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Alaska Highway 1978

At Narita Airport I purchased a ticket to Anchorage, Alaska and was soon on my way back to the USA. It was August 6, 1978 and as I crossed the International Dateline in mid-Pacific, I got back the day that so many of Hiroshima's citizens never got to have. Alaska Map

I began my second day of August 6, 1978 which was marked in this hemisphere as the date of death for Pope Paul VI with a 10:00 AM landing in Anchorage. My only plan was to hitch the Alaska Highway back to the lower 48 before winter came and caught me without adequate clothing for the hike. The best way to travel is to make yourself as vulnerable as possible and then wait for people and fate to treat you kindly. I had a very limited understanding of Alaskan geography but I figured that I had better first make my way to Fairbanks. It didn't take long at all to get a seat in the bed of a pickup truck headed east on Route 1 to Palmer where I

Alaska

got a quick look at Pioneer Peak before turning north on Route 3 to Wasilla and on to Denali National Park. As my ride drove away to Fairbanks I was at first troubled by being at the most empty corner of the world that I had ever been in. From where I stood on Route 3 I could barely see the mountains that were still about 90 miles away. Route 3 had only been Denali arkcompleted in 1968 and tourism was not yet working like a well oiled machine. Finally I was able to find the Visitor Center and catch a shuttle bus that took me on an 85 mile ride through taiga and tundra to the Wonder Lake Campground. I had enough food to last for two nights at the campground so after I pitched my tent, I hastily scanned my guidebook for places that I might be able to get to on tomorrow's day hikes. Twenty-seven miles [43.5 kilometers] to the south looms Mount McKinley, its north face—the Wickersham Wall—rising more than 14,000 feet [4,267 meters] in a single precipice, one of the greatest mountain walls in the world. I longed to climb the mountain but I was not nearly equal to the task. My book said that there was a place named Sable Pass within easy walking distance where I was sure to see grizzlies so I decided to go there at the first light of morning. The guidebook stronglyGrizzley Famly discouraged leaving the roadway in this part of the park and my previous year's encounter with bears in Yosemite Park had helped me develop a profound respect for them so as soon as the sun allowed me to see for a little distance I hiked up the road to Sable Pass where I was able to watch bears of all shapes and sizes while they breakfasted on roots, berries, and other plant materials that seemed to be drawing their attention and keeping them from showing any interest in me. I had my breakfast while the bears had theirs and then walked about five miles farther where the road climbed a steep slope to Polychrome Pass and a spectacular view of the Alaska Range to the south. I still had five miles to return to my campsite where I ate the last of my food, watched a new lifetime best sunset, and had a good night's sleep. Alasa Highway

Next morning I rode the shuttle bus back to Route 3 and thumbed for three hours before a couple from Fairbanks picked me up and drove me on to stay at their home just outside of town. After a long lazy morning of talk we drove into Fairbanks for lunch at a restaurant that they had recommended and then explored the town. After a second evening as the guest of this kind couple, I was driven outside of town to where I might begin my 1,500 mile Alaska Highway hitch toward Edmonton, Alberta. In doing so I was following the route of our ancient ancesters as they followed the reindeer herds from Central Asia and across the Bering Strait and on through an opening in the continental ice some time before 12,000 years ago.

The next ten days were filled with many generous people, lots of different vehicle qualities, a perfect aurora borealis, amazingly interesting towns, much dust, many animals, very lonely stretches, and great conversations. I had originally intended to go through British Columbia into Washington and Oregon because I had not yet visited those states, but after a day of attempting to get a ride in that direction from Dawson Creek, I gave up and accepted a ride that took me through Edmonton, Alberta and on through Saskatoon and before depositing me back within my national border in Minot, North Dakota. My ride was going on toward Ohio but I still had some states to collect in the West so we had breakfast and said goodbye.

Shortly after I stuck out my thumb I was picked up again and my benefactor was so entertained by my travel story that he took me to the KHRT (K-Heart at 1320 AM) Christian radio station where I was interviewed on the morning radio program. I next headed west to Williston where I lunched with people who had earlier heard my interview on the radio and were very curious about my recent travels. One of the people in the restaurant offered me an overnight stay at his home where I met and talked with his blind from birth brother. We sat on a huge porch overlooking the river and he taught me the magic of recognizing the seasons of the year by the changes in the sounds of the river and the leaves of the trees. My next day's ride took me completely across Montana on Route 90 through Billings, Livingston, Bozeman, Butte, Missoula and Coeur D'Alene, Idaho before leaving me in Spokane. Next morning I continued on to Seattle and then south to Portland and Eugene where I again turned east and passed through Bend and Burns on my way across the Craters of the Moon National Park. This valley of the Snake River is a stony garden of cinder and splatter cones, with tube-like caves formed by rivers of magma and multi-colored lava formations. Eventually I reached Boise, Idaho where I connected with I-84 through Twin Falls and then northeast on I-86 to Idaho Falls and into the West Entrance of Yellowstone Park. I set up my tent at the campground in Madison and then hiked into the back country and used shuttle buses to visit places on the loop road like Old Faithful, West Thumb, Bridge Bay, Canyon, and Norris. After my fourth night I found a shuttle to the East Entrance and caught a ride through northern Wyoming to the Devil's Tower where I arrived after dark to see the monolith against a sky lighted by a brilliant green aurora borealis. After an overnight camp we traveled on into South Dakota where my driver planned to spend a day at Mount Rushmore and then made me welcome to ride all the way back east with him to his home in the Wilkes-Barre area. I hadn't exactly wanted to go home so quickly but it was getting close to the end of September and I wasn't sure how soon winter arrived in this part of the country. I stared at the map a lot and then decided to save additional wear and tear on my thumb and shared driving duties along I-90 to cross the Missouri River at Oacoma, SD then the Mississippi River near La Crosse, WI and on to Chicago where we connected with I-80 through Indiana, Ohio and back into the rolling fall colored hills of Pennsylvania where I had left my car at my brother's house in Williamsport.

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