We are finally out of Alaska and ready to start wandering again! The rona has definitely caused us a number of problems this time around and we created/changed our plans probably 20 times in 2 days. Being of the wandering sort means learning how to be flexible. Where to begin the tale?
We spent most of the covid-19 lockdown in Juneau, Alaska because it’s beautiful and generally away from all the crazies. Juneau ended up with the 3rd rainiest summer on record so there wasn’t as much adventuring as originally planned. We did get a boat and caught a boatload 🙂 of salmon and crab. That’s a story for a different day.
Normally when you’re trying to get out of Alaska, the easiest route is to take the ferry to Skagway and drive through Canada. We picked our date for mid-September, booked our ferry to Skagway and started to pack. At some point it struck me that Canada may not let us drive through. Thankfully I was able to find the phone number for the border patrol and gave them a quick call.
Under Covid-19, the Canadian border is closed unless you can PROVE that your trip is essential AND urgent.
What does that mean?!? I talked to one of the border agents and he gave me all the information he could. Just make sure you bring documentation as to why your trip is urgent.
That was pretty helpless. The best part is that even if you had pre-approval from the Canadian Government, the individual border agent you randomly get when you show up to cross makes the final decision. Qale probably was in charge of their training and took immense pleasure in knowing how frustrating it would be to anyone wanting to drive through Canada.
At this point we had committed over $600 for the ferry ride from Juneau to Skagway. Yes, the ferry is expensive. Especially when you have a 23 foot truck and a 20 foot trailer. This is where the cost analysis started changing in earnest. Was it worth the risk of being turned around at the border?
The only way to get out of Alaska without driving through Canada is by water
You can pay to take the ferry or the barge. The ferry charges by the foot and weight is irrelevant. This is a plus when you have a camper (like us) and you know that your vehicle weighs a lot. The downside is that the ferry ride from Juneau to Bellingham, Washington is rather expensive. As of September, 2020 the price for 45 feet was over $6,500!! That’s why we usually head up to Canada and drive down. $600 is a much more realistic price.
The other option is to take the barge. The challenge with the barge is that you’re paying for length as well as weight. Our rig was quoted at around $4,200 to get to Seattle. Better than the ferry, but still way beyond what we were comfortable paying to get out of Alaska.
At this point we had to start rethinking our entire setup for travel
How badly do we really need the trailer for the next 6 months? We’re planning to be back in Alaska around March/April of next year to use our timeshare boat. There’s a great place to store our trailer if we want, so how bad do we really need it on this trip?
Having our 20 foot trailer with us at all times has been awesome! It’s basically a portable garage with all our tools, toys and even a motorcycle. The question at this point was whether we could condense all the mandatory items into just our truck and camper (while remaining comfortably livable). We decided that the cost savings was worth the effort.
With that option firmly on the table, we started looking at the cost to ship just our truck down. It turns out that the ferry pricing has an odd jump in price at the 24 foot line. If your vehicle (doesn’t matter if it’s a car, truck, camper or RV) is 23.5 feet or less, you’re looking at around $2,100 (on the day we went). If you cross the 24 foot line, the price jumper to over $4,000. I’m not quite sure what was so magical about that number, but thankfully our truck is just under 23.5 feet!
That’s still a lot of money to ship our truck, but that is the Alaska tax
In fact, if we factored in our fuel cost to drive through Canada, the ferry was still more expensive, but not outrageously so.
We decided to go with that option and changed our ferry ticket. My mom has always wanted to go on a cross-country road trip so we convinced her to barge down her van and tag along! The barge cost for a mini-van was about $1,200. I can’t remember exactly what the barge cost for our rig was, but it was higher due to the weight.
When I was looking at my ticket, I noticed that it was over $500 for my ticket on the ferry. If you book your ferry ticket online, you can only book a vehicle if you have a passenger as well. It turns out that if you call, you can book a ticket for just your vehicle. I can fly to Seattle for under $200 and don’t have to spend 3 days on the ferry…score! We called the terminal and I ended up getting $370 credited back to my card. Where did the other money go?
After a couple calls the following day, it turns out that the ferry has a free change policy within 24 hours. The first change we made was less than that. Our second call was 20 some odd minutes outside of 24 hours. That 20 minutes ended up costing me over $100! Fair warning, if you’re going to make changes to your ferry ticket, do so within 24 hours.
I’d love to say that travel to Alaska with a vehicle is easy. Rona has made it much more difficult. Driving through Canada will always be our preferred method (and the drive is absolutely gorgeous). However, it’s always good to know that there are alternative methods to get out of Alaska if the need arises. Just know that the alternatives are not cheap.