Out of Gas & Cell Service on the Chilkat Pass

My husband has jerry-rigged so much stuff, his last name should be a verb:

“Wow, you really Haffner’d that one…”

“Dang, check out that Haffner!”

And the more embarrassing, “Sort of a half-ass Haffner, don’t you think?”

Don’t get me wrong, I mean this in the most loving way possible. If it weren’t for his McGiver skills at turning non-working crap into working crap, we probably wouldn’t have been able to buy the house we live in now.

But it means that we end up in some interesting adventures, which can, at times, result in some downright conundrums.

During the weeks leading up to it, I was in complete and utter denial that this road trip would ever come to fruition.

It will never happen, I thought hopefully to myself. He won’t get the truck fixed in time.

Our flat-bed work truck, affectionately named “the Behemoth” by my husband, had bad brakes, a bad front end, was covered in thick layer of dirt from the seats to the dash, a broken fuel gauge, busted shocks, and just a few weeks ago wasn’t even running.

We are not taking that top-heavy beast on a road trip through mountain passes without cell service with a camper on top. Ain’t gonna happen, I assured myself. I had a good feeling we would end up stranded if we did.

Yet, by jerry rig and jerry jug, my husband did it. He fixed the flat-bed sufficiently enough to take it on the road. And now here we were, in the middle of nowhere, with no gas, no cell service, and no safe pull-outs.

And I thought my white-knuckle road-tripping days were over…

But, as they say in Captain Underpants, before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this story:

Back at the hot springs, after annoying everyone with our human-sized floating donuts, unicorns, and rainbows, we had two choices: either get kicked out of the hot springs, or make tracks towards the ultimate goal: Haines and the Southeast Alaska State Fair. 

Half way to Haines, we glamped in the beautiful refuge that is the mosquito-infested campgrounds of Lake Kathleen, sleeping in a fancy-schmancy otentik. 

Kathleen Lake

What the heck is an otentik? And what language is that, anyway? I’m not really sure, but it was a pretty sweet A-frame cabin with fat mattresses that fit all nine of us, lovely open wooden beams, electrical outlets, and a woodstove.

The next day we got news that the ferry workers had gone on strike. This is important because Juneau is surrounded by ocean and ice fields, and the ferry was our only way to get home.

While our friends rejoiced at the prospect of an extended vacation, we scratched our heads trying to figure out how we would get ourselves, our truck and camper and all of our stuff back home. At least we could still drive to Haines for the Fair, unlike our other friends stuck in Juneau who now couldn’t go to the Fair due to the ferry strike.

We fueled up at the last gas station in Haines Junction and set off to enjoy beautiful no-man’s-land. Empty, reception-free vistas of enormous mountain peaks greeted us like a morning meditation. We spotted a grizzly bear, a black fox, and captured a dead dragonfly.

No cell service, left brain turned off, I watched out my passenger window as Jason drove the beastly Behemoth through the Chilkat Mountains pass, past intimidating rocky mountains.

“If you want to get away from everyone, you go live up there.” Jason gestured towards the mean mountain ahead of us that harbored absolutely zero life, aptly named the Three Guardsmen. 

The mean mountain that ate our gas

And just as we finally hit the top of the pass and started coming down, happily noting that the landscape was becoming green and friendlier, Jason said, “Uh oh. Something’s not right with the truck.”

He tried turning the ignition off and on again as I channeled my inner zen. 


“I’ll see how far I can coast it,” he said. “Might be out of gas.”

I am the eye of the hurricane, I am the eye of the hurricane...

So we coasted it. We coasted and we coasted and we coaster — coastin’ Koester —how is it we’re still going downhill?!We coasted it down hills that gave us just enough intertia to get over the next little hump, then down again, picking up speed… uh oh going too fast now! 

“I hate to put on the brakes, but I have to slow down,” Jason said. “Can’t take that corner going at this speed…” He was right– we couldn’t take those turns any faster than 30 in our top-heavy flatbed with camper on top. 

We literally coasted for about ten minutes down hills until we saw a steep hill coming up. 

“I can’t make it up that,” Jason said. 

“Okay,” I chimed in, “let’s look for a safe pull out.” No way could we stop in the middle of the highway around one of these hills. Think of the children!

Praise Jesus, we spotted a pull out. “Let’s pull in there!” I suggested. 

“But I think I can make it up the hill!” Jason replied. 

“But we don’t know what’s past that corner. What if the hill keeps going and we’re stuck in the middle of the road? Pull over!” I ordered. 

Thankfully, he listened to me and pulled off. From our vantage point I could see that the hill kept going – thank goodness we had pulled off when we did or we would have stalled out in the middle of the highway around a corner.

Once stopped, Jason opened the hood and checked the fuel tank while I pumped the gas pedal and turned the ignition.

Yep, out of gas. No cell service.

At this time Jason thought he should inform me that one of the fuel tanks on the truck was broken. The only working tank held 20 gallons, which clearly was not sufficient to get from Haines Junction to Haines proper.

Um… oops?

As I waited to be rescued by a moose-riding mounty carrying multiple strips of maple bacon, Jason came up with an idea:

“I can use the fuel from the generator!” he exclaimed.

He pulled out the generator and a tiny jerry jug and carefully poured every drop into the jug. We had less than half a gallon of gas. Well, if it’s enough to get over the next hill… 

Jason then proceeded to pour the gasoline from the jerry jug into the Behemoth, but the gas went all over his hands. 

He tried fixing the jerry jug and repeated the exercise, with the same result. Big mess on his hands, and we couldn’t afford to waste even a drop! 

“I have to break it to fix it. Unless I break it and then it’s broken…” he said. He broke the jerry jug spout and tried it again—it worked! 

“Okay, we have less than a half a gallon of gas! Let’s go!”

The truck received just enough fuel to make it over the next few humps, then we coasted down the mountain and into the U.S.-Canada border. Never have I been so happy to come back through the U.S. border.

We asked the immigration officials if they had any gas they could sell us. They did not. Jason asked a few RVs driving by, but they didn’t have gas for us either. 

After about thirty minutes of asking random vehicles to sell us gas, one of the border agents gave Jason a lift to the nearest gas station. Thankfully, the agent had an extra jerry jug. An hour later, Jason returned with just enough fuel to get us to the levy, and we were home free to Haines!

Southeast Alaska State Fair, magical land of home-grown puppet theaters, cotton candy and jerky-jerky ferris wheels, here we come!

Fair Fairy

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