The road to Alaska

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HERE’S THE VIEW from my writing window here in Homer, Alaska, the western terminus of the road system in North America. My window for the next week or so. Those are Kenai Mountain glaciers on the other side of Kachemak Bay.

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No time to scribble a full road report right now, with noteworthy blab about friends I stayed with and interesting strangers I met on the road. I need to get some work done for King Features Syndicate, keep the wily Phantom appearing in newspapers around the world. The great Lee Falk wrote these yarns from 1936 until his death in 1999. I’ve been privileged to carry on in his stead.

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I’ll have at it while housesitting for John Newton, an Alaskan cousin of Daughter #1’s significant other, Ryan Sheehan. John works on an offshore oil platform in the northern Cook Inlet. It’s one week there, one week here. He leaves today for another week at sea, kindly turning over the house to me. Good opportunity to get off the road and make some money while wandering around the continent. This way I’m not entirely goofing off, just mostly goofing off. I suppose that makes me the upper management type.

Apropos of nothing, except that it occurs to me, here’s an actual cell conversation from two days ago. I’m drinking coffee outside a McDonald’s in Soldotna, inbound to Homer, 80 miles of road to go. The love of my life is at her desk in Lincoln, RI. She’s giving me the lowdown on Homer.

“That’s where they film the Deadliest Catch.”

“The what?”

“And Jewel is from Homer.”

“Jewel? Hey, maybe she’ll sleep with me while I’m here.”

“Good luck.”

“Yeah, I’ll need it.” 

 

If you make a beeline for Homer from Little Rhody it’s about 4,700 miles west and north. Bear right in Chicago and exit the States in North Dakota. You don’t need to ride through West Virginia, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming or Montana, as I did. A desire to visit friends along the way took me that route. It turned a 4,700-mile cross-continent run into 6,331 miles

It was a punishing ride at times, but that’s what makes it interesting. I rode through four or five days of high winds and quite a few rainstorms, especially on the Alaska Highway. You can look around and see two or three downpours raging at once. The iron piggy and I were pelted with pea-sized hail along one stretch of wilderness. My fingertips are split and raw from riding in gloves that were so often wet, but that’s normal wear & tear.

Saw lots of wildlife on the Alcan, as some still call it. So many bears I lost count. Quite a few deer, a few moose, herds of bison. No caribou or elk or Dall sheep, though I saw many signs warning me about plowing into those species. Saw only one really big bruin, a black bear looking woods-wise and standing stout and thick-necked. He was on a ledge so I felt safe enough stopping for a look. I didn’t think he’d regard jumping down off the ledge and closing the 40 feet between us as worth the effort. And he didn’t. I snapped a photo with my helmet cam but it was set to wide angle, which made him look like a cub standing 200 yards away. I wasn’t going to sit there futzing with camera settings. I put the iron piggy in gear and rode on.

 

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North of Muncho Lake, British Columbia. Bison bulls jousting for babes in the middle of the road.

Pea Eye: “Them bulls will hook ya.”

Gus: “Yep.”

Pea Eye: “Remember old man Barlow? A bull hooked him bad.”

Gus: “Old man Barlow was a slow thinker. Kinda like, uh… somebody else I could name.”

Pea Eye: “Well, he was a slow walker, too, after that buffalo got through with him.”

 

It was four sleeps up the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek, British Columbia. I camped in a rainy 4,250-foot pass in Stone Mountain Provincial Park; behind the Yukon Motel on Teslin Lake; in Tok, the first town of any size on the Alaska side of the border; and, finally, in Anchorage. That last night, right in the city, was the only time I saw a bear in a campground. Not a big bear, maybe a year old and about 200 pounds. I was standing in the woods brushing my teeth and saw him walk by a car parked in the next tent site over. His shoulder came up to the door handle.

I have tons of photos to sort through, but here are a few that are easy to grab right now.

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Here’s how I have my windshield set up on this trek, so I have my gals with me at all times. If I ever encounter misfortune, meet the Oncoming Peterbilt Grille of Destiny, I’ll spend my last second with the lights of my life. Don’t you dare boo-hoo for a happy man hurtling down life’s highway.

 

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Cruising along the backroads of Missouri. Seems like a long time ago now.

 

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Racing the Union Pacific across Wyoming

 

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North along the western edge of the high prairie in Montana, skirting the Crazy Mountains and the Little Belts.

 

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I spent three rainy nights camped by a rodeo arena in Harlowton, Montana. I had forgotten my passport at home and there’s no crossing into Canada without it. The bride mailed it to me. That has to be the crowning achievement for any hobo: living in a town park awaiting mail addressed to “general delivery.”

I didn’t pick Harlowton by accident when I realized I needed to fetch up somewhere and wait for my passport. The town figures into Act I of a screenplay I wrote in 2008, one that got high praise (if not a purchase offer) from a couple of production companies I respect and would love to work with someday. This year I finished a novel based on the same story and characters. I hope to publish it next year as a means of promoting the script and getting it read more widely in Los Angeles and New York.

It was a fortuitous stay in Harlowton because I met a young woman who curates the museum above and she agreed to be one of my readers on the script and the novel. She grew up on a 12,000-acre ranch north of town, knows the culture, graduated from the high school in ’99, and will be invaluable, I think, in pointing out details that may not ring true. One of three main characters in the story is 16 and female, so I need a local reader who knows about that.

 

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Alberta, headed for British Columbia and the Yellowhead Highway.

 

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Pushing on through the Yukon

 

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About as dark as it gets in Tok, Alaska, in June. It was sneaking up on 11 p.m. and time to… well… see the sign.

 

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Next morning, climbing out of the Gakona River valley, bound for Anchorage. If you ever see this sign on Jeopardy, buzz in real quick and say, “What piggy does.”

 

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The road into town. Insert your preferred for-the-halibut joke here.

 

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Not bad for an old piggy that was lying on the basement floor in a few hundred pieces two winters ago.

 

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I’m about to push the button on this post and a cow moose and calf come climbing up over the bank in the backyard. John and I saw them down below the bank earlier today.

 

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There’s momma.

Tony DePaul, Homer, Alaska, June 13, 2013

 

 

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About Tony

The occasional scribblings of Tony DePaul, 62, father, grandfather, husband, freelance writer in many forms, ex-journalist, long-distance motorcycle rider, motorcycle wrecker, motorcycle rebuilder, collector of surgical hardware, blue routes wanderer, outdoorsman, topo map bushwhacker, handy with a wrench, hammer, chainsaw, rifle, former photographer, printer, logger, truck driver, truck mechanic, jet fueler… blah blah...
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14 Responses to The road to Alaska

  1. Jeff Day says:

    I was wondering what was up with you Tony. Glad to hear that you and Piggy are up and about making tracks. Beautiful pictures and great writing as usual. Keep us posted as I enjoy traveling with you even if it is only vicariously.

    Ride on.

    Jeff

  2. Jon Brush says:

    I just got finished chatting with Pam a couple days ago about what is up. You were in Tok. Good name, worthy of a few offhand snickers.

    Thanks for the pics and news, and glad to hear that the test ride shows all the work was done well. Keep the shiny side up…

    Jon Brush

  3. Happy Trails, Tony. A wonderful pre-work read. Any plans to come back to Puget Sound? Mari and I will try to spend a week at Lake Cushman in late July. Jan will be doing something similar. You’d be so welcome. -Hugo

    Dude…you now have some sick info for GG…well done on the research front there Tone.
    Good times too by the looks of it:)…beautiful…we have a guest room waiting…anytime… -Mari

  4. Barbara Caniglia says:

    Tony, So glad to be “traveling” with you again… Alaska is on my bucket list but your adventures might be the closest I’ll get… Be safe..

  5. John Lassiter says:

    Awesome Tony. I need to get back thataway. Piggy and you both rock.

  6. Bill says:

    Now… you need to turn around and go all the way back!

  7. Matthew Reed says:

    Tony,

    Good work again. Glad you’re sporting a helmet camera, probably a little more safe that snapping/holding anything else. Been there, done that. Though sometimes the random shots make the best conversation.

    Good read. Look us up if you’re heading this general direction. Be safe and stay up with the shiny side.

    Matt
    Bettendorf, Iowa

  8. Dave says:

    I know a guy from Alaska named Bobby. Have you met him yet?

  9. Vincent Ogutu says:

    You had me in tears “…not entirely goofing off, just mostly goofing off…” The Phantom strip takes me way back to my boyhood hero, and sometimes I still can’t believe I now know the man behind the cartoons. Enjoyed reading this and seeing the pics. Too bad you didn’t put up any of bears. Enjoy Alaska!

    Vincent

  10. Jorge Nelson says:

    I’ll be in SEA from June 26th. Hope to see you around then before Burma…
    …or in Burma.

  11. steve lyon says:

    Made almost that same exact trip twice in 2007; once starting in Indianapolis, the other starting in Minneapolis; both times ending up in Homer. Second time up, I did the same as you and didn’t cross the border ’til we’d already gone pretty far west. Sure does add a lotta miles to the trip doing it that way, but you do get to see a lot more of the best parts of the Rockies that way.

    Feed the eagles in Homer!

  12. Kerry Kohring says:

    I was raised in Missouri, but don’t recognize the back road in the pic. Good pix, great copy for whole trip. Stay safe.

  13. Samuel Dyck says:

    Great pics. What kind of camera do you use?

  14. John Zatler says:

    Great pics keep posting them. Glad to have met you at Illinois Harley.

    Keep on riding.

    John

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