Homer is Where the Heart Is

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I'd like to take a moment to share my feelings about psychedelics, death, and panic. My great fear is that at some point, whether at the moment of death, on a powerful trip, or just some afternoon waiting on a bus, I will experience the same sensation I have had on psychedelics, where I suddenly question if everything I've ever known hasn't just been a great big old lie. In that state, any messages coming my way from the psychedelic, or from anyone around me are no more trustworthy. I fear that I may slip out of my mind completely, and be unable to believe in anything at all, with no idea what is real or imagined, and subsequently remain in that state of consciousness indefinitely. It feels like my mind is a quarter in a funnel, circling the drain, about to drop into the hole, ending the game I've been playing in consensus reality. 

I suppose this comes from the very real fact that I truly know nothing about how things actually work. I don't understand the gravity keeping me on the ground, let alone the oxygen in the very air I breathe. I don't know how my body or mind function, I don't know how or why there is something rather than nothing, I don't know how the computer works than I'm using to write this, and I'm not even sure if these things haven't been explained to me, multiple times.

These fairly basic questions are sneaking around in my mind, unanswered in the dark.  They bounce through my waking moments like some sort of tennis game played on a cosmically stupid court. I often feel my mind is like some sort of impenetrable, unsinkable piece of styrofoam, unmoored and adrift on a sea of knowledge, achieving buoyancy by means of my own abject thickheadedness.  Fortunately, most of the people I meet are real nice.

With that out of the way, I'd like to tell you about our trip...

Spit adjacent

At times, looking over my shoulder to the passenger seat of our van, I can experience an almost overwhelming feeling of love for the occupants of that seat. My wife and my dog - one often sleeping, the other often pouring over the maps and books which are meant to guide us; both occupying a place in my heart which only those who you truly love and who truly annoy you can occupy. I am a fortunate man to travel with such companions.

With these companions, I was fortunate enough to travel to a little town at the end of the road in Alaska, called Homer. On the way into town, we headed towards a long, narrow bit of land jutting out into the bay, known to locals as “the spit”. Tiffany has been intrigued by this little dry elbow of land since we began research for this trip. As is often the case with on the ground reality vs on-paper research, expectation creates a mirage-like view of something that may or may not really be there.

Although the “Spit” definitely exists and will not vanish when approached, the romantic notion of an “authentic” (whatever that means) Alaskan experience quickly disappear, leaving behind what one would expect of a place that is trying to scratch out a living from fish, tourists, and nostalgia. Fortunately for the incredible town of Homer, there is much, much more to this lovely place than just “the spit”.

“The spit” creates for Homer the same sort of buffer from tourists as is created by the French Quarter (specifically Bourbon St.) in New Orleans. Although locals make use of “the spit”, it is there to entertain the tourists, and create income for the locals, leaving the rest of the town, largely free of crowds of temporaries like us.

Tiffany and I spent the first night of our visit to Homer on “the spit”. We had a great time, in spite of the tourist-trap atmosphere, mostly as a result of fantastic weather, a long walk on the beach, and fun and interesting neighbors.

We met two different couples out there, one about twenty years older than us, traveling in a custom built sprinter van. The other couple was about forty years older than us, traveling in a class B motorhome. Both couples were kind, funny, quirky, and delightful. Of course, I don't remember any names, but the younger couple was from Wisconsin, and the older couple split time between Arizona and Alaska.

I do remember the younger couple was somewhat keen on talking politics when they noticed we had California tags and Tibetan prayer flags on our vehicle. The husband actually said, “I like talking politics with people who are on my side.” I can't help but think that is considerably more problematic in the long-run than speaking to people with whom you disagree. As is my custom, I left that unchallenged, and just enjoyed the act of listening to someone who was certain I agreed with him without ever actually having to do so. I'm not sure if I agree with anyone, or if I even have a “side”, so I'm always willing to hear someone out.

The older couple had very different views politically but were not keen on sharing them, likely as a result of the same correlations people tend to make when observing our California plates and colorful flags. In both cases, Tiffany and I did our best to just observe and report.

Having political discussions is likely a healthy exercise. Unfortunately for me, I am way less interested in talking about what an asshole Trump is, or what the US is doing in Yemen and am much more interested in what it must be like to have a job like Trump's, or what it was like to be Yemeni before the Saudis were dropping our bombs on them. Unfortunately, I have no immediate access to Trump or anyone from Yemen...I would welcome both, but would prefer the latter.

After our night on “the spit”, Tiff, Pelé and I decided to take a walk on Bishop's Beach. On the drive over, we both cracked open our windows to get some fresh air in the van. The wind was fairly gusty, and in an improbable series of wind-born events, a somewhat precious artifact of ours was swept from its resting place, and flew out the passenger window, landing in a lake on the highway. The artifact was a beautiful feather from the Greater Argus, a bird from Papua New Guinea. This feather was given to me by my friend Erik on the first day we met. I've had this feather for three years, and have displayed it in a prominent place since receiving it. To see it fly out the window and land in a lake seemed a true shame...at first.

We pulled over and ran to the lake. The feather was resting on the water and was being blown directly into the middle of the lake by the same gusts of wind which freed it from in the van in the first place. There was no retrieving it. At first, I felt sad to have lost it, but then remembered just how little things like that actually matter. A gift given is a gift waiting to be lost, destroyed, stolen, or re-distributed after your death. I watched it float away, thinking to myself just how startled the bird who had grown that feather in the first place, would have been to see any of its beautiful plumage in a place as far from Papua New Guinea as Homer, Alaska. I then though about the fact that the bird in question was likely long dead, and would be startled witless to be suddenly alive again, just to witness some dumb white guy, starring into a cold Alaskan lake, trying to apply some sort of philosophical balm to a loss that was objectively way less traumatic than having a feather literally plucked from its body.

Our walk on Bishop's Beach was quite nice though. It was nice for a variety of reasons. The weather was fair, breezy, and overcast, but not cold. We walked through tide-pools, looked at sea plants and searched for birds, shells, and sea-life. There were kids on the beach who we had the opportunity to speak with, thanks to Pelé. Hearing children explain to you just what you are seeing in an environment is always entertaining. What truly made the walk special though, was a chance encounter between Pelé and another dog.

As we were nearing the end of our walk, Pelé, who takes a somewhat ambivalent stance on encountering other dogs on a walk, saw another dog in whom he seemed unusually interested. Our normally standoffish little friend walked right up to a delightfully short, stocky, fluffy, little white dog and began the bizarre, intimate and, I would guess, highly informative dance of circling and ass-sniffing that dogs seem to love doing.

The dog's name is Quito, like the capital Ecuador. She is an . The people walking with here are named Bill and Melisse. Bill and Melisse are in their late fifties or early sixties, and immediately seemed like kind people. I struck up a conversation with Bill, and Tiffany and Pelé chatted with Melisse and Quito, each in their own highly inquisitive ways.

Bill was on a mandatory sabbatical, and chose to spend some of his time visiting friends in Homer; Melisse and her husband Dave. The work from which he was being forced to take a break was diplomatic work for the U.S. State Department. Bill had been in Ecuador for the past several years, working in the embassy...amazingly, Quito is not his dog. His next assignment would be in Beirut, and would require six months of intense training and constant lessons in arabic.

After chatting with him for about five minutes, I mentioned we were traveling with recording gear, and would like to talk with him for our podcast. He agreed, and we exchanged information.

What I didn't realize was that Tiffany had already received an invitation to come over to Dave and Melisse's home for drinks, and a place to park the van for the night. When we reconnected the group, Melisse and Bill had to hustle off to pick up Melisse's husband Dave, who was finishing up his radio show within the next ten minutes. The show is called Pot-Luck, and is tethered to no particular genre.

We parted ways, and planned to meet later on that evening. Both Tiffany and I were incredibly excited to have been invited over to someone's home, and I was particularly excited to meet someone who had a radio show (as the host of my own fake radio show), and was eager to speak with Bill about his work.

Dave, Big Dummy & Bill

When meeting new people on the road, you never know how a prolonged encounter will turn out. Will you run out of common interest? Will the host tire of your presence? Will you tire of theirs? Will you like them, or they you? It's a crap-shoot every time. Fortunately for us, Tiff and I tend to like just about everyone. We ended up liking Quito, Dave, Melisse and Bill more than most.

That first evening at their home, in front of which we parked our van for three nights, we bonded over music, food, wine, travel stories, art, and human compassion. We would spend the next two days in orbit around their home, sharing talks, meals, snacks, and a beautiful water taxi and lovely group hike. We would also end up taking a much needed yoga class from Melisse.

We took a water taxi to the Kachemak State Park for a beautiful hike with Melisse, Dave, Bill, and Quito. The walk took us through the forest, over a river via a hand-powered tram, and ultimately to a glacial lake. Pelé swam in the icy waters...I just submerged my head and torso. We all took turns in the lineup, chatting independently with one another. I highly recommend this hike and taxi to anyone. The water taxi captain took us by a rookery, where we saw an incredible variety of sea-birds, including several types of Gull, tons of Cormorants, and several Tufted Puffins! There were also well over a dozen sea otters, eating and playing with their young.

If you are wondering whether or not Tiffany and I realize how fortunate we are, rest assured, we are doing our best to recognize acknowledge our good luck as often as possible. We are also doing our best to spread this good fortune around through any act of kindness or generosity we can find.

Before we left the good company of Dave, Melisse, Bill, and Quito, we would record two podcasts, watch as Pelé and his new pal Quito warmed our hearts, and get to experience one of my favorite things – paying multiple visits to a quirky grocery store. We would also have gained new friends.

The podcast with Bill will be out soon, and the podcast with Dave and Melisse will follow immediately after.

Melise & Dave...Quito (presenting from the rear) is blending into the floor on the left.

Let me tell you about this grocery store. The Save-U-More in Homer is not a typical grocery. First of all, I should tell you that I am amazed by every grocery store I visit. The bright lights, the organization, the foods from around the world, the prepared meals, the age-range of the employees, the community gathering aspect of the store itself, the availability of everything from foreign wines to fruits and vegetables which would never have been there otherwise; all of it is incredible to me. I try to be aware of this modern-miracle every time I enter one; especially when I enter one in a place as remote as Homer, Alaska.

In a strong field of incredible stores, however, the Save-U-More in Homer is a stand-out. When you first enter, you are in a bit of a deli/restaurant area, serving fish and chips, giant plates of nachos, pizza, ice-cream, and various stoner foods, stopping just shy of giving patrons jars of peanut butter and spoons. The place is dimly lit, cinderblock-walled, and filled to the gills with various departments. There are tools and hardware items, a pet store, a liquor store, housewares, some limited clothing items, and isle after isle of foods from various regions of the world. There is a Russian and Bulgarian section, an Oriental foods section, Latin foods, middle-eastern foods, typical American items, organic, conventional, frozen, fresh, seafood, meats, a Trader Joe's end-cap, tons of items obviously purchased from Costco, and a crazy hodgepodge of mixed items from around the globe.

The whole place is teeming with locals, Russian orthodox families, a few tourists, and people clearly looking specifically for weird shit, for the sake of finding weird shit. We managed to visit this store almost every day while we were in town.

Before we left, we also had the opportunity to meet, in-person, someone, who has been sending us messages on Facebook and Instagram since we began our journey. Since having our trip exposed to the public via Dr. Chris Ryan's podcast, we have been in touch with people from all over the globe, wishing us well, or inviting us to meet with them. Our new pal, Tom who has a summer cabin in Homer, has been incredibly generous with information and even offered us the use of his cabin while he was away. Tom and his family made it to Homer on the last night of our visit, and we planned on meeting the following day before we left for Anchorage.

Tom's place is something special. Over a few decades, Tom has collected buoys from the Pacific ocean, the Kachemak Bay, and even the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and has brought them all to rest on the property, many dangle from tree-limbs, some are huge and on the ground, others have fallen, or are laying on the deck of his cabin. He lovingly calls his home Buoy-land and is rightfully proud of the home he built with his own hands.

Tom is a high energy, kind, playful, hardworking fella. His wife and Son were there as well, and were both, understandably, a bit more low energy than Tom; likely due to having traveled the day before from Utah to Anchorage, then driving from there to Homer. Tom's enthusiasm was apparently undimmed, as he was hard at work when we arrived, taming the quickly growing plants which were doing their best to overtake his yard. He greeted us and took us on a tour of the property that ended with a walk to a bench on a ridge, overlooking the bay below.

The proud owners of Buoy-Land

 

Homer is situated in between mountains, the Kachemak Bay, and another range of impressive mountains with glaciers grinding them down from the Harding Icefield above. On a clear day, Home is as beautiful as any place I've ever seen.

Homer, AK

The magic of being able to meet a guy like Tom, all through this crazy journey, the podcast and the objectively strange world of social media has not been lost on me. We are looking forward to spending more time with Tom in Utah.

Our time in this magical community was spent in awe of the people there, as much as the beauty surrounding them. I can only imagine that this community of people must be what makes the otherwise miserable weather conditions of the winter worth living through in between the pleasant months of spring summer and fall.

 

From Homer, we made our way north to Anchorage to meet a friend visiting from California. Our pal J.T. Flew in to meet us. J.T. Was one of several guests on the show before we left for our journey.

On the way to Anchorage, we were fortunate to be able to briefly catch up with our Brazilian friends, Marcos, Cristina, Kateno, and Teressa. Pelé continues to like those kids and patiently played a gentle game of fetch with them for over an hour.

Once in Anchorage, we scooped up J.T., and had a fantastic evening in a hostel with our friend from home. J.T. Had the foresight to rent a small apartment style room for us for the first night of his visit. The Bent Prop Inn is the place to be if you have to stay a night in Anchorage. Tiffany and I truly appreciated the gesture, and took advantage of being able to sit on a couch, and for me at least, being able to stand up straight while cooking breakfast.

We visited a bakery in town called the Fire Island Rustic Bake Shop. I highly recommend it, but more importantly, J.T. (a highly skilled and world-class baker, and head of bakery operations at a large bakery in Alameda, CA) also recommends it. We took a variety of fresh bread, and drove to an area called Hatcher pass to hike over the April Bowl.

Before reaching the trail-head, I stopped by the little Su river, stripped down to my undies, and jumped in the river. The cold, rushing water was better than the coffee I'd been drinking and readied me for our hike. The hike was above Hatcher Pass. It takes you straight up for about a mile of rolling tundra, overlooking valleys, mountains in the distance, beautiful alpine lakes and miles and miles of unpopulated landscape. We were accompanied throughout the hike by little ground squirrels, which drove Pelé completely wild. Every bit of his instinct is to give harmless chase to creatures like those.

J.T. surveys the landscape.

Pelé is almost always off-leash and has no real trouble with it (mostly). He is largely obedient, and will come to you when called (usually, unless he really doesn't want to...or just feels like sitting down, or staring at you, or wandering off in another direction altogether). In short, Pelé sticks with us on a trail, and doesn't get too far ahead of us, or fall too far behind. On the April Bowl hike, however, he had other plans.

Once we reached the summit, I had to piss. Tiffany and J.T. Didn't go all the way to the top originally, as they felt there wasn't much else to see. I turned my back on Pelé for about as long as it takes to empty a full adult male bladder, and turned around to find no trace of our pal Pelé.

The landscape around me at that moment was fairly stark. I was on the peak of a mountain, surrounded by moss, small flowers, rocks and boulders, and patches of snow. The same basic ingredients rolled and undulated down from where I was standing in all directions. I called out for Pelé and heard my voice blow away in the wind. I called again...and again...then a little louder. I waited, but that dog never came.

Tiffany came up the hill, and in a “helpful” tone said, “You lost the dog?”

We both began calling out for him. I knew he must have been chasing after those little squirrels, and gotten completely distracted by it. The chase, in his mind, was too good to pay attention to where his people were.

We both called out in increasingly desperate volumes for our little pal. I had visions of myself out there at midnight, calling for him, and visions of the horrible moment when I would have to eventually drive away from that mountain with a broken, guilty heart. “Pelé!!!” We called out, over and over again. In between the howling of the wind and the echo of my own voice, I strained my hearing for a sonic glimpse of the sound of his tags, jingling against his collar. I was clamoring down the side of the mountain in the direction I had last seen him and was pretty far down when I finally saw him.

Our crazy little friend had run down the entire side of the mountain, and was nearly at the tree line, still distractedly chasing after those little creatures. I actually started screaming. Finally, he saw me and ran up the hill towards me. When he finally made it back to my side, I could have cried. J.T. likened the experience to having once lost sight of his daughter at the tower of London on a busy day for about 45 minutes. I'm not sure if the love one has for a dog is equal to the love one has for a child, but I felt deep desperation, and a tremendous relief, the likes of which I would rather not experience.

Post Rescue!

After a fairly tense descent, we took the Hatcher Pass road over to the highway that leads to Denali national park, turning off to visit the town of Talkeetna. This little town, we liked right away.

For one, it is small, funky, and not overly full of tourists or RV's. There are, of course, lots of little gift shops, and tourist attraction places, but the town has a character of its own. Many of the workers are seasonal, but there is also a strong local vibe. We walked around, had a nice meal, bought an incredibly expensive joint from a dispensary, then made our way to a campground.

For the first time on this journey so far, we actually set up our tent, and prepared to sleep in it; leaving the van and our comfortable bed for our pal, J.T. to enjoy. In spite of going to bed a little high, I wasn't paranoid about my proximity to grizzly bears and slept like I deserved it.

The same was true the following night when we camped at a campground in Anchorage. However, the campground in Anchorage did not afford us the sleep of the just, as it was situated near the highway. Our site was also quite close to a couple of campers who were having a screaming match in the night. An early flight the next morning was to blame for the choice of campgrounds that evening.

Anchorage was not our favorite place. I couldn't quite get my finger on the pulse of the town. I also got the impression that if I did manage to find the pulse, I would need to immediately wash that finger. We did quite like that hostel though.

We had a blast with J.T., he is honest about everything, not shy, interested in just about everything, and as fun to be around on a road trip as he is sitting on a porch. I hope we see him again somewhere down south!

About 10 hours after J.T.'s visit, we met our friend Helena at the airport (our 3rdvisit to that airport). We met Helena in Baja about two years ago, as she was traveling solo, on her bicycle from Florida! Helena had a 6-hour layover on her way from Bristol Bay to Seattle. We timed our visit to Anchorage to see both her and J.T. .  We are so glad we did!

I very much wanted to have Helena as a guest, but she was suffering through the final stages of a cold and was not really in the mood for us to put a microphone in her face and pepper her with questions. So, we left the microphone out of the picture.

Helena has been living in Oaxaca, Mexico for the past year or so, working for a Spanish Language school. She was in Bristol Bay, working in the Salmon harvest as a quality control agent for a buyer. Her job on the boat was to keep an eye on the overall quality of the fish being dropped off by smaller fishing vessels, determine the grade of fish, and help the buyer determine what to pay per pound for the fish. She was also there to help guide the fishermen on how to better handle the fish, so as not to damage the future filets.

Her's was an ambitious position, for sure. Helena had never been on a salmon fishing boat.  She knew nothing about salmon fishing.  She learned about salmon quality on-the-fly.  She did all of this while living aboard a boat for nearly one month of her two month journey. Ambitious journeys are not new territory for Helena.

Helena, when we first met her, was in Baja, riding her bicycle. She had ridden that bicycle from Florida, alone. Helena's tools for measuring and carving out ambition are somewhat sharper than most.

We enjoyed a few hours in her sweet and funny company, returned her to the airport where we found her, then made our way to a Cabella's parking lot for a surprisingly good night's sleep.

The following day, we made the short drive to a little town on the Kenia Peninsula called, Hope, AK. Hope is basically adorable in every way. The buildings on the main street (which is dirt), are small, wooden, old and charming. The paint is chipping and curling in a charming way. The un-level and un-plumb windows and door frames are charming. The town even has an incredibly charming little disclaimer, pinned-up conspicuously by the public toilets, reminding any visitors who mat stop to read it, that the charming town in which they are standing is run entirely by volunteers.

Fortunately for this charming little slice of heaven, the river at the base was full of fish, which had attracted loads of anglers, eager to catch them. The bottom of town is basically a campsite for tents and RV's, opening up to a large grassy tidal flat, surrounded by Resurrection Bay and the mountains and glaciers which live there.

We took the Hope Point hike up to the top of a ridge, overlooking the town and the bay. The view was worth the climb and the 8 or so miles.

Back in town, we managed to strike up a conversation with a guy who was quite eager to check out our van.  This character was happy to sit with us for a bit, share some wine, and then offer us some recently caught fish!  His son-in-law had been pulling out salmon all day, and was kind enough to filet and package two beautiful fish for us, rith on the river.

We Thanked them with more wine, and parted ways for the evening.  Before even a sip of coffee had been poured the next morning, I got out the charcoal and the grill and got to work.  

As I lit the coals, another guy approached and struck up a conversation with me. This particular guy was from New Jersey, and was traveling through the state with his wife, son and daughter. The trip was centered around fishing adventures, and was a stand-in for his son's Bar Mitzfah. 


Tiffany and I had been watching this family the previous day, and noted that the young man in question spent hours and hours in the water, catching fish after fish. He was about as happy as a young guy could be.

The father asked if he could throw some of his fish on the grill after I was done cooking. I hate to waste coals, and was happy to share. We ended up spending the morning chatting about a variety of things; fishing, parenting, travel, latin America, New Jersey, and education.

We had a great time, and became fast friends, exactly the way it tends to happen in campgrounds. As the coals were dying, my new pal offered me some of his fish. I gladly accepted, and rigged up an impromptu smoker, using the low heat of the dying fire, several large sheets of aluminum foil, and some wood chips I chopped from some firewood to give the last two pieces of fish a slow smoked flavor. As you might expect, they were the best pieces of the day.

Over the next week, both Pelé and I would enjoy fish with every meal. What a great gift!
From Hope, we traveled north to Denali. On the way, we stopped off in a strange place called Whittier, AK. To get there, one must drive through a mountain. Under the mountain is more accurate. There is a crazy tunnel under the mountains which separate Prince William Sound from Resurrection Bay, and it is shared by vehicle traffic and a train line. All of this is managed by a series of cameras, a crew of dedicated civil servants, and a couple of enormous jet engines which do their best to push out the harmful vehicle emissions from the tunnel. Honestly, it feels like some sort of nightmare waiting to happen. 

Mercifully, on either side of the tunnel, beautiful scenery and strange characters await. We spent about fifteen minutes in Whittier, where the whole town lives in two buildings. We got an espresso and headed off to go hike up to a glacier.
The Portage Glacier is a thing of spectacular beauty. The hike up to it is also fantastic, and only a little challenging. We hiked, sat around by the glacier for a bit, and made it back down to the tunnel, just in time to drive through without waiting. As always, the key to not having to wait around on anything is to not be in any kind of hurry. 

Portage Glacier, Whittier, AK

From Whittier, we made our way far north.  Thanks to being dog owners, much of the National Park is off-limits to us, as dogs are not allowed anywhere other than the parking lot and a small trail adjacent to the road. We were not deterred and headed to see the mountain with clear skies and a few campground ideas in-tow.

On the way up there, we stopped and picked up a couple of hitchhikers who had just clearly finished a long hike. The couple was from Switzerland and were the same age as Tiffany and I. After Pelé greeted them with a little bark and growl, they settled in. We took them far beyond where we originally intended to stay for the night. We all ended up going to a grocery store, then we took them back to the park entrance, where we parted ways. Tiff and I were both so glad to have picked them up, and they thanked us with espresso and fantastic conversation. I was glad to have an opportunity to pick up a hitchhiker, as I am the sort who always wants to.

That evening, we camped just north of Denali and were incredibly fortunate to have a fantastic view of the mountain all night. We were in deep tundra, looking at the very spot where the North American plate just up into the landscape. There were miles of tundra, stretching out around us, large hills and mountains, and a small lake nearby. While making a fire and relaxing, we were greeted with another surprise visit.

A car came by, and two incredibly small women emerged. One of them immediately asked if I had seen her brother-in-law. The question didn't land well in my brain (stupid reefer). I had to ask her to repeat her question. She repeated it while looking over the tundra with a pair of binoculars that made her look even smaller than she was.

I grabbed our binoculars, got a description of her brother-in-law, climbed up to the top of the van, and spent the next several minutes looking for him. In the mean-time, the other of the two women (the wife of the missing fella), wandered off into the brush to look for her husband. The lady with the giant binoculars engaged with Tiffany and needed some assistance getting to a chair in the back of the vehicle. 

While Tiff was busy with the tiny lady, I asked if the tiny lady (Linda, as it happens) if she would like for me to call out for her brother-in-law. She told me his name and said, “Go for it.”

“Albert!” I yelled. “ALLLBERT!!!”. I was reminded of searching desperately for our little wandering friend, Pelé. I wondered if either of the women were feeling that desperation I had recently experienced. I asked how long he had been missing.

“Oh, he is just looking for berries, and we don't want him to have to walk back up the hill. He isn't lost...at least, I don't think he is.”

Of course, the moment a situation is no longer perceived as being desperate, it becomes much easier to solve. I spotted Albert almost immediately after that. I let Linda know I had spotted him, about 800 yards to my right, wearing the blue checkered shirt she described and carrying the little blue bucket. I watched him continue to pick berries for some time; oblivious to the fact that there was a half-hearted search party out looking for him.

Linda then began shouting, “MERT!!, MERT!!”

As it happens, Mert is Linda's sister. Mert was now fairly far afield and needed locating. Tiffany set out to find her, and I kept my eye out for Ablert. It took about an hour, but finally, everyone was reunited. As soon as Albert was wrangled to the car, he took off again, in search of berries which might be closer to the car's new location. 

Tiffany and I took the opportunity to chat with the two diminutive ladies, Mert and Linda. The ladies were Eskimo and told us stories about the village where they were raised (about 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle). They told us about dog sledding, hunting caribou with their mother, great fun in the bitter cold, and years of objectively terrible wok up in Prudhoe Bay.

They also mentioned a son and nephew who had been a champion in the Native games. We had never heard of the native games, but when Linda told me her son was one of the very best at the blanket toss, I got a clue as to what the native games were about. The games represent a competition to determine who is the best and strongest, to be sure. However, they also to create a rising tide to lift all of the boats, so to speak.

We had such a good time chatting with those ladies. They declined to join us by our fire, as they needed to set up their camp, and wait for Albert to come back with berries. I did manage to get this fantastic shot of Tiff with her new buddies.

Mert, Tiff, Linda

This journey is not an adventure, and it is not a vacation. This is something of a quest for kinship, friendship and a sense of purpose in existence. We have been incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to be right where we need to be to meet fun and interesting people. Not all of them make it on the podcast, but each of them informs how we are choosing to express our own humanity, and how we experience the wild world around us. 

Here is to friends, new, old, and yet to be made. Cheers to you, oh stranger, my future friend. May we meet again, and again.  Also, I sure hope it is all really happening.