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.

Some mountains around Delta Junction

Some mountains around Delta Junction

The Alyeska Pipeline

The Alyeska Pipeline

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.

King Mountain

King Mountain

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.

Late season blueberries (not nearly as good as huckleberries in MT but still tasty)

Late season blueberries (not nearly as good as huckleberries in MT but still tasty)

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!

The next morning we woke up in the back yard of Chevron, and walked to Chevron to get some breakfast. We hit the road late morning/early afternoon, headed to Fairbanks. It took us a while to catch a ride, but we eventually got picked up by a friendly New Yorker headed to Nenana — about 50 miles from Healy. He told us about index funds and other financial things, I learn a lot of random and interesting things hitch hiking. Anyways, we kicked around the small town of Nenana a bit and didn’t find much. Most of the tourist attractions were closed, as it was approaching evening. It is a fairly small little town on the Nenana river with a high Alaska Native population. We crossed the bridge over the wide, muddy Nenana because we were getting bored hitching in town.

After an hour or two, we got picked up by another friendly New Yorker who was headed to Fairbanks. She took us on a little tour of a small town called Ester, just shy of Fairbanks as well as the University of Fairbanks, one of the prominent buildings I saw as we pulled into town. She was kind enough to offer us a place to stay if we couldn’t find one, but we did find one at Sven’s Basecamp Hostel. Sven is lively guy from Switzerland who mushes dogs in Alaska, has this hostel, and also has a lodge in Bettles. The hostel was a collection of wall tents, a tepee, a treehouse under construction, along with other common buildings. We opted to stay in the tent, which was cold. Being the cheapo that I am, I pillaged some free food and cooked up a fat serving of spicy rice. Rice in hand, Austin and I went to a common area and put on The Edge, a movie about bear attacks (fitting for Alaska). About one AM we saw the Northern Lights, a wave of iridescent green that lasted about 30 minutes with one ripple of pink that lasted a millisecond. Apparently the Northern Lights is usually just green, multicolored shows are the exception. After the lights, I sat around a fire pit with a couple other tourists and some vulgar talking, drunk lumberjacks who were looking for weed. I felt like I should share the love of Christ with them, but I chickened out unfortunately.

The Hostel

The Hostel

In the morning we took much needed showers and hit the road, headed North for Chena Hot Springs, about an hour and a half away. We were originally going to go to Manley hot springs, which is supposedly more secluded, but it is also much farther at 3.5 hours away. The walk through Fairbanks took about an hour, which was hard because we had been continually walking for a long time– the gargantuan gas station burritos helped though. Austin provided me some comic relief though. He stopped at a bush to relieve himself, but the second he stopped a bunch of kids came running out of a school building for recess. The timing was classic, like it was out of a movie.

We stopped at Walmart to restock on food and get some extra layers. I got to talk with a few people about the Lord, but nothing major happened (as far as I know). I also made a brief detour to Baskin Robbins to get a Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice cream cone, which was fantastic, especially in the heat (well, probably 60 degrees, but with all the walking and gear I was sweating). After our detour, we headed to the exchange that lead to Chena, both dreading the walk. It was probably 3 miles or so before we got there and quickly got picked up by a guy who took us 17 miles down the road. Unfortunately there wasn’t much space to hitch on that road, but we got picked up by a large RV within ten minutes of our first ride.

Setting up our camp outside the hot springs was our first order of business; our second order of business was just relaxing and soaking for hours. It felt really nice, but it was also very tiring. I’m told that the springs are amazing when it is 50 below zero out and also when the northern lights are out. We didn’t get a show though. Apparently Asians flock there during the Northern Lights because they think that having sex during the Northern Lights increases fertility, so maybe it’s good we didn’t see the lights. We pretty much just alternated getting in the rock pool (the hot spring pool surrounded by large rocks), the hot tub, and getting out to smoke a pipe (tobacco lol). It was nice while it lasted, but I was still sore and stiff when I got out. I really wanted to go to the ice museum that is there too, but I didn’t want to pay 30 dollars for admission (I even thought the springs were a bit pricey at 15 dollars).

The next morning we set out in the late morning and started hitch hiking right from the entrance of the resort. We caught a ride after about 30 minutes to a liquor store about 12 miles down the road. He gave us each a beer and we joked that we would never get picked up while holding beer. After that it would be a while before we caught a ride, and it was a bit chilly. We walked down the road to a local hiking hotspot and eventually got picked up there by some nice people from the South. They took us back to the Walmart at Fairbanks. I decided to catch a ride back to the hostel via bus, but Austin wanted to walk. After the first leg of the bus trip, I realized the rest of the buses had stopped running, so I had to walk the rest of the way. That turned out to be good though, because as I walked, music led me to a local park. At the local park their was a worship service/community outreach. I scored some free chili and listened to some African-American style worship music (wasn’t expecting that in Fairbanks). Some of the local homeless people were really enjoying the music (some were going hard).

While I was there, I met a homeless guy in his 50s who had just gotten out of surgery. I prayed for him, but he wasn’t too interested in talking about God. He was interested in sharing all his health issues though, and he had a lot. I saw quite the display of scars and heard many stories from him. I admired his cheerful attitude despite his difficulties. He told me that he had buried more friends than I have hairs on my upper lip, which may be true. It’s hard to relate sometimes to people who have had much harder lives than me, but Jesus can relate because he suffered many terrible things. As the sun began to set, I began the final trek home. I wasn’t into the walk, but I got it done. Some sugar cookies I found on the ground cheered it up a bit too. I pretty much lost the few hygenic standards I had when going on the road. Those cookies were delicious and I’m still alive :). I reunited with Austin at the Hostel and we spent that night in the tepee.

The next morning we went to a Lutheran church, which was my first time at a Lutheran church. It was pretty good, the coffee and baked goodies were also pretty good. After service we began our crappy trek towards the Richardson Hwy. It was hot and my legs were chafing horribly. Luckily a few days before I found some Vaseline on the road that helped quite a bit. On the way out of town we caught a micro ride to North Pole, a Christmas themed community about 15 miles out of Fairbanks. The light poles in this town are candy cane colored and there is a giant Santa Claus statue that stands near the highway. There is also some reindeer and a year round Christmas gift shop there. We looked around a bit, and then hit the road.

Santa runs these streets

Santa runs these streets  

He doesn't look too excited

He doesn’t look too excited

We walked a few miles out of North Pole, which was killing me, and we couldn’t get a ride for a few hours. After contemplating returning to North Pole, we finally got picked up by a nice, older gentleman who lived in Delta Junction, about 50 miles away. He was some sort of technician for Boeing. We talked a lot with this guy on topics ranging from spirituality, to psychology, and career. One topic that was very interesting, however, was local employment. He said that in Delta Junction Boeing was hiring entry level workers for 44,000 dollars a year. That sounded like a lot to me, but he said it wasn’t much for Delta Junction. He sort of took that back though when he noted that one can rent dry cabins (no running) water for 300-400 a month and burn wood for heat. I didn’t have a truck, chainsaw, or any knowledge about missile silo maintenance at that time, but I did put the option in the back of my mind. A quiet, simple life in the Alaskan boonies did have some draw to me.

This guy even took us 20 miles out of his way to camp near Donnelly Dome, a hill just outside the military base’s land (20 miles out of Delta). He thought we might have trouble hitchhiking through the base. If that wasn’t enough, he gave us a bunch of bananas and hot dogs too. So we parted ways and set up camp off the road on a red-leaved hillside. Despite the fact that it was right off the road, it was a beautiful campsite. The red leaves, the distant white mountains, the starry sky, and a nearby pond made it very picturesque.

The next morning we broke fast and camp and then headed back into Healy for some extra food (glad we did that). After scoring a sharpie and some cardboard at the Chevron, we made a sign for the Stampede Trail  and got picked at about noon. They dropped us off where the Stampede Trail turns into a gravel road (it starts as cement, then gravel, then dirt, then a sketchy jeep trail that weaves in and out of creek bed). The guys who gave us a ride tried to dissuade us from going there. They told us of a bunch of rescue missions that happened there. We told them that we might try to cross at the gauging station, which supposedly has a cable across the river. I also told them that I wasn’t going to cross it if it was too sketchy. The wished us luck and we parted ways.

Mountains South of the Stampede Trail

Mountains South of the Stampede Trail

After walking down the dirt road a bit, two guys in a jeep with a company logo pulled over and offered us a ride. They said they would take us several miles down the 18 mile trail and drop us just a couple miles shy of the Savage River, our first crossing. We took them up on their offer and were soon baja-ing through puddles, streams, mud, and around corners while listening to obnoxious rap music. It was pretty fun though, besides hitting my head on the ceiling. Midway through the ride, one of the tires popped and we pulled over to change it. Before long we were back on the road, or rather jolting all over it. The guides told us one of their friends had crossed the Teklanika while filming himself, like it was no big deal.  After our deluxe ride in, we began walking down the mucky trail. It wasn’t long before we realized the vanity of trying to keep our feet and boots dry, so we stopped trying to avoid the puddles and mud and just sloughed through it. The trail frequently does a disappearing act as it intersects beaver ponds and streams, but with the maps and some advice from our free tour guides, we stayed on track. We passed a couple of Asian guys who said that they had made it to the bus. It took an hour or two to get to the Savage, which was just above the knee. Despite the relative shallowness of the river, my heart rate rose as I crossed it. I sensed the power the water carried and worried that the Tek would be much worse. At first, Austin thought that it was the Teklanika, I wasn’t too convinced though. We pressed on and found that it indeed was not.

When we reached the Tek, it did look pretty intimidating, probably 20-30 yards across or more when it was braided (don’t quote me on that, I’m bad at judging distances). We saw a guy on the other side when we got there and Austin found out that he had crossed where he was standing. Austin was all hot to cross right away, whereas I had mentally decided to camp on the nearside this night, survey the river, and cross the next day. I was nervous as I watched him cross, though he was doing okay. However, when he got about 5 or 8 feet from the shore, the river bested him and he started tumbling down, trying to regain control. The guy on the other side ran down the shore with him encouraging him and he eventually stumbled to shore without too much harm. Now it was my turn…

teklanika

View of the Teklanika from my camp

My fear was not that I couldn’t reach the other side, but that I couldn’t reach the other side with my pack. I feared that if I had my pack on, I risked drowning if the river overpowered me (which it would since it did Austin, who is taller and heavier than me), but if I made it to the other side without my pack, what good would that be? I stripped down to my boxers and boots and began to hesitantly cross, heart and mind racing. When I got up to my mid-thighs and sensed the power of the river, I balked. I would not do it then. I went back and stood on the near shore with legs numb from the silty, glacial water. I told them I would camp on this side that night. Feeling defeated,I went back to set up camp on a hill overlooking the river. I decided that the next day I would search for the gauging station. I spent the remainder of the night finding abandoned items on the river shore, starting a fire, reading, and cooking. I did find a geocache too. I wondered if I would make it the next day — I told myself that unless I found the station, it probably wasn’t worth the risk.

camp 1

Camp day one

I awoke fairly early the next morning and tried to call out to Austin’s camp and get his attention with firecrackers to let him know I was going to make for the gauging station. Frustrated that I couldn’t get ahold of him, I went back to my camp. Then, to my surprise, he stumbled dripping wet into my camp. He told me that he had found an easier place to cross and that we would tandem cross it together. I was still hesitant, being more willing to dangle over the torrent by a cable than walk in it. Nonetheless, I followed him. The area he showed me had maybe a twenty yard crossing to an island then a 5 yard crossing from that island to the other shore. He told me that the deepest channel was about 5-10 feet from the near shore and that after braving that deep channel, it was a piece of cake. The plan was that he would stand behind me with his hands on my back to brace me and we would cross together. I held a raft paddle I found to use as a third leg too. I tentatively stepped in at the water was at about my shin. I quickly ditched the paddle, as it was no help. As we side stepped across, the water quickly deepened. At one point Austin was bracing me so hard that he almost was pushing me over, I had to yell at him over the roar of the river to cut it out! As the water level approach my belly button, I started to feel the loss of control. I felt my feet being lifted, putting me on my tiptoes. At this point I was very close to backing out, having Austin there and his promise that it would get shallower was the only thing that kept me going.

“Run, just go with it,” Austin shouted.

We broke ranks and ran diagonally with the current as we lost control. Austin fell over, and I lifted him up. Before long, we were thigh deep and then knee deep in the middle of the river–piece of cake at that point. I walked onto the island triumphantly. We saw our friend from across the river cross this place too, he didn’t even stumble. Next order of business was to cross the short channel to the other side — piece of cake I thought. We still tandem crossed it, but I ate it and ended up having to crawl the last few feet to the shore, soaked and shivering. We got across and after celebrating, started a fire to dry out and cook some food. As we were cooking, some Denali park rangers saw us from the other side on their four wheelers. They came to check the depth of the water and we told them our plans. I was relieved that the rangers knew we were out there.

Once we dried out, we began the rest of the trek to the bus. It was no big deal from then on. Don’t get me wrong, it was still tiring, wet, and sloppy, but it wasn’t stressful. After a couple hours, we were both getting tired of walking and I was ravenous. I was expecting the bus to be on a big hilltop or something, but we just rounded a corner and there it was. We surveyed the bus and claimed our beds. The bus was full of writing from other pilgrims from around the States and world. There was also a plaque to Chris in there. It seems that the bus also acts as a gear exchange for those in need. There was an emergency stash of food that we left alone. We took a couple redundant items and left some of our own items. We also took some scrap parts from the bus (which is controversial because some people have taken major parts like the steering wheel and side panels, but we didn’t take anything major, just a couple scraps of metal that no one would notice, I lost mine anyways). The bus was also pretty vandalized, the windows were broken out and the sides were full of bullet holes. I went and gathered some wood for the fire master to make a fire (he is much better than I am at it). We cooked up some mac and cheese with some beef sticks and gorged ourselves — lucky for me Austin doesn’t eat as much as I do, so I was fat and happy. We then drank a toast to Chris and reflected on the journey and Chris’s life.

 

bus

Inside the Bus

 

 

 

 

 

bus2

 

RIP Chris

RIP Chris

 

The next day we awoke and already had a disagreement on when to leave. Austin, being more lax than I, wanted to leave later in the day. I wanted to beat the rain. Luckily for me, the park rangers showed up on their four wheelers and told us that we indeed needed to get across today before the rain. They also told us that the gauging station was not anchored down, so it would not be an option. We still left later than I would’ve liked, but we got out of there okay. I was lagging a bit on the journey and a bit hungry as we were a little low on food and had to ration it. I was already psyching myself out, “can I cross when I’m still a little hungry?” The constant, but light rain intimidated me too, “How high is the river going to be?” Austin was booking it because he was really cold, he didn’t have rain pants so his legs were perpetually cold (rain gear is a must in Alaska). We got to the river in this nervous state and it was made worse by the increased rain and our confusion about our location. I falsely attributed to peaks that I saw to two peaks on the map and confused both of us. However, Austin pointed out my tent that I had left downstream, so we got a relative idea of where we were. Once again, he was all hot to cross, right where we were but I was for the tried and true crossing. I was worried that he was partly hypothermic in his insistence to cross right away. I had thoughts of drowning, getting stranded, or losing my pack and huddling together under an emergency blanket. Needless to say, I was pretty freaked out. We eventually agreed to find the place we had already crossed though. Before we crossed, I had to yell and shout to psych myself up.

Austin came up with a better tandem strategy too. We could interlock arms, my hand on his shoulder, his on mine, and use that too stabilize ourselves. We would also walk upstream a bit from where we crossed and angle downstream to cut the resistance. We crossed the first channel without much difficulty. Encouraged by this, we took a deep breath and began the bigger crossing. I stomped every step down with determination and spoke things to myself like “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and “You got it baby, we got this” it actually helped a lot. We made it across without so much as stumbling. When we reached the other side we were both ecstatic. It felt amazing to be on the other side of that river.

We set up camp, not even considering starting a fire in the downpour. We put on what little dry clothes we had and put the wet stuff outside the tent. We took great pains to keep the inside of my little Eureka tent dry, and it did stay relatively dry. I was worried about the temperature but we made it work. I wasn’t worried in vain though, for when we woke up it was to light snowfall, it didn’t stick though.  We both went and looked at the river, and just overnight it became a surging, chocolate brown torrent much angrier than it was previously–we would not have made it across, no chance. Despite the fact that we were in relatively good shape, it was very demoralizing putting on our stiff, frosty boots. As soon as I put them on, I wondered if I would make it out of here without frostbite. In any case, I was more than ready to get out of here. We packed up and hit the trail. Little did we know we had another surprise waiting for us though.

A little distance down the trail we ran into the park rangers at their camp, complete with wall tent and a nice stack of lumber. We asked them how the Savage river was. “Savage,” they responded, “flooded to it’s banks, be ready to hunker down for 2 or 3 more days.” Really? The Savage had never even come into the equation for me. Now were were stuck here again for perhaps another rainy 3 nights (though it wasn’t raining at this point) and we were low on food. We went down the trail to set up camp, dry out, and Austin worked on a fire. Luckily there was some wood left over at the previously occupied camp, though it was wet. Austin worked on that as I went to go reclaim an old cut up air mattress we left at our camp to use as a tarp. I also tried to bum some food off the rangers, but they said that they were on tight rations too. Austin and I had joked how they were probably roasting a big chunk of moose flesh over their fire and feasting, while we were eating a mixture of dried grits and dried mashed potatoes. During this time I was also trying to stalk and stone grouse along the road, but my aim with rocks is horrible. I tried to shoot some bear spray at them too, but I only succeeded at walking into a cloud of it (though not too much). Shortly after I got back Austin got the fire going (after infinite effort and frustration) and we pretty much just sat around drinking coffee and such.

The next day I tracked down the troopers to get the conditions and I learned that the river was already passable. I was very relieved to not be stranded two more days. We packed up and began the mucky trek back. The Savage was no big deal to cross but all the earlier streams and beaver ponds we crossed on the way in were now also swollen. They were crossable, just a pain to cross. The trail was also now much easier to lose. Thankfully we were able to mostly stay on it. After a long trek back, we stopped at a lodge and gorged ourselves on some real food. We trekked the remaining miles into Healy and gorged more at the gas station. We were so gimped up that the gas station lady asked Austin if he had been drinking.  After that we camped right down the road.

It’s funny, in all our individual faults and bad ideas we balanced each other out and made a pretty good team. Though Austin annoyed me at times, I know I wouldn’t have gotten to the bus without him, and am very grateful for him. I’m sure I annoyed him too with my impatience and cautiousness. I now know that it is best to have a partner to hike with, though I still do it alone sometimes. I probably shouldn’t but sometimes I have to. I certainly won’t hike places like that alone though.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to pick them up. Also if two lie down together they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” Ecclesiastes 4:9-11

The next day I woke up and my fellow traveler and we cooked up some boxed breakfast delicacies. I, being the impatient person that I am, was eager to get on the road. He decided to stay there a bit longer. On the way out, I stopped at an antique shop and scored a little camping pillow for $2, the exact amount of cash I had in my wallet. After I got to the main road, I stopped at a fire work stand because it seemed right. I bought some “Mystic Fire,” little chemical packets that turn campfires different colours (I like the name too). I was also given some firecrackers. I talked to the cashier a bit about God and then we parted ways. After a bit later, I got picked up by a middle aged woman heading to Talkeetna, about 50 or so miles. She was a nice lady who told me her woes about having a breathalyzer built into her car as the result of getting a DUI.

When I got into Talkeetna (at 4 or so?) I had to catch a shuttle from the local grocery market into town, which was about 14 miles. I went to the hostel and opted to sleep in a VW bug with a bed in it. It was a bit more pricey, but I was a sucker for it. That hippie suite was quite symbolic of Talkeetna, a friendly little hippie town in which probably 90% of the people smoke weed. It also acts as a type of base camp for climbers seeking to master Mt. McKinley. That stoner culture was pretty prevalent at the hostel. I was a bit intimidated about being a minority there, which is stupid because I am a former stoner-type. Anyways, I went into town to get some food to cook and came back and watched Into the Wild with some of the other people. During the movie I said how I had wanted to go to the magic bus and had even posted on Craigslist months before coming to Alaska looking for a partner. I didn’t find a partner on Craigslist though, instead I got a bunch of warning to avoid that trip — therefore I figured I wouldn’t do it unless I found a super experienced partner. It can be a dangerous trip, mostly due to crossing the Teklanika river. That is the river that blocked Chris McCandless from getting out and it is the river that a Swiss woman making the pilgrimage drowned in a few years ago.  However, Austin, a guy living and working in Talkeetna, told me he was down, so that was that. We would leave the next day for Healy, AK. I was excited about this, but unsure about how it would go down. I went back to my VW because I was still a little nervous about mingling in that group for fear that a strong point of disagreement would come about and I would look stupid. I felt like a weenie-ish idiot about that though, because though there are many things I disagree with about that culture, there are many things I have in common and if any such contention came up I think I would be an ideal person to have discussion rather than a Conservative Murrican Christian (God bless their hearts, but they aren’t always the best at relating to certain subcultures).

The next day I would get a chance though. I realized that it was going to be an interesting trip right off the bat because my travel partner was much more laid back than I am and a bit of a stoner. Given that my travels are like little mission trips, I thought there might be some conflict. We soon got on spiritual topics though and that was a relief. He talked about how he thought that things were supposed to happen in certain ways. I, of course, agreed — I shared how I had waited to leave Seward, how I met the homeless guy in Anchorage who diverted my travel plans, and how I now was en route on a trip I had really wanted to do but didn’t think I would do. I talked to him about the leading of the Spirit. We had a big stoner-metaphysical-theological conversation with each other and some other people at the park while he was getting geared up to go. I was glad that we both knew where we stood and that I had the opportunity to talk more in depth about Jesus with some people –though I don’t think I made the most of the situation. One Bulgarian worker told me that I was the first American he had met that didn’t want to smoke weed. After the park, we caught a ride the the grocery store 14 miles away and got some more necessities.

We started walking down the road a bit and shortly scored our first and last ride to Denali. The woman’s name was Valerie and she was driving a little Chevy Spark. It was a bit of a squeeze for us and our packs, but we made it work. She is an Alaskan who now lives in the lower 48 and is also a travel blogger. The excited me because this was when I first had the idea of turning my blog into a travel one. Check out her blog “Valerie and Valise” at valisemag.com. I am looking forward to reading more of it; I have only scanned it a bit, but it looks very high quality and interesting. We cruised towards Denali, trying to get a peak at McKinley, but it was too cloudy. We stopped at a beautiful place called hurricane gulch and got some nice views. There was also an amanita the size of a plate off the road, as well as a wide variety of other amanitas ranging from the classic Super Mario-esque red and white ones to ones that looked like sunsets with their explosions of orange, yellow, and red. When we stopped at Cantwell, I got my replacement camera. I bought Austin a can of snus in exchange for a pretty jacked up Canon point and shoot. It did the job though and is now laid to rest. I talked to Valerie a bit about Christian spirituality, which was cool. Austin jumped in too and we got into another abstruse metaphysical discussion.

We got dropped at the Denali visitor center and sought to get some information. I got a couple maps of the Stampede Trail from the book store and the cashier put our minds to ease, saying that he hiked the Stampede this time of year the year before. He said that he and some friends tandem crossed the Teklanika and it wasn’t too bad. He wasn’t that big of a guy either. Encouraged, we got back on the road, going the wrong way. Instead of heading North to Healy, we started going down the park road. That wasn’t a good sign, getting lost before even really getting into the wild. A lady driving one of the buses got us straightened out though. Some other riders told us how they had been at the Teklanika earlier and some Asians trying to cross couldn’t because it was too high; the mixed messages continued. I felt that they thought we were stupid for thinking about doing it and then getting turned around in Denali. Anyways, after a couple buses we found ourselves in Denali. The last bus took us to 49th State Brewery, which has a replica of the bus from the movie there. We then walked down the road looking for Stampede trail. We got some vague directions though and a roadside motorcyclist willingly mislead us for whatever reason. So we didn’t get to Stampede that night but camped out by Dry Creek. We cooked up some food and afterward I threw some Mystic Fire on the campfire — which was actually pretty cool and long lasting. This was also the first night that camping was actually pretty freaking cold — I think I wore all or most of my layers.

Day 2 of my pilgrimage didn’t start with me in the best of spirits. I’m not entirely sure why; it was raining when I woke up but it wasn’t merely that; I felt lonely, needy, and down. I can be a bit melancholic by nature, so sometimes staying positive and enthusiastic is a battle for me, and this day was certainly a battle. I didn’t want to get up and go to the fair and have another adventure; if anything I wanted to sit in my tent and sulk all day, and surprisingly I also felt the urge to get hammered off my head. Now this is really weird for me; this was actually a first. Even back in the day when I was fascinated without end by drugs, alcohol was never a thing for me. I have always enjoyed having a couple beers, but I never cared for getting hammered. So I don’t really know what this was, I’ve been down before, but this was different. Perhaps it is because alcoholism is a big part of transient culture (think of hobos slamming Steel Reserves and/or Four Lokos under a bridge) and I was now a transient. Is there something about feeling uprooted and homeless that leads people to seek out a consolation in alcohol or was this just a spiritual temptation; I guess probably a bit of everything.

I decided that being homeless, being a pilgrim, then has great risks for moral decline, but also more significantly great opportunities for spiritual advancement. If one can master the experience of being without a home in this world, one can perhaps be more in touch with his transcendent home in God. It is easily to feel like a foreigner who is not of this world when your life is reduced to what you can carry on your back. Not to mention that your issues cannot be scattered by busyness or sublimated into other seemingly productive activities; they are ever present, ricocheting off the low tent ceiling and perpetually echoing back into your consciousness. Life is stripped of all the outward distractions and you feel the emptiness of not having invested enough in the inward spiritual life. In such a moment you can, like many hobos, drink to hide that emptiness, or you can painfully reorient yourself to transcendent spiritual things.  Such were my thoughts as I finally decided to break down my tent and go into the fair.

As I left the narrow confinement of my tent and my own mind, I slowly started to warm up to the grey, rainy day. It was a slow process though, mind you. The 1,200 pound pumpkin helped me lighten up a bit. At first, I didn’t even think the bean-bag sized vegetable was real, but it was. Unfortunately I had lost my camera by this point and wouldn’t get a replacement until Denali. There were some other large vegetables too — squash, cabbage, etc. Next, I went and got some homegrown Alaskan stew and coffee and sat down to watch a corny magic show. I caught a bit of an acrobatics show, but it wasn’t really my thing. I then wondered if the Lord had someone for me to talk to, hoping the answer was no because I wasn’t quite done with my pity party. Nonetheless, I hesitantly went and wandered around the many booths. I first stopped at an Orthodox Christian book vendor and picked up a book by an anonymous Russian peasant called The Way of the Pilgrim, how appropriate. The overall gist of the book was a Russian pilgrim who walked all over Russia trying to learn how to persist in ceaseless inward prayer — especially the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God Have mercy on me, a sinner”). There were accounts of lessons he learned, hospitable people he met, hostile people he met, and supernatural experiences he was involved in. This greatly cheered me and addressed my earlier black thoughts well. The stripped down experience of a transient life was a great chance to practice inward prayer and try to follow the leading of the Spirit.

I continued to wander, finding shops selling displays of beautiful, iridescent Peruvian butterflies to shops selling a miscellaneous assortment of trinkets ranging from Pentagram necklaces to cross necklaces and all the marijuana inspired apparel one could want. I felt like saying something smart to the vendor, but resisted (if I buy a pentagram necklace, will you throw in a cross one for free?). I bought some tasty smelling soap from some Gambian guys, figuring I could bathe in a river later or something. I talked to them a bit about Jesus, they were Muslims. It’s always interesting talking to Muslims. I then went back to the stage where I watched a magic show and listened to an acoustic solo artist named 150 grit play, he was really good actually. After the show I wandered more. On learning that the fair was looking for security guards I almost applied, thinking I could just work and wander for a week. I learned though that they wanted to send me a check to an address, not give me money straight up, so that was out (it probably would’ve killed me to be in that environment for more than one day anyway). I was able to get a job soon enough though, well a volunteer one anyway. I spotted a Psychic reading booth and decided I would try to steal some of her customers who were waiting in line by offering “free spiritual readings”. I succeeded in getting one customer. I explained to her about hearing from God, that I’m not %100 but sometimes I get stuff. A couple words were just my mind burping out various psychological waste, but I got the word cripple and learned that her father was injured. I asked if it was a car wreck and she said “yes, and other things”. I asked her if I could pray for him and she said yes, but she doesn’t really believe in that. I prayed for him, so hopefully he has improved. After my brief employment, I got a reindeer and salmon quesadilla and a free sample of ghost chili peanut brittle (which wasn’t even hot, and I’ve eaten part of a ghost chili before).

I was soon burnt out on the crowds and noise so I made my way towards the exit. It was seven miles to the exchange that headed up to Denali. I flagged down a taxi (hackneyed hitchhiker that I am) and tried to pay with debit. She couldn’t take it, but she was heading that way anyway and after some hesitation she gave me a ride. Legit, I really did not want to walk that seven miles! After the exchange I stopped at a hospital and asked if there was anyone who want a visitor. They said not really, but thanks. Shortly after, a guy from Oregon picked me up and took me to Wasilla. Wasilla was under construction, so I couldn’t hitch there; the walk through town wasn’t too bad though. After getting through town, a government hating guy in a Dodge Charger gave me a ride to Big Lake, 20 miles or so down the road. At that time I was over traveling for the day. I was going to head to the lake, a few miles down a side road to camp. I saw a church having a meeting though so I stopped in. They were talking about finances and hard work — “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean”. I decided that was a good work motto, though I didn’t follow that the whole summer in my previous job. It was more like “if you have time to lean, you have time to throw rolls at your coworkers”. Anyway, after the service the pastor offered to take me to a campground, which I took him up on gratefully. It was a pay-per campground unfortunately. He offered me money but I declined. I’m glad I declined because that led me to a good situation. I had to cut through a backwoods pass to get to the Tesoro ATM and get money. While I was at Tesoro, I met a fellow sojourner from Texas. I told him about my place to camp and told him I would show him the place and he could pitch his tent there. When we were done in the store, I lead him back there and we cooked some food. It was nice talking to someone in the same boat as I was in. We discussed our current and future travel plans, career goals, experiences of Alaska so far, talked about God a bit, and lots of other things. I think we probably talked for two hours. It was good though, I enjoyed it. Shortly after that, I went to bed.

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.