A Boy A Bike Alaska!
Mt. Shasta to Denali
By Warren Carlson
“Look out world here I come!”
Imagine the adventure of a lifetime. After spending the winter rebuilding an old Honda motorcycle, you graduate from high school and leave for a summer job at your uncle’s fish camp near Denali National Park. Over three thousand miles of solo riding from Mt. Shasta City, California to Alaska!
“Take care of the bike and the bike will take care of you.” You are on your own. You are a little sad to leave your parents and your friends behind, but you have heard the call of the open road.
Later you will hear the call of the wild when you hear the timeless howling of wolves. You will ride through valleys a hundred miles wide flanked by snow-covered mountains.
You will prove your bravery fighting a forest fire. You will work hard doing whatever your uncle and Mrs. M, the lodge boss, tells you to do. You will earn serious money and meet interesting people who treat you as an adult.
And happiness will find you in the name of Rachel, a wrangler at a nearby lodge.
Time on the river, learning to paddle a canoe in strong currents, learning boating skills with the hope of being a river guide, meeting the world’s hairiest man, riding through a buffalo herd, lunch with an old man with challenging ideas, first ride in a small plane, friendship with a couple who seem like grandparents to you, photography lessons from a pro, swimming with a grizzly bear, running from an unhappy moose and other adventures too numerous to mention.
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Buffalo on the Road
About fifty of them; bulls, cows, and calves milling around completely blocking the road. Some were grazing on the sides of the road, some seemed to be socializing and others, napping. I turned off the bike, took out my camera and studied the buffalo through the telephoto lens. I had never seen beasts so noble and so ancient looking. I had the keen sense that this was their land—the highway being a minor inconvenience—and had been for thousands of years. I also thought that if humans didn’t make it as a species, the buffalo would still be here.
They looked calm. I waited. Fifteen minutes went by. They still blocked the road. I hoped a car would show up going in my direction and I could follow them through. Another five minutes passed. They still looked calm. I snapped a dozen photos, put the camera away and waited.
A gap near the center of the road opened. I took a chance
Bear at the Lake
The next week, Rachel and I took the bike to a nearby lake for an evening swim. We swam back and forth in the narrow, shallow end of the lake. We raced. I won. We were about to get out when we heard a thrashing noise in the woods. A bear crashed out of the trees and dove into the lake, front legs outstretched, just like a human! We were thrilled until we realized the bear’s trajectory, if he didn’t change direction, put him on a collision course with us! The water was only three feet deep. We squatted down until just our heads were above water.
Bald Eagle Soars Overhead
I paddled around the lake, enjoying the change of pace from being on the motorcycle. I now always carried my camera with me. Tanana was standing at the end of the dock. Using the telephoto lens part way, I took a photo. I stopped to inspect a rounded beaver den. I lay back to photograph a circling bald eagle. I let the canoe drift. When the sun went behind a cloud there was less surface reflection. I photographed underwater reeds swaying in a current.”
“I’m sure you could do it …”
Arctic Ground Squirrel
“To us, it’s a peaceful, beautiful day but all around us plants and animals are competing for limited resources or watching for predators. To us, a hawk in the sky is a thing of beauty, but I bet a ground squirrel sees it differently,” Angel added.
“Whoa, ease up. My head is spinning.”
“Oh, I imagine your head is doing fine. There is so much to look at, to understand. Are you sure you don’t want to go to college?”
“And what? Major in everything?” I said with some annoyance. “Sorry, but everyone at home has been telling me to ‘go to college.’ It will still be there if I put it off for a year or two. Besides, I have to pay my own way.”
“I’m sure you could do it …”
Just as the fire reached the bottom of the canyon below us, the wind seemed to change. “An up-canyon wind,” Uncle Pete muttered, looking worried. When bigger pines ignited, they sent flames shooting into the sky, but mostly the fire kept near the ground, moving steadily, making crackling sounds, and moaning. Something changed. I wasn’t sure what, but the hair stood up on my forearms. Briefly, I remembered playing firefighters with my friends in the woods behind our house. This was as far from play acting as one could get.
“The fire is making its own wind,” Uncle Pete muttered as he looked down the line for a sign from the crew boss. Too late! All the other sounds of the fire were wiped out by a roar like an oncoming freight train.
About the Author
A Boy A Bike Alaska! is based on Warren Carlson’s own solo motorcycle trip from Idaho to Denali National Park and back. Seven thousand miles of great scenery, interesting people, and moments of inspiration.
Warren Carlson began his adventurous life when, at age fourteen, he slept alone in the woods for the first time and discovered that the world was a friendly and beautiful place.
Other adventures followed: climbing Mt. Shasta three times and Mt. Rainier once; solitary hikes in several national parks; alpine excursions in France, Switzerland, Spain, and Azerbaijan; Peace Corps Volunteer in the middle east; travel to India, Kashmir, Turkey, Ireland, England and yes, the solitary motorcycle ride to Alaska where he met some of the characters depicted in this book.
Carlson describes himself as a job vagabond. His employment adventures include ski instructor, actor-director-playwright, special needs teacher, newspaper reporter, carpenter, cowboy, ski area management, house designer and builder, and tour guide in three national parks.
Carlson’s literary credits include numerous short stories and poetry. (Northern Journeys, Spectrum, Jefferson Journal and others.)
His plays have been produced in several venues including Spokane Repertory, Spokane, Washington; Actors’ Theatre, Ashland, Oregon; and the Metta Theatre, Taos, NM. He holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
I grew up in a small New England town reading adventure stories. Now, after living in the middle east and visiting eleven countries, I’m pleased to share with you A Boy A Bike Alaska! based on my own seven-thousand-mile motorcycle ride from Idaho to Denali and back. Two sample adventure stories (Kashmir and wilderness solitude) available as an attachment. What has been your best trip so far?
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