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First Night on the Steese

Last Friday night I spent my first night on the Steese. I hope it’s my last, but knowing how things go, I’m using this experience to tweak my preparations for next time.

After school on Friday, I had an internet-based class that I needed to attend. It ran from five ‘til eight in the evening, and so I left for home after that.

I knew leaving so late was risky, but I figured it was still early in the season, and maybe the winds wouldn’t be blowing what snow there was around too much. Of course I was wrong. The winds were howling full gale-force, and the blowing snow made for white-out conditions. I’ve been there before.

There were some drifts, but they were manageable, and I was dancing over them, trying to keep my speed and my momentum up. That’s when I encountered one very large drift, three or four feet height, but fortunately not very far across at all.   I punched through as snow washed over the hood and windshield and covered the truck. Once on the far side, I counted myself lucky that it hadn’t stopped me. I drove on, again dancing over the smaller drifts. I was headed home.

A few minutes later, I first noticed the battery light on the instrument panel. I wasn’t sure why it was there, but I wasn’t about to stop in these conditions. Then the power steering seemed not to be working, but I pressed on. As I drove, my headlights appeared to be dimming, like my battery was dying. I wondered if my alternator had gone out, just like that. But I kept going. Then the engine light came on, and I knew I had to stop and see what was happening.  

I pulled over and popped the hood. When I opened it, I immediately saw the entire engine bay filled with snow. The drift had collected there, stopping any moving parts. The fan was stopped, the belts had broken. The alternator, power steering, and cooling systems had all stopped.

I reached into the engine bay to start removing handfuls of snow when the radiator’s overflow reservoir popped its top, spewing its superheated contents and catching the underside of my right forearm. Even through my coat sleeve, it hurt.

I continued to remove as much of the snow as I could from the engine bay, fearing it would melt and refreeze as a solid, engine stopping block of ice. The broken shards of belt were there in the snow.

There was nothing to do but hunker down and wait for the next car to come along. It was 10:30 by that time, so I wasn’t real optimistic of another car coming anytime soon. I pulled on all of my cold weather gear and nestled down for a(nother) cold night of “sleep.” I prayed for Stephanie, that she would go to bed and not stay up worrying, or worse, come looking for me.

A DOT truck came by at about eight the next morning. He gave me a ride to the Montana Creek station where the snow plow crew is housed. I waited there in his truck (with heat!) for the next car headed to Fairbanks. One came along about 10:30.

I rode on in to Fairbanks, second-hand smoking about a pack of cigarettes with a dog in my lap, but I was grateful for the ride. After one other stop, I was dropped off at home.

Steph was glad to see me, of course, and I was glad to be home. But we had to make a trip to the ER right about then, so we went on to Fairbanks Memorial… again. They fixed me up pretty quickly, and it wasn’t all that bad.

Luckily, the elementary teacher I work with was in Fairbanks this weekend, so I caught I ride back towards Circle with her. She dropped me at my truck and waited while I replaced all the belts and refilled the radiator. A quick jumpstart, and I was back in business.

As I crossed back over Eagle Summit, heading back to Circle, I stopped to chat with a semi driver hauling a flat bead with a black Land Rover Discovery that had obviously taken a tumble. I asked him where he picked that up, and he said “just on the other side.” It wasn’t there last Friday, so someone must have gone over the edge yesterday or today. I hope its occupants were okay. It reminds me to take it slow, and that my troubles could have been worse.

Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2008 at 10:17PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell in | Comments7 Comments

Reader Comments (7)

Brian, I talked to Stephanie Saturday morning, and she was worried about you and said she slept very little while waiting for you. Our Lord has again been graceful and answered positively to our prayers for your safety. I am glad that you were able to get the belt replaced and be back in Circle. Have a good week and be safe. Love, Dad
October 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDad (JLR)
see, that's why i drive a scooter! much safer.
October 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterwatson
I'm glad you're OK Brian! Another adventure to add to your list, right?! ;-)
October 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKatelyn M.
I am so glad you were ok. I love reading about all of your "adventures in AK" but I bet you are ready for some "normal" days at least just for a little while. :)
October 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi
Thanks, Heidi. But as Doc Holiday said in Tombstone, "There is no normal life, Wyatt, just life." Every day is adventures in AK.
October 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrian
I have to say, I experienced a great deal of anxiety just reading this post. Seriously. I can't imagine what it was like to live it. But, I am so thankful you are safe.
October 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRachel
You know, I wondered about you driving home on Friday night. When I went by your driveway, I never see cars anymore because you use the garage. I wondered when you would consider it too dangerous to risk it. I guess you'll use different criterion from now on. At least you have good winter gear....and maybe more from now on. We always had bunny boots, blankets and a down sleeping bag, food and water on board and I'm sure you do too. See you soon, I hope.
October 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPat

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