Trippin’ Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 10, August 1969
After waiting impatiently at the Anchorage airport, Charlie arrived in her crate. She was glad to see me, but, as I expected—boy was she ever pissed! She always scolded me when I left her for any period of time but this was something else. My canine friend started to whine and bark, weaving back and forth at my feet.
Before she created too much of a disturbance, “This way, Charlie,” I called as I sprinted towards the terminal doors, knowing she wouldn’t carry on while running. Once outside, she went back to her ranting and raving for several minutes. When she calmed down, I told her to relieve herself, then stored the dog crate at the airport for a monthly fee of five bucks.
Outside, Albert and I found a convenient spot to raise our thumbs.
It took two rides and twice as many hours to cover the 150 miles to the end of the paved road. The bartender at the Fairview Inn in Talkeetna told us, “The train will stop here next to the inn in about two hours. You must be going to see Marvin. Chase is only a remote phone booth for the railroad, about ten miles up the line. There’s a trail there to Marvin and Nina’s cabin.”
Starved, after not eating since our flight, we walked to a metal Quonset hut with a crude “RESTAURANT” sign tacked on the door. The eatery was empty except for the waitress. After studying the menu, we ordered cheeseburgers. I had brought limited funds because I wanted to earn my way home. “Three-and-a-half bucks!” I complained to Albert. “The food’s really expensive up here. I’ve never paid over 49¢ for a burger.”
“Three fifty? That's a small fortune.”
“I hope we won’t starve.”
The waitress overheard our conversation and said, “No need to worry. No one around here is going to let you starve.”
Her words made me feel better and the burger turned out to be delicious.
We were sitting outside the inn when the train pulled into town. It consisted of a boxy black engine, several passenger cars, an open boxcar, and a caboose. The conductor motioned for us to come up the steps of the boxcar. Once we were on the train, he told us, “Your dog will have to stay in the baggage car. You can tie her to one of those straps over there. Where are you gents heading?”
Albert said, “We need to go to Chase.”
“That’ll be our first stop. Just come back here when we slow down.”
“Charlie, you stay here. I’ll be back in a little while.” I patted her on the head, thanked the conductor, and walked to the adjoining passenger car.
The train departed, and ten minutes later it began slowing down. In the baggage car, the conductor was on the phone with the engineer, telling him where to stop. And standing there was Marvin—as if he knew we were coming. Damn! We can’t do our harmonica “Hog Fence” sneak-up.
Actually, he was waiting for a delivery of roofing paper and shingle material. The conductor slid twelve rolls over to the edge as Marvin tossed them onto the ground.
“Hey, Marvin. How you doing, man?” Albert called out.
Marvin’s face lit up with surprise. “What the shit are you butt-heads doing up here?”
I told him, “We heard some wacko was building a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Him being slightly deranged, we thought we should come up here and help.”
I’d already freed Charlie, so we stepped down from the train and helped Marvin stack the rolls back from the tracks. He threw a roll over each shoulder and said, “Grab one. We can get the rest tomorrow.”
We followed him down a rough trail for about a half-mile to a lake. He held up his left hand with pride. A third of his little finger was missing. “My dog, Pee, got in a fight with a mutt that was half-wolf. I tried to break them up and got my pinky bit off.”
Albert said, “Shit, that must have hurt.”
“Not as much as you’d think. Now it’s a little sensitive to the cold. I want to trap a mole and make a moleskin coat for it.”
We hiked along the shore of the lake to a tall A-frame log house with plywood sheets on the roof.
“Hi, Albert. What a surprise! Guess you got my letter.” She gave him a hug, then moved on to me. Charlie and their German Sheppard, Pee, were refreshing their relationship.
I looked at the cabin. “Wow, this is some house!”
“Come on in. Let me show you around,” Nina said, sharing her pride.
I could see the foundation was made of long logs on tree stumps cut a few feet above the ground. We stepped up through the door-frame onto a wood plank floor. The floor was about eighteen feet wide and thirty feet long. But the apex of the plywood roof was at least thirty feet above.
I looked up in disbelief. “It’s so tall!”
“Yeah,” Marvin said. “I drew the plans on a newspaper when I was drunk as a skunk at the inn. Someday I’ll put a loft way up there.”
“Well, you won’t have to worry about snow piling up. It’s really steep.”
“Yeah, that’s a plus. We’ll get plenty of snow here in the winter. Come on. Let’s go to our temporary living shelter.”
A short distance away, we came to a wood frame covered with heavy clear plastic. We ducked inside the tiny space, which housed a small wood stove in one corner—and just enough floor-space for all of us to sleep. Nina cooked rice and beans, and we sat around jawing until the sun went down. I hadn’t slept in two days, so it didn’t take long to enter dreamland.
* * * * *
The next morning I used the outhouse, which lacked a door. Instead, it offered a magnificent view of the woods, including a thick stand of vivid red, yellow, and orange foliage that Marvin called fire-weed. I had to admit, it was the most scenic dump I ever took.
After breakfast, we hiked to the tracks and carried the roofing materials back to the cabin. It took two trips, and afterward, Marvin declared it enough work for one day. So we goofed off by the lake.
“I love this place,” said Marvin. “I feel so free up here. Nobody’s around to bug me. If I want to see people, I just flag down the train and I’m in Talkeetna. My truck’s there, and it’s only a few hours to Anchorage if I need any big city stuff.
“The people up here are really cool too. Most feel like me. They don’t want to be fucked with. They just want to be free. And people help each other. I’ve never been treated so well. It’s really cool.”
Marvin swatted at a pesky fly and continued, “I think they learned it from the Eskimos. Hell, they always took care of a visitor. If you came to an Eskimo’s home, he not only shared his food and offered you a bed to sleep on, but also gave you his wife to sleep with for the night. Isn’t that neat? That’s the way it should be! It would be great if everybody was like that.”
“Sounds pretty good to me,” I had to admit—as long as it was cool with the wife!
The next day we took turns nailing roofing paper on the cabin. There were only two hammers, but we kept busy. A rope was anchored to a tree on the opposite side of the building and then strung over the house around one person’s waist. It was the only way we could work on the steep roof. A second person would work the rope, giving slack when needed, while the third worker nailed lower parts of the roof. We’d switch off from time to time, and we managed to complete the task by dinner time.
A rest day followed, and Marvin and I canoed on the lake. It was larger than I’d thought, beautiful, and serene. The surface was smooth as glass, reflecting forest and fire-weed. A pair of loons swam alongside us. Marvin said, “We named the lake ‘Our Lake.’ These loons have been here all summer. You’ll probably hear their call before you leave. It’s something else.”
Later that evening, I stepped away from the house to take a long piss, during which I heard the vibrating call of the loon.
The high-pitched, penetrating sound coupled with the cool forest air left me grateful to be alive.
To be continued ...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
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If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns