Adventures in Alaska
The bumper had fallen off. We drove 2500 miles, across some of the nastiest highway in North America, and the bumper fell off in the last 10 feet.
Our entire trip was blessed with oddly lucky events like this. Like everyone who road trips to Alaska, we suffered mechanical breakdowns due to the rough road and long miles, but each was overcome with a strange ease.I’ve learned to trust these kinds of events. When a series of lucky events occur to the point they are clearly, statistically improbable, I take it as a sign from the universe that I am where I should be, doing what I should be doing.
It certainly felt like we were where we needed to be when hiking Denali National Park. Atop a peak near Polychrome Mountain, the view was stunning and the picture here doesn’t do it justice. We were actually higher than a trophy little-horn (Doll) sheep. These are the only wild, white sheep in the world. Their horns make a wrap around their head like a big-horn sheep, but are thinner – hence the name little-horn sheep.
Just as unique as the local wildlife, the spirit in the people of Alaska struck me vividly. Everyone here possesses a rugged independence that is so widespread as to be taken for granted. Here, self sufficiency and strength in solitude are not traits to be admired, but attitudes to be practiced daily. More than anywhere, the people of Alaska reminded me of the chapter ‘Warrior Presence’ in William Powers book, Twelve by Twelve. It is not uncommon for most people to go weeks or even months alone in harsh conditions. The mental attitude required for this kind of lifestyle breeds an independent streak a mile wide. I would call it Alaska ‘culture’ for lack of a better word. Besides being independent in thought, the people I encountered were benevolent. They were quick to say hello, more than willing to chat, talking and moving in an unhurried fashion. I recognize these traits in the people who live in my own beloved islands. It is a ‘down-home’ attitude born from isolation and a tenuous truce with nature. When conditions are hard, people have very good reasons to be neighborly. In the face of harsh nature, people band together. A righteous manifestation of the phrase, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Before I left on this trip, I was a little worried that I would fall in love with Alaska and come away with a strong urge to move there. As beautiful and amazing as Alaska was, it gave me a deeper appreciation of the San Juan Islands, where I live now. Alaska is a vast and ferocious place, making the ruggedness of the San Juan Islands look gentle by comparison.
Homesteading in AlaskaMy brothers and I are productive people. It’s hard for us to sit back, drink beers, and just relax for more than a couple days. Relaxation allows the gears to turn in our head, and once that motor gets going, we can’t help but take action.
My brother runs an excavation and tractor business in Oregon, called Cascade Tractor. We couldn’t sit at the property too long before he could no longer resist the urge to rent a backhoe and do what he does best. With just a few hours, he punched in a driveway, cleared the overgrown road through the property, and cleared off a chunk of underbrush to create space for a base-camp.
While he was doing that, I started constructing a swinging gate at the entrance of the property. Frost heaves make it hard to build fences or keep posts strait. That’s where frozen water in the ground causes the soil to rise and shift, often knocking posts askew. To counter that problem, I used an existing tree as my support. That should hopefully prevent problems with frost heaves.
Throughout the rest of the trip, we managed to build two gates (one for the back, one for the front), three swallow nesting boxes, a table, and an outhouse. That’s in addition to spending plenty of time fishing, hiking, site seeing, and beer drinking.
Live small, live mobile, live happyThe thing that this trip really made me appreciate is how far recreational technology has come. The camper that my brother put together for this trip (purchased used for only $1,100) was a wonderful home for us. Two sleeping areas, a fully functional kitchen and bathroom, propane fridge and hot water heater made me consider the possibilities of living in it full-time. With the advances in mobile living technology, there is no reason why one couldn’t comfortably live full time on a boat, RV, or camper.
For many, the small space makes the lifestyle unattractive, but to me, small is beautiful. It’s easier to heat, easier to clean, and costs less. Many would view a mobile lifestyle and job security as opposing ideals. To me, the idea of living mobile (be it an RV or a boat) means greater job security, since I can take advantage of the job markets in several cities. I can just move my ‘home’ to where the highest paying work is.
No, the small house movement and a life of voluntary simplicity is not for everyone, but these experiences are showing me the ‘strenuous contours of enough’ in my own life.
More Adventures in Alaska
I left on this trip with no expectations. I was simply along for the ride, there to support my brother and enjoy his dream with him… but his dream snagged me. This will surely be the first of many trips to Alaska.
In this first trip we established a base camp. The camper is there, a rough road exists, and a private cleared area to park it. The property lies in the heart of Moose country, and if for no other reason, I want to establish an annual trip to Alaska for acquiring healthy meat. There are as many similarities as there are differences between Alaska and the San Juan Islands. The energy I felt in Alaska was like the same note, but at a different octave. It is definitely a country that could grow on me.
Also, the road trip with my brother couldn’t have gone better. We had some amazing bonding time and a lot of fun together. As adults, it’s comforting to me to better understand my siblings. There are both positive and negative aspects to my personality that I know no one understands better than my brothers. It’s good to see myself reflected in their eyes.
I look forward to more trips and more memories with my family in Alaska.
To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.