11. On the Road Again

I continued north toward Fairbanks and on the morning of June 11th I woke up at Clearwater State Campground near Delta Junction. It was easy to see why it was called Clearwater. The campground sits on the bank of the Delta-Clearwater River which is a tributary to the Tanana River and the water is clear, very clear. Standing on the bank I could see the bottom of the river, perhaps 35 feet away and six feet below the surface. It was a nice change. Many streams and rivers in the southern part of Alaska run off glaciers and have a whitish gray look because of the pulverized stone and earth they carry. Others, that run from lakes, are brownish in color, almost approaching weak black coffee in appearance.

In campgrounds such as this, with only a few people around, Georgia and I took short hikes together. Crowded campgrounds spooked her. Especially when it seemed almost every Winibago came with a dog. Georgia didn’t exactly heel, but stuck pretty close. Sometimes she liked to lead the way and went places where I couldn’t follow.

The following day I arrived at Fairbanks and began the process of getting clean. I washed the van, I washed me, I washed all my dirty clothes, and afterward I felt like I’d been reset to zero.

Fairbanks was the biggest city I had been in for a while. It’s home to a couple of military bases as well as the University of Alaska. People there keep crazy schedules. I woke up one night at 2:00 AM to the sound of heavy traffic on a nearby road. Then, at 4:00 AM, someone started working with a jackhammer. All this activity because it is broad daylight at those hours.

I had several good days for art sales, selling enough to local galleries to put the whole trip back in the black. There seemed to be a shortage of artists. The same ones were featured in all the galleries. What a pleasure it was to be a fresh breeze from California. The only problem was my inventory was getting picked over, and I hadn’t even been to Anchorage.

On the weekend I drove to Circle. A small outpost just fifty miles below the Arctic Circle, situated on the bank of the Yukon River. There is a resort hotel nearby featuring a hot spring as its main attraction. The old timesourdoughs with long flowing white beards congregate there and provide local color. I did a sketch of a sourdough cabin that was typical of many that I saw at Circle Hotsprings. The oil drums in the foreground are also typical anywhere you see a scene like that, some wag has dubbed them the Alaskan State Flower.

Trapper's Cabin

Trapper’s Cabin

I also did some sketching at Circle where there are two tug and barge companies whose  vessels and facilities are picturesque.

The bartender in the local saloon told me a German came through recently who had paddled a canoe all the way from Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. He stopped there, sold his canoe, hitchhiked to Fairbanks, and caught a plane home. Quite a trip! No sooner was I back to my campsite than two Germans came paddling in with a canoe. They were doing the same thing only they were going all the way to Holy Cross, much farther down stream. It took them six days from Dawson.

On the way back to Fairbanks I stopped long enough to take some pictures of gold dredges in action, they can really tear up the countryside. When a gold dredge has finished working over the landscape, it looks like the surface of the moon. I doubt that the Chatanika River, which parallels the Steece Highway up to Circle for some distance, will ever return to nature. It must have been pretty country at one time.

The next day, back at the Chena River Campground in Fairbanks, it was hot (90 degrees) and humid, with little tufts from the cotton wood trees blowing in the breeze. Georgia caught another mouse (number six for the trip). It was fun to watch her learn. She was getting better at it, and always brought her trophies proudly back to the van for display.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, September 7th, 2009 Chapters 11 — 20 No Comments

12. The Haul Road

The road north from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay is generally referred to as the Haul Road, and is primarily used by truckers who carry the supplies for the oil fields on the North Slope. When I was there, the general public was permitted to about the halfway point near the small truck stop community of Cold foot. If you had legitimate business at Prudhoe Bay you could get a permit to go the full distance, but I was unable to convince the authorities that peddling art to the oil workers was a legitimate business. Consequently, I would have to turn around just south of Atigun Pass in the Brooks Mountain Range. That point is, however, some 60 miles above the Arctic Circle so it would be an accomplishment of sorts.

The road parallels the Alaskan Pipeline, and tends to be quite straight. It goes up and over things like hills instead of trying to go around them. It is not paved except with very coarse gravel making for a rather rough ride. All the literature I read recommended two spare tires for this road so I tried to purchase an extra spare at several auto wreckers, but I didn’t have any luck. Finally, I decided to take my chances. All my tires were new, and I resolved to drive slowly.

At that time of year (June) it was quite dry and the road, in addition to being rough, was also very dusty. The dust tended to collect in the low spots between the hills, and I worried a little about my rear engine van breathing all the dust stirred up by the front wheels.

The first evening found us at the Yukon River again. A truck stop near the bridge had an area for camping. If nothing went wrong, the Arctic Circle could be reached the following day. I asked at the truck stop restaurant if the two Germans had passed through yet, as this spot is down stream from the town of Circle, but apparently they hadn’t got that far yet.

A Bend in the Yukon

A Bend in the Yukon

I called Evie to relay some information that the Pacific Art League in Palo Alto needed. She admonished me for not doing any art work. I told her I hadn’t had time yet and she said, “What do you mean? You’ve got nothing but time.” Funny, it didn’t seem that way. I felt like I had been pretty busy. I’d been writing in my journal and corresponding (which you can do inside away from mosquitoes). I was reading a book. I was peddling my prints. I had been driving, exploring, and keeping house (or van). Sometimes I went for hikes and I took lots of photos. However, she did make me feel defensive so I did a sketch to ease my conscience.

Also about this time I started to get a little worried about Georgia. Her personality was changing. She was definitely hearing “the call of the wild.” She was becoming more and more adept at catching things, and she went wandering in the woods for longer and longer spells. When she came back she was like a different cat. Her eyes were wide and her fur fluffed up and she was very excited and hungry. I don’t think she was eating the things she caught, but maybe she was. When she was out and I called her I got no response. She was either ignoring me or too far away to hear me, or both. I just had to wait it out until she decided to return. This had delayed me on several occasions already, and I was forced to entertain the thought for the first time that I may lose her before the trip is over.

If I tried to keep her in when she wanted to get out she would dash around the van staring out the windows and meowing until I finally relented. If I was trying to sleep she would walk on me meowing till I gave in. The more I tried to keep her in, the longer she would stay away when she did get out. So that was obviously not the right tactic. I didn’t want her to think of the van as a prison. All the state parks posted rules saying pets must be kept on a leash or under positive control at all times. That may be fine for a dog, but Georgia would probably have strangled herself in the first five minutes. She has never worn a leash, and I didn’t own one. If I had tried to make her wear a leash and she got loose, that would be the last I’d see of her, for sure.

Tags: , , , , ,

Monday, September 7th, 2009 Chapters 11 — 20 No Comments