Alaska and Back for 500 Bucks

by Julie

My roommate Crissy and I drove to Alaska in 1993. We lived in Youngstown, Ohio and started our trip in June. We were driving in my Toyota Tercel. We each had $500.00 to get us there and back. That money had to buy us food, gas and any other supplies that we needed. In order to do this, we decided to only go out to eat once during the entire trip. No fast food, no restaurants, just food from the grocery store. We also tried to camp for free as often as possible.

One time, I believe this was in Wyoming, we set up our tent under an overpass. Just as I was drifting off to sleep Crissy heard some men driving around in their pickup truck yelling something like yeeha. She was convinced they were gonna mess with us, she may have been right, but I was so tired I didn't much care. She was worried so we packed up our stuff and drove off to find a new spot. She drove and found what she thought was a visitor center. We didn't even bother to set up the tent, it was late and were both tired. We just dropped our sleeping bags on the grass and crawled in. We awoke to the realization that we were sleeping on the front lawn of a veterinarian office. We were in some small town and I was sure we were soon to be arrested for loitering or public sleeping. Luckily we woke up early enough to boogie out of there before anyone noticed. Crissy later announced that she was wearing a pair of glasses that she found on the beach, so visitor center/veterinarian office it's all the same to her.

My car had 120,000 miles on it and our friends were taking bets as to what state it would break down in. Whoever said Montana won. I had AAA so I flagged someone down and they called for me. This was before everyone and their 12-year-old had cell phones. I miss those days. So we ride up front as the tow truck guy takes us to the closest town, which I believe was Missoula. I asked the guy to drop me off at a cheap place and then proceeded to get into a religious debate/argument with him. Crissy did not think this was wise. She was right because he dropped us off at a dumpy looking house, it made me nervous because it was in a sketchy part of town. Before he unhooked the chains I asked him to take me to a place that accepted credit cards, he totally ignored me, unhooked the chains and took off. We were left in the driveway of a mechanic's house. He lived there with his wife and two grown sons. I asked him if we could sleep in our car in his driveway, (since we did not budget money for a motel) he said ok and we headed off to the nearest bar. We had a few beers and walked back to our car to sleep. As soon as I settled into my seat I told Crissy that I really had to pee but I didn't want to pee in their driveway. Crissy said, well if you have to go, what else are you gonna do? So I stepped out of the car, peed and was in the process of pulling up my pants when a flash light shined on me and the mechanic (he was standing 10 feet away from me) and said "just wanted to make sure you got back OK". It freaked me out a bit, but the next day he fixed my car and I paid his son, who they kept in the back "where the mushrooms grow". A nice family, rather strange, I have photos of them but I'm not sure legally if I can post them.

I am a big fan of bears and I was looking forward to seeing some on our trip. As we were driving up the Alcan Highway I saw two bears along the road. As we were driving towards them, they ran into the woods. I stopped the car and got out to try to get a picture of them. One bear started running back towards the road, he was on the other side of the road (a two lane road). I froze and time seemed to slow down, just then an RV started driving up the road, I swear that bear looked at me, looked at the RV and then back to me as if to say "you're lucky". The bear walked back into the woods. The RV stopped and asked what I was looking at, I almost crawled into their front seat as I was telling them to stay in the car. Crissy was ready to kill me, to say the least, if the RV didn't show up that other bear may have gotten her as the first one was tearing me up. One of the many bad moves I made on the trip. I did get a few pictures of the bear and legally I feel safe to post them. If you look closely at the last picture you can see the bear on the other side of the street, looking at that RV.

We enjoyed some beautiful scenery as we continued up the Alcan. When we reached Alaska Crissy was tired so she stayed at the campsite while I hung out in town. I was looking at those 3D posters, remember those? You had to look at them and screw up your eyes until you saw an image appear, they were cool. Anyway, while I was standing there looking at them I started BSing with this couple. They saw my dusty car and asked if I just drove up the Alcan (certain sections were dirt and gravel) and I said yes. They asked where I was staying and I told them where, it was a campsite, I don't remember which one. I asked if they were locals and they were, so we continued to look at the posters then I returned to the campsite.

Crissy and I were chillin' at the campsite when I heard someone calling out my name. I looked up and the couple that I had met while looking at the posters was sitting in their car in front of our tent. They wanted to take us to dinner. We said yes and headed off to eat with these strangers. I'm not 100%, but I believe we rode with them in their car. We arrived at the restaurant and their son and daughter's ex-best friend joined us. Apparently they were not talking to their daughter because she was dating someone they didn't approve of. It was an odd dinner and then we went back to their house. They had these dogs running around and one of them had some blood on its tail and when he wagged his tail he would smear blood all over the wall. They were a fan of this artist that painted hidden images in her art. They showed us several of her paintings and pointed out the hidden images, they were mostly nature scenes. Then they brought over one painting and asked if we saw a nativity scene in the tree, I could not see it, they kept insisting it was there even though the artist herself said it was not. They badgered us until finally Crissy said she saw it. I later told Crissy I can't believe she said she saw it, she said she feared for her life. She was probably right, these are the type of people that likely have someone tied up in their basement. So, they drove us home (to the campsite) and we said goodbye. They were rather odd and we weren't sure if they were the murdering type, but I do regret that we didn't take up the ex- best friend's offer to drive us to Fairbanks and back. I would like to go there one day and see Denali National Park.

At one point during our drive up the Alcan Crissy and I both had to go to the bathroom. We were both trying to hold out until we came upon flushing toilets, Crissy couldn't wait any longer so we stopped at a rest stop. They had a very rustic looking outhouse. Crissy was in there for a bit and when she returned to the car I asked her how it was and she wouldn't talk about it. About ten minutes later we came across a gas station/convenience store. I went to the bathroom and I remember teasing Crissy about how clean it was and there was warm water to wash your hands, soap etc. I'm sure most people won't find this terribly amusing, but it really was, maybe if you saw the outhouse you would appreciate it more, plus Crissy is not the outdoor type.

Ok, probably shouldn't tell this incident, but I will. So Crissy was driving and her and I were fighting in the car and we're approaching a border crossing (I believe into to Canada) and she just drove right past the check point. She pulled into the parking lot near the bathrooms and a Canadian police officer ran up to our car and was yelling something like "what the hell are you doing, you could be fined $5,000.00..etc.." At this point I think we were both crying, probably me being a jackass was the cause, Crissy is pretty mellow. Anyway, he was cool and we talked to him and then were on our way. We were lucky I think, especially now after 911, I think it would have played out much differently.

We had fun and I have a few more stories from the trip, but I'm tiring out here.

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