Monday, October 6, 2008

Mission Complete

After 3 days of hitching, I arrived in Anchorage a day later than I had anticipated, completely happy to be finished with 700 miles of hitchhiking.

Back in Haines, I had planned to wait for 2 friends I'd made on the ferry ride who got off in Juneau for a cup of coffee or something. Instead, I got a bit antsy, and encouraged by the sunny day, I left Haines in the middle of the afternoon headed toward the Canadian border. Even though there were loads of friendly folk in the town of Haines, it took me well over 1.5 hrs to get out of that town. I grew impatient while waiting and started walking toward the 'airport', hoping to maybe find an extra car or two. In the middle of my walking, a man picked me up while listening to some honky tonk in the car. This guy, name naturally forgotten, was working in the middle of nowhere as part of some mining exploration where they'd found Alaskan gold, silver, copper, and bronze. Although he was planning on leaving me 6 miles from the border (easily walkable), he decided to drive me all the way to the border to help me out. Again, an other guy who went out of his way to help me out, a standard on this trip.

And again, border patroll didn't like me. Is it the beard? Is it the fact that I'm walking with a backpack? Do I seem like a total vagrant/bum? After 5 minutes of insane verbal grilling, they let me through, but of course they wouldn't let me stand under the awning in case of rain, and made me walk 1/4 of a mile down the road away from the stopping point. And stop, no one did. I sat on the street, read a bit of my book, and waited while not a single car passed for over an hour. This would become a bit commong while hitching through the Yukon, although technically at the time I was in British Columbia. Finally, 2 girls from Whitehorse, YK, came through and picked me up, even though they had sworn years back that they'd never pick up another hitchhiker. Of course, like a few other drivers, they felt sorry for me since there was no traffic but an abundance of chilly weather.

Just after leaving from the border, a bald eagle swooped really close to our car. She even hit the brakes a bit to avoid hitting this eagle, a massive massive bird! I'd seen eagles in the sky before, but it was amazing how ginormous this beast was. It would have done some serious damage to the windshield. Next another enormous bird, a Canadian goose, flew in front of the car. We crossed borders into the Yukon Territory and the scenery turned spectacular. Not to say that the scenery in Southeastern Alaska and the sliver of BC I went through weren't amazing, but the Yukon managed to top them in this section. Loads of rolling hills, all painted by the hand of autumn, unfolded to meet gigantic mountains in the distance. There was nothing to interupt the view of wilderness around except for the road we were driving on. I kept thinking to myself how I would love to come back out here and do some hiking back in the backcountry. At one point we saw a mountain pass that must have been 500 ft deep and shaped like a perfect 'U'. Not the typical small notch in the mountains that I'd grown used to seeing. It was surreal to see, and I couldn't take my eyes off of it since it just didn't seem real.

They dropped me in Haines Junction, YK just before total darkness, and in the middle of falling snow. There was a couple of inches of snow on either side of the street as I wandered around looking for a place to camp. There seem to be nothing but asphalt and no trees to camp in for miles. How this was possible in the Yukon was beyond me, but was a complete eyesore. After looking for the abandonded cabins I'd read about that exist in the town and not finding them, I settled for the heathen option: camping inside of a church. This wasn't just any church. It was a Catholic church that looked like it was made out of an enormous aluminum tube, allowing maybe 30 people inside, complete with a sign on the outside that said 'Come in and rest a while'. Don't mind if I do! It wasn't all that warm inside, but at least it was out of the falling snow and wind.

I woke up early in case anyone wanted to use the church for morning prayer and began hitching. One hour passed, no ride. Soon my toes started to go numb from the sub-freezing temps braved while wearing tennis shoes. I began pacing around to get the blood flowing, something I would have to do constantly for the remainder of the hitching trip. Another 2 and a half hours of pacing passed before I finally got a lift. My dropped me in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Well, there was a closed mining camp behind me where he was headed to clean things out. Cloud cover was a bit too heavy for me to enjoy the snow-capped mountains around me, and I was becoming worried about my chances of getting strated 60 miles from town. 2 minutes later a guy driving a huge truck full of gravel picked me up and said he'd give me a lift 10 miles out of the construction zone up ahead. He offered me a joint which i declined, but also tons of great info on the territory, state of the roads, etc while I soaked up.

Dropped 10 miles ahead, next to the MASSIVE Kluane Lake, I waited for a while for a ride. With not much traffic on this part of the Alaskan Hwy, my thru-hiker instincts kicked in and I decided to hike it. The lake was absolutely beautiful, the sky primarily blue, and the feeling of untouched wilderness created a desire to walk through it all to view it without a windshield in my way. After walking about 2 miles I roadworker picked me up and said he'd take me to Destruction Bay, the first 'town' in over 100 miles! Well, there were 42 residents in Destruction Bay, one gas station, one motel, and one bar. A bit more traffic though, and a truck that took me another 16 km to Burwash Landing.

Burwash Landing had nothing. My map told me that this town had a gas station, but it had long since closed after tourist season ended. This became a common sight, closed gas stations, museums, and gift shops since not many RV's were out on the road anymore. Burwash Landing is famous for its massive wildfire and it's burned evidence which is still in view to this date. No one was driving through Burwash Landing, causing me 4 hours later to set up camp. Darkness fell and I set up my bivy and quilt under the awning of a closed gold mining museum. I woke up at 4:30 to find my bivy soaked, quilt starting to get wet, and a snow/rain mix being blown under my protective awning and onto me. I reacted quickly to salvage my down sleeping bag, which I knew I needed dry to survive while hitching in these parts. I set up my tent quickly, and crawled inside. My quilt stayed dry, I slept fine, and woke up at 8:00 am, surprised to find it still dark, but at least there were a couple of cars driving by.

Pacing commenced, and an hour later I found myself inside of a truck headed for Alaska. The guy who gaved me a lift was a native american from the coast of Oregon, making the 2700 mile drive up to Fairbanks for a new gold-mining job. He tried to talk me into working for the company, which paid amazingly well since they have trouble keeping people working through -50 temps and midnight sun and/or winter darkness. He got me to the border, and beyond to Tok, Alaska.

Tok was another visual headache, ugly, asphalt everywhere, with low clouds covering any scenic beauty that saved the place. There was however a grocery store, with goods that weren't insanely priced like I saw all in the Yukon. At Destruction Bay a can of Pringles was $4. Luckily I had packed enough food to live off of for 3 days. In Tok, I got some bananas, a cup of coffee, then stood out in the soft rain and snow covered streets to try to get to the next town of Glennallen. There were quite a bit of traffic buzzing past, but I think it was all locals going to their houses a tad past me. I was too lazy and cold to walk another 5 miles to get to the edge of town, so I just stood at the main junction where cars could either go to Glennallen or Fairbanks.

I stood in that place for 8 hrs, met another crazy hitchhiker who was headed to Fairbanks from the eden that is Homer, AK. I watched him get a ride in 30 minutes headed to Fairbanks and started considering going to Fairbanks instead, a 300 mile detour, then going to Anchorage from there. At least Fairbanks would be a larger city (80,000 compared to 1,300 in Tok). Just as I had figured this out during a bout of pacing, a guy saw me while he was standing around smoking a cig. I explained what I was doing, that I wasn't crazy and homeless, and he offered a ride to Fairbanks if I was still on the road at 9:00. I didn't think I would be waiting for another couple of hours, but I did. Ronn rolled by at 9:00, moved his photography equipment around, and I hopped in for the LONG ride to Fairbanks.

Road crews had long since stopped maintaining the icy/snowy road since not many idiots travel that this late hour, providing us with a road that we couldn't travel over 45 mph on. There were a few fishtailing sessions that accmpanied lots of great converstion on both of our excitement of Alaska, photography, and other subjects. We passed the town of North Pole, complete with Santa Claus house, candy striped telephone poles, and business that had to fit into the Christmas theme, even during the summer.

Finally we got to Fairbanks around 3 am, and I had a couch to crash on! Ron welcomed me into his beautiful log cabin, gave me some Alaska magazine issues to read, and we slept and slept. A pot of Starbucks coffee was brewed, cereal eaten, and I was given a lift to the best spot to hitch out of town. For the first time since leaving Haines, things would go my way out on the road. Everyone was suddenly friendly at the gas station I was hitching from, and within 10 minutes a couple picked me up headed for Wasilla, 40 mi from Anchorage, and home of the creepy Sarah Palin. A college couple, Eric and his girl Genene were hilarious and great company for the 6 hr drive. Things were STILL cloudy, a fall/winter/spring Alaskan standard, but great views would occassionally poke through the clouds. We drove through Denali National Park, full of huge mountains, bigger rivers, and massive bridged gorges.

In Wasilla I got a very very quick ride without even trying to the next town, Eagle River, halfway to Anchorage. This guy was full of crazy stories of how tough you need to be to survive in AK. He told me his old lady had a whole checklist of psychological issues, was locked up, had tried to kill him with a knife, and could beat any man in fisticuffs. The dude giving me a ride claimed he even burned down another mans house when he discovered the guy had stolen his car. Weird stories, but at least he got me closer to my destination.

Fall colors painted the mountains and I could finally see the ocean. In Eagle River I got another ride without even trying by a guy going all the way into downtown. He knew exactly where the address was where I was headed, gave me advice on the best chai tea and breakfast in town, and left me right at Truants doorstep.

Finally gave Truant a hug when I caught up to her, and also Sweetfish who hiked with us was in Alaska, another hug. It was so so so so good to finally get into Anchorage, see a couple of good friends. 5 minutes after getting reaquainted, we headed to a party with Truants cowokers. Not only did I need to the company of friends again, but I needed pizza, and more importantly, beer. I got all of these things at the party. Relaxed party, a little bit of good beer and a little bit of fantastic pizza. A great ending to a great trip.

I had been seriously considering a cycling trip to get from Colorado to ATL after leaving AK, but now I don't think I'm going to do that. I'll probably just stay in Alaska longer than expected, seeing all that is within a 5 mile radius now that I have access to a car, and return to ATL in time for my sisters wedding. So, I managed to complete all of my dreams that I had before starting this adventure at the end of April: make it to Canada, make it to the Pacific, and make the ferry ride up to Haines. Becoming great friends with Truant added a 700 mi hitch to Anchorage into the mix, and all of that is now done. The cycling trip can happen in the years to come.

Thanks for reading my blog. This is probably the last entry, other than the possible addition of photos if I can get any uploaded. Bye!


Knife and Spoon Man said...

Beatbox, you're vagrancy skillz are the best! It sounds like you have the art of urban and rural stealthing/travel down to a fine art, it truly is a great journey you have undertaken, you know if you do the CDT, you have to go to Greenland afterwards and then hitchhike to Svalbard or something.

samh said...

It's been fun reading along, Eric.