The tugboat and barge would go along the Yukon River and then come back to Nenana to stock up for the next trip. If you were going to quit you had to do so while in port. The other two deckhands had quit and although the engineer and second mate were asking me to stay, I had learned we were being paid almost nothing and charged for our food. It was an abusive work situation. They needed me very badly at that moment as the others had quit, so when we came back to town to stock up, I walked directly to the office of the company and quit and asked to be paid immediately. As I recall I walked away with something in the single digit 100s. Not much at all for back breaking 12 hour per day work.
I was told they would give me a ride to Fairbanks, Alaska to catch a flight to Seattle, but I didn’t want to spend the money on a flight. I wanted to come home with a few dollars. They gave me a ride to Fairbanks and left me on the side of the highway where I began hitchhiking. It was late at night and because it was summer, the nights were not very long.
I was carrying two big duffel bags that were full. Before I left the boat I grabbed a jar of peanut butter and I believe some sardines from the pantry. It wasn’t much but I needed some food. I had worked the entire night before, so by the time I started hitch hiking I had already been up for 24 hours. I really can’t believe I did this now that I am thinking about it. I finally got a ride down the highway, but there are few people and fewer towns if any. It is all forest and wilderness. I was dropped off by the side of the road in darkness. No more cars were coming. One would come every so often and you could see the lights from far away, so I would run out to the side of the road and stick my thumb out. They would pass by, not stop and I would go back into a little place I had in the woods. I was very cold, so I put multiple layers of clothes on. I remember eating the peanut butter with my fingers while laying on the forest floor. I learned later that the area was full of grizzly bears, so I am lucky to have survived.
I learned the next morning that I was close to Delta Junction, a place where a couple of roads came together. I believe about a 1,000 people live there. I could not get a ride out of there and I had been up over 48 hours. I was starting to feel very strange from lack of sleep and somehow I was given a small room to stay in behind a church. I bought a half gallon of milk and drank a bunch of it before falling a sleep for over 12 hours. I was exhausted. I finally did get a ride out of Delta Junction the next day and was off towards Tok Junction. There was a bus for tourists headed to Beaver Falls in the Yukon Territory and I somehow was allowed on to the bus I can’t remember if I paid or not. We pulled up late at night in front of a motel and everybody got out to go into the motel….except me. They were part of a tour group. I ended up laying on cardboard by a gas pump in a gas station in the wee hours of the night. I was very cold. One car almost ran over me as I was woken up by their headlights. I tried to locate the jail and see if I could sleep in there. Same with a church but no on both accounts. I remember somebody from the motel let me in for a little while to have a coffee. I can’t remember anything about the people but it made me feel cared for.
The next day we took the bus to Haines, Alaska. From Haines, Alaska there is a ferry that goes all the way down the Inside passage ending up in Seattle. It is truly one of the spectacular scenic journeys on the planet. Steep fjords off the sides of the boat, glaciers and wilderness with many islands. Haines, Alaska had one of the largest populations of bald eagles at the time. The trip went to Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan, Prince Ruppert then Seattle I believe. On the boat, there was a heated area you could sit on top of the boat and watch the scenery go by. I didn’t have a room to sleep in or a sleeping bag, so I stayed in the warm, covered area when it was vacant but I was still cold.
At each stop we could get off and see the town. Juneau, the capitol of Alaska was dramatic to pull into with Mt. Roberts behind it. I hitch hiked out to the famous Mendenhall glacier and actually fell asleep at the view point. The guy who gave me a ride had me help move a piano. I remember he gave me 5 dollars and offered me a joint. He said he had nothing else. I then took a hike behind the town center, I believe up Mt. Roberts. It was very foggy and I heard there were many bears around. When hiking around bears, many people wear bells on their boots to make a lot of sound so that they don’t surprise the bears and get attacked. I just tried to make a lot of sound. Indeed there were black bears and I was pretty scared.
The other towns are a bit of a blur to me, but each on was so very pretty. I especially remember Sitka as being picturesque with its Russian churches and mountain backdrop. I tried to get a job at a cannery but can’t recall what happened. The trip took several days and when I arrived at Seattle, I somehow made it back to our house. I can’t remember if it was via a bus, hitch hiking or something else. No one knew I was coming home and I wanted to surprise them. I found my mom upstairs in the bedroom. Oddly I quickly went outside and began shooting baskets. I had thought so much about shooting baskets while on the tugboat. I believe I hit my first 10 shots from the corner of the court. I think it has something to do with visualization. Wild journey!
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