My first encounter with the Alaskan outdoors has come with an unexpected indoor twist - a 29-foot rolling condominium that is doing duty as my tent, my camp kitchen, and my transportation. Like thousands of other first-time and repeat visitors, I'm seeing Alaska by way of a rented recreation vehicle. The Anchorage airport is surrounded by companies standing by to transfer you smoothly from baggage claim to behemoth camper - scrubbed clean, fully equipped, filled with gas, and pointed toward the backcountry.

"It's just a great way to see Alaska," says Daryl Bennett, president of Great Alaskan Holidays, a high-end RV rental firm. "It gives you a chance to get almost anywhere in the state in comfort and on your own schedule."

RVs didn't exactly play a role in the Great Northern daydreams of my younger days - I was more likely to picture myself bathing in a freezing river than shaving in front of a steamy mirror. But I changed my approach for three reasons. The first two are named Isabel (age 3) and Tyrie (age 1). Our backpacking had survived the lifestyle body blow of one kid - we just put Isabel on my wife Ann's back and everything else on mine. But with daughter number two, we ran out of backs, which brings me to reason number three for our temporary enlistment in the RV ranks: a surprising number of raves about RV travel in Alaska from friends - some thorough going outdoors people among them - who have done it with kids.

"Go ahead, you'll love it," said my sister-in-law, who once motor-homed around southern Alaska with five teenagers. "You're renting an RV, not buying a minivan. You can reclaim your outdoors purity when the girls are bigger."

And so here we are, on the Seward Highway leading south from Anchorage down the Kenai Peninsula.