In the Wild You are Allowed to Eat Anything You Want, pt. 1

After the brutal winter I guess I’d subconsciously decided to go on a lot of camping and backpacking trips this summer to enjoy the outside when the threat of death, at least by cold, would not be a factor. My unknown goal has been quite fun so far as I have ventured into places not yet been and put myself in situations unencountered (note to self: bring more storage for water). Here’s one:

Various Places, Alaska

A former coworker and current friend, Adam, had moved up to Anchorage a few years ago and I finally got my shit together enough to fly north to visit. An avid camper himself, he mapped out the entire trip covering the area up Highway 3 from Anchorage to Chena Hot Springs , which rests an hour north of Fairbanks.

Anchorage, Alaska. Home to countless weird churches and strip clubs. Both popular gathering places.

Anchorage, Alaska. Home to countless weird churches and strip clubs. Both popular gathering places.

After wandering around Anchorage for a few days while Adam finished his work week at the Anchorage Museum, we began. First stop was the half-horse town of Wasilla, a cloud of meth stench nestled in the middle of an otherwise serene landscape. After the food and beer was procured we set out for Talkeetna, a weird little town that looks as if the 1860s had soda machines and Mexican take-out. We quickly decided to wander off in our car and find somewhere else to camp. Really camp. We went north on the highway until we found the Chulitna River passing underneath. A small dirt road exited left and we took it. It was roughly 9:00pm at this point but we didn’t have to worry about setting up camp in the dark being that it was Alaska in June and all. (The lack of night affects the brain more than I thought. To keep drinking is waaaaaay easier.) After the fire and tent was erected, Adam figured out that he had left his sleeping bag at home. It was decided that after dinner and drinks he would hike back to the car and sleep there while I remained next to the river. I figured, “Fuck it. If a bear comes and wants to start shit, one man is as effective as two. Me and you, nature.” Luckily the salmon would begin running the river in two weeks and bear, being the instinctive, precious beings that they are, don’t come down until the splish splash party starts. I sat next to the fire until about 5:00am telling myself, “You can’t go to bed now…have more beer and

Campfire bringing light to the already light Alaskan night. Right. What a fright.

Campfire bringing light to the already light Alaskan night. Right. What a fright.

relish the fact that you’re in the woods of Alaska by yourself.” Looking back I could’ve enjoyed the solitary danger just as much asleep.

The next day we dined at a quaint little roadside restaurant that I forgot the name of. I didn’t forget Zehe, the waitress, though. Alaskan girls in their big, healthy, friendly demeanor makes one want to take them home to meet mom just to do so. Mom would love them so much. Myself, I’m not sure. They really are nice, though.

Bellies full and colons clean we continued north to Nenana to raft the Nenana River through the Denali National Park. Nenana is a town that is most likely deserted during the winter months due to the fact that every single store and business revolved around tourists. We walked over to the rafting place and filled out the necessary paperwork (check here to say that you won’t sue us if you bang your head and lose your goddamn mind…okay) and recieved our drysuits. Drysuits are the opposite of wetsuits. The latter keeps you warm by using water and your body heat while the former keeps you warm by simply keeping the water out. After going over everything slowly enough for a third grader we donned the suits and readied ourselves for the amazing and adventurous…twenty minute bus ride to the launch site. My friend and I sat in the back like the smoking hooligans we are and watched the scenery go by. (I can’t say enough the difference in Alaska vs. the “lower 48.” An untouched wilderness is something to behold and makes, or should, a human head drop in shame.) In the boat now and it is twenty-two miles of everything from calm stretches to class 4 rapids, all while the guide (a kooky and hilarious girl from Georgia) was yelling, “TWO FORWARD. RIGHT TWO FORWARD. LEFT TWO BACK.” It was everything one expected from a rafting trip…wildlife, chatter between rapids, facts about the landscape, and stories from former trips. The most notable event was when we were about five miles from the end and Adam and I decided it was the opportune time to jump in the river. The drysuits will keep us warm and safe from the 36 degree water, after all. That is unless your drysuit has a busted zipper, which mine apparently did. Seconds after leaping in I felt the icy fingers of certain death

Museum of the North, Fairbanks, Alaska. Unfortunately they set this high enough so as to prevent climbing.

Museum of the North, Fairbanks, Alaska. Unfortunately they set this high enough so as to prevent climbing.

surround my body cavity. “Oh, shit. Shit. Shit. This is cold.” The guide came over and one-two-three pulled me back in the boat. It was a shivery five miles.

After drying and warming we continued north to Fairbanks to recuperate and ready ourselves for hiking and hot springs the following night. Though the 24 hours of daylight is a constant throughout Alaska, the more north one travels the brighter the night remains. We found a hotel (follow the link and memorize the info. Oh, and don’t go there.) and asked the front desk about a good place to eat in the area. Possibly a brewpub? At the word “brewpub” they cocked their seventeen-year-old heads in confusion. “Is there a place that has good beer and food?” They directed us to the Italian restaurant next door. We said thanks and went to the room to whip out the trusty iPhone to find a damned place to fill our guts with something not next door and half-ass. “Ah, here we go. Brewster’s. It’s a chain in Canada but each one brews their own beer.

Midnight in Fairbanks, Alaska. Adam (aka my friend) and I bask in the nothing-to-do.

Midnight in Fairbanks, Alaska. Adam and I bask in the nothing-to-do.

It’s only five blocks from here.” Sure enough there it was, but this Brewster’s was a Fairbanks-only restaurant. Good thing because it was only for lack of food that we, or anyone, should go there. Their specialty beer? Bud Light on tap. Luckily they also had Alaskan by the pitcher so all wasn’t lost. We gobbled quick and got out to enjoy the night sunshine. Walking around at midnight and hearing the bars hooping and hollering and the streets deserted is something in and of itself. Very post apocolyptic. I was waiting for the zombies. We went back to the hotel and fell asleep to ESPN’s most dramatic press conferences show. Something inside of me always enjoys an old man crying.

A few stops at the Museum of the North, grocery store, liquor store, and outdoor supply store (to get another sleeping bag) and we bid Fairbanks goodbye. A few hours on an old country road that was frost heave-free (which is when the permafrost melts in an unusually warm season and causes the ground to sink thereby leading to huge dips in the road) and we found ourselves at the Chena Hot Springs…and Resort?! Man has been here!

Sure enough, a resort had been built around this naturally-formed hot springs in the middle of the Alaska Range (home to

Inside the yurt. Scrabble players take note.

Inside the yurt. Scrabble players take note.

Mr. McKinley). We checked in and made it to our yurt and decided to head out on a hike. Following one trail merely led to a private property so we turned back and passed a sled dog kennel full of yipping, energetic canines numbering the hundreds. Eventually we came upon a sign that read, ‘Aurorium’ and pointed forward. The trail then went steepily up the mountain of which we finished a quarter of the way together. Unfortunately Adam had screwed up his knee the previous week and couldn’t continue so I hiked the rest of the way by myself. I had no idea how long the trail was to the peak, er, Aurorium, so I just kept plugging along. And along. Up. Rocks. Root stairs. Up. Thoroughly winded I reached the apex to find one of the most gorgeous views these blue peepers have ever ingested. The wind, the trees, and the approaching rain all said, “Try as you may, Luc, but in the end I will fuck you for dinner. Try me.” After a seemingly zen moment, I returned to the trail for the long hike back. In the rain. It rains briefly and nearly everyday in Alaska so taking shelter is not needed but rather enjoyed by someone like myself who is without a raincoat. I made it to the yurt soaked and it was quickly decided that the hot springs were now in order. Ten bucks to get into the sulpher-smelling bacteria cesspool, a fee that I happily paid. It was when we

Top of the mountain. Flexed my apex. Reeked of peak. Sneaked a peak. Leaked on said peak.

Top of the mountain. Flexed my apex. Reeked of peak. Sneaked a peak. Leaked on said peak.

asked for towels that my appeased nature with this resort came to an end.

“That’ll be five dollars.”

“To use a towel? But we’re staying here.”

“You’re in a yurt. That is camping. It cost five dollars for a towel.”

My friend went back to retrieve our own towel leaving me there at the desk. “So…say I’m in the hot springs and out of nowhere, for some unknown reason, Aurora Borealis comes out to spill her splendor on us bathers. Will you come out and find me and charge me to look at it?”

No answer.

I wouldn’t answer me either.

After finally dipping into the springs the soreness and grumpiness left my body and all was well. Varying temperatures in the pool forced one to mill about finding the sweet spot, usually peopled by gross middle-aged couples groping each others’ aged sex organs under the water and giggling in their temporary, second-honeymoon nonchalance. Out and dry, it was back to the yurt for dinner and drinking and story-telling.

The next day was an extended drive from the hot springs back to Anchorage. My plane was leaving at 11:15 that night so all that remained was a collection of my belongings at his apartment and a dinner and the joy of a red eye flight, which was anything but. It would’ve been fine except for the four kids sitting next to me, kicking me, reading aloud from their Christian books to each other, and then eventually puking by the time we made it back to Chicago.

Official Song of the Trip:

Immortal – “Sons of Northern Darkness”

Emma’s Official Song of the Trip (She stayed home and I imagined her listening to ridiculous covers of well done, dramatic songs.):

U2 – “With or Without You”


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