Rolling into residency: Experience brings reporter closer to feeling like Alaskan

Voices Of The Clarion

Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2006

I don’t expect to feel like an Alaska resident until I am standing at the mouth of the Kenai River grasping a dipnet, but with one death-defying Alaska experience already under my belt I feel a bit closer.

Shortly after I moved to Kenai in December, a friend invited me to go off-roading with him next summer.

“What? You roll over in them?” I exclaimed in disbelief when he described the off-road adventures he and his friends pursue in their monster truck-like vehicles.

He chuckled at my surprise and told me I, too, would “definitely” roll over in a truck in Alaska.

Although I don’t think he meant in a ditch next to the Sterling Highway, his prediction came true.

I have discovered a newfound respect for my little truck. A spider web of cracks now threads its way through most of the windshield and wires dangle from the driver-side door where there was once a mirror. But there are otherwise few indications that it once veered into a ditch at about 45 mph and bounced off of its roof before landing jarringly back onto its wheels.

That Saturday morning I was driving back from the Anchorage airport where I had picked up a friend visiting from Hawaii, and I was eager to impress him with an exciting Alaska adventure. Although adventurous, a tumble through the highway snowberm was not part of my weekend plans.

But there we were, just a few hours after my friend’s arrival, sitting stunned in the truck right side up, but tilting at a steep angle deep in a snowy ditch along the Sterling Highway. After a back-and-forth dialogue of “Are you OK?” and “Are you sure you’re OK?” and “Are you sure you’re sure you’re OK?” we slowly crawled out.

Almost immediately two other vehicles pulled over to check up on us and call 911. Soon after Soldotna police pulled up to the scene.

I sifted through the truck for my insurance, registration, AAA card and cell phone, but my truck had become a pack rat’s den over the last couple of months and the rollover had thrown everything inside into an even greater state of chaos.

To make the mix even more interesting, there had been a load of fresh seafood in the back, including frozen crab legs and an assortment of fresh clams, carefully tied in bags of water. So my usual pack rat junk, my friend’s luggage plus our buffet of fresh seafood were now all thoroughly mixed like a well-shook bottle of salad dressing.

I found my insurance, vehicle registration and AAA card, but gave up the search for my phone.

Troopers called in a tow truck and I asked that the beaten vehicle be taken to the nearest auto mechanic where I was sure I would be told that the axles were screwed and the vehicle due for its grave.

But to my astonishment I was wrong. And after the mechanic snipped away my dangling mirror and test drove circles around the parking lot, he reported it was good to go.

As the reporter responsible for the Clarion’s police blotter, I checked for the press release on my rollover like a crack rat. But it seems to have slipped through the cracks or past my radar, and my opportunity to join the police blotter was missed. With that said, I can’t resist taking the liberty to write my own here.

At 1:58 p.m. Jan. 28, Soldotna police responded to the report of a vehicle rollover near Mile 93 of the Sterling Highway. Investigation revealed Patrice Kohl, 28, of Kenai, was southbound when the vehicle she was driving, a 1997 Ford Explorer, hit an incredibly slick patch of ice, throwing the vehicle totally out of whack. After some severe fishtailing, the vehicle plowed into the snowberm on the side of the highway, slowing the front of the vehicle and swinging the rear around so that the vehicle was facing the opposite direction as it flipped onto its roof and then back onto its wheels in the ditch. Damage to the vehicle is estimated at $500. Kohl and her passenger were both wearing seat belts and not injured.

Patrice Kohl is a reporter for the Clarion.

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