“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.
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.”
Contact News-Miner Managing Editor Hank Nuwer at email@example.com.