Surviving Alaska: 12 Ways To Stay Safe On Your RV Vacation!

Just because Alaska is a beautiful far off land, doesn’t mean the state isn’t prone to modern problems.  The ultimate goal is keeping you safe on your Alaska RV vacation by increasing your awareness.

As nice and peaceful as this gravel pull out  campsite along the Denali Highway looks it was rather undesirable.
We pulled into this nice and peaceful campsite along the Denali Highway at night.  When we woke up it was rather undesirable.  It was littered with trash, broken alcohol bottles, spent rounds from people shooting guns in camp, and the icing on the cake was when the dogs found a rotting caribou head 10′ into the bushes.

–Basic Dangers in Alaska [or Anywhere Else]

Humans:  Just like any part of the world, there are dangerous humans and certain places are more dangerous than others.  Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley are the most populated areas in the states.  With this population, comes the .1% that could ruin your day.

Photo courtesy of Alaska Daily News.  This guy was convicted after multiple crimes that ended with him shooting an Anchorage Police Officer.
Photo courtesy of Alaska Daily News.  Jason Barnum’s unique tattoos got him national attention.  He was convicted after committing multiple crimes that ended with him shooting an Anchorage Police Officer.

In Anchorage, 2015 is not off to a good start, there have been a rash of shootings and murders since the turn of the year.  Multiple events have taken place outside mid-town and downtown bars.  Downtown businesses are getting caught in the crossfire of these shootings.

Unfortunately, most of the Anchorage’s RV parks are near these areas of increased violence.  Read my post about Anchorage RV Parks.

The Mat-Su Valley definitely has it’s share of violent crime and there’s also a lot of burglary and theft crimes.

The main half of the park in late September, some residents are starting to winterize their rigs.
The Golden Nugget RV Park in late September, some residents are starting to winterize their rigs.

Keep in mind, a campsite in a remote area is equally as prone to getting robbed as one in an urban area.  We had an empty gas can stolen from camp, it was in Chitina when we were out on an ATV ride.  However, take into consideration that we’ve lived in Alaska for years and have been RV’ing up here since 2011 and this was the only time we’ve ever personally experienced crime.  So don’t think that this is the norm, I just want to ensure you don’t think we live in the 1950’s up here and you can leave your front door unlocked all the time.

In a recent report Alaska was determined to be the most dangerous state in the USA.  Ironically, another recent report said Alaska is the happiest state in the USA.  I take reports like these with a grain of salt because they are based on per capita results.  With a smaller population and unique factors, things can appear a bit skewed.

Good times at Ninilchik Beach!
Good times at Ninilchik Beach!

Roads:  Alaska is home to legendary road trips but, the roads also deserve your respect and require defensive driving.  The Seward Highway is dubbed the most beautiful and most dangerous road in Alaska.

Stuck behind a slow vehicle coming over Turnagain Pass.   Scenes like these are dangerous because they cause people to pass recklessly.
Stuck behind a slow vehicle on the Seward Highway.  Scenes like these are dangerous because they cause people to pass recklessly.

Alaska’s roads have plenty of drunk drivers that require extra attention.  Also be careful walking around the streets of Anchorage, it’s known for a high rate of pedestrian and bicycle accidents.  It seems like every week someone gets hit by a car.

Wildlife:  I would take dangerous wildlife over a dangerous human any day.  Alaska is home to plenty of dangerous animals.  Bears probably come to mind first but, moose are equally as dangerous.  Don’t forget about the eagles, there have been rare circumstances when they try to snatch a little dog.

You can meet a bear when walking through a campground, this was in the Russian River Campground.
You can meet a bear when walking through a campground, this was in the Russian River Campground.

Mother Nature:  Don’t underestimate her, she kills her share of people every year, especially in this rugged frontier.  The obvious danger is hypothermia, this is when body loses heat faster than it can generate heat.  Other dangers include drowning, getting lost, bone and joint injuries, and many more.

Truthfully, this is the danger you need to be most concerned about during your visit to Alaska.  Make sure you are always prepared.

Fishing a small lake on a beautiful day.

You’re now aware of some of the more common dangers in Alaska.  Let’s try to help you avoid personal experiences with them.

–12 Tips to Stay Safe in Alaska [or Anywhere Else]

  • Common sense around water:  One of the first lessons I learned at my fishing guide school was safety.  The best fishing trip is worthless if you never make it home.
    • Life vests and wader belts are two simple things that will save your life.  Exercise good judgement for when to wear a life vest.  I don’t understand why so many people never wear their wader belt.  If you fall in the water; your waders will fill with water. you become an anchor, and you drown.  It’s that simple.
    • If you’re invited to go on someone’s boat make sure it has all the proper safety equipment; life vests, VHF radio, safety flares, first aid kit, etc..
  • Keep your dogs safe:  Before you let your dog off leash, know your surroundings.  We almost lost Remington on the Lost Lake Trail in Seward, he heard the distant sound of water (which really excites him) and he almost fell down a 200′ cliff into a river.
    • When the dogs can’t join us, we keep them secure the RV.  Shelby is small and stays in a little crate under the table and Remington gets a blanket in the bathtub.  If someone breaks into the RV, I’m sure they would protect their home but they could also get out of the RV and run off.  In my mind, anything material can be replaced but your dogs and family can’t.
    • We let our dogs run and play when the time and place are right but, when we’re at camp they are on cable leads.
  • Make your RV unwelcoming to intruders:  If you are leaving your RV make a thief think twice about breaking into your rig.
    • We close ALL the blinds and curtains so no one can’t see in, someone is less apt the break in if there is a chance someone is inside.
    • Beware of Dog, three little words in the form of a little sticker could make someone reconsider trying to break in.
    • We also play music while we are away, it’s one more little deterrent to make a potential thief second guess the possibility that someone is in the RV.  A radio would work if you can pick up a signal, we set out an iPod boombox.
    • Make sure ALL doors on your RV are locked; front doors, side door, and basement compartments.
  • Don’t invite unwanted human guests:  Be conscientious about leaving items unattended or out overnight.  I’m referencing things that someone could easily walk away with; fishing rods, waders, gas cans, kayaks, bikes, etc..
  • Don’t invite unwanted animal guests:  Animals have a keen sense of smell.
    • Don’t litter around your campsite and don’t leave a trash bag out.  You could even attract ravens which are skilled critters at ripping open trash bags and making a mess.  We also don’t recommend throwing food and trash in the campfire ring.
  • Drive defensively and respect the roads:  Our roads have all the same dangers as one’s in the Lower 48 and a few unique ones.  Here is a link to our previous post about surviving the roads.
    • Wear your damn seat belts!  That goes for everyone in the RV.  Don’t fill your RV with more people than there are seat belts.
    • There is also the REDDI (Report Every Dangerous Driver Immediately) program, call 911 to inform the troopers of an unsafe driver.
  • Make sure your RV is well equipped:  Make it your mobile command unit that can handle minor emergencies or at least buy you time in the event of a serious one.  Here is our previous post about what to bring in your RV.
  • Be prepared for going into the woods:  Don’t let “Murphy”s Law” get the best of you.
    • Before you head out for a hike make sure you are prepared; something water resistant, footwear with good ankle support, high protein/high calorie snacks (beef jerky trail mix, protein bars), plenty of water, multi-tool, matches or lighter, pocket survival guidecompass (know how to use it), GPS (optional), an extra set of dry clothes, and a first aid kit at the very least.
    • If you are dependent on your electronics, they are useless if battery dies.  To keep our’s charged when we’re out we use a “juice box” but they are formally called external battery packs.  Furthermore, I would suggest doing some reading in preparation for an overnight backpacking adventure.
  • Learn how to handle wildlife encounters:  Knowing what to do if you find yourself between a sow and her cubs could save your life.  Educating yourself will put the odds in your favor.   Here are some recommended web pages from Alaska Dept of Fish and Game on how to handle bear and moose encounters.
  • Bear spray & guns:  Bear spray is very effective, arguably more effective than a gun.  Unless you are properly trained in how to handle firearms I would recommend packing bear spray.  Bear spray is also extremely effective on human predators!
  • Have an increased sense of awareness:  This tip is helpful no matter where in the world you are.  Try looking for things out of the norm, anticipate events, actively listen, consider your exit strategy, and follow your gut instinct.  These skills come naturally to some people but almost anyone can learn them, look for books on situation awareness.
  • Avoid shady bars in  Anchorage:  With the recentrash of shootings and murders, steer clear of bars in the Mid-Town and Downtown Anchorage area.   The famous Chilkoot Charlie’s has had shootings in 2015.   The big name hotels are the exception to this rule.  The Whales Tale Bistro and Wine Bar in the Captain Cook Hotel is great, their self dispensing wine machine is amazing!

In closing, Alaska is a very safe and fun destination.  It’s a place where you can still find Mom & Pop stores and some of the friendliest people around.  A little extra awareness will ensure you have the trip of lifetime.

 

 

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