The AlCan roads continued to be positively lunar, the way back every bit as murderously potholed as the way up. With each bounce and jostle, Miracle winced in pain and I apologized—to her, to the bus, to Jolene, to the cars stacked up behind us. At least we had some good seats.
I don’t expect anyone reading this blog to recall the exact story behind each and every part of my bus although I documented the renovation process ad nauseam on this site. But I took some pride in procuring some 1973 low back seats from a guy out in New Jersey and then reupholstering them with Wolfsburg West horsehair and having the vinyl custom-made. They matched the interior of the bus perfectly and they looked amazing. I even had little seatbelt straps made at Xenia Shoe and Leather before we left. The problem is seats from 1973 are not meant for long-haul drives, especially on the AlCan.
Ken Mitchell, one of our Season Three interviewees shared a key piece of advice with us: Vanagon and Bay seats are interchangeable. The tracks are standard. As it so happened, Tim had a Vanagon on his property he was trying to sell. The only two seats in the entire van were the captain seats. So we traded. The Vanagon now has a touch of Bay Window charm and we had some more comfortable seats to buffer our bones as we rattled down the road. Thank you, Tim!
We careened through Burwash Landing and set our sights on Destruction Bay for a pit stop—fuel, pee, buy some Cheetos. The usual. As I filled up the tank, I noticed the rear tire was low. I knelt down, no it was flat. Luckily, along the AlCan free air is a thing. As I filled the tire, trying to locate the leak, the gas station attendant told me I should just take it down the road to Charlie.
“Down the road” on the AlCan is a unit of measurement that can mean the next city over. The next city might well be 85 people and four hours. But the attendant clarified and said, “No more than a hundred yards.” I looked at the uneven gravel ground and the sidewall of the flat, which looked a little rough. I topped off the tire and drove to Charlie’s place.
Charlie is 82 years old. His mother was indigenous and his father was a Norwegian trapper. And, just a few weeks ago, Charlie had open-heart surgery, which meant I needed to do any heavy lifting and we had a chance to chat. We agreed the flat could be saved, but probably demoted to a spare and we would put on the spare. Instead of me crawling around on the gravel and using my rinky-dink patch kit to save the tire, Charlie did a bang-up job and got us in and out in less than 20 minutes. I said it before and I will reiterate it now: folks like Charlie are the heart and soul of our economy. Thank you, Charlie.