February 8, 2013
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Arctic Drive, Part II. Click image to enlarge
Welcome to Alaska.
While the temperature may have been rising in some of the vans at the border, it was plummeting outside. Beside the road, telephone poles tilted this way and that (they call them “drunken telephone poles”) due to the heaving of the ground in this area. Trees, too, pointed in all directions (“drunken forest”) and the road itself undulated and tilted like a theme park ride.
By the time we reached the Young’s Motel in Tok (pronounced Toke, apparently), it was down to –24 degrees. That evening, after dinner at Fast Eddy’s restaurant and some of the hugest meals many of us had ever seen, it was -28 degrees. The forecast for the morning was –35 with a high of –38 predicted by noon. This exceeds the Sprinter’s test parameters, you may recall.
Break out the Canada Goose coat and the fur hat (and the heavy gloves and baseline clothing (formerly known as long-johns according to my driving partner). I at least was prepared for the 100-metre hike from my room to Fast Eddy’s.
Breakfast was as gargantuan as dinner. Pancakes were as big as the dinner plates upon which they were served, and piled three high (they came with a side of Texas toast); an omelette would easily feed three, but it also arrived with a generous helping of hash browned potatoes, bacon, toast and a pancake for good measure. Interestingly, Tokians (I made that up) [What about Tokers? –Ed.] themselves didn’t seem to be people of size, so maybe they exercise a lot.
The signature breakfast selection was Fast Eddy’s famous cinnamon bun, an example of which one of our group naively ordered (it was the Public Relations representative for Mercedes-Benz, actually). I kid you not; it was as big as his head. Maybe bigger! You have never seen the likes of such a cinnamon bun. Swimming in a hot pool of molten brown sugar and icing, dotted with plump raisins, it reminded one of a miniature Newfoundland sitting on a plate. He had a go, shared it with several of our group, and didn’t put a dent in it.
That morning all the Sprinters started, but some needed help. Antigel was already being used to keep the fuel from thickening, but our van required the assistance of a Mercedes technician to make it start (although, to be fair, it was likely our inexperience in these conditions that caused the issue).
Diesel engines, as you may know, don’t have spark plugs. They achieve combustion by pressurizing the fuel, and at these extreme temperatures, this called for a different approach than simply setting the pre-heater and turning the key. The battery was fine (even though we’d left our dome light on all night…) and the technique was to keep the key held in the start position, so that the engine cranked faster and faster, until while depressing the accelerator, it fired.
Et, voila. We were mobile, although again we suffered cold feet for quite a while.