Getting to Alaska from Wyoming with a Thumb

I woke up early in Jackson Hole, a bit tired, but balanced by my excitement to start hitchhiking to the Couchsurfing collective in Homer, a small town in Alaska south of Anchorage. I caught a ride to Idaho Falls from my mom, she was happy to see me visit in Jackson a few days, but then we said our goodbyes again, just me and the road now.

Kicking it Off
I waited a good while on the I-15 on ramp before deciding to start walking the freeway. I didn't walk too far until I got picked up by a sunburned guy, the type of guy I would soon become, he fixed refrigeration systems and wanted something more in life. He took me just a little ways on his way to a job. The on ramp he left me at was obviously dead and I started down the shoulder of the freeway immediately.

Been everywhere, done everything, Mormon
The next guy to pick me up was jolly looking with a jolly chuckle telling stories about all sorts of jobs he'd had and things he'd done. Eventually he started talking a lot about being a Mormon, not in a pushy way, but with genuine interest and passion. I fell in and out of sleep, I'm not sure he noticed or not.

Walk until it gets Sandy
He dropped me off where I-90 (west/east) is one in the same with I-15(north/south) for a stretch of road, several miles I ended up walking instead of waiting around. While I was waiting around the only cars that stopped were going on 90 East, not where I was headed. After what seemed like a couple hours I was past the split and simply walking along the now desolate I-15, thumbing at the cars that came every few minutes or so. Thumb, waive, walk, walk.

Then Sandy pulled off into the shoulder ahead of me and I went running towards her with a smile as wide as the distance I'd just walked. "I wasn't going to pick you up... but then you waived, I just had to stop!", and she drove me further down the road, she could have driven me any distance and I would have been happy about it. She was going to see her boyfriend at his farm house, when we got close she even offered to let me spend the night there pending his approval. I thought about what that night could be like, assuming beer, food and some stories in a farm house setting... the sun was still present and I had many miles to go, I decided to continue on.

I immediately started walking down the freeway again, the cars were far from plentiful, perhaps one car every 5 minutes. I wondered how an interstate could be so desolate, but here I was enjoying my walk and belting out lyrics inspired from the gravel crunching below my feet. Eventually someone pulled over and drove me further, someone always does. From there I walked in busier traffic, got picked up quicker by a younger guy in the moldiest car I've witnessed, he took me 20 minutes down the road to the exit where everyone was getting off.

Great ride to Great Falls
I walked down that stretch for a while, looking behind me at the oncoming traffic that all got off at that same exit, exit 205, very few continued past towards me. The sun was close to down, my eyes were scanning for suitable camp spots in the distance, and then a pickup truck stopped. Inside was an old drunk man driving, his granddaughter in the passenger seat, and a tipsy woman in back with me. They handed me a half eaten burger with fries and a can of Budweiser as they told me they were headed to Great Falls, a beautiful 90 miles down the road.

The girl in front may as well of been 17, she was telling stories of the boot camp she was just now getting back from. We stopped along the way so she could take over driving and the other two stopped in a highway bar for jumbo to-go cups, the woman gave me a taste of her crowne and seven, and then handed me another can of bud.

As we got closer they felt obligated to get me a place to sleep, the old man worked at the state fair and had an empty trailer on site we wasn't using, they flashed a badge to get through the gates and dropped me off there. I now had a trailer to myself, a roof over my head. I enjoyed the novelty of it and passed out on the bed in the back to the sound of the occasional horse passing by.

Burritos to start my crossing day
I woke up in the trailer, I walked through the fair and a mile or so back to the freeway, and walked some more down the road until a pickup truck stopped in the shoulder, I seem to attract a lot of pickup trucks. Inside was father and sun doing a loop in Montana selling auto parts, a monthly routine that would put me closer to the Canadian border. The father spent a lot of time in Reno and told me of some good nights he had there.

Crossing to Canada
They dropped me off at a gas station and gave me a couple burritos. Now that I was close to the border I remembered I still had a little pot left that I ground scored at the music fest in West Virginia. I went to the bathroom and rigged a strap to keep it stashed near my crotch. I walked back to the freeway, my rig fell apart just on the walk over, I stuffed the pill tube of pot back in my backpack and hoped for the best.

After another little hike on America's shoulder an 18 wheeler pulled off, he stuffed my pack in a side compartment on the exterior of the truck and we headed down the road, he was headed for Lethbridge, the first real city in Canada. Corey, he was a younger guy and I heard the first of many Canadian "eh"s in every other sentence he spoke. He stopped just before the border at the duty free shop for 5 cases of beer, and we drove up to the border.

At the booth they asked many questions, since I was hitchhiking they wanted me to go inside to immigration, the trucker also had to go inside after he declared his beer, I grabbed my bag as well in case my deal took longer than his, and it did. I handed a man my passport a yellow paper given to me from the first man in the booth. They asked me lots of questions, he was slightly irked that I was hitchhiking. All was fine until he asked how much money I had in cash and in my bank account, he determined that the combined $140 was not enough, "You're hitchhiking and don't have enough to get out if you're stranded, you can't come into Canada like that."

I thought $140 was an enormous amount of money, it's the most I've had at one time for a while now, he didn't think it was a lot, I was thinking of all the beer and unknown good times it would bring. I lied and said my parents were planning on sending me thousands of dollars when needed, I figured thousands would be a number he liked better. He still wanted me to have them send off a fax saying this was true, he handed me a fax number.

I took my phone outside knowing exactly who to call, not my folks of course, but a man who likes devious plans and had access to a fax machine. He was at work, I told him the story and within minutes Canadian border patrol fell for a hilarious fax from my "parents" with promises of funding their son's journey. After that hurdle was leaped I had the slight issue of the 5 beers being written on my yellow ticket, they'd merged mine and the trucker's issues, the trucker who had now left due to my prior delay. I settled it quickly and walked away from the border happy they hadn't searched my bag and accepted fraudulent faxes. I called my friend to let him know of the success, then continued down this new Canadian road.

Toronto Cop turned Trucker
Just as I passed the weigh station a trucker signaled at me and let me catch a ride, he was headed to Lethbridge. He was a nice guy, an undercover cop in Toronto for years and now retired, but trucking to keep busy. I told plenty of stories, once in Lethbridge he parked his truck and his son picked both of us up in his new fix-me-up pickup truck. They drove me a little further down the road to what they thought would be a better spot for me.

Canadian Rides
I walked a little ways watching Canadians pass me, Canadian mosquitoes trying to get to know me, eventually a pickup truck stopped. He told me I'd love Canada, bought me a gatorade, and dropped me off further up the road.

My next ride came from two brothers, 18 and 21, they were racing up to the big city of Calgary to pick up a car for their boss, they were chosen to do this because they drove the fastest. We weaved through cars racing up the road. We stopped at a Subway and they gave me a Canadian 10 bill, good enough for a sandwich and left me with a little change too. They told me of all the jobs in the area, oil rigs and more, people making 11 grand straight out of high school on a regular basis.

One big city to the next
They dropped me off in Calgary, I walked to the hectic freeway and stood my ground in a small pullout. It wasn't long before an organic fruit van stopped. The driver thought I was crazy for hitchhiking on this road. Cars were weaving in and out of each other like a video game, cutting each other off, some clueless, some reckless. He drove me to the edge of the city giving me the lid of a bin to make a sign to better my hitchhiking, "Unlike Americans Canadian can read". He said it like he was joking, but he clearly had broad stereotypical issues with America, making other comments with buzzwords like "war". You can't label America, for every stereotype and bias made you'll find someone making the exact opposite stereotype and bias, and for each of those people you'll find those who've never heard of either position and wouldn't care either way, it's a country people try to pigeon hole constantly because it's impossible to do so.

After I got dropped off I walked a bit, I ditched the lid he gave me, it would have made for an illegible sign and I'm sure I looked like a maniac on the side of the road with a big blue container lid. I soon got picked up by a trucker headed to Edmonton and was happy. He'd been trucking 46 years, the last 13 in convoy with his wife, although she had passed just two weeks ago.

He dropped off a couple loads along the way, and he dropped me along the freeway in Edmonton long after the sun went down. I cozied into the woods and wrapped myself in a sleeping bag hiding from armies of mosquitoes.

Love Hate with the Boss
I woke up, packed up, and soldiered down the freeway thumbing away. A smaller truck stopped for me, cutting across a couple lanes to pull over. "My boss says I'm not allowed to pick up hitchhikers, that's why I stopped, I'll do whatever he says not to do". He told me all kinds of stories of the boss who pissed him off pretty good, they have one of those love-hate relationships, jawing back in forth getting upset with each other while maintaining an unspoken mutual respect.

Don't cut off my head while I sleep
He dropped me off an hour or two later, again I was walking, and eventually got a quick ride just up the road to a small town called Fox Creek. The next pickup truck timidly slowed down next to me with his window rolled down, the old man looked at me, "You're not gonna cut my head off are you?". I said no and hopped in. Turns out his question stemmed from a story in the news of a guy in a greyhound bus who cut off another passengers head with a hunting knife. Either way he drove me a bit out of his way to Grand Prairie, I slept most of the ride, he didn't seem to mind.

Through the confusion to a great ride
I'd been riding up a road, 43 North for a little while now. Where I found myself now I saw two options, 43 South and 43 East, it made little sense, so I headed in towards the city. Luckily I got picked up by a couple guys getting off work and told them my confusion and destination, they carried me outside town and back on track to 43 West.

I walked down this road for a bit until I got picked up by Mark, much to my enjoyment he was headed for Fort Nelson, a 7 hour drive that would be me longest of the trip so far. He was around my age and laid back, he was headed to Fort Nelson for work we he usually stayed 2 weeks at a time in the hotel they put him up to. He made a phone call and changed his room to two beds in case I wanted a place to stay that night.

When he was looking for a map a bag of weed was exposed raising the question if I smoked, given my answer he rolled up a joint and the ride continued. We stopped once at a diner type place he liked, I hadn't eaten all day and feasted on a hamburger steak on top of texas toast smothered in a bbq type sauce and sour cream, all on his companies dime. Once we made it to Fort Nelson I decided I'd stay the night, there was a pinch of daylight left, but the thought of catching a shower and sleeping in a bed was pretty good. We had dinner and beers at a place next to the hotel on the companies dime again.

Alaska or Bust
In the morning I crept out of the hotel room with a quiet goodbye to the mostly sleeping Mark, I headed into the lobby and had some of their breakfast and my left over pasta from dinner. Full of food and coffee I trekked down the road for a good number of miles and hours. Mark's truck appeared, he was headed to his actual work site 40ish miles down the desolate road, I went as far as he went and continued walking. On either side of me was heavy forest which continued on in all directions for hundreds of miles.

More time and walking went by until an RV slowed and stopped, a kid popped out the window asking where I was headed, "We're headed to Alaska too, hop on in!", I opened the door and stepped into the motor home and met the family of six, husband, wife, three boys and one daughter. Jack, the father, had hitchhiked in his day, apparently they had passed me and then turned around after he'd talked the family into picking me up, I then recognized this as the RV with an "Alaska or Bust" poster on the back that had indeed passed me a bit ago.

We droveand talked, I switched between the passenger seat and the couches in the back. They fixed me a peanut butter and honey sandwich accompanied by chips, string cheese and oreos. We stopped a few times on the beautiful but occasionally monotonous ride when we saw animals like bison laying out, caribou wandering around, and even a black bear walking around.

By nightfall they stopped at an RV camp just past Watson Lake and they let me lay out my sleeping bag and sleep inside. In the morning we continued on towards Whitehorse where we parted ways, they weren't in a hurry to get to Alaska and were going to head another direction to check something out. I was included in a family picture in front of the RV and then went on my way.

Inching along the Alaskan Highway
I got a ride to the edge of town from a nice guy, he too brought up the Greyhound beheading story and told me a little more. "Buddy was just nodding off with his headphones on, other buddy goes back there with a hunting knife and start whaling away sawing off his head and gutting him". There didn't seem to be much motivation, I guess the guy just snapped.

From the edge of town I walked until I got picked up again, a local forester and botanist who promptly lit up a huge joint filled with some of the strongest pot I may have ever smoked. The lines on the road passed and songs were going off in my head as if my brain was a jukebox, triggering my own soundtrack. He told me stories of beetles and fire destroying parts of the forest and his efforts to investigate it all.

He dropped me off in Haines Junction with warnings to stay put and not camp nearby as plenty of bear in the area. I walked either way, hoping to catch another ride before the sun subsided. I realized I was close to the border now and my next ride could very well be the one that crossed me over. Slightly paranoid about my little tube of pot, I decided to toss it, I made a small treasure map to find it again in case I ever found myself on that stretch of road again.

I walked a long time seeing fewer and fewer cars, it was nice at first to come down from the pair of joints that had me reeling. I got picked up by a Yukon local, he'd only left Yukon a couple times, once to Alaska when he was 16, and once to Alberta (still Canada) to buy his truck. He too rolled a joint, also very good and somehow I was balanced again. He was really friendly and proud of where he lived, he dropped me in front of a campgound a ways up the road leaving me with 4 bottles of water, a bag of chips, and two fresh kiwis.

I ate all the food he gave me, I was hungry and without much food of my own in my pack. I got one more ride that night to a tiny place called Burwash Landing as the sun was just about down, it was near midnight or later, the further north I got the longer the sun stayed up. I found a spot along the road and set up camp hoping for no bears.

Coming to America
In the morning I awoke and started walking again, a long walk of perhaps 10 miles and few cars until one actually stopped, a hunter from the area. He surprisingly didn't take me far, with next to no towns for long stretches I figured there was no choice, but we was going into the woods. He left me with a can of bear spray and off I went walking again for about as long as I did before he picked me up.

A guy a couple years younger than I picked me up, he was headed for Fairbanks, I would finally be getting back to America. At the border I was asked to step out of the car with my bad when they learned I was a hitchhiker. My ride drove off when he was told it could be a little wait as they had to search my bag and question me some more. They went through my whole pack and I was glad I had abandoned by pot the night before, I filled out some forms and answered some questions and was on my way again, walking into America, into Alaska.

Walking and Riding through Alaska
I was hungry, my shoulders were feeling the strain of many miles of walking, so when I came to a lodge 4 miles from the border I stopped in and filled up on a sandwich, chips, cookies, and coffee. I talked a little while to the girl working there about her favorite cities and other things, and then continued on my walk.

Three of four miles later I got picked up, a trucker who at the time was in his car headed to Fairbanks. I rode with him as far as Tok, the town where the road splits, his road to Fairbanks, and mine towards Anchorage and Homer. The road was straight as straight can be, I walked more than my share of miles still seeing where I started from far down the distant road, again I was surprised by how few cars were on the road.

At one point I looked back and thought I saw another hitchhiker appear a mile or so behind me, thumbing the cars I intended to thumb at, I wasn't sure if he could see me or not. I thought now that not only were there very few cars, but now whoever the good car was would pick him up first either way. I continued to walk, looking back every now and then at some point it looked like he probably gave up or maybe got picked up. A little ways down the road a car stopped for me, and that hitchhiker was in the passenger seat.

The driver had a hunting and game type of job, surveying animal populations and whatnot. The hitchhiker was old and toothless covered in his hooded winter jacket despite the blazing sun, his speech barely audible and rarely discernable, but he fell in and out of sleep as I talked with the driver about the different wildlife in the area. We dropped off the hitchhiker where he wanted to go. Once he was out the driver told me that the old man had showed up to his house begging for a place to stay or a ride, the driver said he was glad he saw me too to have someone to talk to and buffer the strange old man.

Getting to the big city of Anchorage
I was on foot again now, further down the road that seemed even more desolate. The scenary was beautiful, snow covered mountains and lakes far below me to the left. I walked about an hour and a half and counted 5 cars as the sun slowly went down, I decided I'd keep walking until it was completely down or a great looking camp spot presented itself. The sixth car started rolling towards me, I could see it miles away, when it got closer I thumbed at it like I did the others, however this one actually stopped, a pickup truck of course.

My uncontrollable smile got bigger when he said he as headed for Anchorage, still hundreds of miles away. He was a hunter and told me all kinds of information and stories of hunting the area, he'd worked all kinds of jobs and was pretty interesting. I told him of my plans to get to Homer and how I looked forward to finally getting there and cracking a beer, at that he reached in a cooler behind him and pulled out a couple beers providing instant gratifiction.

He had a feeling the road would be closed ahead, and sure enough there was a stretch of the highway that closed at midnight for road construction, it was 12:30 when we hit it. We backtracked a mile or two to a rest area, I layed out my sleeping bag and he had his one man tent, we fixed a couple sandwiches, had another beer, and passed out for the night.

In the morning we sontinued on, we were only a couple hours from Anchorage at this point where he lived. He bought me breakfast along the way, and once in Achorage he drove me a round a bit telling me some of the history, we even stopped at a fishing bridge where I saw huge salmon swimming around. He dropped me off just outside the city in a pull off along the highway, water and mountains all around.

The Homer Stretch
It took no time to get another ride, an old minister who used to live in Homer and said that's where he was headed now. When he learned it was my first time Alaska he started telling me all about the area, the animals, and the seeminly endless amount of jobs and money chasing ventures he's done over the years. He got me lunch in the national park, we stopped a couple times to look at Glaciers, and continued on.

We got to a small town still 2 hours from Homer and he realized he had a friend there, he tracked her down and I decided to try and catch a ride from someone else, I'm not sure he really intended to go to Homer at all, at least not for himself. In a little while I got picked up by a guy who flew charter planes arund for people, he got me a half hour closer to Homer.

Soon enough I got picked up by a Hummer, a woman looking very tired was at the wheel. She said she was hungover and having a rough time with her divorce, I asked her about it.

"Let's just say it's kicking my ass", was her response. A minute later she asked if I had my license, we switched seats so I could drive and she could ease her hangover. We stopped so she could get a soda, after that she opened up a bit and started telling me the details of what she was going through with her soon to be ex husband, how she'd even considered suicide but her 17 year old son was motivation enough to keep on living.

As we got closer to Homer I considered my directions to the actual house I was going to for the Couchsurfing collective, "A log cabin at a bend in the road 5 miles before town", as we got closer we saw plenty of bends in the road and cabins, so I kept driving until we came over a hill and saw the town of Homer in all it's glory. Below were mountains poking out the clouds surrounded by the bay, and into it we drove. I got out at the Homer Spit pier, she hopped in the driver seat and drove off.

Couchsurfing Collective
I called Laura, the girl I'd been in contact with at the collective, but just got her voicemail. I caught a ride back in the direction I'd came back towards where I thought the cabin might be. I started walking up the big hill figuring at least I was headed in the right direction. A young guy and girl drove past me looking at me with some interest and drove past, then turned around and stopped for me so I hopped in.

I told them I was headed up the hill unsure exactly where I was going, but that it was for something called Couchsurfing. "We can take you there!" they laughed, turns out they were part of the collective too so they dropped me right at the cabin not too far away and continued on wherever they were off to at the moment, I'd finally made it, 7 days and 6 nights on the road, I was happy.

I walked in and met Nick who was busy preparing some food that smelled pretty awesome. He gave me a breif rundown and said everyone else would be getting back soon. The house itself is perched up on a cliff with the view of the whole bay and all the mountains in the distance, simply incredible. The first thing I did was take a shower to wash off the road.

Laura had come back when I got out, she found a bed for me to crash in and I met everyone else who was working at the house, about 20 in all. I relaxed the night away, everyone happy and having a good time, indian food for dinner, girls dancing with fire, the sunset, good times and I passed out on a bed late in the night.

It was relaxing waking up this morning, I was the first up, had some coffee and enjoyed the backyard and the view some more. I'm still not totally sure what I'll be doing while I'm here, what kinds of projects they may have me help with, or when and where I'll even be leaving to. All is how it should be.

Comments

  1. Nice story, Ken. I didn't intend to read it all the way through, but it was hard to quit, once I got started. I picked up on it from the CS site. It's nice to know that a hitching trip like that can be done in a relatively brief time.

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