This post was going to be the story of adventures (and misadventures) on our trip down the Alaska Highway. But to get to the full drama, I must start the story two days earlier, before heading out of town for the 3,500 mile drive. The pre-trip shenanigans turned out to be enough of a story to justify their own blog post. This, is not a good thing.
In a few weeks, I will share the actual story of the trip down the Alaska Highway, the details and the drama.
One of the problems with tying everything to the house sale is that you cannot make any definitive plans. First you wait for the house to sell. Then you wait for the closing date. But it turns out the closing date is a bit of a moving target. And both things are completely out of your control which makes someone like me completely nutty.
My realtor said lately something like 80% of her clients’ closings have not happened on the originally scheduled date. In my case, we had three different dates. And it was just by the skin on my teeth that we didn’t have four. I got more and more worried because the original date was already on the edge weather-wise, so too many delays and I might not have gotten out of Alaska on the road system.
When all signs pointed to the house closing on October 5, (the third scheduled date) I decided it was time to get the U-Haul. The fee for a one-way U-Haul trailer covers you for 10 days. After day 10, you pay additional fees. Considering I had to unload it on the other end and the trip down was going to take six to eight days, I didn’t have wiggle room to get it earlier.
And because until the day I got it, I didn’t know that was going to be the day, I couldn’t make a reservation.
The first drama started at the U-Haul store. My sister and I went to the largest store in town but the size of trailer I wanted wasn’t available. Honestly, I never considered that might happen. In my mind, at that time of year, availability was a non-issue.
I learned the reason for the shortage is people are moving out of Alaska at a higher rate than moving in. At least the people who rent a U-Haul to move. Makes me wonder if Alaska will drop a notch when the 2020 census is taken. I must also point out that we could see trailer in the size we wanted in their lot. Turns out, not all trailers are available for all trips. The ones in the size we needed were assigned to stay in Alaska.
We stood amidst racks of moving boxes and tape, brainstorming ideas, wondering if we could make a smaller trailer work. My sister got on the phone. Although she called different U-Haul stores, every call goes to the same national call center.
It still baffles me how this worked out in our favor.
Somehow, she got just the right person at the right moment. The customer service representative released one of the Alaska-only trailers and reserved it for us at another location. We drove there immediately.
This was Wednesday, the day before I was scheduled to close on the house.
Got home. Unhooked the trailer from the van. Both of us needed to use the van for last minute errands and appointments. So one of us packed and loaded the trailer while the other did errands. Then we switched. We did that for the remainder of Wednesday and all day Thursday.
Signing Away the House
In general, when you sell a house, the buyer and the seller sign the paperwork on the same day. Then the title company takes the paperwork to the courthouse the next morning for the legal transfer. So even though you’ve signed it away one day, it isn’t until the next morning that the property is no longer yours.
I went to the title company on Thursday, October 5 at 3 p.m. The buyer wouldn’t sign her side of the documents until she did a walk thru with every single item of mine out of the house. Since we were still loading on the Thursday, it was decided she would come on Friday at 7 a.m. Then head straight to the title company for signing at 8 a.m.
The unnerving part was that if this didn’t line up just right and the house didn’t get recorded at the court on Friday, there would be another delay. And not just a day’s delay. If she signed too late on Friday, the paperwork wouldn’t get to the courthouse until Tuesday. Tuesday, because Monday was Columbus Day.
Not only would that have messed with the U-Haul rental, it also would have severely cut into the time my sister could be on the road with me. We already started looking for flights out of Edmonton, Calgary and Great Falls, Montana, in case that was as far as she could go.
Thursday evening, when the trailer was 90% loaded and we were done running around, we decided to get the U-Haul hooked back up to the van. Then we’d have dinner, finish the loading and cleaning, go to bed and wake up refreshed and ready for many long days of driving.
Simple and straight-forward. Who knew that was all just wishful thinking?
Here is one of my biggest gripes about everything I’ve done in the last couple months. I’ve been dealing with service and product people who know their business inside and out. They forget to consider how it is for a first-timer, forget that what is elementary to them is foreign to someone like me. We got no instructions on its usage. Though in fairness, the guy was super nice and we didn’t ask any questions.
When we unhooked the U-Haul, it was like a teeter-totter with the wheels at the middle point. It pivoted so easily we thought after we’d filled the trailer we’d pick up the tongue and set it on the ball of the van.
When it’s loaded, it turns out, it doesn’t teeter-totter. It doesn’t pivot. It is heavy. Really heavy.
It didn’t take us long to figure out the trailer wasn’t getting on the ball simply by us picking it up. We had two options. Either we unload the trailer, hook up and reload. Or we jack up the trailer.
At the time, it seemed like jacking up the trailer was easiest and fastest. In hindsight, it may well have taken less time to unload the whole dang thing.
Maybe you are rolling your eyes at us, smacking your forehead and doing your best Homer Simpson “D-oh” impression. Maybe it was all our own fault. But, really, with no experience doing something like this, how were we to know?
The Rest of the Story
In brief. First, at this point, we were doing everything in the dark and cold. The jack wouldn’t work right (translation: we couldn’t figure out how it worked) so jacking up the trailer took about 100 times longer than it should have.
No exaggeration, 100 times longer.
Finally, the jack is high enough. And, at this point, if we were Cinderella, our coach would have turned back into a pumpkin, our horses into mice. In other words, it was past midnight.
But the angle wasn’t right. It took another 90 minutes (or maybe more) to get the trailer seated on the ball of the van. We just could not get the angle right. The perfect angle for the van was about three inches on the curb. A high curb. So if the van was on the curb, it was too much. If it was off, it wasn’t enough.
Somewhere in the middle of all this was the meltdown I wrote about last week. The one where I made the statement about how every decision I made was the wrong one.
We skipped a last dinner in Anchorage, went to bed at 2 a.m. and got up at 5 a.m. We had the last of the trailer to load, the last of the sweeping and cleaning to finish.
It was five minutes after 7 a.m. when I closed the door to my house for the last time. There was still boxes in the street that we were shoving into the U-Haul when the buyer and her agent came for the final walk-thru minutes later. They didn’t say hello. Sadly, this didn’t surprise me one bit.
At 8 a.m., we drove back to U-Haul and asked them to inspect the hookup job we did. Just to be sure we got it right. We did. Then we stopped for very large coffees. It was still dark and cold.
And we got on the road.
Later that day, my agent texted that the buyer made it to the title company on time. The title company scrambled and made it to the the courthouse on time.
It was official. I no longer owned a home. A few hours later, a deposit was made into my bank account. I’ll admit, it helped lessen the pain. I was finally and truly on my way.
Is there a positive spin I can put on this drama? Well, yes. I always try. It makes me feel better.
First, it’s over. And you cannot underestimate the value in that. Second, a lot of lessons were learned. I will not repeat many of the mistakes I made. Third, when the U-Haul tire blew two days later shortly after we crossed the border into Canada, someone taught us how to use the car jack properly.
And, yes, it was literally 100 times faster.