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.