Home Run

By , February 5, 2011

As I indicated yesterday, I’m back on the homestead after driving back from Fairbanks with my sister-in-law. Although I’d been a bit apprehensive about certain details of the trip, such as learning at the last minute that their big, hurkin’ 4-Runner is not, in fact, a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but a rear-drive, I figured we’d be okay. After all, she’d been driving the car around Fairbanks for more than two winters.

The roads were quite clear most of the way. Where they weren’t, traction remained good. The little trailer we towed turned out to be light and highly aerodynamic. The temperatures were high for the region, about mid-range of our recent low temperatures in Haines. I never wore the long johns I took along. I didn’t even use my heavier gloves. In fact, the moment I felt coldest on the entire trip came when Michelle, Aly and I, reunited, hiked through a heavy, sideways rain across the bay. It was probably about 40°, but we got drenched.When we arrived in Haines Junction, BC Canada, we asked about conditions on the pass home. Normally, I’d just turn on the weather radio, as pass-specific forecasts for Haines Highway and Skagway’s White Pass dominate the reports between October and May, but I didn’t know where to tune up there, nor did we have a weather radio. Locals told us that if the red lights weren’t flashing down at the transportation depot near the bridge, everything would be okay.

And they were, until we climbed up into the pass. Then everything whited out. I anticipated pointing out Three Guardsman Mountain and the other areas where we had hiked with friends in the past, but as far as we could see, no mountains existed. Nothing existed except a vast sea of white, bare patches of light gray pavement between snow drifts, and ghostly lines of thin black poles marking either edge of the highway. I had the wheel at the time, so I doggedly followed the right line of poles, trying not to stray too close to them.

The worst moment came when we actually saw another vehicle—possibly the only one we encountered on the pass. Of course, it was a huge semi truck, barreling down the slope toward us at speed. At that point, we passed a pull out. I couldn’t see if it had been plowed or not, so I dared not stray into it, but the line of poles looped away to follow its contour. The next pole at the shoulder stood too far away to be seen through the white out. In a moment it appeared, where it should be, the truck whizzed past, and we were still alive.

When we arrived home, we learned that the weather service had issued a winter storm warning for the pass, which explains why we saw so few travelers!

By the way, today, or perhaps tomorrow, is the anniversary of one of our area’s most spectacular and mysterious shipwrecks.

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