05 July, 2004


I spent a great day working in the yard. I helped lift a barn; I chainsawed and weed-eated through a bunch of devil's club and elderberry. I figured I was earning my room and board. When I arrived in Eagle River, just outside of Anchorage, Jamie was housesitting for the Haeuslers, friends of her boyfriend, Jeremy. I stayed here on and off with her in between hiking or traveling. The Haeusslers were off sailing for three weeks. They walked in unexpectedly one night, a day early as I was reading and everyone else (Jamie and the Haeussler's mother-in-law) lay in bed. All five of them and a terrier walked in at twelve o'clock. That is how we met.
I had heard awesome things about them. Peter, the dad, is a geologist and is Jeremy's climbing partner. He owns a small sailboat and lives in Alaska - these are all good things. His wife, Katie, is a light. She is just all-around wonderful. She's got horses in the yard, is a great mom, loves to travel - I taught her how to sharpen her chainsaw and she was so psyched and she's got great rubber boots - a good homesteader's wife.
Since we've met they have shown me the most amazing hospitality. They feed me and give me shelter. Jamie has been off fishing with her godfather. I went down to Homer and then came back here. This is where I recuperate. When Jamie and I were first here, their house just had the most comfortable feel to it.

On Friday I decided to go up to Denali. I was a little foggy in the head, but I felt I needed to get out of the house. I don’t know why I went; there are fires galore up there – lots of smoke. I wasn’t thinking clearly.
I wasn’t really enjoying the drive. I was a bit grumpy and down, not really wanting to do anything at all. The farther north I got the smokier it became. What am I doing? I thought. I pulled over to gather myself.
Then I had a great conversation with some old guy at the roadside bar. He told me exactly what he would do if he were a young man in Alaska. I won’t give the details, but it involved buying a Ally-pack canoe: it’s a alluminium, packable canoe. He said you could get flown into the bush and then float for weeks downstream, hunt, fish, whatever, and then get picked up again.
I thought it sounded great and seriously thought about moving up here. (Still am…) The old guy got my juices flowing. I started getting fired up about all that I could do. My head started to clear. I sat back down and got my cogs spinning.
I opened up Jeremy’s Hiking Alaska book and looked for things closer to home. I was close to Denali “State” Park and there was a good run around a lake. Then I noticed what looked like a great ridge hike, only about thirty-miles. I had plenty of food in the truck.
It was Friday of 4th of July weekend. All the campgrounds around the Park would be full anyhow. Why not get up in the mountains? I had taken a few rest days. I was ready to get my legs wheeling again. It was about eight o’clock. I could start up and get up on the ridge and camp and then spend the next few days doing easy alpine miles.
I drove to the trail terminus, packed and parked. I walked back out to the road and hitchhiked north about thirty miles or so with a couple of hippies smoking dope in front of an eight year old kid. They dropped me off and I started up a nice gentle hill.
Everything was perfect. Great walking. The ridge looked great.
That night the rain set in and didn’t stop for twenty-four hours. It didn’t matter. As I gained the ridge in earnest the next morning the landscape was surreal. It was like the Scottish Highlands: gently rolling alpine tundra. The clouds nestled the ridge on all sides, occasionally breaking to grant the lichen color and contrast. The rain was no deterant: it was preferable to the mosquitoes.
At about seven that night, as I contemplated the trail the clouds broke and the rain conceded. All the rain had filtered the air clean. For now, all the smoke was gone and Denali shown clear for the firs time. I stopped early and pitched camp, thinking perhaps the breeze would dry out some of my gear.

The next day was sunny with blustery clouds. The trail was like the Mahusics (sp) in Maine – great granite plutons exposed above scraggly spruce and alder. I took a long lunch and celebrated such good fortune. Everything felt right and magnificent. I felt like myself again, happy and vibrant. There was nowhere else I could have imagined being.

Katy and the two Haeussler girls, Hanna and Kara just walked in the door. They extended their family to two ruddy ducklings, a few bobwhites, and a dozen chicks. The two ducklings belong one to each of the girls.
I got back here last night to a hearty welcome. I helped the mother-in-law cook her steak and then Katy and I stayed up a couple hours after everyone went to bed to talk about, what else, Christ, religion, parenting, culture, and attitude – among other things. Peter is out of town and not available for philosophizing.

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