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Journey into the Alaskan wild  

发现者:lylillian 来源: 发布时间:2013-11-06 类型:转载
Alaska, Chugach Mountains, Anchorage, mountains

Half past eight on a cool, damp September morning, and the Black Bear Coffee House is already a-bustle, its mix of regulars and out-of-towners rubbing elbows at the counter. ‘Americano for Keith… latte for Shawn…’ a girl’s voice calls out from behind the till. A pirate flag hangs on the wall behind the espresso machine and, in the background, Steely Dan’s Reelin’ in the Years is playing softly on the stereo. The place feels like the sort of independent café you might find in the student quarter of a fashionable university town somewhere back east.

Instead it’s located near milepost 239 on Alaska’s remote George Parks Highway – a lonely ribbon of bitumen that stretches between Anchorage and Fairbanks, and not far from the turn-off to Denali National Park. Among the early-morning crowd calling in here for their double shots of espresso are game wardens, white-water rafting guides, wildlife biologists, wilderness hikers and road-trippers.

‘This is my seventh summer in Alaska,’ says barista Wendi Schupbach, a philosophy graduate from a college in America’s heartland who, for the past seven summers, has driven up from the Midwest. ‘There is something special about Alaska that gets into your blood and brings you back again and again.’ Indeed. Big and bold, more than twice the size of Texas and infinitely wilder and more remote, Alaska has been a draw for generations of footloose romantics, dreamers and adventurers. It makes for the ultimate American road trip. Like Route 66, the very name resonates with the idea of going somewhere. Unlike Route 66, which faded into memory and legend some 30 years ago, the Alaska of the imagination is still alive, and flourishing. Its open highways remain a captivating blend of vast distances punctuated here and there by the same sort of delightfully tacky bits of roadside Americana that made Route 66 what it was. It’s all still here, Alaska-style: everything from the mechanical bucking-bronco grizzly bear in the bar in Healy to the cavalcade of roadside trading posts with their taxidermied bears, totem poles, sculptures made of moose antlers, and five-and-dime souvenirs.

‘For my part I travel not to go anywhere, but to go… the great affair is to move,’ Robert Louis Stevenson wrote in 1879. He was writing about a journey by donkey through the Cevennes in France, but could just as easily have been invoking the spirit of the American road trip, where it’s the joy of motion that’s all the fun. Like so many others before me, I’d been lured north by the same wanderlust that drew the likes of Jack London and Wyatt Earp up here during the gold rush days more than a century ago. ‘It draws some of us like a magnet,’ Donald ‘Smitty’ Smith, a Pennsylvania policeman turned fur trapper, tells me a few days later when I call in at his log cabin along the highway. A great bear of a man with a long white beard, he and his wife came up to Alaska 13 years ago and have been here ever since. They live in a snug, neat cabin Smitty built that first summer and subsist on whatever they grow in their garden and on the game he traps or shoots with his muzzleloader rifle – a replica of the models the frontiersmen used in the 18th century. ‘Up here we can live our lives free and clear, without having to answer to anybody,’ says Smitty. ‘There aren’t many places left in the world where you can enjoy this sort of freedom.’

Of course, it’s all very well to say, as Stevenson did, that you travel for travel’s sake alone, but even the most insouciant of road-trippers are still heading somewhere and, for nearly everyone cruising the George Parks Highway, that somewhere is likely to be Denali National Park – a near-10,000-square-mile tract of forest, the bogland known as muskeg and tundra crowned by the mightiest mountain in North America – the snow-capped 20,320-foot peak of Mount McKinley. Only one road penetrates this unbroken wilderness – a gravel track winding 77 lonely miles from the Savage River Trailhead to the old mining camp at Kantishna. There is no driving this road, at least not without a special permit. Here, you leave the car behind and hop aboard one of the lumbering old American school buses the US Park Service uses to ferry sightseers and hikers around the park, which is itself larger than the state of New Hampshire. Once inside, you’re in a world of tundra and grizzly bears, moose, elk, caribou, eagles and bighorn sheep, passing through a succession of histrionic landscapes that look as though they’ve been lifted from one of Albert Bierstadt’s more melodramatic 19th-century wilderness paintings.

‘Sorry if we’re a little whiffy,’ a pair of young hikers say as they climb aboard the bus 50 miles or so down the track, cadging a lift back to civilisation. ‘We’ve been out here for the past ten days – we could probably use a shower.’ Flopping into their seats, they treat us to breathless tales about what it was really like ‘out there’ – grizzly bear encounters and nights spent camping miles from anywhere. And all the while the bus rambles along the rough gravel road, the sense of community inside and our cheerful conversations a counterpoint to the echoing autumnal vastness of the tundra.

Seeing Alaska passively like this, through the windscreen of a car or bus, can blur the reality of just how wild this place truly is. ‘You know, it was just a few miles up the road from here that Christopher McCandless walked into the woods 21 years ago and never came out,’ Brendon Ferguson, a white-water rafting guide, tells me over breakfast the next morning back in Denali – the little village that has sprung up near the park entrance. He is referring to the daydreamer whose Byronic death in the Alaskan wilderness was retold in Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild and in a movie directed by Sean Penn. Inspired by Jack London’s adventures and the writings of 19thcentury philosopher Henry David Thoreau, McCandless gave away most of his worldly goods, hitchhiked to Alaska and set off along the Stampede Trail, a track that branches off the main highway about 12 miles north of the Black Bear Coffee House. He had planned to live out his own abbreviated version of Walden – three months of wilderness solitude. He took with him 10 pounds of rice, a .22-calibre rifle, some ammunition, no compass, and, to hear Alaskans tell it, very little common sense. He survived for 113 days.

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