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.

My final hitchhiking trip of 2013 was from Polson to West Glacier and back. I was originally planning on going to Browning, a small Indian Reservation East of Glacier, but that’s not how things turned out. I started my journey on Hwy 35, along the East side of Flathead Lake. I got picked up by a van full of teenagers with an adult driver who were apparently with some youth organization; seemingly for troubled youth. I got to talk with a young guy from LA who was just in rehab for drugs about God and the joy found in him. I run into a lot of people with substance use issues on the road. Anyways, they dropped me off at a gas station and Big Fork where I fairly quickly got a micro- ride by a back-to-the-land type of guy who also gave me a bag of cherries. Nice! I did some walking after that and found $20 dollars on the road! Nice again! Probably about a half an hour later I got another micro-ride to Columbia Falls, a small town a bit South of Glacier.

In Columbia Falls I first noticed a rock and mineral shop. After my run-in with the rock and mineral collection on my first journey (part 1) I became a rock and mineral fan, so I decided to check the store out. As I was walking up, I got the vibe that the store was owned by someone named Margaret. I kind of wrote it off at first, but I kept it in my mind. When I finished browsing the store, I brought my little chunk of amethyst to the counter to pay. I decided to roll with the vibe after all and hope it was the Spirit.

“Umm… is your name Margaret by chance?”

“Well, yes, but I go by Marge.”

“Whoa! That’s a trip! As I was walking up I felt like the owner of this store was Margaret.”

“Wow! Are you a psychic.”

“Well, no. I have a bit of prophetic ability though, it’s a gift talked about in the Bible.”

She immediately had a shocked look on her face and quickly put up walls, saying she didn’t talk about religion. The look was classic though, as if she would never suspect Christianity would have anything to do with spiritual gifts or supernatural phenomena. I love breaking peoples’ false assumptions about Christians!

I continued on down the road and went to a little tourist attraction called Montana Vortex or something. It was a gift shop and a so-called vortex. I payed $10 to take the tour, which wasn’t the best $10 I’ve spent in my life. The guide talked about vortexes that alter the physical world and such (I don’t remember all that he said, even though I tried to pay attention at the time). He went on to give demonstrations: “You stand here, you stand here, look how much taller he is over here than over there” etc. At times it seemed true, but it was probably the power of suggestion more than anything or perhaps the environment was altered to create optical illusions. Who knows though, maybe there are vortexes, I’ve haven’t really looked into it enough to have a strong opinion on the matter.  After the tour I hung around the gift shop because it felt right. I asked the cashier if I could pray a blessing over her and she said yes. Afterward she said she felt great peace from it. I told the cashier that I felt like I was supposed to be there and she was supportive of that and actually found me another person to pray for! She brought me a woman with a brain tumor and introduced me, ” This is our new friend Joel, he makes you feel good.” Legit! It was cool how that worked out because I certainly didn’t walk in there with a plan; I was just sort awkwardly fumbling about.

After my detour at the Vortex, I walked down the road a bit and soon saw a place off the side that seemed right. I walked up the steep hill into the woods and soon found a flat rock floor under a rocky overhang; it was really nice.  I set up camp and then felt lead to go down to the Flathead River, just across the road. When I got down there I saw a couple fishing and went down to them. Following fishing small talk, I asked if I could watch him fish because I want to learn to fly-fish. He said yes and even let cast a few times. I noticed that he had a spiritual looking tattoo and asked him about it. He said that it stood for the unification of the major religions. We talked a bit about Jesus and stuff after that as well. He said I should talk to his Muslim wife about religion.

His wife was from Morocco, a rare ethnicity to stumble upon in Montana. I talked with her about Jesus as the Son of God and grace. She also tried to convert me as well. I asked her if she believes that God speaks to people, to which she said yes, in dreams. So I told her that if she has a dream of Jesus, she will know He is the Son of God. Cool thing is that her name is Isha, which is very close to the name for Jesus in Arabic, Isa. She also told me a bit about Morocco, mostly its food and culture — apparently animal organs are good to eat, who knew? (I’m actually not being sarcastic and ethnocentric right now, I would consider trying liver, heart, etc).  I also learned my first, and only bit of Arabic: Salaam Aliki, which means peace be upon you. The guy gave me a little fish he caught, since he was just going to throw it back and I figured I would cook it. I nearly burnt the forest down instead, not really but sort of. I was going to roast it over a backpacker stove which was apparently only meant to be lit under its proprietary pot. When I lit it without the pot covering the burner, a 16 inch flame leaped out and would not go out. In panic, I went and threw it in a nearby stream until I could unscrew the propane tank. Needless to say, no fish for me that night.

The next day was pretty uneventful. It was slow catching rides, but I eventually got to West Glacier, where I kicked around a bit. With my only money spent on necessities like chunks of amethyst and tours of scientifically questionable phenomena, I decided to try to catch a fish. My tackle was a stick, a hook, some leader line, some “backing line” (a shoelace), and a chunk of beer can to act as a shiny lure. It failed. It was fun hanging out by the river though. Nonetheless, it was a hard day. I was hungry, confused, and indecisive. My spiritual signals were crossed and so I was kind of just tripping, unsure of which way I should go or if I should camp. I eventually decided to head back towards home, but people were not to generous. I spent about three hours alternately walking and hitching, standing, sitting, and laying. It was hot and I was hungry. I tried to be positive, saying it was a destined fast, but I was in no mood (and rarely am) to fast. I tried to catch some grasshoppers — John the Baptist style, and also foraged for some thimble berries — super tramp style (well, pretty much any number of indigenous people style for that matter). I had a few handfuls of berries and that was about it, bloody grasshoppers are hard to catch.

Eventually, I caught a ride to Kalispell with a nice guy from Colorado. We talked about backpacking the Copper Canyon (which he has done, and I have been there) and God, among other things. When I got into Kalispell, I called someone who I had met at the Orthodox church that I went to on my last hitchhiking trip to see if I could get a yard to camp in. He put me in touch with another guy and his wife, Tecon and Claire, who had me over to their house. The pizza, salad, and Pabst Blue Ribbon they gave me was a feast compared to my handful of thimble berries. Tecon, who had recently changed his name, gets his name from the saint that inspired Father Zosima in Dostoyevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov, which is one of my favorite books. This and the fact that Tecon is a creative writing major gave us plenty to talk about. Another interesting topic, as it was on my last trip, was Orthodox Christianity with its theology and doctrines. After that, we worked on some audio editing (another mutual interest) for a bit. To finish off the night, he made me a White Russian, a nice complement to my love of Russian Literature — also super tramp style.

The next day I went to the Orthodox church and ran into the people who let me stay at their house in Eureka, Bill and Theresa — that was a pleasant surprise. After the service and lunch I started making my way through Kalispell. I got picked up and dropped off about 6 miles from Lakeside — a micro-ride of ten miles or so. I walked to Lakeside and met a guy also hitching who was from Oklahoma. On the way to Lakeside I found $5, which I used to buy a delicious huckleberry blizzard. I met another hitchhiker in Lakeside who asked me if I had any weed. I talked to him a bit; he was a nice guy and an alcoholic. I offered him prayer and told him Jesus could set him free. He believes in Jesus, but kind of pushed the matter to the side. From Lakeside I got a ride all the way into Polson from a lady who lived in Elmo (about 17 miles outside of Polson). That was nice of her. It turns out she lived in Alaska for 45 years, so she talked to me about Alaska a bit too.

One day as I was doing some dishes at work I thought to myself “Man, I sure would love to dance barefoot to some psytrance with some hippies in a moonlit meadow or perhaps a dusty clearing” A few days later I remembered about Salmonstock and realized that there was a good chance of that happening (minus the psytrance unfortunately). Salmonstock music festival is an Alaskan version of Woodstock that focuses on raising awareness about environmental issues in Alaska.I had known about Salmonstock for a couple of months at that point, but I had sort of pushed to the back of my mind. I was thinking of going, yet I didn’t really want to spend the money and eat up my 3 day birthday weekend that I was going to go backpacking on. However, it felt right and I even had a ride down there (to Ninilchik, about 30 minutes from Homer) with coworkers, so I went.

photo credit salmonstock.org

photo credit salmonstock.org

I knew ahead of time it would be an interesting experience for me. On one hand I would fit in because I very much appreciate many aspects of hippie culture. On the other hand, I knew that there would be copious amounts of booze, weed, and other psychoactive substances. I also knew my friends would be into that too.  That doesn’t scare me or make me judgmental, but I’m not into that scene. Furthermore, given these circumstances, I knew this would be a great place to spread the love of Jesus, which I was excited about but also admittedly a bit apprehensive because I wasn’t sure what it would be like. Uncertainty, though, is one of the defining marks of adventure.

We took off Friday evening and arrived in Ninilchik at 1 am or so. It took us a bit to find a campsite because it was dark and there were already like a billion tents and cars everywhere, but we eventually got it done. We were greeted by a heavily bearded and heavily intoxicated man who was apparently in a local band that wasn’t playing. He kept complaining about how the promoters pay out of state bands lots but rip off local bands. I said something like, “I love you bro, give me a hug.” and he gave me a hug, and continued giving me that hug for the next 30 minutes as he rambled on about his band, War and Peace, and other random things. I didn’t really mind though; I guess I was distracting him from bothering people who would mind. After we were finished chatting with strangers and I sent the dude on his way we all packed into a big tent for a night uncomfortable sleep (for me anyways). It was mad cramped and one of my friends snores like a grizzly bear.

The next morning I woke up before everyone else (as I tend to do in these situations) and got up to wander about, not in the best spirits. I knew that I was not going to spend this next night like this, so I surveyed the place for a campsite where I could set up my own tent. After wandering around a bit, getting some coffee from the local gas station, and unsuccessfully trying to set up in the woods behind the camping area I found a spot. Before I found my spot and was in the backwoods, I realized just how bad the allergens were in that area, I was dying (which is why I couldn’t camp there). On the bright side, I did find an amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric mushroom, which is like the holy grail of mushrooms for me. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t value it for its hallucinogenic properties, but I think it’s so cool and enchanted looking (red with white specks). Though I would be lying if the thought of taking a big bite out of it didn’t cross my mind; despite the fact that I haven’t taken any mind-altering substances for about 5 years, I’m not beyond being tempted. Anyways, after setting up camp I went back to regroup with my friends and we went to the store and got some benadryl for the brutal hay fever.

We headed to the actual festival grounds, across the highway from the campsite, and waited for it to open up. I thought about volunteering to get in for free, but there were no slots, which was good because I would’ve been stuck working instead of doing my thing. The first thing I noticed was the countless food carts in there. I started at the Boombai Thai cart that is actually based in Seward. Interestingly enough I ran into Solomon, the guy who picked me up on my way to Homer. I felt like I was supposed to meet him again, so I thanked him for his kind heart of generosity and told him that Jesus loves him. I didn’t talk to him too much though because he was busy working. I then went and sat on the grass to eat my pad thai and listen to “The Shoot Dangs”. They were alright, not entirely my thing because I’m an electro junkie, but I enjoyed them enough. I even danced a bit with a couple of my coworkers, but I don’t know how to dance much (with the exception to some rave genres) so it was short lived.  Somewhere around that time I went and got a tamale that was mediocre.

I went and wandered around a bit and met a woman from Anchorage who jacked up her leg windsurfing. I talked to her for a bit and prayed for her leg. When I asked her how it felt, she said “happy”. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it sounds good. I then made a detour to the gas station and got a Nos and talked to a young guy. I saw this guy earlier and he really caught my attention, not for any particular reason, just an inward vibe that I was supposed to talk to him. He was a 16 year old living in Homer who was from Texas. He seemed heavily into drugs, using and selling. He wasn’t a tweaker or anything, but he was pretty swallowed up in drug culture. I told him about some of my drug use, spiritual experiences that felt like drugs but were meaningful and healthy, and tried to inform about the problems drugs cause. He didn’t seem too interested but he was willing to listen and discuss the issue anyways. We parted ways and I, being the Bilbo Baggins adventurer that I am, went had my 3rd lunch, which was a delicious falafel.

Feeling fat and bloated, I laid down on the grass and listened to a band called Deadhorse Highway who were from Portland — they were alright. I just sat there in the sunlight and people watched. There were a lot of cute hippie girls with hairy armpits spinning hula hoops and such. The first time I saw a woman with hairy armpits (about a year earlier) I was a little taken aback, but it doesn’t really bother me anymore. I eventually went and danced with one of those hippie girls, basically holding hands and jumping and swinging around (I guess that’s how you dance to that kind of music). I told her she was awesome and she gave me a big hug; I later found out she was in The Super Saturated Sugar Strings. I was reluctant at first to dance because I thought “Man, this isn’t my scene, I don’t listen to this kind of music”, but I eventually put my genre snobbery behind, got over myself, and decided to participate. Yeah, it’s not really my scene, but it was fun anyways. Other people were dancing hilariously too. Some older people were just going hard. At first I thought “wow you look so ridiculous” but then I was thinking “Yeah, I do half of the time too, it doesn’t even matter, we’re all having fun, do your thing.”That’s what I love about these types of places: you can be ridiculous and the majority of people don’t care — they may laugh or whatever but it’s all in good fun, people aren’t too judgmental. I hope I stay like that when I’m old. It reminds me of a time a few years back when I saw a 40+ guy at an Infected Mushroom concert in Phoenix just going to town with his glowsticks — he probably was in a cubicle 2 hours earlier, I love that guy!

I took a break from the music and wandered around to talk and pray with people. Part of me wanted to and part of me was not into it, but the Lord was telling me to keep at it. I struck up a few conversations that petered out pretty fast, prayed for some people with injuries, and then went and bought a big bag of saltwater taffy and gave it away to strangers. After a while I just was stressed and couldn’t handle the crowd and noise anymore so I wandered off to my tent and then to get some food. After I calmed down and got into better spirits I went back to the grounds and watched The Super Saturated Sugar Strings –at about 8 or so. I regrouped with my friends and wandered around with them a bit. They were fairly drunk at this point, but I was feeling pretty stoned on the Lord so it was okay . In fact, one of my friends and I were just sort of acting goofy together and high fiving strangers and stuff; it was sort of an interesting situation haha. One hippie-ish guy gave me a hug for my birthday — one of the best hugs I’ve ever gotten (I got a lot of good hugs that day in general).

While we were high fiving people and stuff this one guy walked by and was talking about mushrooms or something and I put my hand on his shoulder and said “Jesus thinks you’re amazing bro”. A bit later, he asked, “So what brings up Jesus?” I’m not quite sure what I said, something like “He’s awesome man, it’s all about Him.” He said how he went to a Christian program at one time . He said something like “I’m a sinner, but the Lord knows my heart.” I said something like, “I mess up too bro, but it’s not an excuse to make a habit of it.” “I know it’s no excuse but nothing ever changes.” Oh, that stung my heart on his behalf. Man, I wanted to help that guy out, but he changed the subject quickly and walked off before too long.

After a little more wandering with my friends, I wandered off by myself to watch the headliner, Ozomatli, and some fire dancers. I offered this other dude a spiritual high and explained it to him about the presence of God and the Holy Spirit while we were waiting for the band to play. He said he wasn’t ready for that and his friend looked at me like I was some sort of freak lol. The band finally played and they were alright, not really my style, but talented, lively, and creative all the same. What I was really waiting for was the rave that was rumored to go down that night. After Ozomotli I made my way to where the rave was taking place and jammed there for a little bit. It started out decent, playing mostly house music, but after an hour or so it devolved to top 40 type crap. It was funny seeing people at a rave wearing Xtra -Tuffs though, knee-high, brown and tan neoprene boots that are common in Alaska; I can’t really talk though because I was wearing jorts and hunting boots.

All partied out, I went back to camp and cooked some of my halibut filets over a campfire and hung out with my friends and some other people. All said and done, I crashed at about 3 am or so. The next day I hitchhiked home and did pretty well on rides. I met some cool people and had some good talks too. All in all, it was a pretty good birthday weekend.

Alaska is probably one of the few places where one can go ice climbing during the summer. This is because there are countless glaciers in Alaska; the one that I got to climb on was Exit Glacier, just outside of Seward. I had never ice climbed before but I love rock climbing (the little bit of it that I have done) so I figured I would give ice climbing a try. Lucky for me, I was able to tag along with Exit Glacier Guides for free because of my company connections. After a two mile hike up to the glacier, we put on our crampons and began our excursion dirty, white and blue mass. It was a bit tricky learning how to walk in the crampons but I got the hang of it before too long. We came to a wall of about twenty feet high and took turns ascending the wall.

climb2

climb3

Our next goal was to climb down into some crevasses; I was excited about that. It was pretty intimidating to lean backwards down an icy abyss while the guide lowered me. All of my instincts shouted at me “Why are you backing down into an icy grave?” Yet the rope was there and I was safe. I descended two crevasses and that was enough for me; kicking and hammering an ice wall and pulling myself up was quite a workout.

crevass1

Don't look down, a beautiful, icy death awaits you ;)

Don’t look down, a beautiful, icy death awaits you ;)

Little glacial stream

Little glacial stream

climb

While it’s pretty cool being down in a crevasse and scrambling around a glacier, I like rock climbing much better. Ice climbing feels like you are driving nails or something. Rock climbing, on the other hand, is fluid and intuitive in its movements. I like being able to use my whole body as a tool; nothing between me and the rock (excepting ropes). Nonetheless, I’m glad I tried it and I’d probably do it again someday.

As promised, here is part two of my trip to Homer. I woke up early and hit the road immediately — I guess I didn’t feel too attached to the Homer spit or the shower room at this point. It took about 1-2 hours to get off the spit and into town. I stopped at a nice local place called Sour Dough express, which was originally a mobile food bus based on the Homer spit back in the 70s. I really liked the place; I mean, it was a simple diner, nothing too crazy but the food was all organic and it had some local colour to it. After some sourdough pancakes, I bought an overpriced mug for my family and a smoked salmon pastry for the road.

Homer is not the best place to hitchhike out of. The main problem is that there is no shoulder for cars to pull off at first, so one must climb the hill out of town. Ok, it’s not that big of a deal, but I was feeling lazy at the time and I had already walked 5 or so miles. Even when I got to the top of the hill where there was a shoulder, I couldn’t get a ride. I kept walking and eventually got picked up by a guy who lived in Anchor Point, a small community 15 miles or so from Homer. He had some sort of disability and I prayed for him. It turns out he was a believer, but it seemed that he was having some struggles, so hopefully I encouraged him.

I didn’t have to wait too long before I got a ride with a guy who was a county commissioner or something. He was a commercial fisherman in Homer and was originally from Oregon. I asked him if commercial fishing is really as dramatic and dangerous as they make it out to be on TV. Not surprisingly, he said no. It can be dangerous and there can be conflict, but the TV shows generate it and only show the dangerous spots. I asked him what he thought about God and he said that he was an atheist; he felt that God was a superstition. We had some of the typical banter on that subject (how old is the earth, miracles, etc) and I shared some of my personal experiences. He went into a story about his son with a heart problem who was waiting for a transplant. I thought to myself that he was going to tell me his son died and ask why God would allow that or whether or not he went to Heaven or some other difficult question. What followed rather surprised me though.

He told me that his son was put on anesthesia on Good Friday and breathed his first conscious and independent breath (ie free of machines) on Easter. While he didn’t give God credit for this as much as the doctors, he found it interesting how it paralleled the account of the crucifixion and resurrection. A bit later he noted how he should learn about what the Orthodox church believes, since there is a community in Homer. This gave me an opportunity to elaborate in a way that tied in very well the story of his son. The Orthodox paradigm for salvation is about healing, about God healing and restoring sin sick humanity; while Protestant and Catholic views usually have more to do with legal (ie God justifying sinners who deserve his punishment). The healing, restoring, and reconciling paradigm resonates much more with me than the idea that God is a harsh and seemingly sadistic judge. Anyways, I tied it in with the story of his son by saying that Jesus mystically became one with humanity and then died to in order to cleanse the sin from humanity; in essence, to give us a heart transplant. I don’t exactly remember how I put it, but it doesn’t matter because I don’t exactly understand the nature of crucifixion and resurrection anyway. Unlike Western ideas of salvation, the Orthodox don’t view salvation as a cut-and-dried, formulaic legal contract as much as a mystery. Yes, there are truths about it that are affirmed, but when it comes down to it, we fail to grasp the total significance of all that Christ accomplished. The patient of a heart transplant does not understand all the technical and medical principles that went into his operation, neither does the redeemed sinner know exactly how he was cleansed, healed, and restored to God by the crucifixion and resurrection. Anyways, we talked some more about hitchhiking and travel and then in Soldotna he bought me a reindeer sausage from a roadside vendor; it was really good.

I stood out by Fred Meyers on the edge of Soldotna, the same place as last time, and got a ride pretty quickly. The guy had to honk a couple times because I was spacing out — oops. This guy was from Montana, like me; well he was originally from Chicago, but now lives in Montana. He was a cool and friendly guy who was up in Alaska training car salesmen how to do financial paperwork or something like that. We chatted a bit and somehow ended up getting on the subject of weed. He told me how he used to smoke it. I told him that ecstasy used to be my drug of choice but then I encountered the love of God and experienced true ecstasy. He asked me if I was a Christian, to which I replied yes and asked him about his beliefs. He was also a believer. So we talked about spiritual things a bit, which is always nice and then parted ways at the Y.

At the Y I got picked up shortly by a guy named Mark who is a traveling RN. He was a very inspiring guy to me; enthusiasm, positivity, excellence, and happiness radiated from him without him coming across as cheesy obnoxious like some people with those qualities come across. His enthusiasm came across as he talked passionately about photography, travel, and his work as a Nurse. As a traveling nurse he gets to visit many places, but he said that “working with people is a challenge and a labor of love”. It was evident that he doesn’t view hardships as things to whine about but to be embraced as challenges that show love and bring growth. We talked quite a bit about Alaska and photography. He has pretty much won me over to the idea of getting a small point and shoot camera that is shock and waterproof. Compact, simple, and rugged — exactly what I need. He was headed to Seward to snag Sockeyes, I almost wanted to ask him if I could tag along, but I didn’t want to be obnoxious. At the end of our ride I asked if I could pray a blessing over him and he said “I always pray!” So we prayed together and we parted ways. I feel very grateful to meet that guy; he still inspires me.

So ends my hitchhiking on the Kenai Peninsula.

One weekend I decided to go to Homer, which is about 3 hours away for Seward. I certainly hesitated because I was feeling lazy on the day and that’s sort of a trek to make for 2 days, but I went and am glad I did. I got my travel snacks of Cliff Bars and waited. Twenty or so minutes passed before I got picked up by Mark, a friendly guy  from Texas who was working on a fishing boat. He got me to about Moose pass and then Zach, an aircraft mechanic from New Mexico, picked up the baton and took me to the Sterling exchange. A bit later near the Y, a dude from Anchorage and his girlfriend picked me up and said they could take me to Soldotna. Shortly down the road he asked if I “partake in recreational substances”. I told him I was all about the spiritual high and told him I toke the Ghost.

“Casper?” he replied.

“No, like the Holy Spirit.”

“Little baby Jeebus?”

“Big resurrected Jesus.”

He seemed to have some background in Christianity but not really on track with the Lord. I tried to stir his interest, but he didn’t seem to keen on it; then again, I’m a pretty hackneyed missionary too, so I probably just blew it. Anyways, they took me to Soldotna and I got some crispitos or whatever that pseudo-Mexican gas station fare was called. I made my way across town (with the help of micro-ride) and came to shopping plaza called “Eureka Plaza”. After my hitchhiking trip to Eureka (which I wrote about previously), Eureka has sort of been a thing for me — like something that catches my eye and says “you’re on the right track”. In the plaza there was a place called “Pot o’ Gold Pull tabs”. Pull tabs are essentially Alaskan lottery tickets (not sure if it’s a legal loophole or what). Anyways, I went in there and put a one dollar down and then won 75! The lady at the counter was tripping, as if people never win. I told her Jesus thinks she’s amazing and helps me win money (or something along those corny lines).

Surplus money in pocket, I continued my way down the road. I waited next to a traffic light heading out of town, all the lights were out and cars were just treating the intersection like a 4-way stop. Before too long, a nice older man by the name of Art picked me up. He is a retired biologist of sorts who used to aid with cleaning up oil spills and other tasks along the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge. He had some very interesting anecdotes about dog sledding and sea travel that were fun to listen to. We talked about God and spirituality a bit and he is something of an agnostic. He definitely believes in God because of the beauty of nature, but feels more in touch in nature than at church. I can definitely relate to that; I shared with him some of my struggles with church and misconceptions about it (which I’m not going to relate here: the basic ideas related are in my article “Spirituality and the Troublesome Idea of Church”). He did let me pray for his injured knee though, so that was cool.

Coming in to Homer was pretty amazing. There is a wonderful view of the ocean, islands, and mountains. It almost reminds me of the view coming into Polson looking over Flathead Lake. Homer is another touristy little town like Seward (Seward is better) and one of the main attractions is the Homer Spit, which extends a few miles out to sea. I figured I might stay there, but I also wanted to check out the YWAM (Youth With a Mission) base in Homer. However, the power was out in town, all over the Western Kenai actually, making it a real crapshoot trying to locate the base (why didn’t I get the address the night before?! Stupid). Anyways, the visitor center gave me the little help they could and I set off across town. I walked up a hilly suburb are and landed at some sort of Bible college, but not YWAM. I wandered through the darkened halls and eventually stumbled upon a guy playing guitar in the darkness. He too was unsure of where the base was. I decided to give up the wild goose chase and just make for the spit. Thankfully my new friend, Zeb from Oregon, gave me a ride most of the way there.

First order of business: food. It was a bit tricky finding a restaurant during a power outage, but thankfully I stumbled on a cool wood-fired pizza place called Finn’s. I ordered a “football” (a proprietary term for a size of pizza between two slices and a full one) and a pint of their darkest beer. It was very good; I highly recommend it. I sat near some people and one of them had a son who was going to play during Salmonstock (an Alaskan hippie music festival). We were talking and I asked them about the Salty Dawg, a saloon down the spit, because a classmate told me I had to go there. I’m not much of a bar guy, but I figured it must have some local flavor or tourist attraction. They told me “I had to go there”. So I did. The only thing sort of cool about it is that it is lighthouse shaped, or has a mock lighthouse anyway. Other than that, it’s pretty much just a room full of people drinking and talking loudly. Oh wait, the walls were covered in dollar bills and they played loud music — in other words it was lame. I don’t know what I was expecting, bear wrestling or something. So I just used the bathroom (which also was lame) and left.

Second order of business: shelter. I was set on camping on the spit. Now, not only was there a power outage in Homer, it was also very windy and rainy — a perfect time to visit. So after paying 20 dollars to rent a patch of earth, I began round 2 of fighting with my tent. It went even worse than round one. The ground was so frickin rocky I couldn’t get a stake to stick more than a nanometer in the soil  and the wind was so vicious I couldn’t begin to erect my tent without staking it. So I fumbled, swore, and felt retarded again (deja vu). After admitting defeat, I went in the bathroom to get out of the elements and weigh my options. I considered walking the five miles into town and getting a hotel — too much time, effort, and money. I also considered just chilling in the bathroom all night — yeah that would be cool. It finally dawned on me, the shower room was locked but there was a window open. I waited for the coast to clear (which took a while because people were doing their laundry for like 9 years) and then crawled in the window and rolled out my sleeping bag and mat. About midnight or one an employee found me, but after hearing my situation, she let me stay. So it was kinda lame, but camping on the spit would’ve been lame too.

This is getting a bit long, so I will break it into two parts. If you enjoyed this one, stay tuned for the return journey!

It wasn’t long after arriving in Seward that I wanted to explore more of Alaska. I also needed some backpacking gear so I decided to make a trip of it and head for the Sportsman’s Warehouse in Soldotna, a city significantly bigger than Seward about 90 minutes to the Northwest. I first got picked up by a young guy named Solomon who took me 15 miles or so; I had never met a Solomon before. Shortly after that I got another “micro ride” to Moose Pass, a small community about 30 miles north of Seward. I actually saw a moose there too, a young calf (of course I had already seen about a dozen moose by this point, but I always enjoy seeing them). I was able to secure another micro ride to the “Y” (ie Sterling exchange) with another hitchhiker. The Y is where the Sterling highway and the Seward highway meet, heading North will lead to Anchorage, South to Seward, and West to Soldotna, Kenai, Homer, and some other small communities.

I walked down the road a little ways and then stopped in the forest to relieve myself. I didn’t include that detail for no reason though, because when I was in the forest I found a bag full of syringes; weird find. The package said that  that they were for insulin, but who knows. I wondered if it had any significance to me as a future chemical dependency counselor; I have thought of working specifically with inner city heroin addicts in particular. It also caught my eye when I learned that the son of the guy who picked me up next was a recovering heroin/opiate addict.

The guy who picked me up was probably in his 50s or so and was coming back from Seward and heading to Soldotna (finally a long ride). He works with heavy machinery in Soldotna but has a fishing boat in Seward that he uses on the weekends. We had a good conversation about the outdoors, Alaska, and such. After taking me all the way to Soldotna he  took me to his house and gave me two of his old fishing poles with reels and a few packets of smoked salmon! I also got to meet his son. I was blown away by his generosity and wanted to pray a blessing over his house. I had learned earlier that his finger was hurting him because he snagged it with a big fishing hook, so I prayed for his finger too and he said it didn’t hurt anymore! He said that sometime when he was in Seward he could take me out on his boat (which unfortunately never happened because his hours got changed and my hours got changed ).

After this cool encounter, I went to Sportsmen and spent some of my hard earned cash and started back towards Seward. I set up next to Fred Meyers and soon got a ride by a quirky Alaska Native (not Native American, but born and raised in Alaska; it seems a majority of the people I had met up to that point were immigrants to Alaska). She started out by offering me some weed (I think my Rasta colored beanie is like a beacon to get picked up by stoners lol) and then asking if I cared if she smoked while driving; I wasn’t too concerned. After that she ranted a bit about rich people moving to Alaska and buying land to build fancy houses on (I’m from Montana so I can relate). This turned out to be another micro ride, but beggars can’t be choosers; I gave her a piece of my smoked salmon and prayed a blessing over her and we parted ways.

I had to walk a bit in the rain, but I had rain gear, so it wasn’t a big thing. Teachable moment: it rains a lot in Alaska, get rain gear if you plan on going. As I was walking I saw a truck pulling a trailer that said “Yoder Construction” on it. This tripped me out because last summer I picked up a Hutterite guy in Montana, who had a construction company called “Yoder Builders”; small world. After a bit more walking, I got another micro ride into Sterline, a small town about 20 miles East of Soldotna. In Sterling, I stopped at a gas station to get a couple snacks with my few remaining dollars. Trying to get through the gas station door with my back and two fish poles provided quite an exhibit, so much so that another customer quipped “only in Alaska”.

Back out in the rain. I don’t mind walking and hitching as much as just standing there; but it’s a good opportunity to learn patience anyway. After about 45 minutes I got picked up by a guy in his mid to late twenties. He was a military vet from Louisiana who was going through some stuff at the time. He shared some disturbing anecdotes of his time in Afghanistan. Other than that, we had quite a good talk about military, spirituality, drugs, tattoos, etc; I enjoyed his company quite a bit and found in informative to hear about his life and experiences. I gave him one of my new fishing poles and we parted ways at the Sterling exchange.

At the exchange I thought I had a ride right off the bat, but I was mistaken. I saw a car full of Asians slowing down and pulling over and I thought “No way, they don’t have much room and Asians never pick me up” (stereotyping again lol). I walked up to the passenger window to talk to them and a guy rolled it down to take a picture of Tern Lake. He then looked at me and chuckled uncomfortably like “why are you walking up to my car you strange American?” So, I trekked on and on. It was getting late, so I was considering camping, but I lacked food and I was supposed to leave early the next morning for a boat tour of Northwestern Glacier. Nonetheless, I stopped several times to try to set up camp in a non-committal fashion. Unfortunately I was unfamiliar with my tent and forgot mosquito spray, so every time I walked in the woods to set up my tent I was swarmed by mosquitoes before I could figure it out. The only thing I succeeded at was swearing like a sailor. I don’t even swear much, but out in the woods when I can’t figure stuff out it just sort comes out. Feeling like a failure and a baby, I trudged on. I did my best to stay in a positive mood as countless people passed me up, my feet ached, and I felt stupid and incompetent. I remember humor helped a lot at dispelling my mood. I said stupid things to myself like “Hey, Bear Grylls, you’re quite the outdoorsman, can’t even set up a tent”. At this point I was more satirizing myself than feeling ashamed. I would also address the cars as they passed by “thanks so much for the ride bro, I really appreciate it.” It sounds incredibly stupid to me now, as these “jokes” aren’t even the least bit subtle but it was therapeutic in the moment. I probably was one of those crazy homeless guys talking to himself as he walks down the street.

It was nearing dark , probably 11:30 pm or so as I came to Moose Pass. I didn’t have a plan at this point, I just kept walking. To my great surprise, I actually got picked up! A middle aged woman from Oregon picked me up. She works at a fishing charter company in Seward and likes photography, which gave us something to talk about. She also shared with me how she had suffered a traumatic brain injury some years before. I asked if I could pray for her and she said yes. Afterwards, she was telling me how she felt like she was supposed to pick me up. Whoa! She dropped me off at the bunkhouse in Seward and I went to sleep (or tried to because Mad Jack, the cab driver with golden ducks all over his van,  was probably talking on the phone next door with his 200 decibel voice as he did most nights).