Preparing for the Denali Week-long Adventure

I’ve been wanting to spend a week in Denali National Park since sometime last year when I learned about Teklanika Campground at mile 29 inside the park.  During the regular season park visitors may only drive to the Savage River trail at about mile 15 and the rest of the park road is closed to personal traffic unless you are camping at one of the campgrounds past it, such as the Savage River campground or Teklanika Campground.  Teklanika Campground is for RVs or tenters and has a three day minimum stay to help reduce the amount of personal vehicle traffic on the park road since the tour and shuttle buses are in full swing during the regular season. Additionally once you set up camp you are not permitted to let your vehicle (or yourself) leave the campground and go back to the entrance or even the Savage River trail unless you want to pay for another stay in the campground; you are only allowed to go deeper into the park on the park shuttles but that’s fine with me since it seems the majority of animals are seen after the Teklanika Campground.

So back in February I made a reservation for two people to stay at Teklanika Campground for seven days and six  nights.  At the time I was not sure who was going with me or if I might end up going on my own, but wanted to be sure I could book the trip and reserve my two “Tek Passes”, a bus pass which guarantees a space on your first bus ride and then you can use the pass to get on any green shuttle bus that has room.  After a quick email message to a group of friends to see who might want to try this adventure, my friend Susan said she would go with me and the planning began.

I also bought a vintage RV at the end of the summer season last year and besides moving to RV camping in general it was intended to be our base camp for our trip.  It ran and was fairly clean, having been both the interior repainted a nice bright white and had new vinyl put down over the old flooring by the PO.  I was told the appliances worked when the PO had bought it, but that the PO never used the appliances during the few years they had it prior to me. So I bought it thinking it was a good base for me to work with since I was tired of tent camping and anything besides sleeping on the ground would be better than a tent! I had it long enough to get some mechanical work done to it to make it safe to drive (brakes were in bad shape), then I parked it at a friend’s house for the winter since I have limited parking at my place.  I picked up the RV from my friend’s house in April of this year and started working on improvements to it for the upcoming camping season and the Denali trip as the ultimate goal.

In the months leading up to our big Denali trip I tested my RV and it’s boon-docking usability by camping in it three times, once in Denali and twice at Tanacross where my friends race motorcycles.  I am really glad I did those trips since they taught me some things about staying in a small 18 foot long RV with two people that really made the week-long stay more comfortable.  As a result of those trips I made progress on projects deemed necessary for the Denali trip plus other small comfort and usability-related improvements to the interior as well, all of which have been put the the test and have proven to be mostly successful.

In that time between April and our trip at the end of June I learned a lot about an RV’s systems and fixed quite a few things too.   It started with the stove/oven combination which lit up on the first try.  That gave me confidence to move onto the furnace, which I ended up taking apart, cleaned and finally got running.  Then I realized how old and potentially unsafe the hoses, fittings and the regulator for the connections from the tank to the propane system were so that was all replaced.  Next to get running was the water system and I’m really glad I didn’t start with that since it was such a huge undertaking, so much so that my husband did the majority of the work on it since it was beyond my capabilities and he was still working on it the day we were to leave! We ended up getting a three hour late start due to that work; however we had running water, albeit cold, in the rv for the week-long stay which I was very grateful to have.

I had tried to fix the grey/black water drain valve in learning about that system, but the valve for the greywater was stuck open, pieces started falling off the pipes when I tried to get the slide paddle to move and I ended up at the RV shop to get the pipes replaced and also went back to get a grey tank installed after a couple failed attempts to find a solution for grey water removal which didn’t quite pan out as I thought they might.  Apparently in the 1970’s grey water was just allowed to drain out to the ground and I figured that would not be acceptable at a campground in a national park so I had the aftermarket grey tank added and am very pleased I did, regardless of how expensive I thought it was when I first had it done. The black water tank was reported to me that it might have a crack in it, though I never got a confirmation on it, so we mostly used the pit toilets in the campground and in the park.  The shower pan was missing when I bought the RV so I knew I would not be showering inside the RV any time soon.

I also discovered the roof was leaking on one of my practice camping trips and set to trying to repair the roof.  What a chore that was! It’s mostly repaired at this point, but I was not 100% confident on the repairs I have made just the week prior to our trip so I bought a 20’x30’ tarp to bring with us and during out stay we used it to cover the entire RV and the 10’x10’ popup gazebo with screen and privacy walls; it was quite the sight and everyone who saw us at the campground was sure to at least give us a second glance and we got quite a few stares as folks walked by as well, but hey, we were dry the whole time, something that cannot be said of all the folks staying in that campground.

We’ve had our trip to Denali and I had such a great time I’ve already planned a second trip at the end of August this year. I’ve still got a couple systems to get running and hope to get them working soon, specifically the hot water heater and the fridge, but those are things I can live without during boon-docking trips, especially since I recently got a propane-powered camp shower that plugs into my water system and a popup shower tent so I can take showers whenever I want.  It was not working for the last trip to Denali, but it will be there for all future trips!

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Even though not all my systems were done prior to our trip we really had a great time and I think that the lack of luxuries made us get out and enjoy the park more.

Details on the RV upgrades can be found in these blog entries:

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