In Anchorage with a lull in my book tour schedule - next round of dates not until September 12th and way out of cashola, thank god for the credit card.
Joe was lured by the promise of a fishing job in Valdez and he stayed while I drove on to McCarthy, and by some miracle, did not get flattened by the road leading to Hippie Shangri-la, the same road that just happens to be hell on tires since it's rocky dirt road built over old train tracks - nice! Just before the end of the road, I was tempted by the lure of full-service cabins with VACANCY sign. Pulled in and charged two nights for a yuppie cabin in the middle of nowhere - I mean, laminate floors in McCarthy! Andy, the keeper of the cabins, was very friendly and gave me three eggs, freshly laid, with some bread and butter for breakfast the next day, along with coffee. I figured what the hell? This is a business trip, I can write the whole thing off, treat myself to a comfortable bed, a big tub and lots of privacy after three weeks of camping, crashing on couches, and sleeping in the Brown Beast, which is hanging in there I'm happy to say.
The next day, I went across the bridge and walked to McCarthy, where I found out that the festival was in Kennicott - five miles away. There was irregular bus service, but the “contents were changing the world.” In other words, this bus in remote Alaska ran on peanut oil.
Layton and Sharmon, a couple from Soldotna, were on the bus with me. They were stocking up on beer and camping equipment, and when I said I was in work mode, Layton asked if I was a writer. I said yes, how did you know? And he said, you gotta be. He was a writer for the Clarion, a local paper on Kenai, and after telling him my story, he bought a book and assured me that of course I would sell all 20 as the bus running on peanut oil deposited us at the festival grounds in Kennicott.
I got off the bus and looked around; then I went into shock as the weight of 20 books in my pack settled on my back.
There were about sixty tents set up in a gravel parking lot with the ruins of the Kennicott copper mine and the Kennicott Lodge perched on the hill above us. Abandoned mining gear was laying everywhere in its rusting glory and a homemade stage was set up practically in the bushes. There were belly dancers undulating wherever they could find space amongst the rusting forgotten equipment, and people hanging out wherever they could find space.
Just beyond this scene looked like the other side of the moon, terminal moraine that's too cold to progress to the beginnings of forest because glacier ice is 3 feet underneath it - but just thick enough to cover the glacier, in uniform lines of silt in earthy tones of grey, beige, red, depending on which valley the glacier was carving through.
I looked at the homegrown festival - that was free, of course - and my vision of a big field with a variety of vendors was dashed. I muttered to the bus driver that this was not what I expected.
"Well, what did you expect?" he quipped. I’m sure he was as amused as he looked.
"I don't know, but it wasn't this."
Recognizing faces of people that I didn't know very well, I had the feeling I was at a Girdwood party in Kennicott and that this was not the right venue to be selling books. A gal named Valerie confirmed that suspicion a few hours later when she told me that she and her boyfriend were also promoting a book, "Wild Animus," written by an eccentric gazillionaire from Colorado, that wanted people to read his book so much, he was hiring promoters in every state to give his book away. Last year, they had given away over 2000 books and this year they were handing out CD's with him reading enticing segments of the book, so people would actually read it.
"Is it any good?" I asked her.
"It's a piece of shit," she said. "It totally sucks."
This was definitely not the venue for what I had in mind.
If you can't fight em, join them. I decided to just enjoy the party and hitched a ride by motorcycle back to the bridge and got my stuff out of the yuppie cabin I wouldn't be sleeping in that night, and got my camping gear for the party that went on until the wee hours of the morning...
That's all for now. Thanks for reading.
PS This experience was one of my most cherished experiences from that year on the road. It was proof that one does not take a journey. A journey takes you!
PS This was one of the most epic experiences I had from the DIY booktour roadtrip I did in 2005-2006.