Steve, Bob, and I spent the night in Tok, AK and woke up ready to finally rejoin the group. After a breakfast stop where I had my first taste of reindeer sausage, we moved into yet more jaw-dropping scenery as we plugged along to Anchorage. As the radio chatter began to pick up, people were happy to finally hear from our two cars. I was a bit concerned about the reception we'd get, as we'd been gone for so long and kind of missed the second half of the event. All worries were gone the second we got to the hotel.
Everyone I saw greeted me with a big hug and congratulations. People truly were impressed by our feat and wanted to hear all about it. While we told our story, we were caught up on what had happened in our absence. Paul blew up his engine on the ice race. Car 4 ran out of gas - again. Colin rolled his car but was able to continue on with minimal damage. Car 17 had continued radiator troubles. The race was taking its toll on the cars.
|We made it to Tuk and you didn't! L-R: Bob, Steve, Me, Bill, Steve|
|So happy the M3 boys made it safely!|
I woke up relatively early considering we went to bed at 3:30. Normally I like to walk around a new city to get a feel for it, so I hit the streets. It was snowing and cold, but I wanted to see what Anchorage had to offer. Apparently about two streets worth of cheesy gift shops and bars. I was unimpressed. However, the Iditarod was starting that morning, and I happened to find myself next to the start line, so I claimed my space and waited with the camera.
People filled in, as did the media. Before long, my nice clear view was completely obscured. Saturday was the ceremonial start, so each team was announced and released 2 minutes apart. After the first two teams went, I was freezing and getting shoved by people. After the 5th team, I'd had enough and headed back to the hotel. There are only so many barking dogs you can watch before getting bored.
In a bit, we headed back downtown to watch the Running of the Reindeer. I thought I was signed up, but I was mistaken, and sort of glad for the mix-up. People had all kinds of stupid outfits on and waited to run several blocks from a pack of reindeer unloosed on them. I have to say, those reindeer weren't messing around, and some where moving at a good clip. I think I even saw a guy get knocked down by one.
The time had finally come to depart. Steve and Amber weren't around, so with much reluctance, our two cars took off into the snowy evening, destination Tok. Not even out of Anchorage, the inevitable happened: I stuffed the car. I stupidly wasn't paying attention on the highway and went to get into the right lane. The right lane which happened to be ending right at that exact spot. I hit a bank of snow, started skidding, tried to correct it, spun around the other way, and eventually did a 180 across the highway and into the median. I think we might have rolled had the snow bank not been so high. I think my first words were "I'M SORRY I'M SORRY I'M SORRY!" followed quickly by "Are you all right?" To his credit, Bob was a picture of calmness and after affirming he was just fine, he said "Ha, you finally stuffed it." There are few people that would be that calm at that moment, but I certainly appreciated it.
We knew the drill well and called out to 13 to come back to help us. We started digging and set out the caution triangles. Just as Steve arrived, a Suburban pulled up. I instantly thought the cops were there, but was relieved to see it was a good samaritan. He had been driving in the other direction and was impressed by the fact we had a shovel and were digging ourselves out. It didn't take long for him to extract us from the snowbank. By this time, the cops had shown up, but oddly never came to the car. They just saw that we had things under control and blocked the lane so we could spin the car around and get moving. No questions asked. Just a few hundred feet up the road, another car was spun off in the median, and just beyond that were two more, one on its side. I felt so fortunate that nothing had happened to us, and grateful for the kindness of a stranger.
The rest of the drive was uneventful, albeit snowy. Very poor visibility and we were all exhausted. I switched to Steve's car while Bill drove the MINI. I instantly fell asleep for the next two hours, only awaking to walk into the hotel and climb into bed with my clothes on. We were back at Fast Eddy's, and like many places we've stayed at, they left the rooms unlocked with the key in the door because we got there after the office was closed. It was unnerving how trusting they were.
Yesterday was a marathon run. We had breakfast at the hotel and started off, happy to add Car 17 to our caravan. There was a lot of radio chatter, and Troy delivered the elephant jokes he'd promised. We again admired the beauty of Destruction Bay. We had our innards jumbled on the single bumpiest stretch of road in North America. It was a good time.
|Gettin' silly in the Subaru|
This is where things got interesting. There were caribou in the road. I think we saw a moose. There was the faintest of auroras in the sky. Then we saw the sign. Bison warning. BISON! Just roaming the streets. Camera ready, Steve and I scoured the roadside for any sign of the beasts, all while battling in an epic bubblegum blowing contest. That's right, we're five. Before long, I spotted the first bison, up on a hill in the moonlight. As much as a moose in the dark is scary and imposing, this takes the cake. There are no legs to cut under with these bad boys, you just smash into them. Not much further up we spotted several more in the shoulder. And on from that we came upon a herd walking across the road. It was a wild sight. I especially loved watching them eat by rubbing their faces in the snow to get to the ground underneath. We even saw two playfully butting heads and fighting. It was a neat way to end the day.
|A faint aurora|
|That would wreck your car and your day.|
Awaking in Liard, we checked out the hot springs and got on the road. We needed gas and food, having not had a real meal in 24 hours. I spotted a shack on the side of Lake Muncho with gas pumps. Bob commented on their cool old-style diesel pump. When I went inside to pay, I noticed a kitchen. Best discovery of the day. A gruff looking man named Jack came over to take payment for the gas. I asked if he was serving breakfast and he said yes. We piled in and a local trucker warned us about the massive portions. Continuing my fine tradition of french toast breakfasts, I ordered half a portion. It was massive, and apparently Jack makes all the breads right there. So so good! After we chatted a bit, he seemed to slightly soften, and we learned he had been there for 40 years, serving the truckers and once running a touring boat on the lake. Things went downhill in the 80's recession and haven't recovered. For such a gorgeous area, that was sad to hear.
We didn't make it far from Jack's when we were able to repay our car-removal karma. In the ditch was a minivan, and we sprang to action digging him out and hooking up tow straps. Another truck full of sled dogs also stopped, and we attached the hooks to his rig. Rather easily, we pulled out the minivan, its owner very grateful for the help. We continued on in somewhat slippery conditions. Steve began to pull away, racing to get back to his family. At a gas stop several hours later, nerves shattered from too much driving and too little sleep, I had some words with him. I adore Steve and he's like a big, goofy red-headed brother, but sometimes he doesn't pay attention to other people's feelings. We said our goodbyes and continued down the road approaching Fort St. John. I'd decided I'd had enough and needed to get on the next flight feasible.
It was a bit down the road when Steve called on the radio that he'd contacted a friend at a travel agency and was looking into flights for me. Needless to say, one was quickly found, and at a reasonable price. We met up again, and after taking care of the business end of things, we made up. I felt bad for having laid into him so harshly, but knew he understood. We hugged it out, and with a few tears shed, said goodbye for a final time. Suddenly we were alone, the familiar Subaru no longer in sight, no booming voice calling "13 to 15" on the radio. It was truly sad. While we all said we would stay in touch, it's easier said than done. And I know I want to see them all again, but will I? I certainly hope so, this was far too great a bonding experience to let go to waste.
Bob and I made it down to Grande Prairie and were stunned by the size of it. It felt very strange to see bright lights and cars and sprawl. Tomorrow, my grand journey comes to an end. I arrive in New York at 10pm. I'm excited and ready to be home.