Wrangell St. Elias: Car Problems

We made our way to drive out of Nabesna. Everything was normal, it was a decent day and we made our way down the road. The plan was to drive to Anchorage before heading out to some of the other Alaska parks, like Lake Clark or Katmai. About 15 miles away from Slana, or the highway, the check engine light comes on and the car starts making noises at us. We stop and Trevor pops the hood. It is clear that something is leaking, but what is it and where is it coming from we are not sure. One of the Nabesna locals who we met at Sportsman’s Paradise checks to see how we are doing.  He offers us a beer, and he and Trevor are able to surmise that our 4th fuel injector is the one causing the leak.

We are still able to drive the car, so we get ourselves to Slana where we can swing by the Ranger Station and call local auto parts stores for the part. We arrive at the Ranger Station five minutes after they close, we call the auto parts stores…all are closed. We resolve to walk down the road to the Hart D Ranch to check in about accommodations. Mary answers the door, we describe our woes and she lets us know that we should check in with Ollie who lives just through the forest. We walk through the forest and emerge behind Ollie’s greenhouse and garden. The chickens and geese are squawking like crazy as we stroll down his drive way and see him working in his shop on a car. He comes out and we explain our predicament and ask for help. He agrees to swing by and see what he can do. As we walk back to our car, we pass dozens of trucks in his driveway. Either he really is good at fixing cars, or he has a truck graveyard. Being that many of the trucks are old and unique, it seems more likely that he has an interest in collecting older cars.

Ollie meets us in the parking lot of the Ranger Station, he pops the hood spits out some chewing tobacco and tells the fly buzzing, “Leave bug, I don’t need ya.” He confirms that the fuel injector is our problem and that he can weld a bead on the broken part that should last us to Glen Allen where we can get the replacement part. He returns to his shop and we wait. When he comes back, we share a couple of beers and chat about live in Alaska and how long he has been in the country. He moved from Montana, but has been here several decades and is the “mechanic” for the area. He is also the President of the local chapter of Alaskans Unite, but more on that later. We thank him, pay him and head back down the Nabesna Road for free camping.

Six miles down the road we come to the first camping spot, but there is already a blue Ford Explorer that has staked out a spot. Given our day, we pull in and ask if we can share the space. They oblige, and we discover that the weld didn’t hold and that we will have to visit Ollie in the morning to see if we can get it redone. With nothing left to do but cook dinner and set up camp, we put up our tent and roll out our sleeping bags. Our camping mates are two Netherlanders, Anna and Tomas, and they have a fire that they offer to share with us. We throw some hot dogs on a stick and bring over a bottle of Old Granddad as a welcoming gift. Anna recently got her PhD and Tomas is a former gym teacher. They are on an epic trip to visit Alaska, the Yukon Territory and then travel through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California before heading to South America. We share some laughs and then make our way to bed.

We get up and head to Ollie’s to check in, and he says to leave the car so that he can put a stronger weld on it. Trevor confirms with NAPA that they have ordered the part, but that it won’t be in for another day. We are stuck in Slana, and we don’t really want to drive anywhere. We head to the visitor’s center for some hot coffee and the Rangers again prove that they are the best. They make us yarrow tea from fresh flowers and we drink and chat for a while before trying on wolf pelts and taking pictures. After a bit, we decide to head over to Hart D, both to send mail and thank Mary for connecting us with Ollie. While there, we ask Mary if she needs any help around the place and she puts us to work mowing the yard. In exchange she provides us with Lemon Pellegrinos, a place to set up our tent and warm showers. It’s super warm and sunny so we take turns mowing while the other one reads and enjoys the sun.

After our incredibly luxurious night we wake up in the morning and drive the 70 miles to Glenallen. NAPA has the part, Trevor replaces it and we are good to go! Crisis averted!!