As my season with Kenai Fjords Tours drew to a close, I started to plan for my time trekking through Alaska. I had already bought a ticket from Anchorage to Portland for the 16th of September and my last day working was August 23rd. So that gave me about three weeks to travel Alaska. My original itinerary was very ambitious (and not really realistic). It consisted of hiking the Resurrection Pass trail from Sterling Highway to Hope (about 40 miles — I thought I could make some cool spiritual metaphor with the name, especially if I hiked it in three days and on the third day reached Hope), go from Hope to Anchorage, Anchorage to Palmer, Palmer to Glenallen, Glenallen to Fairbanks, Fairbanks to Deadhorse, back to Fairbanks, down the Parks highway to Denali, and finally end up in Anchorage.
My itinerary first changed when I decided to not hike Resurrection Pass, because it was pretty far for a solo hike. The day after I finished work I also felt like God wanted me to hang around Seward for a of couple days, which I didn’t really want to do, but I did. My pastor hooked me up with a ride to Anchorage with one of his coworkers on the 26th of August. So I got a free ride up there in a box truck and also stopped at Whittier on the way. I enjoyed hanging out with the guy who gave me a ride too. When I got to Anchorage I stopped into to Walmart to get some film, feeling quite absurd walking around with my big pack and walking stick. After Walmart I planned to go to Barnes and Nobles to get a book for the road, but couldn’t find the store. On the way I got to pray for a guy in a wheelchair who got in a car accident nothing– miraculous happened in that moment. This was also when I really noticed the neediness of Anchorage — countless homeless people and liquor stores. As I was walking around Anchorage, I saw a building that said something about the North Slope, the Arctic Borough where Deadhorse is located. Now, I felt that I might end up working at Deadhorse through the winter, I was drawn to it anyway, so I stopped in. Instead of getting a job at Deadhorse, I got a dead end. So I pressed on, heading towards Northeast Anchorage and the Glenn Highway.
Between the heat, my overloaded pack, and my out of shape body the walk through town was pretty brutal. I stopped at a gas station and put together one of my new delicacies — a peanut butter and brownie taco. My boss gave me a box of brownies for the road before I left. After my meal, I tried to talk to a guy about Jesus and then admired some Amanita Muscarias (which are ubiquitous in Anchorage) before getting back to my trek. A couple more miles and I ran into a guy on crutches who said he dropped sheet rock on his ankle. I prayed for him and asked him how he felt, and he said, “wow, better actually, how does that shit work?” I told him that Jesus died to heal our bodies and our souls and he left sort of abruptly. I don’t know if he was opposed to Jesus or just sort of freaked out by the whole thing. Later down the road I met an older guy in a wheelchair panhandling. He was a Vietnam vet and kept saying “I made it home, but not all of them made it home” in a garbled, distressed voice. I gave him some brownies and told him I was sorry he had to go through that. Not that it helped much, but I really was sorry. That guy probably went into Vietnam when he was my age or younger and has been screwed up ever since over some stupid war, but that’s a whole other topic.
I walked another mile or so and stopped to rest in front of a gas station. There were a few homeless people hanging out there. A loud mouthed, confusing woman who perpetually interrupted people named Henrietta; and her best friend who was ex-military and ex-commercial fisherman, Ken. They gave me a donut, which was cool, considering that they probably didn’t have too much to give. Ken then told me that a catering company out of Deadhorse was conducting job interviews on September 3rd in Anchorage. What are the chances? Here I am thinking about working in Deadhorse, I leave Seward a specific time, and then on this day run into a guy talking about work in Deadhorse on the street. At this point I considered hanging around Anchorage until the interviews. I decided instead, however, to alter my itinerary and head up Parks highway first, go to Denali, then turn around and come back to Anchorage in time for the interviews. Well that’s what I planned anyway; this alteration of my itinerary changed many other things too, which will be discussed in the upcoming chapters.
After hanging out with the homeless people, I trekked on towards Glenn Highway, now Denali Bound (after Palmer anyway). When I got to the highway I had no success hitchhiking though. I hitched for a couple hours probably and could not get a ride. A bit discouraged, I headed back into the outskirts of Anchorage. I went to a park and sat down with some other homeless people who were sitting at a table drinking a 40. There was a guy with a dog, a middle aged white woman, a middle aged Native woman, and a middle aged guy with a wolf T-shirt on. I sat there and kept to myself, wondering how I could engage these obviously troubled people. In the midst of my thoughts a Native kid of about twelve came up crying, saying how some guy hurt him. The guy with the wolf shirt went to go confront the other guy, who was a bald, aggressive looking man. The bald guy was trying to get to the kid, but the wolf man and others were preventing him and chewing him out. I sat there wondering if I would have to get involved. Apparently the bald guy was pissed because the kid ratted on him for stealing something from the 711, but he eventually got on his bike and took off. Shortly after the cops came and questioned the homeless people, threatened a 300 dollar fine for drinking in the park, and made wolf man throw out his 40. Wolf man sat there complaining about the kid, repeating phrases like “little snitch bitch” even though he had defended the kid — obviously a fairly conflicted guy. This event was just another to remind me of the problems of Anchorage.
I decided that I had better go set up camp in the backwoods of that park, so I set out looking for a suitable spot. There was plenty of room, but there were also other tents. I was hesitant to set up in this sketchy area, fearing that I might get shanked and robbed. Off the trail I met Joey, an older hippie guy with long hair and large rimmed glasses smoking weed and walking his dog. When he learned I was headed to Palmer he offered me a ride. I can’t get a ride on the main road, but here I get one in some random park! Anyways, we waited around a bit and then left. Once we got on the road, he decided that the traffic for Alaska State Fair (in Palmer) was still too bad, so we pulled off for a while to go to McDonald’s and walk his dog some more. As we walked he told me his plan to go to the lower 48 for a month and find himself a “chickie-gal” to bring back up to Alaska — a fairly ambitious plan, but I hope it works out for him. We got back on the road to Palmer after about an hour. We talked about weed a bit, he said it mellows him out and gives him the munchies, which is good for him because medical issues have affected his appetite. I offered him prayer for his medical issues which led him to talk about spirituality a bit. He said that he doesn’t kneel to pray, but rather talks to God on the trail. I told him that I am the same way, one does not have to engage in certain rituals certain ways to connect with God. We made one more stop on our way to Palmer, a park called hay flats. It was a small man-made lake with a trail around it –pretty nice, it reminds me of a city park in my hometown of Helena.
Once we got to the fairgrounds, we cruised around looking for a suitable camping spot and he gave me some advice on camping. Before parting ways, I prayed for his physical problems. He then wandered into the fair and I angled into the backwoods of the fairgrounds, trying to look casual with my large pack. Fortunately no one stopped me. I got back in the woods and found a place to set up my tent in waste high, wet grass — not ideal but it worked. I actually didn’t sleep too bad.