Alaska Trial & Triumph

Part 3 of our Alaska Adventures

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We see carved bears everywhere.

Day 15
Monday, June 17, 2019
Tok RV Village, AK

Finally got a good night’s sleep. Yay! 

We’re taking advantage of full hook-ups to get chores done. Did three loads of laundry last night and another three today.

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This sign in the laundry room gave us a chuckle.

Chuck checked all the tires, tightened the lug nuts, greased the hitch, dumped the hot water tank and cleaned out the back of the truck and the rear storage of the trailer (so much dust from the gravel roads!). He also cleaned the inside of the trailer top to bottom. Although they do have an RV wash here, the outside will have to wait. It’s a bit pricy and we’d have to do it before we left in the morning. We’ve got a long drive ahead so we’ll wait. We’re also planning another dirt road trek next week so we’ll wait on washing the truck too.

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Tok RV Village. We’re having to adjust our expectations for RV parks. This was nearly $60 a night for an unlevel, gravel site.

Had lunch at the only restaurant in Tok, Fast Eddy’s. Wasn’t bad. Then went to the grocery store and filled the truck with diesel, best price we’ve paid since we left, 3.12/gallon. We were paying well over $4/gallon in Canada.

Day 16
Tok, AK to Chitina, AK to Kenny Lake, AK
230 Miles, 8.5 hours

Well the wheels are falling off this adventure, literally. Alaska is beating us up and we’re about ready to throw in the towel. But back to the beginning. 

We headed out of Tok on Highway 1, also known as the Tok Cutoff. It goes all the way to Anchorage but our destination was Wrangall-St. Elias National Park. The road started out fine near Tok but the further we got the worse it became. I know I’ve said that the roads keep getting worse, well today was the extreme. It was bad enough that there were constant ripples in the road so we were bouncing along trying to avoid the larger potholes. I couldn’t even read from our Milepost guidebook.

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This is how we roll now. Notice all the blue tape holding the cupboards shut and the sink covers in place.

Then we came to construction. We thought we were lucky because we got there just as the pilot car was taking a group through. Warning: when you see a pilot car turn around! We followed the folks in front of us through the dirt and gravel. It wasn’t too bad as everyone was taking it slow.

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We followed the line of cars and RVs for miles and miles.

Then I see up ahead that the first trailer in the line takes a sudden dip, disappearing from view and then popping back up. Yep, as we are making our way around where the heavy equipment is working they expect us to go through a trench about 6 feet deep, 10 feet wide and steep on the sides. I think we were both holding our breath and I’m sure we drug the back end, but we made it through. Thank goodness Chuck turned on the 4 wheel drive as the other side was full of mud puddles. Later we heard they pulled 8 trailers out of that dip in the last week. Now in any other state they would have had signs warning that RVs weren’t recommended through the construction, but nope this is Alaska. They don’t even put flags on their frost heaves. If they do put out a warning sign you know you’d better slow down because it is really bad.

After we got through we stopped at the next rest area to survey things and it all looked good. There was a lot of mud but it didn’t look like we drug the bumper and everything looked intact. 

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Looks like everything is survived.

After some lunch we continued on our way. Our goal was a boondocking spot in the tiny town of Chitina. We’d done our research and read reviews and looked it up on Google Earth so we thought we were ok. Well, turns out a 3 foot section of the road was washed out by a stream. Since we couldn’t turn around on the narrow road we had to continue so we crossed the stream taking the 10 inch drop slowly. We finally got to the camping spot and found it filled with locals camped out and fishing. Guess the salmon are running. 

Luckily there was enough space to back up and get turned around. I hopped out to direct Chuck and that was when I heard a weird sound coming from our wheels. I hoped it was just mud caked in there and we headed back down the road, crossing the stream again and pulled into the wayside in Chitina. Chuck jumped out and I had him listen to the sound. It was not good. He figured out which wheel it was, found it was hot and decided to take it off to see if maybe a rock was stuck. So he pulled the bikes off to get to the tools in the back storage locker. 

He got the tire off and when he spun the drum it sounded like metal on metal, not good. Tried to get the drum off but didn’t have the right size socket. Called a guy listed as the tire shop in town (now when I say town we’re talking about a collection of maybe 10 buildings, half of which are abandoned, at the end of a 30 mile road), no answer. So since we’re in a no overnight parking area we decide to head back down the road 13 miles to where we saw a good pull-off. We’re there now. It’s paved and a bit off the road and we have a tiny view of the mountains and a pond, but we’re both sick to our stomachs cause when we got here you could smell that burning hot smell. Something definitely isn’t good and we’re at least 45 miles from the nearest service station. At least we have cell service. In the morning we’ll make a plan.

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Oh forgot the wildlife report. Was mostly watching the road for bumps and potholes but did see several pairs of swans and about 8 snowshoe hares bounding across and along the road. 

Day 17
Kenny Lake to Glennallen to Kenney Lake to Glennallen
42 miles each way (126 miles total)

Hardly slept at all last night. We’re both too worried about getting this fixed. 

First thing this morning Chuck called the Airstream dealer in Caldwell and talked to a technician there. Then he called the closest Dexter axle shop (about 160 miles away in Anchorage) because they are the ones that make the axle/brake/wheel assembly and warranty it. Consensus seems to be that a piece of the brake is loose and rubbing and the best thing is to get the drum off and let the pieces fall out and then put the wheel back on so we can tow it into town. We have brakes on the 3 other tires so we’ll be ok. The place in Anchorage is booked solid for the next 2 weeks, but he has someone who services Dexter axles about 40 miles away in Glennallen. He called and told them to expect us today. Said we might have to wait a couple of days for them to get the parts sent over from Anchorage. 

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All that road grime comes in handy when you’re on the phone and need to write down the name and number of the mechanic.

Problem is we still don’t have the right socket to get the drum off. We tried a little general store down the road that says it has auto parts, but they didn’t have anything and we tried the RV park/gas/convenience place up the road. The kind gal looked in their tool shed and even called a friend but couldn’t find what we needed. She gave us a couple more places to try further up the road. We finally decided the best option was to drive all the way to Glennallen to the NAPA Auto Parts store because they would definitely have what we needed and they did. The parts guy told us the mechanic who had been recommended was really good. He also told us they sell more trailer parts than any other store in Alaska and it’s all because of that awful road from Tok. 

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Thank you helpful folks at the Glennallen Napa Auto Parts!

So socket in hand we drive back to the trailer. Loosen lug nuts. Drive trailer up on 4 leveling blocks. Take off lug nuts. Remove tire. Wrestle with nut holding on drum. Not budging. Wrestle some more. Try a longer socket handle to get more leverage. Wrestle some more. Think we can’t do this. Try one more time. Finally it budges slightly. Whew. Remove drum. Spring and broken bolts fall out. Chuck says it’s the adjuster. Thank goodness his dad taught him how to replace brakes way back in the day. One bolt is flattened on one side so that’s what was rubbing but the brake shoe is rubbing too so we remove that. Then everything gets put back on and we carefully make our way back to Glennallen fingers crossed that we don’t have to replace the whole axle and speculating that we’ll be spending $500-800 and a few days in town. 

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We pull into the Napa Service Station and are immediately met by Dawson, a 23 year old with the authority of someone much older. You can tell he’s running the show. He asks what parts fell out. Chuck shows him the bag and he immediately says he’ll replace the whole backplate brake assembly just as soon as he gets this flat bed on its way. On the flat bed is one of the trailers that was pulled out of the trench back at the road construction. Its tongue is tilted up at about a 30 degree angle. Ouch! Someone’s vacation was ruined!

In about 45 minutes he’s had an assistant take off the tire, pulled the drum and the backplate, run next door to get the part himself, installed it and had the assistant put the tire back in place. $220 and we’re back in business. Well that turned out better than expected and wholly because this kid knew what he was doing. I guess he grew up in a mine working on heavy equipment. They’re bummed because this is his last week and then he’s going to work for the park service. We’re pretty lucky he was here to help!

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Dawson (on the left) with his assistant–awesome guys!

I’m exhausted and I have a headache. I can’t take anymore bumpy roads today so we check into the Northern Nights RV park in town. After showers we feel a little better and head to a local spot for a burger and a milkshake (him) and salad and sundae (me). We spray the mud off the truck at the car wash, pick up a couple of groceries at the surprisingly well stocked IGA market in town, then crash on the couch with a movie. Chuck’s excited we found his favorite Cyrus O’Leary lemon meringue pie. I think he deserves it!

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Another pricey RV park.

Day 18
Glennallen to Kenny Lake, AK
42 miles

Fell asleep on the couch last night. I was so exhausted. Slept good for the first time in a long time. Took it slow this morning then got hitched up and pulled out about 11am. 

Stopped back at the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park visitor’s center. We made a brief stop yesterday on our way to Chitina but now we take our time. It’s a beautiful sunny day here, even feels warm. In the upper 70s. Walked the short loop trail just to stretch our legs and enjoyed the views of the mountains even though the tops are hiding in clouds. Ate lunch in the parking lot. Really love that we take the time to make lunch in the trailer and relax. We learned that the first year out and it really makes a difference. We’ll even grill up a sandwich or heat some soup if the mood strikes. 

After lunch we drove back to the great pull-out in Kenny Lake so we’re ready to hit the park tomorrow. It’s going to be a long day so we are prepping our backpacks and food to get an early start. 

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On our way out of Glennallen we stopped for a view of Mount Wrangell.

Next time we head deep into Wrangell-St. Elias Park.

2 thoughts on “Alaska Trial & Triumph”

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about all the troubles you had on those Alaska roads. So happy you were able to get the tire fixed quickly at a reasonable price. We had a few issues along the way, none as bad as that, and found everywhere we went the people were helpful and took care of the problem for us. Our route was opposite of yours so we went on some of these roads in August and we didn’t encounter conditions as bad as you did. I remember the potholes were marked but this was 7 years ago. Enjoying reading these posts!

    Like

    1. It was definitely a tense time and I was ready to put the trailer on a boat and ship it home! But you are correct—the Alaskan people were so kind and helped us persevere.

      Liked by 1 person

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