We were driving away from Salmon Glacier near Hyder, Alaska, when the Buffalo started making a rattling noise.
It was hard to tell exactly where it was coming from and seemed like the truck was just running a bit rougher than usual. Matt kept our speed low and we continued toward the next town: Dease Lake, BC. It’s one of a handful on the remote stretches of highway we’d traveled recently and surrounded by thousands of miles of wilderness.
As we rattled along nearing Dease Lake, we looked ahead and saw that traffic was stopped. We pulled in behind a few other cars and waited to find out what was going on. A woman who was essentially playing the role of construction area flagman approached us. She told us that one lane was blocked ahead due to a police investigation.
She didn’t give any details.
After a few minutes she told us to proceed. We continued driving and saw that the highway was roped off to a single lane for several miles. At one point, we could see two police officers kneeling on the far side of a small rest area looking at something.
About fifteen miles past that, the rattling noise resolved itself when parts started loudly falling from the truck. When Matt saw them bouncing on the road behind us in the rear-view camera, he immediately pulled over.
We walked back and saw two large pieces of our drive train lying in the middle of the highway. Transmission oil was pouring from the truck.
Moments later, a large semi-truck roared past us on the highway. I waved him over, and he offered to give Matt a ride to Dease Lake where he could get a tow truck (Thank you, Garth!). With no cell service, this seemed like our best option.
Matt left to get help, and I waited for him in the Buffalo with Wolf and Casey. He was back within the hour. We got towed first to a mechanic, and then to an RV park at Dease Lake where we’re still waiting for the parts to complete our repair.
In the days after we arrived at Dease Lake, we learned more about the “police investigation” we had driven past.
Apparently, a man had been found dead by the side of the road. Not far from him a truck was set on fire, and the two young guys who owned it were missing.
We also learned that two days earlier and a few hundred miles away, a young Australian/American couple had been shot to death roadside after their van broke down.
To make it worse, we discovered the highway we’d just been traveling on was also known as “The Highway of Tears”. Over several decades, dozens of women, mostly native and too poor to have their own vehicle, had disappeared or been murdered while walking along that highway. It was widely thought to be the work of a serial killer.
Were these killings connected? Were the two missing guys additional victims – or were they the killers? Was the killer (or killers) still in the area? And was this all somehow connected to this serial killer?
The days that followed were tense, a feeling compounded by the visibly heavy police presence in Dease Lake. Helicopters often flew noisily overhead.
We tried to lie low at the RV park where we’d been staying until we knew more. But after a few days, decided to stretch our legs by walking to a nearby lake.
It wasn’t relaxing at all.
I kept expecting to come across the bodies of the two missing young men in the brush. Or worse - the killer, hiding out. We quickly left and I told Matt I didn’t want to go back.
After that, we stayed mostly between the RV park, the college across the street that shares its wi-fi with the community, and the gas station that is also a grocery store.
Then, we got a news update.
The two missing men were now considered the primary suspects for all three killings. After shooting to death the man outside of Dease Lake, they’d stolen his car. Several people had spotted them driving it in Saskatchewan, over a thousand miles from where we were.
It was a huge relief to learn that they had left the area.
As the manhunt expands across Canada, we’ve learned that the two suspects are from Vancouver Island. When they left a few weeks ago, they told their families they intended to look for work in the Yukon. Instead, they went on a killing spree – seemingly picking their targets at random.
I wonder how close we came to them. Were they fleeing Dease Lake on the same road we were approaching it on?
I’ll never know, but the thought does give me some perspective. As expensive and inconvenient as this breakdown has been, sooner or later we’ll move on to our next adventure.
I wish the same were true for these other three travelers.