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TRAVEL JOURNAL INDEX > Better Safe Than Sorry

Anchorage to Fairbanks, AK  09/22-23/06 (Day 150-151)
Better Safe Than Sorry

It was bound to happen. Headed north out of Anchorage we reach a wide spot in the road called Cantwell where we stop to fill the gas tank before turning onto the old Denali Highway which is all dirt, has no services and was the original route up to Denali National Park before construction of the paved Parks Highway.

Somehow—and it’s still a mystery to us—we manage to lock both of our sets of keys inside the truck as it’s parked at the pump. Seconds before full-blown panic sets in we remember that we have OnStar. Then we remember that we are pretty much in the middle of nowhere and OnStar may not be able to get a cell signal strong enough to communicate with our truck.

With pounding hearts and crossed fingers (which makes it fairly impossible to dial) we call OnStar’s emergency assistance number from the pay phone inside the gas station. Within 45 seconds our truck is open and we are amazed and relieved in equal parts. We also feel pretty special but we later learn that OnStar handles 53,000 unlock requests like ours each and every month.

Back in the truck (phew), we whack the big, red Staples “Easy Button” we have mounted above our heads in the cab in order to celebrate easily-resolved situations like this (“That was easy!” the button shouts), then continue on our way.

The Old Denali Highway brings its own adventures, including a local man hell-bent on using a particularly straight section of the dirt road as a runway for his plane (rumor has it that there are more privately owned planes than privately owned cars in Alaska). The thing lifts off right behind us with what looks like about five feet to spare before it would have lumbered right into the rear bumper of our stunned Silverado.

Once we hit pavement again we cruise into Fairbanks and head straight for the helpful folks in the service department (thanks Josh!) of Chevrolet of Fairbanks. Relax—there’s nothing wrong with our Silverado it’s just that we’d like to keep it that way and our next stretch of road is the Dalton Highway, aka the Haul Road—500 dusty, bumpy miles of vehicle munching infamy stretching straight north from Fairbanks up and over the Brooks Range to the North Slope then on to Deadhorse following the route of the Trans Alaska Pipeline. Oh, and back again.

The Dalton was actually cut, carved and scraped through the tundra in order to carry equipment and materials needed to build the pipeline. The Dalton is primarily the domain of lead-footed big-rig drivers who consider the road theirs since they drive back and forth hauling goods and equipment to and from the oil fields in Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay in their 18-wheelers (that’s why the Dalton is also called the Haul Road).  

Every Alaskan we talk to about the Dalton immediately asks us how many spare tires we have. When we tell them just one, they frown disapprovingly and shake their heads as if to say “silly southerners.” Frankly, it freaks us out a little. To get the nightmarish images of being broken down in the middle of nowhere on the Dalton with three flats, one spare, a pack of circling wolves and no help in sight, we order not one but two extra spare tires from Chevrolet Cadillac of Fairbanks bringing our grand total to three brand new spares. If that doesn’t get us there, nothing will.


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