Day 14 was our worst day hitchhiking. We had planned to go further South on the Richardson and split ways at Paxson. I was planning on heading back to Anchorage, while Austin needed to go back to Talkeetna. It wasn’t so simple though. I knew that the Richardson-Glenn Allen route was less populous than the Parks Highway, but that wasn’t even our problem. There were a fair amount of people driving by, given that it was the tail end of tourist season and the start of moose hunting season, but no one would pick us up. We waited about 2 -3 hours near our first campsite and couldn’t get a thing. I decided I was going to walk and Austin hesitantly joined me ( I get antsy sitting still). So we walked a few miles down the road to a pull out where people can view the Alyeska oil pipeline. A number of people stopped to view it, but didn’t give us a ride.
After another couple of hours, we walked again. I was definitely discouraged at this point, but Austin was especially fuming. His bad state of mind was threatening to rain on my parade. While I love him and enjoyed traveling with him, I was ready to part ways. I wanted to slap him in that moment. Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy and I enjoyed traveling with him, but I was ready to part ways at this point. I considered if I could walk to Glenallen — I figured I could make it to Paxson in 2-3 days (40 miles) and then I could make it the rest of the way to Glenallen (100 or so from Paxson) IF I could resupply in Paxson (I couldn’t have). FINALLY someone stopped. I have never gone a whole day without getting a ride before this. He told us that he was heading South to Valdez the next day and he would pick us up if we were still there. So now we had some hope. We camped down by the road and got up early the next morning to make sure we didn’t miss our ride.
After several hours of waiting that cold, rainy morning, we both were still demoralized. A guy going North stopped by and told us that he would be heading South to Valdez in 3 days and then offered to take us back to Delta and/or Fairbanks. I was tempted to go to Fairbanks and take the train to Anchorage, but I still had time before my flight left. We both agreed, however, that it was bettered to be stranded near a grocery store than in the middle of nowhere, so we went back to Delta Junction. After getting some food, we went to the library to look into jobs. I couldn’t find the Boeing job that paid 44k/year– I found several of the same job title with other companies that paid well, but not THAT well. Austin was looking into a construction job while I was doing that. I decided to try my hand at hitching again, but Austin wasn’t ready to leave the library, so we parted ways.
I had good luck hitchhiking right out of Delta; within a half-hour I had a ride all the way to Glenallen (180 miles or so). A commercial fisherman/contractor picked me up; he was also headed to Valdez. He was a really cool guy and I enjoyed his company. In Glenallen, I got a fat brownie at the gas station because I tend to be a junk food junkie while I’m on the road. I also went to a Thai Food truck and got some curry that was delicious and free. Free because after making it she realized I wanted to pay in debit and none of the nearby ATMs were working (it’s a miracle!). I actually felt kind of bad, but free curry is delicious nonetheless. I walked through the small town of Glenallen and then down the road before I could find a decent place to camp. I was relieved to get off my feet and out of the rain. I was also relieved that the weather down there was markedly warmer than the weather around Fairbanks and Denali.
The next day I got up and began walking. I stopped at a liquor store to get some Snicker’s bars for breakfast and offer the old cashier prayer. I hit the road and walked a few more miles but got picked up by a middle aged Athabascan couple. They were nice people and I also learned that they were believers, so it was nice to worship with them. They were heading all the way to Anchorage, so I contemplated whether or not I should go there, or stick around the Glenn Highway to explore. I decided on the latter when I had them drop me off near King Mountain recreation are by Chickaloon. This was deceptive, however, because King Mountain was on the other side of the Matanuska river with no bridges to it. I talked to the locals and everyone said it was uncrossable.
So here I am in Chickaloon, AK (podunk town with nothing but a combo post office/general) store. At the store I met a cyclist from France who had been biking around Canada and Alaska for a few months. We spoke of our travels and briefly on spirituality. He told me that he stayed on Mt. Eureka. Now, I had considered stopping at Eureka, but passed it up when I realized it was just a roadhouse. However, if you’ve read a couple of my older posts, you know that Eureka is something that God has spoken to me with, so I considered following it again. I ate some food, offered some people prayer and began hitching again. I was torn however, whether to go to Anchorage or Eureka– so I went to a spot where I could hitch either direction. The first car that picked me up was headed to Eureka, so I decided on that.
The old dude driving the old jeep was smoke a joint and offered me some, but I passed. He then offered me a cold beer, which was delicious on that hot day. He lived down towards Valdez and was coming back from the doctor in Anchorage. He and his wife typically winter in Hawaii (which many Alaskans do). When we parted ways I prayed for his health ailments. I went inside the lodge at Eureka and started asking about the mountain. The waitress was reluctant to help me, but a couple other locals talked to me. No one had heard of it, but the cyclist told me of it and I had seen it on a map previously (but I couldn’t remember where). I left the lodge and just started walking down the highway towards Anchorage, stopping to pick up a hub cap that would work as a makeshift gold pan. I think I had some delusions of striking it rich, perhaps because of the connotations of the word Eureka. Eureka, formerly was where I discovered something gold, and it was a greater revelation of the character of God. I wasn’t thinking so spiritually at the time though; I was getting my first taste of gold fever.
As I walked down the road I noticed some mountains behind some hills to the North. I decided I would make for them, even though it was starting to get late. There was no trail, but I just walked. I feared that it might be private land, but there were no signs. The walking was a bit mucky, but not as bad as Stampede trail or anything. It was also super brushy; I had to swim through all kinds of bushes. Fortunately, a lot of those bushes were blueberry bushes, so I ate a billion of those. The bushes were killing me though, I was getting increasingly frustrated. I also saw a small house in the distance so I concluded that I was on private land, which lead to more frustration. It was too late to turn back, so I would just camp there that night. I made it as far as I could go, almost to the hill top, and set up camp. I ate a lot of food then went to bag.
I considered pushing onward towards the mountains the next day, but I figured if there was a brush field over that hilltop all the way to the mountains, it wouldn’t be worth it, so I headed back towards the highway. It was a very foggy morning, so I couldn’t see the way back very well. I knew if I headed due South I would hit the highway though. I took out my compass and headed South. I was struggling to stay positive and cheerful through the muck and brush, but I was really over this hike. Once I got into the thick of the trees, brush, fog, and swampy stuff, I got a bit distressed. Yes, my compass still read South and I knew I wouldn’t take the exact route back, but it seemed more unfamiliar than it should and I felt lost. I held onto that compass reading though and pressed on, eventually running into the road. It reminds me of holding onto the map of the Bible and the compass of the Holy Spirit when life doesn’t seem to go the way you expect it to. Perception is short sighted though when you’re in the midst of a fog and life can be foggy, which is why we need a reference point beyond ourselves. That’s why it’s important to have faith rather than look to immediate circumstances.
Anyways, I went back to the roadhouse and ate a massive cinnamon roll and drank some coffee. I hitched there a bit with no luck, so I continued walking down the highway. I came to a sign near where I had hiked that said “Mt Eureka” but it looked like it had been hit by a truck and it was pointing nowhere of significance. I found the “house” I had seen the other day; it turns out that it was a hunting camp. I asked him about the mountain and he knew nothing of it. He did tell me of some trails that led to old mines and such. I planned on going to one of those, but I didn’t have enough food to make an extended hike and there were no stores around. I thought of bartering with people for food, but there weren’t many people around either. Feeling disgusted with my lame misadventure and the lack of rides, I trudged towards Anchorage. I finally got picked up a few miles down the road by a woman named Nine. She took me 25 or so miles down the road to Caribou Creek, a recreation area that is public access for gold panning. She even left me a box of ginger snaps which I promptly devoured.
I did a bit of panning that first night and then got camp set up and a fire going. I was feeling better about being out of Eureka and being in a beautiful place. The creek, which was more of a river, was 15 minutes down a hillside trail. I camped up top because I’ve heard bears like to hang out by rivers. Ironically, I camped by a berry patch. I will describe more about gold panning and the area in the next chapter because I’m starting to run long, so stay tuned!