Two Flats, One Spare — By Jennifer Shipp
Alaska Canada North America United States of America Yukon Territory Trips

Two Flats, One Spare — By Jennifer Shipp

Entrance sign to Denali National Park
A nice Indian couple offered to take our picture at the entrance to Denali National Park. We had been wearing the same clothes for three days…

On our last day in Alaska, before we plunged south into Canada, Lydian called a music store in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to find out if there was anywhere they could play on the Friday night when we would be passing through. Whitehorse had seemed like a singularly cool northern Canadian town. We had seen three music stores as we drove out of the small, isolated city a week prior on our way to Alaska. The people there seemed nice and there was a health food store that had all kinds of goodies for us.

We decided that Whitehorse was one Canadian town that we’d be willing to return to.

Within about an hour, as we made our way to Denali National Park, Lydi had lined up a gig for Tiger and the Freedom Birds at Epic Pizza in Whitehorse. Whitehorse was still some distance away, but we were confident that we could make it there by the next night at 7:00 PM. This gig became the focus of the next 36 hours.

About ten years ago, I would’ve been really stoked to visit Denali National Park. That was before I realized that throngs of tourists can utterly ruin a very decent tourist destination. We had decided that we were going to make an obligatory visit to the park on this trip, mostly because we would’ve been excited about it years ago. Our expectations, however, were low. The guide book noted that the park was often crowded during the on-season and the only access to the interior was on a shuttle bus.

We opted to stick to a short 3 mile trail right that was right on the cusp of Denali National Park rather than risk taking a shuttle bus. We still needed to drive to Tok, Alaska that night so that we could make it to Whitehorse the next day. Denali was cool, but not as cool as playing an impromptu gig at Epic Pizza in the Yukon Territory.

I think we all really enjoyed our short hike. It was all very meditative and nature-y. We had a moment of Zen on a tall overlook midway through our hike and made the observation that we could’ve all been on a five day hike to Macchu Picchu instead of an iron-man marathon journey through Canada and Alaska.

Then, we returned to the car, stuffed ourselves into our designated seats and took off for a six hour drive toward the Canada/Alaska border.

The trip to Tok was ho-hum. We saw a multitude of moose. A porcupine crossed the road, which was exciting in a backwoodsy-kind-of-way. We arrived, and reluctantly began the nightly ritual of setting up the tent camper and potty tent. Level it. Jack it up. Crank it. Hook it up. Fiddle and fight with the damn potty tent. Stretch it. Push it. Pull it. Stake it in. Tie it down. Clean up whatever spilled inside the tent camper. Cook. Wash up. Pajamas.

Sleep.

The next morning, we took the last non-timed American showers that we would enjoy for another four days (Canadian showers are all on a timer). Then, we folded ourselves into the van for yet another very long day of driving.

Camile and Lydian (otherwise known as Tiger and the Freedom Birds) were on edge. They were nervous and excited about their gig. The tension in the van simmered as we made our way along the meandering highways into Canada. The shape of the roads and ditches changed as we passed from the U.S. into Canada. I had a feeling something would happen. We had caught a small leak in one of the van’s tires just in time a few days prior. There was something of a poltergeist sort of vibe in the air. I waited for something or someone to explode or malfunction.

We stopped for a potty break along a desolate stretch of highway about two hours outside of Whitehorse. John had noticed that the trailer was behaving strangely and he wanted to check to make sure everything was okay.

A quick inspection revealed that things were not okay. One of the tires on the trailer was balding. No worries (as they say in Canada). We got the spare, jacked up the trailer, and within about 10 minutes, we had the problem solved. Our efficiency was lucky and we congratulated ourselves because we were just barely going to make it to Epic Pizza at the rate we were going by 7:00 PM.

We got back in the van.

“Did you check the other tire?” John asked me.

“No. Why?”

He got out of the van and walked around to the passenger side. I remained optimistic, despite misgivings.

Thirty seconds and then a minute passed. I got out of the car. John was standing and looking at the other balding tire and feeling the small sections of the inner tube poking through to the surface through little frayed pieces of steel fibers.

I began this trip to Alaska knowing that the odds of getting a flat tire were high. What I hadn’t counted on was a lack of cellular phone service along stretches of highway with nothing but trees and moose for hundreds of miles in both directions. Of all the places to get a flat tire on this trip, the Yukon Territory would’ve been my last choice. We reasoned that we could leave the trailer behind and go for help, if necessary, but it was 5:06 PM on a Friday night when we discovered our problem. And our experience with Canadians in the northern regions was that they’ll usually talk to you as long as you’re willing to talk to them, but they rarely want to help or offer real solutions to problems.

We decided to continue driving on the bald tire because we really didn’t have a choice. We were about 20 miles outside of Haines Junction, YT and about 90 minutes from Whitehorse and the much anticipated gig. We were right on schedule according to our GPS, but we had to drive more slowly to keep from blowing the other tire that presently started “flapping”.

Flap…flap… flap… flap…

We looked up a towing company as we got into Haines Junction and our cell service returned. The towing company recommended that we call Kal Tire. Kal Tire recommended that we call a person named “Tom” in Haines Junction. John called Tom. Tom talked with John for ten minutes, all the while indicating that he was going to help us out in some way. He asked John for the identifying numbers for the tires. He asked what type of trailer we had. He wanted to know where we were located. But then, when John asked if he had a tire that we could buy from him, he said no. John asked if he had any tire that would work at all. The man said no. John asked Tom whether he could help us out in some other way.

“We could bring the trailer to you. Where are you located?” John asked.

“Oh, I’m not anywhere you could drive to.” Tom said.

At this point, John cut the conversation short and called Kal Tire back. Unfortunately, the number was for an answering service of very young customer service representatives who told us they didn’t have the tire that we needed in stock. They didn’t offer us any other solutions.

The flapping sound continued and built in intensity. It was evolving into a full-fledged thump. John and I got out to inspect the damages.

A piece of rubber had ripped off the tire and was repetitively hitting against the camper. Fearful that we would be stranded all weekend in Haines Junction, we resolved to continue driving very slowly to Whitehorse, which was about 60 miles away at that point. We figured we could always abandon the trailer, take the girls to their gig, and then return later to pick it up. After driving for 8 hours already, we weren’t thrilled about the prospect of having to backtrack for two hours to pick up our wounded trailer, but at the same time, we were grateful that it wasn’t a tire on the van that was flapping furiously.

The mood in the van was scary in a silent, adolescent sort of way. We didn’t speak, but only listened to the sound of the tire, slowly unraveling.

Lydian called “Josh” at Epic Pizza before we lost all cell service outside of Haines Junction and told him our predicament. He was understanding and said that they could come in and play any time until midnight. The mood in the van elevated a few degrees and I became optimistic that we’d make it all the way there on the poor, forlorn tire. John and I counted down the miles as they passed, celebrating with every ten miles that went by.  A couple of times, we thought the tire was done for, stopped the van, and got out to check, but decided to keep going.

Forlorn and Raggedy Tire
…Not what you want to see after a long day of driving through the Seventh Level of Cell Hell.

Nineteen miles outside of Whitehorse, we stopped again. Things had become dire with the tire.

At inspection, a two foot strip of the tire lay stretched out, injured, and broken, still technically attached, but only barely. Inspired by the distance that this raggedy tire had taken us, we decided to jack the trailer back up and put the other, seemingly less frayed tire on in its place.

I jacked it up.

A man drove up on a four-wheeler with his two daughters to see if we needed help. There was nothing he could really do for us, but his willingness to help gave us reason to put some faith back in humanity after our encounters with Talkative Tom from Haines Junction and the dildos at Kal Tire.

Lydian asked me if everything was okay.

I thought for a moment. Hesitated. Wasn’t sure whether I should be honest in answering the two emotionally fragile girls.

“There are Many Shades of Okay…” I told her.

We got the wheel onto the axle in record time and patted ourselves on the back only to lower the trailer down onto a completely flat, airless inner tube.

“Okay…well, (heavy sigh) that’s it. Let’s go.” John said definitively. We detached the trailer from the van and waved goodbye to it as it faded into the distance.

John dropped Lydian, Camile, and me off at Epic Pizza in Whitehorse while he went scavenging for a trailer tire. His plan was to go into RV parks and start asking anyone with a pop-up trailer like ours if we could borrow their spare. We just wanted to get the trailer to an RV park for the night. Then we’d solve the problem of getting a new, permanent set of tires.

Lydian and Camile set up in the front at Epic Pizza and played their set list to a good crowd of enthusiastic Whitehorse Canadians.

On their last song, John showed up, just in time to see them perform. He had tracked down not one, but two tires to get us into an RV park. The girls finished their set and we talked for a few minutes with some friendly Whitehorse folks. I spilled a glass of water on the floor, just to finish off the day with a bang and then we left to go retrieve our home on wheels.

After the gig, there were, of course, no issues getting the RV to the park. Everyone was relieved and invigorated.  The world was a good and happy place again.

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