The Adventure of A Lifetime: 24 Years in Alaska

The Adventure of A Lifetime: 24 Years in Alaska

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by Polly L. Hall

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We woke up early and excited. It is June 1st and we have been on the road since May 15th. In the back of our minds always lurks âOh God! What have we doneâ. All our hopes and fears of âsomedayâ are here. Our house is sold; all the money we have is with us. Everything that is left is in the truck and trailer. The only direction we can go from…  See more details below


We woke up early and excited. It is June 1st and we have been on the road since May 15th. In the back of our minds always lurks âOh God! What have we doneâ. All our hopes and fears of âsomedayâ are here. Our house is sold; all the money we have is with us. Everything that is left is in the truck and trailer. The only direction we can go from here is up, and we have never been happier. After my quite reflection of the past, I realize that today we will see our new, if temporary home. Jo Jurgeliet has found us a place to rent. Itâs an A-frame about 20âx24â. It was high up at mile 8.5 out of town. No need to worry about the utilities; there werenât any to speak of. A propane bottle ran the stove, refrigerator and water heater. A fuel oil stove kept it warm, and running water was a series of hoses going up the mountain behind the place and it was gravity flow from a stream up there. There was no electricity or phone. I finally decided that what didnât kill me would make me stronger and it did.

We were an awful sight that morning. After some coffee and cereal we are headed âhomeâ. We are headed west from Whitehorse, Yukon to Haines Junction. It is 100 miles and the Milepost told us there are no gas stations in that stretch so we make sure the tank is full. It took about 3 hours. It was so quite you could imagine what it was like 100 years ago. I think we were all reflecting on what the day would bring. I am sure our poor cat âKitty Pooâ had decided he was going to spend the rest of his life in the back of the pickup truck. We had never seen an extended cab in 1974 and with 4 of us in that front seat there was no room for the cat.

In all our travels in Alaska I have never seen a place more naturally beautiful that that stretch from Haines Junction going into Haines. The only thing that compares to it is topping Baycrest Hill going into Homer, so keep reading. Our jobs and fits of exploring took us from Juneau, Haines, Homer, Kodiak, the Aleutian Islands to Fairbanks, and south to Valdez and many other places in between so believe me this is spectacular. The first major body of water is Kathleen Lake. There are mountains of the St. Elias and Wrangell ranges, all snow covered and glowing in the sun. There appears to be a lot of places set aside for camping. About 15 miles south there is Dezadeash Lake and the Dezadeash Mountain Range. Over the years the lodge and the German family running it were important to us. Katie and Heinz ran the lodge, bar, gas station and garage with only a generator for power and the food could put many 4 Star restaurants to shame.

The road in front of us looks like a long, winding snake. On this June 1st. there are still walls of snow on both sides of the road. I insist we stop so I can take some pictures and I am glad we did. In all the years and many more trips since I have never seen the walls of snow and ice we saw that day. The wind is howling and we are climbing. That poor truck is struggling with the load. On we went and finally made the summit of Chilkat Pass, over 6,000 feet; the higest on the road. The wind blows constantly and it did not take long to figure out the 12â poles along the road were markers so the snow equipment knew where the road was. There are a lot of closures in winter. As you travel along toward Haines, in a short distance you see :The Three Guardsmenâ and it is a sight to behold. The mountains, all white in the sun are directly behind the lake. About 10 miles south of there is the old US Army pipeline. For years it pumped oil from Haines over the St. Elias Mountains to the Alaska Highway at Haines Junction in the Yukon. We crossed the border from the Yukon into British Columbia about 40 miles ago. Here we are at last at Pleasant Camp. It is the Canadian Custom checkpoint and we are about to cross over into Alaska at last. Itâs the only road into Haines and is 42 more miles of mountains and switchbacks. We canât wait!. Phil got out, took care of the paperwork, answered all the questions and got back in the truck. Could this grizzley-faced man, dirty jeans and muddy boots possibly be my hunk I left Florida with? You could not wipe the smile off that face, and I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve.

We had stayed in touch with Abe and Nowyta via mail and were only able to tell them we hoped to get in on June 1st. By then Jo was at her cabin in Porcupine getting her garden in and her mining operation underway for summer. We expected to see no one. On our drive we passed the turnoff to Porcupine, on past the 33 Mile Roadhouse where we had eaten homemade berry pie the previous summer on our visit. The turnoff to Mosquito Lake was a Mile 27 and at Mile 21 was the turnoff to the village of Klukwan. At Mile 19 is good eagle viewing and the best time is mid October-January. The Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is a 48,000-acre area established in 1982 and is home to more than 3,000 bald eagles that gather to feed on a late run of Chum salmon in winter. I still have slides of over 30 eagles in one tree. In the dead of winter, Phil and I used to pack a thermos and sit for hours watching.

On this day we are slowly going along and we see Abe and Nowytaâs pickup by the road and they are waving. We never expected a welcome like this. We pulled over and I am sure none of their guest had ever looked so bedraggled. The truck and trailer are covered in mud, and for the most part so are we. Our joy at seeing them could not be contained. Abe instructed Phil to follow them to their place âHappy Oursâ. We were to clean up, rest and spend the night. Later some friends were coming over to share dinner with us. That cabin that Phil and Abe had worked on the previous summer looked like it had been there forever. Abe had built a large metal shower and it looked 5-star to us. Water was pumped into a holding tank with a small generator and gravity fed into the house and heated with a propane water heater. Phil and I were the first in and it was magical. We scrubbed the grime off and shampooed our hair. Those KOA showers seemed a long time ago. I helped the kids get baths and we are all finally in clean clothes again. We sat at the table and looked out the big windows overlooking Lutak Inlet. In the distance was the sawmill, boats, the State Ferry going in to the terminal and water lapping along the beach in front. A short time later friends began to trickle in, all with food. There was everyone we had met the previous summer and some we had never met.

There was salmon of every kind, some still hot in the smoker, salads, desserts, truly food for the Gods!. We were so honored and it was an evening we will never forget. As each person was leaving, most mentioned they would see us tomorrow. We slept like rocks that night. There was a long sleeping loft upstairs in the cabin. Abe had built a queen size box on either end of the room and had placed 5â thick foam mattresses in each.

Our window opened to a waterfall. We woke up to total silence except the sound of water pouring down the mountain. I will always have that treasure in my mind. By the time we got dressed and had some coffee, Dawn and Jim has been to the bridge to watch the fishing, gone to the waterfall and talked Abeâs ear off.

Nowyta made sourdough pancakes to die for and it was time to go see the new home we had rented

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