Alaska 2003

Tuesday, January 6th, 2003
It was still warm comparde to the temperatures we had a few days ago, right here we had no less than -10°C (14°F) but a strong wind was blowing, which was very unpleasant. Unpleasant was also the behaviour of the mexican battery, I got really angry with her. But I guess, she just wanted to tell me that it is very stupid to turn off the engine. I decided that I wouldn't do that again. Keep the Diesel running, that has always been my motto. Manstein always said: The panzers must be kept on the move, delay means disaster. And he was right - he still is. A few minutes later the engine was running, the heater as well.

Our "Panzer" by the dawn's early light, ready for action.

A few hours later we started. By accident we passed a Mercedes dealer. "Mercedes-Benz of Anchorage", very nice. When I finally found a place to park the car and went in, there was a bunch of people waiting.
"Where did you drive from with that car?", the guy askked. "Well, actually from Germany. It took some time, though..." "Ah, you got it shippt over, huh? Which port?" "Santos" "Santos, where is that? Somewhere in Florida?" "No, it's a little bit more in the South. 'Tis in Brazil, in the southern part. Horrible port, horrible town..." "And then?" "Then to Columbia, from there to Panama, also by ship. Then I followed the road and now I'm here..." "How much is it to ship from Germany to Brazil?" "I don't know, I shipped from Ivory Coast to Brazil. But I guess it is cheaper from Germany. The most expensive part is the brazilian Mafia, called 'customs', anyway..." "Ivory Coast? How the hell did you get there?" "Down to Spain, to Morocco by Ferryboat. There is a road from there to Ivory Coast, just some parts are missing." "You must be crazy..." "No, that's just the way it looks..." "What brings you here?" "Well, I broke my radiator fan and need to replace it." He went with me to the place, where they sell the parts. That's where we got stuck. My VIN meant nothing to them, as the 200D has never been sold in America, and I also couldn't find the part number in the catalogue. I also couldn't simply order just any fan, as there were many different ones for the same car. I need the Sahara-Version. In the cold one can remove it - expertly, with a spanner, not with the spade, like I did it. That makes it easier to put it back when it is needed.
But the guy wouldt try to call Mercedes and ask what to do. I gave him the number of my cellphone, which was working partially. I could receive calls, but not make any. Still better than nothing, but that's not why I'm paying for. I just choosed AT&T because the don't care about a social security number.

The next thing to do was the oilchange. I hate that fast-oil-change-shops. I went there and asked, if I could change the fuel filter, while they were changing the oil. "No, Sir." Then I asked, if they could do it. "No, Sir, we do not know how to change it." "Come on, I've got all filters, all you have to do is unscrew the old one, put the new in and screw it in. He could do it, but he would charge me 40 US$. "What? Did we take the wrong way, I do believe I ended up in Israel..."
I also told them expressly that I want them to clean the oil-system, and that the product they were talking about would not work. They heared it, but that was all they did. After the change it was as dirty as it was before. "Want something well done? Do it yourself", but that will have to wait until I'm back in California. For now we would have to work with what we have. And the engine also. They put in 5W40.

While they were changing the oil we went to the mall next door. There I saw a recruiting office. Uncle Sam wants me for the U.S. Army? I tried it for the third time and went in. "Good morning, I was told that Uncle Sam wants me for the Army? Is there anything you could do to help me get there? I'm not american citizen. Will that work?" He asked me for a resident-something. "Do you mean the Green-Card?" "Yes", he said. "No, Sir, I'm tourist." "Then it won't work, first you need the greencard." "But, Sir, what's the point of getting the greencard first? I mean, once I get my greencard, there is no reason to join the Army anymore." They laught. "Isn't there something like the french foreign legion in the sixties? Wouldn't it be better to send some foreigners to feed the enemy's canons than to bring your own boys back in a bodypack?" But there was no arguing. I tried it in California and I thought it should be easyer in Alaska, but the rules are the same everywhere in the states. No chance. That really pisses me off! You are not even allowed to die without a greencard. At least a social security number is required.

We went back to the oil-change-place. The chief asked me, if there is a particular reason, why the engine goes up to 8000 rpm immediately after starting it. As far as I know, the max. rpm of my engine are 5000. "Well, Sir, it was working normally before I came here." I had a look. In fact, I started the engine and it started with full speed. What the bloody fuck did they do to my holy engine? I was really getting very angry. I was feeling, that I was about to solve that problem the american way, which means: Go back to WalMart, buy a pump gun, come back and have a short conversation with the irresponsible. But suddenly the engine calmed down and I did the same. I asked for tools to change the fuel filter, I changed it, paid and we went away, smiling like the sun. Before we even reached the street, the cellphone rang and Mr. Mercedes told me that he didn't find a fan that would fit. That's unmercedeslike, but it was OK. I need the partnumber. With the partnumber I can get what ever part I need. But we went there anyway, because one of the guys said, that there was a car in the backyard, which could be the same model. As far as I know, the fans of the 240D and 300D do not fit into the 200D, but I wanted to have a look. That may be an opportunity and I am supposed to take it. That's why we are in america, which is called the country of unlimited opportunities - I'm glad that most americans do not know that.

I asked, where the car was and how much the fan would be, in case it was there and in case it fits. "Whatever is fair". That sonds OK. First thing I saw was that the car was an older Model, not a W123, but a W114 or W115. But it still could fit, it was just the older brother. After digging the snow away and opening the hood, I was forced to realize that somebody already took the fan - and half of the engine. This is not the right climate for such a wonderful car. It should be brought to California as soon as possible.

No radiator fan. But at least we tried it.

The only way to get the fan at a dealer was to find out the partnumber. I would figure it out somehow, with a little big help of Dennis. We would have to go on without the fan. Here it became the most unnecessary part of the car anyway. Next thing was the airport. Almut had to transfer the flilght. She was supposed to fly on January 9th, but we were pretty sure, three days are not enough to drive from Anchorage to Detroit. At least 6.000 km (3.700 mi). Even if she would transfer it to next wednesday, it would be tough to make it on time, as it means, that we would have to drive about 870 km (540 mi) a day. With our average speed of maybe 60 km/h (37 mph), we would have to be driving 14 hours every single day for the next seven days.

We went to the airport, passed the security-check. They just asked, what's inside the tanks. "Diesel". "Just Diesel?" "Yes" "OK, you can go..." Fine. But the United's counter was closed. They open at 1800 and closes at 200. Strange time to open anything, but we're in Alaska. No questions asked. Back to the town. Our reservation at the Captain Cook was at 1800.
When we entered Alaska we passede a time zone, but we didn't set all the clocks, so I sometimes got confused. But it's Almut's job to think. I'm just the driver. When we left the airport it was already getting dark again. Only five hours of sun - if the sun breaks throug the clouds. But it's OK. It's better to have a clear sky at darkness. There is enough sun back in California, but there are no northern lights. That's what we wanted to see.

In front of the airport, heading to Anchorage

We started searching for a petrolstation, but only the third one we got to had Diesel. And only one pump was working. "Do trucks run with water down here?" The wind became stronger, the temperature dropped. After all said and done we finally went to the Captain Cook. I shut off the engine, we would only leave for a few hours, not enough for it to cool down completely.

Drum trinken wir heut den letzten Wein...We immediately went to the restaurant. That was the last thing we had to do in Anchorage, after that we were finished. A few days ago we were sleeping on the floor of a rest area, now we were sitting in this fine-people's-restaurant. I didn't really fit into here with my army outfit, but as we were not in Germany and the only guests here, nobody felt objected by my way of appearence. All the opposite we were treated very well. In my opinion, tourists in america are treated far better than in most other countries. I wouldn't have believed it, if somebody would have told me that a few years ago.

"Hey, it looks like we made it", I said. "Yes, it seems to be like that. Cheers", she raised the glass. I did the same. "Na zdrovia..." We couldn't really believe that we were sitting at the 20th floor of the Captain Cook having a dinner. But somehow it happened and nobody could tell us why. It simply worked out. Exactly two years ago the idea was born, one year ago I didn't even think about giong to the US. The plan was to pick up the car in Mexico, stuff it into a container and go back to Chile. Plans never work and I guess we were sitting here, because we made no plans. It was just an idea.
I was making some pictures of the town, when somebody entered the room and asked: "So you are the guys who drove all the way from L.A. to have a dinner at the Captain Cook?" I turned arround and said. "Well... actually we drove from the South of Argentina..." We talked a little bit, explained that he was our personal waiter for the evening and that we could stay as long as we want to. "Would you like to have some wine?" "No, Sir, I'm driving, but she would like to have some wine." I got a virgin Margerita. Very tasteful.
I wasn't sure if the menu was in English but Jay, the waiter, explained it to us, back and forth. I ordered something for me to eat, Almut orderet something that I thought it was for horses, something like "steak with potato without the steak". But it's a free country, so I don't mind somebody being vegetarian. She placed the order, which I guess is not usual. But it was her idea, so she has to place the order.

Now that it came true, we needed another one. You can't dream of Alaska after you saw it. How to create an idea? Well, that's easy. "There is coconut in your Margerita", Almut said. "No, there is not..." "Do you ant to bet?" "Bet what?" "A dinner at the finest restaurant in... where?" "Moscow!" "No. You've no sense of style..." "Leningrad?" "No, not either. It doesn't exist anymore, by the way..." "What about Ulan Bator?", I asked. "Ulan Bator is fine." So we bet eachother a dinner at the fines restaurant in Ulan Bator. I lost, by the way, after the waiter came and confirmed that there was coconut in the Margarita. The new idea was born. All I need is a lot of money, the rest I can handle easily.

After the dinner I started to play arround with my camera and discovered some new features, such as the option to make good night-shots wit less exposure-time. Too bad that I didn't know that in Haines Junction, were we saw some nice polar lights. The shots I made there were too dark, although the exposure was 15 seconds. The only thing I could do now was to hope to see some more of that auroras.

Anchorage at night.

A nice little lady showed up. She introduced herself as the manager. She heard that we came all the way just to have a dinner here. "It was her idea", I said. "Smart girl..." She told us, that there was another couple a few weeks ago, also travelling since Argentina, but with a huge truck. It is very likely that it may be one of the 16 couples we met in Ushuaia two years ago. "Let me know if there is something wrong", she said and went back to her office. But there was nothing wrong. Abolutely nothing, everything was perfect.

After the dinner we went down to say farewell to Jon. He's originally froom Los Angeles, grew up near Pasadena. He was talking to a fried, she was a pilot. Nice talking to her, but we had to go earlier this day. From now on we were on our way back. We had to go to the airport. "Are you leaving?" "Yes, we have to organize some things because of the flight. The plane is leaving from Detroit tomorrow and I'm afraid we'll not make it on time." Jon said, that we have a few days left. "No, they have not. Their plane is leaving for Detroit." "What are you talking about? They are not flying, they are driving." "Bullshit, they are not driving to Detroit, are you?" That was a classical misunderstandig, caused by the the fact that I still can't deal with the english language. "That's right, Mam, we are not flying." "So what are you gonna do at the airport?" "Well, we also will not be able to take the plane that leaves from Detroit tomorrow, so we have to go to the airport to transfer the flight. After that we are leaving for Detroit - by car." "You can't go from here to Detroit by car." "Yes, you can. That's America, where everything is possible."

We went to the airoprt and while Almut was dealing with United, I wrote some picturepostcards. I had to do it, now I had enough time for that. It took 30 minutes to an hour, and when she came back, nothing seemed to have worked. All she had was a reservation and the advice to call the service number. We all know service numbers. The start with 1 800 and mean that you will spend the rest of the evening at the phone listening to a voice that tells you to hold the line.
Almut likes america very much, but she's not too americanized. She's very uncomplicated: "Let's go. We'll see what happens..." That was all she had to say. But it didn't make sense to hit the road now. We went back to the Samovar-Motel, where we checked in last night. "I need a room where I can park right in front of." It was room number 9. I parked the car in front of the room and left the engine running in order to be able to sleep really deeply. It worked, I needed that.

And I was glad that I didn't have to go through that hell of ice and snow all alone. As long as Almut is sitting on the death-seat, nothing can go wrong. We would make it until Detroit without major problems. For sure. All she needed to do was to send an eMail to her students, telling them that there won't be classes the next week, for she was unable to come to Germany. And as she had no real vacation since we went to southern Argentina, she was also glad to be here.

Now we were on our way home, as I wrote before. Everything worked out. I got my visa, we finished the Panamerican Highway, also the Alaska Highway, by the way, we've been at the Captain Cook and... "I've seen the morning in the mountains of Alaska..."


Wednesday, January 7th, 2003
We didn't set the sails as early as we planned to, as we got stuck in the Internet. But this was the first time ince Seattle that we were able to connect. In Canada it was a problem, because the next number to make a connection was Vancouver. That's a long distance call and the connection was mostly not establishable by the LapTop, as it can't talk to the operator. Although the roads are better in Canada, most things work better in the US. The only thing that doesn't work at all is that stupid way how they use to measure length, temperature and volume. That works better even in Nicaragua than it does in the States. A few days later, while we were trying to find out what the point of reference for the Fahrernheit's system was, a friend said: "I don't feel very comfortable at the thought that Mr. Fahrenheit was a German. It's funny though, that there came a drunk German along and the Americans just adopted his senseless system." At 0° Celsius water freezes, at 0° Kelvin, there is no Brownian motion anymore, that means everything freezes, eccept the Daimlers engine. The only thing that could have frozen at 0°F was Mr. Fahrenheit's brain. But whatsoever, that's not our problem, as we and the rest of the world don't have to deal with that crap - eccept the British and even they use Celciuses scale.
Even the cellphone did not work. Since we left Chatwyn, we had no sevice anymore until we reached Anchorage. Thousands of miles without any permanent connection to the rest of the world, we would not even be able to make an emergency call, if something happens to us or to anybody else out there in the wilderness. That's different in Norway, there the cellphones work and the distances are smaller. But on the other hand it is not so bad. That's one of the purposes of travelling.
The other thing was, that I finally screwed up the phone, so that it didn't work anymore. Nothing at all, it just told me that the SIM-Card is being rejected. The real problem was, that even the converter didn't work either and I had to deal with the trash the british left behind. At least Canada is metric.

Ready to go...

A few minutes later we were on the road again heading back. This Highway should bring us back to the Alaska Highway, where we came in on. Just a little bit more to the south. This time we would not be able to drive the whole Highway again. We were in a hurry, even if there was still a week left. We had no time to loose, but we also were decidet, not to get worked up. If we miss the plane, we'll miss it one way or other and I would be happy if she missed the plane, but nobody shall say that I didn't even try to get it.

We were gaining distance from the coast, so it got colder with every mile, step by step. First the slipperiness of the road decreased, then the windows began to freeze inside again. The ice-flowers kept growing continuously untill both rear windows and a good part of the other windows were white. Next was the gear stick. It was not so easy to handle anymore, the clutch went the same way and finally the break-pedal followed. Now we had -30°C at least.

The sky was clear and that means, the night would be very cold. I was complainig about the "warm" weather in Anchorage. Somebody or something must have heard me. But better like this than a German gay-winter. The moon was shining extremely bright that night, but we were looking for northern lights and we found some. Sometimes you think that it might be a cloud, but as it becomes brighter and brighter, you realize that it is a new Aurora. Till that day I've only seen green Auroras, this time it was a rainbow-coloured one.

Here is the picture.

It is not so easy to take a picture. I prepare the camera, tripod, focus, exposure, ISO, timer, everything, than open the door, place the camera on the flor, press the button, wait four seconds, change position, same again, change position. At most three times, then back to the car to warm up again. Also the batteries of the camera do not last longer than a few seconds, the were always empty. That's crazy, I haven't been outside for longer than half a minute, I felt like I have been staying outdoor for many hours. A look at the pictures, drive a few kilometers, then the same again.

Today we made 521 Kilometers. Not bad, but we should have made at least 870. "Tomorrow we'll catch it up..." We still could say tomorrow, mañana, zavdra, bukra... we had one week left - well, almost one week. We'll see. While I was typing my reports Almut was boiling wine, as we wanted to have some german spice-wine. And after it was ready, she also tried to thaw out some bread. "What is smelling so strange? As if something is burning.." "That's the cheese", Almut said. I knew that american cheese tastes like plastik, but well. I made no investigation. "Shit", I heard her, a few minutes later, "it wasn't the cheese, it was the carpet." She really should learn how to cook instead of reading books all the time. To read books is totally unladylike, anyhow. A woman that reads is as worse as a man who beats out his wife. The black spot in the carpet proves that I must be right. I didn't sleep very well that night. At the last petrol station my VISA was denied. I hoped that it was just a mistake, if not, we were in big trouble.

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by Markus Besold