Alaska 2003

Saturday, January 3rd, 2003
We left the Hotel in Haines at noon, like always. It was way warmer than on the days before, just -25°C (-13°F). Winter for ladies... No need for a coat anymore. I refilled some radiator-water and we continued. Today was an important day, as we were supposed to cross the border. Back to the US. Let's see, if my plan will work. We drobve along the Teslin-Lake. But I coulnd't leave Canada without doing something stupid. I felt the desire to raise a lot of dust, so I had to drive as far on the right side of the road as possible. Now, that I only could see a white wall of dust in the rear-mirror, I was feeling well. After some kilometers doing that, I paid less attention to where I was driving and suddenly the car was pulled off the street. The good thing was that I could manage to keep one side of the car on the road. The bad thing was that the other half was still in the ditch. The next stupid thing I made was to try to put the paperboard back to the place it should be. As I didn't want to turn off the engine, the fan was still rotating, so I couldn't use my hands to pull it back. I used the spade instead and the result was not surprising. The spade of steel was stronger than the radiator fan. All I saw were the blades flying across the air. "Well, we don't need the fan now, anyway..."

Shit happens...

The first truck that came along stopped and offered help. "Thanks, but that's really not necessary, it was my stupid fault anyway." He had a look at the car, I don't know, if he was looking at the plates or at the way the car was parked. "Are you from France?" "No, there are also some stupid Germans..."
He stopped a few cars and asked for a chain. While he was doing that and Almut was removing the snow in front of the wheels, I took off the aircraft-plates and put one of them in front of each wheel. Together (Almut and the trucker pushing and myself driving) we brought it back onto the road. Before he left, he said to Almut: "You better take care of him." I guess he was right. Such a stupid thing to do. It could have resulted in loss of vehicle, thank god, this time it was just loss of time.

We continued the trip, heading to the border. And the closer we got to the border, the more nervous I got. The US border is the only one on the continent, that scares the shit out of me. All the other countries are easy to handle. It's only a matter of time and/or money, when they let me in. In America the question is always if they let me in. This time I had better cards than before, as this time I was on tour, like a tourist should be, not with a crazy mexican guy, not alone, but with a german girl.
We passed the canadian border without seeing one single officer. I didn't need to make the whole procedure to leave the country, as the only way back goes through Canada. There are not much more options, unless one wants to ship. Then we saw a sign: American Border Control 30 km.
That was a Dejavu. I remember being in the same situation on the other end of this road. There I went out of Argentina to go back and get 90 more days. And also there the distance between the argentinian and the chilean border control were about 30 kilometers. And it was almost the same landscape: Forest. But down there it worked without any problems, but would it work here? We would figure it out soon.

Just quarter to Five and dark already. About five hours of daylight during wintertime.

We were the only car at the border. I stopped were I was supposed to stop. The officer gave me a sign to get closer. I gave him our passports. "Where are you comming from?" "Los Angeles, California." He had a look at the passports and saw that only Almut had the green visa-waiver. "Where is yours?", he wanted to know. "I gave it back when I left the States, it was expiring." Next question: "Do you have any alcoholic beverages or tobacco bought in Canada? Any perishable food bought in Canada?" "No, not at all." We had Cigarrettes, but the were bought in the US, the food had either been eaten up or it froze days ago already. "What is the purpose of your visit?" "We are tourists." "Strange time of the year for German tourists... They usually come during summertime. Germans, Swiss, French..." Well, that is a very good reason to visit Alaska during wintertime.
"I need you to turn off the engine, because I have to have a look in there", he said and pointed to the hood. "That's not a good idea, I won't start again, Sir." He said, that he's not going to stay in front of a running vehicle, so he told me to get out of the car and open the hood as well as the trunk. He only had a look at both, I didn't have to take anything out of the trunk. Finally he told us to park the car at the parking and to come in to do the immigration. No problem at all. Almut already had her waiver and I got a new one. Why can't all US borders be like this one? After we were done we went into the car and and left the border. "We're in!!!"

That was the easiest american border I've ever crossed. My plan worked out better than I thought. The first time I came to the US I was travelling with a mexican guy, the second time I was alone, this time we looked like a couple. That was probably the reason, why it was so easy: Two guys are dangerous, one guy is suspicious, but a couple is harmless. The other thing is that Alaska ist still a forsaken place compared to a border control checkpoint on the southern border or to an international airport, spacially if comming from Mexico.

"Welcome to Alaska". We were in! Exactly two years ago we started talking about it, now we were here. Special thanks to Mercedes-Benz...

At the first petrolstation we had a stop. Diesel was less expensive than in California. And unlike any other place we've been in this country you do not have to pay prior to fueling. When I finished fueling I got into the store. An older guy was standing behind the counter. "How is it possible that I could fill the tank without paying first?" He explained: "Ususally you have to pay before, because many people fuel and run away." "So..? Why not here?" "Well, there is nowhere to run out here... The one direction leads to the border, the other one to the State Troopers." That was a good reason. I paid and while Almut was looking for picture postcards I continued talking to the guy. He was from Colorado. I asked where the next Hotel would be. "Right here." It was early, we still wanted to drive a little bit. "The next one is in Tok, 90 miles from here." Then I wanted to know where the next McDonnald's would be. "At the second traffic light to the left." I didn't see any traffic lights since days, so I asked "Traffic lights?" "Yes", he said, "about three hundred miles from here, left hand side. There's the next McDonnald's..."
Before we went back to the road he wished us a safe trip and said: "Be carefull with the bears!" "Are you serious?" "No." But I said: "I've heard that the young ladies in Alaska always carry a .38 in their purse because of the bears. Is that true?" "Thirty eight? No. We don't have little guns in Alaska..." He grabbed a something from underneath the counter and said: "That's what we use here. .44 Magnum." OK... good to know that.

We drove until Tok and there we stayed at the cheapest hotel. It was a good one and just 5 $ more expensive than the hostel. There we had our first pizza on this trip and german Glühwein. Very nice and very christmas like, as temperatures outside were dropping again. The car was parked in front of the door like always, the engine still running. And it kept up running, I still had no chance to turn it off this year.

The best sound of the world right in front of the door.

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by Markus Besold