On the Road: VA to AK
I left Washington DC right after July 5th. At the last minute, my sister loaned me her truck (A Dodge Dakota), so Bluebell (now retired to the backyard as a toy for my niece) stayed in Virginia while my sister shopped for a new van. So on this trip, when people ask where I live, I can reply "Dodge"; or even "Dakota". I swung south through Tennessee, but unfortunately had no time to stop, driving hard to make a traditional dulcimer festival in Carthage, Missouri.
It was a small and short fest, so on Sunday I was on the road again, heading for Montana. A lot of thoughts on the way. The person who invited me was kind to do so, and honest that she couldn't get me approved by the organizers becuase I didn't play the traditional fiddle tunes. But she said she would get me up on stage somehow, when there was a time lag between acts, and I could play around the grounds. It was ok, I understand. Yet it still bothered me, that there is no place for someone like me at a "dulcimer festival", and this prejudice of many in the dulcimer scene. It was odd as well, since a well known lap dulcimer player was a highlight of the fest, and he played some definitely non-traditional tunes. It is an old story for me, no room at the table for me, no matter how much people like my music. Just because I don't follow the narrow-minded definition of the status quo. I should be used to it, and I am, but it still troubles my mind, and my heart and spirit, even as I accept that as the way it is. I got to Missoula late Monday.
I stayed with Joe, an old friend and a great slide player, and got the gear set up to record some sessions. A week passed quickly, and I didn't even bother to look around for any venues. I know Missoula pretty well, and there's really not much there. Though I could have probably done a few shows in local coffeeshops that don't normally have music. It is a university town and years back, and has a good music scene as far as jamming goes. But it was more important to focus on the recording with Joe while I had the chance. The thing I have missed most in my music has been playing with other people, having that ensemble sound in any form. One of my purposes with the recording gear is to get that sound, at least in recordings, if I can't have it in my performances. I also recieved the digital videocamera I'd ordered just before I left, though actually using it would wait till I reached Alaska.
The next monday I was on the road once again, and heading North. I crossed the Canadian border and drove late into the night. I caught a few hours sleep and pulled off to Prince George, BC; and on to pickup the AlCan just north of Dawson Creek. By the time I pulled over for the evening I was deep into northern Canada, passing the now familiar places, noticing all the road work completed in the few years since I'd driven up last, in '97.
I slept in the Muncho Lake area, one of the beautiful places along the way, but also dangerous at night due to the large amount of large animals frequently crossing the road there. In the morning I had a flat rear tire, but I switched out to the spare and by evening I had completed the Yukon crossing and crossed the Alaskan border. I pulled into Tok late, dropping off a native guy I picked up hitching a little ways cross the border. He turned me on to some smoked salmon when I let him off, and invited me to stop in Tetlin sometime. He actually knew friends of mine in Eagle. I met one of his cousins here at the school, who'd already heard of me. Alaska is actually like a single small town. Despite the distances there are actually very few people, about 700,000; so the web of personal connections and contacts spans the entire state. Kids here in Eagle heard about me from kids in Deltana who saw me at the fair there. My friends in Eagle know my friends in Wiseman. I run into a friend from Homer, in the far south, at the fair in Fairbanks. A lady at the fair says she's has a tape of me that a friend in Juneau sent her in Europe in '92, when I visited southeast Alaska.
The next day I arrived in Fairbanks, 5,500 miles from Virginia. I checked in with the fair and let them know I was here. I had made a quick, clean run up, so I had a week and a half before the fair. I went to a local internet cafe and shot out a few e-mails to festivals coming up before the fair about performing. I hadn't wanted to book anything since it might have been delays along the way. I had been invited to visit by a friend of a friend and use their place as a base to play the local area, so in the late evening I was on the road agin, heading south to Willow, about 300 miles south of Fairbanks and about 50 miles from Anchorage. In the next ten days I would log almost 2000 miles driving around Alaska performing.
I arrived in Willow and met K.K. in person for the first time. She is a crafter, running a foil printing business, and is also a big fan in the local music scene, frequenting a lot of the festivals and venues. She helped me a lot in lining up a quick series of local performances. I performed almost continuously, afternoons and evenings, at coffeehouses and lodges. Though its just tips and CD sales, no paid performances, it is meeting people, and seeing what is possible in the Alaska scene. Like a lot of places, it is always a question of whether playing venues is worth it if you actually are making a living playing music. A lot of venues just don't pay, and they can't compare with a good street scene. Here in Alaska, it is about connecting with the river of tourists who flow through, which mght mean playing a quick lunch show wherever the tour bus stops that day is better than playing somewhere else at night, or the same place on a day the bus doesn't stop.
I made a good connection at Mead's Coffeehouse in Wasilla. I almost played at their openning when I was in Alaska in '98, but I left before they could get through all the delays involved in openning a new place. The owner was trying to develop it not only as a venue, but wanted to get digital recording equipment as well, and become a live recording venue as well. He also was hoping to create local radio programing as well, with low-power broadcasts of live performances. So I was right on time. After one performance, I arranged to come back later and set up my recording gear at the coffeehouse for a few days.
I'd gotten an e-mail back from the Deltana fair in Delta Junction inviting me to play that coming weekend. My friends from Willow were having a great time following me around and catching the scene, and KK was getting into running the videocam. They decided to follow me all the way to the Deltana fair. So Friday I packed up the gear after playing at Meads, then headed north to play at a lodge outside Talkeetna that evening. After that show, we still drove a chunk north to where some friends of mine were playing at Cantwell, showing up in time for the last set and a few hours sleep. In the morning I was on my way to Delta Junction, arriving about 1 pm Saturday. They asked if I could play right then, so I dragged out the dulcimer, tuned up and started playing at 2 pm. It was a small, friendly fair, and I enjoyed myself. My friends caught up with me late saturday night. I did a couple stage shows and set up to play between some of the booths, when it was quiet enough on the mainstage to play. There was a great scene where an old guy stopped and played harmonica with me, the western melodic style. It sounded perfect doing a song like "Old Paint". At the end of the fair, I had a great time jamming with the final band's set. I plan to visit them and jam, and hopefully record as well, as I keep on looping around Alaska.
Monday we were on our way south, planning to loop back across the Denali Highway to Cantwell. That night I camped alone on the summit, while they went on down to the Tangle Lakes lodge.
We met there the next morning for coffee, and I made a good connection there for another impromptu venue anytime in the future. That is one of the best aspects of playing in Alaska. The places are all individual and owner operated, so "business" is still personal and spontaineous. They may not have the budgets to pay, but they can make space and time if they want to, and are actually enthusiastic about it. Again, the idea is to coincide with the arrival of a tour bus, and play while they stop for a meal. They said that if I was in the area, I could call up just to find out when a tour would be passing through and arrange to play then.
We stopped a bit short of Cantwell to visit a friend, John, who was stuck off the side of the road. Like a lot of Alaskan highways, the Denali Highway is just gravel. He'd gotten run off the road in his 6 wheel army-surplus truck by an RV going too fast and wide around a corner towards him; they didn't even stop. The bad luck was having a culvert hidden in the willows right where he went off, so instead of just sliding to a stop, he dropped 15 feet and slammed into the creekbed, sheering off the front axel, cracking the trani, and burying the whole thing in mud. Part of the purpose of this trip was running him supplies and trying to get something moving on getting him out. He'd been there two weeks already, just trying to dig himself out so he could get dragged back onto the road. This was pretty ridiculous, considering all the heavy equipment available nearby at the mines. But he was a local, and politics surrounding the gold mines (he had claims up there) were outweighing basic human decency in helping someone out in trouble, no matter who they are. If someone needs help, I don't worry about personal feelings, I just help. Its more important to do what is right. That is a reflection of myself, my personal honor, integrity, and humanity, not of the person I help.
I returned to Willow for a couple days recovery time, doing laundry and fixing KK's crashed computer. I installed antivirus and disk utilities, while sweeping out a lot of left-over garbage. Best of all, I recovered a few hundred e-mails and letters she thought she'd lost forever, probably her biggest bummer. We also got things moving on John's truck, at last. By the time I left for Fairbanks things were in motion at last.
Fairbanks: The Tanana Valley State Fair
I arrived in Fairbanks with a day to prepare for the fair. It had been mostly rainy since I got to Alaska, a very wet summer; so it was good to climb out of the coastal zone and into the interior and some welcome sun. But the Fair has a reputation, and sure enough, the first day of the fair the clouds moved in, and five minutes before openning time, the rain began to fall. But I was glad to be back. For a large fair, Tanana Valley is the best I've been at. They are on a par with warm milk and cookies, in terms of consideration and thoughtfulness, making it a real community event with a at home feel. I felt welcome, and it was good to see so many people who remembered me, and many friends I'd made on my last trips. In the 9 days of the fair, I had many good scenes, more than I can hope to describe.
I did an hour on stage every other day, and otherwise, set up in a pavillion to play all day. It was a bit slow, due to the almost non-stop rain, but I was in a pretty dry, semi-protected place. I circulated the Captain's log and photo-album from the trip with "Further" (see the ARCHIVE) among my friends in the booths. I watched the horses warming up in the mornings and the many cranes arriving from the North Slope; allready drifting south. I got the video set up, but still am a bit inhibited at using it; or afraid it will distract from the show to be filming it. KK and friends arrived near the end of the fair to do some videoing, but the weather was at its worst, and they couldn't stay long. Perhaps my favorite tune during the fair was a version I did of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star". I can't always relate to adults, but I get along great with kids and animals. It also was a great demonstration of what it means to me to be a musician, what I play for; to being able to make a child happy, make them come alive; and to create scenes like I had with mothers singing along to their babes. To me, that is some of the most important work I can do. Finally it was over. I spent the final sunday after the fair as I usually do, helping friends pack up. A task that is a lot easier for me.
The Brooks Range: Northernmost Point
I headed out Monday night after a day of shopping and getting both rear tires repaired, since the other one had slow leaked flat during the fair as well. After catching up my e-mail at the internet cafe I favored, I headed north on the haul-road for the Brooks Range. Unfortunately, I got about 100 miles when one of the rear tires I'd had repaired blew apart in pieces. I got the spare on, but now I had no other and I realized the other rear tire was the same as the one that just blew, right down to the slow leak, repaired at the same place. I couldn't take a chance of even a slow leak (the footpump was one thing forgotten on the whirlwind transfer from Bluebell to the truck). So I headed back, pulling into Fairbanks at 5 am for a few hours sleep.
In the morning I bought two new tires and got on the road again. By that evening I made it to my first stop, Old Man, just a bit short of the Arctic Circle. Though my friends had to get up in the morning to work, we still had a bit of a jam session that night. I stayed most of the next day, to avoid the truck traffic on the road. I tried to make myself useful. But as soon as evening came, I made some quick farewells and headed north for Wiseman.
I arrived in time for dinner with Bernie and Uta. It had been two years since I made it up. In '98, I hadn't made it this far north, and in '99, I didn't reach Alaska at all. Now they had a two year old daughter, Julia. And the old piano there needed tuning again, though the lower registers were still remarkably in tune, though I tuned it last back in '93. In the morning I went over to Jack and Roma's to catch up with them and their family. I'd seen their son Jesse at the fair, grown up and buying his first car. After a bit, I got out the dulcimer again and set up to play for a while. This is my favorite time, when I visit my far flung friends in their cabins in the wild country. This is where I would have been if I'd been able to live my dreams instead of getting lost and carried away in the music. Still, I'd rather play in a cabin, surrounded by wood and cast iron, with kids playing and food cooking; than on any stage on Earth. Later I ended up back at Bernie and Uta's to do the same thing. Their cabin, the old Pioneers of Alaska hall, has such incredible accoustics. Even with no amplification, when I set the electric dulci right on the floor and played, the bass notes rumbled and shook the walls. The best was little Julia, who started out totally shy; but in a couple hours, I had her playing away on the dulci, laughing and giggling and having a great time. Those moments are the best.
The next morning I was on my way north again to Gold Creek, my final destination. Here's where I prospected and dug crystals and gold in '96 and '97. My friends Dave and Lanna where caretaking a claim there through the winter, as well as working there in the summer. They were expecting me and had a warm cabin (the greenhouse) and a bed fixed up for me, a great welcome for a tired traveller. The next day I helped him deliver a 3-wheeler he'd fixed for another miner up the creek. After we dropped the wheeler, I headed up the mountain with the video cam and made a long hike up to the base of the peak of Poss Mtn, crossing paths with a young grizzly on the way. I stumbled in late, tired, but satisfied to be back in the wildlands.
I stayed there a while, giving Dave and Lanna a chance to go to Fairbanks while I watched the place. The night after they left the first snowstorm came. August 22, it snowed all day, about 6 inches of wet snow; turning to rain the next morning. I mostly stayed around camp till they got back a few days later, as I'm serious about my responsibilities. In fact, even after they arrived, I did little serious hiking or prospecting. I just am not that interested in gold or crystals; and though I enjoy the prospecting and the hiking, I was really there to visit my friends. So I stayed around camp a lot and we got started on the chores of wintering in. I enjoy this kind of work, from my homesteading childhood to my dreams of a cabin of my own; this is the life I enjoy living. We moved the sled dogs to winter quarters and brought logs off the mountain and into camp for firewood. I also spent a few hours sluicing a little gold out of the creek below camp with Dave, just for the fun of moving a little dirt on a rare sunny day.
I got out a bit, returning to places I'd found, but instead of digging, I sat and thought. I still wasn't sure what I was doing back there again, if I should be trying to take up where I left off on my plans so long ago. Was I still planning to locate a claim for gold or crystals, make a place I could set up regularly up here, an alternative to music? 7 years have passed since I first came up to do just that, but now it feels like that dream is really dead. Perhaps I just don't have the energy for it anymore, or the desire. I'm still crippled, and I have accepted that I can't do all I once did. In the aftermath of all my troubles, I have focused on the music as something that is right, and keeps me distracted. It also takes all my time and energy if I let it, and I still can't do it all. If I do, I can always come up with more.
Lanna also breeds sled dogs, and their main strain is a lot like my old wolf-dog, Kee-na. It was both strange but nice to borrow a dog and go off across the mountains. I was connecting to the life I lived so many years ago, when me and Kee-na roamed in the wilds together. It was so familiar to see this white dog cruising along in front of me, turning to come bounding back. They tried to give me a pup of this litter, but I am planning on using my present freedom to do some world travel, and trips like "Further", before I get another pup.
Finally, it was time to go. But first, we hauled the dulcimer up the trail on their 3-wheeler and I played again up there in Gold Creek, just like in years before. The next day, I was packing everything down the mountain and heading south for the first time. I sent a day in Wiseman visiting and sharing a dinner of the heart and liver from the first kills of the season. But the next morning I was on my way south again. Now the mountains were yellow with fall colors, as I left the Brooks Range behind. I stopped at Old Man again to visit for a few hours before I was on the road south to Fairbanks. I just stopped there to call Eagle and confirm again, let them know I'd be there the next day. I drove off into the night and the rain, and pulled off the 250 miles to Tok that night.
Eagle: Live at the Yukon River
Through overcast and cloud-hidden summits, I drove the 160 miles of dirt to Eagle. The road starts out wide and good, but degenerates into a twisting, narrow track clinging to canyon cliffsides, sometimes actually wide enough for two vehicles to pass, sometimes not; liberally sprinkled with blind hairpin turn with a cliff on one side and a sheer drop on the other. It is definitely "an adventure in driving". But after a while, I was dropping down the final slope to the Yukon River, and driving slowly through Eagle to arrive at my friend's house, overlooking the river.
After a few hours of visiting, showing the photo album, we headed up to the school and I had the DAW system set up and tested in a couple hours. The next morning I was recording a chorus of elementary school kids for a original song "Children of Alaska". I recorded two songs that they plan to sell on cassettes as a fundraiser to buy digital recording gear for the school. I did classes on digital recording and also my regular programs on the dulcimer, and had a jam session with the elemtary schoolers and some of the highschoolers. I spent time talking to several local musicians about how to get set up in digital recording, as well as teaching Annie, my host, elemtary teacher and principal, and musician; how to record and mix with the PARIS system. Then I spent time with the district tech person explaining more of the deatils of the hardware and software. This is what Annie and I had taslked about when I visited two years ago and talked about my plans to get a DAW and the things I wanted to do with it, inplaces like Eagle.
I also managed to played one night at the local restaurant, and have a couple jam sessions with local musicians!
It's showtime in Eagle! Part of my plan for this summer was using the video footage to make an "quick and dirty" video tour journal for the internet. Flo at
picked up on the idea, so I went for it. I thought that Eagle would be a good place to get started. I'd have finished enough of the summer tour to have material to work with, and enough time to get over the learning curve. I haven't had time to install my pro-video card, but I'm not sure it matters for the internet. Anyway, the basic idea of the journal is that it is a series, and I can ramp up to higher quality on down the road. The tourjournal is about content, not fancy production; and I want to get people connected to the tour now, as it happens; as close as possible. So its done, the introduction and first few reports are "in the can" so to speak. I fit about two and a half minutes on a 650MB CDR. I should mail them off in the next day of so (if the weather opens up so the mail plane can fly) and then its up to Flo and Bk over at 52, while I'll work on the next reports. I still have a few to catch up to where I am now. Even my concepts are evolving as I balance the documentary aspects of telling the story, with the telling the real story, the thoughts and feeling behind the events, the essential threads that surface in scene after scene in the life I have lived.
It is the first storm and I am trapped in Eagle for a week as it drops 20 inches of snow on Tok and the road out of here. I finish two video journal episodes covering the Tanana State Fair, and record a commentary Annie was invited to do for Alaska Public Radio. Its a good example of the usefullness of the technology. Even during this storm she's able to e-mail them scripts to edit and finally approve; then we record it on the Paris, convert the file to .mp3 format and e-mail that to the radio station; where they air it the next day. The snow stops friday and I leave Monday, climbing out on the hanging cliff-edge road, now covered in snow.
The Final Alaska Loop,
Part One: Tok to Willow
I arrive in Tok that evening and connect with Mike at Duct Tape Radio. Turns out they are having a board meeting the next night and he asks if I want to play. That night it hits -10 degrees. The next day I go over to the highschool here to meet Jeremy, the Music teacher, and arrange to return and do a day of highschool shows and maybe an evening concert in conjunction with the school chorus. I also do a mail drop and the first video tour-journal reports are off to 52Media. I play that evening for the radio folks and then head over to camp at the "off the road house", a B&B operated by one of the boardmembers.
After a nice morning with the folks there, I head out on the road again. I drive the short hundred mile hop to Delta Junction and pull in at Dawn and Bruce's place. The first thing I did was tune their piano. Dawn was the coordinator at the Deltana Fair. I'd offered to stop and do a show there when I passed through. When I contacted her from Eagle, she asked if I could do a preschool class, which I said was no problem at all. I also contacted the Delta Junction school, and was lucky to be able to fit into two awards assemblies they had scheduled for the elemetary school classes Friday. They had only 15 minutes worth of awards so I had 45 minutes to entertain 120 elementary school kids, twice. It was great. I was able to keep them entertained an focused for a program about the dulcimer and folk-music and being a musician, including sing-alongs and even a stomp-along! "And a good time was had by all."
After the school shows I was on the road again to Fairbanks, racing an oncoming storm and hoping to make a celtic jam I'd been asked to attend by someone who saw me at the fair. I made it in time, and spent the evening playing at Into The Woods, an neat old style alternative bookstore-coffehouse. This isn't the genericism of Starb's or such, but a real authentic place with self-serve revolution right next to the cream and sugar. Shelves of books and videos from the classics like Thoreau to the latest speeches by Green Party Candidate Nader. This is my type of place, these are my roots. I grew up in this atmosphere, and the conversations and characters are familiar. I stay here for almost three days as a bad ice-storm slams Fairbanks. I play and talk and work on paperwortk when no one is around. One morning we cut and stack firewood. The temperature is about 15 above, not so bad, but still abit cold for sleeping out in the truck. Makes me wonder what I am doing here, and I put a stop at the sally for an extra blanket or two on my list.
Tuesday I am on the road, making a careful drive over the ridge to Nenana, then slowly getting on better conditions, till I hit drive pavement. Even the snow dissappears from the ground as I keepm on to Willow again. Though there are scenes along the way, the river clogging with ice as it freezes, crows and eagles flying, I don't stop to video. There is a new storm looming ahead that quickly blots out the sun, and I am shooting the short window between fronts again. But I reach Willow in time, to visit at K.K's again. We make a run to Wasilla to get stained-glass-working supplies and the wind is howling and sleet and snow begin pouring down even as we leave town.
This morning there was sleet on the ground, but the front is passed and spared Willow. The sky is blue and I shower and do laundry and try to get in touch with the local friends and musicians I want to meet in the next week and a half before I head north and complete this final loop of performances and classes, and I leave Alaska.
The Final Alaska Loop,
Part Two: Willow to Tok
I headed south to Anchorage to catch up with friends I hadn't even seen yet, like Mark at Kachemak Cooperage, where I built dulcimers last time I was in Alaska. I got there in time to help them deliver a new sweatlodge almost back up in Willow! These are really amazing, beauty and function combined. I got a copy of video he shot the last time I was there. They had just finished an upright barrel sweat-lodge, maybe 10' in diameter. I set the dulcimer up inside to play in the great acoustics there. One sequence has Mark and his brother inside with me, pounding out a drumbeat on the floor in a neolithic moment. There is also an entire tape I made documenting the process of building my dulcimers. I don't know what I will do with that, but again, it is footage I can't create in afterthought, only think of using because I took the time to capture the moment.
I had a stroke of luck next. I thought I would have to drive south to Homer to catch up with friends there, Jimmie "the Bead Man" and Christine. But I chanced to see an ad for a bead show in downtown Anchorage over the weekend. I decided it was worth a try to look them up there and lo and behold, there they were. I was saved a few hundred mile drive over the coastal mountains as winter storms were moving through. I also was able to visit Side street Expresso, where I'd played the last time I was in AK. I also chanced upon an oriental restaurant and the owner actually knew what a dulcimer was and had one he'd brought from Laos, his homeland. It's a small world. I spent a couple days visiting Jimmie and Christine at the Bead show, Then I headed south along the seashore of Turnigan Arm to Girdwood to visit the Bezerkley folks. Again, I had some good luck and managed to find them, even though I had no idea where they lived. Alaska is a place of small towns where you can ask around and people know people and it works.
I'd hoped to catch a few more people in the Anchorage area, but I can't catch everyone, so I missed a few and headed north to Willow again. Between my efforts and Kimberley's, I had a pretty packed schedule. I left Girdwood for Palmer, to play at the Pioneers of Alaska home and look up some folks I knew there. Once again, some fell through and others came through. It was especially nice to stop at Trinity Lutheran and visit the pastor there, who'd so kindly put me up between the state fair and a performance at a service for them. I'd sat at their piano most of a week, writing songs. Now I was able to play her the two "new" songs that still survived from that time, now a solid part of my originals.
That evening I arrived in Willow for a jam party. The only musician who showed was a Bass player, but he was good, and able to jam, and we really had a good time of it. I set up the DAW and recorded a lot of it, but it was just air-miked and the tracks are full of a lot of people sound as much as the music. It was a party after all, and quite a success all told.
The following days proceeded in a flurry of shows as I went back to Talkeetna and did a spot on the local PBS radio during their fundraiser, then played the Inn in town that night. In the morning I played the local elementary school, then drove back to Willow to do a show at their elementary school before the day was over. Then I was down to Meads to catch up with another friend, who came back to Willow with me to check out the DAW and connect with my friends there, extending the network a bit more.
In the morning I was packing it up though, and by mid-day I was on the road and headed for Tok for my final show, a set of classes at the school and a benefit concert with and for the school chorus in the evening.
It all came off without a hitch, for something like this. I even managed to do a couple tunes with their chorus, the openning and closer. It was some real world experience for them, to back a strange musician, with no rehersal. At least I was kind and picked easy songs that they knew already! After all, I wanted it to work for bth of us, real, but still the thril of success. And it did. In fact, the big complaint from people after the show was that Patty Larkin had played in town a month before at $20 a seat, and I played that night for "suggested donations" of $2-$3. People were complaining, or just couldn't understand, because they thought my show was a lot better than hers. Hey, I can't explain it either. After all, before I came up I had contacted two of the main AK promoters and got a "sorry, can't help you" response. As I usually do. I just don't have the image, just the content, ah well.
After the show I stayed at the Off-The-Road-House, a local bed and breakfast, and had a great jam there with Helga, the owner, on piano; and a local guitar player as well. A great time was had by all!
Driving cross country is a lot like sailing, to me. The trick is to look for that bubble of clear air between the fronts and stay in it, driving fast ahead of the front, till you begin to catch up to the mess in front of you, then rest and wait for the clear air to move ahead, making sure to get out ahead of the front that is chasing you. In the morning I checked the satelite pictures from the internet. Though it was snowing outside, the picture was of a thin layer of flurries, with the major storms still ahead and behind. So I headed east, crossing the border a hundered miles from Tok and rolling down the ALCAN, stopping for migrating caribou who were crossing the road in columns a couple times along the way.
I caught up the storm ahead of me that night just before I reached Whitehorse, as I'd hoped. I drove the last miles in through heavy fresh snow, pulled of to sleep, and woke to blue skies and sunshine. This was the airmass that had been flurries over central Alaska, but had lost its mosture to roll along as a bubble of cold, clear air between the two storms. And it was cold, -15 degrees again when I got up. But I found a great coffeshop, The Midnight Sun, and spent the morning there. I was hoping to catch up with a couple musicians I'd met at the fair, but they were gone touring Ontario.
All for the best, realy. I was in a fine weather window and I took it, pulling out at noon to run down the snowpacked highway, clear sailing most of the way, though I had another cold night in Fort Nelson, and light snow in the passes.
The next night I pulled into Williams, BC, to try and meet up with a lady there who had a collection of old cowboy music passed down from her father. I parked on a bluff overlooking town and slept. The next day I spent at a local coffehouse again, a nice place adjacent to the Library. But my contact turned out to be a bad, sad joke. Seems her boyfriend didn't "approve" of her seeing me, and her secretary told me to "be on my merry way." Pretty sad, really. People are pretty twisted these days, I think it is TV. They all think everyone is in some sordid soap opera, obsessed with sex. I just wanted to be of service and check out the music. But I guess maybe professionalism is a rare thing these days. Personally, I thought she was my mother's age, but it sounds more like she was probably pretty young. I half expected to just stop and load a couple cardboard boxes in the truck, maybe visit a bit, and then head south. She had invited me to visit, so I had considered stopping to rest after the long hard push down the ALCAN, and to have time to look through the music collection if I couldn't take it all. Mostly, I hadn't given it a second thought since I had last communicated with her before I left the east coast.
I had driven late to the night to get here, because when I stopped in Prince George (150 mile north) for gas late, they were calling for snow the next morning. So I pushed on to Williams, and in the end, pushed on from there as well in the afternoon, barely ahead of the storm.
There was nothing left now but to push it all the way down. I figured I could vote if I detoured to Montana instead of heading directly for Seattle, so I did. I pushed through the night, striking rain before I turned east, then pushing through the heavy snow just starting in the passes over to Golden and the foot of the Canadian Rockies. That's the typical story of my life, driving some of the most scenic parts of Canada (or somewhere) in the darkness of night, with a storm nipping my heels.
In the morning I was on final leg to the border, running along the upper Columbia to its source, then the final backroads to the border. Of course, they pulled me aside to the garage so they could search the rig, somehow I always get their special attention. I figure there must be a big red dot next to my name in their computer, not that I've ever been caught for anything, but they've been trying as long as I can remember. Or maybe its my FBI file that does it, nothing like being a "subversive" in America by actually talking out loud about things like peace and freedom and justice... Anyway, I was so tired at this point I could barely stay awake, except for coffee! While they searched, I leaned back against the wall and promptly fell asleep. I snapped out of it almost instantly, but they were deciding I wasn't too worried about the whole affair, and I wasn't (except I was desperate for a cup of coffee!). I'm not stupid, so I had nothing to hide. I didn't even mind being searched, I was just so satisfied that I'd made it all the way down, ahead of the storm, and a place to stop was just a few hours ahead, if that. Funny enough, before I left one of the border patrol who searched the rig bought one of my CDs.
I rolled off into Montana, relaxing into the certainty that I had it just about in the bag and there was a friend and a place to rest not much farther down this road. And I got a good cup of coffee in one of the first towns entering the Flathead basin! I drifted south through the rest of the afternoon, pulling into Missoula, Montana before sunset, just ahead of the storm once again. I'd left here several months and many miles ago, but now the circle was complete. I could say the Alaska tour was over, except for a few details, like the 5000 miles still to go back to the east coast!
Jam with Joe: Missoula Blues
I arrived in Missoula in the evening and though I was exploring the farther fringes of burnout, I stayed up most of the night jamming with Joe. Joe had just found out that he'd just lost the place he'd been living in for years, and had spent a lot of time rehabing. He'd put a lot of effort into keeping the place together, and I'd helped alot myself along the way. He ended up with nothing much and eviction in the start of winter. I quess I showed up right on time at a bad time. He was still pretty much in shock and discouraged. SO I grabbed a guitar and said, "let's jam!" and we played the blues late into the night. I was able help him get back into gear and start moving forward with the sad chores of getting out of there. I helped a lot with the physical clean-up, and as much, just providing some motivation from the outside, and an old friend to share some hard times with. What are friends for? I was certainly glad I could be there. And we jammed the blues.
I stayed a week to vote, jamming and cleaning up while the snows caught up with me. In fact, I ended up spending an extra week there waiting out the weather. But I set up the DAW and recorded another session. There's really not enough time to get anything serious done, more just raw jams. Joe is one of the best guitar players I know, so we agreed to plan on a longer visit and get together to record some serious slide and lead work for my next CD. I'd rather have my old friends collaborating on my CDs, rather than someone I don't know, even if they were better than Joe. The fact is, Joe is good, really good, and certainly good enough, and that's what counts. That's the way I live. So hopefully this will happen and add impetus the the CD project in general, even if I just don't know where or when I'll get it done!
I left Missoula and drove to Seattle. This is a regular stop for me, but this year... I don't know, maybe it was the rain, or maybe I was just tired of it all. But i didn't go down and play at all. I visited a couple old friends in town, and set up the DAW to work some as well. But after a week I was back on the road, heading south for San Francisco.
I was definitely tired, I think, and trying to juggle visiting friends and stopping to visit or jam with musicians I'd met through the internetwork. It came up as a mixed bag. I couldn't contact my old friends in San Fran, the owners of Further (see the ARCHIVE) and had to hope they'd finally headed for Mexico to pick up the boat. Maybe I'll see them there, planning to was one of the reasons for my wanting to meet up with them. I connected with a dulcimer player in Petaluma and a second contact bowed out at the last minute for some emergency. In short order I was on the road again. Significantly, I turned the truck east and settled into my cruise-mode, with the east coast now in my sites, a mere 3300 miles or so.
I made good time, rolling across Nevade in a day. I'd hoped to return to my old ways and have a night out in the brush, maybe go back to some wild hotspring, there's a lot of them out there. But the weather I'd run with was howling along with me and it was way too cold and snowy to do any rambling, especially in my run-down condition. Instead I spent time in truckstops, going over my paperwork, pulling into SWalt Lake a day ahead of schedule. I found a library and kept busy till I pulled out of town to sleep in an industrial area.
The next day I found a good coffeehouse to spend the morning, then met up with a badnd I'd connected with on the net. We only had a few hours to jam, but I set up the DAW and we got it done. I didn't get a good recording really, I am still a bit inhibited about letting the recording gear distract me from the jam, whichb is supposed to be for fun and relaxation! So I didn't multitrack or monitor, and the mix came out way out of balance. But we had fun playing, and all told it was a real success. The quality might not have been what I want, but this whole trip was more to see if this concept would even work. Could I meet musicians on the internet and actually stop along the way to meet up with them and jam, and even record those jams as well, or just socialize. The single event wasn't so important as seeing if I could establish a working pattern, knowing that it wouldn't always work out, but worth it for the times it does. As well, I was getting the ball rolling. Like the Bass player in Anchorage who said he'd be available and willing if I need a bass player on a return trip to Alaska. Again with the band in Salt Lake, maybe that session wasn't perfect, but it lays the graoundwork for future visits and collaboration. Maybe I could even come up with some local gigs to make it a real stop on the tour. That night I was already 200 miles further east, another cold night, entering the south pass area of Wyoming.
Maybe it was the subzero temperatures, but the steroe in the truck suddenly strated working again, and stayed with me till I got out of the cold. I raced ahead through Cheyenne and crossed Nebraska, covering over 1000 miles that day across the snow covered praires. Somewhere east of Des Moines I sept again. In the morning I stopped for coffee and gas, took one lok at the sky and got my coffee to go. The storm was on me again, coming out of the Northwest. I pulled away from it at first, but since I was headed east, it was catching up with me from the North, a towering wall of clouds and snow. I made it past Chicago and turned north into Michigan, following the lake around to go visit relatives a couple few hours north. Just short of their place, the snow hit heavy, but I made it to their plce and spent a week there while the snow piled up soft and deep. I set up the DAW and burnt the Salt Lake jam sessions to CDR so I couldn't lose them, and did a rough mix for copies to send to the folks I'd jammed with. I was able to help out my cousins with their computers, so it was a productive visit, relatively.It was important, too, since I hadn't visited in many years since I'd been flying to Alaska instead of driving.
I was in luck, since the weather broke the day before I was scheduled to leave. By the time I reached Chicago again, I was driving under blue skies. I met another musician at a coffeeshop in town. Not so productive as it could have been, but worked out fine as a break from the road and rush hour traffic. Though it was a strange repeat of a similiar energy that manifested in the lady with the cowboy music in BC. Essentialy, her ma was there to interogate me as to my "intentions". It seems to me that everyone is obsessed with sex and everyone expects ulterior motives. I'm actually transparently sincere and not part of that world at all, but that's a different story. Again, it is a matter of professionalism, personally. I also made it clear to the lady I was there to meet that unfortunately her ma was probably right, though not about me. Too many people do have ulterior motives and are obsessed with sex, and have no ethics and have totally inconsiderate, selfish motivations. These people have taken to the internet like fish to water as it gives them anonymity, the ability to assume false identities, and a wide hunting ground. There are good people out there, like me, sincere and honest. But I'm not fooling myself into thinking that I'm in the majority at all. So she should take care, since she's in a predatory culture, and one in denial about it, so if she is victimized she won't find much help or sympathy about it. I'm just sorry that it compromised two of the stops I planned to make, when I am motivated only by my desire to help. Music is that unbroken chain, and part of my duty is to carry on from others and pass on to others, whether collecting old songs so they won't be lost or showing a new player some chords, or being a dedicated sincere musician in a world full of musicians motivated by ego and selfish ambition rather than service to their gift.
That night I drove to near Indianapolis to meet up with another musician, a harmonica player. This felt to me like the best meeting of the trip, though not so much musically, though we had some good jams. They were in the midst of finals and I was reaching the terminal stages of road burnout, which makes it hard on the musical end. Instead, what I experienced was the other thing I'd hoped for, meeting with like minded people. At the simplest, it is being able to talk a few hours with someone who doesn't ask me why I do what I do, who understands my thoughts and feelings because they percieve the world in a similiar way. It is sometimes hard to have a realistic discussion about some of the things that matter to me most, with a person who doesn't have a personal grasp of the world I live in. I'd hoped to find a chance visit with musicians, or any artists, who see the world more as I see it.
The next day we met up again to set up the DAW, both to record and to let her check out the equipment. We had no place to set up, so we actually rented a motel room for $20 apiece and it was a great idea (hers, not mine). We had a good space to work without distractions, and we did. It was six in the morning when we finally packed the gear back up and said farewells. I caught a few hours sleep and was on the road at noon check-out time.
I'd thought of swinging down through Loisville, KY to connect with the 52Media folks and on to Nashville for a JPF showcase there, but I couldn't get in touch with anyone. I also felt a storm coming. In my years at sea and on the road and in the wildlands, coupled with a period of serious studying of meteorology; I've developed a great weather sense. I was also just about toast. So after a couple hours trying, I loaded up a cup of coffee and headed east, on the final run to complete the whole circuit, back to Virginia, DC area; that I had left after the July 4th weekend. I punched through light snow but finally broke free of the clouds just north of my goal, running the final 50 miles under clear skies. I pulled into my ma's house at about 11:30, about 18,000 miles behind me.
So here I am. The snow came in behind me again. And I set up the DAW and got to work. I'm doing more episodes of the video journal, and updating the website, and going over and catalogueing the video footage from the summer. I'm hoping to do some recording as well. Ma is a theater professional and can use my gear for herself and I can use her for some projects I have in mind. Another old friend is coming down from Boston next week to visit, and at the same time I'll be able to record some of the new songs he's written.
The future looms. In very short order I'll have to decide from the options what I am to do next, after I complete the circuit (or start it again perhaps) by returning to Florida and to my sailboats. I'm not sure what will happen, my life tends to be spontaineous, with well planned options and flexible yet solid structures. This year has been no different. I had a lot of plans, many cards, and I played them as circumstance, opportunity and chance developed moment by moment. I still followed my basic plan, I went to Alaska and played at the State Fair, visiting friends in Missoula and Seattle, and relatives in Michigan, along the way. I'd rather not winter in Florida, and I'd like to return to Mexico and Belize, but its been a long time since whay I wanted was of any priority. But I quess I'll find out by this time next year, by then the unknowable future will be another story to tell.