Flat tire makes for memorable trip

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By Candy Clarke

The season for moose and caribou hunting in the Interior of Alaska was about to end. On Wednesday night, neither my husband, Frank, nor I had a moose. I suggested we try hunting for caribou Thursday - something we had not yet tried. We secured the necessary permits and loaded our gear. We were all smiles and optimistic about our new venture.

After stopping for gas and a latte, we began the 200-mile journey to the caribou. It was a beautiful drive and we crossed some treacherous mountains en route. One mountain, Summit, lived up to its reputation with snow and ice on the road.

Not seeing any caribou; we descended the mountain range and continued towards the Yukon River expecting to see caribou any minute.  If wishing were reality, I would have a freezer of caribou. Unfortunately, the caribou had already left the area!

There wasn’t much to do except take a few pictures and head home.  Daylight was disappearing and snow started falling.

Soon we had a flat tire. No big deal. Wrong! We discovered the spare was leaking air; we did not have any Fix-A-Flat, Frank had left the lug wrench with the boat, and the rim was already cracked on the flat tire. As if that wasn’t enough, the temperature dropped sharply, we were without cell phone service and the road slush turned to ice, with snow falling rapidly.

We were in the middle of nowhere without fellow travelers. We decided to find a safe pull off.  Once we started climbing again, we knew we couldn’t stop or we would probably slide off the mountain!

We pulled back onto the road listening to the thump-thump of the remaining rubber on the tire. We limped along, and after, what seemed an eternity, we reached the top of Summit. We limped onward, then we slid; we limped, then slid some more; in this manner, we crossed the top of the mountain. Not a soothing ride.

Starting the descent of Summit, we had traveled perhaps two miles on the icy road when the thumping sound stopped. Frank wanted to assess the damages. Not a problem, but, then he said, “we don’t have any brakes.” I replied “use the emergency brake.”  Frank quietly says “we don’t have the emergency brake either.” We were picking up speed and had a steep drop and curve ahead. That’s when I screamed “gear down!” Of course, Frank didn’t need me to tell him; he was already doing it. But I definitely felt the need to scream!

We finally got stopped on the highway, but we were in a blind stop for approaching traffic in both directions. Nothing to do but wait until morning. We offered Gunner Puppy food and water, and covered ourselves with everything we had in the vehicle. Did I mention Frank had removed the emergency winter crate from my vehicle and forget to put it back?

It wasn’t so bad. We had food, water, heat and gas. Our inside thermometer read 27F. The snow was coming to a halt, the sky was full of stars, and the Northern Lights made a brief appearance. We stood outside enjoying the wonders around us until we got chilled. Unable to sleep, we sat talking until 2 a.m.

Soon, the heater stopped working, leaving us without heat for 2.5 hours! Once Frank got the heater going again, we waited in comfort until transportation workers happened along at 6:30 a.m. with a satellite phone. After a quick phone call; we relaxed and waited for the tow truck to drive the 101 miles to collect us.

A series of mistakes created a memory not to be forgotten! Would I go caribou hunting again? Of course, but I am considering gifting Frank a case of Fix-A-Flat and a check list before any more hunting trips.