I received a nice note from a friend who read my column where I mentioned being in Alaska. He said that it brought back a lot of memories of when he used to drive truck up the Alaskan Highway and back. I never knew he drove that route, but I can imagine the stories he could write about those drives. When I lived in Alaska, I did a lot of driving, mostly in the Anchorage area, but ever so often, I would go up north towards Fairbanks. In the late 60s early 70s there was only one highway heading up to Fairbanks. You could always ride the train, which was an adventure in itself, not knowing what you might see along the way. Being a budding nature photographer, I always had a camera at my side, never knowing what one might encounter in the Alaska wilds.
In April of 1970 I decided to leave Alaska and head for Pennsylvania. My friends had left about a month before, buying an old â€śBeetleâ€ť and driving home to Texas and Missouri. That sounded like an exciting adventure to me, because they made their way to the Washington coast and drove down to California, then home. I thought of all the photo opportunities they must have had. My trip home wouldnâ€™t be as spectacular. I would be flying, where there isnâ€™t much to see, except a lot of clouds.
I then had an idea! Iâ€™ll hitchhike home! I used to hitchhike a lot back in Pennsylvania, because in those days, I couldnâ€™t afford a car. I even hitchhiked to my first job interview, from Kane to Rochester, NY. Why not from Alaska to Kane?
I sent most of my belongings home, just keeping the essentials, like rain gear, extra clothes, bug spray, maps, and of course my camera. It was the end of April and the days were getting longer, so I figured that would be the time to go. I had a friend drop me off early one morning, north of Anchorage. He told me goodbye, and also told me I was nuts, and off I went, into the unknown. Sounds like a horror movie, doesnâ€™t it?
It was a weird feeling standing along the side of the road in wild Alaska, not knowing what would lie ahead, or how long it would take me, and most important, what kind of people I would encounter. It wasnâ€™t long before my first ride, a local fellow, who was going home to a small town called Copper Center. It was a start, with my next goal, Tok. Tok, Alaska was a goal that I reached early in the day. This intersection would either take you north towards Fairbanks or south towards the Yukon and the Alaskan Highway. As luck would have it, I caught a ride to Whitehorse, in the Yukon. The driver wanted to sleep, so I drove, stopping for about 20 minutes to let a herd of caribou cross the road. Whitehorse reminded me of a scene from the old gold rush days. Wow, just to be in the Yukon was unbelievable to me. My fear of the unknown came true on my next ride.
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