Narrowly Averting a Very Bad Travel Day

It’s been a while since we narrowly averted a tragedy, like the time we almost blew up the trailer because Banjo turned the propane on inside while we were out kayaking.  And it’s been a while since we had a very bad travel day, like the day hitching was a nightmare, and then we had to do it again..  This time our trouble was finding ourselves down a long, one-lane (barely that) gravel road in Alaska that we could not drive down any farther, and yet there was no way to turn around.  Sounds benign, but tell that to stressed-out us at the time.

I’ll skim over the lead-up parts of that drive, like the fact that it was pouring rain, and I mean pouring, so even getting out of the muddy RV camping lot at the Alaska state fair in Palmer was a trick.  We then had to backtrack to buy toilet paper and DEF, since we’d forgotten that Anchorage would be the last bit of civilization for quite a while.  And then we found ourselves in a Wendy’s parking lot by accident after getting diesel next door.

Next up: white-knuckle driving along the Glenn Highway, where the narrow road curves beside Matanuska Glacier. The fog was so dense that Tracy didn’t dare slow down much for fear we’d get rear-ended by these Alaska drivers who just have to get to their ATV spot five minutes faster (I sound bitter, but it’s true).  The rain, the fog, the curvy, narrow road. When we came upon cabbage-sized rocks in the road from the cliffs above, we only halfway joked about what else could be a danger to driving that day, because surely it would crop up. Which it did.

Our destination was a boondocking spot along a communications-tower access road, which Tracy had read is accessible up to a point, where it gets way too narrow for a trailer as the road climbs the hill to the tower. But, he figured we’d find a pull-off spot before then and camp for the night, then drive back out. You can see in the circle above the farthest along this road where people were camping already.

Not for us, though.  Every single side spot on this narrow road was occupied by dudes with their ATVs, people berry picking, and just people out on a Saturday when the clouds would part briefly.  We declared it was the most popular spot in Alaska. Which is saying something.

The closer we got down the road and closer to the tower, the more we knew we had to turn around, but there was no place to do so.  Finally, we stopped the truck, both got out, looked around, and figured Tracy would have no choice but to back the trailer a mile down this gravel road that winds, with bushes on either side, and people everywhere—and no cell signal, so I would be walking behind guiding him using the walkie-talkie.  Oh yeah, did I mention the back-up camera is broken? It would be a very slow, very nerve-wracking several hours after a long travel day as it was. We hadn’t eaten, hadn’t peed, hadn’t gotten our nerves straight, even.

As I was standing behind the trailer in my raincoat and rainboots, walkie-talkie in hand, Tracy walked up just a bit farther, and he found a spot where we could turn the trailer around.  Barely.  Hallelujah. We turned around and drove the hell out of there. (Okay, we drove carefully and slowly, but it felt like driving the hell out of there.)

Where we ended up is no less dramatic: an abandoned campground we’d seen mentioned with no ATVs allowed (so we hoped for fewer people).  We had to drive over an unmaintained bridge to get to the old park, but you betcha we left the trailer there and walked ahead to make sure there would be room for us.

I can’t count how many times we’ve driven down gravel roads and dirt roads, in the mountains and in the desert, with enough data at hand to feel confident we could turn around if we had to. Which we have had to. In three years of traveling, this was the closest we have ever gotten to having to back down the road we drove in on. Let’s hope it’s the closest we ever get, too.