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You are in: Norfolk » Features

03 March 2004 1403 GMT
Alaska to Arizona: The ultimate roadtrip

Sarah Turner from Hingham will spend six weeks driving 10,000 miles from Alaska to Arizona, raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Saturday 28 February

With my wheels now better than new the plan was to leave for the border this morning, but it's Saturday and Bruce and Charla said they might well head out 'wheelin', so I was not going to miss out on my only opportunity to hit the trails with the company of a few Cruisers.

Picture: Driving through a riverbed
Sarah picks her way through the rocks on the riverbed

We headed out of town back towards the forest road. A relatively easy day driving but what a great day.

We started out by the frozen river. It creaked and crunched beneath our wheels and in several places the ice was broken but there was no danger, it is a shallow river all the way so if the ice gave way beneath we'd only get stuck rather than drown.

We zigged and zagged from bank to river bed and back, skirting holes and boulders along the way. Driving directly towards the mountains the view improved with every yard.

The first climb we encountered proved easy, despite big rocks most of the ice was gone so there was ample grip to pick your way up the rocks. We stopped for lunch around an open fire, cooking hot dogs and marshmallows (not at the same time I hasten to add).

Turning for home we took to the trail rather than the river and wound our way through the trees before turning back across the river to climb a long snow covered hill. Bruce was leading and his 60 Series Cruiser seemed to find enough power and grip to claw its way up. The Surf followed, superbly set up it made it look easy. Then it was my turn.

Picture: Snow chains help traction up the mountain
Snow chains help with traction up the icy hills

I started off fine, put in the rear differential lock for extra traction and climbed steadily for about 100yds. Then a deep patch of snow with a slight dig out and camber brought me to a halt.

It appeared that the rear diff lock was not engaging so I was spinning one wheel as the camber shifted the weight. I had several attempts, to no avail so it was time for a more definite solution… snow chains. I reckoned that just fitting the rears would be more than sufficient to get enough grip.

So we threw them on and away I went, first gear, just above idle with no trouble at all, the chains offer an incredible amount of grip, it was like someone had lain tarmac.

By the time we were all at the top of the climb, which must be at around 5,600 ft we decided the light was going and we'd backtrack to the way we'd come in. We did pause to admire the view, an endless fire break stretches to the horizon in each direction, you can spend days up here driving it.

What a great day, I said goodbye to Bruce, Charla and co and set up camp on the edge of the trail, ready for a straight run south tomorrow.

Wednesday 25/Thursday 26 February:

I departed Rocky Mountain House and the hospitality of the Perkins family heading for Calgary and the Rocky Mountains Cruiser Club. The split wheel was holding air OK and I had a good drive, continuing down the forest road.

Picture: Devils Head Mountain
Devils Head Mountain, viewed from the Forest Trunk Road.

This leg had a lot more ice on it than yesterday's and the corrugations started things rattling but no problems arose. The scenery was great, a constant backdrop of the Rocky Mountains and a the rolling forests in front of me all the way to the main highway.

I arrived in Calgary around midday and followed the directions Charla had emailed to me straight to the door of Prairie Dog Parts.

I'd first met Bruce, who runs the store with Marc, when I visited Canada in 1998 and it was good to see him again. I pulled the truck into the shop and before long the wheel was off, tyre demounted and on inspection they were sure they could make it shipshape once more. Not only that but they'd re-weld all five wheels to be sure I would have no more problems, what stars!

This would mean a stop in Calgary for a day or so whilst it was done. As if that was not enough they'd pulled together as many members as they could find and we all hit the local grill for a great meal and chat.

It was then I discovered that they had also run a collection in the club, raising $600Cdn of which half was given to me to add to my fundraising with the other half was going to the Canadian Cancer Society's Kids Can Cope Program. This is an educational and support programme for children and teenagers from families in which a parent has cancer, it offers the opportunity to learn about how to cope with the effects of cancer. You can visit their website at www.cancer.ca.

I also added the length of Marlow D12 winch rope I had on board as a raffle prize, raising more money. It seemed appropriate to do so and I'm sure my colleagues at Marlow will approve.

After the meal Marc and Bruce returned to the workshop and welded the wheels so they'd be ready for powder coating the next morning, they finished at around 1am. So today we dropped them off at the coaters and they should be ready by lunchtime tomorrow (Friday).

Picture: Don and Viv, Sarah's hosts in Calgary
Don and Viv with Stella the Land Cruiser

My hosts in Calgary are Don and Viv. They are club members and Don has quite a collection of vehicles, a 55 series Land Cruiser called Stella, a beautiful 40 Series, Natasha, which Don has had 28 years and is fully restored. An old Checker Cab from the US and an old Mini, this too is being restored to its original condition.

I've spent today being chauffeured around by Don in the 55, a great old truck with loads of character. By tomorrow I should be on my way once more, wheels repaired and freshly powder coated to give them some protection from the elements.

It will be my last day in Canada and as I think back two phrases come to mind that sum everything up. The first was a remark that Roy made, Roy was the gentleman who rescued me in Vancouver and really started me off on the drive.

Roy said 'good deeds lead to good deeds', how right he was. The other is a phrase that crops up in various forms but in its simplest is 'Come as a stranger, leave as a friend.' And that pretty much sums up the warmth of the people I have met along the route so far, people without whom the trip might have failed, but certainly without whom it would not have been the same.

Visit the Rocky Mountain Land Cruisers website at http://www.rmlca.ab.ca

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