Right now, I’m laying in the back of an 18 wheel car hauler with the trucker’s dog, Misty. Wesley is in the front seat chatting with the trucker and our broken jeep is on hanging off the back of the hauler. The truck driver likes Coke. There’s coke cans in a case and Misty’s shedding hair is everywhere. The bed where I’m sitting is quite comfy. I’ve been trying to nap to pass the time. I haven’t had much of it this week and my body has been feeling the effects. For the past 2 days, Wes and I have been taking DayQuil to try and break a cold we picked up. So… how did we get here?!
The Break Down
Our jeep broke down 30 miles west of Tok, Alaska which is the middle of… nowhere. With a population of 1,100 Tok was a pretty decent “middle of nowhere”. There’s a dank diner – Fast Eddy’s, a motel, gas station and mechanic that tows. We were coming from Anchorage, Alaska, cresting another hill on our journey to the Arctic ocean when the engine gave out with complete loss of power. We had the hood up on the side of Alaska 1, Glenn/Tok Highway. Not many vehicles passed us, but there was 1 semi truck who stopped in the middle of the road and asked us if we wanted a ride into town, Tok.
Wes trying to figure out what happened to the jeeps engine.
Awesome 18 wheeler that picked us up!
The truckers were a lovely couple, Russ and Sandy. I climbed in the back with Sandy and sat on the bed and Wes in the front with Russ. They’ve been in Alaska for over 30 years, Sandy retired as a secretary from her school on Seldovia and Russ owns his own trucking company. The school in Seldovia, where they live, used to have close to 125 students, but as fishing has decreased and kids are no longer returning to their small towns due to lack of work, today there are 25 students total in K-12.
With such great conversation, we forgot we were out of cell phone range, but finally got edge when we reached Tok, 30 miles later. We started calling our insurance and towing companies. The last thing we wanted was our jeep to be on the side of the highway, in the middle of nowhere with impending snow coming in over the mountains. As we waited for Geico to do their thing with the tow company, we had a lovely dinner with the trucker couple.
Russ, with his indestructible Nokia flip phone, has proudly never sent a text or email in his entire life! They were so sweet, we exchanged numbers, they wanted to be able to check in on us and offered to give us a ride back into Anchorage in a few days when they pass back through. They left the diner and went to their motel room next door. We stayed in the diner for a few hours researching solutions and communicating with insurance. In the wake of the seriousness, the UFC fan that I am needed to find out who won the Kabib-Connor fight. Lone behold, their evening was also filled with chaos, but that’s another story.
After we called insurance, we sat down for a dinner at Fast Eddys with Sandy and Russ, our new friends. Thanks for your help!
Fast Eddys & the Semi in Tok, AK.
The first towing company we called went out and took 3 hours before deemed it unsafe to tow our jeep, due to snow, so came back into Tok empty handed. We later found out they went to mile marker 90 and the jeep was on 88… The bigger issue, they still had our key and wanted us to pay for their trip out to look for the jeep. Luckily for us, we had a spare key and asked a waitress if there was another towing company in town and got recommended to a small town guy who had a trailer. We gave him a call and he said he would do it that night. He met us at the diner and since its such a small town he knew everyone in the restaurant. They asked for $200 cash for the tow. We pulled out cash, hesitated, and gave him the money while we hoped for the best… He told us it would take about 2 hours, and would be done around midnight. Without the jeep, we were forced to book a motel room. We stayed in room 36. Ironically, right next door to our new trucker friends, Sandy and Russ.
In The Room
The motel wasn’t bad. There were 2 full size beds, thin red bed cover and a bathroom with 1 bar of soap and 1 “conditioning shampoo”. We continued conversing on the phone with insurance. They dealt with the trucking companies and got instructions from the first trucking company that our key was their glove compartment of their towing truck, and we could just go grab it anytime. We joked, “is this a set up?”, since they had asked for money for the trip. We reluctantly bundled up and walked across the street to the tow shop, found the big black tow truck and opened the glove box to find our key. Back in the motel room, the 2nd tow truck called us around 1am saying they had our jeep and will keep it at their house for the night and meet us at the Chevron mechanic shop at 12:00, noon, the following day. We were anxious to not have the jeep back in our possession, but relieved it was off the highway.
The Next Day
The next morning, we showered and left the motel at 11am, had lunch at the diner and then walked a half mile, in the cold, to the Chevron to be reunited with our jeep. The tow guy came about 20 minutes late… but did drop the jeep off. We dusted off the snow and did a quick check of the engine. I was really cold, so we popped our roof tent up and I wrapped myself up in the warm sleeping bag. I posted to our Instagram channel while Wesley was troubleshooting the engine over the phone with my uncle, whose a car mechanic.
Unloading the jeep from the trailer.
The jeep looks okay on the outside, but the engine doesn’t sound good at all…
Things were looking bad at all fronts. With poor cell phone signal, we both ran out of roaming data, the jeep barely turning on, we were both cold… so we decided to walk back to the diner, the only place with WiFi and make a plan to get the jeep towed. As we walked, we passed by a Shell gas station with a big 18 wheel car carrier. It had some room… and Wesley joked that we should ask if we could hitch a ride! I thought that was brilliant and started running, as the truck was starting to take off. We caught up with the truck and the driver, Rick, came out with his tobacco dip and dog barking out the window.
We told him about our situation, and wanted to get more info about how we could hire someone, like him, to get a car moved. He asked where we were going, and we awkwardly said… literally anywhere but here… He gave his business partner, his son, a call and said it would be okay if we hopped on to one of his empty spots for $100! We just needed to pass 1 test… his dog had to approve of us. His pup, Misty, jumped out the truck, sniffed us and didn’t bark, so Rick said we could join.
We drove down the road to pickup the jeep. Normally, loading a vehicle on the truck is simple, you just drive it up on the truck. But since ours wasn’t tuning on, we spent 75 minutes winching the jeep onto the truck. Wes helped Rick get the jeep on board while I shot videos and called our families to update them of our situation. Our phones were dying and we had barely had signal so this was our last chance for awhile to share an update. Before we left Tok, Rick went in to get Misty a beef stick. He gave me the beef stick to feed Misty, so she would get comfortable with us being in the truck. Safe to say, we are best friends now!
Our jeep is all loaded up on the truck!
Since the jeep wouldn’t start, it took them a while to winch it up onto the trailer.
Wesley rode in the front and I laid in the back on the bed with the dog. The past 48 hours had been crazy. Halfway into the trip, we stopped at a Thai shack in another small town. The full trip generally takes 6 hours int he jeep, but took 8 hours in the truck. I slept for about half of it, I got wonderful sleep. It’s been helping me recover from my sickness, the bed is real comfy albeit, filled with dog hair, but comfort nonetheless. At around midnight we made it to Wasilla, where the first of the vehicles was getting dropped off. We offloaded the jeep and spent the night there in our Ursa Minor.
Unloaded and loaded it back up in the morning, headed off to Anchorage.
Making it to Anchorage
The next morning, we finished the drive into Anchorage and Rick drove us right up to the jeep dealership. Wes had been communicating with Lithia Jeep of Anchorage, so they were expecting us. Getting the Jeep off the truck was a lot easier than getting it on, and luckily for us, once it was off it started off and was easy to move into a spot for the dealership. Although the dealership said they are 2 weeks out for appointments, since we were travelers and had something going on, they would diagnose it right away. Right when we got there, they were on it. Within two hours, they told us the news…
We checked your engine and there is more metal floating around in there than oil. Sorry to say, but you’re going to need a new engine put in.
Not good news… Actually its the worst possible news we could have received. We literally JUST put a new transmission in, and now we’re going to need a new engine… They did have the replacement engine in town and it was discounted, so on a positive note, it should be done in about a week. We didn’t have any other choice than to fix it. Selling a vehicle in Alaska this time of year is awful, shipping it down to the lower 48 states would cost at least $2k and the jeep is our home… So… we sucked up the cost and agreed to the fix.
Thats the color of the engine oil… not a good sign.
Made it to the jeep dealership in Anchorage!
With a new transmission and new engine, the jeep is pretty much a new vehicle. When we purchased the jeep used just over a year ago, it had 111k miles on it. Pulling into dealership, the jeep has 150k miles on it… Although the engine should and could have lasted a lot longer than 150k miles, its old enough to not be that weirded out by the misfortune.
On another positive note, Wes keeps a detailed log of everything thats ever been done to the jeep. Oil changes, strange sounds, tire rotations, etc. pretty much everything since we got the jeep. But we have no clue how the previous owners took care of the engine or what had happened to the Jeep before then. This will be a new ‘fresh’ start for us and the jeep. The new engine will have a 3 year, 100k mile warranty (New goal, we’re hoping to hit the 100k miles before the 3 years expires!)
And one final note… we keep reminding ourselves, this is in part what we signed up for. These things happen when you live out of your vehicle. We have to be prepared for them, and take the bad with the good. But most importantly… through this entire experience; we’ve seen the worst in the jeep, but the absolute best in humanity. Thank you to all those that have helped us out along the way, especially in our misfortune. Russ and Sandy thank you, Rick and Misty, our friend /family for their continued support, everyone in Tok, and all those at the dealership squeezing us in – thank you!
Its going to take at least a week for the dealership to get the jeep fixed. The dealership gave us a tip that we could get a really cheap rental car this time of year. We went on kayak.com and got a car for $8/day to be picked up at the Anchorage airport. We took an Uber to the airport and got issued, a… Toyota Prius… literally couldn’t get more opposite from a jeep. Wes’ friend Devan has overlanded in a Prius and loves it, he says its cool because the engine is so quiet it can just always stay on with the heater/AC. Tonight we’re going to spend the night in the Prius at Cabellas and test it out.
… they gave us a Prius …