Expedition truck disabled on the side of the road in Denali NP

gregmchugh

Observer
We were camped at Teklinika campground 30 miles inside Denali NP in our GXV Patagonia for 2 1/2 weeks at the end of August and the day we left (the day before the campgrounds in the park close and the busses stop running) I heard a grinding noise when I started the truck but it stopped quickly and everything seemed normal. Looked around the engine but didn’t see anything unusual but didn’t tilt the cab to inspect it further. After about 3 miles heading out to the front of the park we got the engine overheat message and I stopped and pulled to the side of the road. Turned out the sound was a shredded serpentine belt so we were not going anywhere.

With no cell service, I contacted my daughter with a text message using our Inreach and had her contact the Park headquarters to let them know we were going to need a tow out of the park. A Law Enforcement Ranger arrived after awhile (we were about 27 miles into the park) and I gave him our Coachnet info and he tried to call them with his Sat phone but no luck. We let him know that we were self sufficient and could stay where we were without any problems. He gave us his cell number so we could set up texting to him with the Inreach. He went back to headquarters and called Coachnet and got their cell number so we could set up texting with them too. After he sent us the Coachnet number on the Inreach we proceeded to work with Coachnet to get a tow. We kept in contact with the Ranger to keep them up to date on what was happening with getting towed out of the park. A couple times park personnel who were going by stopped to check on us. I placed some flashing LED lights and road triangles in front and in back of the truck.

There were several false starts in getting towed out. We broke down on Wed around noon. Coachnet arranged for a tow for Thursday morning to take us to the Kenworth dealer in Fairbanks. That tow never showed up and they scheduled another for Thursday afternoon. That one didn’t show up and they arranged for one on Friday that also never showed up. They switched to a better tow service (Ben’s Towing in Fairbanks that does a lot of towing on the haul road all year around) and they showed within a few hours on Friday night at 11:00 pm with a super heavy duty flatbed and carried us to Kenworth getting there about 4:00 am on Saturday. There is a lot more to the story about the failed tows but that covers the basics.

Ironically, I had getting a spare serpentine belt on the list of things to do at the next visit to a Kenworth dealer but wasn’t too worried about it with only 25,000 miles on the truck. Turns out that shredded serpentine belts are very common in Alaska with all the gravel roads throwing up stones into the belts so carrying a couple spares is necessary up there.

On Monday the Kenworth dealer opened and they found out that there were no serpentine belts for our truck anywhere in Fairbanks so there was a 2 day delay to get the belt and I had them order two spares for me. On Wed they replaced the belt (and showed me how to do it). All you need is a long handled 1/2” ratchet to rotate the idler pulley while you thread the belt using the diagram on the side of the engine. Only trick is that one of the pulleys (the idler pulley as I recall) has an extra groove for a wider belt and the best alignment uses the position of the belt closest to the engine (at least on our truck).

Here is a pictures of us stranded on the side of the road in probably be nicest place I can imagine to be stranded (we went for hikes every day while we were waiting). We do happen to carry a spare cassette for the toilet which came in handy. We had not dumped the almost full cassette before leaving the campground since we were planning to fill the water tank and dump the cassette and grey water at the park dump station as we left the park.

Friday was the first day of the Denali Road Lottery so we were one of the attractions for the hundreds of vehicles heading into and out of the park. Also, here is picture of the low boy truck that finally got us out and to Fairbanks in this picture carrying a full size tour bus which happens a lot when rocks poke holes in the transmission pan. Their main work is towing trucks along the haul road all year around with most of the work in the winter when the truck traffic picks up. I added a photo from their website showing them recovering a flipped semi truck and trailer.

Bottom line, if you are going to travel on the gravel roads up north make sure you carry spare serpentine belts and know how to change them yourself. An Inreach is a good idea too when out of cell coverage...

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waveslider

Outdoorsman
Wow, good to know. Several spare serpentines are officially on the checklist. And I can see this turning into a thread about "what's the best RV tow service that's NOT Coachnet".

Nice to hear the inReach worked. We have long been SPOT users but are contemplating switching.
 

J!m

Active member
Nice story! Make the most of every situation (hiking each day) rather than stewing over the multi-fail towing company.

And thanks for another vote for inreach. It sounds, from what I'm hearing around here, to be the "right" option for long distance comms.

Glad it all worked out in the end.
 

gregmchugh

Observer
I don’t know how much of the problem with getting the right tow company out to us is specific to Coachnet. Any of the roadside assistance plans will be using the same tow companies and if they have no experience in a specific area they probably do not have any preferred tow company that they know and trust to do a good job. In the case of getting a tow company to Denali NP there probably are not many options available. Ben’s Towing in Fairbanks covers the northern half of Alaska and seems to be the go to tow company for supporting trucking on the Dalton Highway. Coachnet now has a tow company that they can trust to show up and do a good job on larger vehicles. Why they didn’t already know who to contact for this region is a good question. Sending them to tow a small RV is probably overkill but they will do it of course.

The issues with the first tow company seem to be caused by the fact that Coachnet contacted what they thought was a real tow company but in fact was a middle man who advertised as a tow company who then contacted actual tow companies to handle the service. We found this out when the driver from Ben’s showed up and told us that he had been contacted by this middle man and driven out earlier in the day to the entrance to Denali NP and was waiting for a follow up call with specific instructions on where to find us but his contact was not answering his phone or responding to voice mails. After waiting an hour, he drove back to Fairbanks and was then contacted directly by Coachnet when they looked for a second tow company after contacting Kenworth in Fairbanks to get a lead on a good tow company. The driver was not a happy guy after this fiasco and apologized that we had not gotten the tow when he was there before but he had no idea where we were located. He said the guy who contacted him will be paying the $2400 bill for his first trip out and back to Denali from Fairbanks.

We are on our second Inreach and they have both worked flawlessly for tracking and texting, we have never been in a situation to use the SOS feature. We were using our five year old DeLorme Inreach this summer until we dropped in on to the floor and it decided to give an intermittent error message that it was damaged. We replaced it with the newer Garmin Inreach Explorer with the larger display and maps and it is working just as well as you might expect. We sent the damaged one back to Garmin and got a refurbished replacement for $150 which we gave to our daughter who lives in BC and travels a lot in the winter where there is not cell coverage. When traveling we leave the Inreach on and doing track points that are available to our family to keep track of where we are and could be used to find us if we were out of cell coverage and not responding to text messages on the Inreach but didn’t activate the SOS. I think it is something that should always be carried if you spend a lot of time out of cell coverage. We saw three vehicle accidents on our trip in Alaska and the Yukon when there was no cell coverage with significant injuries in one case. Luckily that happened within 10 miles of a small town with medical facilities and one of the locals transported the injured occupants of a pickup that had gone off the road and down a hill into a tree to the small town. Further away from medical help and with more severe injuries the SOS feature on the Inreach would be the only way to get medical help within a reasonable length of time.
 

gregmchugh

Observer
Nice story! Make the most of every situation (hiking each day) rather than stewing over the multi-fail towing company.

And thanks for another vote for inreach. It sounds, from what I'm hearing around here, to be the "right" option for long distance comms.

Glad it all worked out in the end.
It actually was a great experience to spend some extra time in Denali, never a bad thing to do...

After we finished at Kenworth in Fairbanks we took an overnight trip up to the Arctic Circle. We decided to wait until next year to travel all the way up to Deadhorse. Our plan originally was to take the Denali Highway east after leaving Denali NP and start heading home. After the overnight trip up to the Arctic Circle we checked the weather and found out that the forecast for Denali NP and the Denali Highway showed 70 deg weather and completely clear skies for the next week so we headed back to Denali NP. This was at the end of September and unexpected weather. The only campground still open in Denali NP was the one at the entrance but it had plenty of spaces for free on a first come first serve basis. They had the park road open to the public all the way to the Teklinika rest area at mile 30 so we spent two days in perfectly clear skies with Denali peak in the clear and not many vehicles gathered at the side of the road to watch the bears that were still out getting fattened up for the winter. We then took the Denali Highway east and saw migrating herds of caribou (best guess is several thousand in the biggest herd) along the side of the road. Camped overnight two nights along the road and then headed back up to Delta Junction and back east from there. The border crossing to the Top of the World highway had already closed for the year so we decided to delay a trip up the Dempster to Tuktoyaktuk until next year. Headed down to Haines to see if the Bald Eagles had arrived but we were to early for the salmon run that brings them in. Took the ferry to Skagway (deserted now that the cruise ships are done for the year) and back up to take the Cassiar Highway south. Hit some snow covered roads between Whitehorse and Dease Lake but not much else. Pretty good weather for October which is hit or miss on the way out of Alaska at that time of year.

Here are some pictures of from Denali NP and the Denali Highway campsite from the return trip...

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J!m

Active member
If it was that warm in Denali, you probably wouldn’t have solid enough ice to get up to Tuk. I’d say good call there. 981D58D5-949B-4030-8933-F75592A6A270.jpeg
 

Keyne

Adventurer
Another thing to maybe learn from the experience when traveling in remote areas is to fill the water tanks and dump the grey and black (or cassette in your case). Then you would be ready to go for days.

We haven’t been that remote but with our Sprinter we dump the tanks before we leave in case we had issues on the road. We carry bottled water but it might be a good practice for us to add water to the on board fresh tank. I do carry two spare belts.

It sounds like the best thing you carried was a great attitude. Hiking every day there sounds awesome!
 

gregmchugh

Observer
If it was that warm in Denali, you probably wouldn’t have solid enough ice to get up to Tuk. I’d say good call there.
They finished the road from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk last year so the only issue now is that it gets closed or weight limited if there is a lot of rain. I don’t know if an Ice Road will be in use in the winter anymore now that they have a road but that would be something to experience.
 
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