Will Morrow (courtesy)

Will Morrow (courtesy)

The adventure continues

I rolled into Kenai for what was going to be just a three- to five-year adventure

Twenty-five years ago this month, I rolled into Kenai for what was going to be just a three- to five-year adventure. So much for best-laid plans.

I have to admit, it’s an anniversary I’ve been pretty excited about. I was flipping through the photo album, and I even dug up the journal that I kept during my drive from Massachusetts.

My trip was pretty tame compared to today’s social media-influenced exaggerated adventures. I loaded up the car with everything I could fit in it, and the dog and I set out heading west and north.

My wife, a teacher, stayed behind to finish out the school year. She had her own ordeal getting to Alaska. She had a credit that had to be used on a low-cost airline, and even though she was flying, she probably touched down in as many states as I drove through to get here. I’m not sure it was worth it.

Back in those days, if you wanted to come to Alaska, you had to work for it.

I stayed with college friends on the first night of my trip, then camped most of the rest of the way.

At that point in my life, I had barely been out of the northeastern part of the country, never mind outside of it. It was before everyone had a cellphone, so I checked in with my wife via pay phone every couple of days. And it was before online banking was a thing, so I had some cash, a few traveler’s checks, and a bank card which I wasn’t sure would work once I got to Canada. (The card worked just fine in Canada; it was in Alaska where I ran into problems.)

I remember being amazed while crossing the Mississippi, and my first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. I was underwhelmed by Mount Rushmore, but moved by the Little Bighorn National Monument.

My first bear sighting was near Dawson Creek — I stopped at a roadside pullout to let the dog stretch her legs, and a black bear popped out of a Dumpster, glared at me for disturbing its lunch, and waddled into the woods. We decided to wait for the next pullout for our walk.

It was the adventure of a lifetime, at age 25. Social media is filled with people trying to live like that.

The drive itself was fairly smooth, right up until we got to Alaska. The car broke down just past Glennallen. After getting towed back to town, I spent three of the longest days of my life waiting for a new distributor to be shipped up from Seattle.

I’m told I was fortunate to break down relatively near a town with a service station and a mechanic. And there was a hotel right next door, with cheap rooms in an annex built as barracks for pipeline construction workers.

Unfortunately, I was set up for car camping, so my books were all on tape. The only book available in the hotel gift shop was “Alaska Bear Tales” by Larry Kaniut. Having just seen my first bear a couple of days before, it deterred me from walking too far into the woods behind the hotel. The dog and I settled for watching a “Northern Exposure” marathon on TV, but I also had a lot of time to question my life choices.

As an aside, we ended up sitting next to Kaniut on a flight a few years later. He was asking us all kinds of questions about precautions we took when we went hiking and camping. As it turned out, he had just finished another book, “Danger Stalks the Land,” about people who were underprepared for their Alaska adventures. He sent us a signed copy, which we have stashed on a bookshelf somewhere.

Eventually, I made it down to Kenai. I was low on cash and with my bank card not working, I bought a big package of spaghetti and a jar of sauce, and made it last a week until I could get my first paycheck — when I splurged on some hot dogs.

Twenty-five years ago, I’m sure I figured that arriving in Kenai was the end of the adventure. But Alaska has a way of making most places in the Lower 48 seem less appealing.

So as it turns out, it was just the beginning, and Larry Kaniut’s concerns notwithstanding, the adventure continues.

Will Morrow lives in Kenai. Email him at willmorrow2015@gmail.com.

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