Growing Up Alaska: No Backing Out

My older brother Clint had gotten a job in Juneau and was looking to get his stuff from Anchorage to there. The thing about Juneau, there is only two ways to get there, boat and plane. To move all his stuff, that meant the most efficient method was ferry.

Clint couldn’t drive into Canada because he’d received a DUI for sitting in the parking lot in the middle of winter with his car running for warmth while he waited for a cab. It was dumb, but it was the law and this prevented him from entering Canada by vehicle.

So when I agreed to drive his stuff down, the plan was for me to drive his U-Haul to the ferry terminal just south of Anchorage and take the ferry to Juneau. Only, this turned out to cost thousands of dollars and the plan changed for me to drive through Canada to Haines where it was a few hour ferry ride to Juneau.

We packed all of Clint’s belongings into a 26 foot U-Haul truck along with loading his car up onto a trailer to be towed behind the truck. This added nearly another 20 feet to the length.

And I got to do this trip in early October when most of the businesses along the Alcan Highway closed down for the winter and temperatures could plummet to minus 40.

From Anchorage to Haines it was about a 15 hour drive, but driving this truck, I expected it would take me closer to 18, so I decided to stop in Haines Junction which would make for a 13-14 hour day. The border was not always open at night and I figured I could cross in the morning and make it with plenty of time to catch the 2 pm ferry.

The trip went smoothly with only minor issues. It was a good thing I planned to stop in Haines Junction, because the gas station was closed and the pump was having difficulties reading my card. I made an early start and made it to Haines in time to get breakfast and watch some football at a local diner.

I called my brother and told him that the trip had gone well with no real issues. I was just waiting for the ferry and would see him that night.

I drove down to the ferry terminal and got waved into line. After checking in, I was told that since I was so long, they wanted me to load first. I was fine with that and didn’t think of anything as one of the workers began to explain the loading procedure. The turned me around and said that I would need to back onto the ferry.

Backing up has never been my favorite thing to do, especially with a trailer in an unfamiliar vehicle of enormous size. I was grateful that I would be able to back on first and could use the whole ferry ramp which was just over two car’s wide.

What all of them failed to mention to me was made extremely clear as the ferry pulled in was that the ferry was not loading straight on, but was loading from the side. Down a one lane ramp. With flimsy rails.

And to make matters worse, the other side of the ferry, which was narrower than the entire length of the U-Haul and trailer, was open and the only thing between me and the ocean was a fabric mesh fence.

Oh, and one more thing. I had to make a blind 90 degree turn at the bottom.

I slowly lined up my approach and the guy who was supposed to be guiding me disappeared since I was as wide as the ramp and my mirrors were tucked in so I could squeeze on. He appeared in front of me and guided me from the front, so I was backing down an inclined ramp by paying attention to the guy in front of me as he took direction from the guy at the bottom.

I was blind and felt like throwing up and I prayed the brakes didn’t give out or the engine stalled.

Amazingly, I made it on my first attempt. My guide told me that they had loaded me a half an hour early expecting it to take me that long. It felt like a half an hour, but only a few minutes had passed.

I had actually backed the trailer onto the loading ramp which made me realize that when we reached Juneau, we were going to exit out of the side again.

Sure enough we did. The tidal change in many parts of Alaska can be over 20 feet, so it was low tide in Juneau when we arrived and the ramp was very steep. I was the last one off, so the ramp was also slick from all the other drivers go up it in the rain.

Since there was a 90 degree turn at the bottom, it meant I couldn’t make a run for it, so I had to ease my way up the slippery ramp, again praying the engine wouldn’t stall and that I would keep traction.

The tires slipped a couple of times, but once I got the trailer straight, the ascent went more smoothly than I anticipated.

After dropping the truck off at my brother’s place, I told him he wasn’t allowed to move anymore and if he did, he was hiring movers.

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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