Traversing the Alcan

A tale about my journey through the rural abyss and into the last frontier…

Prelude:

Hello readers, I apologize for my hiatus in writing. I have been caught up in the roller coaster of ups and downs that accompany the lifestyle I have taken on. I truly appreciate those of you who have continued to stay active on my blog, write in to me, and keep up with my Instagram.

In the time I have been away, I unfortunately have not been able to visit any intentional communities I had planned to due to mechanical issues with the bus. However, I assure you the ups still continue to outweigh the downs- tenfold. I may not have had the opportunity in the past few weeks to visit with any communities, but I have been granted the opportunity to live 100% wild and free and to truly experience what it feels like to live everyday life in the very essence of the American Dream. And so over the next few weeks I would like to share with you the freedoms of the open road, the peculiar synchronicities that have been thrown my way, the hurdles I have been facing, the opportunities I have been granted, and the lessons I have learned along the way. Allow me to transport you back in time and show you where I have been in the time I have been gone and bring you back up to pace landing where I am now.

Let us start with the story of the most wild and free destination of them all: Alaska.

This tale begins in Billings, Montana at the end of a taxing 12-hour car ride. I met my father at his campsite at 1 a.m. in a rather delirious state and headed straight into his trailer to go to sleep. When I stepped outside the trailer in the morning I was greeted with a view of the Teton Mountain Range. I had just came from a place surrounded in gorgeous towering mountains but these shared a different kind of radiance with the world. Compared with the dark, boulder-covered Rocky Mountains, these were smooth, sandstone colored pillars of near geometric perfection. They were not particularly tall but the pitch of the sides was beyond daunting. After getting a slow start to the day we hit the road heading due north.

Within a few short hours we had crossed over into Canada. My previous knowledge of this border country comes 100% from the T.V. show How I Met Your Mother; I must say they were pretty spot on. However what I did not expect, for whatever reason, was the extent of the vast openness. The first few hours was open field as far as the eye can see. The next few days was driven through gigantic snowy mountains and around crystal clear, glimmering lakes. And yes, I did say days. Five of them to be exact. There were not many stops along our way save the world’s largest glacier erratic and (in my opinion) the world’s best cinnamon rolls at a lodge dropped right in the middle of the vast Yukon Territory.

By the last day of driving the one thing that kept us trucking forward was the abundant wildlife. Winding through the mountains we took the opportunity to stop every so often to observe these animals and their natural beauty. A moose with her baby running through the water’s edge. A black bear eating leaves off a road side plant. Mountain sheep that looked as small as dots on the edge of a tall and rugged peak with large, majestic eagles circling the foothills below. Porcupines waddling along in the grass while nearby a fox slyly glides between the trees. A mama grizzly and her two cubs, the babies turning their heads side to side in puzzlement of what this large contraption pulled off on the shoulder of the road could possibly be. A dall sheep with its baby standing on a nearby boulder curiously watching humans watching them. A caribou running alongside traffic. And to top it all off- a herd of buffalo stopping traffic to cross the road in the most hilariously lackadaisical way you could ever imagine. This journey was like stepping out of real life and into a special airing on the Discovery Channel.

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We traveled through Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon finally to arrive at the Canadian/USA border at Alaska.

Previous talk of my desire to one day own a raven manifested an encounter with one of these awe-inspiring birds while waiting to make our way to the front of the line at border patrol. The large bird hopped right up on the hood of the car and was thoroughly inspecting us through the windshield. When we began to inch forward we fully expected him to fly away but instead he took two short hops over and landed right on the side mirror! The size of his claws wrapped over the casing to the mirror was enough to make me think twice about the possibility of rescuing one. This, and a later experience on the Gulf of Alaska where a raven followed me swooping dangerously low to the kitten in my arms all the way back to the trailer and then persisted to sit right outside the door and obnoxiously squawk at me every time I came outside!

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Just like my expectations of Canada were shattered, so were my expectations of Alaska. I was right about finding true unruly open land. Alaska is indeed the last frontier. However I expected to find a slightly more primitive and rugged culture due to the nature of the geography and what it takes to survive in some of these desolate locations. I journeyed into the more populated areas of the 49th state- the cities surrounding Anchorage and making up the eastern shore on the Kenai Peninsula. I quickly realized that my expectations were wrong.

These were some really laid back boater towns with a good mix of conscientious and heady individuals. There was even one town boosting the story of a guy who swore to never wear shoes until we reached world peace. He lived his entire life barefoot, an impressive feat in those parts. Truth be told, if it weren’t for the -50℉ winters, I would pick up and move to the peninsula in a heartbeat.

The first night was spent at a campground nestled in the forest among bogs of swampy water. The giant sized mosquitos were aggravating to say the least but we were eager to get out and enjoy our first night on the last frontier. We built a fire, roasted s’mores, and shared old stories. This was the first time we realized how easy it was going to be to get caught up hanging out outside into the middle of the night with no real nightfall.

We spent our first day in Palmer, just north of Anchorage. We were lucky enough to get to town on the morning of their weekly market. Flowing tapestries blew in the wind and the sound of bluegrass lofted in the air as we spoke with local artisans and enjoyed an early farm fresh lunch. From here we went on to see Hemp Fest in Wasilla. Hemp Fest is a large organization who allow groups/individuals to organize local events to promote the communication, production, and use of hemp materials. They offer workshops such as how to build homes with a hemp substitute for concrete and have vendors selling food, clothes, and other goods made from the plant. On top of it all there is music, camping, and tons of like-minded individuals to network with. The festival in Seattle this year hosted thousands of festival goers.

We were stoked and ready to go when we greeted the man working the entrance- a young fellow sporting a steampunk hat with Back to the Future style goggles attached. We drove up the large dirt hill and around the corner to see……

Nothing!

A stage with one man playing a guitar, one vendor table set up with sparse products and no operator, two young guys standing in front of the stage watching, and one large fella with a ripped up shirt that fit half way down his belly stumbling around trying to get things together last minute. He was very friendly and assured us that the rush of people was coming after the work day ended.

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Hours later we were downing whiskey and hemp to keep ourselves afloat. The entertainment of the night was a man rapping the same song over and over again about peace, a high school band who was begged to stay and play covers to kill time, and a peculiar act by a steam punk-goth-rock duo which set one young, long haired individual in the crowd going wild. He was wearing a white face of makeup to contrast the long jet black hair, was wearing tight ripped clothing, and was clutching a creepy stuffed doll while running around head banging and screaming, or rather horrendously screeching at the top of his lungs. But the experience does not end there folks.

The total outcome of this event was about 8 people, ten if you count children. These attendees were friends of the owners of the venue… not truly attendees at all. By watching through the one-way windows in the trailer we deduced that the moms had taken acid, peed their pants, and then continued to run around the field occasionally falling to the ground to kick their legs around in the air. We justified our money camping by enjoying the free entertainment to accompany our extended nightcap.

We woke up and left as early as possible in the morning excited and ready to move on to bigger and better adventures. After a quick stop at the Vanagon Blues Café back in Palmer we were set in steady motion towards Seward. This was a marina town set right on the beautiful Gulf of Alaska. The town was decked out in large murals depicting the wildlife and the native culture. There was a very vintage feel to the town while still keeping a laid back vibe. There were cafes on the beach and gift shops and pubs lining the few streets that made up the city. Just a few minutes out of town laid Kenai Fjords National Park where we hiked out past the danger signs and right onto Exit Glacier. On the way out we were greeted by signs marking where the glacier had extended to in years past… these signs went miles and miles out past the parking lot to the main street. From this we deduced that the area we hiked around on will be gone by the time the next generation is here.

From Seward we hopped on a boat and took a two hour ride out past many bouldering rocks and vacant islands. We saw puffins, wading otters, porpoises, and dolphins playing in the water. Best of all, we encountered two humpback whales. One was viewed in the far off distance. This particular creature’s only clue to us he was there was the spray of water he blew above the surface before diving deep down under. We were informed that these whales can spend twenty to thirty minutes under water before returning for air! Luckily for us, we encountered another whale. We were able to come into unbelievably close quarters to this guy. He breached above water showing us the hundreds of barnacles living on his breathtakingly large body. We watched in awe as he rolled from side to side, waving his fins in the air. Soon we stopped off on a slender stretch of beach and transitioned from boat to kayaks.

We paddled along quite unsure of what we were doing through ice fields and past communities of seals. Every now and then we would catch one of these seals popping their heads up behind the kayaks trying to check out what we were doing in their waters. The ice fields were difficult to traverse. The large blocks of ice floating in the Alaskan waters made for a bumpy ride tipping us back and forth as we inevitably bounced over, into, and off of many of these floating hazards. We kayaked past islands and waterfalls and finally into a cove extending far far above our heads. At the mouth of the cove stood a ginormous active glacier. We ate lunch and muffins dropped to us by a passing tour boat while admiring this phenomena. We would hear a loud crashing sound followed by a rumble that you felt more so in your gut than you heard in your ears. Someone would point and yell “Over there!” and we would all quickly look to find a wall of snow falling and crumbling to pieces which all violently continued to ricochet their way down the glacier side. They would come crashing down into the water without abandon and cause huge tidal waves to come rushing back at us and send us rocking from side to side in our tiny little shelters.

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We made our way back to the boat where we headed back at jet speed catching air off the waves as we raced into town. But not before getting caught in a riptide and almost crashing into a giant rock first of course.

Our last two nights were spent in America’s largest national park: Wrangell St. Elias. We were far from civilization and camped primitively in the abyss without encountering any other humans save an older couple walking a trail. We did however encounter a lone wolf who greeted me with a smile as we locked eyes mere feet from each other far out of my comfort zone in his territory. He had a beautiful fur coat, piercing blue eyes, and impressively large paws.

We then began our long five day journey back to Billings, Montana. As luck would have it, we were traveling through on Canada Day and got to enjoy a free pancake breakfast courtesy of a small community celebration we were invited to take part in.

Although I did not visit any intentional communities or communes in my time in the great north, the sense of community was still very present in the places that we visited. We were greeted with open arms and met many friendly people along the way. And the experience of being out among this raw rarity of nature is an experience that I will never forget.

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