Friday 11th July 7:00a.m Anchorage, Alaska
Welcome to the USA!
It was after 1:30 a.m. in the Whitehorse internet cafe, when I finally realized there was no way I could reply to all my emails. The internet connection was costing me $5 an hour, and I'd already used up two hours- that's a day's food budget gone on two hours emailing! I gave up, and stretched out my sleeping mat in the back room, staring out the window at the eerie blue green sky. After all the road travel and sunlight, it was no wonder I woke up feeling a bit ordinary. Roland and Wanda hadn't slept yet; they'd been up all night painting. But get this- they'd used up all the paint! When I presented for work, Roland smiled and said 'You got off easy. Have a cup of coffee!' I pretended to be disappointed that there wasn't anything for me to do, had a cup of coffee, and hit the road.
If you're in Whitehorse go to the Wired Cabin on the corner of 2nd Street and Jarvis Street, and look for the ten dollar note framed on the wall. I was Roland and Wanda's first paying customer in these new premises, so they had me sign the note *probably a federal offence* for posterity. I should have told them that not only was that ten dollar note their first income, but it also represented the first time I've ever paid to check my emails!
Anyway, it was 'adios Whitehorse'. On the way out of town, I bought something called a 'smokie' from a little convenience store. It looked like a sausage roll, but tasted like a lump of fat. It was quickly deposited into the nearest bin, and you can imagine how bad food has to be for me to throw it away after I've paid good money for it! Three different rides each got me a little further out of Whitehorse, each driver singing the same tune 'I'm not going far, but I can take you to a better spot for hitching'. That was cool. I'd rather keep moving a little than stand in one spot. The second guy who picked me up was Travis, a friend of Nathan's. Imagine my surprise when I jumped into his car and he said 'You must be Steve!' So I found myself at the intersection of the Alaska Highway and the Klondike Highway. Traffic to Dawson turns right. Traffic to Fairbanks continues straight ahead. I hadn't decided for sure which way would be the best for me, but followed the advice of my last driver, and stuck to the Alaska Highway. That intersection looked like becoming my home. The vast majority of traffic was turning off to Dawson, and the vehicles coming past me were mostly motorhomes and bikers. It was hot in the sun, and I was getting burnt and impatient. With no-one for miles around - except a large animal making crashing noises in the bush nearby - I passed the time by singing Pink Floyd songs at full volume! Finally God hated my singing enough that he sent me a car, but he would have his revenge...
'We can only take you forty-five minutes up the road' the young couple said. That was fine by me. I was decidedly uncomfortable at that intersection, especially after discovering some quite healthy marijuana plants growing on the banks of a little roadside stream. I assumed that forty-five minutes up the road must be a town or a village or at least something. I shouldn't assume. It was the middle of nowhere, by now a hundred kilometres north of Whitehorse and who knows how many hundred kilometres south from the next town. All that was there was a narrow winding road disappearing into the woods to a supposed campground. After another hour baking in the sun, I decided my shoulders had achieved just the perfect shade of pink, and I reached for the sunscreen. Within thirty seconds I was in the middle of a cloud of insects, all trying to devour their share of the yummy sunscreen *otherwise known as insect attractant* and so I spent the next couple of hours swatting horseflies and pondering my stupidity.
Just when I was starting to feel quite discouraged*you know you're discouraged when you start to swear under your breath at drivers who don't stop for you* A car screeched to a stop. The driver's name was Alex, a twenty-one year old university student from MInnesota. Alex had been on the road for eight days straight, and was heading to Alaska to look for a summer job. His little Nissan sports car was chock-a-block and it took some repacking to fit me and my backpack in. We were limited to a top speed of around 90kph since his car had left fifth gear behind somewehere in British Columbia! BUt that was allright. Alex was a good guy, and the scenery was pristine. When we came across enormous Kluane Lake, neither of us could resist the opportunity for a dip, even though we knew it would be icy!
Driving was a lot more enjoyable after the swim; cool, fresh, and barefoot. Alex took the opportunity to escape the steering wheel for a while and had me drive. The scenery only became more spectacular, with the mighty mountain ranges of Kluane National Park stretching as far as the eye could see. Somewhere amongst those peaks was Mt Logan, Canada's highest mountain at almost twenty thousand feet.
US immigration welcomed me with a smile, and a good natured jibe about beer drinking. They didn't even ask to view my airline ticket, or my 'proof of funds'. Phew! Almost there now, or so I thought. But it was still a loooong way to Anchorage. Alex and I drove until 11:00 p.m. and called it a day when we reached a little place called Tok. We found a little bar that was open till two in the morning, and decided that reaching Alaska was an achievement worth celebrating. Alex slept in the car, and lent me a camp cot. My first morning in Alaska greeted me with blinding sunlight and a throbbing headache. Alex and I parted company after having breakfast at the gas station. I had a beautufl homemade muffin, two panadol, two nurofen and four glasses of water. Alex headed north to Fairbanks and I stood by the road.
Then I stood by the road.
Then I stood by the road some more. Every second vehicle was a campervan or mobile home, the drivers of which tend to pretend they can't see me. Every other vehicle was a pick up truck, which ironically don't pick up hitchhikers either. A local delivery dirver who had now driven past three times slowed to yell out 'Stick with it. You'll get one sooner or later!'
'Not if they're all pickups and Winnebagos', I thought.
Just to blow my theory out of the water, a massive blue pickup pulled over. The big guy driving was an oil worker, heading to Anchorage to catch a flight to the oilfields up north. He lives in Carcross, fifteen hours away back in the Yukon, and drives this road every three weeks, since his work is 'three weeks on, three weeks off'. Ralph was a friendly guy, and I got the feeling that he usually likes to pick up a hitchhiker to keep him company. He shouted me a coffe and a cookie at a drive thru espresso stall *great business idea for you Eddie* and stopped at scenic viewpoints so I could take photos. I badly needed the coffee to try and stay awake. Ralph knew that I was interested in the Alaskan Pipeline, so he turned off the highway to show me a spot where the pipeline runs above ground. Cool, my first sighting of the incredible Alaskan Pipeline!
Ralph lent me his mobile phone to call my host Casey Fenton in Anchorage, and let him know I was on the way. He drove me right to Casey's door, arriving here about seven-thirty last night. Casey Fenton is the founder of www.couchsurfing.com and has offered to let me 'surf his couch' for as long as I need. I'd better go; he's calling me for breakfast.