“White Rainbow” examines a flat tire on his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” examines a flat tire on his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

‘Everything is a treasure to me’

Meet White Rainbow, the man picking up trash — and treasure — along the Sterling Highway

Anyone who travels the Sterling Highway into Soldotna has probably seen him. The guy with his eyes locked on the ground, duct-taped litter grabber in hand, stepping deliberately over the landscape and ridding the area of debris — one piece of trash at a time.

On Wednesday, he parked his bike, outfitted with flags, buckets and decals atop a homemade trailer, outside of the Vitus gas station near Sterling. The cashiers don’t charge him for coffee — he says theirs is the best — and encourage him to come back later if he gets hungry. Then he’s ready to hit the road.

He asked to be called “White Rainbow,” but also offered up “Sun Dog” when asked for a name.

White Rainbow is a fixture of the Sterling Highway between Sterling and Soldotna post breakup season, a pop of color against bare trees and gray sky. From his royal blue Detroit Lions baseball cap — “I just like the blue, I hate the Lions” — to the sunflower yellow rain jacket that flaps behind him like a cape when he’s on his bike, White Rainbow is someone who’s hard to miss.

“This place is really special,” he said Wednesday of the Kenai Peninsula. “People are so nice to me.”

White Rainbow hails from Gig Harbor, Washington, where he picked up land surveying skills from his dad, which landed White Rainbow a job on Alaska’s North Slope. Based in Kaparuk, White Rainbow said he was part of an “out of bounds crew” taking exploratory roads between Prudhoe Bay and the Brooks Range surveying new oil sites.

“I’ll start crying, man, because these guys were my best friends,” he said of his co-workers.

It was while on the North Slope that White Rainbow said he met his girlfriend, a baker with plans to move to the Kenai Peninsula. One charred bouquet of flowers and a cheesy pickup line — “I’m burning up for you baby” — later, White Rainbow ended up on the peninsula. He’s been here since.

It’s what he called his “love for the 907” that drives him to clean up the Sterling Highway every spring. He’s got black trash bags staged at intervals that he fills as he moves up and down the highway. Once the bags are full, White Rainbow said he takes them back to his trailer to sort the trash from recyclables before they ultimately end up at the landfill.

As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. In White Rainbow’s case, he’ll take both.

He said he’s always had a fascination with “shiny things” and keeps an eye out for valuables. On Wednesday morning, for example, he found a bundle of zip ties. Earlier this week? A ring that a local pawn shop appraised for just over $8,000, although the original owner eventually claimed it.

“I got those big, thick zip ties and those are just awesome,” he said. “That’s like duct tape.”

Silver rings clutter White Rainbow’s fingers, and a copper cuff link jangles around his wrist. While he talks, two abalone charms sway where they dangle from braids in his blond beard. All of the pieces he wears, he said, he found while picking up trash.

“Everything is a treasure to me,” he said.

That is apparent from a quick glance at White Rainbow’s rig — a bike and trailer setup he said he’s been using for about five years. The bike doesn’t move out of seventh gear and one of the wheels on the trailer is flat, but there’s an abundance of sentimental value.

Affixed to the back are a drawing by him of the Coppertone sunscreen girl and a hand-painted tribute to his late dog, Bonni. A tattered American flag flies high above the apparatus like a go-cart flag.

There’s a small Seattle Seahawks jersey with the number three crossed out, which White Rainbow said was added after player Russell Wilson left the team to become quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Waving alongside the jersey are a flattened Peace Tea can and an empty package of Scooby-Doo graham crackers.

Even if Sterling Highway motorists don’t see White Rainbow, they will surely see his bike, which he sometimes leaves parked near the pavement while he goes picking. If he’s not starting at the ground, he’s sometimes back by the treeline, dancing. He’s a student of jazz and ballet, but can’t dance like he used to because of his bad hips.

Over his tortoise shell sunglasses fit a pair of black over-ear headphones, which aren’t connected to anything. Dancing is freedom, he said, recalling nights spent at The Monastery, a now-closed club in Seattle, and an instance where he danced at a grizzly bear to scare it away while he was working on the North Slope.

“I create my own music,” he said — he likes Depeche Mode, New Order and Yazz.

For White Rainbow, Alaska is home, but it’s clear when he talks that he harbors a deep love for his roots in Washington. You can’t see it under the Detroit Lions cap, but there’s a tattoo of Mount Rainier behind his ear — he once completed all 93 miles of the Washington’s Wonderland Trail.

It’s Washington he’s trying to get to right now.

“My mom died two months ago,” he said. “ … She was like my best friend. I would call her, like, at least once a week and we would talk for hours.”

White Rainbow’s mom loved the beach. He said his family would frequently travel up and down the West Coast, and that she would say in more than one place that that’s where she wanted her ashes scattered. White Rainbow has his own fond memories of the West Coast, where his dad taught him to surf, even before he knew how to swim, and where he once rode from the Canada border to the Mexico border to surprise a girlfriend living in San Diego.

Now, he said revisiting his mom’s favorite spots would make him feel close to her. His goal right now is to get enough money to fly to Seattle, and then get a new bike and trailer setup to take on the road.

“There’s X-marks-the-spots all the way down the West Coast where my mom was sprinkled — a little bit here, a little bit there — I know it,” he said. “I just want to be with my mom so much.”

He’s open to work, as a sign on the back of his bike says, especially in fishing, but says he’s a champion foosball player and undefeated arm wrestler — in his weight category — for people looking to take him on.

In the meantime, White Rainbow can still be seen making a near-daily pilgrimage along the highway, a splash of color amid the clamor, with his American flag bobbing behind him.

“I love the 907, man,” he said. “I just love the 907 and I kind of love just doing whatever I want to do. This brings me so much joy.”

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

“White Rainbow” examines a flat tire on his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” examines a flat tire on his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” stands near his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” stands near his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” shows off a Russell Wilson jersey affixed to his bik at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. The “3” was crossed out after Wilson moved to the Denver Broncos. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” shows off a Russell Wilson jersey affixed to his bik at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. The “3” was crossed out after Wilson moved to the Denver Broncos. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” explains the signs on his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. The signs include an ode to his late dog, Bonni, as well as his rendition of the Coppertone sunscreen girl. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” explains the signs on his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. The signs include an ode to his late dog, Bonni, as well as his rendition of the Coppertone sunscreen girl. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” drinks coffee before getting on his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” drinks coffee before getting on his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” rides his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” rides his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” rides his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” rides his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” rides his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” rides his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” rides his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” rides his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” looks for trash inside of a culvert along the Sterling Highway on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” looks for trash inside of a culvert along the Sterling Highway on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” stands near a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” stands near a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” explains the lighting on his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023, near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

“White Rainbow” explains the lighting on his bike at a gas station on Wednesday, May 3, 2023, near Sterling, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

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