Way Up North, to Alaska!

Note: I wrote this in Valdez, but due to an exceptionally poor internet connection at the Best Western, and general fatigue, I’m just now getting around to posting it.


Tok Junction to Valdez

Fast Eddies is quite the place. For dinner, the waitresses brought huge plates of food, both tasty and reasonably priced. For any of the ALCAN teams that had eaten at the Chinese restaurant in front of the Robber’s Roost in New Hazelton this was a god send.

Note: If you didn’t eat at the Chinese place then consider yourself very, very lucky.

In the morning we all went back to Fast Eddies for a buffet that was a mixed bag of ALCAN teams and snowmobile racers. It may be de rigueur to sport a beard if you race snowmobiles, but I’ll admit they did have an impressive array of winter gear.

Leaving the hotel the clutch was slipping a little bit, but after talking to Paul Eklund and a few others, I decided that Mom and I ought to keep going. After all, we’d come this far, and I was really thinking that we’d be able to nurse the clutch at least to the ferry in Haines Alaska, and then back to Portland.

(Insert ominous foreboding music here)

Leaving Tok Junction, and heading west with the other teams we were able to rejoin our back of the pack crew with cars, 20, 17, and 18. Brian ended up falling behind us a little in the Volvo due to some mechanical issues and when we stopped for gas at a junction somewhere he hadn’t quite caught up to us yet, although he was running hard.

Unfortunately, he was running a little too hard for the likes of the Alaska State Troopers. Both Brian and Colin got speeding tickets, and while we waited for them to catch up we checked out the gas station.

Note: Gas stations are always interesting. It’s amazing to see the variety of things they sell, or don’t sell. This one had a huge souvenir section that was actually larger than the food and snacks area. It also had a food truck. That served Thai food. In the middle of nowhere Alaska. Diamond Jim and Christy reported that the food was really good too. Of all of the things I’d seen in Alaska before, this blew me away.

I mean really, a food truck? That serves good Thai food? These guys were definitely ahead of the curve.

As we headed into the mountains the clutch started to slip a little more, and then a little more. To conserve it as best as I could I adopted a strategy of speeding down the mountains as fast as I could and then coasting up the mountains to try and keep the clutch from slipping nearly as much.

The scenery on this run was fantastic. Absolutely amazing, we pulled over several times to take pictures of mountains moose, and everything in between.

To get into Valdez there’s a mountain pass that you have to navigate. At first it’s all uphill, and then just like Isaac Newton promised, it’s all downhill. Running downhill through the Bridal Veil Falls, which are frozen in the winter, is one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen. The falls like someone just said stop, and they froze. (I know, I know, it’s winter, these things happen)

And then, Valdez. I’d read about the snowfall in Valdez, I’d seen pictures, listened to reports on the radio and television. (When your friends find out that you’re planning a trip to Alaska in the middle of the winter, they really enjoy forwarding you stories about the extreme weather conditions that you’ll encounter.)

There’s a lot of snow in Valdez. There’s so much snow that the first thing we saw when we hit town was a guy with a snow blower cleaning off the roof of the grocery store. There’s so much snow every street sign is buried in snow, and the names of the streets are spray painted onto the snow banks at every intersection.

But for all the snow, there was something that Valdez had that made Troy and John very happy. A coffee shop! They claimed it served pretty decent coffee too, although honestly, as long as it was open I don’t think would have cared too much about the quality of the coffee.

After gassing up, and coffee-ing up, we headed up to the ice race. Epic snowfalls meant that it was impossible for the city staff in Valdez to plow the ice racing course, but they were able to find a street where we’d be able to practice our race car driving skills. It also happened to be the street that lead to the town dump, but hey, who’s counting?

Basically, the course was about a mile long each way, and required the driver to execute a Rockford turn at the end to return back to the starting line. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Rockford turn, it’s named after Jim Rockford, a detective on a TV show. Rockford, played by actor James Garner would often end up needed to turn his Pontiac Firebird around and head the other way. There’s a little more to it than that, but basically, pulling the handbrake, and cranking the wheel around will get you there.

(Whoops, it’s actually a bootlegger’s turn, not a Rockford turn) You can read more about it here.

So, a word about Mom. She’s done pretty well on the ALCAN, but when she gets nervous she starts to get real snappy. As we lined up for the first runs on the course it was pretty obvious that Mom was getting a little worried. I tried to suggest to her that even if she drove the course at 30mph instead of 90 she’d still have a good run.

I told her not to worry about the clutch too, since everyone (including me) was pretty confident that it had enough life left to at least get it onto the ferry.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t true by a long shot. The clutch expired on Mom’s first run, and she had to coast the last 100 yards.

We weren’t; the only team who paid the butcher’s bill on the ice race however. Colin managed to roll his A4, and Paul blew up the motor in his Forester.

Colin was the luckiest by a long shot. When you roll an A4, you just flip it over, add a little power steering fluid, and tape up the hole when the sunroof used to be.

Paul and I were going to need a tow.

Note: There’s only one towing company in Valdez. The idea that two people with Subaru’s might need a tow, and that said tow might need to be to Anchorage was too much for them to process. The dispatcher kept telling me, right you already called, and I kept telling her, no, that’s the other guy.

So, to get back to the hotel, the South Africans, team 22 offered to flat tow the car. When I agreed, I must have forgotten that it was down a mountain. On icy, windy roads.

Now, let me just say this. I’ve flat towed before. But I’m from Iowa. I’ve flat towed on flat surfaces. Coming down the mountain I thought I literally might die. Following me in the M3 with Daniel and Ryan Mom said that the fear radiating off me was so palatable that she could feel it even in the M3.

We dropped the car in the car in the parking lot behind the hotel and when I went back out to grab the bags a guy approached me and said I was parked on US Government Property. The exchange we had might go down in history as one of the dumbest things I’ve ever said.

Me: US Government? Is this an Army base or something?

Guy: No, it’s a Coast Guard facility.

Me: Coast Guard? Is there a body of water around here?

Guy: Yeah, it’s called the Ocean, its right behind you.

I was tired. The clutch it dead, but we’ve got a plan. A friend of Jerry’s has offered the use of his shop to work on the car, and since Sara is flying up I’m hoping she can buy a clutch and flywheel in Los Angeles and stuff it into her suitcase. Then we’ll just have to come back to Valdez, RandR the clutch and we’ll be on our way. Simple right?

Also, Steve and Bill, in car 13 had made it back. They put some long hours in on the road, but they might end up being the only team to finish the entire route this year.

I’ll update more tomorrow, but it’s getting late, and tomorrow is sure to be filled with more excitement.

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