It was a dismal, rainy November day. Photographers from all over the world were lined up in their rain gear snapping photos of eagles along the Chilkat River outside of Haines, Alaska. The weather is often different on the other side of the mountains in Canada; it is drier and colder due to the “rain shadow” effect. So a few friends and I decided to head inland. We crossed the border and the rain turned to snow, and the wet road turned to ice. After crossing the summit the weather began to clear and so we stopped to take a few photos of the sun breaking through the clouds.
Continuing down the road, I heard a strange grating sound. We sped up, and the noise got louder and faster. We slowed down, and the noise slowed down. My best guess was that I had a bad wheel bearing.
“Sorry, guys,” I said. “We’ll have to turn back to Haines. I hope we can make it back without having to call a tow truck.” (Tow trucks in remote Alaska and Canada are notoriously expensive—last year, I broke down outside of Toad River, British Columbia on the Alaska Highway and was shocked by the $3,000 towing bill.)
We turned around and were heading back down the hill when suddenly I saw it—a lynx! I hit the brakes hard. We slid a bit and then stopped. The lynx was a few meters off the road, squatting quietly in the snow-covered bushes. We quickly slipped out of the vehicle with our cameras. The lynx did not stir and didn’t seem to notice us. It seemed almost bored, or very sleepy. The only movement I could detect was the occasional blinking of an eye. Five minutes later, the lynx stretched out its body and began to move in slow motion. I noticed that it was dragging its rear right foot as it crept into the brushy willows and disappeared. It was injured. We were sad about the injured animal but felt a warm bond with each other. We knew that even if we didn’t see any other wild creatures that day, we had shared something very special.
When we got back in the car and started down the road, I noticed that the sound was completely gone. We drove another 150 kilometres to gas up at the only “nearby” town—Haines Junction, Yukon. There are two Chinese restaurants in Haines Junction, and I was tempted by the memory of the tasty almond chicken dish I’d enjoyed my last time through. But at this latitude, there are less than seven hours of daylight in November and I wanted to minimize the amount of time I spent driving in the dark. So, instead of sitting down at a restaurant, we grabbed some pre-made sandwiches at the gas station and readied for the long drive back to Haines.
An hour later, we came upon a rusty, red Ford F-150 with dual vertical exhaust pipes. The truck was broken down on the side of the road and the driver, dressed in full winter gear, waved at us frantically. I stopped, pulled over and recognized my neighbor, Rocky.
Rocky’s weathered face lit up and he blurted out, “Thank the Lord you’re here! It’s freezing cold and I haven’t seen anyone since I broke down two hours ago.”
He hauled himself into the front seat and sat there quietly while I turned the heater on full blast. Rocky owns an aging logging truck and works as a maintenance man at a nearby wildlife centre. He’s an experienced auto mechanic, as well, so I told him about my car’s mysterious grating sound and my theory about the bad wheel bearing.
“If your problem had been a bad bearing, the noise would have continued,” Rocky explained. “You probably had ice up inside your brakes. When you slammed the brakes to view the lynx, the heat must have melted the ice.”
If I hadn’t seen that lynx I would have spent the day fretting as I drove back to my mechanic. Because of the lynx, we were able to continue our journey and fully enjoy the vast northern wilderness. Life in the North is full of surprises like that. I never would have dreamed that one day a lynx would help fix my car.