Had an epic caribou hunting expedition on the Denali Highway last week with hunting partner Steve Fleischman. I had bought a gently used R-Pod in Anchorage and we used the camper as our base while we hunted about 60 miles in, along the Denali Highway.
We left on Friday morning, the 9th, and drove north with no sign of trouble until the truck started to shimmy a little south of Glennallen. The right rear tire had started to separate, and before it blew completely I put on the spare. At the Glennallen gas station, they couldn't help with a tire replacement, so I decided that our luck had to hold, and we continued north another 75 miles to Paxson, where the Denali Highway runs west 135 miles to Cantwell on the Parks Highway. We were trying to get to Milepost 57, where we were to meet up with friend Dave Mesiar and his hunting partner Keith, from Juneau.
We made it to Milepost 56.7, when the left rear tire blew and shredded.
I put the first tire that had started to breakdown back on and we crept another 3/10's of a mile to where Dave and Keith had set up their camp. With no cellphone service and options limited, Dave handed me the keys to his truck, I threw the two flat tires in his truck and headed back out to Paxson and cellphone service. When the gas station in Glennallen said they could have two new tires for me on TUESDAY (4 days in the future), I decided I'd drive back to Palmer (270 miles), spend the night there, and be the first guy through the door at the tire shop at 9am on Saturday morning.
Ruth found me the last room at the Pioneer Motel in Palmer, I was indeed the first guy through the door the next morning, and was heading back north with 4 news tires (two mounted, and two "spares" -- I was taking no chances) at 9:30am.
I was able to get a message to Steve and Dave via Garmin's inReach device, a satellite network marvel, that can do two-way texting and has a "get me outta here" distress option. Didn't need that yet. I texted Steve about my overnight plans and that I should be back Saturday between 2-3pm.
Arriving back at Milepost 57 a little before 3pm, I put the new tires on the back of the truck. Around 4pm Steve got back from his day of hiking and hunting the area and had a good report. He had seen 7 animals, and had been comfortable staying in the camper while I was gone. Awesome, my hunting partner was not disgusted with me and we were going to actually hunt the next day!
And so we did, seeing 11 animals in the process, two of which were magnificent bulls that, I swear to God, shook the ground as they strode along with that deceptively easy gait caribou use to cover distance so quickly. Around 3pm, we stumbled upon a 2-year-old bull, who appeared curious of us (not running away, but instead cautiously moving towards us).
We both shot him from kneeling positions and he was quickly dispatched. Reminding myself to be grateful, we admired the young bull's strong physique and velvety antlers. Field-dressed in an hour and twenty minutes, this dandy bull was just the right weight to split between Steve and me.
Our R-Pod camp was about 3 miles away, and we crawled into camp around 8pm, after taking 5 breaks on the way to get the weight off our backs for a little while.
This was my first caribou hunt, and I hadn't been in that region since I worked on the Alaska Railroad back in the late 1970's. I forgot what gorgeous country it is.
I'll be going back.