An Alaskan Madman
Yesterday I asked for people to send in their best hith hiking stories. My Dad sent this one through...
This isn’t baloney; it’s true in every last detail.
Haines Junction, Alaska Highway.
Anne and I had hitched over the White Pass from Skagway. Our packs were heavy with full camping gear. We were heading north to Inuvik. There was little point in walking whilst we hitched so we stood at the junction and waited.
Trucks would pass fairly regularly, perhaps every forty minutes or so. Some stopped to explain that they would take us a couple of miles; most ignored us. It was a bad spot. By 4pm a chill mist wreathed the myrtle bogs and we contemplated overnighting in pretty unfavourable conditions.
A massive Chevrolet pickup stopped. He offered us a lift just twenty miles north, to ‘his motel’, where we were welcome to stay overnight. There would be no charge. He was grateful for the company. We didn’t hesitate.
The cab was steamy warm and we thawed out. The guy was pretty drunk and we were glad it was a short ride.
‘How would we like to care-take the (closed) motel for a couple of nights whilst he went to Whitehorse to register a claim?’ Fine; why not? We were not constrained by time and it smacked of mild adventure.
The motel was the first building we saw. It had been closed for a very long time. A realtor’s board had collapsed and was mounded with weed. Shingles hung loose on the roof. Light was fading as he walked us along a grim corridor to our room. It would not have been our first or last choice. There was no electricity. The bed was dank and musty, with only a sad, stained mattress. The pan was choked and no water flowed. We had no other option than to make the most of it. He left us and disappeared into the gloom.
We lit a candle lantern and made packet soup on the MSR. It became cosy in our little pool of light.
We heard his footsteps returning. They sounded unsteady and he crashed through our doorway clutching a brown paper sack which we rapidly discovered was full of Budweiser. He was obviously very, very drunk and insisted that we drank with him. Oh, and he had under his arm a very purposeful looking rifle.
It was a tense evening. In an increasingly slurred voice he told us an improbable tale of finding huge gold nuggets high in a creek across the highway and how gangs were after him to rob him. He always carried his gun, cocked and ready to fire. He would kill them if they came near.
He became odiously friendly and attempted to hug us to him. We claimed exhaustion and the need to sleep but he elected to stay with us, on guard. It was a frightening situation. We reminded him of his proposed mission to Whitehorse and urged him to leave quickly. In his befuddled state he lurched off into the darkness and we waited - for the sound of an engine.
Nothing. Black silence. We jammed the door shut best we could with a wooden coat hanger and packed our heavy sacks against it, after packing them ready to flee should opportunity present itself. We lay silently, genuinely weary, and drifted off to sleep.
Movement. Across my face. Head torch. A rat. A large rat, staring back unfazed. Many twin red points reflected from around the room, rat eyes glaring, interrupted in their foraging. And then we heard him again, coming back, moving very quietly. He turned the door handle and pushed. I shouted for him to go away; that we were trying to sleep. He swore, fluently and loquaciously, claiming that we had tricked him into letting us into his motel and that he would kill us. We tended to side with his opinion. We guessed that the sounds we heard outside were of him lying down on the wooden boards. There was a clatter of metal which we took to be his rifle. I looked at my watch. It was close to midnight.
For interminable hour after hour we lay there, tense and wary. The rats returned with reinforcements, whispering and scratching, running over us freely.
He was still there, snoring now.
The faintest fingers of a grey dawn filtered through the uncurtained window, enough to just see, to silently shoulder our ‘sacs and ease the door ajar. He was sitting, slumped, facing the door as we emerged, gun lying across his knees. If he had not drunk so heavily we would surely have woken him for the floorboards creaked and cricked with our every step.
Gravel crunched as we tip-toed to the truck. We intended to remove the keys. It was locked. We hit the highway and headed north, walking rapidly, breath steaming cold in the glittery frost. What would happen when he woke? Would he chase us down? With a gun? How would we know, when we heard the sound of an engine approaching, whether it was him or a regular road user?
Do you know, it was almost three hours before the first vehicle approached? Three hours of very real apprehension and taut nerves. It hadn’t been play acting. He was for real, both drunk and possibly mentally deranged.
But it was a motor home, pale beige and as long as a tube train carriage. And it stopped. And gave us a lift far, far north to Tok, husky-sledging capital of the Yukon.
A soft snow fell. We camped that night.