“Hank, we have a problem,” my wife Gosia said from the open window of her Jeep. We were just 10 feet into Alaska after a 3,500-mile drive. The temperature was 11 below zero.

Five minutes earlier, I passed through U.S. Customs. The female officer asked why I came to Alaska. I told her I had taken a managing editor job at the News-Miner. She sized me up.

“Don’t you want to just lay back and relax?” she asked.

“No ma’am, I’m not a lay-back-and-relax-type of guy.”

The rear driver’s-side tire was now sponge. Gosia read aloud the air pressure reading. “14, no 13 pounds,” she said.

“The tire’s shot,” I said.

We drove our Jeep and Chevy van on eggshells to the first exit and stopped at a motel.

Manager Jim Bruton pulled the Jeep into a heated garage and extracted a sizable stone from the Alaska Highway.

Over the next hour, Jim called businesses an hour away in Tok to see if they had a tire to fit a Jeep. Nada.

He called a tow company in Tok to ask a driver to stand by if needed.

Jim Bruton and his musher son Grayson Burton saved Gosia Nuwer’s bacon. Photo by Hank Nuwer

That’s when Jim’s 24-year-old son, Grayson, came through the door. Grayson is a musher who finished 23rd in the 2020 Iditarod. He’s a lean, strong young man with stubble on his chin. He went to work in the garage and put on a temporary patch.

Grayson told my wife and me he had purchased five puppies to train for future races. “They have good bloodlines,” his dad assured us.

My wife and I stayed at the motel overnight and set out for Tok in the morning. We drove 30 mph over the good sections of road and about 10 mph over the ruts.

We bid a fond farewell to our two Good Samaritans and promised to come back in the spring to do a cookout.

We reached the tow company in Tok. We know Tok well because we own 15 acres of woods there.

A worker put a permanent patch on for $45. He informed us a tow from U.S. Customs would have cost $2,000.

We grabbed sandwiches at Fast Eddy’s and rushed to Fairbanks. I reported for work the next day. Gosia printed her boarding passes for the flight back to put our house up for sale.

Our first 10 feet into Alaska couldn’t have been worse. A stranger and his son saved our bacon.

“A lot of people helped me in my life,” Jim Burton said. “It’s only right I help people every chance I get.”


Part Two

Fairbanks by drone. Courtesy Aaron Woods

View of Fairbanks, Tanana Valley. Photo by Aaron Woods

Bridge over Tanana River by Aaron Woods


Gosia and I reached Fairbanks last night. We stayed at a temporary flat.  It’s BIG and well-appointed. I needed a road map last night to locate the bathroom.

We hope to get the keys to the cabin as soon as the paper opens this morning.  We rented a garage with the cabin. We’ll unload one vehicle at a time and get our Jeep and van washed asap. We’ll bop into the Fred Meyer store (owned jointly now by Kroger & Safeway) to get milk, eggs, cereal, and (@Dave Westol and @Joe Gilman) a bacon slab.  We are still on Indiana time in our heads and put on coffee at 3 a.m.  I ate two pieces of left-over jalapeno pizza.  I offered Gosia a slice, but she must not have been hungry judging from the face she made.

Thanks to you who accompanied us on our trip. We are humbly grateful, Friends.

Keep reading this blog for future travel adventures to come.

Oh, I hope the FAA plane snafu I heard about on the radio in Whitehorse is fixed since Gosia flies Fairbanks to Indianapolis Saturday and will be at her accounting job in Ohio on Monday.

We stayed two hours in Tok and spent them at Willard’s Tire Repair and Towing Service and Fast Eddie’s restaurant.  Gosia had haddock and salad.  I opted for the Swiss mushroom burger with fries. Back on the diet today!

For breakfast yesterday, Gosia and I found two sausage and egg sandwiches at a roadside stop where we gassed up (knowing it would be 60 or more miles without another gas station). I had to check in the dark van cab to make sure I was eating the sandwich and wasn’t accidentally munching on my snow boot.

The snows in Tok were pretty deep, and so we didn’t chance taking the trail to our property north of Tok.

We saw lots of moose and buffalo on this trip but, surprisingly, no caribou or wild sheep.

The buffalo and moose have to live through harsh winters.  Not only do they have to traverse snowdrifts, but the highway snowplows create deep mounds along the highway.  No wonder the big beasts like to congregate on the highways and in cleared parking areas.

The buffalo and moose hang out in these cleared places like high school boys in school parking lots.  The only difference is that the animals don’t smoke cigarettes in the parking lot.