Off the Beaten Path: Hitchiking on mystery road

Years ago, on the Castner Glacier — an icy corridor leading into the alpine clutches of the easternmost region of the Alaska Mountain Range — I lost my two spare pairs of underwear to the deviant whims of arctic ground squirrels. I was supposed to be at a family reunion shortly. Most of these people I’d never met; they wore khakis and made me deeply uncomfortable. When I emerged after a week of wandering in circles in the mountains, I figured I better hitchhike to Fairbanks and buy at least one change before heading south.

I don’t recommend hitchhiking (I’m seven feet tall, weigh 400 pounds, wear an eye patch, trench coat, have a hook and carry a sign that says “ANYWHERE” which I think keeps me safe from the weirdos. If you see me on the side of the road, please pick me up. I’m perfectly harmless, a master of “pillow talk” and a really good listener.)

For all its dangers, hitchhiking can bring you into contact with interesting people — folks like the young lady from Maine who told me she was my mother, and the guy from Washington who yelled that if I tried anything he would take his van off the road and kill me and his family. And then there was the guy near Prince George who tried to induct me into his cult with the offer of a spaghetti dinner. I declined even though I love spaghetti. Sometimes I feel like that was a real missed opportunity.

My first ride from near the Castner Glacier was an elderly man and woman — two geologists, if my memory serves me correctly. He was laying the mack down hard. Material like, “You see that mountain? Yeah, I was the first guy to climb it.” He told a number of “and then I almost died” stories. The lady seemed impressed. I took notes from the back seat. I’d use his exact lines later, but without any success.

We high-fived at Delta Junction — I stood near the crossroads, thinking about Robert Johnson and an old Brittany Spears movie that I never saw but heard was fantastic. A small car piloted by a young couple pulled over. The guy gave me an ornery look-over as I settled in the backseat. What he said next was a bit of a surprise.

“You ever hear of the Peruvian star child?”

I said no, and the guy launched into an impassioned lecture about how aliens have been visiting Earth for decades and the government is in cahoots. I kind of zoned out and fantasized about jo-jos and fried chicken until he started to quiz me. Did I believe in aliens? Ghosts? Bigfoot? Demonic possession?

At the time I found aliens a bit pretentious. Any creature that waxes, wears spandex and has huge vulnerable eyes waiting for me to poke them, just made me feel pity. Ghosts seemed even more boring. Some intangible form, or at best a floaty something people visualize as a dirty sheet with communication issues? If the sheets have bed bugs, crabs, lice or scabies I might be scared. Bigfoot — a lonely, stinky and hairy hominid haunting the edge of civilization? This sounded like my life story. I looked at myself in the rear view mirror and got all choked up for a second.

“I believe in the unknown,” I said, trying to sound vague, deep and wise with the hope of impressing the two. Neither seemed to acknowledge my words; they were busy yelling about haunted houses and ancient cultures of extraterrestrials that once lived on Earth.

The man’s vehemence was so intense it kind of felt like being tied to a chair and slapped around with a variety of kitchen implements. I wanted to tell him to calm down, that he was ruining the supernatural and the preternatural for me. By the time we got to Fairbanks, my throat was scorched and I’d gotten a crick in my neck from repeatedly nodding and saying “yeah” and “wow, that’s crazy.”

The couple was heading back down south after their summer working in Alaska. I hope they’re happy and like to imagine them in Sedona, camped out atop a vortex of some sort waiting to have a reunion with our galactic brethren.

Most people have pretty interesting relationships with the unknown. According to Google, more Americans believe in aliens than God (77 percent, versus 69.5 percent). Forty two percent of Americans believe in ghosts, while a surprising 29 percent think Bigfoot is for real.

In honor of Halloween, I hope to compile enough Southeast supernatural and spooky tales for a feature in the Capital City Weekly. If you have any stories you want to share with me — on or off the record — I’d love to hear them.

• Bjorn Dihle is a Juneau writer. He can be contacted at bjorndihle@gmail.com.

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