Trippin’ Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 12a, August 1969
The train rolled through rugged wilderness that made the Colorado high-country seem tame. I gazed upon spectacular scenery: raging rivers, expansive forests, craggy boulders, and majestic peaks. Charlie Parker’s camp consisted of four small cabins spread over a few acres in an expansive valley—with Mount McKinley* as a backdrop. Now that’s a mountain!
A small creek weaved through the complex. Charlie’s tiny home was set back twenty feet from the tracks. I approached and knocked on the door.
“Come on in.”
“Hi, I’m Rich. I understand you have some work for me?” I held out my hand and received a sturdy grip.
“Yep, I was expecting you. Have a seat, young feller.” He motioned for me to sit next to him on his bed.
His cabin was compact, six by twelve feet divided into two parts. The smaller space near the door contained a firewood bin and a wheelchair. The main area held a single bed on the right, a wood stove opposite the head of the bed, and a shelf that served as a table along the left wall beyond the stove.
There were cabinets under and above the shelf and storage under the bed. A Coleman stove, lantern, and some other items lined the shelf within reach. I gathered from the wheelchair that Charlie was crippled. A phone hung on the wall. I found it curious that he had a phone but no regular electricity.
Charlie must have been in his late seventies, with gray wavy hair and a full beard. Wire Santa Claus spectacles sat on his round nose. He wore standard Alaska attire: flannel, denim, and boots.
“So you’re a carpenter?”
“Not by trade. But I can bang a nail if I need to.”
“Well, what I’ve got isn’t complicated. I have a cabin that I want you to add a room onto and a three-hole’er outhouse that needs finishing. I can pay you $300 if you want the job.”
“That would be great.” Three hundred dollars would be enough to get me home for sure. “So this is a gold mining camp, huh?”
“Yep. People been looking for the lost Chulitna Mine for over fifty years now. I found it, but I want to finish the camp before I bring in people to work the mine. That way we can focus on pulling out ore.”
“I don’t get around much on account of my arthritis. Otherwise, I’d be doing most of the work myself. Anyway, you can stay in cabin number one, over to the left, next to the creek.” He pointed through the wall in that direction. “If you look under the throw rug, you’ll see a square cutout. Pull it up and you’ll find the cooler hole stocked with food. Come on up and see me after you have breakfast tomorrow, and we’ll get you started.”
“Thanks, Charlie.” I shook his hand again, went outside, and walked to my cabin.
The walls, ceiling, and floor were all bare wood. Furnishings consisted of a wood stove for heating, a wood table, two wood chairs, and a handmade bunk bed. I noticed a Coleman stove and a kerosene lantern on the table. The cooler was no more than a hole under the floor with damp earth as its base. It contained a wood crate with paper-wrapped, thick caribou steaks, a monstrous block of butter, a package of bacon, and a dozen eggs.
On a shelf built into the wall, I found a can of coffee, a box of tea, a large tin of honey, salt and pepper, some canned peas, corn and beans, and a huge box of Saltine Crackers. There were also pans, a can opener, and a few mismatched pieces of silverware piled on two beat-up enamel plates.
The cabin was simple, comfortable, utilitarian, and well built. I’d have no trouble feeling at home here. I pulled my sleeping bag out of my duffel and arranged it on the lower bunk, carried my towel and soap dish outside, and washed up in the stream.
Famished, I fired up the Coleman stove and placed a caribou steak on to cook. On the other burner, I heated up a can of corn, then retrieved Charlie’s kibble and poured a portion in a bowl, adding a few small pieces of meat along with pan drippings.
“This is the life, Charlie. We’re a couple of lucky dogs!”
For dessert, I spread some butter and honey on Saltines. What a treat!
I lay awake for a while, haunted by the memory of Rosie. It seemed as if I was possessed—every time I closed my eyes, there she was, standing in that barn.
In the middle of the night, I heard noises and perhaps voices. Groggy and unsure if it was my imagination, I listened to the quiet that followed, rolled over, and fell back to sleep.
* * * * *
When morning came, I woke up refreshed and went to the creek to clean up. After splashing my face, I stepped back to grab my towel, but when I bent down to pick up my wire-rimmed glasses, I was in for a shock. One lens had a spider web of cracks.
“Shit! That’s just great, I stepped on them. I won’t be able to fix these before I return to the lower forty-eight. What a pisser!”
I slipped them on, and I could see, but there was a noticeable distraction obstructing my left eye.
After breakfast, I wandered up to Charlie’s cabin. He was on the porch in his wheelchair, pounding on his door-frame with a hammer.
“Where the hell were you last night?”
“Sleeping down in the cabin. Why?”
“A wounded grizzly crashed through my door. He was at the foot of my bed. I grabbed my flashlight and banged on the stovepipe with my cane—scared him enough to drive him away. You slept through all that?”
“I must have. Are you okay?” I couldn’t get over the thought of Charlie and a grizzly together in his tiny house.
He laughed. “Oh yeah. Takes more than that to get to old Charlie.”
“Can I help you with the repairs?” I asked, staring at two muddy paw prints at the top of his door. How big was that sucker?
“Nah. I’ve got this now. You ready to start working on cabin two?”
“What happened to your glasses?”
“Oh, I got stupid and stepped on them washing up in the creek this morning.”
“Too bad there. You’ll find a pallet and lumber lying next to the cabin. All the supplies you’ll need except for nails and tools—they’re over in cabin three.” He pointed over my shoulder. “Make sure you put them back at night. You need to attach the pallet to the back of the cabin as a foundation, then level it with dirt and rocks. There’s already a back door installed, so you don’t have to worry about that. Frame the walls and attach boards to them and the floor. Plywood and roofing are stored in the cabin itself.”
“Sounds pretty straightforward to me.”
I went over to cabin two and surveyed the job and materials. Then I went to cabin three and found a tool belt with a hammer, square, and a carpenter’s pencil. I loaded up with nails, grabbed a level and crosscut saw, then headed off to start.
As I passed near Charlie’s cabin, he shouted, “Hey, boy”—he signaled for me to come over—“you ever handled a shotgun?”
“Yeah. I used to hunt birds with my dad.”
“Here, take this gun. Keep it close to you at all times in case that crazy grizzly comes back. This doesn’t have any bird shot. It’s loaded with slugs. It’ll take down a bear from close range.”
I placed the gun under my arm and walked to cabin number two, prepared for battle.
*In 1975, Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America (elevation: 20,310 ft) was renamed Mt. Denali, meaning “the high one” in the language of the native Koyukon people.
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