Notice this letter is not addressed specifically to you because it's being sent to lots and lots of people. I'm not trying to make you feel small, but I want to be up front. I've got lots of friends.
I just thought I'd finally satisfy the curiousity that has been burning in
every soul throughout the country and let you know what's happening in my life,
where you can reach me, and what my hiking socks smell like.
I'm in Palo Alto as of July 29, and all things going as planned, I'll be heading
for Austin, TX, on the 1st of August. You can reach me on August 2nd at:
2611 Bee Caves Road
Austin, TX 78746
My phone number will be (512) 327-3093.
My email address (email@example.com) will work FOREVER, so you can always reach me that way.
I start work for Trilogy, a software company with free snacks, on August 7th. After that my life is in control of the corporate masses as they dangle me like a puppet from one task to the next.
If your address or phone number change, let me know so I can keep in touch. And if for some reason you're in Austin, definitely look me up.
For those of you who don't know, I just spent the last five weeks (June 21
- July 28) travelling in Alaska with three of my friends, Rob, Rick, and Sara.
Maybe you know them. Maybe you don't. Rememeber their names because I will refer
to them later.
We left three days after graduation with full packs and airline tickets for Anchorage, Alaska. My mom and a friend of the family picked us up at the airport and brought us back to our house in Eagle River, Alaska, where my parents spend summers (unfortunately we're selling the house before September - it's the house I built, with some assistance from my dad, when I was 14. Sniff, sniff.)
The next morning we loaded the four of us, my dad, and 95% of our gear into
our sportscar ('84 Chevette) and caught a shuttle in Anchorage that took the
four of us to Denali National Park, home of grizzly bears, Mount McKinley (whose
real name is also Denali), and lots of buses.
We checked in with the visitors center, started planning our backcountry trips, and then took a short hike during which we lost the trail less than a quarter mile from its origin. A great indication of how we'll fare away from any roads or trails... We stayed the night in a campground designed for RVs, except we had forgotten to bring ours.
The next morning, we awoke to find our tents drenched and our rain flys (cover
the tent to keep rain out) not really helping that much. We boarded a bus to
tour the park and spent the day sleeping on it. That night, we walked nearly
two miles to a pizza place where we met a cool couple from Geneva, Switzerland.
If you ever run into them please say hi for us. On the way back we hitchhiked
a ride from a guy who gave llama rides into Denali, had a loaded shotgun right
behind his seat, and who invited us out for drinks. He was sketchy, especially
with that crazy moustache.
After a wet nights sleep, we packed up (or so we thought) in a rush and took the camper shuttle (designed for real adventurers like us and not those tourist types) to Polychrome rest stop, from where we would begin our trip. Well, we found that we had left a set of tent poles 3 hours back at our camp the night before. Rick and I suffered the 6 hour roundtrip while Sara and Rob got away with getting drenched, suffering partial hypothermia, and freezing to death. That night we camped a couple miles off the road where you couldn't see another human being, except for the three I came with. You can't have everything.
The following day, we hiked along a river trail and the cold I had caught was getting worse. Only one of my lungs was working and I was hallucinating and speaking in Latin - okay maybe I just had a really really bad cold, so I felt bad and was in a bad mood all day and slowed everyone down, etc... Sue me. The other story is more dramatic.
We returned to Polychrome rest stop the next morning and the sun had actually peaked out of the clouds. Not a drop of rain fell that day, meaning I now owed Rob 5 beers thanks to a bet made three days earlier. We spent the night at Igloo creek. You'd think Alaskan's wouldn't name anything "Igloo" since NO ONE USES IGLOOS IN ALASKA. Go figure.
The next day we headed out to the area named "area 8." The name really does justice to the beauty we encountered. The day was gorgeous and cloud free, which allowed me to watch Rob, Rick, and Sara use approximately 240 rolls of film. We did get to see some bear cubs (from the bus) doing some sweet judo stuff in the grass.
Our second day in area 8 gave us the chance to run up some ridges and look at four glaciers in between that dotted the landscape. Very cool. The wind whipped around us, and we napped at the top of a shale hill. Then we napped some more.
Our final full day in the park consisted of hiking back to the road to take a bus all the way out to Wonder Lake, the farthest point that the road goes, to spend the evening being eaten alive by mosquitoes. There were a ton of clouds on the other side of Denali (the mountain), but we caught several clear shots of it from our campsite.
And early rise greeted us the next morning (notice how every paragraph I come
up with a new way to say 'The next day we...'. Clever.) as well as the 6 hour
ride back to the Visitors Center, 85 miles away. The park road is not paved
and several spots the bus actually only has two wheels on the road with the
other two hanging over the side of a cliff. Okay, maybe it has three wheels
on the road... We met the same shuttle with a different driver - she was some
sort of ecofreak who had done some amazing stuff in her life, including helping
out in Eastern Europe, nursing monkeys back to full health, and some Green thing
in South America. We arrived home, went immediately out for pizza, and then
came back for SHOWERS, which we hadn't experienced in nine days. It took me
quite a while to shave the full beard I had grown.
We left my house after handpacking Ramen to get everything to fit in the mid-sized
rental car from Avis (never rent from Avis) on July 9, at 10 PM. The 16 hour
trip took us along the 851 miles of mostly unpaved road, through Canada, and
to Skagway, Alaska, the initial stop of the Alaska Ferry System. We did not
enjoy the trip. Our first ferry ride was great.
Due to the fact that there was no affordable transportation from the Juneau ferry terminal to the city center (where the hostel was located), we hiked a mile plus to a bus stop with our 60 pound plus packs, and took a bus into the city to find the hostel closed until 6 pm. We ran around the city and received a tour of the capitol building from a 18 year old kid who'd lived all his life in Juneau (the state capitol) and knew less about Alaska than I did. And in general he was a real winner, too.
Our stay in the hostel was okay, except for the fact that (like in all hostels in Alaska), the men and the women are kept separate, so Sara was stranded by herself. Rob, Rick, and I had the pleasure of having "Wilderness Man" as a roommate. I'm not kidding when I tell you he said, "I'm a wilderness man. I've got a water filter and everything." Big deal. I own a water filter. The guy was even lamer than the tour guide. He was even nice enough to let us know that he would have stayed in a campground, where real wilderness men stay, instead of the hostel if it weren't for "loose bowels." Thanks for sharing.
We hiked about half the next day and then boarded the ferry for Angoon, which
landed about 2 AM.
Angoon is on Admiralty Island, which has the highest density of brown bears in the world. Cool. Our canoe trip (rented canoes) took us four days which took us through some incredibly beautiful islands and then a portage (carrying the canoes) through an old growth forest. However, the whole idea of a "portage" makes enjoying the trail pretty much impossible. Due to the fact that I don't wish to incriminate myself or my friends, I won't mention much about the portage except to say that it really really really sucked. Add on the fact that we had taken a couple of wrong turns on the way out (my fault) and the Admiralty trip was a tad lacking.
Rob had packed 5 liters of boxed wine along with him, making our second night a little crazy. Rob swears he heard bears playing in the lake just outside his tent...
With only a days paddle left to return home, the official Alaskan Summer Barfarama began. Rick contracted stomach flu and around midnight became the first person to hurl due to natural causes on the trip. He spent the next day hunched over in front of me in our canoe, occasionally appearing human.
That night we were treated to showers, a free dinner, and a nice soft spot on the lawn. If you ever want to catch a lot of fish, meet some incredibly nice people, and maybe go canoeing or kayaking, this is the place. The people at the lodge (who we rented canoes from) were the nicest people we met on the trip, who were so nice they made us feel guilty.
That night Rob and Sara joined in the official Alaskan Summer Barfarama (again) as the stomach flu had attacked them as well. About the same time, my metabolism took a turn in the opposite direction and I was eating almost everything in sight.
We left the next morning for Sitka, with everyone except for me still under
the grip of the nasty stomach flu. On the ferry ride over, the volume of hurl
continued to swell.
With 3/4 of our group in bad shape, we didn't do much in Sitka. The hostel
was pretty crummy.
We took the ferry to Ketchikan the next day with everyone feeling tired but no longer in fear of projectile vomit. The hostel in Ketchikan was run by "mu-mu man," named for the black mu-mu he wore in the mornings. Mu-mu weighed in around 260, and was about 5'8".
The next morning we loaded our rented kayaks onto the "Crystal Fjords," a bout that takes around 20 tourists into Misty Fjords, and incredible series of bays that offshoot from a main channel. We were dropped off in Rudyard bay, which is the most beautiful place I think I've ever seen in my life.
I'm a big Yosemite fan because the beauty there is ridiculous beauty. You can't imagine that the place exists. Imagine if Yosemite valley were filled with water, but El Capitan still shot 3000 feet straight up out of the water. That's what Rudyard bay was like.
For the first time on the trip, the weather was HOT. Thanks to Rick for remembering
to grab some sunblock, otherwise my sunbrun would have been worse.
We kayaked around the bay, went swimming in nearby punchbowl lake, stayed
at the shelter, briefly played in the swells of the channel, and camped near
Punch Bowl Cove over the five days we were supposed to have spent there. The
morning of the fifth day, the rain had returned to Misty Fjords and it was pounding
us pretty severely. Just as we were about to paddle out to meet Crystal Fjords
for our return trip, a solo kayaker beached his kayak and asked us if we were
expecting a pickup. The kayaker turned out to be a Forest Service Employee named
Dennis who informed us that our ride "wasn't coming." We had been warned about
this possibility, but hadn't really wanted to even consider it. He said the
boat would make it out the next day if the weather permitted. We spent the rest
of the day over the back of a hill in a three sided shelter bitter about the
fact that we weren't back in Ketchikan.
The next day the boat came and we made it back. A day later we took the ferry
and two days after that we arrived in Seattle, and after a $100 cab ride to
the airport, we flew home. The only interesting highlights of those four days
were pesto pizza, playing too many games of monopoly, and Rick and I pretending
to be some sort of terrorists in the Seattle Airport restroom.
So that was our trip - I left a lot of stuff out. I'm thinking about writing a best seller based on this trip, except there will be a lot more lies and exaggerations in the book. I also decided to leave out all the women who constantly pursued me throughout our trip, since that's just a constant part of my life I've learned to live with.
Later, (and keep in touch)
Bryan J. Rollins