Our U.S. Airman Michael and his wife Mariah, along with their French bull dog Nova, recently packed up everything they owned into a 45-foot U-Haul, hitched the car behind the U-Haul and set out to drive from Spokane, Washington, to Fairbanks, Alaska, for his new assignment. This was a distance of 2,812 miles and included some interesting sights, lots of snow storms and a few misadventures. Oh, and MANY miles without cell phone service, hotels or restaurants.

The snow started in Prince George, British Columbia, and continued for most of the trip. They encountered herds of bison walking on – and beside – the highway, and this was in the middle of whiteout conditions. Nova was fascinated when she saw them, and let out a few throaty growls just to demonstrate that she was ready to protect the family from those furry giants. Mike got some great pictures of the woolly creatures, faces coated with balls of ice and snow. They watched the bison paw at the ground clearing the snow so they could feed on the grass below.

Since Michael is a S.E.R.E. (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) specialist, he was well prepared to be self-sustaining on this trip. They pulled over at rest areas to sleep in the car, something that they’d done before in sub-freezing temperatures. They called it car camping, and had worked out a way to flatten the seats and cover them with a piece of plywood, and then crawl into their top notch cold weather sleeping bags for a good night’s rest. (Not MY idea of fun!) When they woke in the morning, the windows had fogged up and the fog had turned to ice crystals. One morning they found that their water had also frozen and had to be thawed out. It didn’t take Nova long to learn that she needed to do her business quickly and get back in where it was warm. They had a cooler of food and a propane stove, and would use the facilities in rest areas before heading out each day for another 10 hours or so of driving.

As well prepared as they were, they found that they weren’t at all prepared when two of the tires on the U-Haul simultaneously blew out, making it very difficult to maintain control of the 28,000 pound load on slippery roads. And, did I mention that it happened at 11 p.m. where there was no cell service, and there were no spare tires in the U-Haul? They unhooked the car and drove an hour and a half to an area that had cell service, then drove back to the U-Haul to sleep a few hours and wait for the arrival of the tow truck with the replacement tires. Only then could they continue their journey!

Michael said that, with a few exceptions, Canadians were not at all glad to see vehicles with American plates, to the point that it wasn’t unusual to find cars with windows smashed or otherwise vandalized. It had to do with trying to keep people out to reduce the spread of the virus. Things were especially unwelcoming in the Yukon Territory. There were officials with paperwork to be filled out at the entry points advising them that they had 24 hours to get through the area, warning that if they overstayed their “welcome,” they would not be allowed back in at another time. It was a great relief to cross the border to Alaska and once again be back on American soil!

After six days of driving, they arrived in North Pole, Alaska, just outside of Fairbanks, where they had reserved a hotel room. They located a storage facility and went to unload what they wouldn’t need until they found permanent housing. They noticed Nova digging in the snow and eating something. She then began acting very strangely, and they quickly discovered that she had been attracted by the scent of rat poison and had eaten some of it. They had to locate the nearest veterinary emergency hospital and get her there ASAP, as she had sickened quickly and soon collapsed. They stayed with her through the night as vets worked to save her life. She developed pneumonia and vets told them that it was possible for her to begin to show signs of neurological damage in the next few hours. They were told that their beloved baby might not make it. They passed some very long hours while Nova fought for her life.

Miraculously, they were able to bring her home a few days later, tired but fully recovered. Michael and Mariah had just been through some very stressful times, and still had a lot of settling in to do, but they seemed to roll with the punches and draw strength from each other. In six days of traveling, they hadn’t turned any music on at all, instead enjoying long conversations uninterrupted by the demands of their normally busy lives.

Mariah has interviewed for R.N. positions at a nearby hospital, and they were lucky to find a house in a new development not far from the Air Force base and the hospital. They are still living in the hotel until the closing on the house is finalized. Lots of adjustments, lots of changes, but it helps that they’re young and in love!

Michael is looking forward to doing some fishing, specifically during the salmon runs in July. He also has an App on his phone that alerts him as to the best times to photograph the Northern Lights, which he had seen from Washington State, but says they are so much more vivid and colorful in Alaska. He has also photographed caribou and moose. He was amazed that the moose he has seen are even bigger than our elk! He said the only thing he’d like to do now is find a way to live there permanently!

He’s assured me that the new house will have a room for me when I come to visit next summer, and he’s already thinking that a tour bus ride through Denali National Park and Preserve will be a must. I can’t wait to visit and take a bazillion pictures as I explore completely new territory in this beautiful country of ours!

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Marilyn Secco is a retired teacher and author of the book “Front Porch Tales.” She has 2 children and 5 grandchildren and lives in Kersey with a temperamental cat named Tidder. Contact her at mbsecco@windstream.net

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