Day 5 dawned bright and (very) early as the team slept fitfully for the second night at Chena Hot Springs. Well, most of the team were sleeping, but the German contingent (Nik and Clemens) were up early to watch Germany thrash Argentina 4-0. They had a good time rubbing this into the rest of the team’s faces as soon as they had woken up! But, what goes around comes around, and later on they were wondering whether being cocky was a good idea at all…
I had failed to mention in the previous blog post the absolutely sumptuous breakfasts which were also on offer in this food nirvana, and so this was the first port of call after the normal morning routine. I highly recommend the spinach, olive, tomato and pepper omelette…sorry, I digress! Back to the real business!
After breakfast, we went and unplugged the car from its geothermally-powered charging point, and we brought it to the middle of the resort for the guests and staff members to have a look and ask some questions. As always, the reception was fantastic, and the team delighted in talking about the car to a new and varied audience. In order to go some way to repaying the enormous hospitality shown to us, we asked Bernie, who you may remember from the previous post as the vibrant and charismatic owner of the hot springs, if he would like a ride in the car. A quick sprint up and down Chena Hot Springs Road showed the car’s true potential and it was a rather excitement-flushed Bernie that returned!
As Chena was our most northerly point on our trip, at just 75 miles south of the Arctic Circle, we deemed this the most fitting place to officially start our journey down the Pan-American Highway. So, after having spoken to many of Chena’s guests, we got the team and RV together and started saying goodbye to our hosts. But then Bernie came up with another great idea; to prove that “Sustainable is Attainable” why not show the car in a building demonstrating real energy efficiency and sustainability? And so back to the ice museum we went, but this time we drove the car inside! In and amongst the amazing ice sculptures, we cheered and whistled as the attempt to tackle the PanAm Highway unofficially commenced!
Officially, we started our trip south at the entrance gate to Chena Hot Springs at mile 56 of Chena Hot Springs Road. We had a quick photo shoot and then it was time to go! We had a lot of mileage to cover to get to Tok, our next checkpoint, and quite a few stops to make along the way, so it was with expedience that Nik and Clemens set off for the 266 mile drive.
However, just several miles down the road, the first flashes of lightning could be seen in the distance, and the rain started. It was just light rain at first, nothing we hadn’t encountered before, so we pushed on without any worries. But the clouds rapidly descended, the bolts of lightning got closer, and the rain became much heavier. To say the rain was of a tropical nature would be understating how heavy the precipitation was that engulfed us. Visibility was reduced to metres, the roads could not drain the water fast enough, and the RV was beginning to aquaplane in places. It was horrendous. Yet the SRZero, and her now soaking German-football-supporting occupants (karma at its finest!), pushed on with gusto; team RGE was not going to allow a little storm throw them off schedule!
So far, from Anchorage up to Chena, we had only ever had the RV and the SRZero in our convoy. However, with Claudio arriving in a hire car from Fairbanks, we had to make a stop off at the airport to return it. To ensure we still kept on schedule, we sent the SRZero off into the stormy wilderness alone for us to catch up with later, and the RV and Claudio’s car headed off to the airport. After handing back the car, we quickly found out the true power of social media. After doing many very successful documentary series such as Long Way Round, Long Way Down and By Any Means, Claudio has developed a large Twitter following. So, a couple of days ago, Claudio sent out a Twitter message asking if there were any bikers that were in our vicinity who would like to come along for a couple of days so that he could to some bike-to-car filming. And so, while we were handing back the car, along comes Rick on his massive BMW Adventure GS1200 motorbike.
Rick turns out to be an absolutely super guy, with a huge amount of travel experience and a real passion for adventure. Upon hearing our plans to drive all the way to Argentina, his spur of the moment decision was to come along as well! So we now have an extra man and extra vehicle in our convoy, and already the versatility of the bike has paid off as we can get some absolutely amazing shots of the SRZero while driving. In fact, as I write this, Andy is currently clinging on to the back of the bike for dear life with one hand, while taking photos with the other! Once our airport run was complete, we had to catch up with the SRZero which was miles ahead by now. So, we headed onto the highway and followed the signs to Tok!
A few hours later, the RV caught up with the SRZero at Delta Junction, a tiny smidgeon of a town which marked the beginning of the famous Alaskan Highway. As an interesting side note, the idea of a highway connecting south-western Canada (and hence the lower 48 States as well) to Alaska was proposed as early as the 1930s. But the sheer remoteness of the area and lack of political will meant that it was never seriously considered. But after the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1942 and the subsequent entry of the US into World War 2, the US deemed that a military presence in Alaska was paramount. This was for many reasons, chief among them was the fact that the Aleutian Islands (extending south-west of Alaska) were well within the range of Japanese attacks, and it also helped in getting military equipment over to Russia which was benefitting from US support at the time in the form of the Lend Lease Agreement. As such, a road up to Alaska was necessary, so the US military mobilised 80,000 soldiers to survey the land and build the 1,390 mile road from Dawson Creek in Canada, up to Delta Junction in Alaska. In a feet of engineering and endurance, the soldiers built right through the harsh winter and completed the road in just 8 months! It survives today as one of only 2 roads crossing from Canada into Alaska and through this immense and indescribably beautiful wilderness.
Anyway, getting back to the real discussion, Delta Junction provided a chance to fill the RV up with petrol and to give ourselves the chance to have a quick bite. Nik and Clemens were one step ahead of us as they had arrived earlier, and because of the car’s irresistible magnetism (or their pretty faces, you decide!) someone offered to buy them lunch, which they gladly accepted! So, the support crew grabbed a drink from the petrol station and an Indian taco next door (yet another delicious morsel) and we continued on. It was still raining hard in places, and despite the hours of wet and cold, the boys were in great spirits and happy to carry on!
With 108 miles to go, the state of charge was looking worryingly low. We had always known that a wet road increases the coefficient of rolling resistance, and hence the drag on the car and the more energy needed to keep it moving, but we were not prepared for how much of a difference it would make. So it was with our calculators out doing the sums and our anxiety growing that we approached our destination. Mercifully, the rain had abated somewhat, and roads were a lot drier than the previous few hours. In addition, the road was mostly straight, with one section being dead straight for 42 miles; quite an amazing sight! This provided the perfect conditions for the SRZero to maximise its range, and so it was after a tense drive that we arrived in Tok just as the state of charge indicator ticked to zero. Still, 266 miles in torrential rain, with some of the roads in immensely poor conditions, is quite an amazing achievement for a car that was designed and built in less than 9 months.
Upon arrival at around 9pm, we parked the RV and SRZero, plugged both vehicles in (the RV needs to be plugged in for the onboard electricity) and then headed off to Fast Eddy’s; a delicious restaurant just a few hundred metres away with the added bonus of free wifi. After a filling meal and a much needed internet hit (required at least once a day to keep complete insanity at bay) we headed back to the RV for some much needed sleep!