Driving in winter is rarely fun from my perspective since the worst conditions always seem to be connected to the "need for speed". There wasn't any room for "speed" on this trip since "safety" was always at the forefront of our thoughts.
Trying to get somewhere in a hurry with roads like this is madness. Trying to drive over 4,000 miles gave us a whole new perspective on insanity. To compound our stress level, we added a new (to us) vehicle with all the peculiarities that come with it. 'Tis far better to be familiar with the mechanics and foibles of your truck before taking it on a long, hazardous journey. (Ah well, another life lesson that got left in the ditch somewhere along the way.)
Time to take a lesson from the buffalo as they plodded quietly alongside of the highway with the simple worry of finding grass enough to fill their bellies. These fine animals appeared to have no interest in all of the cares that we dragged along the road.
Traveling from Tennessee to Alaska in the summer is a very long drive. It can be a wonderful drive. There's a wide variety of scenery, lots of animals to discover and an interesting array of natural and manmade things to stop along the way to check out. The first time we made this trip, we took months and stopped many times to camp, visit friends and explore a few things here and there. Our blog is full of stories of our first trip up the AlCan (Alaska Highway).
This trip was quite different. We were pressed into a winter trip by circumstances beyond our control. The things that we could control didn't include the timing and our need to get back home ASAP. The other thing that wasn't under our control was the weather and it was basically against us as much as possible.
We faced snow, wind, icy roads and extreme cold.
In Missouri, we experienced for the first time ever the "joy" of "diesel jelly". After spending 2 1/2 winters in Alaska, this came as a surprise even though we know that such a thing can happen, it hasn't ever happened even at 40+ below. To have it happen around zero degrees was baffling and a bit unsettling as we knew that far colder temps were ahead of us.
Fortunately, we froze up on the highway right outside the town of Wright. To say that we were in the "Wright" place at the right time wouldn't be an understatement.
From the trooper that stepped up and kept us safe on the highway until the tow truck could reach us to the mechanic at Tony's shop (pictured below) that got our truck "ungelled" and got us back on the road, we are very, very grateful. So a very heartfelt thanks goes out to that trooper and Daryl (the tow truck driver) and his boss that got us to Tony's shop and his mechanic that went the extra distance to make sure that we would get back out on the road safely.
Our adventure didn't end there, that was only the beginning of the challenges that we were destined to face. A freak snowstorm hit us in Wyoming and caught us and everyone else completely off guard. We'd made it past Cheyenne and were hoping to make Montana when it started to snow heavily.
Traveling up a steep road, we suddenly found ourselves sliding down the highway sideways. Knowing what to do, I took my foot off the gas and turned the wheel into the slide. We continued to slide. So much for knowing what to do........
We eventually slid to a stop in the ditch with the truck and the trailer unharmed. As the LORD was watching out for us, within minutes, another "angel" appeared to help us back onto the road. Much to our chagrin, although chagrin in no way compares to the gratitude we felt, a Chevy truck hooked up to our tow hook on the front of our Ford and jerked us back onto the pavement. Our thanks again goes out to this young man and his wife that cared enough to stop and help us get back on our way.
I could probably stop here and let you think that the rest of our journey was uneventful. Well, no, that wasn't the case. There's way too much road left and no one could think that we'd learned enough "lessons" yet. It seems that the one lesson that we can't get away from is the one that dogged us at every turn.
From the buffalo to the ice, there was one overriding thought that kept chewing on our tail - take it slow and easy. While we felt extremely pressed to try and get home as quick as we could, there was no way to change the facts on the ground. Speed wasn't going to work in our favor.
We had started the trip with a plan, a daily allotment of miles that would get us home in five days. From day one, we found ourselves falling farther and farther behind our "plan". Our only concession was that HIS timing is always perfect and we can't always see the reasons that HE has for the delays that come along in life.
Our desire to get home really kicked in when we reached the Alaska Highway. The options for stopping really thin out after Fort Nelson and gas becomes the overriding concern. There aren't many places to stop for gas and wisdom dictates that you carry some along with you. We had 20+ gallons of diesel as a backup.
We made the decision in Fort Nelson to press through the next 1,000+ miles tag team driving in order to make up for all of our delays. It was a bad decision in hindsight as neither of us dared sleep for fear that the other would fall asleep too. We ended up way over tired and found ourselves very glad to have the road basically to ourselves. We had to keep pulling off the road to take little naps that didn't last long enough.
By the time we got to the Yukon, temperatures had dropped into the 30 below range and the truck started acting up. The transmission refused to shift out of first gear so we found ourselves traveling through the wilderness at 20 mph. The slow speed warmed the transmission and it would work again for a short time and then freeze up again.
With the deadly temperatures and the isolation of the wilderness, we dared not stop so we crawled across the frozen terrain with prayer on our lips and peace in our hearts that HE was watching over us at all times. We made it home eight days after we set out on our journey. It's always good to go home, amen?