Valdez, Again and the End of the Fellowship

Valdez…Again!

After all of the Iditarod run, we headed back to Valdez on Sunday afternoon to see about getting the clutch replaced. Nate, whose number I got from Jerry, called me, and suggested that I call his buddy Geo, and that Geo would be willing to let me use his shop to replace the clutch.

When I got in touch with Geo on Sunday night, hoping that I’d be able to get started on things Monday morning he told me he wouldn’t be available until Monday night to get the car into the shop.

Bummer. I was really hoping to get things moving along, in hopes of getting back out on the road as soon as possible. Every day we’re stuck in Valdez costs us close to $200 with food, hotel, etc. (All of this, and they still haven’t fixed the Wi-Fi at the Best Western, although the free breakfast is pretty first rate.)

So with Monday to kill we decided to go skiing. Sara had never been, and Valdez is known as one of the premier locations for heli-skiing in the United States.

First off, I should mention that we didn’t go heli-skiing. Although, at $8k for a week’s worth of heli time, it sounds like it couldn’t be much more expensive than the ALCAN was. Rather we found a local shop called the Prospector, where we were able to rent skis and then we spent several hours driving around looking for what locals told us was called the “road run”.

Note: Despite being a premier destination for heli skiing Valdez doesn’t have a traditional ski resort or anything like that. The “road run”, turned out to be just that, running down the side of the highway back into town.  I called Nate and asked him where I could find the road run, to which he told me, “Bro, if your girl’s never skied before, then you don’t want her out on the road run.”

Instead, we settled for Salmon Berry Hill, Valdez’s newest, and only ski facility. It’s a big hill with a tow rope, but it was plenty fast enough for our needs. It also happened to be closed the day we were there, but that didn’t stop us from hiking up the top, skiing down, and then hiking back up again. (In short, we trudged 30 minutes through the snow in order to ride 5 minutes down, only to go back and do it over and over again.)

Mom, Dad, and Ryan opted not to ski, and I spent most of my time helping Sara get the basics down, but she and Daniel got a few good runs in.

Heading back to the hotel I got a call from Geo that he wanted me to bring the car over to the shop so that we could get it inside and warmed up. So Mom and I dropped everyone else off at the hotel and went back to Nate’s shop to get the car, and make one last pass at mastering our flat towing skills.

Actually, it went a lot better this time. The only time that was really nerve wracking was when Mom missed a turn, and I nearly hit a snow bank.

At the shop we got the car, inside (heated floors!) and made the arrangements. I needed to pay Geo $250 per day to use the shop, and I needed to work out a similar arrangement with Aaron to assist me. Aaron was to be on hand to supervise, show me where things were located, and hand me tools when needed. (Aaron’s job turned out to be a lot more than that, but we’ll get to that later.)

A note on Geo’s shop: It’s quite possibly the cleanest shop that I’ve ever been inside in my life. The floors were clean enough to eat off, the walls were stark white, and every tool was neatly organized and put away in its proper place. The crash was well organized, and had a place for nearly every tool you’d want closely at hand. (Justin Fyfe, eat your heart out!)

Aaron and I decided that we’d get started at 8AM the next morning, and that Mom and Dad offered to drop me off on their way out of town so that Daniel and Ryan didn’t have to wake up early.

That night it started to snow, and I mean, it really started to snow. The forecast was for two feet of snow, and when we woke up that morning, it was clear they weren’t lying.

I managed to brush enough snow off the rental to get it out of the parking lot, we loaded up Mom and Dad’s bags, and after a quick stop to buy coffee and get gas we were headed to Geo’s. Mom and Dad dropped me off, and I headed over to Aaron’s trailer to wake him up so that we could get started.

I won’t bore you with the details here, but let’s just say that if the book rate (the amount of time it’s supposed to take) is 8 hours, it took us a lot longer than that. In fact, it took us 24 hours. It takes a long time when you install the throwout bearing incorrectly, and then you have to take everything out and start over again. It takes a long time when you don’t know how to separate the axles. In short, it just took a very long time. We drank large quantities of PBR (Sorry Geo, I owe you a case) and even when we got tired, we just kept working. Aaron was determined that I wouldn’t have to pay Geo for another day of using the shop, and we both had set our sights on the free breakfast at the Best Western. After finally wedging the intercooler into place we fired it up for the first time in days. She started on the first kick, and when I put the transmission in gear, the wheels moved! I was so happy I could have cried.

Note: Huge thanks to Paul Eklund and Blake Lind here. They both served as my shop manual, and they were the first person I called every time I hit the wall. Thanks again guys! And as for the rest of you, go buy something from Paul’s company Primitive why don’t you?

As we backed the car out of the shop it was hard to believe that I’d been up for 24 hours. Man, I was tired. I also was really looking forward to that breakfast at the Best Western. Aaron caught a ride with me in the WRX because his truck wouldn’t start, and we ran into Sara in the lobby. Breakfast was fantastic, but it was hard to keep my eyes open. Sara and I said goodbye to Aaron again, and thanked him for his help, and then I went upstairs to take a shower, while Sara tried to wash some of the grease out of my clothes so I’d have at least one clean pair of pants to wear.

After sleeping 2 hours, (thanks for the late checkout Best Western!) we loaded up the car and headed out. Well, we headed about a mile, and then we stopped for lunch at Fu Kung (yes, it’s really called Fu Kung) for lunch.

While I’d been working on the car nonstop Sara, Daniel, and Ryan had been taking in the sights of Valdez. Between the people who stopped into the shop, and the folks that the 3 amigos met, we were getting to be pretty well known in Valdez.  Case in point, Sara, Daniel, and Ryan had dinner at Fu Kung the night before with the same waitress, so she greeted them by first name when they walked in the door that afternoon.

We made quick work of Thompson pass, and it wasn’t long before we were back in Tok again. For those of you that didn’t Google it, (everyone except Crystal Korth) it’s pronounced Toke, just like Bob Marley used to do it.

Unfortunately, there was no room in the inn for us at Fast Eddie’s, which meant we needed to find a different place to stay. The clerk at Fast Eddie’s recommended the Snowshoe Inn, and thus, we decamped and headed to try a new motel. (I will try to not every use the word hotel in this narrative, simply because nearly everywhere we stayed was a motel, rather than a hotel.)

The Snowshoe had a distinct charm, if funk is a charm that is. Each room was actually divided into two rooms, with a hallway/bathroom separating the two. But I digress. I’d slept 2 hours in the last 48, and it was a bed, it was warm, and I couldn’t see any cockroaches from where I was standing. At some point, there’s just no reason to be picky.

The next morning we got up early and headed back out onto the road, with a goal of reaching Watson Lake by the end of the night.

We drove, and we drove, and then we drove some more. By late afternoon, we’d reached Whitehorse, the town where my gas cans were stolen, and we’d started to pick up some serious weather. Big, fat, fluffy flakes were raining down on us, and Daniel decided that he’d put in enough time on the road today. They wanted to stay in Whitehorse and Sara and I decided to press on, confident that we’d be able to make Watson Lake before midnight.

On a street corner in downtown Whitehorse we shook hands, said our goodbyes, and the last two ALCAN teams parted company, headed out alone into the night.

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3 Responses to Valdez, Again and the End of the Fellowship

  1. Troy says:

    Depending on how far you are gonna push today leaving watson lake, john and I left there at 7 am and pulled into Prince george BC 850 miles down Hwy 97. We recomend the Ramada in Downtown 4th and george I recall. we got a Brand new room. Place was the best we stayed on the whole trip and only 130 a night. Bad internet though lol

  2. Aaron says:

    Hey Dave! Nice little story about the clutch! A friend told me he was checking the rally website out and informed me I was mentioned in someone’s blog, so I had to check it out. Glad the car is still going, was a little worried since you hadn’t called. I hope you don’t ever have to change that clutch again, but I think it’ll go a bit faster the third time around!! And you forgot to give credit to our local auto shop for advice and tools loaned! Take it easy, and keep the rubber side down!

    • daviddolmage says:

      Hey Aaron, you’re right, I can’t remember who stopped by and helped us, but the guys from Mark’s Repair were fantastic about loaning out their tools, a copy of the torque specs, and plenty of good advice. Often, Aaron would be on the phone with his guy while I was on the phone with Paul. It takes a village sometimes, and I know we couldn’t have done it without help. Thanks again man!

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