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.
THREE REASONS WHY TODAY IS JUST “ONE OF THOSE DAYS”
A bowl of cornflakes and a fog of diesel exhaust never make for a great combination. The exhaust causes us to gag and choke and very soon, if we stay in here much longer, we’ll be completely dead. We leap from the back of the truck in a whirl of slopping milk and soggy flakes, settling on the wooden bench to mutter into our spoons. We are camped cheek by jowl in a campground in the town of Arco, Idaho, whilst our neighbour admires his voluminous RV. The black cloud emanating from the RV’s exhaust pipe is already masking the morning sun. He’s entirely oblivious to the discomfort he’s causing around him. He beams at us and calls, ‘Hey, I love your rig.’ He wanders over to gawk inside, though it’s way too early in the morning for this guy’s bonhomie and noxious gases. ‘Do you have to leave your engine running like that?’ Christine questions, already sore from cracking her head on the exit. ‘It’s a diesel,’ the man replies, as if addressing a couple of morons. ‘It’s not very pleasant to sit in your exhaust fumes,’ she persists. ‘Well, you don’t need to worry about that because we’re leaving today.’ The man’s cheesy grin begins to slip, clearly tiring of the verbal prodding. ‘We have a diesel engine in our car and when we start it we drive off,’ Christine tells him. The man curls a lip as he snarls, ‘If you don’t like it you should move.’ Ooh, we never thought of that. THANKS A LOT, DUMB-ASS! Continue reading “USA: THROUGH IDAHO TO MONTANA”→
How much would you need to be paid to ride an “X-Treme” bull? Whatever it is would never be enough. I’ve no doubt the dudes riding these wild bulls are some of the toughest sportsmen in the world. I reckon eight seconds on the back of an X-Treme bull must be akin to a five-round session with Mike Tyson … after you’ve badly insulted his mother. The Cody Stampede is billed as the richest rodeo in America. During the first weekend in July over 800 of the top rodeo pros converge on Cody, competing for the big money. More than once the Cody Stampede has been listed “The Best Big Outdoor Rodeo” in America. Okay, let’s face it: America doesn’t do “Small” and the Cody Stampede certainly lives up to its billing. Everything about it is “BIG”. For the first-timer this is an extraordinary display of noise, aggression, courage. The crowd roars each time the gate is flung open, horse and rider cavorting into the arena. I wince as coccyx are crushed, goolies ground and the riders tossed twenty feet in the air. And if their physical injuries are not sufficient to cow them, the compère crows, ‘Did you see that folks? Did you see what he did wrong on that horse. He was absolutely useless. Here you go, watch it all again on the replay. Look at the screen, ladies and gentlemen.’ Whatever these guys get paid, they earn every penny. Continue reading “USA: BRONCOS AND BULLS”→
My cousin emigrated to the United States from England more years ago than either of us might wish to dwell on. I haven’t clapped eyes on her for an age and so it’s always been a goal on our journey through the Americas to seek her out once we reached the US. She lives in the state of Iowa, which doesn’t feature on our map of The Western USA for the simple reason that it’s not in the Western USA. For once we must fold away the cherished paper and try a little modern technology, a thing called Maps.Me, which we download for free onto the ipad. Continue reading “USA: ACROSS THE GREAT PLAINS”→
7th June: Take away all the cars in Silverton and pretty much all you have left is some bad-ass, Wild West town. Wyatt Earp once rode into Silverton. They say he played a few hands of poker at the saloon. I’m not sure if anybody got themselves shot that day, though looking up Main Street I’m left with a pretty strong feeling that somebody probably did. It isn’t long that we’re parked up here beside the rail-road sidings when the sheriff of Silverton rolls up beside us. Continue reading “USA: DREAMING OF THE MOTHER LODE”→
6th May: I’m the first to admit I’m not much good when it comes to household repairs, car maintenance, working the DVD or plugging a leak … but this is getting ridiculous. Today I can’t even turn on the shower. Because circumstances dictate that we need a motel room for the night, I’m now standing naked in this bathtub, twisting a plastic handle first to the left and then to the right, followed by a vigorous pulling and pushing. No matter what I try absolutely nada is pouring forth, except a heap of expletives; any minute now this handle is going to snap off in my hand. Has this something to do with California’s record-breaking drought, I’m beginning to wonder. Continue reading “USA: FROM DUST TO DELUGE”→
1st May: I feel a certain trepidation as we approach the US border. And for good reason, I believe. After all, the United States of America lock up more of their own population than any other country. There is a culture of suing in the United States: invariably this means parting with bewilderingly enormous sums of money. Then there’s the right to bear arms, which makes it highly probable that the person beside you at the supermarket check-out is packing a loaded Uzi sub-machine gun under their T-shirt. There’s also an electric chair in the US, “Old Sparky”, I believe they fondly call it … several of them, in fact. Reasons enough to be nervous? Continue reading “USA: GOOD MORNING AMERICA”→