Walter and Andrew were en-route to Northpole, Alaska but decided the Alcan highway was so good they would be in Northpole a month before Christmas at their current speed. The Northpole they were heading for was after all just a town outside of Fairbanks.
So it was time to have a good look at the map. Andrew looked and observed we couldn’t drive much past Fairbanks as there were no public roads open in the winter. But looking at the Canandian Arctic… There is a road going all the way up to Inuvik in the North West Territories. It is time for Walter to drink his 5th cup of weak complimentary coffee.
We illogically decide that we can drive 1250 kilometers North into the Canadian Arctic in a couple of days, have a few days to relax, come back, and voila we can still make it to Northpole for Christmas! Andrew glanced at the old Dodge parked outside and remembered the bald tires. Next stop tire-shop. The man at the tire-shop said we’d never make it up the Dempster highway in our car, shook his head continuously as he gave us 2 reasonable second-hand all-season tires for a charitable price of $20 which included mounting.
After a quick stop at McDonalds for provisions where they kindly fill up the thermos full of thick-shake to see us through the day and after buying cheese, salami and biscuits from the supermarket we make a visit to the local op-shop to get some more warm weather gear….. we fill up with the last affordable gas and head towards the Klondike Highway.
To be continued!
|When you are young you want adventure. But when you are young you just don’t have the money. And so Andrew and Walter are cruising in a $500 Dodge Dart to North-pole Alaska for Christmas. Little do they realize exactly how cold it is going to get. But first…
We leave Watson Lakewith a full tank of gas and a wry smile . We had survived the night after running out of gas just as we drove down a hill into town and coasted into a parking spot with a power extension cord hanging out the window ready to plug in the car. We feel blessed riding into the cool crisp air of a dark Yukon morning, despite being scolded by an angry shopkeeper for ‘stealing’ his power.
It is a long drive to Whitehorse, we are making good progress and are not deterred by the high gas price after having run out of gas yesterday. Andrew stops for his regular noise checks. This time he determines two of our tires are too worn out to drive on and need replacing. He is right, I see steel belt poking out of the rubber, a terrible sign especially when you are heading North in Winter.
The scenery is wide with large open expanses and long sections of forest, large rivers, long bridges, quite awe inspiring. I nod off as Andrew continues to drive towards Whitehorse.
As we enter Whitehorse with bleary eyes in the dark again we drive past an old pedal steamer. This seems worth investigating but will have to wait until morning! First we need a bed. That’s easily found in a modest downtown hotel where we appreciatively crawl into the warm down blanket with memories of sleeping in the car still fresh in our minds.
After a MacDonald’s breakfast we head straight for the pedal-steamer. It is theSS Klondike and has been turned into a museum. It’s closed for the winter. This does not deter me. Andrew has been doing the driving and now it’s time for me to have some excitement. I work my way into the ship through the pedal mechanism and walk to the front door to open it for Andrew. It was not till the alarm went off that I realized that this was a very bad thing to do. Instead of checking out the museum I quickly close the door again and returned to the car. Within ten minutes the police arrive and also a few people from the historical society. All is okay.
It is back to a warm cafe for us to take a good long hard look at our map and decide where we are heading. Oh, and what shall we do about our tires…
Driving to Northpole Alaska in a really old car like the ’67 Dodge Dart Walter and Andrew were asking for trouble. Little were they prepared for the trouble they were getting into which was not related to the age of the car. It is cold and dark and Andrew and Walter just woke up and are now driving from Fort Nelson to Watson Lake.
Gassed up and with Bombers secured we head North. The fuel gauge has stopped working, but the WD40 has settled down the speedo. More rags are stuffed into the dash to stop drafts. Our Mad Bomber gloves are too hot in the car, so we wear socks on our hands.
Andrew stops the car on numerous occasions, allowing precious warm air to leave the car. He is listening to more annoying sounds. Eventually he is convinced the wheel bearings are dry but is satisfied that no wheel will come off – today. Sigh… We stop for lunch and Andrew finds some grease at a gas station to stuff into the bearings and we add $10 of really expensive gas just to be polite, and to be safe. Andrew is happy again. From our calculations we cannot make Watson Lake with our fuel, but expect to stop at the first reasonably priced service station. Alas, we see no more gas-stations after lunch. The closed ones we pass have seriously high prices too! Eventually we slow down to 45 mph hoping to extend our range. It gets dark at 4pm and we fear getting stranded in bear territory. Still no gas stations and the fuel gauge still broken, we have no idea how far we can go, but estimate Watson Lake to be out of range….
The car runs out of gas just as the road descends into Watson Lake past a magnificent collection of stolen signs. It is pitch dark and 8pm. The town is deserted as we coast in quietly and pull into a car park in front of a shop without even needing to push the car. It just rolled into town, a miracle! We thank our lucky stars as we plug the car into the extension lead conveniently hanging out the shop window right there. In such cold weather it is imperative to plug in the oil and water heaters overnight so as not to freeze the car.
Andrew is up, looking a little perturbed. He tells me he just dealt with an angry shop owner who advised him that plugging in the car with the oil and water heaters costs about $5 per night and we had stolen from him. Our story of having run out of gas was not plausible to him either. Andrew had offered $5 but the man was so upset he did not want money. We pour the gas in the tank, drive to the gas station and fill up. We get the thermos filed with hot coffee and buy some groceries. As Andrew drives out of Watson Lake I prepare sandwiches for an in-flight breakfast. It is still dark as we head out of town. That was a warm welcome to the Yukon!
Whitehorse here we come!
After leaving the Transient Hostel in Fort Nelson we are find ourselves on a road covered in a thin layer of snow and ice. Andrew gingerly drives the car into the misty morning, it is 10am, shortly after dawn! Gassed up and with Bombers secured we head for Watson Lake, 350 miles North. The fuel gauge has stopped working, but the WD40 has settled down the speedo. More rags are stuffed into the dash to stop drafts. Our Mad Bomber gloves are too hot in the car, so we wear socks on our hands.
Andrew stops the car again on numerous occasions, allowing precious warm air to leave the car. He is listening to another annoying sound now and is eventually convinced the wheel bearings are dry but is satisfied no wheel will come off – today. Sigh… We stop for lunch and Andrew finds some grease at a gas station to stuff into the bearings and we add $10 of really expensive gas to be polite, and to be safe. He is happy again. From our calculations we cannot make Watson Lake with our fuel, but expect to stop at the first reasonably priced service station. Alas, we see no more gas-stations after lunch. The closed ones we pass have seriously high prices! We eventually slow down to 45 mph hoping to extend our range. It gets dark at 4pm and we fear getting stranded in bear territory. Still no gas stations and the fuel gauge still broken, we have no idea how far we can go, but estimate Watson Lake to be very optimistic.
The car rans out of gas just as the road descends into Watson Lake. It is pitch dark and 8pm. The town is deserted as we coast in quietly and pull into a car park in front of a shop without even needing to push the car. It just rolled into town, a miracle! We thank our lucky stars as we plug the car into the extension lead hanging out the shop window right there as well. We nibble at our supplies and get out the sleeping bags. Within an hour Andrew is sprawled out asleep on the front bench and I crash on the back seat.
Andrew and Walter finally get on the road at 10am, frosty but it is wind-still. The worn all-season tires shine with tire paint which we applied to make the police think we have new tires – just in case they pull us over. Short of a few big trucks nobody is on the road, and in the fully gassed up car we head North. At an optimistic 60 miles an hour with Andrew at the helm we have barely left when Andrew wants to listen to some car-noise again. As soon as he opens the car door I remember to put on my Mad Bomber Hat again. The car heater is not coping well with the 20 degrees F outside temperature.
The cold is starting to bother us, we realize it will get much worse. Andrew determines it is the speedometer cable making the unpleasant squeaking noise, the noise that I hadn’t noticed yet. It explains the jerky speedo, and Andrew gets out the WD40.
We decide to camp out for the night and take the turn off to the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, about 50 miles off the Alcan. It doesn’t take long to get there and we find a forlorn and empty looking visitor station. Everything is closed for winter. Snow on the ground, it is cold and miserable. Boots strapped on and Bomber hats with the flaps tied down over the ears we wonder off towards the dam wall. Yes, we determine it is a dam, a very big one too. The Peace River generates almost 13 billion kWh annually of power between two power stations.
An early bed time for us. We both lie down on front and rear seats respectively, toes and head against cold metal doors. Not pleasant, certainly not warm. My two hats keeps my toes and ears warm, but I decide to sleep outside.
I roll my rubber insulating mat out next to the car and sleep comfortable till about 7am. My rubber mat was frozen solid to the road in the morning, and peeling it off slowly pretty much ruined the insulating rubber. Determined to find coffee quick we start the car and zoom off before dawn on the icy road just as the ranger drives up.
‘Been hunting boys?’ he asks us. No, we just wanted to check out the visitor station. ‘Closed for winter’, he says. ‘Where did you sleep?’. Next to the picnic table in the car park Sir. ‘Well, you’re bloody lucky you are alive, as bears are known to rip cars apart in this area’. Bears? I slept outside. ‘Outside? Men, you are lucky to be alive!’. We look at each other, say our goodbyes and get in the car. Let’s go to Fort Nelson!
Without further ado we cross endless miles of boreal forests and arrive in a cold and forlorn Fort Nelson three hundred miles North. The silhouette of a bear greets us as we drive into town, an ominous sign. We get directions to the Transients’ Hostel for the night and are offered a free night in return for my Mad Bomber Hat! We decline the offer and pay. A warm dinner and a few beers later we find our very comfy bunks for the night and fully intend on waking up **early** to continue our cool way towards the North Pole.
NOW REDUCED BY 75% for Easter 2012
Thinking they were fully equipped Andrew and Walter headed North towards the Alaskan Highway. Mile Zero at Dawson Creek is the official start of the highway . Since the ’67 Dodge Dart’s oil light was no longer on and the deluxe auto now had slightly better second hand all-season tires they both accomplices assumed the jalopy was also ready for an Alaskan winter. Walter even picked up a $50 pair of dilapidated downhill skis and boots to add to their equipment cache.
Feeling the draft coming through the dash Andrew decided to stuff newspapers in the many nooks and crannies of the car. Eventually we feel the heater begin to have an effect. We take off our MAD BOMBER hats and happily cruise through the dry and windy prairies. Late at night we hit Dawson Creek in the lovely snow. Time for a celebration but first we need accommodations. A friendly drunk points us to the men’s hostel originally designed in the 1940s to cater to workers on the Alcan. These days it is more a homeless shelter and we gratefully accept the humble tin-roof above our hats before crashing into unconsciousness in our assigned bunks.
Andrew dreams of cars breaking down, Walter dreams of using his newly acquired downhill skis. All too early in the morning the other men woke us up wanting to know what we were planning with that wreck of a car. Everyone needs a car in working order for $100. We even get offers for our Mad Bomber hats! We made our way to a cafe for our first ‘Yukon Breakfast’, donning our warm hats as the morning air was absolutely freezing.
Next stop is a few hundred miles closer to Northpole at Andrew’s brother’s dairy farm. At the last minute we decide to log onto the Mad Bomber webstore and order brother John two Team Bombers as they were on sale. He’s a dairy farmer and it sure gets cold running a farm in Central Alberta. We beat the mail and arrived to surprise him but he puts us to work straight away on the farm. As I help milk the cows Andrew is in town fixing the car. He finds us a pair of all-weather tires that still had some tread on them which someone had tossed out at the tire-repair place in Edmonton. He also finds us a new $10 ‘sender unit‘ for the oil light, the part that tells the light to come on in case of low oil pressure. The oil light goes off just as Andrew had predicted.Our jalopy is starting to feel good now. As a final omen of good luck Andrew finds his old watch in the mud outside the shed. He had lost it on the farm two years ago and today he walked past and heard its faithful alarm beeping in the frozen mud! Must be as reliable as a BOMBER.
To be continued!