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Stopping in Slana


We managed to get my GS back up after unloading the majority of luggage off of it and a lot of concerted pulling and dragging. That done, we pulled her KLR out of the mud. In my fogged memory, I don’t even remember how we got the bikes back down to the bridge.

We finally called the hostel and the folks said they’d come out at once to come get us. We unloaded what essentials we needed for the night. I hated to leave the bike there and not have all my stuff with me, but there was no way to carrry everything with us.

Finally a green van came down the hill and a man who introduced himself as Steve got out and helped us with our luggage. We dumped our tank bags, packs and riding gear into the back and clambered into the front with him as we set off back up the hill. Even his four wheel drive vehicles kept sliding around alarmingly and I didn’t feel so bad about not making it on the bike after all.

By the time we rolled into Steve’s front yard, I was tired, hungry, cranky and just wanted to get clean and dry and sleep for a good ten hours. We parked a little distance away from a two storey house with the windows lit up, as if someone was waiting up for us. This looked promising.

We got out and unloaded our gear, but instead of walking to the house he led us in the opposite direction, down a narrow, dark path. Before long we saw a little house down below us with a woman standing outside it, carrying a lamp. We treaded carefully down some rough, wrought steps that appeared to be carved out of mud. He introduced the woman to us as his wife.



They took us inside the little house and after he had set down our stuff, I looked around to get my bearings. We were in a little room about 12 feet by 10. We were standing in the little kitchen area . There was a stove in the center of the room with a little pail of water standing next to it. To the far side of the room were four little bunk beds. High up on the wall between the beds were two small windows that looked out onto the night sky and an enormous bear skin – head and all – stretched out between them.

At the back of the room was a little makeshift shower area that used a solar panel to heat water. It turned out that there was no running water or electricity in the place. The fire was going on the stove, which warmed the place up somewhat, but it would need to be stoked throughout the night if we wanted to stay warm. There was no bathroom – just an outhouse a little way down the path.

They told us to come over to the main house for coffee in the morning and with those words they departed.

By this time my crankiness had led to disgust and disgruntlement. There was to be no hot dinner or shower. At this point all I wanted to do was eat the sorry remnants of whatever food I had left and curl up into bed.

Sarah was quite a bit more enthusiastic than I was – does nothing dampen her spirits? She told me that I was behaving like a spoilt brat and that this was the real adventure – out here in the wild in a cabin made by someone with their own two hands and a skinned bear hanging up on the wall!

“I’m tired,” I mumble before climbing under the covers and pulling them over my head. Thank heavens for a real bed, at least! Let’s just hope that the mosquitoes don’t decide to lay seige tonight.

I woke up the next morning to see the light streaming in through the windows. It was cold after the last of the fire had died out. I got out of bed and padded softly across the floor. There was just light enough to see around the cabin. I turned the doorknob – made out of a real animal’s horn and stepped outside. And my jaw dropped open.

It had been pitch black outside when we had arrived the previous night, so I hadn’t had much of a chance to peruse the surroundings. I don’t know exactly what I had expected but I stood there gaping at the foggy morning that shrouded the forest in the distance. I felt like I had been transported back through time and across a universe into a fairy tale world. The mist that hung in the air gave it an even more convincing aura of unreality. It was like being in a dreamlike state.

The air was so unbelievably still that you were afraid of breathing too loudly for fear of shattering the silence. There were none of the sounds one associates with civilization – no birds chirping, no sounds of traffic, no hum of machinery, no comfortable clinking and clattering of everyday objects. Out here it was silent – a quiet, muffled silence like as if the land was wrapped in cotton wool. Is this what the first visitors to Alaska had felt? Had they fallen silent in turn, forced to be in turns respectful and awe-stricken?

After a while I tore my eyes away from the hypnotic sight of the trees in the distance and looked around to my immediate surroundings. All the trees and leaves and grasses were impossibly green. I didn’t know if it was dew or rain drops, but every blade of grass, every flower petal, every twig that lay on the ground was covered in tiny water droplets that caught and reflected the daylight. I have lived in rainy places, but I’d never seen anything like this. I marvelled at the form nature could take if left undisturbed.

There was a stream on the other side of the cabin – one that Huck had engineered to bring water over from a nearby river. And that ultimately was the charm of this place. After spending a lifetime in apartments and houses and office spaces created by some nameless, faceless construction crews, it startling to be faced with a place where someone had built every part of a house, built the paths and stairs and streams, rigged up the water supply and energy conduits, sewed the curtains and bed spreads, killed the animal that would yield the bones and skin towards decorating the place – all with their bare hands. This truly was a spectacle of the pioneering spirit of humankind – the kind that said that if there were raw materials to be had, humans would persevere and survive.
















Sarah made some coffee – as per usual – which we sipped as we walked around and explored our surroundings some more. Following it up with a poor breakfast of protein bars  and nuts, we decided to head over to the main house to say goodbye to our hosts, pay them and get a ride back to our bikes.

In the light of day, their house looked even cheerier, made entirely of wood, with a clothes line hanging outside it demonstrating a fine spirit of optimism, I thought wryly. We mounted the stairs and knocked and waited and Steve answered the door. He welcomed us inside and as we walked in, I had another jaw dropping moment. This time it was at the sight of the interior of the house – in many ways like any regular suburban house altough entirely constructed with logs, with comfortable looking fuirniture, photographs lining the walls, an old computer and stairs leading up to the second level, except that there were animal skins and animal heads of every kind hanging up on the walls. The couch and all the chairs were draped with soft animal fur of some kind. Even the stairs were lined with fur. The vicious bear skin hanging in our cabin must have been one that didn’t fit in with the decor, or possibly something they had gotten tired of.  

I remember Steve having mentioned something about being a hunter trapper the previous evening and now I realized to the fullest what that meant.

We sat down with them and grateful accepted their offer of coffee. On being asked, we told them more about our ride and how we ended up there. I tried my best to not be rude, but it was impossible to not gape at the dead fox skin hanging a few inches away from my head and running my hands over the soft skin of the chair I was sitting on. On the table were various hats made of animal heads, one of which he identified as a lynx. I was almost scared to touch them because they were so real. I imagined that not a few months ago, these animals must have been alive and vicious and free to roam the wild.

You would think that the animal lover in me would have been revolted by this experience and indeed hunting for sport does provoke a certain  reaction in me. However, out here in the back woods of this primal land, it felt right. These were humans living as they did hundreds of years ago – on the land and making the best they could of it. They hunted the animals like our ancestors did – for food rather than sport, and they did it with a profound respect for the creatures. They used every part of the animal – skin, bones, meat. Every kill went toward feeding families and stocking up for the harsh winters. Out here it felt right.

And I cannot deny that I still felt like I was caught in a spell. I took the fox skin off of the nail it was hanging on and stroked it, feeling its fine soft fur underneath my hands. The head and paws were still intact so that it wasn’t a disembodied piece of material added to some fashionable garment.



 They showed us around their greenhouse attached to the house where they grew vegetables and flowers. The flowers exuded a strange perfume that made you want to breathe in deeply.



We had intended to stop for a few minutes, but we ended up staying and talking for many long hours. As lunch was being prepard, I peeked into the backyard to look at the baby moose that had wandered in, while Steve and Sara took turns jamming on his guitar.

Lunch was a delicious meal of salmon patties made out of fish caught from the river the previous evening and vegetables grown in their garden. This was the first time I ever had a meal that comprised entirely of materials grown in and around the land. It might have been this or the fact that I hadn’t eaten a good meal for two days, but I devoured it and finished every last morsel. 




 Meals done and goodbyes said, we were driven back out to the muddy road where our bikes waited for us. It was quick work to saddle up and get going. As we rode over the Slana river and made our way out towards the Alaskan Highway, I thought to myself how very fortunate we had been in making the choice to get off the beaten track and ended up there. Adventures do seem to happen to you when you least expect them.