Day 7: October 25
Tok to Fairbanks, Alaska
by Richard Truesdell
By this point my internal clock was beyond hope as I rustled in bed at 4:45 AM. Noting that Jill and John had thoughtfully provided a well equipped media room, stocked with a huge selection of Alaska videos, I decided that since I was awake, I would try to get some journal entries done, not even realizing that there was a better than even chance that the car would be frozen solid. John came down around six and suggested that I try to start the car since it was 28 below zero. Bundling up, remembering to put on my mittens so as to not touch the car with bare flesh, I hoped for the best. A promising start was that the remote locking system unlocked the car and after the engine turned over three time, it coughed to life.
The drive into Fairbanks was somewhat boring, as compared to the mountainous conditions encountered previously. Stopping a few times for photos, we took a break to gas up at Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaska Highway. We still had a 100 mile drive into Fairbanks. We had a bit of a worry as we had a check engine light come on and decided that since there was no Audi dealer in Fairbanks, there was one in Anchorage, that we would stop in at a VW dealer to see if we could get it looked at and get the car winterized down to 60 below and get an oil change since that service light was illuminated as well.
Since the previous night was the first really cold night of the season, lucky us, the service bay was swamped. The service manager was able to squeeze us in but we had to wait until a bay was available. I made a call to Audi and discussed the problem with John at Audi headquarters. When I told him that it was 28 below overnight and that I let the car idle after starting it in the morning, that the coolant probably did not warm up fast enough, triggering the fault indication. Since we had encountered no driveability problems, this was probably the situation and the dealer should be able to reset the ECM. He warned us that this situation may persist. Since we were not equipped with an engine block heater, we planned to let the car run overnight if the expected temperature was expected to dip below minus 20.
Getting the ECU reset, winterizing the car and an oil change came out to $235. Hopefully Audi will see fit to cover this expense down the road as this was somewhat of an unexpected expense and the oil change is covered under the Audi warranty, when performed by an authorized Audi dealer. The service manager informed us that the original coolant was only rated down to 10 below zero so for the trip up to Deadhorse, he suggested a mix to protect down to 60 below. Given that the mercury dipped below minus 30, we were probably fortunate that the block did not pop the freeze out plugs.
While we waited, we talked cars with the showroom staff and made reservations for the evening. This, as we would see, would turn out to be very fortunate as the innkeeper we called said we could stay for free, so long as she did not have to cook breakfast. We were off to the Forget-Me-Not Lodge and Aurora Express, a combination B&B and full scale model railway.
We were able to interview innkeepers Sue and Mike Wilson and I will post a detailed narrative of this material from Deadhorse after I have the opportunity to view the tape. After checking in we talked about their lodge and since they offered accommodations for free, I decided to offer to take them out to dinner at the Pump House, which they accepted.
Our meal was excellent and it gave us the opportunity to discuss their train collecting efforts as well as their experiences working on the pipeline, twenty years earlier. The meal at the Pump House was excellent and would compare favorably with a fine restaurant anywhere. I can recommend any salmon dish offered as I had the nightly special and Sue had hers blackened. Both were excellent, the best meal I had since leaving Albuquerque more than a week earlier.