It’s Tuesday and Sam and I are lying in the back of the bus. It’s been a long day. I’m done with the endless drive. It smells a bit like diesel back here and it’s hot. Hard to believe the mornings are so chilly. We’re at that place on the Alaska Highway where we go up and then we go down. And then we go up and then we go down. The 250 mile stretch between Fort St. John and Fort Nelson is marked by 6 – 9 % grades. And it’s making me nauseous. Who’s idea was it to drive a stinkin school bus to Alaska?
It’s nearing sunset, but I *hope* we’ll make Fort Nelson tonight. Then we’ll be only 1285 miles from home.
Tomorrow we’ll tackle Steamboat Mountain. We’ve driven this road several times, but Steamboat Mountain reminds me of our February 2003 trip. We were driving home to Alaska from Albuquerque, New Mexico after Jake had finished 2 ½ years of pilot training with the Air Force. Jake drove ahead of me in a Nissan Pathfinder pulling a small red trailer. I drove our Ford Windstar minivan. Jacob had just turned seven years old, Joshua was two, and Sam was 5 months old (and still nursing). My sister Megan drove with me to help with the kids.
It was middle of winter and temperatures were easily reaching 40* below zero. That’s the point that Celsius and Fahrenheit even themselves out. 40* below is just plain cold. It was a difficult drive over ice and snow. Thinking of it now still makes me wince.
Jake and I communicated through Motorola walkie talkies. They were hooked to our seatbelts and we could just push the button when we wanted to talk. As we inched our way up Steamboat Mountain, the light was dull and flat and ice crystals formed in the air. The road was covered with snow and ice. I stayed close to Jake’s bumper as I couldn’t see much beyond that. I had sheer mountain on one side of me, a cliff on the other.
As we rounded a corner, Jake’s brake lights flashed and he swerved into the opposite lane. I heard his voice over the walkie talkie telling me that there was a car stopped on the road in front of him. He wanted me to go around them and continue driving, he was afraid I would get stuck.
As I made my way around Jake and continued up the mountain to a pull off where I could safely stop, I could see the stranded car. It was an old model sedan with a canoe strapped to the top and a trailer hooked to the back. The hazard lights were blinking.
Jake informed me later that he had made his way around the car and found a safe place to park and then walked down to the car. He knocked on the window and as it rolled down, he could see the driver was a middle-aged woman. She was alone except for her dog and cats and she was crying. She had been stuck there for over an hour and no one had made their way by. She was obviously scared.
While trying to tackle the mountain, her rear wheeled sedan had reached a point it could no longer climb in the icy conditions. There was kitty litter sprinkled near the tires where she had tried to gain traction on the ice, but it hadn’t worked. She didn’t have snow tires, and she didn’t know what tire chains were. She had no experience driving in the snow. She was heading to Alaska in search of a new life.
There was not much Jake could do as she didn’t want to leave her pets or her belongings. Though he was able to move her car from the middle of the road so she would be safer. He promised to call the police when we reached the summit, where we knew there were pay phones.
Later that day we saw a truck with her canoe strapped on top, towing her trailer with her following safely behind. She had found a good Samaritan to help her get to Alaska. We passed them several more times on the trip and it always made me smile.
I suppose one blessing of this trip is that we aren’t doing it in the winter. We may only be going 13 mph up these mountain passes, but it’s not over ice and snow. I can be thankful for that.Pin It