Now, Then and Beyond - Cover

Now, Then and Beyond

Copyright© 2024 by Riding the Trail

Chapter 3

I guess you need to know a little about me. I just turned 18, a bit over 6’ about 180lbs. I’m thin but strong from working since I was about 12. Even before that I was always active running thru the woods where we lived, playing with friends and helping mom and dad. Oh Yeah, I’m Bill, never William! For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with Alaska. I read books and magazines, watched Wide World of Sports, and any nature show that came on tv. I worked mowing yards and just plain labor since I was 12 to get the money, I would need to get my start in life. My parents knew what I wanted and helped when they could. I never blew my money. I’d save for a while then spend it on a gun or saw, maybe a tent. I always had to keep enough back for gas and stuff to keep working.

I’d gotten an unbelievable deal on a truck and trailer. So, I left home with a little over $2,000.00 in cash and a cashier check for $5,500.00. In the truck I had a cooler full of food and boxes of long-term food packed away for when I got to Alaska. I had tools, tent, small wood stove, vent pipe, nails, all sorts of things I thought I would need to start my life. In my truck I took all the things that I thought were most important. Guns, title to the truck, birth certificate, then stuffed other things all around them. In the trailer I put tools and building things and anything having gas in them. All of it was inside a tarp, tied down and chain chokers with locks to keep it as safe as I could. Attached to the sides of the trailer were 3 spare tires. One thing everyone I had ever talked to who had been to Alaska said the roads were really bad and tires were hard to come by and costly. I had a Coleman stove and light for cooking in the truck so my plan was to stay in the truck and when I really needed to, stay a night at a campground so I could shower.

With a new speed limit of 55 mph, I figured 10 days to 2 weeks drive time. Once I got west of the Mississippi River, I was going to take my time to see the west for the first time. I promised my family I would take pictures and mail them some along with post cards. I figured I would just send rolls of film back. I had 2 cameras so one I would use just for them. I had put in a CB radio to help find speed traps, call for help if needed and just to help pass the time. I took 75 from Ocala Florida to Chattanooga, got on 24 to Nashville, where I hit 40. Just past Nashville I heard a trucker ask if anyone wanted a rider to Texas? He said the guy had been with him since Maryland and was a nice clean guy. So, we talked back and forth a bit and I said I would give it a shot, but I didn’t want a drinker or pot head, I was assured by the driver that I wouldn’t have a problem. So, we met at a truck stop in Dickson.

After meeting Tom, I figured he would be a good guy to ride with for a while so off we went. Tom was going home in Amarillo and knew his old car wouldn’t make it. He didn’t want to ride a bus so figured he would go to a truck stop and see if he could get a ride there. He offered to get us a room in Oklahoma, but I told him I didn’t want to leave the truck over night without me in it. So, we stopped at a campground, he slept on the front seat, and I slept in the camper. We both got showers, brushed our teeth and off we went. Tom paid for a bucket of Chicken, and we had plenty to eat. We talked a lot, me about Alaska and him about going home and he was never leaving for longer than a vacation. He just really didn’t like it in the north and wanted to be with people he could relate to. As we came into Texas, he had me stop and bought me a tank of gas, about 10 miles before Amarillo I pulled off 40 and got on a FM Rd and took him home. His family was great, and they fed us, and I spent the night at their house. A real bed felt good, and it was the first time I had ever seen a swamp cooler. It sure kept the place cool. His dad had already gotten him a job at Pantex, so he was happy. I think I made a friend for life even though we only spent a couple days together.

After about 2 hours and I came to Tucumcari, I got off there taking the back roads to Colorado. I saw green and then brown, flat land and mountains. It sure was something to look at, I’d never seen anything like it. Once in Colorado I saw snowcapped mountains. I took so many pictures for my family. I made it to Wyoming and headed west again. It was funny to me I was in Cheyenne and that was Laramie County and then finally made it to Laramie and I’m in a different county. I had to stop and see both places as I had seen so many westerns and both towns were always in them. I resisted a cowboy hat and didn’t get any boots either. I think I could have been happy living in either place. As soon as you left town you were alone, I liked that.

A few days later I was in Washington, I did go thru Yellowstone and that place will always be with me. I found a campground and decided to stay a few days to get some things done. I changed the oil and greased the truck. Then did a tune-up, rotated the tires and rested a bit. I bought some better clothes for the cold weather that I knew I would be facing. I had good coats and coveralls bought from the northerners in Florida. But socks, t-shirts, long johns and just plain old shirts are just made with thicker material here from what I could get in Florida. I had spent about $600.00 so far and figured to try and get some more food. Rice, beans, salt, canned stuff, things like that. I knew it would cost a lot more in Alaska.

I’m in Canada now, all I had to do was show my driver’s license and that I had enough money to get to Alaska. They never even looked at what I was bringing with me. Yes, the Al-Can highway is all everyone said it would be 2 flats, one fixable the other tire and rim both had to be thrown away. Canada was also the first place I had ever seen a moose. Elk, bear and pronghorn I saw on the way up.

Finally, Welcome to Alaska. I had decided that I would go to Anchorage instead of Fairbanks, I was wanting closer to the coast and a bit warmer than the interior. At this time 18 was old enough to drink, but I had never started and planned to keep it that way. Still, I figured if I stopped at a bar I could get a bit of info. I found one that served sandwiches along with drinks, so I ordered a burger and Pepsi. I did find where a storage area was and a few minutes after I ate, I looked at it and it would suit me just fine. It was a huge warehouse that let you rent by the week, month or year as much room as you wanted. I just wanted a place to keep my trailer and boat safe. The owner had a welding shop in a small part of the warehouse and the only access was 7:00 to 6:00 every day but Sunday. For $25.00 a week I had a safe place and for another $20.00 I could leave the truck, but I needed it, and it locked up easy enough. Temps were still pretty cool in the evenings, upper 30s to 40s. During the day 70 to 80s. Mike the warehouse owner told me about a guy who would let me rent a camping spot. For $5.00 a night I could pull up and sleep and use the outhouse, just no shower. The barber shop had a shower for $2.50 or a $1.50 if you got a haircut.

So, I was set to start looking for my piece of heaven I had always wanted. The Government was still letting you homestead, but not in the areas I wanted, mostly the interior and northern areas. I didn’t find much in the paper and all the realtors had were houses and cabins that were too high or in swamp areas. I wanted 10 or more acres on a river that went to a town, and I could get to the Gulf. I didn’t care if I could drive to it as long as I had easy water access. While I was at the laundry mat, I heard a radio station that was giving a list of bush properties. Once I heard their call sign I went to the pay phone, got the phone book and called them. They said for ten bucks they would give me a list of all the properties they had for the last 6 months. Including phone numbers and descriptions of where the properties were located. I picked up the list after I finished my laundry.

I went back to where I was camped, got the stove going and cooked a dinner of eggs, potatoes and bacon, it was easy and filling. It was 7:30 pm and bright sunshine, I had about 4 more hours of daylight. Soon it was stay daylight most of the time. One thing I was going to buy in bulk was bug spray. What I was doing since it wasn’t hot was open the camper shell and spray it with raid and close it up until I was ready for bed. Jump in, close it up and open the roof vent and I was comfortable.

I thought I had gotten a good deal at the radio station, not only a list, I also had a copy of a map with the locations of each property. Some of these I could afford, and some were crazy high. I could spend up to $3,000.00 and still have enough to live on for a year. I had bulk food for the year along with the spices I would need. I had no real meat, a couple of cans of ham, spam, potted meat, whole chicken and things like that. I also had 20 lbs. of grits for the year, figuring I wouldn’t find them here. I planned to harvest my meat and for the summer eat fish I caught and small game along with the stuff I’d brought.

Three days of using the radio and pay phone to get in touch with folks I’d about narrowed my search down to 2 properties. One close to Cordova I really liked, but closer to people than I really wanted and prone to flood. The other close to Tok. I hadn’t looked at it yet, but from what I was told it sounded good. While driving back to my camp spot I got a call on the CB from the radio station. Since they knew I was looking for remote property the manager Josh asked me to swing by as soon as I could. 30 minutes later I was again surprised by what I thought of as God looking out for me.

One of Josh’s friends, or at least someone he had known for 20 years off and on, had to go back to the lower states for medical reasons and had to go fast. He had 14 acres, a well put together one room cabin, an out building for storage, a cache and a covered shed for firewood. The only thing he was taking was personal things like photos, papers and guns. He sold his boat and motor, his new drift net and half his traps. Everything else was mine, wasn’t sure what everything else was. But the deal was if I could meet him in the morning at the court house he would sign everything over to me for $2,000.00. Josh told me if I didn’t like it, he could promise I could sell it for 3 times my money in just a few days. But Willie needed to get the money in the morning so he could get a plane out that afternoon. So, I agreed and had another night I just about couldn’t sleep.

I met Willie at 8:00 am and after talking we went over to the 1st national bank, I had put my money in. After talking to the Bank Manager because my check hadn’t had time to clear. He agreed to let me pull out enough to pay Willie and then told me he could do everything in the bank that would be done at the court house with the exception of registering the deed, but I could do that anytime. A handshake and a certified copy of the sale and I was done. The Banker was great, and Willie was happy. I drove him to the airport, and he told me he had cancer, but the doctor told him if he would go get it taken care of, he would be ok. His sister lived in Ga, so he was going to live with her. With his SS check and them living in their parents’ house that his sister had lived in her whole life they would make it just fine. He sold the place so cheap so he could leave now and also because it would take about a month to get everything put together for his surgery and he wanted to get it does as soon as he could.

I was so excited, I won’t tell you now all he had told me about the place. I’ll leave that for when I get there. I had a lot of things to do. The main thing was to find it! It was near Talkeetna on the Susitna River. Mike from the warehouse, told me about a friend of his that lived close by where I was going who might agree to keep my truck and trailer while I went to look at the place and Willie also gave me a name of one of his friends who he always used as his port of entry. I had to take the trailer as my boat was on it, yet I wouldn’t need to take all that many supplies. The place was only accessible by boat or plane in the summer and by sled in the winter. I unpacked a few things from the trailer I thought I would need, boat gas tanks and gas line, ax, 2 tarps, rope, shovel, things like that. From the truck I was going to take my 357 and shotgun for bear protection, a couple of fishing poles to feed me and for fun, sleeping bag, mattress and food. I also needed my stove, and a few pans so I could cook. I had decided since I would still have a lot in my trailer and truck to see Mike’s friend Frank and find out if I could leave it with him.

It was time to take off and get my first look at the place. Mike had given me really good directions to Franks and about 3 hours later I pulled up to Franks. Not only was he home his whole family was outside watching me pull up I got out and introduced myself and Frank introduced his wife Melody, his daughter about 6 or 7 Amy and his two sons Jeff about 12 and Joel about 16. They had known Willie and once or twice had done some work for him. Mike was also a welder and although as he said “small time”, he did a lot of work for people and knew most everyone for 50 miles. Which really was not all that many people. Frank was fine with me, leaving my stuff there for now. Joel said he would go with me if I wanted the company and show me right where I was going. After talking to his dad we came to an agreement, I would take Joel on as guide and during hunting season they could come there as a staging area for their hunt. The river was about 6 miles from Franks, so Joel grabbed the things he would need in an old army duffle bag, asked if I was bringing things to cook with and when I assured him, I was we were ready to go. Frank drove us to the river where we unloaded the boat and motor, and he was impressed with my motor holder. An hour later we were heading up river, Joel said it was about 3 to 4 hour run going up. We had a total of 16 gallons of fuel so we wouldn’t have any problem with getting there and back and along with my boat kit with extra pull rope, prop and cotter pins we should have all the bases covered.

Man was it pretty running up river, I felt like my head was on a swivel about an hour after we started we pulled up on a gravel bar in the middle of the river. I was so excited about getting started I forgot to pee. That was what the stop was for but while we were there, we rearranged some things so Joel could sit closer, and we could talk. It seems that Joel and his brother and sister were homed schooled, they had books sent to them and they did the work as fast as they wanted. Twice a year a teacher came to town for 2 weeks and everyone had to take the test they were ready for get any instruction that might be needed. He said his mom and dad helped them when they needed it, so he would be graduating that winter right after he turned 17. He always helped his dad at the shop when he needed it, but his goal was to be a hunting and fishing guide. He couldn’t even help guide till he was 18 but he knew lots of places to hunt and fish. What he planned to do while I was looking over everything was to scout out where he wanted to hunt this winter and find a few fishing holes. I told him to enjoy, and I thought 2 or 3 days would give me enough time to see all I needed as I had a lot to do before winter.

We rounded a bend in the river and Joel pointed to the west side of the river and I could see some kind of contraption on the bank and a sandy spot to pull the boat up. Joel said to unlock the motor, gas it and drive right up the bank. I did alright for the 1st time and got about half the boat on shore. I raised the motor while Joel was getting out and then together, we pulled it all the way out. Joel said to never leave the boat in the river if I could help it due to all the trees floating down. The contraption I saw was a salmon catcher. It had big arms with nets stretched across and looked a lot like a paddle on a paddle boat. The net had some holes in it, but to me it looked solid. There was a trail leading thru the woods so we took that up and first thing I saw was the cache about 16’ in the air with sheet metal running about 8’ up the legs just past that was a building about 8’x12’ with metal roof and closed extra-large door and no windows that I could see. Looked pretty good to me but I would check it out later. Off to the right I saw an outhouse. Then the cabin, it looked to be about 12’x40’ I saw a front door and two shutters on the 40’ side and on the 12’ side I could see a shutter. After looking around the house I saw one shutter on each wall and two stove pipes coming out of the roof, both with guy wires. I didn’t see Joel anywhere, I just kept looking around and about 20’ from the cabin was the wood shed, it too was about 8’x12’ with walls going up about 4’ and a steep metal roof. It was about half full and I had several logs stacked close by. From a walk around I could see traps hanging from the side of the 1st shed I had seen at least 50. I decided to look in the shed and when I tried to opened the door I couldn’t, looking around I saw a piece of rope hanging across a rafter but coming from inside. I pulled it and the door cracked open a bit. Some sort of locking device, I’d find out later why it was there. The 1st thing I saw was a covered 3 wheeler or something. I lifted the cover, and it was a snow machine of some sort. I’m a Florida boy and didn’t know anything about them. There was also some sort of sled propped against the wall. I found an old Generac generator, a tool rack full of all sorts of hand tools, a 25-30 gallon metal barrel about half full of gas. Some fishnets hanging on the side wall, a few fishing poles, several tackle boxes. There were also some pulleys, bottle jacks, come a longs and a big spool of brass wire. The open rafters had had some boards and poles in them. I had really come out of this deal smelling good.

Now for the house. It had a padlock on the door, but I had the key, it also had a rope pulled lever for inside. I opened the door and found a franklin stove and then saw a real wood cooking stove. I saw cookware hanging from the wall and a couple shelves with plates and cups. On one wall I saw a full bed, a real one with what looked like a handmade quilt on it. Sort of placed around the franklin stove was a couple of chairs and a small couch. Back against the kitchen area was a small table and two chairs. Hanging on a spike near the table was a large metal wash bucket. It was just unbelievable all that I got, yep God was looking out for me!

The place looked really tight and well made. I had figured with the little money I had to spend I would either get bare land and have to clear and build a small cabin. Maybe find a rundown place and do lots of work to get me thru the winter. What I got was a place I could live in for years with just normal maintenance. I could have family come and stay with me, it was just unbelievable to me.

I was a lot taller than Willie, so most of the clothes I was going to give away. I was going to keep the waders, a couple of coats for others to use and some of the hats, gloves and boggins. Joel came up and asked if I liked the place, it’s more than I could ever imagine. No one other than Josh, the Banker and Willie knew what I paid for the place. Joel was concerned I might be having second thought or disappointed in it. I told him it was just what I wanted, and I was so happy I was just going to enjoy myself the rest of the day and tomorrow. Explore a little and fish some. Joel said he was going fishing for a while. I told him to have fun and bring something back and I would fry it up. We unloaded the boat and Joel went fishing I took pictures to mail to my family and walked around to see what else I could find out about the place. About 200 yards from the cabin, I found a 55 gallon drum with a ring top, it was strapped to a tree. I opened it up and inside in a real thick bag liner was some rice, beans, pots, pans, matches, blankets, knife and a 12 ga single shot, taken apart. With the gun was a box of 5 slugs, a box of 20 mixed buckshot and birdshot. I guess this was for fire or some other type of emergency. I put everything back and closed up the drum. Off I went looking around again. About 15 minutes of walking, I came to a clearing that was very wet solid green and only a few knee high bushes. I could see a cow moose not too far away, so I decided just to head back towards the cabin. Altogether I had been gone for about 2 hours and was getting really hungry. I was thinking of fried taters with onions, bacon and fritters. Joel had made it back and was grinning really big. He had caught 5 nice trout, he already had them gutted and held them in front of him.

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