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That first Alaska flat tire

May 27, 2014

black-bear-montana-01I closed the door on the back of the SUV and was just walking around to replace the hubcap on the tire when I happened to look down the road and saw directly in front of the truck my first Alaskan black bear. The year was 1995 and having been borne and raised in a big East coast city, my nature radar was nonexistent.

My son and I were to spend four months in Alaska on a video project for his production company and before principle filming began I wanted to meet with each outfitter and go over the details of their part in the project. Today we were venturing to McCarthy Alaska down the old and rough McCarthy road. The 2009 ‘Milepost‘ had this to say about the drive….”The McCarthy road is for those who like adventurous driving…we recommend 30 MPH…motorists should watch for sharp rocks, railroad spikes, no shoulders, narrow sections, soft spots, washboard, potholes and a few roller coaster curves”. And this was written 14 years after I drove the road!

In 1995 is was a little more primitive than what the 2009 Milepost describes, but to my son and I it only added to our adventure. In all the literature about the road the one dominant thing that keeps popping up is to be watchful for railroad spikes. Now the locals really lay it on when describing this danger… so much so one would think the road was paved with these spikes. In fact the McCarthy road follows the right of way of the old ‘Copper River & Northwestern railway‘. This railroad was created to carry copper oar from the old Kennecott mines to waiting ships in Cordova.

So after reading about the spikes and hearing about it from the people we met along the road it came as no surprise that I would have to find one for a souvenir. I have to admit I was not thinking about spikes when we got the flat, I was more concerned with the intensity of the mosquitoes surrounding the SUV as I pulled over. This would actually be my first encounter with these blood thirsty pests and the one positive thing about them was that it greatly sped up the time I took to change the tire.

Now 19 years later thinking back at my reaction when I had finished and looked up and saw that bear laying in front of the SUV was how beautiful he looked in the late afternoon sun. Reality quickly entered my consciousness and I got in the truck as quickly as I could starting the engine and that noise apparently scared the bear and he decided it was time to leave. When we finally got to McCarthy and had the tire repaired the man turned and with a smile handed me the spike that led to that bear encounter.

Was it the *Chaos theory that touched me on that first trip
with a spike from a railroad long gone to produce a massive black bear at my feet
or was it the hand of God that allowed me to witness his love for me?

*There exist a theory in the field of physics that shows that two unrelated incidents
can indeed be connected and it is called the chaos theory.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 28, 2014 6:12 am

    Glad the story ended up safely. Re the mosquitoes, I am SO allergic! I get those huge golfball sized welts. They are awful!! Fortunately when we were there, I didn’t see any…that was in August.


  2. May 28, 2014 6:19 am

    Thanks for fleshing this one out, Pete! I read that same account of AK 10 in Frommer’s Guide book on Alaska and when I drove it in 1997 we did stick to the recommended 30 mph speed limit and had people racing around us the whole drive into McCarthy. Once there we spoke with a number of locals trying to get access to Kennicott and the mines; while doing so we learned those old RR spikes are now relics and very scarce. On the drive out we averaged around 45 mph with no issues. I remember the mosquitoes! Someplace I have an analog photo of my buddy walking back across the footbridge from McCarthy and looking fuzzy as if the picture was out of focus. In fact it was the swarm of mosquitoes buzzing around his body that made it appear ‘fuzzy’!


  3. May 28, 2014 4:23 pm

    We opted not to drive the McCarthy Road last summer during our visit to Alaska — I should have asked you first, Pete! I don’t have The Milepost 2013 with me, but it seems their description of the road was much like the one you quoted — which is why we decided not to drive it. Plus… unclear where to stay and we weren’t that interested in Kennicott or the mines…. The description of the road could fit many others we’ve driven, though without the RV (the road up to the Salmon Glacier outside Hyder, AK, seems to fit). Glad you got your keepsake spike, if only you didn’t have to suffer the flat for it!


  4. Raven permalink
    May 28, 2014 6:55 pm

    Love your writing!


  5. May 28, 2014 8:37 pm

    Cool story, Pete! The magic is in the details and you don’t disappoint, sir. :)


  6. Del permalink
    May 29, 2014 5:07 am

    Yea Good one Pete….. Those were the days!!!


  7. Jon permalink
    June 1, 2014 11:54 am

    Pete, We’ve talked about this before, but I think it was the month of June of ’95 I went to McCarthy. I agree with you; the Milepost overdoes the condition of the road. The ’95 edition of the Milepost describes the bridge over the Kuskulana River as the “biggest thrill on the road to McCarthy” before it was rehabbed in ’89. I remember pulling over & going underneath the road deck & walking to the middle on the walkway that was underneath. That whole trip was longer than it should’ve been as I left Fairbanks at 3 am & drove the Parks Hwy. as Denali looked clear to the top. Wouldn’t you know it, when I got to Anderson I saw a cloud bank moving in from the south & by the time I got to the Park entrance it was cloudy. I drove 1 1/2 hours south of Cantwell before I gave up on a pic of the great one. So I turned around & took the Denali Hwy. across to Paxson & onto McCarthy 24 hrs. after I left Fairbanks! Two hours of sleep & it was time to explore the area. It was on this trip I discovered the reason for naming Cantwell; if you don’t see Denali keep driving, if you “can’t, well”….. never mind!
    Then it was back to Fairbanks & onto Manley Hot Springs, Minto, & the Yukon River bridge the next day. Too bad I didn’t know you back then I’d’ve stopped in if you were living where you are now.
    Good memories.


  8. Terry permalink
    June 1, 2014 3:21 pm

    Nice write up, Pete.


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