I follow alongside the
Matanuska River and finally reach Palmer. Palmer in 1935 was a place where a
sort of experiment took place. Then it was called the Matanuska Valley Colony.
Franklin Roosevelt in his very first year in office created something known as
the New Deal. I first learned about that in a freshman history class with Mr.
Menchow. He was a really big, but short man who used to rant and rave about how
all the answers to society's ills could be found in history. If only we would
learn from our mistakes was the whole premise of the class.
Anyway, FDR's Federal
Relief Administration intended to create an agricultural colony in this valley.
Social workers picked 203 families in the midst of the Great Depression in the
hopes of a utopian success in the midst of the dust bowl. Families from
Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota were sent to have a go. The upper Midwest was
the logical place to find Scandinavians during 1935. They were thought at the
time to have a greater adaptability to the climate and conditions than other
What is unique about the
Alaskan summers is for a short 80 to 110 days of the year, there is almost
constant sunshine. This makes for a growing season a bit different than the
upper Midwestern summer. The colonists arrived in 1935 and although not all
succeeded, many who still live in the area today are descendents of these
I finally arrive in
Anchorage. As soon as I hit the city, it seems somewhat out of place with its
wide boulevards, streetlights, freeways and 300,000 people in this rugged
environment. I run out of gas. 197 miles to a 5.3-gallon tank which at 37 miles
per gallon fully loaded; this is not too bad. I coast to a stop and fill up the
tank with one of the spare 2.5 gallon gas cans and start right back up again.
I spot the sign for
Elmendorf Air Force Base and head right on in. I ask the gate guard where
billeting is and follow his directions to the Air Force Inn. The equivalent of a
hotel, the place is even nicer than I expected. It reminds me of a Holiday Inn.
It costs an entire 8 dollars for the room, with a roommate though.
All I can think about is a
shower. The room feels military and sparsely adorned. I like it. After sleeping
on the ground and in ditches for the last few days, this is kind of a treat. A
TV and even cable- neato. I shower the longest of showers. It's my first in a
week. The warm water washes away thousands of miles of grime. I wash my clothes
in the laundry and relax watching some Alaskan TV. My mind wanders while
glancing out the window, maybe a moose will go walking by. Probably not. I am
surrounded in barbwire and jet aircraft. The runway is right behind the hotel.
When the fighter planes take off, the noise is deafening, even inside the walls
shake and the windows rattle.
I cruise across the base
and gas up the bike. I haven't cleaned a single bug off the front of the
motorcycle and it is plastered in bug guts. Think of it as a badge, a trophy if
you will. I hold the nozzle as the gas pours into my hungry tank and look up at
the overcast skies. I am in Alaska, I think to myself. This is amazing. I am
standing here plain as day and getting gas in Anchorage, Alaska. This is so
cool! I kill time with no particular thought on what my next move is. I don't
have any plans, don't even know what there is to see around here. I haven't
really even thought about it. Just the thought of being in Alaska is exciting
enough to me. I suppose I'm sort of playing the anti-tourist.
I want to give my physical
body a little time to relax. To feel what it's like to be clean, fed, and in
clean clothes seems to be my only goal. I buy some junkfood with absolutely no
nutritional value at the little shoppette. Hey, I'm on vacation.
That evening I walk over to
the base theater and see the movie for three bucks. It's The Crow with
Brandon Lee. It's very gothic style of filmmaking. There are guns and bullets
flying everywhere. Oh, and the good guy wins and the bad guys get there's.
Surprise, surprise. The movie ends and it is only 9 o'clock. I feel like the
days when I was on active duty and you are stuck on the base with nothing to do.
I walk back to the room and discover Jim, my roommate for the night.
Jim weaves a tale of
intrigue and story upon story mount up as we converse into the evening. He
fought in Vietnam and has been awarded the Purple Heart three times. He was shot
several times in combat. He did an entire tour, got shot, healed up, then signed
up for another tour. He has a six pack of beer with him and after a couple, he
doesn't stop talking. He kind of reminds me of Grizzly Adams, a TV show I
watched as a kid. He has this rough sort of look to him.
His kids are all grown and
his wife passed away some time ago. Now he lives in this little room on his
military pension and cleans fish in the fish markets in Anchorage. He flew up to
Anchorage to escape the rest of world. He has no ties to the life he used to
live down in the lower 48. You might call him homeless, he even sort of looks
it, but it's apparent this guy doesn't have a care in the world.
After the fourth beer, he
describes in great detail how to gut a fish and how quickly he can accomplish
this task and move on to the next one. He has even worked on some of the fishing
boats along the coast. I am very curious as to his plans for the future. He says
he has none. He just lives day to day. He left his job, sold his home, his car,
and all his possessions and moves around Alaska from time to time, where ever
the work is. The base is his favorite though because the accommodations are so
nice at our little hotel here. He mentions that he invested all the money from
selling all his stuff and doesn't touch it. Although he could be mistaken for
a bum walking down the sidewalk, he says he has a half million dollars spread
across several different investments. It's for his son. Money really isn't
important to him anymore. He has already lived that life. He says the military
will take care of him the rest of his life because of his pension and because he
fought in Vietnam. Up here, he doesn't have a care in the world.