When you live under the stars or in a tent for two hundred days a year, you appreciate simple things: the pavilion in a city park, public restrooms, outdoor outlets, free wifi, and a shower. You’re thinking, “How about a hot meal and a shave”. Yes, I’m homeless. I’ve spent the winter under a roof, to which I am grateful. I’ve found inexpensive rent in Key West and France, Annapolis and Tacoma. One summer, working as a baker outside Denali National Park, I found this trailer.
Moving out of employee housing saved us several hundred dollars a month and allowed us time away from our work environment. Above that, the trailer was a beautiful respite from the humdrum lifestyle at Carlo Creek, mile 224 on the Parks Highway. Actually, Carlo is a mellow place, but the trailer made it feel like a city down there. Haul trucks whizzing past and tourists with schedules to keep and the daily operations of a restaurant and cabins created a buzz that felt like real life. The trailer, for $100 dollars a month, was otherworldly.
An old 1960’s camping trailer resting upon cinder blocks, it was the first roof on a riverfront property which has grown to include an outhouse and a two-story cabin. We had to haul our own water up the hill to the trailer on our bikes, but it came wired with electricity that powereda rice cooker, a lamp, and alarm clock, and a CD player for our small arsenal of discs. It was the summer of Toots and the Maytals, and Sam Cooke; Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and Fairport Convention; and plenty of Van Morrison. Astral Weeks and months, that summer was.
The trailer also came with a leak on the south end near the wood stove, and field mice arrived as soon as we began to stock the pantry. There never was a nicer, cleaner rodent than a tiny little field mouse. Aside, I had staked my claim in the vast universe and I would defend my cache against all trespassers. Mousetraps set with peanut butter and cheese and crumb cake were hidden in the depths of the pantry and after several days experimenting with adhesive nut butter and delectable crumbs, I caught one. Rather, I killed one. And then five or six more throughout the summer. Upon returning to the trailer three years later, one trap had still not been tripped. The other had ensnared a mouse. It must have been the last one.
Lael and I shared a bed measuring thirty-two inches wide, sometimes sleeping head-to-toe. We awoke to the most spectacular views of the cirque, locally called “the bowl”, between two snowy peaks across the Nenana River, which served as the boundary to Denali National Park. Dall sheep could be seen on the slopes across the way, and moose were common nearby. Lael saw a lynx on her quarter-mile bike ride to work at five in the morning. We fed and housed cycletourists as they passed on the highway, offering them a riverside camp spot and some baked goods from the cafe. Lemon squares and strawberry-rhubarb coffee cake were the house favorites. Cass spent a night alongside the river, and two Californian brothers with fishing gear and hip waders on Surly Big Dummys stayed a day, swimming and picnicking. The Berling brothers wound their way down to Argentina, fishing local waters as they went. Cass is somewhere atop a volcano in Ecuador, no doubt.
Returning to the trailer after several years was a quiet and thoughtful moment. With cool temperatures and rainclouds above, I gave thanks once again to having a roof over my head. And in the morning, with visible breath, I awoke to spectacular views across the Nenana.
The bottom pane is missing, lending a cool draft all season long.
A trip to the outhouse starts the day:
The Alaska Railroad passes across the river. It’s a treat to be swimming when the tourists chug past at 20 mph, cameras in hand. “Native Alaskans!”, they must think. The gravel landing below is the prized camp spot offered to passing cycletourists.
Even from the outhouse, the views are amazing through swinging saloon-style doors. Sit and ponder in the morning air, especially before mosquito season arrives.
Late in the summer, curiosity carried us across the river. We packed our gear in trash bags and swam the icy waters to the other side; others typically hitch down the road to the nearest bridge and hike seven miles along the railroad tracks. Only a stone’s throw away, we decided to swim, even if these waters were glacial ice less than fifty miles upstream. A short steep hike up to the bowl offers a rewarding vista, and a fun amphitheater to explore. Up there, the snowfields melt into a seasonal glacial lake; sliding down the melted face of the snowfield into ice water is a chilling treat.
Mile 224 on the Parks Highway– worth a visit.