Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Do you really need a Unimog to go camping in Alaska? No, not really.
We are traveling through the Yukon, and internet service has been sporadic. Several readers have written to me asking whether we are okay. We are doing just fine we are just away from civilization for a while.
When I say civilization, I mean things like constant internet service and telephone service and being connected 24 hours a day. The reality of life in the Yukon is that the roads are mostly paved and even the unpaved roads are easily passable.
We are in Dawson City at the moment which is a big tourist trap. Apparently they have done some reality TV show about this area, according to one of the locals, and it has become quite popular as a tourist destination - more so than before.
What is interesting is that the tourists seem to feel they need to drive some sort of extreme off-road machine - something like from Mad Max's Beyond Thunderdome. You see all sorts of jacked up vehicles with brush guards and heavy-duty bumpers and all sorts of equipment lashed to every quarter, as if they were expecting the Apocalypse.
The most extreme of this are Germans and particularly the Swiss, who have Unimogs shipped over from Europe in order to explore North America. Apparently they believe we don't have roads here in America or in Canada and thus need an extreme all wheel drive vehicle with tires that are taller than my truck.
If you are not familiar with the Unimog, you may remember it as a Matchbox car that we all got on our 6th birthday. I still remember it vividly was an off-road amphibious vehicle with huge tires with the letters BP on the side for British Petroleum. It was built in Germany by Mercedes as a military and off-road vehicle for used by oil exploration parties and whatnot.
We've seen several of these rigs, some of them Unimogs, some Mercedes trucks and some MAN trucks, all jacked three feet off the ground with huge boxes on the back. They have fording snorkels and giant metal tracks for extricating themselves from bogs and whatnot.
The funny thing is, when you see the locals here, they are driving things like a minivan or a Geo Metro that doesn't even have four-wheel drive. For sure, the people working on pipelines and whatnot have off-road trucks, but they don't have all this unnecessary frou-frou bolted on to their rigs, it is strictly business.
We've seen a lot of this in our travels. And it takes two forms. The first are Europeans who feel they have to ship their motorhomes over as deck freight on a containership from Europe in order to explore America. Some of these rigs are pretty much standard class C motorhomes that you can easily find in the states. For some reason they think it's worth spending thousands of dollars to have their own vehicle shipped from Europe even though parts are not available over on this side of the Atlantic.
We met a British couple had a little more common sense. They came to America and bought a used motorhome from one of the rental companies for very little money. It had a lot of miles on it but that way they don't have to worry about it being damaged. They would spend 6 months every year in the states exploring America and then put it into storage when they went back to England. This strikes me as a far more cost-effective solution if you want to explore America from Europe than having you rig shipped over. Oh, and shipped back as well.
The second thing that strikes me as kind of a silly is the idea that you have to have this extreme off-road vehicle to travel to Alaska. Yes they do have gravel roads here but then again most of the roads are paved and even on the gravel roads you can travel over 60 miles an hour on with little or no damage to your vehicle. We are traveling in a 2 wheel drive pickup truck and a trailer that has less than 4 inches of ground clearance and we haven't had any problems whatsoever other than to lose a sewer cap. And that was only after traveling over Campbell Highway which is 250 miles of dirt and gravel roads.
But of course, that's not what it's all about. It's like the guy with the obnoxiously loud penis boat or the fellow with the monster truck. These guys jack off thinking about driving their big rigs through the Yukon or Alaska and how they're going to go bounding off road running over bears and Caribou. They have their fording snorkles so they can go through streams that are 6 ft deep. But the reality is they won't even travel over a gravel road for fear of getting their rigs dirty.
The locals seem to take this all in good humor. They're used to driving through this area in extreme weather in the dead of winter when you really need 4 wheel drive and chains on your tires. The summer time is the one time you really don't need much of anything and that's the time the tourists come here with their extreme rigs to explore.
Once again, status - seeking behavior raises its ugly head. There is a competition to see you can be the most badass off-road dude, even if we are driving on roads that are perfectly possible by the most plebeian of vehicles - even bicycles.
I'm not sure what the point of all this is, other than if you are from Switzerland, don't feel the need to buy a Unimog in order to explore America. We do have paved roads here, even in Southern Michigan. Although the pavement in Southern Michigan leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, the worst potholes and frost heaves we have encountered so far on this trip have not been in the Yukon but in fact in Michigan.
Save the Unimog for Detroit.
PS - I apologize for the typographical errors, I'm dictating this on my cell phone from a bar in Dawson City.
PPS - Apparently the Swiss and the Germans have more money than they know what to do with, if they can afford to buy Unimogs and have them shipped to America. Maybe Donald Trump is right - they should be spending more on their own defense.