Sample Chapter from Johnny's book


About half way to Anchorage we came across the magnificent sight of Mount McKinley. This spectacular mountain range has an outstretched peak captivating more than what words can say. I was dumbfounded as I looked at this wonderful creation. Its length seemed eternal. The white covered rock faces that were thousands upon thousands of feet in height were bewildering. The sun’s reflection only added to the brilliance of this amazing sight. This was by far the most beautiful mountain range that I’d ever seen. Carloads of admirers had pulled over along the roadside to take pictures and we did the same.

The sight of the countless motor homes wasn’t something that I gave much thought to at first. But the further south we traveled the more obvious it became that their volume was out of control. They were everywhere and it soon became apparent that these RV’s were one out of every three vehicles that we saw. I have no idea why there were so many, but I asked myself one question. Was there some secret here that the rest of us didn’t know about? These recreational vehicles cost a bomb to buy, so where was all this money coming from?

Further on was the Alaska Range and once again we came across an incredible view of an outstretched peak of mountains. Between them and us was yet another airfield. As minor as it was, there stood the most privately owned planes that I’d ever seen. There were hundreds upon hundreds of them scattered all over a landing field. It was clear that the puddle jumpers were a necessity for transportation in this vast domain.

Three hundred and sixty miles later we arrived at Anchorage. As we entered the city limits the traffic got much heavier. Some mountains surrounded this suburban landscape and it reminded me of Calgary. Surprisingly gasoline was down to $1.05 a gallon here. I was convinced that it would be way more expensive once I reached Alaska because it was so far away.

After filling up, Ken decided to travel as far south as he could. He said that there was loads of fishing going on down there and it would be a good place to start. I decided to continue on with Ken and explore this city upon my return.

Just like the previous evening, by 10:30 p.m. it was still quite light outside. Driving through the southern outskirts of the metropolis, we came across a mountain that speared straight up from the center of an undisturbed and quiet lake. It was right beside the highway. I’ve come across very few mountains like this that have such direct and even sides. To me this was just another glorious gift which Alaska had to offer.

As we drove further on, the sun started to set behind some mountains. Above, the sky transformed into a reddish glow and it was postcard quality. At the base of the mountain that I just mentioned, there was a railroad track that curved around the waters edge.

From this point on, fisherman were standing around the rim of any body of water that we came across. It was definitely that time of year. The king salmon fishing frenzy had already begun.

Ken was saying that in Alaska if you earn under $5,600 a year then a fishing license is only twenty-five cents. He also told me an odd fishing story. It was kind of gross but focused on the will to live. A few years before, he’d been fishing with five friends and they caught a two hundred and fifty pound fish. It took them so long to reel the thing in that when they finally managed to get it into the boat, it still continued to struggle. After stabbing it continually it still wouldn’t die. Eventually they had to shoot it three times to put it out of its misery. Now that’s what I call determination!

The day finally got dark around midnight, but even then it was more like an early morning sunrise. When we got to Seward, the world’s capital for king salmon fishing, it looked like there were more fishermen than other people around. The crammed docks held more masts than I could ever consider counting. But aside this it seemed to be a peaceful hamlet. Personally though, except for throwing a line into the water, I felt that the town’s activities would bore me.

Seward was definitely bigger than what either of us had anticipated. There were also a lot of cop cars around when we arrived and they lit up the night air with their flashing lights. I was surprised to see quite a few twenty-four hour grocery stores and all night gas stations as well.

We cruised around until we found a place to stop beside a boat dock. People were everywhere and there was no getting away from it. But as noisy as it was I somehow slept!

It was a dog’s bark that woke me the following morning and once again I was confused by time. I was convinced it was around 7:00 a.m. when in all actuality it was 10:15. Ken was still sleeping so I used the time to catch up on my journal. Then I left to clean myself up in a nearby Texaco washroom; which of all things had a dollar change machine inside.

Ken wanted to head further west because there were far too many people where we were. The drive was slow because the road was loose gravel. Along the way we saw some more fishermen and I had a feeling that Ken would stop. But to my surprise he continued on. We passed some old wooden homes at one point that were on stilts and each one varied in design. I wondered how often they were occupied because most of them looked empty. We also saw a waterfall that charged down beside the roadside. It’s force was something to be reckoned with.

Ken said that he bought his van just three weeks before and he’d already put over 11,000 miles on it. When I did some calculations I told him that I’d hitchhiked about a third of that distance during the same time period.

We stopped again at another river, to fill up our water bottles. After this we had a bite to eat before heading back to Seward again. Ken wanted to see the town of Homer next. I was most grateful because I was witnessing so much of Alaska, in comfort.

To reach Homer to the west we had to first head east to Seward and then travel north on Highway 9 again. A few miles along this thoroughfare we took a road that went west. Eventually this veered south to Homer. Along the way we stopped at Captain Cook State Park with the intentions of eating a nice snack. But before we could do anything, the mosquitoes proved to be the dominant predators once again. We were literally dive bombed with any attempt at leaving the van. It was ridiculous, so we gave up and ate inside instead.

At Homer, the main activity of town seemed to be focused around a cement road that went out and also ended at sea. On either side of it was a beach, to which caravans, motor homes and people, had engulfed. There were far too many of each, which to me contradicted the whole idea of a vacation. One sight that amused me immensely because of how stupid it looked was a small caravan. It had a radar dish on top which was bigger than the home itself.

In the distance was a row of snow peaked mountains and the peninsula was known as the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. It was a gorgeous sight.

Homer, like I’ve already said was really busy and there was literally no place whatsoever where one could get any kind of personal space. After searching around for a quieter place to sleep, we eventually settled on a parking lot. At 10:40 p.m. we finally laid down and got some rest.

The next morning we drove out to an area called Kachemak which was in the northeastern part of town. A few farms were connected by some dirt roads here and if I had to describe how I felt as we drove around, I’d say there was a hillbilly feel to it. The buildings were odd caravan/home combinations and it just looked weird.

After driving around for a while we returned to the cement road that went out to sea. We decided to take a walk along it, but the whole scene was nothing but a madhouse. There were far too many people crammed into an area that was way too small to accommodate them. That’s about the best way that I can describe it.

When we reached the end, we came across one lone structure. Upon its door flapped a ferry time table and beside it, a sign read, “Booked up for Kodiak Island for another week.” In addition to the building, was a temporary steel container, which displayed the single word, “Exxon.” Its presence was due to a disastrous oil spill in nearby waters. The company, whose oil loss in the Gulf of Alaska was heard about all over the world, still had a lot of cleaning up to do.

The story behind this mess goes something like this; shortly after midnight on Friday, March 24th, 1989 the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef in The Prince William Sound in Alaska. The ship was ripped open and unfortunately this resulted in the largest oil spill in the United States history. Within hours, over ten million gallons of Alaska North Slope crude oil was dispersed into one of the most bountiful and diverse ecosystems in the world. In the weeks that followed, storm winds and ocean currents broadcast the oil out of the sound, oiling over one and a half thousand miles of beaches from the site of the wreck westward to the Alaska Peninsula.

Sadly scores of wildlife populations were covered with deadly petroleum and they were exposed to its toxins. Bird mortalities due to the spill totaled over half a million, affecting almost ninety avian species. Those spending much of their time on the water’s surface were most vulnerable, particularly seabirds like the common murre. The marbled murrelet was another open-water foraging bird that became a victim of the spill. As many as 12,000 of them died. If this wasn’t bad enough more than 150 bald eagles also perished in this tragedy. They encountered floating oil while preying on fish and they consumed the oil-contaminated carcasses.

At least four and a half thousand sea otters died within the contaminated waters. The oil slicks that spread from the spill blackened many prime haul outs for hundreds of harbor seals as well, just as the pupping season approached. So as you can see this was a complete and utter disaster.


Click below to see:-