Alaskan Trail Adventure – Part 5
“Aaron is going to take the easy trail out,” Scout said as we followed the Jeep.
The track we were on was wider than most of the other paths and gently flowed up onto the side of the mountain before dipping back down to the plain. There were very few muddy areas, for which I was grateful, but the truck got stuck in one of them.
“Oh, no,” I whispered. I felt fear coil in my belly as I envisioned another vehicle left behind.
“Nah, it’s not that bad.” Scout had jumped out to assess the situation and was now climbing back in the cab. “Aaron’s already hooked on.”
I realized there was a cable attached to the truck from the Jeep only a moment before feeling the tug and hearing the loud Chevy engine roar. Within moments, we were free. Brian squeezed my hand, and I tried to smile at him, but I was too tired.
We were on the flatland, but still in the brush, when Scout cursed.
“What is it?” Brian asked.
“I’ve lost four-wheel drive. It must have happened when we got stuck the first time and just now quit. But we’re almost out of here, and there aren’t any difficult obstacles ahead. It just sucks because it’s expensive.”
“Yeah, that’s not good, man.”
“But we’re okay, right?” I needed to know.
“Yep. We should be in the parking lot in about an hour,” Scout responded.
Hearing that, I thought we might be far enough away from the mountain that I could get a cell signal. It was dark, now, and I couldn’t see the outlines of the range. I switched on my phone. It beeped, then lit up, showing three bars. I quickly dialed our friend James. He answered on the second ring.
“James, we need you to come rescue us,” I spoke quickly, not knowing how long the signal would last.
He started laughing.
“No, shut up! I’m serious. I need you to go to my house, get the Suburban, and come get us.”
James stopped laughing. “Where are you?”
I started to tell him but then Brian spoke up. “Let me talk to him.”
I handed the phone over and listened while my husband briefly told James what happened and gave him directions to the trailhead. It was only a minute or two before Brian hung up.
“Well?” I prompted.
“He’ll be there. He said he’ll grab us dinner on the way, too.”
“Oh, thank goodness! Also, I am never doing this with you again.”
“Why are you laughing? Why did James laugh at me? Do I sound funny when I’m dead serious?” My anger flared.
“It’s not that. You’re this short, little, blonde thing, and you sound so fierce when you’re upset. But it’s hard to be afraid of you.” He leaned over and kissed me.
I pulled away from him a little. “Gee, thanks.”
Without warning, there was a loud crunch and the truck started jerking. Brian looked out the open window at the front wheel. “Blew a tire. Better stop,” he told Scout.
Jason pulled up beside us and then peeled away to tell his dad what happened. Aaron backed up a bit then got out of the Jeep. “How bad?” he asked when he got to the truck.
“Bad,” Scout replied.
Hearing that, I wriggled over Abby’s car seat, being careful not to jostle her, to look down at the tire.
“It’s shredded!” I exclaimed. “How did that even happen?”
“I don’t know. But that’s not the worst part. I don’t have a spare.”
I stared at him. Brian’s jaw clenched. I could tell he was wondering just what kind of experienced trail rider didn’t take a spare.
“Well, let’s get this tire off and we’ll take it to town. I have a buddy that has a shop. He’ll help us.” Aaron once again took charge of the situation. “We’re only about twenty minutes out.”
I sat with my knees tucked up to my chest as the men jacked the truck up and pulled the tire off. The mosquitos began swarming to the scent of fresh blood, so I quickly rolled up the windows, but I felt terrible as I watched my husband constantly swatting the back of his neck and waving his hand in front of his face as he worked. It didn’t take very long, and soon Brian was back in the cab with me. The tire had been strapped to the top of the Rubicon, and Scout was on the back of the four-wheeler behind Jason.
“There isn’t room, so we’ll wait here. It should only be a couple of hours. How’s Abby?”
“Sleeping. But why did you let them take our children and just leave us? What if they don’t come back?” My chest tightened and I tried to calm my breathing.
“They’ll be back. Tabitha and her mom are both angry at this. I told them James should be there, so he can take the kids and at least feed them.”
I sighed and leaned back. It was so quiet once the other vehicles left that I could hear the mosquitoes buzzing outside. The poor dogs in the bed of the truck were shaking and snapping at the bugs, but after a while, they finally gave up and just laid down.
“Those poor dogs,” I said quietly into the darkness.
“I know. But there isn’t room for them in here.”
I knew that, and my anger at Scout and his recklessness flared all over again. He definitely was not prepared for this outing.
I dozed off and on, waiting to hear the engines of the Jeep and four-wheeler returning. At one point, I checked my phone and saw I had two text messages. I only got to read one before the battery died. It was from James saying, “Never mind.”
“What do you think he needed?” I asked.
“Maybe he was looking for the parking lot but found it.”
“I hope so. I hope he has our kids and they’re all sleeping in the Suburban, waiting for us. I hate this.”
“I know. Some Mother’s Day, huh? I’m so sorry it turned into such a disaster.”
Around 3 am, the Rubicon finally arrived with Aaron, Scout, and a new tire.
“What took so long?” Brian demanded. “You said it would only be a couple of hours!”
“My buddy had to go to the warehouse in Anchorage to get a new tire. He didn’t have one on hand. We’re so sorry. Are you ok?”
We were cold, exhausted, and irritated. I was also grateful that Abby, at only three months old, was already sleeping through the night. She, at least, was warm and cozy. I just nodded in response, though.
“Tabitha went home, but your kids are sleeping in Martha’s truck with her.”
“What? Our friend was supposed to be there!” Panic bloomed again in my chest.
“I don’t know, we never saw him.”
I shook my head. I couldn’t believe that James would have left without knowing what was going on. It wasn’t like him. Please let him be okay, I prayed.
It didn’t take long to get the new tire on the truck and it seemed like a very short ride to the parking lot.
“We could have walked out,” I muttered to Brian.
“Yeah, maybe. But those mosquitos are horrible. They would have eaten Abby like crazy!”
Once reunited with my family, I sat in the Jeep and borrowed Martha’s cell phone. First, I called James’s apartment, then our house, thinking he might be there waiting for us. There was no answer. After a short conversation with my husband, I turned to Martha.
“Can you take us to the Moose Inn?” It was a small motel, just up the road. I wanted a shower and a bed.
When we got to the motel, Martha told me James had called back and said he was at our house. I called him there, and he said he had just gone outside for a smoke when I called the first time.
“Where were you?” I demanded.
“I was there! When you called me the first time, I thought you were already off the trail. No one was at the parking lot when I got there so I thought maybe you were waiting for me in a twenty-four-hour diner or something. I drove around a bit, looking for you. I even went to the hospital and called the state troopers.”
I felt embarrassed that I would ever think James would abandon me.
“I didn’t know what else to do, so I went back to your house to wait. Where are you? I’m leaving right now.”
Instead of checking into a motel for only an hour, we arranged to meet James at the local grocery store that was always open. When we go there, we went in to use the restroom. I changed Abby’s and Adam’s diapers and came out to see Brian had bought some socks and sneakers. I happily changed out of his clunky rubber boots into something that fit a little better.
At 5:40 am, James pulled into the parking lot. I hugged him, and he helped to get the kids all settled in their seats.
“I’ll drive,” Brian said.
I sat in the back seat next to Maddy, her head resting against my arm, and listened as Brian told James the whole story. All the kids were sleeping, and soon their soft breathing and the knowledge that I was safe lulled me into sleep. I woke up when the Suburban stopped moving, and Brian asked James to drive. I didn’t wake up again until we got home. I looked at the clock on the dash. It was almost 8 a.m.
“I suppose it’s breakfast time,” I sighed.
Sadly, the children had all slept most of the night, and despite the adventure and interruptions, they were ready for the day.
“No school today,” I said.
Maddy and Matthew cheered.
“No work for me either. I need to go get my rig before it gets vandalized.” Brian turned on the computer and posted in the local four-wheeling message board asking for help.
I settled the kids in the living room with a movie and dozed on the sofa, curled around Abby as she kicked and cooed. Around noon, Brian was pulling on fresh clothes.
“I have five guys who are going to meet me at the trailhead at 1:30. Are you going to be okay here without a car?”
“Uh, yes. I’m not going anywhere today. I’m too tired.” I stood up, moving Abby to the floor, and hugged my husband. “Be careful.”
“I will,” he said. And then he was gone.
I didn’t hear from him again until 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. He said they managed to drag the Durango out and get it on a rented U-Haul trailer. By 9 a.m., he was home and the Durango was at a shop getting checked out. Brian said somehow the transmission was also cracked. I bitterly remembered Scout complaining about his expensive repairs and thought I would much rather have a broken four-wheel drive than a cracked transmission and busted driveline.
But everyone was safe and at home. I made sure to tell Madelyn and Matthew how proud I was of them for being so good and doing what needed to be done. Brian made a point to tell me how strong and resilient I am, and my heart almost burst with joy. He rarely gave compliments, so hearing that made me realize that I did something amazing on Mother’s Day.
It was an adventure to remember, and one I never wanted to repeat.