Thursday, August 06, 2015

Alaska road trip held forest fires, van repairs - and tornado sighting

Wow. This was an Alaska road trip for the books. Smoky forest fires, a dog attack, van repairs and a tornado sighting made for a lively trip. Drivers know to watch out for wildlife on the Alaska Highway, pot holes on the Dalton and frost heaves that send you flying. Did our journey include problems with any of the normal Alaska road trip challenges? Nope. Not ours.

You won't believe the challenges we faced. So, here are a few of them. Our 11,235 road trip was a journey that I would take again. Hopefully that drive will be less eventful.

Check engine light
My heart sank when the check engine light came on. The van repair took an extra day and revealed bigger mechanical problems. Before starting on the journey our $800 emergency reserve fund budget was depleted. Would this be the end of the repair problems? Read on.

Oil light
The oil light flipped on in Minnesota. Mechanics can't see everything. A car repair shop in St. Paul patched and dispatched us with well wishes. We only lost a few hours this time and breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled onto the highway - for awhile anyway.

Slow for fire fighters sign
Forest fire and/or smoke
Where there's smoke, there's fire. The Saskatchewan forest fire encouraged us to hastily leave our campground. In two hours it went from a faint smell to thick smoke. Thousands of people were evacuated to Regina. Two hundred miles away the smoke limited visibility and caused travel problems. We kept the van windows up, the a/c on recirculate and tuned the radio to local reports. 

We also ran across fire, smoke and/or active fire signs in the following areas:

Firetruck
Saskatchewan
Watson Lake
Sockeye
Arctic Circle
Dalton Highway (Smoke on the arctic and Dalton could have been from the same fire. We were never sure.)
Glacier National Park

Dog attack
How hard is it to leash your dog? Our dog was attacked by an off leash dog in Whitehorse, Yukon. Tomlin was okay but we had to file a report with the RCMP. A $15 dollar leash would have prevented the attack. But, Stupid Dog Owner didn't love his animal enough to bother.Here's the rant I posted. Owners, take note. Leash your dog whether on road trips or walking around the block.

Five hour interstate closure at Girdwood, Alaska
Bad luck wasn't finished with us yet. We were about 10 miles to Girdwood, Alaska when the interstate unexpectedly closed by a car accident ahead of us. Five hours were spent on the roadside. I have to say that if you're going to sit for awhile, Turnagain Arm isn't a bad place to be.

At the shop in Beaver Creek, Yukon
Water pump
We were just outside of Beaver Creek, Yukon when the water pump called it quits. Yes, another car repair to deal with. It was around 12:30 am on a deserted stretch of the Alaska Highway. Our cell phones didn't work and we weren't sure where we were. The van came to a grinding halt in front of a port-a-potty, the first car that saw us stopped and used her satellite phone to call for help. She looked up the numbers in her 2004 phone book. The town wrecker (also the town mechanic) had us back on the highway a few days later.

Tornado sighting
This happened outside of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. My daughter called it "a special kind of crazy" when she heard that I shot this video. The footage is crappy. You can hear the wind, but the only thing you can see on the video is lightening.

Despite the car repairs and other road trip challenges, I never felt that we weren't supposed to go to Alaska. It was amazing to see how God brought the team together. Only about 1/3 of our team had previous mission trip experience. Yet, we successfully partnered with the local church to pull of a life changing VBS. Only God could do that.

Here's  a video of the Saskatchewan fire.


Equally wonderful moments kept us inspired on our Alaska journey. We met some fabulous people, saw incredible scenery and an array of wildlife. Unexpectedly running into a friend from home in Willow, Alaska and meeting a couple from home on a view in Montana (with whom we had friends in common), showed me how small the world is. Ours was an incredible journey. So, yes, I would do it again.