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Alaska-Washington and return during COVID-19

I’ve been asked by quite a few about our (Lydia’s & my (Jim’s)) trip to Hall’s Lake, so here’s some photos and info.

I came down May 18th on my own. I flew on Alaska Seaplanes from Haines to Juneau, then on Alaska Airlines to Seattle. I felt like it was pretty low risk trip down considering the short flights, limited time in terminals and near-complete mask wearing by those involved. On AK Air there were plenty of empty seats separating each of us from others. Once at Seatac Mary Lou and Knute were kind enough to drive mom’s car to the airport and met me in the eerily deserted arrivals ramp. Lydia did the same thing on June 6 and I picked her up. I guess Lydia is like me: We both love to look out the window of the plane and take some pictures. Here are some from each of us. Click on photo for larger version.

Anchorage Point near Haines. Beautiful example of an alluvial fan.
We crossed the Juneau runway to allow time for this AS B737 to land
Chilkat Islands, Shikosi & Kataguni
I’ve looked at cirrus from both sides now
Herbert River, a little north of Juneau
Sunset on jet ride south

Had some good family time at Hall’s Lake…

Centenarian at work
Hall’s Lake

I went to Whidbey Island to pick up Matt’s (now Lydia’s) SUV

On the mostly deserted bus to Mukeltio
Every other ferry stall blocked off, but hardly anyone upstairs — they strongly asked people to stay in their cars.
No literature, no going outside on ferry

Lydia and I spent quite a bit of time working on her ’97 Honda Passport (with ~240K hard miles on it)

reattaching the rear drive shaft after installing the new carrier bearing (shiny looking part)
Car Dr at work?

Before we knew it it was time to head north. We went via Whidbey Island and visited Shannon’s folks and sister and kids. Had our first mechanical problem when the power steering system started leaking like crazy. After some assessment and calling around we tried taking off the belt and found it was not too hard to drive it without the power steering, and since the pump was not pressurizing the system, it was not leaking. So we drove 1900 miles without power steering.

Checking out Tracy’s garden
Lydia’s stop action shot of a deer in Freeland
Checking out Tracy’s garden
Checking out Tracy and Kelly’s house project

Then, after stopping at an auto parts store to have them read a newly-it check engine code, and getting groceries in Bellingham, we reached the Abbotsford border crossing about 6 pm (no lines to wait in!). We knew traveling home to Alaska was on the essential travel list, and we knew what they were wanting from us as far as travel habits (for instance, we had enough food to get us all the way through, and we weren’t planning on making unnecessary stops), so we weren’t too worried, but you never know what they might ask. After getting through those questions, the border guard went heavy into the weapon questions (I think the “offroad” model Passport with the picture of the deer on it sent him that way), but totally skipped any questions about produce or the like. We could have brought some fruit after all. Then he gave us a little federal Canada COVID briefing, warnings and handouts. No mention of masks, and the guard was not wearing one (we were). He then told us how we’d have to stop for the BC officials about 200 meters ahead.

The BC people had a similar set of questions and briefings and had us create a travel plan (they kindly entered it for us when we told them we have poor or no internet access in Canada). Neither of the officials who came to our window were wearing masks, or anyone else at their station that I saw. Neither the BC or federal people asked if we had been tested (we had).

We drove a couple more hours to the Skihist Provincial campground. It’s very nice; big, (58 sites) and there were maybe ~8 parties camped there. Oddly, this was actually more “crowded” than the previous time we had camped there, pre-COVID, a few summers ago when there was maybe 1-2 other parties. Hard to figure since it such a nice campground with flush toilets and running water, is in a serious rain shadow, and only costs about $21 Canadian (if I recall correctly). We were pretty jazzed, as it was nice weather and most of the tough stuff was behind us: all the prep and hopefully all the auto repairs, saying goodbyes, I-5, customs, Fraser River Canyon. And we had a Costco-sized case of Cup-of-Noodles.

Not much traffic North of Hope, BC

Turns out we had no paper map (no milepost) and no way to use online maps. I wasn’t worried about getting lost, but found I did want to know details…how far till xx. So whenever we saw a map sign at a pull out we took a picture of it.

Day one: 364 km/226 miles

The rest of the days were nice, and mostly uneventful.

“World’s biggest cross country skis” at 100 Mile House
Moberly Lake BC campground
West Pine rest area in the mountains
Day 2: 840 km/522 mi
Dinosaur tracks (casts of) at Hudson’s Hope
Moberly Lake BC campground
Hudson’s Hope, outdoor part of their museum
Peace River, from Hudson’s Hope, one of our favorite areas
saw quite a few bear along the highway
Stone Mountain Sheep. We almost always seem some near Stone Mountain
There are a lot of bison along certain parts of the route

Day three was pretty long. When we gassed up at Fort Nelson, we calculated that we did not have enough spare motor oil considering how fast we were burning it. So I masked up and went into the gas station and bought a couple liters at the “gotcha” price. We stopped outside the Visitor’s Center to try to use their wifi from the parking lot, and I snuck inside to use the flush toilet, knowing from previous trips the layout meant I did not have to get near anyone (mask on of course, don’t remember seeing anyone else with one).

We were planning on camping at Muncho Lake but were surprised to find that both campgrounds on the lake were full. I think there were groups of boaters convening there, mostly from BC but perhaps some Albertans too. So we drove on thinking we might have to wing it and pitch the tent in a gravel pit or something, but were again surprised by the BC campgrounds. The Liard Hot Springs campground is usually full early in the day since the hot springs are so popular. This time there were 6 parties previous to our arrival according to the person who checked us in, out of I think more than 60 sites. Quite a change from the usual. Most of the reason: hot springs closed.

Liard Hot Springs BC Campground… unusually quite.

The hot springs were not just closed but double barricaided.
day 3: 796 km/494 mi

Our last day, we entered Yukon Territory. There was a repeat of the BC welcome: welcome to the Yukon but please leave as soon as possible. They want you to spend no more than 24 hours transiting, and stop as little as possible. They stop you on the two main highways in, and then ask you to check in at a highway station in Whitehorse. By now we were not surprised that no one at either of those checkpoints was wearing a mask (except us — when we pulled up, not while on the open highway). I saw only one other person on the entire Canadian portion of the trip wearing a mask besides the gas station attendants at Costco in Prince George (I presume the Costco employees and perhaps shoppers were masked, since it seems to be company-wide policy, but we did not attempt to go in the store, just got gas). Obviously not a scientific survey, just an interesting observation.

The last day was a long one, but got an early start and did not have to worry about setting up camp at the end of the day. But not much time to stop for photos. All in all the trip was good and did not seem to much different than previous ones. Except we were in a real macho Alaskan rig.

car wash after making it home
short socks don’t work too well when there are no-see-ums or mosquitos around
day 4: 1037 km/644 mi. trip total 3035 km/1886 mi not including Lynnwood to Freeland. (based on Google maps not odometer)

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August 2017 solar eclipse trip

This gallery contains 69 photos.

We made the long drive from Alaska to eastern Idaho in large part to see the total solar eclipse. It was well worth it. We all considered it an amazing experience. We also did plenty of visiting and sightseeing. Hope … Continue reading

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Naomi’s art

Naomi had a gallery showing in February at the Alaska Arts Confluence office in downtown Haines. The opening was during the first Friday art walk. Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.

Naomi’s media for this show, and most of her current efforts, is digital: she creates each piece starting with a blank drawing tablet hooked up to her laptop. To be clear, she does not start with a scan or digital photo and “Photoshop” it. It is all drawn from scratch on the tablet with a pressure sensitive stylus and drawing software. Sometimes she works from a reference as many traditional artists do (ie., a model, photo, etc ). For the show, I printed these pieces on my wide format inkjet printer on high quality matte paper.

The Sun
Sunglasses not necessary for viewing. Enjoy not being blind. (Unless you actually are blind, in which case, badly timed joke on my part.)


Galaxy Hair
No color dodge layers were harmed in the making of this painting.



This one was drawn in a moving vehicle. Special thanks to ctrl + z.



A re-draw of something I painted in 2014 that will never ever ever see the light of day.



First attempt at this piece was bad. Second attempt was also bad. I like this third one better.



I drew this, thought it was a bit too boring, then said “hey, maybe she’s dead!” And now she is. Sorry, unidentified female.



I don’t know if you can tell, but I like glowy stuff.



There was no light source. Now there is.



Through the Trees
Depending on the saturation/brightness of this, she either looks like she’s here to kill you or be your fairy godmother. Maybe if I fiddle with the HSB sliders a bit more I can make it both.


Maybe she killed someone, maybe she’s a cop that’s just really into her job, or maybe she’s been eating a lot of ketchup and just *happened* to stumble across some crime scene tape. Who knows. (…I do.)

Flowers are pretty 🙂



I was on the ferry, and I was bored. This piece truly reflects my inner (and outer) feelings during that arduous four whole hours of sitting around doing nothing.


Lineart. It is difficult. It fell apart halfway through.



This is a last minute painting I did because I needed an art work sample.



The original title for this was “sad demon eyes.” It still has a place in my heart.



I believe this was one of the last paintings I did on my old setup with Photoshop.



Painting the Sky
Panoramas are nice, wouldn’t ya say?

This is another of one of those “needed multiple attempts to get right” ones, but I like the outcome. I think it was worth it.



The color palette for this one came completely from a sunset.



Yay pretty colors.



No Pressure
I recently got a new tablet for my digital art and passed my old one on to a friend. This painting was the first one I drew with said tablet, before I got the pressure sensitivity to work properly.


Loosely based on someone I saw in an airport one time. I honestly can’t be sure how much of this is accurate to the original person because my memory is not amazing.


Snow Angel
I had just made a new brush preset for snow, so I decided to do something with it. And thus, a snow angel.


The only brush I used for this was the airbrush. Clearly. (Or perhaps, foggily.)(Apologies for the terrible pun.)



Prints in the Snow
I had to make a whole new brush preset for this.

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How much does a shower cost? A cup of tea?

As we look forward to the move into our new house, we’re also looking forward to lower energy bills. Some people have been surprised, then, when we decided to switch from an on-demand (tankless) propane water heater, to an tank-style electric. The former are supposed to me more efficient, the story goes. More on that further down. First, my attempt to calculate how much we are paying for showers here in our trailer.

This is a part measured, part theoretical calculation. Since our water is not metered, we don’t know how much water we use overall or for showers. It is pretty simple to figure how much it cost to heat a quantity of water, so I’ll end up with the cost per minute of shower.

measuring cold tap water

measuring cold tap water

I measured the input water temperature by running the cold water at the kitchen sink into a bowl and measured the temperature until it stabilized. It is astounding how cold our tap water is in the winter and spring here in Haines. You know it is cold when your hands hurt when you wash in cold water for more than a few seconds. Now I know how cold: 3.5 C (38.3F).  I don’t have a figure for the water temperature in the summer, so I guessed at 10C (50F), then averaged for use in my calculations.

The next step: I took a shower and measured the flow rate of our shower head, and a comfortably hot shower water temperature, using a bucket to measure the flow and also to hold the water for accurate temperature measurement. I realize a “comfortably hot shower” is rather subjective, but I tried to hit a middle of the road hotness, which in my case was 36.1C (97F). For the flow volume, I adjusted the faucet to a moderate flow. Full on it was about 2 gallons/minute, and at what my conservative back thought to be a minimum flow for a decent shower, 1 gallon/min. So, since I would not expect my family to be quite as stingy as me,  I’ve used 1.5 gallons/minute (5.7 liters/minute) for the calculations. I checked our 2nd shower, and its flow rate was similar.

The rest was just some arithmetic and digging up a bunch of numbers (cost of propane, energy content of propane, etc.)

So here’s goes. Cost to heat 1 gallon of water: [I’m going to start off in English units because its pretty easy in this case]  1 gal=8.3 lbs. It takes one BTU to heat 1 lb of water 1 degree F, so 8.3 lbs x 52.9 F temp rise = 423 BTU. This is the energy needed to heat one gallon of water to shower temperature on average (more in winter when the water is colder, less in summer). Now let’s switch to international units: 423 BTU/3412 BTU/KWhr= 0.124 KWhr of energy to heat 1 gallon of water.

Next I calculated the cost of that 0.124 KWhr for propane (cost per gallon of propane divided by  KWhr/gal of propane divided by the efficiency of the heater, times the number of KWhr as above) [4.00 $/gal / 26.8 KWhr/gal / 0.70 * 0.124 KWhr = $0.027 per gallon]). Now when I do the same calculation for an electric tank water heater, based on our marginal electric rate or $0.12 per KWhr, I get $0.016 to heat a gallon of water. Let’s turn that into a shower table:

shower minutes cost for Propane cost for electricity
submarine 3 0.12 0.08
spartan 5 0.21 0.13
leisurely 10 0.41 0.26
luxurious 15 0.62 0.39
indulgent 30 1.23 0.77

Summary…The cost for a shower was lower than I suspected based on our propane bill. Again, this is partly theoretical. One thing not accounted for is loss of heat in the water pipes, which in our case make a long journey under the trailer (read poorly insulated). But maybe a bigger portion of our propane is going to other hot water needs and cooking than I assumed.

Now on the electric tank vs gas tankless heater debate… I think the electric should beat the propane hands down due to:

  1. Propane costs more per unit energy than electricity where we live and probably most places.
  2. Our propane heater is not very efficient because of the heat going up the flue and the need to heat the make-up air.
  3. The electric tank heater’s standby losses are welcomed in heating the house probably 80-90+ percent of the year.

Read on if you want more detail to support my assertion.

Efficiency of tankless propane heater...I could not find a stated efficiency of the Bosch 125b. However, based on the stated rating of its replacement, the Bosch 520 PN, given as 78%, I used 70% for our older model. A lot of heat goes up the 6 inch flue pipe…I’ve been on the roof and felt the temperature of the exhaust.

Besides the heat created but not transferred to the water (but instead going up the flue) our Bosch gets its combustion air from the room where it is located, and as that air is  drawn into the house it has to be heated (during the heating season). This does not matter in the summer, but in cold weather it can rob you of a lot of energy, indirectly lowering the effective efficiency running the old Bosch. Many newer heaters avoid this problem by having a dedicated combustion air supply.

Also, the pilot light (which burns all the time) uses some propane.

[To take the discussion a bit off track, I think the tankless propane heater is even less efficient when doing the dishes. The off and on nature of dish washing (I’m talking hand washing) seems to me less efficient since, each time the heater fires back up, there is a large woof of flame that I reason can’t be well converted to usable heat, but mostly goes up the flue. Also, with our particular heater, and many others, there is a minimum flow rate needed to keep it working, below which the water turns cold. This makes it hard to conserve by, say, rinsing dishes under a small stream of water vs a larger one.]

Efficiency of electric tank water heater… The main reason tank style water heaters are reputed to be less efficient than tankless type is due to standby losses, ie., heat that continuously escapes the tank whether or not the water is being used. In my opinion this inefficiency is overstated. In many cases the heat lost from the tank is not really wasted…it goes to heat the house. If you live in Florida, yes, it is wasted, and especially so if you are cooling your house. Here in Alaska we can use that “wasted” heat at least 9-10 months of the year. If we did not have this and other such incidental heat sources, we might discover it is too chilly to go without heat most days in the summer here. To account for what little standby loss is really wasted, I used a figure of 90% efficient in the calculations above. My guess is that is low.
Our choice… Other factors went into our decision to get an old school electric tank style heater. One is that our current tankless model is not big enough for our size family (if you are showering and someone else turns on the hot water in the kitchen, your shower will turn cold rather suddenly).  A newer, bigger tankless costs a lot more than a tank style, so it would have to be much more efficient to justify it. One more thing…one of the touted advantages of the tankless (on-demand) type is that you never run out of hot water. With three teenagers, that can be looked on as a liability — limited hot water helps keep the bills down.

How about a cup of tea?

If you figure the amount of energy to boil a cup of water (1/16 of a gallon) using a similar tack as above you get 0.025 KWhr which is about $0.003, or a third of a cent per cup. I did not try to differentiate based on energy source. Then I used a plug-in energy meter to measure the electricity used to boil water in an electric tea kettle. The result was a bit higher, about a half a cent per cup. Even when you add the cost of a tea bag, you have a real bargain beverage there!

misc notes:

Our water & sewer are not metered, so I did not figure the flat rate monthly cost into this analysis. Yes, that is part of the overall cost of a shower, but assuming we will have water and sewer service anyway, it is not a factor in deciding to take a shower, or how long of one to take. Similarly with electricity, I do not count the monthly fixed costs of the service, but just the cost of an added KWhr, the marginal cost.

Obviously the water heater is not heating the water exactly to the desired shower temperature, but much hotter. I am assuming that the energy required to get the desired water temperature is the same if you heat the water to that temperature, or heat a smaller amount to a higher temperature and mix it with cold water, which is what is actually happening.

For a similar inquiry, see Knute Brinchmann’s How much does it cost to heat our house?

Posted in Building Plans and Progress | 2 Comments

Green Family Reunion: Solstice 2015 Alaska

Come to Haines for an adventure reunion, June, 2015!

Exact dates are up to you but we plan to center around the Summer Solstice (6/21), the longest day of the year with 24 hours of daylight/twilight for outdoor activities.

We’re hoping another centerpiece of the reunion will be a “Green Team” participation in the Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay (6/20). There are options for teams of various sizes and there is no need to be a world class rider…if you can ride 20 miles you’re in!

Haines is a friendly small town full of outdoorsy and artsy people surrounded by incredible natural beauty. There many things to do and the June weather is usually very agreeable.

How to get to Haines

What to do in Haines

Haines links:

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Things to do in Haines

Right in town

  • walking
  • hiking
  • climbing
  • beach combing
  • birding
  • other wildlife viewing
  • fishing
  • biking (road or mountain)
  • running (on or off road)
  • ultimate (Frisbee)
  • disc golf
  • golf (9 hole + driving range)
  • basketball (pickup)
  • beach volleyball
  • horseshoes
  • swimming (pool and ocean)
  • boating (river or ocean possible depending on borrowing or renting boat(s))
  • museums (3): Sheldon, Bald Eagle Foundation and Hammer
  • coffee shops, restaurants, etc
  • gardening

Commercial tours

  • Whale watching
  • kayaking
  • rafting
  • fishing
  • etc

Side trips


  • Gold Rush History, Chilkoot Pass hike (3+days), White Pass drive or Railway trip (1/2 day)


  • Mendenhall Glacier, State Capitol, etc


  • Yukon River, Takini Hot Springs, camping, hiking, orienteering, etc

Haines Highway & pass:

  • Kathleen Lake, Haines Junction, Kluane National Park, Tatshenshini/Alsek River float (week+ world class float requiring fly out, and usually a guide), more hiking, climbing etc.


Highway travel to Dawson, Eagle, Denali NP, Wrangell St. Elias NP, Arctic, and much more.

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How to get to Haines

Google maps links:

map of our part of town

Street view of our place a few years ago.The building under construction is our barn. Our new house is going up in the wooded area to the left of the grassy area.

Note: I asked Google Maps to give me directions from Lynnwood, WA to Haines, AK and it gave me the Cassiar route, and a route way east through Calgary and Edmonton, but not the fastest, most common route that links Prince George to Dawson Creek.

Now here’s some insider information on getting to Haines. Let’s assume you are coming from the Pacific Northwest.

By Sea:

If you don’t have your own boat, the next best water option option is the the Alaska Marine Highway System, a.k.a. Alaska State Ferry. The ferry leaves Bellingham every Friday and arrives in Haines on Monday. (It then continues the last 12 miles to Skagway, where it turns around and heads back south. So if you want to take it south it leaves every Monday.)

The ferry is a relaxed, scenic way to travel. You can see marine wildlife and meet lots of interesting people. The ferry makes a few stops along the way, so you get a glance at a few other towns. Some of these stops are good for getting off the ferry for a quick walk, but if you want to see more of these other towns, the way to do it is to schedule stopovers for a day or so.

The ferry is not the cheapest option, but is our favorite. Fares for summer 2015 have not been published yet, but current adult fares are $353 per person each way (1/2 price for 6-12 yr olds and under 6 free!). Add $57 for a bicycle. Cabins range from $337 to $580. (There is a link to a cost spreadsheet I  did at the bottom of this post). Vehicles prices start at almost $500 and go up with size, but the only reason you would need a vehicle is if you want to drive the highways of  interior Alaska, the Yukon or all the way back to the lower 48 (or do the drive-ferry hybrid). Food in the ferry cafeterias is not bad, but kind of pricey for what you get. The cheap way to take the ferry is bring a sleeping bag and a sack of food. You can sit at a table in the cafeteria with your own food and use the microwave etc. Many people sleep in the solarium or on the back deck (or a few spots inside). Some people put up tents for privacy. Plastic deck recliners are available and are pretty comfortable (keeps you off the deck). Showers are available.

Another option is to book an Alaskan cruise. Considering that your room and board are included, this option can compete price-wise if you get a good deal on the cruise. One year cruise prices were discounted so deeply that you could cruise to Haines at about a fourth the coast of the ferry with stateroom and meals! If you start searching you will find that most Inside Passage cruises stop at Skagway, but not Haines. This is not a big problem since it is easy to get from Skagway to Haines in the summer via a local private ferry. The other issue is that if you want to spend more than about 12 hrs in Haines you would need to jump ship here and forgo the rest of the cruise, plus repeat or use another method on the way back. The 2015 cruise ship schedules are set. They can tell you at a glance which boats dock when in Haines or Skagway.

By Air:

Flying is quick and easy. Alaska Airlines has multiple flights per day between Seattle and Juneau. This summer, Delta  added the route, and prevailing fares dropped by about half. Word is Delta will offer it again next summer, likely making the air option the cheapest of all for 1 or 2 people. Once in Juneau, you can switch to a small plane and continue the air option all the way to Haines, or take the 4.5 hour ferry ride here. The ferry option usually requires a night’s stay in Juneau since the ferry tends to leave early in the morning, which negates the savings of using the ferry instead of the small plane, but also affords the opportunity of seeing Juneau for a bit. If you don’t want to spend the night in Juneau, search the schedule for a rare afternoon ferry, or take a small plane to Haines. Wings of Alaska and Alaska Sea Planes fly here. Either way, you can’t lose…the scenery between Juneau and Haines is fabulous by air or sea.

By Land:

It’s a long but beautiful drive, (or bike ride). There are several variation in the basic route, but each involves at least 30-35 hours of driving time for the 1600+ miles (3000 km) from the Seattle area. Three days is minimum but why not take four or more and enjoy what comes along. The driving is easy, mostly. Traffic gradually thins out as you go north, till you feel like you own the road. There is a fair amount of large truck traffic on the main routes in BC until you get to Fort Nelson, after which you really feel like you are in the wilderness. Taking the Cassiar Highway avoids the traffic but is a narrower/curvier road with fewer towns and gas stations…a more wild adventure that many might like (the best way for a pedal or motor bike for sure). We usually camp out along the way, but there are motels at close enough frequency to have your choice (not on the Cassiar). There are a fair number of campgrounds along the way plus occasional opportunities for unofficial camping. Government campgrounds charge $12-15 and are usually quite nice, and surprisingly lonely. Rarely are they more than 1/4 occupied, so are nice and quiet. The exceptions are recreation spots near sizeable cities, where they are more heavily used, especially on weekends, and Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park. The campground there is almost always full by early in the day…but it is a must stop anyway. It’s a real nice spring. If you want to camp there they have overflow areas (which are really not bad!) that will usually get you in for the night. Or make it a day stop. Liard is a good reason for choosing the Alaska Highway over the Cassiar highway, though you could still visit the springs on the latter if you did not mind a backtrack of around three hours each way. When you get north into the Yukon Territory, the various options converge, except there is one more choice…take the highway all the way, or drive to Skagway and take the one hour ferry ride to Haines. I’d recommend doing it one way on the way up and the other option home (ferry on the way home relives the burden of keeping a schedule on the long drive up). If you have the time you could make detours through Jasper and Banff parks in the Canadian Rockies (also an exception to the campground rule above…campgrounds in theses NPs are expensive and heavily booked). Another side trip would be to visit Stewart BC/Hyder Alaska. Whatever your driving plans you should pick up a copy of the Milepost, and don’t forget your passport!

Drive-Ferry Hybrid:

The most common hybrid is to drive to Prince Rupert, BC and ferry from there. You get a taste of both methods.

Spreadsheet comparing travel costs for various modes for various number of travelers.

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