North to Alaska

North to Alaska-1968

There is more in play than meets the eye in our comings and goings. Moon’s first trip to Alaska, like all the subsequent trips, was much more than an extended summer vacation. Alaska beckoned and something inside Moon told him he had to go.

“After that divorce, I went back to college down there at Holmes Junior and majored in history. In 1968, after that first semester, I decided to go to Alaska. I first heard about Alaska from Uncle Luther. There was also a lot of local stories about people a goin’ up there and a gettin’ rich workin’ on them pipelines. I really didn’t know nothin’ about Alaska or that Kenai River. I’d heard somethin’ about the Kenai on a TV commercial.

“Ever day I’d see a TV commercial advertisin’ car batt’ries. It showed this pickup piled up with snow and a man dressed real warm with one of them fur trapper hats on, a tryin’ to start his truck, but the batt’re was too weak. He replaced that batt’re with, I thank they called it the ‘Alaskan batt’re’, and that truck started right up.

“And then that man would say, “You gotta be tough to live on the Kenai.”

“That’s the first time, I ever heard about the Kenai, but I still didn’t know too much about it.”

Moon didn’t know it at the time, but he was destined to become a legend among the bank fishermen on the Kenai River.

I only remember bits and pieces of Moon’s visit with Christia and me a couple of days before he left. He parked his old Chevy truck in the gravel driveway under the winged elm beside the old white house. Christia and I were busy playing in the front yard. He walked over and we sat down on the rickety front steps. We talked. He told us he was leaving for Alaska and the North Pole where Santa Claus lived.

Christia told him, “Tell Santa Clause to send us some presents.”

Moon told me, “Shane, be sure to play that baseball this summer and be tough while I’m gone.” I played T-ball that summer and I was a lot of things but tough wasn’t one of them.

Privet hedge in full blossom, heat and humidity already oppressive, pain from the recent divorce, Luther’s words replaying in his head, “They’re bigger than that in Alaska”, Moon packed his gear bound for the land of the midnight sun.

Billy Stricklin drove up the hill of the driveway into the front yard on Louisville Street.

“Whatcha’ doin’, Moon?” Billy asked.

“I’m packin’ up to go to Alaska.”

“Alaska? Man, that’s a long way, ain’t it? What cha’ gonna do up there?”

“I don’t exactly know but I plan on a fishin’ for them big king salmon.”

“Ya’ think that truck of yours will make it all the way to Alaska?”

“I don’t know, but I plan on a tryin’ it.”

“Whatcha’ gonna do if she breaks down?”

“That’s a good question, I guess I’ll just hitchhike and then try to get a job.”

“Good luck, Moon.”

“Thank ya, Billy.”

Moon changed the oil and filter of the ’57 Chevy Apache, pouring the Quaker State 10W-40 to the precise dot on the stick, meticulously checked and rechecked his packing list--first and foremost, his fishing gear, careful not to leave one thing behind that might come in handy in the slightest way. Moon went over his list one last time: jack, bicycle pump, shovel, rods, reels, tackle, fishing line, salami, cheese, sleeping bag. Check, check, check.

Darkness descending, the western sky a faint orange, he started the old chevy truck’s engine and pulled slowly down the driveway. Giddy exhilaration and palpable pain competing, he headed northwest on Highway 9 humming Johnny Horton’s, “North to Alaska”. Not fearing death or depravation, Moon was like young Jeremiah Johnson, riding into the Rockies, ill equipped and with a lot to learn, but wholly determined.

“Big Sam left Seattle in the year of ninety-two with George Pratt his partner and his brother Billy, too. They crossed the Yukon river and found the bonanza gold below that old white mountain just a little south-east of Nome. Sam crossed the majestic mountains to the valleys far below. He talked to his team of huskies as he mushed on through the snow. With the northern lights a-runnin' wild in the land of the midnight sun, yes Sam McCord was a mighty man in the year of nineteen-one. Where the river is windin' big nuggets they're findin', north to Alaska go north the rush is on, north to Alaska go north the rush is on.

George turns to Sam with his gold in his hand, said Sam you're lookin' at a lonely lonely man, I'd trade all the gold that's buried in this land for one small band of gold to place on sweet little Jenny's hand, 'Cause a man needs a woman to love him all the time. Remember Sam a true love is so hard to find, I'd build for my Jenny a honeymoon home. Below that old white mountain, just a little south-east of Nome. Where the river is windin' big nuggets they're findin', north to Alaska go north the rush is on. North to Alaska, go north the rush is on.”

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When I first penned Moon and Sunn I included a truck load of chapter endnotes. I felt I needed to verify just about every historical detail of the entire book! After endless research editor Bobby Ha