On the Road Adventures
Saturday, June 13, 2009
12 June – Watson Lake to Whitehorse
The motorhome now has an official name. I’d never figured out just what to call it, but I knew that some day a name would come. This is the story about how the motorhome got her name, or Gerry and Theta’s Excellent Adventure.
We started off on another hard day’s drive, 150 miles up the road to a little community called Teslin Lake. Its claim to fame was a stop called Mukluk Annie’s, kind of a cult RV place where you ate what was reputed to be a very good meal of salmon or steak with all the trimmings, and then you could stay in their RV lot for free. Good deal! It was another blue sky day and the scenery was again spectacular. (Are you going to get tired of reading that? Tough.)
About 60 miles up the road we ran into our first construction with lots of rocks and dust, so Gerry slowed way down and we crept along, as advised by all who have driven this road before. After a while, we pulled off into a rest area that overlooked the Liard River, the ponds and pools in the woods below and snow capped mountains surrounding the valley. A great spot for pictures. I jumped out and went to the back of the motorhome, where to my dismay there was liquid coming out the back end. Not in drips or drabs, but an arterial stream of bright green fluid, gushing out the back end beneath the engine. Dave, in his laconic Dave way, said, “That would be coolant.” What was crossing my mind were the words of another friend of mine: “Oh S**T, oh dear!!!!!!!!!!”
There was a brief moment when we all hoped that something had just come unscrewed, but noooooo! It was a nasty, sharp little rock that had evaded the mud flaps and the rock screen surrounding the working parts and punched a hole though one of the radiator fins.
So, now what? Bob whipped out his satellite phone and played tag with the comm satellites that were peeking in and out over the horizon. While he was trying to nail down a signal, we perused the Milepost and found that there was a motel and gas station 10 miles up the road with a phone number. If they were open, then they might a working phone. (These things are not guaranteed around here – it’s OUT there.) So Gerry took off in the car, and the rest of us had lunch, did some bird watching, tried to evade the clouds of dust that were thrown up by the big rigs that came roaring through the construction area, throwing up clouds of dust like a squid blowing ink. A nice couple, Janet and Neil from Boise, Idaho, stopped to take photos and stayed for while to offer sympathy and corn bread, both of which were most appreciated.
Thanks to our ham radios, we found out that Gerry had arrived at the motel, the Rancheria Lodge, and had conferred with the insurance folks. Pam, Sharon and I were in Pam’s motorhome when a guy pulled up in a pick-up. Pam said, “I wonder what he’s doing?”
I said, “If he has a camera in his hand, he’s taking pictures.” But it wasn’t a camera, it was a honking big wrench in his hand. It was the owner of the Rancheria who had come to see if he could fix the problem. Gerry was astonished – he hadn’t even known the man had left. Dennis Bouchard, our knight in a blue work shirt, peered at the back, then came inside and joyfully dove head first into the engine compartment to try and find the leak. By this time most of the liquid had filled up a wash pan and the better part of an empty cat litter tub (carried along because ‘ya never know when ya’ll need a bucket’) so it was difficult to see the hole. So we got out the funnel and filled the radiator back up with the salvaged fluid and a few buckets of water from the water tank. Now mind you, the guys are having as much fun as a litter of puppies, conferring about this and plotting about that. They finally decide that we needed to move the motorhome on down the road to the lodge on the chance of fixing it there. The guys poured more water into the radiator, and I started the motorhome up, Pam riding shotgun with me, for the 10 mile drive.
I kept an eagle eye on the temperature gauge, watching while it climbed to 50% and then up toward 75%. Bob was behind us, giving me all sorts of advice like, “put it in neutral and let it coast down the hill.”
Pam said dubiously, “Are you comfortable with doing that?”
“Nah,” I replied. “I’m just ignoring him.”
When the needle slid over the 75% mark, I found a wide-ish place and pulled over, with the whole wagon train behind me. By this time someone had gotten smart and we pulled out a section of hose, hooked it to the faucet to the water tank and stuck the other end in the radiator reservoir to refill it. The temperature went back down and we started off again. This time we made it to the turn off for the lodge before the temperature got critical. I pulled in, shut it off and thought, “that was longest 10 miles I’ve ever driven!”
While all the men resumed discussing possible scenarios, the three women retired to the café for something restorative.
A word about the Rancheria Lodge: It’s a small motel and RV park and restaurant out in the middle of nowhere, otherwise know of as Historic Mile 710 on the Alaska Highway. The family runs it year-round, even with the 14’ of snow that they got last winter, and are often filled with people seeking refuge from the wild weather. If they have empty motel rooms, they leave them unlocked so if someone needs one, they can go right in, get a good night’s sleep and settle up in the morning. They are shepherds of the road, taking care of all the lost, cold, broken-down sheep who find themselves on their part of the highway, and they are real heroes.
The final decision, made after much consultation with the insurance people, was to have the motorhome towed to Whitehorse, 200 miles away. We settled in for a long wait until the tow truck got there, and while we waited, we enjoyed some truly excellent homemade pie and coffee. We were astonished when a truck pulled up barely an hour later, and not just a standard tow truck, either. This was a big tractor trailer with a bed behind it that was long enough to put the motorhome up on the trailer completely. A burly young man jumped out and introduced himself as our driver. Through an amazing process, he guided Gerry as he drove the motorhome up onto the trailer, and talk about driving to the inch! There was less that 12” on one side, and about 8” on the other. I am so glad I didn’t have to do that bit of fancy driving! Gerry said he just looked at the driver and did what he told him, because he sure didn’t want to look down and see what he was doing.
We loaded the car with dog and other necessities, and took off following our poor, broken motorhome as she sailed serenely down the highway like Cleopatra on her barge. And that’s when she finally got her name: Cleo, sailing up the Alaska Highway instead of the Nile. And let me tell you, she traveled faster than she ever has before or ever will again! There were times when we were pushing 80 trying to keep up with the tow driver. We made Whitehorse faster than we ever would have otherwise, even just driving the car, and so now we are sitting outside the diesel repair shop, dry camping until Monday when they open for business and will finally take a look at Cleo and do what needs doing to get her back on the road again.
The Tookers and Bob and Sharon traveled on to our original destination, Teslin Lake, only to find that Mukluk Annie’s was out of business. I hope they found some place to have dinner. They’ll catch up with us tomorrow, and then I guess we’ll go check out the exciting scenes of Whitehorse. I hear they have a museum!