Alaska 2003

Monday, Dezember 29th, 2003
The motel was quite OK, apart from the fact that some crazy communist crack african-american knocked on the door at three o'clock in the morning and asked me with his abnormal slang if I wanted some cocain. I guess he thought that was the most normal thing to do, because he really looked like he was waiting for an answer.
A few hours ago Almut realized, that black people were hard to find in Seattle. Maybe it's to cold for them up here, maybe we just didn't see them because everybody is wraped in clothes.

A look at Seattle. from the I-5.

I went to bed way too late and so we started the new day at 11 o'clock. We needed a return ticket to europe, chains and warm clothes. After one hour we got the chains, after three hours we got the ticket and after five hours we finally had everything we needed. I must look like a clown, my boots are from the german army, my pants from the french army, my coat from the american army and the cap from the austrian army. But now I'm safe and warm, altough I'm not in L.A. and that's the purpose.

There were only a few hundred miles left to the border. But also only four hours left for me. We lost almost one hour in the traffic jam, I didn't think about that most people work on Mondays. We presumed that fuel would be more expensive in Canada, so we left hte Highway at Burlington for the last time to get the tank filled. We also bought some stuff at the Supermarket. We don't needed cigarettes anymore, I already bought them at Mt. St. Helens, as I have horror-stories about canadian cigarette-prices in mind.
Crossing the last border The most important thing for me to do, was to find an INS-Officer and give him the visa-waiver back, that was given to me as I entered the country. Otherwise I would get trouble trying to get back into the US. But before I could even make a plan.of how to deal with the INS, we were in the next traffic jam. I saw a sign: "Think metric", which signalizes that we already must have left the US. "Oh, no, now I have to walk all the way back..." There were a few cars ahead of us, I could already see the border cabins and also the cameras. It reminded me on the US-border at Brownsville / Texas. And they gave me a hard time, so I was hoping for the best but expecting the worst (remember Alphaville?). The first question the US-Officer in Brownsville asked me was: "Do you have a permit?" The canadian officer asked "How are you doing?" He didn't want to see the car-papers, just the passports. I tried to explain, that I forgot to return my I-94 to the Americans and that I would have to leave the car at the border station an walk back. He told me to do the canadian immigration first and then, to ask the canadian officer to return the strip to the INS. I parked the car and Almut and me went in there to make the paperwork. We went into the first building that looked like immigration and I presented our passports. "Oh, no, no, Sir, you have to go to the immigration..." I had a look at her sleeve and there I could read 'Customs', written in big letters. "Immigration is at the very end of this building." We went there. We were the only people there. The canadian guy said: "Hi, how are you guys doing? Where are you from?" He asked if we were on vacation and where we were going, and before we could answer, we got our passports back. By the way I looked at the officer, he could see that I was very surprised. "That's it.", he said. "Are you sure?" I showed him the I-94 and was thinking about how to explain my problen, but before I could open my mouth, the officer already had taken it out and stamped it on the back. That was way too easy. I wanted to make sure, that that would work. "Will that work?" "Well, I wouldn't do it, if it wouldn't work. They'll get it back." "Are we done?" "Yes, have a nice trip..."
We were still surprised. Something must be wrong. Usually the customs use to make problems - all over the world. Immigration has never been a problem, but customs always. We went there. "Good evening, Mam. We're done with the immigration." "OK, so you are free to go." What is this woman talking about? I looked arround to see, if there was a man in charge. I tried to explain: "Look, I brought my car with me." "Where is it?", she asked. Stupid question, stupid answer: "Outside." Of course it is outside, where else should it be? But all she said was: "So, get into your car..." I didn't understand anything. If the lady would understand German, now at the latest I would have said something stupid. But in english it always takes more time to biuld a good stupid sentence. Almut said: "We are not used to it, that the procedure at the border is that uncomplicated." The lady confirmed that there was no misunderstanding. We were definitely free to go. Nobody even had a single look at the car, nobody cares. We were in, the whole procedure took not longer than five minutes. The jam right before the border took ten minutes. This was the fastest and friendliest border on the whole continent, topping even Uruguay and Argentina. The top three places in my worst-border-ranking are the USA, Brazil and Ecuador.

We slept at a rest area, Almut in the car, I slept next to it.

Now we were out of the US, and I was out right in time. Let's hope the canadian officer knows what he's doing. But he had blue eyes, so he is not supposed to make any mistakes. The Interstate Five, or I-5 now turned into the Trans Canada One, or 1. The pavement was smoother than in the US. And finally I got rid of the british trash, as now we were talking. Kilometers, Meters, Liters, Grams, not that british bullshit anymore, the only british bullshit I saw here was the head of Queen Elisabeth on some coins. In spite of that, the first impresion was very positive. Until we came to Vancouver. There we saw that there were no signs at all. We just wanted to find the 1 EAST, but we spent more than one hour driving arround in circles and searching. Everything north of LA seems not to like signs at all. I had much more diesel than patience, "cursed be patience most of all." After we found our way I kept cursing and driving. We were heading towards Prince George, a little town further in the North. I asked Almut: "Will we have made half the way when we are there?" She laught at me. "Maybe one quarter, and maybe we will be there tomorrow evening, if the weather stays as it is". The dimensions seem to be different in Canada, but even Canada is not endless, we will reach the border, one way or other.

Tuesday, December 30th, 2003
In the morning it started snowing. That is better than rain, but worse than sunshine. I packed my bed and we went back onto the 1, that we found after we searched half an hour. I don't know, why the canadians don't like traffic-signs, what's wrong? Again one of this days: All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey... The best thing you can do is not to leave the car. And that's what we did. Sometimes we needed diesel, of course, but apart of that we drove the whole day. Very nice and romantic landscape. Everything white, it is cold outside and nice and warm inside the car. Special thanks to Rudolf Diesel.
Almut went with me through Africa and to the bottom of the continent in Argentina, but she missed the central part. And I missed her really badly during the trip, it would have been much better, as she seeks to knock problems out instead of just avoiding them. Avoiding problems you avoid the trip and only get half of it. Now we had to go to the top of the continent and we were doing well. Especially the car, that went with me on all the trips without ecceptions.
On the late afternoon it started snowing. It looked like a dry snow and I kept running full ahead. On top of a hill I saw something blinking yellow. The car that was ahed of us stopped and I tried to do the same, so I stept on the brake but the car didn't slow down, although the brake was working well. The street was covered with ice, all over. I could stop before hiting anything, I had enough distance left. Not so the Lexus that was destroyed and on the right side of the road, also not the Chrysler-Van that was down beside the road and a third car. They actually were the reason for the blinking. Ususally you can see ice, but only if it is wet. This day the ice was dry, no cristals reflecting the low-beams, I was thinking we were on a dry road all the time. I slowed down a little bit, in order to gain some practise again. I haven't driven on ice since years, in Germany that was my specialty. But in Germany I always had an empty car, now it was full and had bigger tires, so is was not that easy to rule the car using the rear-wheels. But step by step I got it and after some hours we were running at full speed again. During the night we passed Prince George. Nothing special, eccept that the Coke was cheaper than in the united states. Back to the road. Once more we took the wrong way because of missing singn. That shit is getting on my nerves...
Once a Freightliner showed up in the mirror. He was much faster than I could be, especially driving uphill. I went to the right and let him pass, as I was driving 90 km, so I guess he had at most 140 km/h. As soon as he passed me, all I saw was a white wall, nothing else. I stept on the brakes, looking through the side window and hoping to keep the car on the street. I thought Almut was sleeping, but she saw everything. No comments at all. But nothing happened, first gear and full ahead. "Not yet, Comrades, not yet."
I was really tired and since yesterday we were not on a Highway anymore. It was a normal road with one lane in each direction, later in the evening not even that. It became one flat white strip. The whole road was covered by the snow. Rest areas were not easy to find, as they are not illuminated and all the signs got white like everything else. We found one rest area with 20 cm (7 in.) of snow. We left the engine running during the night. Many people do that here, in Germany we would at least get shot for doing that. Your live is everybody's business over there - Germany must perish.

The Rest area at night.

We slept next to the car. We built something like a tent with the tarp and slept between car and something - I guess it was a bench, but under 20 cm of snow it could have been anything. Almut was wearing two pants, at least two pullovers, two caps, of course the red sleeping bag (meant for the african summer), my coat, the second sleeping bag - and still freezing. Women... to much clothes, they don't get it. I was dressed like I am during the day. Pants, shirt, pullover and sleeping bag. That's it. And I was save and warm. There is nothing more romanti than sleeping in the snow next to the car. "Can you hear the engine sing? A king was born today..." That King was me. I do not want to trade with any other King, even though he has a silent and heated bed-room with a king-size matress and a nice queen in it. As long as the Diesel sings his melody, let it snow...

Wednesday, December 31st, 2003
On the next morning we had some inches more of snow. But we didn't have to deal with the cold, as the car was warm and dry. Great night, really. That's how Christmas should be. White and cold.

On the next morning.

After everything was packed and done we went back onto the road. Two hundred kilometers left until the next little town in the middle of nowhere, named Chetwynd. We had breakfast on board, and kept going. It stopped snowing, we could go a little bit faster. A few days ago I tasted some of the water on the windshield. It was salty. And salt destroys cars. After three years, the old Comrade has to face his old enemy again. It is everywhere, the whole car is hidden under a coat of salt, and there is nothing, I could do about.
I felt that the boot's I'm wearing are not the right ones for here. My grandfather tried it with chrome-nails in Russia. We saw the results. I was thinking to be smarter and had only soles and shanks of steel. It will cost me my feet, or at least some pieces of them, so I guess. I have to watch out and find some boots.
We found a supermarket and a little restaurant, where we spent the afternoon. This time I turned the engine off, just to make a test, if the battery is still willing to work. At 1545 I noticed, that it is 2004 already in Germany. They are nine hours ahead. I wonder how people there can be so back... But that's another story.

Soon I noticed, that turning off the engine was one of my most stupid ideas. I could turn it on again, but everything had to warm up from the beginning, including the clutch. And something went wrong with the thermostat. It didn't open, so while I was driving up the hill, I wondered, how it could get so warm inside the car so fast. I had a look at the instruments. The needle of the temperature was at 120°. "Fuck! What the hell is that?" I stopped the vehicle to see what was wrong. I saw nothing, no leakage, all the belts were fine, so the waterpump should be working. I opened the radiator, if the waterpump was broken, the water should be cold. But it was boiling, so it must have been the thermostat. This stupid little thing has been anoying me for years. While I was waiting for the water to calm down, a pick-up stopped. He asked, if he could help us. "It is either the thermostat or the waterpump. If it is the thermostat, no problem, but if you have to find a waterpump for that car here... good luck."

Unit repaired...

He gave us the advice to go back to Chatwyn and find a hotel, wait until the holidays are over and get that fixed. "It is New Years Eve, the worst day to get a breakdown on that road. We have 16° below (3°F) now and out there it can drop below minus 40 (-40°F) in a matter of hours. People died doing that." I asked, if he was talking in Celsius or Fahrenheit. "Celsius. Canada. We use metric. Only the americans use that other shit." I refilled the radiator and from that moment on everything was working normally, as if nothing had happened. I went back to Chatwyn, but I had no reason to fix anything anymore. I'm sure it only happened because I'm still too german and turned off the engine. It won't happen again. We continued the trip. This time the hill was no problem, no overheating, all instruments were doing fine, the engine temperature didn't reach 87°C and it was a little bit cold inside the car. I got a call from L.A. Wolfgang asked, if everything was OK again. I told him the whole story, that I got some trouble with the radiator, but before I could assure him that everything was fixed I lost the connection. I tried it again a few times, but there was no service anymore. We went on through the night heading north and driving straight into the New Year...

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by Markus Besold