand in repairs–and that fairing and some work on your trailer hubs–might do for you.
Decisions decisions! The reader gives me actual numbers for engine oil temperature, coolant temperature, transmission temperature, FICM voltage, etc… I don’t know much about trucks but I read that those needs to be monitored on this engine. We had the whole EGR/headstuds disaster, FICM too and now our turbo is acting up.
So, we get around 9mpg at 55mph (usually in 4th lock, or 5th gear), and around 14mpg not towing (I’ve only been able to check on one tank of gas so far).
Nothing to say about Bellingham, WA?? Those of us who live nearby really think it is a nice little city. Did you visit anything while you were in our town? while
Well, we only stayed long enough to eat lunch in town and we were off… We wish we could see it all, but it’s not always possible 😉
Oh well. Maybe next time.