It’s good to see the old pioneer spirit is alive and kicking here in Alaska. From the back of Valdez we take a walk up the track beside Mineral Creek. It draws us into a steep-sided valley, the sun that we have finally been blessed with sparkling on the late-morning dew. In only a few kilometres we find Steve and his grandson, five year old John. They’ve stopped to allow the steel tracks on the excavator to cool. Steve is driving the machine to the top of the creek, where he’ll begin work on his 300 acre gold stake. He’s hoping to make a fortune pretty quickly … or at least dig out sufficient gold to get his fishing boat back to sea. He reckons that by next spring he should have plenty – otherwise he might be in big trouble. He laughs and strokes his chin and I suspect he might have been in big trouble a few times. At 67 years old Steve appears undeterred by the fact he’s already been struck down four times with a heart attack.
‘I’ve been suffering from a shortage of breath,’ he explains. ‘Each time I lifted a shovel I couldn’t breath. Doc wanted me back in hospital for another heart job.’
Instead of going to the hospital Steve went off and bought himself four bottles of Cardio Vital Plus. ‘I just flushed me veins out,’ he says, grinning and sending John scurrying into the bushes to gather berries.
Steve swears the combination of the Cardio Vital Plus and some strange machine he’s bought that emits radio waves have given him a new lease of life.
‘I don’t get no more trouble now,’ he says, telling us with some pride how the local Indians all call him the Medicine Man.
In his time Steve has been a farmer, a road constructor, a builder, a fisherman and now a gold prospector. He flashes a scar on his hand where he fended off a knife-wielding mugger in Fairbanks. He arrived in Fairbanks thirty years ago because a friend told him the parties there were wild and the work was hard. He never looked back; life was good. Later, when he pitched up here in Valdez he only had 27 dollars and 50 cents in his pocket.
‘I just started all over again,’ he says.
As I listen to Steve talking I run an eye over the clothes he’s wearing. I’m quite sure it’s his ex-wife’s T-shirt he’s got on. It’s a frilly, black affair, too baggy under the arms and across the chest and stretched way too tight over the belly. Not that it matters in the least. Not out here. A Victorinox knife pokes from the pocket of his jeans. The kid comes bounding back with a handful of blueberries, ripe and sweet. We talk a bit more until Steve says, ‘Well, we best git a bit further up that road.’ As Steve and John clamber aboard their excavator we turn round and walk back in the direction of Valdez.
The weather dealt us a lowly hand of cards during our four week tour of Alaska. Some days the light was so bad and the cloud so low we took to snapping photos in black and white, just to see how it would work out. The following are our images of Alaska.