Growing Up Alaska: Here is how you learn to drive stick

I grew up driving various types of vehicles. My first solo drive was a Korean War Era ambulance when I was 6, but that is another story. I had my own snow machine when I was 7 and I drove heavy equipment at the mine. Many times I was entrusted to take the family truck to go pick someone up or get water.

But out of all the vehicles I had ever driven, I never really learned to drive a stick shift.

So when I was 16 and went to buy my first vehicle, upon the recommendation of my dad, I chose an S-10 Blazer with a manual transmission. Though I kind of knew how to drive a stick shift, I never had any real experience with them.

Dad drove my new vehicle to meet up with my mother who was finishing up the shopping. After loading up the truck and filling up with gas, we began the long drive home to Central.

At that time, about 50 miles of the 128 mile road was paved and traversed three large summits. Most of the road was gravel that was graded occasionally, but I had grown up driving on these roads and they didn’t really intimidate me.

My mother was concerned about the roads and my lack of experience, so she drove my blazer for me. I really wanted to drive, but I wasn’t comfortable yet, especially with those steep summits, and I enjoyed being a passenger in my new vehicle.

We crossed over the first summit and when we reached the bottom, my dad, driving in the lead, pulled over onto the shoulder. I assumed something in the back of the truck had shifted or a strap had come loose, so I didn’t think anything of it when my mom pulled over behind him.

She got out to see what was wrong, expressing her worry that something might be wrong with the truck as we had just had the oil serviced. She walked up to the driver’s side window and my parents talked, then she went to the passenger side and climbed in.

And they left me there.

I was still sitting in the passenger seat, trying to figure out what they were doing as they pulled away. I sprang out of my blazer and ran to the front, watching them disappear around the bend.

Stunned, I climbed into the driver’s seat and started the blazer. Ever so carefully, I let out the clutch and slowly accelerated. I shifted into second before I reached the bend, and then struggled with third before getting up to highway speed and cycled up to fifth.

About ten miles up the road I caught up to my parents who had pulled over on a long straight stretch. When they saw me, they took off again and I drove my blazer home.

It was strange hitting the gravel with a new lighter vehicle. I immediately discovered that the blazer reacted differently and I had to drive with a lighter touch as the back end wanted to sway a bit more as it tried to get a grip.

12 Mile was my first summit and I stalled out on the second big climb where the road switch backs on itself and I didn’t downshift correctly. I had to restart on the steep incline and after a couple of attempts, I made the corner and reached the top where my parents were waiting.

By the time I reached Eagle Summit, I was more confident in my shifting and though I did struggle as I downshifted, I didn’t stall out this time and it was smooth sailing home.

As we pulled into the drive to our house, I found a place to park and climbed out, grinning from ear to ear.

Dad was also grinning, proud that I had done it. “I told you I would teach you how to drive a stick shift!” he said with a laugh. “Anything else you need to know?”

There wasn’t. I’d already had the experience and now I had the confidence.

Author: matthewlasley

I am a school teacher and an author. I like to write picture books, middle grade, science fiction and short stories. I live in Alaska and I love history, so those two things often influence my creative writing.

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