From Florida to the Frozen Frontier

Mary and Nestor Fernandez took an incredible 21,300 mile round trip journey to Alaska this summer in their Stealth MODE.

DEC. 12, 2023  |  BY INGRID SCHNADER ELLIS
Nestor and Mary Fernandez at the end of the Dalton Highway in Dead Horse, Alaska

There’s nothing like road tripping through Alaska, said Stealth MODE owners Mary and Nestor Fernandez.

So even though they lived pretty far away in Pembroke Pines, Florida, they were determined to make the trip.

The Fernandezes got their Stealth MODE in August 2022, and since then, they’d mostly only done one- to two-week trips. Then they heard about Wings and Wheels, an Alaskan van meetup that takes place over the summer.

“The opportunity to tour Alaska with people who had more knowledge of the place — we’d be driving along with our radios and someone would say, ‘This is over here, this is over there.’ If we’d done that on our own, we wouldn’t have known some of the sights and things in the area,” Nestor said.

A cross-country journey

The Alaskan van meetup was to start in Seward, Alaska, on July 7, so the Fernandezes and their 3 dogs left Pembroke Pines on May 17. “We weren’t in a hurry,” Nestor said.

They stopped at popular destinations such as the Grand Canyon, Sequoia National Park, Yellowstone and more. They also wanted to see friends and family along the way, so they went out of the way to see a college friend in Arizona, cousins in New Mexico and Washington and a high school friend in Alaska. They stayed overnight at everything from Walmart parking lots to BLM land to national forest land outside of the Grand Canyon.

“We tried to take in as many sights as we could along the route,” Nestor said. They only drove about three to four hours a day.

Before meeting up with the group in Seward, they stopped in Hood River, Oregon, to hang out with Storyteller Overland and other MODE owners at the Adventure Van Expo on June 16.

‘There’s nothing like Alaska’

Sometimes, it’s not about the destination, but the journey it took to get there.

But when asked which part of the trip was more fun — the crosscountry drive through the US or the time they spent in Alaska with the Wings and Wheels group — Mary and Nestor both enthusiastically agreed that the clear answer was Alaska.

“There’s nothing like Alaska,” Nestor said. “It’s not just Alaska, it’s the people we met there. Meeting the locals, the miners and the group we traveled with.”

They met up with the meetup group and were the only Storyteller van out of a few dozen vans. The leaders of the group were native Alaskans, and they didn’t charge anything for the meetup.

“It was a loose group, so you could come and go,” Nestor said. “We had an itinerary, but there was time to go explore trails or see a glacier on our own.”

Together, they drove up the Dalton Highway to Dead Horse, which is the furthest north you can drive in Alaska. They also enjoyed Dawson City, Canada, which was a base during the 19th century Klondike Gold Rush and is still an active mining town. After that, they drove all the way to Tuktoyaktuk, which lies along the Arctic Ocean in Canada.

They spent three weeks with the Wings and Wheels group, enjoying campfires with new friends every night. From there, they spent another month adventuring through Alaska on their own.

Even though they were in the area for close to two months, they feel they “didn’t even see a drop in the bucket,” Nestor said.

“We would go back in a heartbeat,” he said. “A lot of times, we said it was like scenery overload. You’d go around another bend or climb over a mountain pass, and say, ‘Oh! Look at this!'”

“Every turn we took was like a portrait,” Mary said.

‘There’s a bear on the van!’

Misadventures can be part of the fun in any road trip. One of the most unexpected things that happened on Mary and Nestor’s trip was being a few miles away from the epicenter of an earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska.

They were visiting with a friend of theirs and had parked their van in the driveway. Their dog was asleep on the GrooveLounge, and Mary was the only one awake as Nestor slept.

“It was the wee hours of the morning, and I feel the van rocking,” Mary said. “Here I am, from Miami, what do I know? I tell him, ‘Nestor, there’s a bear on the van!’”

Nestor, half asleep, said, “That’s just the dog on the GrooveLounge.”

The next day, they came into the friend’s house for breakfast. The TV was showing the news, which said the earthquake’s epicenter was only 12 miles away.

“It was a 4.6 — it wasn’t major, but it was enough to shake the van,” Nestor said.

Speaking of visiting with friends, Mary said that all the friends and family they visited along the way offered to let them stay in their homes. But the Fernandezes always opted to stay in the van.

“It’s our home, we love it,” Mary said. “We did however take them up on showers and laundry."

What's next

When the Fernandezes made it back to Florida, they didn’t stop at their home in Pembroke Pines. Instead, they wanted to have officially driven from “tip to tip” — from Tuktoyaktuk to Key West, Florida.

They took a photo at the southernmost point buoy wearing their Storyteller Overland logo t-shirts to commemorate the end of their trip. In total, they drove 21,300 miles in 4 months.

The best part of these kinds of trips isn’t always the miles traveled or the sights seen, but the people you meet along the way. The Fernandezes have kept in touch with the people they met in the Wings and Wheels group, and some from the group have expressed interest in a Nova Scotia meetup.

“I’d love to go up the East Coast and then follow the leaves back as they change,” Nestor said.

“We’d love to get back together and do a trip with them,” Mary said.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Mary and Nestor!

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