My Alaska Trip and the Van

By Gary Turner

I barely got stopped in time to avoid hitting two cars in the parking deck! This year I took five friends with me. It was the first trip to Alaska for all of them. Capt. Johnny and Laura, Capt. Dewayne, Tina and their son Blake. Our trip started out with a few snags.

Snag 1. Two days before our arrival I was notified that the van I had rented for our party had broken down. In a scramble to find transportation for six people I got on the internet and found a van for sale on Facebook Marketplace. A Cautionary tale! I bought the van from a man who was moving to Florida. He was leaving the state the day before we arrived. I paid half on Venmo and agreed to send the rest upon my arrival. He left the van at the airport on the top floor of the parking deck. I got there, loaded my luggage in, and cranked the van. I checked all the engine lights. He had sent me screenshots of him driving the van the day before, so I knew it was a running van.

I then went back through security, another whole story, to wait for my friends’ arrival. I had to go back through security because no restaurants outside of the secure area were open, something about a shortage of help. That’s seems to be the case everywhere. I sat down, ordered the clam chowder and halibut, and went ahead and sent the other half of the payment for the van as we had agreed. After I ate, I decided to move the van to a lower level on the parking deck. Well, it cranked good, but when I put it in reverse – Yikes! No BRAKES! I almost took out two cars parked behind me. The man I bought the van from had told me it needed brake shoes, but it really needed BRAKES! There was no brake booster or power assist, so I was literally stopping it manually. That might have been ok for Fred Flintstone in the rubble roller but not this mini-van.

I eased around the parking deck standing on the brake petal with both feet to stop it, hoping the seat didn’t break off its base. I was really in a panic now! I went back to searching Marketplace to see if there were other options available. I looked at a rental, but the problem with that was we were going to be fishing, have waders, tying stuff on top of the vehicle, as well as lots of other stuff. I just generally didn’t think people would appreciate the condition it would have been in when we returned it. Our original rental was a van from a fish camp, so they knew what the deal was. When my comrades arrived around midnight and I informed them of the issues we had with the brakes, they all agreed we have come this far, we are going for it! We loaded all the luggage on top, Beverly Hillbillies style, and headed for Soldotna.

I kept it under 45 mph just in case a moose found its way out of the darkness, and I had to try to stop. Driving at night is not advised in moose country, they are very dark and you don’t see them until they are in the road. Barely missing one on a past trip, I know just how fast that happens. On that trip I was headed to the Pillars around 1:00 a.m. to meet friends who had called and said the fish were biting. I jumped in the Jeep Cherokee and headed that way thinking about all the fish in the river, when suddenly that moose ran out. I hit the brakes and slid sideways past that big bull moose, knowing that was a life-threatening collision if I hit it. My rule that I taught my girls growing up is that if the animal is smaller than a cow, you do not leave the pavement or your lane if there is oncoming traffic to avoid it. This was definitely bigger than a cow! After that I vowed to be more cautious driving at night. Ok, sorry, I got derailed on the moose story.

We finally made it safely to Soldotna, and the next morning we were ready for the adventures to begin. Johnny was feeling ill and stayed in while the rest of use headed out to do some fishing. By the third day both Johnny and Laura were not feeling well. Turns out they had Covid and were quarantined the rest of their trip. That was Snags 2 and 3!

The rest of us continued fishing, making day trips all over the peninsula. Dewayne and I were adjusting to driving the brakeless van. We ran to Seward, Hope, Homer, Kasilof, Deep Creek, Russian River and anywhere else we wanted to catch fish. We even took it down to the beach and to some 4-wheel drive trails. Finally, after 10 days of driving this way, we took time to get the brakes fixed.

Now you can just imagine what happened next. After driving so long without brakes, I nearly threw us all through the windshield several times forgetting I had brakes now. Thank goodness we all wore our seatbelts. We caught tons of fish: halibut, salmon, flounder, cod, trout and Irish lords, and we had a ton of fun! Everyone wants to go back again next year. In all, we put over 3500 miles on the van in 18 days. There were a lot of long fishing and driving days. Thank goodness for 20 hours of daylight each day. I guess all’s well that ends well, right!

Get with some of your friends and take a fishing trip, whether with a guide or just on your own, GO FISHING!

Please remember, if you are not going to eat it, don’t kill it.

“Tight lines and squealing’ reels put a smile on my face every time.” Gary Turner

You can reach Gary Turner at