Riders: Marcus Johannes
A cross country journey from the United States most southern point, Key West Florida, to it’s most northern city, Fairbanks Alaska. Summer 2010
A trip that clocked more than 6000 miles over many different terrain. 89 Days on the road, countless new friends.
Director: Marcus Johannes
Music: Pedro Recio
View Florida to Alaska GPS Track
3,800+ Mi. Cycled. 22 Hr. Bused. 1,500+ Mi. Hitch-hiked. 2 Days Ferried.
Day 01 – Day 89
My heart was about to rip out of my chest, beating so hard. I never felt such a deep feeling of sickness, unimaginable, sour.
While working on my photos and video, my hard drive with all the material on it fails. No panic at first, flipping it over and going through the manual. It wasn’t until I sat there for an hour pulling my hair out that I started to sweat. All I was thinking was what am I going to do… all those photos, my documentary… three months on the road, gone. I was scared.
Just as I was checking the internet for the third time for any information, it beeped. I looked at it, staring at the red light and the small LCD screen. “Select a Language.” My heart sank. I enter “English.” I waited.
As the icon appeared on the computer…. my heart was at it’s peak.
Opened, I gave a sigh of relief… wow
Tomorrow I will try to collect some money and purchase another back up HD. It’s worth more when you get to keep the files.
Posted a new page with a “SneakPeak” of what’s to come. Blog is getting an overhaul and updating.
End: Orlando FL.
Home at last. Need to sit down tomorrow and update the past few days.
I need to start collecting emails from all. I am now beginning to process my photos and will be writing my film. I would like to let everyone know when I will be releasing my material and again thank you for your support. It has been a great trip and I am excited to jump into the editing room.
AND STAY UPDATED ON THE LAST POSTS
AS THEY WILL BE COMING SOON
The constant hum of the engine, vibrating through my seat and into my ears. Occasional pockets of turbulence cause the wings to bounce, shaking the cabin.
I am left as one of the only passengers on board, conscious, unable to sleep. It isn’t that I am not tired, nor I can not get comfortable. Just the fact that I will be home soon, a place I have not seen in months.
I shall step foot into my house a day shy of 90. Days that have taken my mind and expanded it ten fold. Experience. Adventure. Growth. Three words that I always find to be true after a journey. This trip has proven to me that honesty and generosity still play a key roll in people’s lives. I have grown and developed, progressed through the duration of the trip. Sitting back, nothing but these thoughts and memories run through my head, reflecting.
After the late morning start, Dirk and I both remembered the free breakfast we missed out on. I just laughed.
We made our way into downtown and into the closest post office. The only task of the day was to post our bags back to Helena in Juneau. An easier and less expensive route than waiting till we got home. As everything fit back into our trusty duffle bag, the two backpacks were bounded up and sent away. Leaving a small note of gratitude in the front pocket, I was still very touched that she lent us her bags without a second thought. As we exited the post office and walked down the streets, all I could think of was how much easier the backpacks made our trip. Without them, my shoulders would have been torn up from the weight and awkward position of the duffle bag. A bag that was the size of my torso.
Relaxing in the food court of the Anchorage mall, Dirk and I gorged in the abundance of food all around. Like the day couldn’t have been better, I found a Hawaiian food chain called LnL. In heaven, we spent the day wandering book stores and retreating to the hotel for more TV. A lazy, much needed day of rest.
The entire trip began to flood my thoughts, tomorrow… home.
End: Anchorage AK.
Waking up to our last hours in Denali, I had no idea what to expect. The typical morning chore of packing, charging and throwing on the weathered clothes was second nature. I grabbed my pack and cardboard sign, ducking under the low ceiling for the last time. Again the guys were downstairs talking around the table. Coffee was finished brewing and we all had a last cup together before we said our good byes.
Chris is a bashful fellow. The moment I told him I could shoot video on my camera he would smile from ear to ear, laughing and turning away. It was a fun reaction that I tested many times on our stay. Each time it became more funny until I started to laugh and shake the frame as well. I then set up my camera, posted it on some kind of makeshift tripod and got our last pics in before the morning grew late. We decided to try our luck across the street on the main highway. It is either north or south at this point, the only road linking Fairbanks and Anchorage through the heart of the countryside. Highway 3, we sat in wait.
The wind began to batter us as we waited along the south bound lane, hands in pockets. Penetrating my beat up raincoat, the wind sapped the heat and drove me to pace up and down the gravel shoulder to keep warm. The cloud cover didn’t help either as the sun remained hidden in the sky. As we both waited there, tossing out the thumbs and waving the sign, our hopes began it’s downward slope. Cars, trucks, and RVs all made their way past us, even merging out as to not give us any hint of kindness. All I could do was fish out something to eat from my pack and have a seat.
Some time later, a van came to a stop as I looked up at the road in front of me. With out hesitation, I leaped up to grab the bags and we both hustled to the waiting vehicle. A biker looking dude jumped out of the drivers seat and deflated an air mattress to make room. After tossing the bags in the back, we jumped in to meet two more hitchhikers. We all sat on the floor of the back cabin, spreading out as there was no seats. The guy didn’t have the heart to pass a hitchhiker, he stated. That too was tested as we packed the van with two more people, then another. All getting off at different stops, Dirk and I would remain almost till the end. We all talked for a bit, exchanging stories and destinations. We then got dubbed the clean cut hikers. I laughed for a bit and then smirked when I thought to myself, yea… compared to you guys. The typical dirty hippies and bearded men. Yea we were some what more clean than the rest. As the number of occupants dropped, Dirk and I spread out and I fell asleep. Nothing like the soothing rock of a speeding van down the highway to put me to sleep.
Waking, we made it. Anchorage and the suprise hotel Dirk’s mother booked for us. We both entered the room, tossed the packs aside and called out the beds. A relaxing end to a day that started uneasy.
The blast of my phone startled me awake as I tore through the sleeping bag to silence it. Trying to keep quiet as the 7am creeks of the old house echo loud, I answered in a faint whisper. It was Sunny! I was happy she called and I didn’t just roll back over to sleep like usual. Tiptoeing out and down the stairs, I had a good time talking out on the porch. Catching up became our new topic as both of us continue our journeys.
Now getting ready to be done with her language classes in Nepal, Sunny was excited to leave for her placement, a new and refreshing atmosphere than Kathmandu. Volunteering as an Education Advisor, Sunny will be living and working in the western town of Dhangahi. As a region with few tourist visits, the true culture of Nepal will greet her. I am both happy and excited, she will experience some amazing things.
It is becoming a trend, waking up to the late morning sun. I returned to the warmth of the bed as Sunny and I said goodbye. Hours later I repeat a morning like the day prior, stumbling down the stairs to meet the guys, coffee and food. There was not much planned for the day, a day of relaxing and driving into town for a wedding. So we hopped in the vehicle and made our way into town, making a stop inside the park for some pictures. As we waited for the wedding to start, we walked the Glitter City board walk with some coffee and starved ourselves in anticipation of the food to come.
Not long after, we made our way through the crowd greeting everyone and meeting the groom. Dirk and I looked at each other a bit odd when Chris invited us, yet I couldn’t believe it. We were invited to an Alaskan Wedding, the odds of that. The friend of Chris whom tied the knot, the town as witness, became emotional as they exchanged words. We then made it to the free food and drinks, digging in socializing. The wedding party was pretty cool. No dress code and it appeared to be just a large party with a cake. Everyone was casual and just there to hang out with the family.
The sun now rises as I’m driving the guys back to the cabin. It was a day of new friends and festivities. The chance to update is harder now that the night ends so late. Even as I pull out my phone during the day, no reception ends any possibility to connect. I seem to notice my writing becoming longer and more detailed. A difference from what my first couple posts consisted of. I am begining to like writing, another element to a photo, a story-line. Danali National Park.
The sun no longer had it’s effect on me as I slept behind curtained windows. The morning then became noon as I made my way downstairs to meet Chris and Dirk, watching my head for the low ceiling. They probably sat there for a good hour or two before I even had the thought of waking up. Stumbling down, Chris laughed and asked what we wanted to eat for breakfast. Standing in the kitchen, I instantly woke up to the smell of home made pancakes. Pulling out the cast-iron skillet, Chris poured batter onto the hot surface, fluffy and golden.
We all sat around the small wooden table sipping coffee, full of cake. The sun peaked through the window behind me, over looking the front yard and the mass of fire wood in the corner. Not having any planned agenda for the day, Dirk and I jumped in and helped Chris chop some wood. A task that seemed to be “Alaskan” enough for us to have fun, we all joked how Chris put us to work. With chips and dust from the chainsaw flying about, placing the camera became a tricky game. Getting a close up shot, I took a heavy swing, aiming for the center grain of the log. The axe blade digging, splitting, separating what once grew. As the blade passed through with the end of my stroke, half of the log was seeking revenge. Inches, the movement in slow motion caught my eye. Without a reaction I just watched what might have been, the log and my lens. Coming to a stop, rolling, rocking. A grin on my face, I retrieved my camera and let the log sit there. Pleased, I got the shot.
The stacks high, we all made trips back and fourth from the pile to the house. In no time Chris, Dirk and I were again sitting around sipping coffee. Admiring our work, we began to plan something else. Being that we finished a lot earlier than expected, into town is were we set our eyes on.
We would go pay a visit to the sled dogs, a pack of wolf looking beasts that loved to run. As we made it out of the driveway, I just returned to the window, scanning the land. The mountains caught the stray rays of sunshine as the clouds moved in, making the forest more inviting.
The car doors slammed behind us as we made our way down the path. The barks and howls of the pack echoed from a distance, hearing us approach. It seemed almost too surreal as we entered the yard, ears full of sound. Turning the corner, the source of all the commotion erupted. The dogs were all perched on the roofs of their houses, at attention, trying to recognize us. As we approached the immense size of the dogs took me for a surprise, my brain trying to remember any crazy dog stories. At about waist high, these dogs looked as if they could tear someone up. Aside from stereotypes, these dogs were awesome. Approaching them, their tails would be wagging as they yipped in excitement, prancing about. We each greeted every dog, leaving them all with the same attention. It was amazing seeing these guys, a sight not many people get to experience.
Later we found our selves visiting the local pubs and Denali employs bars, a tour not available on the pamphlet.
A night with Denali locals.
Barely able to sleep with the anticipation of our day to come, I forced myself to roll out of the sleeping bag and into the same old clothes. Denali National Park was the day’s plan, a vacation, a stress free tour within one of the worlds most beautiful Mountain scapes. Dirk and I quickly made our way to the front office, making a pit stop in the communal kitchen. There I pulled out any edible pieces of food from my pack and devoured it as my breakfast, not wasting time to cook the oats. The night before, we marked our names on the ride list, sealing our early morning fate. Rounding the corner, we caught the shuttle driver and stored the bags in the storage shed before jumping on. Already, the excitement began it’s upward slope.
Watching the lines of countless cypress trees pass, a blur once my eyes drift down to the trunks. Denali soon engulfed the bus as we entered it’s vast terrain. We yield at the end of the pavement slowing for the lack of road ahead. Dirk and I arrived at the park visitor center running straight to the bus ticket counter. Grabbing the earliest bus as far into the park as we can go, we hit the end of the public access road. Sheryl Paxton was our bus driver, more enthusiastic than the rest of the bus, she was happy to meet Dirk and I. From the time we all noticed we will be the only 3 on the bus, a sense of camaraderie arose. As I sat there on the bench looking out of the window, all I could think was how we basically scored a private tour in Denali National Park. So blown away from the turn of events, I just grabbed my camera and hoped seats as I snapped shots. The road narrowed into a single lane, wrapping the high cliffs as the dew sparkled in the sun.
We laughed and talked as the hours piled up, bouncing in the seats as the bus continued through the vast openness. From the moment we met, Dirk, Sheryl and I were joking and talking non stop. Watching for oncoming buses, they would lead us to animal sightings like english pointers. Though the deeper we continued the less we relied on passing buses and focused hard into the brush. Spotting caribou and bears in the distance, I was set on being the first to spot a “berry bear, ” face smashed against the window. It was berry season and all the bears feasted upon the millions of blue berry patches scattered throughout the region. My belly growling, I couldn’t help but eat my only banana, jealous of the bears outside. The land was beautiful as I looked around, snapping as many photos as I could. The mountains in the distance, snow capped and covered with an eerie layer of clouds, gave the scene some depth as they rose into the sky. My eyes followed the rivers as they drain from the valleys and glaciers, snaking and scaring the land. Such an incredible scene, the pastel colors, the painting forever trapped in my mind.
During this 11 hour bus ride, 85 miles deep into the park, we began to turn zombie. The lack of preparation left us without food for the entire ride. The only banana now gone, I turned to what was left of my sunflower seeds, destroying them like a rabid squirrel on a bird-feeder. I sat there holding on to my concentration in the bus, over heating my camera with shots. Not only was our stomachs pissed at us, but the weather also seemed to frown. Approaching a bend in the road, the rain started to fall as the clouds hung from the peaks overhead. Like we had entered an entirely different world, the rain seemed to just fall over mile 66, Eielson Visitor Center. Here we took a half hour lunch break, seeking shelter in the building. I laughed as we killed time waiting for the designated eating time to end, reading and learning about Denali with nothing more that water to consume. Never have I ever wanted lunch to be over more than that moment, finishing the last of my sunflower seeds. Hiding my camera under my raincoat, we made a dash through the rain to the bus. Sheryl smiled and we set off for Wonder Lake, mile 84.
Like the bus just pulled out of a car wash, we were free from the curtains of rain. The colors of the mountain and valley, green and a soft pastel red where the water washes the land. I sat there appreciating the sight for a moment, forgetting what a camera was intended to do. As we took a sharp narrow turn down a steep hill, Wonder Lake glistened behind the trees. We made it, 84 miles into the Denali wild, blue berry patches abundant. I don’t think I even took one picture once the bus came to a stop. Dirk and I, red and blue jackets alike, jumped into the waist high undergrowth of a cypress landscape. The most odd colored bear, onlookers must have thought while we tore through the shrubs, heads down.
During the day long ride, we had gotten to know Sheryl pretty well. As she turned to point out a creek bed known for bear sightings, she over heard out concerns and offered us help. Our predicament was a little more complicated as the time grew long. Needing to be back at the hostel to grab our packs, we already knew we would miss the shuttle and need to hitchhike or walk back. Being that it was going to be late when we would arrive at the visitor center, walking was likely going to be our means of transportation. As we rolled back into the Eielson Visitor Center, Sheryl got a static full of orders to remain at that location until further notice. All three of us sat there, joined by about a handful of company by now, we awaited word. Hearing one driver was stranded back at mile post 76, Sheryl became the rescue mission. Needing a full bus for the 25 stranded passengers, orders were given to transfer all the passengers of our bus to one that was passing. As Sheryl was our ticket to a less stressful exit of the park and our new Denali friend, we couldn’t let her go alone. The doors closed behind the leaving passengers and the two way radio blasted. We would make a u-turn, leaving the rain behind for the second time. As we took the familiar route back, the sun now appeared through the broken clouds. The perfect light I have been longing for the entire day. Now with a little bit more energy from the blue berries and the excitement of our mission, I sprang up and started to fill my memory cards. Not long into the 10 mile track did we think about how we will back up and turn around. The road is narrow in the back country, leaving pull off spots as the only means of passing. Sheryl smirks and said she spotted a clearing she can whip around in a mile and a half back. Over the hill, we see the bus and how much traffic and passengers where held up in the mess. The 25 stranded passengers joined up with the passengers of the another bus heading west, all on the gravel road. The bus was then shifted into park, emergency air breaks hissing. The three amigos then made their was through the crowd, Sheryl confident in her mechanics. Approaching the driver of the other bus, one that seemed to lack training on the particular model, he seemed to have lost a few screws too. Sheryl then took control of the situation leaving the driver to stand there dumbfounded. Not more than 5 minutes and the three of us where heading back to the mother ship, free to travel back without taking the necessary stops. Dirk and I were excited, this meant being back just on time to grab our bags with a ride from Sheryl. We were pumped, yet physically dead. I don’t even think I smiled once I stepped off that bus, 12 hours later.
Dirk and I would then pace around the Visitor Center into the night. The cold crept in as the sun set to a twilight. All I remember was my legs hurting but kept walking to keep them warm. Sheryl will be here any moment, a thought that circulated in our minds as we silently passed each other while pacing. Minutes would take ages to pass as I watched my clock tease me. I pulled my sleeve down and continued my network of paths. A pair of headlights rounded the corner and straight up to us. Our lifeless bodies became alive when we entered her vehicle. Snatching some cafeteria food for us, I devoured my apple like a character from castaway. We hit the road, the car floating down the road, 2x the speed we have been traveling all day. The hostel then appeared suddenly, making us do a u-turn on the dark highway. Closed and no one around, Dirk and I then made our way across the street. As we grabbed our gear, we said our goodbyes to Sheryl, our new friend and savior of the day.
We began to scan the crowd for Chris Infante and any possible person we could recognize from the hostel. After first attacking the pizza, we luckily bumped in to the girl whom shuttled us to the park this morning. She happily walked us over and into the shed to grab our packs, returning to the bar after we were done. There we continued the search for our friend of a friend, Chris Infante, a ranger at the Savage Patrol Cabin in the park. Him and Dirk had a good game of phone tag going on until he finally answered. With the conversation broken from the static, we stood there without a clue.
As a dude passed me looking like he was scanning the place down, I had a slight focus on him as he passed. Not knowing what Chris looks like, I just continued to screen the place of someone looking like a Chris. Dirk then turns around at the bar seeing who the bartender just yelled at. It was the Chris Infante we needed to run into. Our night from there on looked bright. After a couple local pub stops, we then arrived to the little wood cabin, masked in the dark. The top floor had the beds we could crash on and the downstairs is where we talked for some time. Light off, new days come.
End: Denali AK.
The morning started with the chirping of alarms. Watches, phones and clocks all seemed to join forces and annoy me back to reality. I woke up in the same position as I found myself last night, staring toward the window. The slow movement of everyone stiring echoed in my head, a quiet room. I took advantage of being first to the restroom and upon returning I was supprised to find everyone alive in action. It was an early start as Erica wanted to drop us off at a good spot before heading to work. Our luck rested in her hands as we headed out into the morning sun.
Vigorously sketching and filling in the words, my sign was soon to state Denali, our next stop. As the car swayed back and fourth with the bumps of the road, I didn’t even have the chance to finish as we approched the end of town. The one time I have reception and begin to talk to Sunny, I find myself juggling all the bags, the sign and phone trying to get out of the car. All I could do was laugh and tell my girl I will talk to her soon as I grabbed the camera to catch our goodbyes with Erica. A mad couple of minutes it was, as we jumped about stituating ourselves on the side of the road. With Erica moving into the distance, all the excitement and commotion seemed to follow. Dirk and I stood there quiet, looking down the road at the minimal traffic flowing our way. The morning sun filled the scene with an overpowering glare as I sat back down to finish my sign. Pulling the sharpie from my pocket, I turn to realize an suv was pulling over. Almost catching us by complete suprise, I looked at my sign and back at Dirk trying to make sense of the whole event taking place. Dirk must have thrown out the thumb or waved him down for it wasn’t the sign that convinced him to stop. The sign only stating DENA at the time was in my lap. We grabbed the bags and ran.
A man jumped out of the suv and started shoving some boxes around to make room for us. We just stood there, hands in pockets, amazed that we were getting a ride all the way to Denali. Three minutes didn’t even pass from the time we left Erica to meeting Tony Westmoreland. The first thing I noticed about Tony was that he reminded me of an Audio professor I had in community college. Both are very laid back and have a lot of passion behind what they do. Not only was he very knowledgable, but his philosophy was one of a kind. He is an instructor for a non-profit program that educates parents on how to manage anger and aggresive children. As I sat in the front seat and Dirk in the back, we all talked about photography, music and our travels. The 123 mile journey felt like a 15 minute joy ride with the good company. As we approached what is dubbed “Glitter City” by the locals, we jumped out and parted ways. Snapping a photo and saying our goodbyes, Tony shall join the many great people we have meet throughout the trip.
Glitter City, a false town. We found ourselves in one of the many tourist traps that litter the countryside. Cookie cutter cabins and a board walk that was full of herded people making their way into the company owned shops. I laughed as I saw the Subway and knew I wanted to eat there. As suspected, it was no longer the 5 dollar foot long but the 10 dollar foot long. Easy to inflate prices when the tourists are funneled in without any other place to go, thus the false town name. Cutting our losses, Dirk and I settle for splitting a sandwich as I began on the new sign to Anchorage. While eating and sketching out the nine letters across the board, I started to notice people staring. Piercing eyes, unfriendly faces. Sad to say we were back among a judgmental group of people, walking by in their new fashionable Northface hiking clothes. We just ignored any vibes thrown and made our way back out to the road.
Again we met a ride in just a few minutes of posting up. As we tossed our bags into the back and hopped in, Mike introduced Uncle Carl. Mike, a local gentleman who works within the national park, gets a kick out of introducing his truck first. He states more people know the truck rather than him, so why not introduce his old yellow pickup first. A true character…
Not long after, Dirk and I stood in front of the closed hostel, no where to go. Dropping the bags and getting comfortable on the couches, we remained there for a few hours. Sitting back, pulses of light rain fell in odd patterns, refreshing as it hit my skin. The rest of the day was spent relaxing among the company of the other guests, talking and sharing stories. As the night fell, late as usual, I finished the last words of my post and fell into my sleeping bag. Sheltered from the cold, I lay awake listening to a comforting patter, the sound of rain on the tent.
Sometimes I wonder why we ditched our sleeping mats as I roll over on the hard wood floor. Laying completely straight and on my back, being comfortable is a treat of the past.
The morning began rather late due to the long ride. Dirk, Shane and I began to pack and make our way out of the cabin, talking and reflecting on the luck we all ran into. Being sure to remember the ladder was not mounted to the wall, I tossed my gear down and cautiously took each step. Looking up, I turned the light off and the door soon closed behind me. The Fairbanks Cabin I dubbed it, looking back to catch sight of it in the daylight. A double story log cabin perched on a hill, lost in the forest and over looking thousands of trees that made up the mountains in the distance. Originally a dry cabin, extension chords from an unknown source now powered the network of switches and power strips. A hide away, a place to relax.
Jumping back into the truck, we headed into town to grab some breakfast. Going from eating four times a day and thousands of calories to just about nothing is a shock to the system. At this point in the transition I began to feel crazed, looked forward to any gas station or food stand on the side of the road and almost emptying my wallet of its contents. We pulled into what seemed to be the only gas station on the edge of town and I was delighted to see Grandma’s stand.
Grandma was her name, serving home-made pastries and the town’s best coffee, we didn’t even give her time to get back to the counter before we started our orders. As we waited for her to pour our coffee on this cold morning, I couldn’t help but play with the alligator heads that decorated the stand. All the way from Florida she stated, pointing at the sharp teeth. A smirk on my face, I reply and we began to talk about good old Florida. It seems to be a conversation starter up in Alaska, a state lucky enough not to have snakes and venomous spiders. Not even venomous plants like poison ivy and oak grow in the bush like we have back in Florida. Truly the safest hiking region with regards to that, on the other hand though, most of the animals and elements of the northwest can easily kill a man.
After a warm up with the coffee and a giant face sized cinnamon roll, we started back into town. Shane showed us around as he drove, pointing and explaining some of the history of the area. Cresting the hill, Fairbanks appeared under the smoke-like fog that hung in the trees. The smell of burning wood crept through the vents as we rounded the hill and drifted down the 10% grade. With the come of summer, fires run through the forest, refreshing and clearing the land for new growth. A regular event that the community prepares for, but never over reacts and or shows much interest in. Pulling past the University campus, we arrived at our new spot, the end of our journey with Shane. How we managed to be so lucky and catch a ride with him, I don’t know, but a new friend came out of the deal.
The next hours would linger by as we sat in the college coffee shop. Writing and reviewing the past days became my task, picking the brain for every detail that I can recall. I grabbed some coffee and got to work, sneaking a brownie too. I hate being behind, late. Just the thought of catching up on work is enough to discourage me, putting it off again. Dirk also jumped into a mess of emails , trying to better plan our next move. Either couch surfing or cheap campsites are our only choices. Nearing the end of this journey and having faced so many challenges… a process of desensitizing took place. Now that sleeping anywhere is no concern, the concept of paying-to-sleep became a topic of agitation and annoyance.
My break over, I returned from the gas station across the street. Picking up a hot dog and a soda pop, they were non-existent by the time I reached for the coffee shop door. As I entered, I caught eye with dirk as his smirk grew large and erupted into a laugh. “We got another couch to surf for the night,” he said. The stress with finding a place to sleep in Fairbanks vanished and the work that hours can contest to, paid off. We gathered our belongings, and headed out front to wait for our hosts. Erica and Damian then pulled up, a young couple with much enthusiasm to help, they showed us a good time. Into the city and down to the river, we ate and had good conversation. The typical length of time needed to drop guards and feel relaxed soon hit us as everyone started to laugh. Jokes and stories filled the night as we moved from the restaurant to the apartment.
The night then grew late as I laid down facing the window. The northern summer is something I will soon miss, the ever lasting twilight that merged dawn with dusk.
End: Fairbanks AK.
An early night, 10pm my eyes closed. Still light out, the everlasting twilight would soon creep in, absorbing the detail of the land.
Falling asleep with my phone inches from my face, the screaming of the alarm invaded my dream. An early morning was again for breakfast. Rolling about, I wished to sleep for weeks on end. My pillow, my dim room, the familiar rattle of my ceiling fan. Home, a place I have not seen in months.
My bag packed and loaded into the car, I wandered back into the house to meet Pat and Rita in the kitchen. I joined them for some toast and coffee, having a light conversation before we had to hit the road. Rita needed to be in work today, making our departure early and a long drive ahead. Dirk and I had no problem with the early takeoff, Haines Junction is our stop, one quarter of the way back to Haines. This was the major junction along the Alaskan highway, forking off to Fairbanks or Anchorage. A great spot to find a ride. A spot we will test our luck once more. As we said farewell to Pat and snapped a couple group shots, we were again on the open road.
Following the yellow line with my eyes, I watched the highway stretch into the distance. The mountains, now visible and towering, I finally had the chance to appreciate them without the fog. A picture perfect landscape. Rediscovering sections of the road, I laughed when I recognized the strip we nearly met the herd of elk head on. Noticing numerous tire streaks scaring the road, I realized we were not the only lucky ones.
The watering hole, our stop at the junction. As Rita filled her car, we unloaded our bags. Tossing them to the side, I set up my camera to snap the last shot of the Haines gang. Mad adventuring people, crazies set out to live life and make memories. Hugs and goodbyes, friends that will be remembered. Watching her pull away, all I could think about was the many people that helped us get to where we were. All whome has made this trip so much better. As the dust faded from the road, we turned to grab our bags and walk to the edge of town, thumbs out.
The morning grew hot as we took our shifts on the roadside. Tired and with depression setting in, the hours piled up as we sat waiting for the one vehicle to save us. We just spent our time kicking rocks, the only pass time to keep our sanity. Dirk soon made a trip to a shop nearby and scored a piece of cardboard. I smiled as this became my new task. I scribbled the word Alaska. Big and visible, a timely task for the ball-point pen. With a new ray of hope, we grabbed our packs, our new sign and headed for a new spot. Again we waited, sign up and thumb out.
The afternoon sun was now overhead as I hid underneath the cardboard sign. Looking at my watch then at Dirk, we both new we might not be leaving the junction. Four and a half hours had passed, not one vehicle slowed. Just the common shrug of shoulders and hand gestures from the drivers as they passed. We decided to head back into town, a defeating walk. Into the bar we went.
We spent a good hour, maybe two on the bar searching for ways to get to Alaska. Dirk scanned the web as I sat thinking of were we might have to camp, preparing ourselves for the worst. After a cola and some chips, we decided to head out for one last try. Not expecting much, we took our time across the street, stopping for a bag of cookies from the shop. The same watering hole we started the day off at, we posted up and dropped the bags. These must have been lucky cookies for after we had one each we heard a voice yelp out from behind us. This old 1980′s truck turned in with the window down and a bearded dude hanging out.”Where you heading?” he asked. Alaska, we yelled back, holding up our sign. “Yea, but where in Alaska?” As the excitement started to sink in we fished around for a response only to come up with the town of Tok. He said awesome and we grabbed our bags in a hurry.
Shane was his name. A bearded comrade whome was on his way to Fairbanks from Haines. As he filled up his truck he stated how he was glad to run into us, a long boring drive he was not looking forward to alone. We were equally excited and glad to leave the junction behind. Without even a discussion, Dirk and I tossed our bags in the back, both agreeing we are off to Fairbanks. My stress was non existent, my worries gone.
The ride was long, holding on as the road sent the truck all over the lane. Frost heaves Shane stated. Huge fluctuations in the road caused by the unstable ice that would form under the asphalt during winter. Cracks and sudden hills were marked by orange flags, littered along the highway. A long ride I thought as I tried to grasp my concentration. Looking over at Dirk, his head bobbed, out cold.
Nothing but the wild Yukon was now infront of us. Magnificent mountains and forests as far as the eye can see. The road wrapped rivers and grand lakes of turquoise, reflecting the mountains in the mirror like water. I was in awe, scanning the land and making a mental note of places to return one day. It wasn’t until we stopped for gas in the small border town of Beaver City when I snapped out of this trance. Bellies growling, we all ran into the shop to grab a bite to eat. Out of the kindness of the shop keeper, we gained a meal without spending a penny. Warm chicken pot pies, a home made meal that has been so foreign to us. Smiles on our faces and hunger at bay, we set out once more.
The Alaskan border then gave us excitement as the customs agent began his series of questions. With our American passports in hand, he fished for answers as he suspected us to be hitchhiking. Not saying he was guessing wrong, but he seemed amused with our story and welcomed us to Alaska. With a laugh and the first sighting of a moose, the drive then became serious. The sun setting, moose now posed a danger as they became active. As the largest antelope, hitting one could spell disaster, even in a large truck. Eyes peeled, we scanned the road sides, prepared to slam on the breaks at any moment. So many moose crossed our paths tonight. Black pelts and unpredictable, we were lucky.
We made it into Fairbanks at 1am. The long ride was over as we pulled into a small cabin. So tired, the three of us climbed up stairs and called it a night.
The long drive ended at Pat’s house, our couch surfing host for the night. Inviting us for some lemon water and toast, we talked into the early morning hours. The night came to an end again around 3am. As the sun began to rise, we all crawled into bed, sleep at last.
7:30 never came so fast. Jumping up to pack my sleeping bag and make it out the door, we couldn’t be late for Rita’s marathon After grabbing a couple pieces of toast and having a few words with Pat, we headed out the door in a hurry.
Rita, Dirk, the pups and I crammed back into the car we had spent hours in yesterday. Without a clue of the town’s roads and layout, we headed in blind, searching for the starting line. Minutes before the start, we pulled into the parking lot and she made her way to the registration desk. A new personal record she states, as it was only 4 minutes before they begun.”What about stretching?” Dirks asks as she walked away pinning her number to her shorts. She then answered “no… thats what the first few k’s are for.” We laughed.
The whistle blew and they were off. The tough terrain race was expected to last a few hours, giving us time to run some errands and explore the town of Whitehorse. As we were both just about mad with hunger, our first stop was TIM Hortons. A Panera type establishment that also served doughnuts. My girlfriend had been raving about the food since I stepped foot in Canada and was sad to hear I passed it up while in Vancouver. As I still had a couple bills of Canadian dollar left in my pocket and no intention of re-entering after getting into northern Alaska, I had to give it a try. I must say wow..GOOD!
We then found ourselves looking for WiFi connections and a place to wash our over ripe clothes. As Rita lent us the car while she ran, we had an easier time commuting and covering ground, relieved I didn’t have to walk. Pulling into the local laundry mat, errand number two was well on the way, relaxing as the cycle spun.
Keeping the dogs company, we rode around the town knocking out the list. When 3:40 rolled around, we jumped back into the car, driving to the park to watch Rita finish the race. A nice event for both people-watching and socializing, I had a great time. At just over four hours, Rita crossed the finish line as we screamed and cheered her on. While passing she waved and gestured for the camera, a crazy accomplishment on only a few hours of sleep. She was wipped out as she told us all about the trail and how she just kept her legs going. With a bottle of water and some food, we sat and relaxed. Napping in the sun, soft grass, light breeze. A very laid back day. Not an ounce of worry on my shoulders, a rare relief.
We would then return to Pat’s house where we ate some hotdogs and sausages from the fire, socializing into the twilight evening. The long days soon caught up and we retreated into bed before the sun had set. tomorrow would be a test to our new skill, or a test of the luck.
End: Whitehorse Yukon.
Twelve hours later we stir from the sleeping bags, the longest I have slept in months. Rolling over, the soft light leaked into the room from the small window by our feet, rendering the room we navigated in the dark. The soft rain showered on the tin roof above and was soothing enough to convince me to hibernate once more.
We spent the night in an attic-like room of the red cabin. A cozy spot above the living room, only accessible by climbing the steps nailed on the wall. We waited for Rita to return from her half marathon that was scheduled this morning, heading to Whitehorse after. We sat, but she never came back. Worried, we packed and decided to hitch our way into town.
The fog hung low in the valley today. Blending the water with the sky, fishing boats seemed to sail into the clouds. Mountains that were visible yesterday, gone today, hidden in a thick moist blanket of grey. The few buildings in town seemed to be lost, caught in the mass of swirling clouds drifting along the ground. We grabbed our rain coats, throwing them on before heading into the abiss. Thumb out, we got back into town and went straight into a restaurant. Hunger struck and I no longer cared about prices, pointing to the menu I ordered without hesitation.
Later we caught up with Rita at the Fogcutter, a local bar with WiFi. As we updated our plans and searched for ways to get over to Anchorage, we basically left blind, no solid plans after Whitehorse. Packed up and making our last minute errands, the five of us set off into the rain and fog. The two others being Lilly and Corkie, Rita’s pups.
Leaving around 7pm, we expected to drive through the night. Cutting through the fog and rain, we made it up the roads that snaked through the mountains safely. Face against the window, I watched the clouds envelope the landscape, transforming it into a gloomily scene. Catching a peek of the mountain tops through the cloud break, I was amazed how much I was missing out on due to the weather. Magnificent peaks and ranges hidden from view. Plains, rivers and valleys, all shrouded in grey. Even the road in front of us, gone.
Crossing the Canadian border, Rita and Dirk swapped spots. After running a half marathon on three hours of sleep, she was burnt. Curling up with the pups as pillows, Rita slept as Dirk and I navigated our way through the Yukon.
I found it hard to stay awake as the hypnotic road stole my concentration. Patches of fog still plagued us as we then hit gravel road and the worries of moose appeared. Keeping the music blasting, we managed to make good time and stayed alert. Yet my eyelids grew heavy watching the road for glowing eyes. Just as I was convinced we would make it without encountering any wildlife, I saw the shadowy figure of a large creature. Three more sets of eyes appeared and I then told Dirk to watch out. A heard of elk, forty plus strong was all over the road. Slamming on the breaks and sending the vehicle into a skid, we chased them off the road with the sound of the tires on the asphalt. In the middle of all this I had to laugh as one dumb elk started to try and out run us, staying right out in front and following the yellow line. As the back tires drifted back and fourth, Rita and the pups sprung to life as they tried to figure out what was about to happen. Dirk gripping the steering wheel and I holding on to the seat, the car came to a stop as we watched the elk leave the scene. A close call.
Hours later and 25mph slower with caution, we made it into Whitehorse. A dark deserted place at 2am. As we approached a home of a fellow couch surfer, we were relieved to sleep. A long night of dangerous road behind us. Back into Canada, the wild Yukon.
End: Haines AK.
Washing my face in the public restroom of a coffee shop, I look into the mirror, reflecting on the last four days….(09-03-10 day 80)
As I turn to get out of bed, I discover the after math of a day of scrambling over boulders. The feeling of screaming muscles, pissed at me over the intense workout I put them through. I would have to walk up and down the stairs like an old man, stressed I wouldn’t get to the restroom in time. I soon dubbed myself a penguin, slow and funny looking, I managed to walk.
As we all got booted from the hostel at 9am, Todd and Cyndi parted ways with us, handshakes and hugs. Dirk and I then decided to make camp at McDonald’s for the morning, gaining WiFi and planning out our next move. A number of ferries were destined for Haines today, so we picked the last and took our time. We would have to jump on the bus and walk a few miles as the terminal was conveniently 14 miles outside of downtown, not a big concern at the moment. Sitting there, I destroyed four cups of coffee, one hotcake breakfast and numerous packets of sugar…. in the coffee. It was a relaxing few hours. Allowing me to update my work and sit back.
Finding ourselves in the Subway now, the second of only two food chain restaurants in town, we grabbed some 7$ foot longs for the ferry ride and shoved them into the packs. We now hit crunch time as we discovered the bus times and the amount of time we had to get there. It is amazing how there is no public transportation to and from the ferry terminal from downtown. As a major port, I just shook my head as we took the 30 minute bus ride to the furthest stop out. Constantly monitoring my watch, the doors opened and we jumped off. Pulling straps tight and preparing for the brisk walk to the ferry, we figured we had 45 minutes to cover 2 miles, no need to run. Following the road as it wrapped around the harbor, two ferries could be seen in port and my stress level dropped a little. Looking back, I slowed a bit to talk to Dirk, adopting his pace.
The parking lot was in sight and we made a dash for the counter. At this point only one sentence had the power to give me a heart attack, killing me on spot. Uttered from the other side of the counter, these chilling words rang out. “The gate is closed, you can’t board now.” An instant drop in blood pressure slowed the moment in time. Panic set in as we both took a step back. Seeing this, the lady then made a call to the gate keeper to verify the status of the ship. Receiving a negative response, all she could do is turn us away. Just then her radio blasted with magic words, making us jump back to the counter in a fraction of a second. We were on! The captain heard about us at the gate and let us on. Lost for words we ran on board, bags on backs and tickets in hand. On the last ship, Haines was now hours ahead.
With the adrenaline still flowing, we made it up to the top deck of the ship. Joining the mass of people lying out in the sun, we dropped our bags and got comfy. The Haines festival was in mid swing that day, explaining the crowds on board. Every one seemed to be talking about it and where they were staying. Hearing this I was glad we will be couch surfing, no worries of finding somewhere to sleep in the packed town. I then fell asleep, taking in the sun and the rare chance to relax.
Waking up to only take in the scenery, the ride was great. The smooth glass-like water reflected the 5000ft mountains that seemed to rise out of nowhere. A valley of water, wind less and mysterious. The occasional pod of whales would give away their position with a display of spraying and tail fin splashes. As everyone would run to one side of the boat to witness this, I laughed at the thought of the boat tipping with the sudden shift of weight.
Docked, our new mission began as we tried to hitchhike to Rita’s house. Rita is our couch surfing host for the evening and lived along the water in a red roofed cabin. As we caught a ride down the road, we saw the house and jumped out to set our eyes on one of the most interesting of places. A little wooden cabin who sat on a number of huge logs, overlooked an amazing view of the water and mountains. Easily five foot in diameter and seventy foot long, these logs kept the cabin dry as the extreme tides flowed in and out. Removing the twig that locked the door, we stepped in to drop off our bags. One of the coolest old cabins I have had the pleasure of stepping into. All I thought was this would be a great place to write a book and work on art. Secluded and no power to distract one with electronics, it was a perfect hide out.
We then hitchhiked about ten miles into town and into the festival. There we will met Rita and experienced a festival like no other. A yearly celebration, Haines holds this event for three days. Booking numerous bands and performers, people from all over flock in to take part in the excitement. As the sun was resting on the horizon and the bluegrass music was flowing, the people danced into the night. Never have I seen such dancing. Without a concern of embarrassing themselves, everyone threw their bodies about. Some seemed like rubber bands as others just ran in circles. A wild and surreal night it was. Lasting until 3:30am, the party lasted from dusk til dawn. As the sun began to rise, we tucked into bed. A long day, a even longer night.
Little sleep last night. The excitement of our hike, ate at me, invading my dreams. After seeing the glacier from the east, I had no idea what to expect approaching it from the west. The size, the mass, a mountain of ice in motion.
I quickly packed and prepared for the long day ahead. The cooking kit, water, raincoat, camera and a couple layers of shirts all went on my back. Packed light but sufficient, I was the first downstairs waiting by the door.
Dirk, Cyndi and Todd soon followed, all making it out of the hostel by 8am. With our group together, we were soon on the city bus toward the Mendenhall glacier. The hour long ride was full of laughter and stories, passing the time quickly. Cyndi and Todd, two fellow hostel guests whome we met last night, were equally excited for the trek. The morning was cloudy but with the spots of sunshine peeking through, we had a chance for an amazing day.
The hike began with a two mile stroll down a street not accessible by bus. As we approached the trail head the glacier could be seen in the distance, above the tree-line reflecting in the sun, overpowering the scape. The blue mountain was near and I couldn’t wait any longer. We moved into the rainforest, pushing through the moss covered vegetation and wet ground. From the canopy to the undergrowth, everything seemed to be blanketed in a layer of dark green fuzz. Numerous streams cut through these moss covered valleys, adding blue to the dominant green landscape and feeding the lush environment. Boulders seemed to pop up in the most odd of places, randomly dropped by the ice centuries ago. The rocks, scared and smoothly polished, reminders of the power tons of pressure and weight can bestow on the land. Moving at 1foot per day, the Mendenhall Glacier was making its way down the mountain, releasing ice that has been trapped for more than 250 years. A cold tomb for what ever lies in the way.
A fork in the trail put doubt into our heads, right or left,back and fourth my eyes scanned the dark paths. Either way, we would move toward the glacier but what trail leads us to the caves? At this point, the terrain was about to make a drastic change. As the rainforest abruptly ended, the steep rock faces jarred out at us, making us climb and navigate with caution. We took the right-hand trail, fingers crossed and minds full of worry, we pressed on into the most narrow of passages. Eyes searching for orange ribbons marking the trail, we made sure we didn’t venture too far off course. The concern in getting lost and spending the night with the bears was on my mind, not my idea of a good night.
The last rock face was now below my feet and as we rose over the lip as a group, Todd let out a yell. The glacier, the entire mass of ice was now visible, blowing a chilling breeze into our faces. The deep blue ice met the water, cracking and falling, melting once more to join the sea. We stood there for a minute, silent, gazing at the view of a lifetime. As if someone snapped their fingers and released us from our hypnotic spell, we scrambled down to the base. I have never jumped down a mountain of rocks with out a concern. As if I was some kind of mountain goat, I hoped from rock to rock until the ice was before me, towering into the air. Words nor pictures could describe the scene. Video maybe able to reproduce a fraction of the experience, yet being there was the only way.
We stopped and set up our lunch camp at the entrance to an ice cave. Sheltered from the wind, we enjoyed the warmest place next to the ice. Grabbing my raincoat and camera I ventured down the rocks into the blue room. Navigating the slippery rocks and streams of ice water, I was in a world unlike anything I have ever experienced. The sound of creaking ice and rain falling from the roof above, I went wild with photos. Dirk and Cyndi would then have the courage to join me, all looking about in silence. Looking up, the thought of ice meters thick above was enough to make me nervous. Walls so clear, glass-like and smooth, no oxygen was left in the crystals. Pure and as blue as the sky, all I wanted to do was sit down there for ever, watching the vapor of every breath.
After lunch and a few more hours of wandering, Cyndi and I would then take the chance of putting foot on the glacier without the security of crampons. Finding a low point to access, we both made our way on top, excited and lost for words. Keeping safety in mind, we didn’t go too far. Memory cards spent and guys waiting, we turned to make our way down the ice. As we had no traction, moving down was the most difficult part of the excursion, slipping and sliding on our butts.
The walk back to the road was hard. Not that the terrain was difficult or we were tired, just the concept of leaving something so incredible behind to never see again was hard. Talking all the way back, excited and adrenaline still pumping, the four of us jumped on the bus and sat back. I will be so excited to see the photos when I get back to my office, reliving the day, reliving the journey thus far.
Just one bear remains tonight. Loud as can be, he growls throughout the night, an irregular cycle of noise. When I fall asleep, I shall join him in his nocturne song, snoring loud and shaking the room.
As we entered the hostel yesterday, rule number one was abruptly displayed before our faces. No shoes were allowed. Slipping them off and placing them in one of the many small shelves on the wall, we walked through the room of smell. Dropping our bags, we were relieved to book our night. 10$ and with one chore to do… there is no beating it.
A 9am to 5 pm lock out is another of many rules throughout the establishment. Granted a house full of rules and regulations is annoying, it was also clean and well maintained. So we grabbed the cameras and set out for some fun. We combed the small town looking for a guided tour of the glacier. Needing crampons and various other gear for safety reasons, a tour in theory should be relatively expensive. Knowing this, we still gave it a shot and tried to find a deal.
We couldn’t justify the prices they were demanding for these glacial walks. Some would drop you off by helicopter while others guide you up a trail that is free to enter, easily charging 270$+. Really no reason Dirk and I needed to dish out money, the little we have, for something we could do on our own. Just as we agreed to the West Glacial trail, we realized our packs were locked in the hostel and we would have to pursue this mission tomorrow. A combination of anticipation and annoyance led me to be pissed off about the turn of events. As I looked up, I could see patches of blue sky and knew weather like that was rare for Juneau. The rainy season, we found our chances of a good day tomorrow to be slim.
Stumbling into the Alaskan state museum, I spent hours walking around the exhibition. The most interesting information and displays were on the native people that called this land home long before we set eyes on it. The survival story was incredible for such a harsh region. Kayaks crafted out of wood and lined with hide. Rain coats and parkas made of animal gut. Things seemingly impossible for a modern person to think of, resources utilized to the fullest. I passed up everything else, no need to waste my time with knowing what settlers killed off all the natives or looking at the entire wall dedicated to sarah pallen. Keeping her name either wrong or lower case, I have no respect for an ignorant puppet. It wasn’t until I made it upstairs I began to enjoy the art once more. Photography covered a number of walls and that is were I remained until I couldn’t comprehend anymore.
Stopping at the only known grocery store in town soon after, the thought was to grab a cheap meal and save some cash. Being warned about the increased price in food and goods the further north we traveled, I was not prepared for what I saw. A regular bag of Lays potato chips, 6.89$. A gallon of milk, 6.99$. Bread loaf, 4.49$. My hunger was scared away, my wallet unwilling to open. I got out of there with a premade dish of rice, vegetables and pork stew, all within their own separate containers. With a 1.89$ two liter cola and our empty rice containers as cups, we successfuly stuffed our faces on 7$ worth of food.
Hours of wandering, later we found ourselves hiking a trail up a steep mountain side. With only our thin mesh trail-running shoes, we navigated the mud and climbed the switchbacks. Avoiding the mud and water, we managed to keep our swamp shoes from looking like their name, remembering we would need to place them on the shelves of the hostel’s smelly room later.
It was fun. Remembering the days I would drag my dad to hike the trails in Hawaii, I laughed to myself as I saw the switchbacks. As I would run down them, my dad would follow sounding like a rhino. Feet stomping and increasing in speed, I had all the motivation to keep running or be run over.
Enjoying the time, I forgot about the bigger hike tomorrow and the glacier I so wanted to see. We made it to the top and caught a ride by the cable car down. Returning to the hostel, I prepared some pasta, my specialty. The night growing old, I jumped in my bunk and rested my mind. Only the three of us remain in the room. Dirk, the grizzly man-bear and I.
End: Juneau AK.
The smell of new sheets and the sound of bears in this hostel room. Growling in the dark, these beasts keep me awake and attentive. Until I grab my ipod, the hours will only drag by, my hand wandering through the bottom of my bag.
The morning brought a cool wind. Blowing off the water and running through the wind chimes, the atmosphere turned zen-like and relaxing. I immediately looked down my sleeping bag, feeling the cloth for any sign of moisture. Being the first time in a while sleeping within our tent, the enclosure must have retained some heat as there was no condensation on my bag. Relieved and excited to snap some photos, I jumped out and stuffed the bag away, packing everything in a hurry.
Helena then met us on the deck, greeting us and offering us some tea. As we packed and sipped the warm liquid, I would take a couple seconds to look out over the water, taking in the scenery and enjoying the moment in time. As letting us stay in her yard and feeding us some King crab wasn’t enough, Helena then began to offer us some gear to borrow. We followed her down stairs and she began to dig around. Pulling out two backpacks and tossing them our way, she said we can borrow them and send them back when the journey was over. Having spent a couple days lugging this duffel bag on my shoulders, as large as my torso and just as awkward, I was so happy to agree to the deal. Dirk and I looked at each other, agreeing without words that Helena is a bad ass woman. We laughed and began to repack our gear, leveling out the weight between the bags. Trying them out, I don’t think I have seen Dirk smile that much in a while.
Looking out the window as we drove back into town, I watched the sights behind me fading away, holding tight to them in my memory. Helena pointed out some shops and pulled into her regular morning coffee shop. We jumped out and snapped a few photos before she turned around toward work. Dirk and I continued into town on foot, hungry and eager to hike a nearby trail, we picked up the pace. Doughnut and coffee in hand, we set out for the coast.
The tide was coming in with a current so furious. Fixated on a fisherman in the distance, we both noticed his back and fourth movement on the water. He would speed up to only drift back to were he started, a frustrating dilemma I can imagine. Helena had told us the intense tide changes along the inside passage of Alaska was second to any in the world. With a rise and drop of more than 20 feet, the retreat of the water left the shore bare. The mountains in the distance, white and jagged, rose above the horizon to upscale the land. The Devil’s Thumb, a landmark in the distance, gave the panoramic shot I was taking some much needed character. Looking through the telephoto lens, I can only imagine the rush of mountaineering, something I may want to pursue later in my life.
The time ticking down, Dirk and I made our way back to the ferry terminal before we found ourselves late. With the new packs still waiting for us in Helena’s trunk, we payed a last visit. Hellos and goodbyes, we set out with a comforting weight on our backs. Feeling optimistic about our day, we booked our tickets and boarded the vessel. This being an express ferry, we were expected to arrive in Juneau in four hours, half that of the regular duration. Upon boarding we met Kelly and Glenda, husband and wife on their way to Juneau. What started as a waiting room discussion, turned into a four hour meet and greet. We bumped into each other all over on board. Spending most of my time wandering, camera in hand and eyes watching for interesting shots, Kelly and I was always exchanging some words. Nearing the end of the trip, an unexpected question was tossed my way. Dirk and I was invited by the couple into town. They had other plans, but were more than happy to help us out being that there was a 14 mile walk from the ferry terminal into town. I tried to keep my composure as I walked over to dirk to tell him the news, words moving so fast I had to repeat myself twice.
As we all jumped in the red SUV, maps went flying and the gps was pulled out. We were on our way to the Alaskan Brewing Co. An unexpected trip that both Dirk and I was more than willing to tag along to. Opening the door, the smell of beer and laughter of people flooded out. We filed in and began to taste the free beer that was presented to us. With the history of the facility and 6 small beers down, we headed to the Mendenhall Glacier. As we approached the terminal from the ferry, the glacier could be clearly seen. A mass of white covering what seemed like a mountain sized piece of land, nestled behind the commotion of the town. Up close, I couldn’t believe the size of this mass of ice. Approaching it, the air chilled as the wind swept off the ice and on to us. I was utterly speechless. No words can describe its beauty. A mass of white and blue, so thick and jagged I couldn’t quite take enough photos.
Our time with Kelly and Glenda would end with the ride into town. Navigating through the small steep streets of Juneau, we came upon our hostel. An old building with a bright yellow paint job. Again we would say goodbye to kind people that helped us along our way. Waving as they drove away, we turned to enter the house.
End: Petersburg AK.
As the ship glided out of port, the adrenaline crash was sinking in. Making new friends, all of whome are adventure junkies, we sat and talked until the sun rested behind the horizon. With a little crazed idea, Dirk, Evan and I decided to sleep on the deck of the ship. Winds howling and the cold almost unbearable, I kept under some shelter as they tested the elements out in the open. The smell of exhaust, catalyst number one to my sea-sickness, I flipped over to smother my face in my makeshift pillow.
The sun happened to be the first thing I stared at after waking up. Not a bright thing to do as I was instantly blinded and grumby after the fact. We were still on the water, moving among the small islands and traveling at a leisurely pace. The view was amazing. Mountains met the water. Green pines and white caps. Once my camera was turned on, only the batteries failing could end my trigger happy session.
The ship made It’s second stop of the route on an island named Wrangell. Sleeping through the first stop, I missed a chance to explore for 30 minutes as the ship sat in port. Granted it was around 2:30am when we docked, I want to take advantage of every chance to experience the new region. Evan and I jumped off board and quickly walked around the town. A fishermen’s town I thought as we cut down the main drag. Old wooden convenient stores and houses lined the street, dipping and bending with the road as it hugged the coast. Boats and nets sat on driveways and hung from racks, decorative in color. A quiet town that erupts with activity with the coming of summer. The Sun’s warmth brings life to the sea as the ice retreats and opens up passage for so many animals. The fishermen flock in for a cut of the prize and the tourists follow. Alaska bursts into life.
Arriving in Petersburg, we grabbed our bags and headed out. Excited we were climbing further and further north, containing our joy was out of the question. The town was filled with fishermen. One of the biggest communities of fishermen in the passage, the docks flowed with activity. Boats of all sizes and shapes hugged these floating walkways, bobbing with the tide.
Hungry and in need of information, we headed into town. A grilled halibut burger called my name as we walked past a restaurant. As this is one of the main fish pursued in these waters, I had to give it a try. As I sank my teeth into it, no more than five bites were needed to destroy the burger. I felt sad, so I filled up on fries and gained my composure once more. Later we found our selves at the information office of Petersburg, chatting and learning about the area, the representative pointed us in the direction of a campsite. Some 7 miles down the road and back in the interior of the island, throwing the thumb was now my first instinct. We had some time to catch up on blogs and planning when we retreated into a WiFi hotspot. Time ticked away, slipping from our grasps and minds. It quickly became a quarter til four and we hustled to make it out the door. Our campsite of choice was about to close at four and we began to sweat. Along the way I kept my thumb out, desperate for a fast ride up the road. After being denied several times and running out of time, I turned to wave down one last car. I threw out the thumb and she slowed beside us, I couldn’t believe it. Walking up to the rolling down window, I stated were we needed to go and she smiled saying get in. This is the moment our luck pulled through and we met Helena.
A Netherlands woman whome lives in the beauty of Alaska, Helena was nothing but nice. Rather than going to the campsite, we were invited to camp in her yard overlooking the channel. I just couldn’t stop smiling with all the excitement. When we were almost screwed, no place to sleep and the camp closing, we happened to cross paths. Luck was there watching and I couldn’t believe it.
On the way to her house she showed us streams that would fill with salmon as they returned upstream. Pointing out roads and trails, places eagles sat and the berries that can be picked off the bush, we kept busy scanning the land. As we pulled in to the driveway I couldn’t imagine ending up in a place like this. A grand house over looking the passage we traveled north on this morning. As the hours passed and we woke from our nap on the deck, we all sat and talked. Treating us with our first Alaskan King Crab, I was in heaven. I could not believe how nice Helena was toward us. She even let us shower and wash a load of clothes before the night ended.
I sat back, the soft grass below. The day couldn’t have turned out any better, I am speachless.
Day 71, 72 and 73 all updated… turns out there is no Sprint coverage in Alaska.
End: Alaskan inside passage.
Handing over the bag of sunflower seeds, my shift is over. With the sun shifting, our little corner of shade is now over run by heat. No where to sit or hide, tanning is now mandatory.
The last few days have been quite different. Not to mention another game entirely, hitchhiking is more a mental game than cycling was. The hopes of a vehicle making the bend and heading west is enough to get me excited. Jumping up with my sign, I try every technique in the book. Looking happy, looking sad, jumping up and down and dancing. We get many laughs but no rides.
The morning was great. Apart from another heavy dew collecting on my sleeping bag, soaking it almost useless and making my feet cold, I was for once well rested. Sitting up I found the tree we slept under to be covered in ants. Oddly enough not one bite throughout the night, a complete surprise after facing fireants back home.
The morning came early, another 3:30am wake up call. Learning to ignore the sun long enough to catch a few more hours, we were up at quarter to six. Only one thought ran through my head, are we going to make it all the way? Are we going to be able to get rides over to Prince Rupert in time for the ferry? Already what had been a great morning turned into a game of doubt,questioning our motives as I sat on our duffle back smearing peanut butter on a tortilla. Hours passed, not one ride. Such a small amount of traffic traveled the road on a Sunday morning and especially west. I became pessimistic, spending time kicking rocks and tapping rhythms on the sign. Our window of time was closing and my nerves were becoming shot. Throwing the duffel bag over my shoulder and grabbing my camera bag, I began to walk over to Dirk. Calling it quits and preparing to make the hour walk back into town, an unexpected car came to a stop. As I watched from a distance, squinting against the sun, I could see Dirk’s reactions become more and more excited. I grabbed the bags and ran.
Our first ride of the day gave us a boost of confidence. A nice woman whome was driving back to a town called Burns Lake didn’t think twice about giving us a lift. One of many towns we needed to cross as we took highway 16 to the west coast, Burns Lake marked a good increment of distance from where we sat. So much conversation and history, we were happy to sit and listen. Learning about pine beatles destroying the surrounding forests in BC and the only things to kill them would be fire and harsh -40 degree winters. Forests of black dead trees marked the destruction of these insects, creating a major fire hazard for the environment. Following a bend on the road, we all happen to see this rather smart or fickle moose. With one hoof over the cement guard rail and her snout looking for traffic, this enormous animal pulled back as a car sped past, deciding she would rather not cross. We all laughed, crazy moose we thought. I sat back and relaxed, a far better ride than a bus and more fun with a new friend.
Making it to Burns Lake, we got a tour of the city and was dropped off at a grocery store. Happy our luck changed, we grabbed some food and headed to the end of town. Posting up and throwing the thumb out, we each took shifts. As Dirk and I made the rotation once, I see this car slow and turn into the parking lot. Curious and hopeful, I approached Dirk talking to this vehicle. We were asked to hold our sign up for a picture. I laughed and said why not, it wasn’t like we looked horrible in our Canada shirts sporting a clever sign. The driver happened to be a really chill dude from the states that was making his way to Whitehorse. He was happy to give us a ride as long as we could fit. I had a smirk on my face as I climbed in the back seat positioning myself around the bags and his bike. Luckily I am a skinny guy, crammed in this nook like space, I had to shift positions every twenty minutes to keep my legs and arms from falling asleep. The ride was long but enjoyable with all the talk. Another adventure enthusiast like ourselves, he happened to also be a film student. I was stoked to talk and just swap stories. Charging down mountains on bicycles and taking on whitewater on a canoe, this guy was pretty gnarly. As his turn approached, we pulled off to a gas station on the corner. Appearing to be the last watering hole for some distance, we figured it was a great spot to repeat the process. Shaking hands and wishing each other luck, our paths split and we once again threw the thumbs out.
Having a good combination of method and luck, we man’ed our posts. Right in front of me was this sign stating, “No hitchhiking. Is it worth it?” All I thought was we were not going to catch a ride now. After seeing that,would anyone want to stop? Apparently this highway we were traveling is dubbed the highway of tears, a name given to it after a number of native girls went missing after hitchhiking along it. As I scratched my beard, I was pretty confident no one will mistake me for a girl and that we would be a little safer. After this moment of pondering, not even 10 minutes after being dropped off, a red car comes to a stop. Dirk jumps up in the air and I grab the bags in excitement. Looking at my watch all I could think of is wow… we can really make it… we can get to the ferry in time.
Jumping in, she hauled ass. All our rides happened to drive at a reasonable speed over the limit, but she made great time. Dirk and I laughed as we passed all the traffic whome denied us further back on the road. Throwing the peace sign and smirking as we passed, we made sure our faces were either pushed against the window or hanging out just so they see us. We had a good time jamming to music and taking in the scenery. The mountains began to reach into the sky, grabbing the clouds and crying waterfalls of fresh snow. Magnificent landscapes glued my face to the window. I was sad I couldn’t photograph it all yet happy we were going to make our departure. My doubts from the morning began to vanish as the distance to Prince Rupert shrank.
She was nice enough to take us to the market to grab food and taxi us over to the port. We owe our day to her and every ride we caught. Only spending a combined 20$ to cover more than 450 miles of highway and make it to port on time, we made out like lottery winners. If we would have taken the bus, a total combined cost of 180$ would have killed our remaining budgets and spirit. This explained our crazed moods as we shared our story with ticket office and the customs agents.
We are on our way to Alaska, only time and luck will get us into the Yukon and on over to Anchorage.
Prince George BC.
End: Vanderhoof BC.
A cold night will fall on us once more. Laying low in a ditch-like slope and hiding under a promising tree, Dirk and I will spend another night out in the open. The sound of cows in the distance, the creaking of branches over head. At least we made it this far, only 450+ miles to go.
Our morning started with another attack of the sprinklers. After brushing off the thought of preparing for these assassins of the nights, we both went to sleep thinking we were safe. Sleeping on a bed of rocks, I didn’t think we were going to have to worry. As 3:30 came around we woke up to the hissing of the sprinklers, jumping up and running behind the wall we yelled. Having experience now with late night water attacks, we booked it and saved our gear in record time. Both of us standing, dripping wet from were we got tagged by water, we just sat back down behind the dumpster wall and slept. Hiding our faces from the sun that began to rise, we caught a few more hours behind that pizza hut, waking up and splitting before anyone saw us.
We started walking, finding a WiFi zone and planning out our next move. The choices were to move west or north, both proving to be hard routes by thumb. Spending a good amount of time in subway, checking maps and talking with a few motorcyclists whome just came from Alaska, we didn’t realize we missed the only bus heading west. Once a day on weekends they told us. We were shocked.
Highway 16 is not the best road to hitchhike on, that’s what we have been told by everyone. Now looking at the western route to Prince Rupert, we needed to find a way to get there. Ideas were thrown about. Car rentals, train and even plane were all on the chopping block, anything to get us there. In order to catch the ferry that departs on Sunday at 7:45, we needed luck. No train or bus could get us there in time. If we did catch the bus in, an hour late it would arrive and we will have to sit around until Tuesday. Defeated, we walked to the south end of town to throw out the thumb.
Walking is not an option for me anymore. Knees shot and a large duffle bag on my back, I had a hard time getting anywhere. We sat at a gas station for some time when a friendly guy noticed our bags and offered us a ride to the end of town. The first spark of hope hit us both like a firecracker. We grabbed our bags and jumped in.
We found our selves at what we thought was a great part of town. A gas station on the end of town, last one for miles and was it busy. Dirk and I began asking people, left and right we were not bashful. After a while of no luck, I saw a piece of cardboard by the rubish bin. As soon as I picked it up, the gas station worker opened the door to hand me the biggest marker known to man. I smiled at her and went to work on my sign.”Prince Rupert $ for gas” it stated. Proud of my handy work, I grabbed my ipod and stood at the roadside, thumb out. Watching the cars fly by, I thought it was busy enough for someone to pick us up or at least be interested in the gas money. Tired from standing, I threw the sign over to Dirk and returned to our post at the station. We waited for a while, a common time frame I thought but mentally draining. As I looked up I heard a yell coming from a truck that slowed down as he exited the gas station. I looked down the road to where he was yelling to, it was Dirk. I grabbed the bags as Dirk ran to them. We were so glad to snag another ride, we didn’t care how far.
Two local guys who call them selves bushmen, cleared the clutter from their truck and let us in. Dirk grabbed the back seat and I sat up front with them. As the doors shut the truck pulled away and we were moving closer to our destination. Holding a little conversation, being that I could barely understand anything coming out of their mouths, the ride was good. A little sketchy if you were to see the amount of knives and chainsaws in the back, but I am alive and well to tell the story. As they were heading north on highway 27, at that junction we were let off.
Here we will spend our time trying to get another ride. Minutes turned to hours as hours stacked upon each other. Resorting to anyway to catch the drivers attentions, we jumped, danced and acted sad. The night fell after 5 straight hours, no luck.