June 2, 2016, southern California desert
Haven't written in a while. There's been a lot to digest. After leaving LA, I headed east out into the desert. I wanted to visit what's been called "the last free place on earth." Originally, I was considering heading to some BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) because I've been told that you can camp there for free which sounds a little too good to be true, but even if it was true driving out to the middle of nowhere and spending a lot of time by myself while working on my trailer didn't seem like the best thing for me, right now, which is why driving out to the middle of nowhere where there's a lot of people living seemed very intriguing.
It's somewhat of a secret place. There have been a few articles written about it and it's appeared in a few movies, but regardless, I'm still not going to mention the name. One of the major problems, if not the number one problem, on the planet is that there are too many people. I don't know why this never gets talked about or why more people don't realize it, but it's true. There's simply too many of us consuming the planet's resources and making a mess of things. 100 people can only do so much damage to an area. 100 million can obliterate it. It's that simple. So ya, I'm not going to contribute to ruining whatever special places there might be left if I can help it.
I arrived here in the late afternoon last Thursday. Once I decided to check this place out anticipation began to build up in my head over the last couple weeks added to being eager to get here before the summer temperatures arrived. I had no idea what to expect. Well, considering all the traveling I've done and places I've been especially considering my interest in alternative living and places off the beaten path, I guess I did have somewhat of an idea of what to expect, but there's one thing life has taught me. You never know until you get there. Whether or not I had a good idea, passing the sign on the dirt road as I drove onto the land was a little intense. Trying to describe it on a literal level seems petty and neurotic, but I'll try.
It's the desert. Hot, dry and fairly flat. A distant mountain range fences the horizon. A large acidic lake can be seen in the distance. I toured the area. It was like driving through a junkyard that people in old campers, buses and rv's have made a home in. I'm told in the cooler winter months thousands of people live here, but, now, only about 200, but that's a guess. There's no electricity, no water and no laws. I suspect in the past this would be less of an issue for me when I traveled with just a backpack that I could hide anywhere I wanted, but traveling as comfortably as I do, now, (it's all relative) the high possibility of theft makes me apprehensive to leave any of my things unattended for very long. As I type I can literally here bombs that shake the ground going off in the distance. There's a military training base a few miles across the scorching sand from here. Contributing to the reason along with a number of other reasons why people here are left alone and "normal" tax, rent and mortgage paying Americans who do know that this place exists don't really care that a person can live here for free because it basically comes down to a general consensus that no one in their right mind would want to.
When it was all said and done, I picked a highly visible spot loosely between two other "sites" on the south eastern perimeter of the settlement, one a couple hundred 100ft to my left and the other a few hundred yards to my right, with endless desert everywhere I looked which will make for very nice sunsets. After I parked in the soft sand, which I almost got stuck in, a four-wheeler wizzed by in the wash below that surrounded the area and the driver and passenger seemed intent on what I was doing. I pulled out the motorcycle and unhooked the trailer when the sound of a four-wheeler, again, caught my attention and I scanned the desert to see where it was coming from. Behind a small group of bushes, I could see a shirtless man sitting on an idling atv looking in my direction. I made no secret of the fact that I saw him, too, and stopped what I was doing staring right at him. I could see that this made him uncomfortable. He rolled slowly out from behind the bushes trying to play off like he wasn't watching me, but he knew that I had caught him so, now, he had to decide what he was going to do. Slowly, stopping every ten feet to reconsider, he approached. I stood there with my arms crossed as if to say "Here I am." He stopped about 100ft from me and looked back in the direction of an assortment of old campers and run down RVs that scattered the area behind him and raised his arm which was holding a beer as if to motion to someone watching him, but I knew this was a bluff. There was no one watching him. He just wanted me to think there was. If anyone was watching him, he never would have been hiding nor would he have wrestled with the idea of coming over once I saw him. He would have just come straight towards me.
By the time we were done, though he did manage to cram people dying, theft and trouble with the law into a very short conversation, we were buddies and I gave him and my neighbor to my left a cold beer. I even offered to help him move a big camper that "his best friend" lived in until last week before passing away over to his area so he could go through it. I later decided to not get involved with this project having a suspicion that this wasn't the whole story and I didn't want my truck being associated with whatever the real story was. This kind of interaction was about the extent of my social contact here even after going to see some live music at the open mic that happens here every Saturday night on a large outdoor stage so by Sunday I was preparing to hit the road. It was still a worthwhile visit. I got a few projects done, practiced my guitar and more than anything I got to take a break from the road and just relax for a few days even if my surroundings were a little unnerving at times. Freedom is a very valuable commodity to me and I'd rather be free in a junkyard than trapped in the machine. And, it's not that bad. Some of the places were tidy and others were creative. There was a hostel, a library and even a Christian center which I visited on Sunday, but there was no service or pastor just on old marine who isn't afraid to throw down to protect his things. Though I can hold my own in unusual situations just fine and I know ways to make the 105 degree (and climbing) heat more manageable, I think the combination of the two was what tipped the scales in favor of moving on.
Then something I only secretly hoped for happened. It took pushing myself out of my comfort zone to initiate it. As much as I like traveling and seeing new places, I'm not much of a tourist and, in fact, often avoid popular attractions, but before I left I decided to follow the signs that led to a place within the settlement with an interesting name (sorry, not going to tell this either). It turned out to be an artist colony started by a man ten years ago who took what had been previously used by the other people living here as a dumping area and turned the trash, cars and campers into giant art sculptures as well as a place to live. It was like walking through a Tim Burton movie. It was completely open to the public sun up to sun down and included an outdoor bowling alley, putting green, adult sized sea-saw and countless sculptures and art installations, ya know, the kind Mad Max would build. There was a private area separate from the "art garden" as they called it where the residents lived, but it was clear that people were not invited to enter and I didn't see anyone who looked like they were associated with the place on the public side though I could see figures moving around and voices coming from behind the giant makeshift walls of mattress springs and wine bottle mortar. Since arriving a few days ago, keeping to oneself and not making eye contact seems to be the policy here so not wanting to invade anyone's privacy I hopped on my mountain bike and pedaled back to my rig. Later in the day, I decided that I was being a wuss, googled the name of the artist colony, found their website and sent them a polite email. Within a couple hours I received a reply encouraging me to come back and introduce myself.
I've been staying with them for 4 days, now, and it's easily in the top 10 most magical and interesting places I've visited in all my travels. I've made friends with both residents and other travelers, finished wiring the brake lights in the truck of one of the residents here last night, fixed the hood and helped a guest from London (who's now a friend) get his antique Jeep running, went for a midnight dip in the nearby hot springs with a group of Australian girls (clothing optional), floated down miles of canal that borders the area to cool off with my new English friend who I may help restore a barn and farm in Sicily that he's trying to purchase. My new photographer friend who jumped from the top of a water tank into the hot springs the other night wants me to come visit him in LA when I leave here. The list goes on. I haven't decided when I'm leaving, yet. I might stick around and give a ride to one of my new resident friends who's returning to LA soon.
Very unfortunately, the man who started all this passed away suddenly in his mid-forties so his friends and other like-minded people have been trying to keep it going and growing...and they are. The present care-takers are supposed to return soon (yesterday) and the resident whose truck I re-wired thinks I should stay and meet them. This place is exactly what I was looking for, but I'm not sure it's the place for me. The heat's almost unbearable, the crime element still exists and I kind of stick out. Though we all have the same positive vibe, I look pretty different from everyone else. I feel like a yuppy at a dead show. My clothes, truck, and trailer seem a little too normal. This is kind of rare for me because I usually feel like someone who's too different in a group of normies rather feeling too normal in a group of eccentrics BUT I'm pretty sure the only person who could or would have a problem with this is me. Big surprise. I think I've already earned my worth with those here as I'm eager to help, clean up after dinner, offer rides, etc. They even gave me one of their rare sought after t-shirts. I'm not bragging. I just haven't been this excited about feeling welcome somewhere in a very long time.
I've got a few little projects to do, today, and then I'll most likely decide when/if I'm leaving tonight when it cools down to the 80's. It's 114, right now, and I think my laptop is going to melt.
June 14, 2016, Skagway, Alaska
Happy bday to me.
July 14, 2016, Kenai, Alaska
It never gets dark. The closest thing to it is in the early morning when the sun skirts along the horizon for a couple hours as if it's going to set, but never does then it rises, again, so the traditional sense of day and night is absent. I usually get out of work around 2am and I go back a few hours later. I won't live like this forever, but I rolled into town on fumes, literally. The first town, Skagway, was landlocked -a rookie mistake for someone who's never been to one of the other "last free places on Earth." At first glance on a map, the southern coastline of Alaska looks like it's connected to the much larger part of the state just above it, but it isn't, at least, not by any roads. If you want to get to the major part of AK, you have to drive back into Canada and go up and around. I didn't come all this way to settle for just one small town, as cool as it was, so I drove another 900 miles with what little funds I had. I keep a spare jug of gas in my truck in case of an emergency and if I didn't have it I would of run out on my way here so I was relieved to find work. I arrived early on a Saturday morning and landed this job by that evening and have worked everyday since. That was three weeks ago.
I'm running a crane on the dock of a fish buying company. When I'm not on the crane, I'm running a forklift or driving a skiff taking the salmon fisherman out to their boats. Regarding work experience, the manager is probably still scratching her head a little how I came out of nowhere and walked into the position, but I am competent in all aspects of the job and have become a vital component of the operation. The downside for me is my wage is literally laughable ($12/hr). How any company in America can justify paying a person this amount and expect the person to be able to function in society is completely unacceptable yet it goes on everywhere and for even less money let alone that in this case it's happening in a state where the cost of living is higher here than anywhere else I've ever lived and I've lived in a lot of places. When I left my last job driving a truck for the lighting company I was making $40/hr even though the temp agency I had to go through was getting even more (another American scam) and he would have paid me more if I had stayed. Comparing the two jobs is ridiculous. That job was exceedingly easier than the one I am doing, right now, which is yet another example of how unbalanced and unsound our economic system is. These are not complaints, just observations. (I ended up getting two raises before the season was over.)
Aside from the money, I don't think I've ever been happier. I will sit down with the manager after I get paid this week and tell her that I'm going to need to get paid more, now, that I've proven myself. I already planted that seed when we were talking while walking around the dock having our casual interview when we first met. I told her that I don't like to show up somewhere and claim I'm worth a certain amount. I'd rather prove it and I have. If she can't do it there will be no hard feelings, but I'll have to move on. Fear is what makes a person keep a job that isn't just or healthy for them...another vital component of our system. I will not live in fear.
On a cool note, a lot of the fisherman and dockworkers live at the boat yard in campers, rv's or on their boats. The salmon season only lasts about two to three months so it makes more sense to live where you work and work as much as you can during that time. My lifestyle and way of traveling was a custom fit for this operation though I stick out a little with my shiny new trailer and clean truck. Some of the "accommodations" are a little rough around the edges. The fishermen who have nicer boats and do very well do not live here. I've overheard a few conversations that mention drugs and a lot of drinking, but I still prefer the working class crowd to the white collar world. They're more loyal and speak from the heart. I haven't worked on a farm in almost a year so it's been a long time since I had permission to be somewhere while working so I'm pretty psyched.
November 10, 2016, Fairbanks, Alaska
I'm walking down a snow covered road in the dark with the closest thing to a domesticated wolf by my side. His name is Grizzly. He's one of the dogs the kennel has asked me to take a special interest in. There are plenty of actual wolves in Alaska so it's no stretch to imagine that he is one, not to mention the fact that his markings and coat couldn't be any more similar which is making this moment all the more magical. The moon is trying to shine through the clouds reflecting enough light off the snow that it's easy to see as we walk along the trees. It's not real late, but it gets dark early this time of year (no, it's not dark all day long in most of Alaska like some people think) so it feels later than it is. Everyone else at work has gone home for the night and I decided to get a few more things done before calling it a day especially seeing as I'm off tomorrow. We usually use the truck or atv to haul the dirt down the road to the manure pile, but since it snowed and we've been using sleds to clean up the dog yard I decided to go for a walk and drag the sled behind me....even though I have a sled dog walking with me.
The days easily get away from me when I take on a few extra projects in addition to my chores which made today a little longer than I planned, but they've given me ten dogs to work with on my own so I told myself that I was going to make it a point to spend time with one of them individually everyday...plus a couple of the others that might need some attention.....and the six puppies. That's a lot of dogs, but one by one everyday I'm going to improve their lives if not just a little bit. Tonight, it was Grizzly's turn. As we made our way down the road, he was half being a dog preoccupied with smelling every inch of the path we walked on and partly tentative about where we were going. I'm not sure if he'd ever been taken for a walk. A sled run is different becasue the dogs are harnessed together in a line the entire time all running in synchronization, rather than getting to stop, sniff and just walk around in the woods.
The dogs here have a better life compared to all the other places I've seen and worked at before arriving here, but there was still an occasional uncertainty in his behavior. He never even made use of the entire 30 feet of leash I had him on so a few times I quietly knelt down in the dark and let him come to me whenever he needed to for reassurance leaning against me as he looked around and smelled the night air. Unlike a wolf, these dogs aren't used to being free. 19 degrees is not cold by Alaskan standards and even a skinny guy like me felt surprisingly comfortable enough to enjoy being outside on a winter night with a big Alaskan husky. Some of the dogs are very friendly climbing all over you like big puppies and he's fairly friendly, too, but he, also, has a slight stoicism to him so it was great to seem him celebrate a little when we got back about what he just got to do as we were re-entering the dog yard and I walked him to his house as the other dogs exploded with envy. I'll get to each one of them if it takes me all winter. It's the only way I can walk away from them everyday. I did roll around in the puppy pen for a little while, too, before heading to my cabin.
Now what? I have a place to live. The "job" I have is actually pretty fun. I put the word job in parentheses because I'm barely getting paid, but when they start doing tours in mid to late December they'll be able to give me a little more, but it's fine for, now. That was the plan anyways; to work a fun job for the winter and give myself time to write my book, once and for all. And at the moment, I'm actually in a position to do it. Writing here (and in my new blog) allows me to process experiences and ideas. There's plenty of work and rendering to be done, but I'm ready to start.