Serendipity and a Squatter's Treehouse - On the Road # 9


Hey y’all,

This letter is written long after that wondrous DIYBTRT (do-it-yourself-book-tour-road-trip) of 2005-2006 was over. At the time, one friend told me to take copious notes so I would not forget ANYTHING. Well, I didn’t and fortunately, the emails I wrote during that time were enough of a push that I could much remember the gaps much later. I realize the perspective of looking back does not carry the excitement and immediacy of the present moment as I was living through it; but I hope to fill in those gaps and be more honest about the downs of an experience where I only drew attention to the ups. The downside of the original emails was that I was showing off.

So before the Blackburn Music Festival near the Kennicott glacier that I wrote about in these blogs here and here, Joe and I crossed paths with our mutual friend Ela while I was in Seward. Anybody who has ever lived in Alaska knows that this a small town in a huge state. Since there are a lot of seasonal nomads who go to various parts of the state to where the work is, I ran into a lot of people I knew from Juneau. Joe had been fishing out of the Alaska peninsula; Ela was working in Girdwood for the summer. Later, I would run into friends in Fairbanks, and then I would meet their friends who then became my friends.

Keep in mind this was before Facebook and other forms of social media.

So anyway, I knew Joe and Ela from Outdoor Studies - a program where we would learn about how to navigate the Alaskan outdoors – kayaking, rafting, glacier travel and crevasse rescue, ice climbing, rock climbing, as well as hiking, backpacking, and navigation. I broke my experience down to two years and Joe was in my first year, and Ela in my second. After we ran into Ela, we headed up to Girdwood with her and stayed the night in a squatter’s tree house where Ela had lived all winter – even with a broken back. She peed when she had to in a plastic milk gallon jug with the top half cut off, whereas able-bodied me and Joe went down the ladder to pee outside. She said we had to be careful going in and out because the town of Girdwood was tearing down the tree houses, so more people would have to pay rent, and this one was particularly vulnerable because it was close to Alyeska resort. So she always dressed as if she was coming out of a hike, and passed on the treehouse to us, as she was about to leave Girdwood.

I wish I could have taken her up on it. Later, Joe and I would stay the night with Pando in the treehouse (blog about Pando here). He may have claimed it because this was right up his alley. But I remember that night as being a challenge to my patience, because Pando and Joe were wasted, loud, and obnoxious. Perhaps if I had been drunk too, I would have been fine, but I wasn’t. So it was less than ideal to be in tiny treehouse in a loft with two drunks laughing at nothing on the floor below you.

I hope that treehouse is still there, but I doubt it. Girdwood has changed a lot.

Anyway, after the treehouse adventure – or maybe we stayed in the treehouse after this camping trip, I’m not sure – we met up with another friend from outdoor studies, Winter. She was staying with her father in Sterling, and her sister Brita was there as well. The five of us went on an overnight hiking and camping trip on what is now known as the Primrose and Lost Lakes trail – about 15 miles of hiking through beautiful rainforest and a stunning alpine ridge trail with stunning views.

Of course, it was a total blast and Joe loved nothing more than being the only guy in a group of girls. Even if he didn’t hook up, he loved being in the circle of how crazy and off-color women can be with each other with no men around.

Of course, I don’t remember the particular conversations from a camping trip I made more than 14 years ago. But I do remember how good it felt to be in such good shape that I could backpack at the last minute, and do a 15 mile trail with no problem. I also remember the beauty of Alaska and how much it hurt when it was time to leave that state. I also remember that I heard about Blackburn that would take place the following weekend from Ela on that camping trip. Once we arrived at how chosen place to camp, we sunbathed on the ridge, and chilled out in a warm sun while Ela told us about this really cool party. She was bummed out she couldn’t make it because of work, but Joe and I decided at the last minute to go.

The spontaneity and serendipity of that road trip were the headiest miracles about it. I was constantly amazed how a chance meeting led to an adventure, which led to another escapade and so on. I realize it’s not sustainable for most people to live like that all the time because I did this trip long enough to experience the exhaustion of it.

But it sure was incredible while it lasted. I still miss the freedom I had on that trip. 



Hippie Belly Dancers in Shangri-la - On the Road #8


Hey y'all,

Yesterday I promised other random snippets - you know, impressions and stories that don't fit anywhere, but are good in and of themselves, but after the Pando story, it just didn't seem to fit. If you’d like to read letter before this one, click here.

Anyway here goes:

Hippie Belly Dancers in Shangri-la. 

As I said, when I arrived at the Girdwood party in Kennicott, there was a drumming band playing and belly dancers gyrating. They seemed discombobulated though. Not all their troupe showed up and they were crowded amongst the ruins of a copper mine, and had difficultygetting it together, you know? It was cool and all that, but they were not in sync, within themselves or with each other. 

Of course, I didn't know that until later, I just thought it was an amateur group having fun with their friends...

Later as the sun went down, and the "official" festival was over, the late-night band – Smooth Money Gesture - was setting up their stage down on the moraine - yes, as in glacier - because they agreed to be good neighbors and move the party away from the lodge - a drum circle started at one of the tents. 

The festival was on a hill below an old lodge, which probably used to be part of the copper mine that was in operation in the area for a short time, and above the terminal moraine of a glacier. It's embarrassing, but I can't remember the name of it, but as this glacier cut through a few different valley, it carved so much silt, that it sat on top of it - three feet of it, so it looked like the surface of the moon. You could see rolling hills lines in reddish, yellowish, and grayish hues indicating that this soil came from different valleys. So that was the view.

The tent where this drum circle started up, was right on the edge of this moraine that looked like the end of the world - unless somebody told you, you'd never know there was an ancient glacier underneath. As two or three people started drumming, I left my dilapidated tent (I'd forgotten one pole - kind of a crisis when the tent requires two) to hang out there and sat on the ground, with everybody else. Before long one of the belly dancers came out of the tent.  Instead of her skimpy top, she was wearing a lightweight white sweater with a hood, her long reddish brown hair flowing to her waist. As the music continued, she slowly started to dance, moving her shoulders and upper back in a wave as she spread her arms out and her hips joined in. A couple more people joined the drum circle, beating on plastic buckets, but strangely enough it worked. After a few more minutes, another dancer joined the first, and they synchronized beautifully as they shook their hips when the tempo was fast and circling their hands and fingers slowly above their heads when the tempo was slow. Then a third joined them, and those of us sitting down moved back as they danced in a circle, kicking up their legs and moving in concert. The fourth that joined them didn't have the space to dance, so she added to the beat of the music by shaking bells. The night was cloudy, but every so often the moon peaked through, illuminating the scene that was lit between twilight and darkness...Sitting on the ground, we were at the level of the music, while the dancers celebrated the life in their bodies above us - backlit by the night sky and whatever lamps were coming from the heart of camp. From the ground, they looked like goddesses, once I stood up to move around, they were ordinary women dancing with their friends. The spell was broken and I moved on.  

It was only twenty minutes, but the magic of that time is forever etched in my mind. 

Something tells me this is a good time to stop...

Feel free to drop me a line, y'all know I love to hear from you even when I am on my happy trails...


PS: This was from the DIY booktour/roadtrip I took in 2005/2006. Fortunately or unfortunately, my email journal to my friends was the record I kept of that time. I took NO PICTURES. So this image I used, although striking, has nothing to do with that night.

The God Pan as Box Man - On the Road #7


Hey y'all,

Since I don't have a common theme to play with today and there are lots of images I haven't found space to include, consider this the start of a rummage sale of moments, stories, and such that I've seen and heard while on the road.  

But let's start with the god Pan, the avatar of drunken debauchery and profligate fucking from the pagan days when the worship of many gods for various purposes made sense and everybody was okay with that. Anyway, centuries later when the Word of the Lord was spreading far and wide and probably because Pan was the rock ‘n roll party god, he had the dubious distinction of his image becoming that of the Devil by over-zealous Christians who believed that the flavors of life should be only colored by shades of gray. In case you haven't figured it out, I am a blithering Tom Robbins fan, and “Jitterbug Perfume” gave the god Pan the respect he deserved, with a major, if not starring role, and the favorable impression stuck.  

Why do I mention this now?

Because perhaps it’s possible that the god Pan had to go underground and reincarnate as various human beings to survive the attacks against him; and although he has lost a lot of power, his spirit still lives. And for some crazy damn reason, I'm convinced his current incarnation is in the form of Michael Pando, aka Pando to his friends. For those of you who know Pando, this statement makes total sense because he adores booze to the point of alcoholism and young girls barely into the phase of adulthood. Since he's lost god-status and invincibility, he is weakened by his passions for the party that doesn't stop and often winds up in jail. Everybody who knows Pando has a half dozen outrageous Pando stories to tell, which will become legend.

It is inevitable.

Love him or hate him, he is a character, but a character challenged by finding his good space in this world. He was chased out of Juneau due to a shoot out
with a psycho bum who had taken over the cabin Pando had built.

That kind of thing, you know.

This past summer, Pando had a touristic rafting job with an anal company - which seems to be the case with many touristic companies in Alaska, you know. Anyway, being himself, Pando got drunk one night and stole a golf cart - buck nekkid - and had security chasing him. To disguise himself, he put a box over his head and hightailed it to safety. 

Thus he became known throughout this camp as "Box Man." Every so often, during the summer, Box Man would make a naked public appearance streaking through at the most random moments and it wasn't long before he became legend, and the best part was that nobody knew it was him. One day, he was talking to some dude from some other country and the guy said with a thick
accent, "Box Man, I think he like Zorro. Box man, he come for de peeple."  

Can you imagine hearing something like that about yourself?

Eventually, Pando got booted out due to failing a surprise piss test – he also liked to smoke weed. Well, he had to make a spectacular exit, didn't he? His people would expect it of Box Man.

So one night, when everybody was at dinner, including all the bosses, Box Man makes his final appearance, nakedly running in with a box over him. He stops, strips the box away and stands there with his bare ass and cock, unmasked for all to see before streaking away and packing up his shit to go.   

Pando may have even been sober.  

Since I've only heard about this through the grapevine, I may not have all the details straight. But what the hell, it makes a good story. And when I showed this to Pando, he seemed more than a little flattered.

The god Pan keeping the spirit alive - what do y'all think?


PS This is from the DIY booktour/roadtrip I did in 2005-2006 when marijuana was still illegal everywhere. This is one of my favorite stories from that road trip. Although I did not experience it directly, I knew Pando, and Joe told me this story at the Blackburn Music Festival in Kennicott/McCarthy. I would later have a challenging night crashing in a squatters treehouse in Girdword with both Pando and Joe, while they were drunk and I was sober. Good times.

Hippie Paradise - On the Road #6

Imagine a DIY music festival in front of this!!

Imagine a DIY music festival in front of this!!

Hey y'all, 

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.

On the Road #5


Hey y'all,

In Anchorage to give the Brown Beast the medical care he deserves.  Apparently, the BB has many leaking wounds, but according to the doctors, if I keep giving him transfusions on a regular basis, the BB should be good to go, for a long about that? 

Joe has joined the tour for the rest of the summer and he's set a goal to sell all the books in my truck. It is definitely more empowering to be a team of plural than a mission of singular, and the books are definitely selling.  At Chair Five in Girdwood, I had people following me to the bathroom to buy a book - yippee!!!  It is so much easier to have somebody else promoting me as a dreamer who is trying to manifest fantasy into reality.  When I do it, I sound like a geek.  At least for the next month, I don't have to endure the surface polite nods of those who can smell blood, while underneath the kitty sharpens its claws...okay, so I'm blowing things out of proportion.

Done with the Kenai Peninsula, and manana we're heading to McCarthy for the Blackburn Music Festival where we'll lay out a blanket and sell books.  Heard good things about this festival, so it should be good, and then we'll be heading up north - we may even go to Prudhoe Bay just so we can say we did because I doubt a bunch of republican oil-drillers will be into fairy tales featuring my heart-eating seductress, but you never know.  Then we'll be meandering on down to Fairbanks, and then...who knows.

Joe asked the I Ching a couple of questions...about chicks of course.  And one said the great departs and the small approaches - after he made the decision to not spread himself thin to go see a gal on the other side of the world  and the other was "The Marrying Maiden" with "The Arousing, Thunder" as the upper trigram, and "The Joyous, Lake" as the lower.  Since that girl already compared him to a flower, because he's "sweet," that made Joe's day.  He's been referring to himself as "I am the Arousing Thunder" ever since.  And he's totally sold on the I Ching. 

It's like traveling with my kid brother. 

Anyway, my journal list is starting to get bloated, so I have a request of everybody...if you would like to keep hearing of what's going on, drop me a line and let me know one way or the other.  If I hear nothing by the end of the month, I'll assume the answer is not and you're too considerate or too chicken to say so.

Anyway, hope all is well... 


PS This is the 5th email I sent to my friends of what are now some cherished memories of my DIY booktour/roadtrip in Alaska in the summer and fall of 2005. It was literally called “I don’t know what to call this one; this is the fifth email.”


Eternal Novicehood and the Saving Grace of Good Friends - On the Road #4


Hey y’all,

This road trip was shaping up to be an exercise in humiliation until Joe showed up. For instance, in Homer, at my first open mike, I had right in front of my stage the Christian kiddie contingent. They were there to play cards, talk loud, and make smart-ass speeches after different musicians played just to show how cute they were, while the folks that were actually listening attentively were behind them.  

I was lucky though, they got even more obnoxious when the guy after me went up to play his guitar and sing.  

At the Land's End in Homer, my first night was the exact same time and date as the post-Memorial service for Drew Scalzi, a former state Representative, so everyone there was going to that. One couple tried to get me to go upstairs, have some food and drink and let people know I was there, but there's just something about going to somebody's funeral, especially someone that I'd never met, to hustle some business that is...distasteful to say the least. The same couple came down and bought a book - probably out of sympathy because nobody showed up that day, and the wife suggested that I should come in the winter when people are looking for things to do during that time.

The next day, a couple of acquaintances and a couple of total strangers showed up. I sold two books. All I could think was that it was a mighty fine thing that I did not pay a dime for that space and that my beginner's luck had run out. And I'm back in the time and space of being a novice...again.

I packed up the Brown Beast (that is burning through the oil, but other than that is running beautifully) and headed for Seward.

It seems like every year I decide to do something different that I know nothing about, just so I can be a novice all over again. Perhaps Zen Buddhists would applaud my embrace of Zen mind by constantly being a beginner; but given that I learn by making sooooo many mistakes, the novice/beginner period can be agony.    

In Seward, at the Resurrect Art Coffee House – an old church that was converted into this little gem, I had set up a tableside storytelling for the sake of promoting my book. The owners are every artist's dream come true as they support the arts and would let me do whatever I wanted. So I set up for three days, hoping positive word of mouth would help.

Day one: I told several stories and sold...nothing.

Granted, I'm sure it could have been worse, I could have been insulted on top of it. But to be in a place for four hours and have people nod politely at my efforts is...awful and humiliating.

Why would any sane person put herself through all this?

It didn't help that I had a Homer friend tempting me to go back to Homer, go charter fishing and party. It was so demoralizing, I almost went, but I made a commitment and as much as it hurt, that commitment must be kept. I gritted my teeth to bear it on Thursday, where at least the day would be mercifully short.

Day two: I told two stories to four people...sold two books.  I perked up a bit. I've survived painful learning curves before and it was always better. I even sold two more books to a waitress and one of her followers at the bar where I refreshed myself with a beer after hiking.  

And then came deliverance...

Friday brought the arrival of Joe, who has absolutely no boundaries, and therefore, no inhibitions. A born balls-to-the-wall salesman type. For those who know Joe, after fishing in Bristol Bay, his dreds got inflected with fish bits, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. He said every morning when he woke up his head smelled like fish and he couldn't take it anymore. What should surprise everyone was that he shaved them off, along with his beard. And damn! He now looks like a respectable young man. He’s not, of course. But at least, he now passes.

Joe listened to a couple of stories, and even stopped being a smart-ass half-way through the first one. A Colorado woman who calls herself "Soozie Creamcheese," bought a book, and the two over-friendly studs I'd met at the youth hostel bought none. Then Joe took it upon himself to take a few books and hit the bars. He took four books, and within 45 minutes, came back with forty bucks, and left with ten more books. By the time people were only caring about getting drunk he sold seven more books. While I stayed put at the Resurrect Art Coffe House, told more stories, and sold two books.

I couldn’t believe it.

Here I am, busting my butt telling stories and recommending myself to strangers and all Joe has to say is: "Dude, you should REALLY buy this book," and he’s usually chatting up a female.

And it works.

I just might have to pack up Joe in my luggage...

Thank God for good friends.



PS These were some great memories of my road trip book tour in the summer of 2005. FYI, the Resurrect Art Coffee House is still around. If you’re ever in Seward, go check it out!