The Alaska papers - Part 4

Updated: Jul 27, 2019



North to Alaska


The Alcan Highway – Part 4


By Rick Cleveringa


(*You can revisit our previous posts to this journal here: Part-1,  Part-2, & Part-3)


Day 8


Spice girls


The Jeep was in need of an oil change. I looked around online for a place, but up here oil changes were up to $80. No way! I find a Sears that changes oil for $40 so I drive over first thing in the morning. In the waiting room are four other people, all locals waiting on their cars. A younger woman runs in from outside, she is frantic and says, “They took all my money and left me here, those god damn bastards! I need to use your phone!” She is screaming this to the Sears employee dressed in his gray and red shirt at the counter. All of us are looking at the show. She picks up the phone, says a few expletives and cries; she slammed the phone down hard and says “I have no money!” She runs out, and the guy opposite of me is watching this close. I say “here is your chance to be a hero and help her”. He was a kind faced man with curly brown hair about 35. He said “She talked on the phone without dialing a number”. “Really?” I said. “Yea, I don’t know what it is about this corner but it is filled with scammers. You will see them all over here”, Jon said.


Jon is a nurse and tells me about the drug problem up there. The homeless issues in the city, and a drug named Spice. He was not even sure what it was yet. It can wreck a pretty face and a person in a few months of use. Jon was self proclaimed part Eskimo he told me, saying “I was proud of it as a kid, but I see a real problem with the people who get kicked out of their villages up North because of alcohol and end up here in the city on the street”. I agreed having seen a lot of them here. A sad state of being when walking in the two worlds. Jon and I both are of the two worlds but walk in one tread or the other. We spoke till my Jeep was ready. I have found over the years of road travel, if you want to meet the people who really live in a place, do common things.


I left the shop and on the first corner was a young native guy in his 20’s still fucked up from last night’s revelries. He is in bad shape, cardboard sign in his shaking hands. I roll down the window and ask if he was hungry? “Yea” He said and I handed him the last of my beef jerky. He said thanks and went off the street to the grass. He sat down and opened the bag and reached in. The light turned green and I drove off. none of that made me feel better. The number of natives that you see as just human wrecks is astonishing. Later that day I walked into a food line on the street, for a moment I did not understand why they were handing out food. Ah street food I thought, hey this is a cool city. I got in line. When I saw no money exchanged and the shape of the people in the line I kept walking hoping no one noticed me. I could see the woman passing out the food eye me up. Hey I really don’t look much different, hell I may not be that different.


Anchorage is a city of extremes, even the architecture. Next to a 10-story building there can be a tiny one-room log cabin. It’s a city with a love hate relationship, mostly I was still loving it.

For some reason I had to see Earthquake park, it must have been the name? It was a fine park on the coast I guessed, within 2 minutes of stopping the Jeep I decided I did not need or want to be there. I drove back to town and head down the Seward highway for a ride. I had no idea where I was going, now this was more like it. The drive along the coast was priceless; eagles are flying overhead along the cliffs. In the ocean I see some behemoth rise from the water, blow off and one more leviathan break the water behind the first. What the hell was that? If I had a guess I just saw a whale? A pair of whales in fact! Jesus how cool! I pull over to a lookout spot. Two women with field glasses are looking out into the ocean. I ask what they are looking for. “Oh we just saw a Beluga whale”. “Hey I saw that! Actually there were two!” My heart just sores. The animals I have seen in the wild this trip has just blown me away. This drive has been best zoological trip in my life, now I have the feeling of being full. The feeling of this coming to a close is seeping in on me. I start to ponder the drive back, the miles, the car food, the hours, and the bugs on the windshield, shit I have to do it all over. Its getting time to go, Lets do one last thing before I leave.


“My heart where’s that medicine?” HST


The travel brochure from the motel said Flattop Mountain is a nice 3-hour hike. By the time I get back to Anchorage it is late in the afternoon. There will be daylight for hours so I may have time to do a quick hike. The drive to the mountain is tricky and you find yourself in a neighborhood, the grand houses here all built on the hillside. They are all new and shiny with spectacular views out to the Cook Inlet. After a few creative turns I find the parking lot, pay the fee to park and see the trailhead to Flattop. This trail is paved and on a slight incline, shit I flag quickly. My heart is pounding like a rabbit in a death grip. The trail comes out of the pines and I see a hill up the way. Is that it? That’s not that bad, but I am breathing like a marathon runner. OK I can make this grassy hill, forcing myself up and onward. It is apparent that this hill is not Flattop. Beyond this first crest I see the next challenge and behind that a real ass mountain. “That cannot possible be it? I say. There are kids, dogs and families returning. Hey I am a flat lander and that is a serious mountain. There is snow on the peak; I’ll never make that. Get it together, let just keep working our way up to the next hill.


The brochure said it was 1.7 miles and 1300 feet of elevation in a moderate to difficult skill level. I pressed on and got a second wind. All those days, months and years of sitting at my desk, all that inactivity is fucking me now. All that brain rot for a soulless company had taken a toll on my body. At work I daydreamed of such adventure, here I was and completely unprepared. Push on, just go to that fence up there and turn around, keep going, just make it to the big rock and turn around. Once at the fence I pushed to the big rock. From the rock I made the next landmark, taking much time and resting when my lungs ached. An hour later somehow I was up into the snowy part, the last few hundred feet was straight up. The path became unclear and hikers made their own trails through the rocks. The path is over large boulders and loose stones and patches of snow, it is the most difficult part by far. It was hands and knees climbing. I struggled, I rested, and I fucking made it. I really made it. This 1.7 mile was far harder then the Half dome hike, or I had deteriorated even father in that year? No matter, I was there, standing next to the American flag, the flag was popping as it waved in the strong wind.

The top of Flattop

At the summit I have some lanky students take my photo, proof was necessary, even if it was just for myself. The view was spectacular, you could look 360 degrees down to Cook Inlet, to the city, to the higher range and trail cut in the snow behind. Feeling pretty damn good about it, the idea of hiking on into the mountain range floats around in my mind. This is when you need your pals to egg each other on, or, talk some sense into each other.

Though its sunny right now, it is cold and windy. I have a tiny bit of water left in my pack, no food and there is no help beyond this point. Ok settle down. I spend some time in the wind exploring the great flat area the mountain that it is named from. There are a few rock shelters dry stacked and an Inukshuk or two around. Just stand there with me for a moment, hear the wind, feel the sun on my face, feel your legs burning; the straps from the pack have dug sore strips into your shoulders. From the edge you can see for miles, it feels like you can take flight from this spot. Shape shifting into an eagle is a real possibility right now. The view warps your perception until you see the parking lot and can you make out the car. That is really far away now. I guess I better go. I exhaled and started back down the mountain.


Going up was difficult, I had burned up the better part of my energy. My leg muscles are strained and worn out. So getting off the mountain was even harder. My legs had very little to give me in the way of support or mobility. The way down took twice as long as it did to get up. From the top of the mountain a young dude who ran up the trail, was over at the steepest part of the edge, the snow filled this valley and ran for a 3/4 of a mile. He got down in a sitting position and glissaded down the mountain. This seemed completely nuts to me, dangerous as hell. He slid with great speed and made it down the mountain in seconds. It took me an hour to get to where he was and he was half way back to the lot. Jesus that crazy fuck! Stopping and resting is the next hour for me, my feet are sore, and my legs gave up on me hours ago. Slow and sure I make it to the paved path to the lot. Never had I been happier to see my little green Jeep. Unbelievable I made it. I did it. To me I felt as If I had made Everest. Time to celebrate.