Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Hitchhikers Guide to Alaska

In my free time I hitchhiked up and down the Haul Road, back-country, solo backpacking my way through deserted drainages, traversing ridges, climbing peaks, dipping in creeks. The sun never set, so I could hike for 15-18 hours straight and not have to worry about finding a place to camp: I’d find a rocky ledge, set my sleeping bag down and take a 3-4 hour nap.

 
Hitchhiking is a cinch up here (especially being a girl), although all the truckers, miners and trappers I got rides from felt it was necessary to give me a safety-briefing about riding with strangers and the possibilities of “such a pretty thing like me” getting mauled by bears. I totaled it up, and I’ve logged over 3000 miles this summer, never once paying for gas.
The guys (all of them male) who picked me up are characters. Outwardly rough appearances and crass language aside, I’ve come to the conclusion that they're all loners, at-peace with spending days alone on the road, socially awkward and men of few words.

They share their life stories: their illnesses, marital problems, criminal pasts….It’s interesting how people open up when they know you’ll never meet again. When you hop down from the truck and say “good-bye”, there’s never a “see you later”.
The guy below gave me a ride to Prudhoe Bay--he has 4 kids, has been married for 40 years, likes baby carrots and listens to trucking songs.
Most memorable rides:
  • A multi-millionaire from an aristocratic New England family, a graduate of Berkeley, who shunned high society, hates valentine’s day and now drives trucks.
  • A miner who made a fortune in gold and keeps gold nuggets in his truck. This guy also dated a stripper named “Charlene”, and told me a long story about how he saved her from drugs and found her a job at hooters. He was quite proud of this accomplishment.

  • A trapper who makes a living frontier-style, but has solar panels and a wind turbine next to his wolf traps. The cabin on the left is the local functioning post office. 



  • A miner with a handle-bar mustache, going 80 mph down the Haul Road with the windows down, drinking a six-pack of PBR, calling me “honey” and hiding out in Alaska because he's wanted for stealing a corvette in California.
  • A hippy guy that listened to rock n’ roll with the windows down, and told me all about his experiences about hiding pot from the cops and tripping on mushrooms
An Amanita near camp: mildly hallucinogenic,
but I decided to pass on tasting i
t
  • A former member of the Air Force, obsessed with Bruce Lee, blasting Lady Gaga songs from his stereo, and wanted to go to Russia with me, because he couldn't stand our "Muslim, communist motherfucking terrorist of a president". He also has a 16-year-old pregnant daughter.
I crashed in the trucks’ sleeper compartments  more than once after a long trek with no hesitation or fear for my safety.

Only once did I ever feel creeped out by a man that picked me up in an RV and kept offering me a drink from the 4 bottles of vodka he had stashed in the back.
Below is a miner. Great guy, but not too bright. Everyone in Alaska has one or more guns stashed somewhere in their vehicle. This guy kept his .44 magnum on the dashboard. I'm not against guns. When I'm through travelling I'm planning on buying a pistol for target practice.

My least pleasant experience was while waiting for a ride from Deadhorse back to Coldfoot in -20 F and 30 mph winds howling by. 


Hitchhiking's peaceful. It makes you let go of the controls. Looking out on the tundra expanses from the shotgun seat in a truck changes your perspective about obligations, prior commitments.... I’m a fan.

3 comments:

  1. awesome post. thank you. makes me want to do alaska hitchhiking style instead of the usual privileged car rental stuff.

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  2. amazing!!! could you maybe give me some tips? i want to do the same thing in a month... is hiking really safe, can i make it without a gun? what should i take with me? im planning on spending like four days in remote wilderness of the gates of arctic national park. thank you so much, and hoping that you are well, with lot's of adventures ahead!

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  3. Amazing!! hope you are still fine, and planning on next adventures! could you maybe help me? i want to do the same thing this summer. i want to hitchhike to the prudhoe bay, and on the way there spend some time at the gates of arctic national park. do you think that it is bear-safe without any kind of gun, or anything? do i need to bring a tent, or is sleeping bag enough? thank you so much, looking forward to your answer. hope you are well.

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