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the bus

On a whim, half way between Glennallen and Tok at around Mile 61 on the Tok Cut-off, just north of Slana, I pull into a general store of the kind that exists to service very small communities. There is a petrol pump and a shop which sells a wide assortment of nondescript goods and a cafe area that serves the usual road-side fare. I don’t really need anything but it is late in the day and the idea of a Snickers bar than lures me in.

The shop is largely un-illuminated and for a second I wonder if the place is closed but the middle-aged couple inside indicate that I can enter. In the gloomy light, I survey the produce available and select a Snickers and a couple of packets of Ramen noodles, more out of politeness than actual need. As I pay for the goods, the man asks me where I am intending to stay for the night.

“Oh, some place in the next ten miles or so,” I answer, noncommittally.
“We have a bus out the back where people can stay,” he volunteers.
“Hmmmm…,” I say.
“It’s free,” he adds and then elaborates, “There is a bed and a stove and a big steel door so that the bears can’t get in.”

I am intrigued now. He points out the back door to a beaten up old grey bus and tells me that it is nicer inside than it looks. If I stay, he will leave the back door of the shop open so that I can access toilets and water.

We go together to the bus, Jay accompanying me to make sure that the last people who stayed have left it clean and tidy, and I am instantly charmed by its interior. Beyond the basics of a comfortable bed (and it’s the first one I’ve slept in since Palmer) and cooking facilities, everything a travelling cyclist might need is provided – a first-aid kit for body maintenance, hand de-greaser for post-bike-maintenance, a tin of camp stove fuel for a top up, some magazines for entertainment. There is a table with bench seats inside the bus and folding lounge chairs to make the most of the evening sun. Electricity and gas are laid on.

I quickly realise that I am not the first person to have discovered this bus. Other cyclists have stuck their cards and written their web-blog addresses on the walls and I suddenly remember reading a post in another Pan-American cycle blog that must be about this place. Curious, I ask about the history of the bus and Jay tells me that some moose hunters used to have it in the woods but they didn’t need it any more so they towed it to the store. He and Debbie maintain it for passing travellers, with no thought, apparently, of recompense. I tell him that I think they are extremely generous and he merely replies that it was it was generous of the hunters to give it to them.

A chance to spread my things out and relax in the bus.

A chance to spread my things out and relax in the bus.

Interior of the bus.

Interior of the bus.

The view from the bus.

The view from the bus.

My bike and the bus.

My bike and the bus.

I spread out for the evening and make the most of the opportunity to download my photos, recharge my batteries, and read and write in comfort. I cook on the stove, unfortunately, still restricted to my ridiculously small saucepan which, although it fits neatly in my panniers, invariably leaves me hungry.

In the morning I go to the shop and chat for a while to Debbie about life in Slana. We talk of winter and bears. The subject of bears leads to a story about picking fireweed and I discover that you can make jelly from the blossom of this ubiquitous, but beautiful, flower. I wish that I was here long enough to do so – it must turn out the most amazing colour!*

Fireweed.

Fireweed.

Debbie in the shop.

Debbie in the shop.

Photos gracing the walls of the shop, which is also full of stuffed beasts.

The shop is full of stuffed animals and photos of bears, moose and other beasts that have fallen victim to hunters adorn the walls. Hunting is very much part of Alaskan life.

*For those that find themselves with the opportunity, here is a recipe for fireweed jelly:

FIREWEED JELLY

8 cups fireweed blossoms
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 1/2 cups water
2 packets powdered pectin
5 cups suger

Pick, wash, and measure fireweed blossoms (flower part only, no stems). Add lemon juice and water. Boil 10 minutes and strain. Take the strained juice and heat to lukewarm. Add pectin all at once and bring to a boil. Add 5 cups sugar and return to full boil. Boil hard for 1 minute. Pour into hot clean jars and seal. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

It is also possible to make fireweed ‘honey’ and fireweed ice-cream and I am dying to try all three recipes!

{ 1 } Comments

  1. julie | August 15, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Food must be a constant preoccupation when you can carry so little and with all the exercise you are doing. And finding a good safe place to sleep at night. The bus must have been bliss! I expect people are very happy to accomadate travellers in those remote parts and hear their stories. They would be astonished by a solo cyclist such as yourself. The fireweed jelly sounds a treat and would be very pretty. I’m enjoying quince paste I made from a bumper crop this year and am about to make marmalade xxx

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