Kenai Peninsula

18. The Kenai Pennisula

The Kenai Peninsula is quite extensive, and located to the south of Anchorage. Following my adventures in Seward, I set out to explore the balance of the Peninsula which includes the towns of Kenai, Whittier, Soldotna, and Homer. I was particularly anxious to get to Homer as that was my next mail pick up.

On July 5th I camped for the night at a spot off Cohoe Loop Road. It was only a gravel pit but it had a view that was tailor made to impress you with the size of Alaska. It must have been 150 feet up on top of a sheer cliff that overlooked the Cook Inlet. When I woke the next morning the sky was leaden and it was pouring rain so I decided to stay put, do some reading, writing, and general maintenance.

Have you ever tried to take a bath in a plastic basin measuring twelve inches wide, fourteen inches long and six inches deep? I guarantee it can be done. It requires careful planning, forethought and a good measure of patience. This is especially true when it is all to be done in a relatively tight little space with water heated on a stove. But it is possible to do a good job. I eventually got it down pat and now feel qualified to give lessons.

As the above paragraph illustrates, there was a certain amount of adaptation necessary while learning to live in the van. But after a week or two I started to feel quite comfortable in its tight, but efficient, little space. Some things were easier such as cleaning the space, there just wasn’t much of it, and being neat and tidy definitely helped. Although I never did come up with a name to call it other than van, I did develop a considerable personal affection for this traveling companion.

Later, as I was writing in my journal, I happened to look up just as a tall tree (a spruce I think) tumbled off the cliff and all the way to the beach 150 feet below. There were a lot of trees growing right at the edge of the cliff and some of them leaned out at crazy angles. I was so impressed by this event that I did a sketch to commemorate it.

Overlooking Cook Inlet

Overlooking Cook Inlet

It finally stopped raining so I got underway and tried my hand at selling prints in Soldotna, Kenai, and Homer . . . with no luck. I was getting tired of looking at wildlife reproductions, and felt it would be so nice to, at least occasionally, see a figure, an abstract, or an original of any kind.

Homer is a nice town and has a breathtaking setting of mountains and water, a real panorama. However, Seward was still my favorite, and the first place I’d seen on the whole trip where I could imagine settling down for a while.

I camped  at Kelly Lake east of Soldotna. During the night the loons were calling to each other on the lake. I realize when Jack London titled his book The Call of the Wild he had in mind the howl of the wolf as the physical embodiment of the “call.” And there is no doubt the wolf’s call is a very wild sound indeed. But, for me, the loon’s call is the one that sends a tingle up my spine and into my scalp. It is more musical and hauntingly beautiful. It’s a sound I have only heard a few times in my life. I got out of my sleeping bag to see if I could record it on tape. Naturally, just about the time I got set up, they quit.

The next evening found me at Whittier. I took the short train ride (eleven miles) from Portage. They put my van right on board. It’s the only way to get to Whittier by land. I had hoped to catch the ferry to Valdez, but I didn’t have a reservation so I had to get in the standby line. Unfortunately, I didn’t get on and was forced to wait two days for the next ferry. As a result I had a lot of time to explore the town and its surroundings.

Whittier is a strange little burg. There are no houses! Everybody lives in huge barracks buildings left over from WWII. One resident went as far as to say that Whittier is the only Army surplus city in existence. Almost every building in town was originally built by the Army. The reason that Whittier still exists is its function as a rail/marine connection. There is also a small boat harbor, but not much else.

I decided to go for a long hike in the mountains behind Whittier. I felt I could use some exercise, and up till then my hiking had been limited by the necessity of keeping an eye on Georgia. I made it to the top and hiked around on a glacier that resides there permanently. What a view! On the way down I slipped on a wet stone in a melt stream and twisted my knee rather severely. I limped down the rest of the way but the next morning my knee was swollen and so painful that I could barely walk.

Because I had to camp in the standby line for two days I got to know the couple who were in line behind me. They were semi-retired farmers from Nebraska and had a medium sized camper. They took pity on me after seeing me limp around and invited me over for dinner. He did most of the talking while she fixed the meal. When the table was set and we were seated, he said a grace. It was well done and entirely sincere. We had an extended conversation over dinner. He spoke of their need to get home by fall in order to extirpate a kind of weed which, if not done, would soon render their land useless. He also spoke at length about various preachers and ministers whose sermons he greatly admired. To his credit, he did not quiz me about my beliefs, and made no attempt at proselytizing. They were pleasant people, salt-of-the-earth types from the heartland, old fashioned and insular. I was reminded somewhat of Grant Wood’s famous painting, American Gothic except that they were outgoing and friendly and not at all dour. I was familiar with their belief system because it was simply a much more mature version of what I had been taught as a child, but which I felt I had  . . . well . . . left behind.

Back in my van afterwards, I reflected on the evening which I had quite enjoyed. One could not help but be impressed with the strength of their heartfelt faith. Why hadn’t I matured in the same way they had? I tried to remember the various philosophical steps I had taken along my own personal path. Then I got out a pencil and paper and wrote them down. The result is autobiographical and is, to the best of my recollection, what happened to me. Click here to read it.

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Monday, September 7th, 2009 Chapters 11 — 20 1 Comment