In 2007, I traveled from Oakland, California, to the Arctic Circle in Alaska in five days, using solely public transportation. These were my rides, and the people I met along the way.
1. MCI 102C3. These are the old and almost always dirty Greyhound buses you see on rural highways and Skid Rows. The majority of my trip, from Oakland to the Yukon (where Greyhound service ends), was spent riding in these MCIs (I transferred from one MCI to another in Seattle, Vancouver, and Dawson Creek).
This segment of the trip was a lot of fun because of the people watching. There were quite a few grandmas who rode the dog to visit grandkids. I sat next to a menacing and scary man from Oakland to Sacramento in the middle of the night, only to find out when he got off the bus that he was blind. During a stop in Weed, California, I saw an awkward teenaged boy say good-bye to his Caucasian Buddhist monk father. One of the bus drivers had a briefcase like airline pilots. Inside the briefcase were a can of grape soda and an apple. At the Portland bus stop, the cafeteria lady scratched her scalp with her hand and then proceeded to make me a corn dog. No worries, she was wearing gloves the whole time. In Vancouver, I had to wait overnight for the morning bus. But because the station was closed, I spent the whole night awake at a coffee shop smack dab in the middle of the nightclub district.
The strangest person I saw on Greyhound sat upside down. His head was down near the floor and his feet were dangling over the headrest. He sat across the aisle from me as we crawled through the Yukon (the clutch was shot and the road was icy). For hours, in this strange position, the man farted.
2. Chevrolet Express 3500 van. The only land transportation service between Whitehorse in the Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska, is Alaska Direct Bus Line. After spending a day relaxing and showering in Whitehorse (where I had the best sourdough bread ever and where I stayed in a motel/Indian restaurant/laundromat/hair salon), I left for Alaska.
My driver’s name was Dave. He is a traveler and photographer. The only other passenger for the first three-quarters of the trip was his daughter, who was visiting from college. We talked a lot about Burma and we stopped often for Dave to take pictures of the wildlife. I loved every single minute of it.
Once we entered Alaska, we picked up two native American men. One was really squirrelly and might have been mentally disabled. The other gentleman was a talker. He had a trucker hat with the Intel logo, except it read “Jesus Inside”. He lives in Fort Yukon, a village accessible only by boat and bush plane. He comes back to civilization twice a year for check-ups at the VA hospital. He subsists mostly on salmon jerky that he catches and smokes. He gave me a sandwich bagful. Despite his repeated efforts to convert me to His Lord, I liked him.
3. Ford E350 van. The last leg of my journey was in a Northern Alaska Tour Company van. In the summers, the company transports people up the 400-plus mile gravel road known as the Dalton Highway all the way up to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the northernmost point that is accessible by car. But because this is winter, it will only go up as far as the Arctic Circle, which is 300 miles south of Prudhoe Bay.
The only other passengers I remember was this couple. They both worked at a major insurance company and I suspect that he was her supervisor and that he was married, but not to her. He took her up to Alaska to show her the northern lights, which makes him a sweet guy, right?
P.S. The coolest thing I learned on the trip is that Greyhound has a program for teen runaways. Greyhound will give the kids a free bus ride home.
Images source: Maxichamp