Straight and Narrow Path
Spring had finally arrived, now 2011, nearly four years after my return from China. I was anxious to be reunited with my family but still had no hope of how to accomplish it. I had heard that the Alaska Natives had originally migrated from Asia on foot, crossing the Bering Strait on winter ice; I had also heard stories of walking from the Diomede Islands, to mainland Alaska in the coldest months of winter. It was with this idea that I began to consider walking the coast, a reverse migration if you will, back to China. By now I was experiencing the daily provision of the Lord as promised by Jesus himself. My faith was growing and I began to reason, if God would feed me in the city, certainly he could feed me out of the city as well. God was not limited. With this great hope, I made a step of faith and headed for the coast.
That winter, I had been given a newborn puppy, I named her Shiloh, meaning “his gift”, now six months old, Shiloh would join me on this trek. We would follow the highway to Wasilla, where we would find our way to the beach. Leaving early in the morning, the day after Easter, it was not long before we were passing through Eagle River. Finding two large bread rolls, untouched, at a duck pond, we made a quick meal and continued on our way. A few miles past Eagle River, an elder couple pulled to the side of the road and told me that I had looked hungry so they went shopping for me. To my surprise, they proceeded to unload a small suitcase which they had filled with an assortment of food and provisions, including dog food and dog treats, and an envelope containing $24. We had left Anchorage empty handed, but now some short hours later were rolling a suitcase full of food, fully prepared to begin our “walk to China”.
It wasn’t long before we were on the beach, after a series of rides including provisions of coffee, gloves, and a hat along the way. Our last stop being a cafe, where I spent the $24, drinking coffee, eating a hamburger with fries, and buying another to take along to eat later. Arriving at the cafe in the middle of the night, we would sleep on the porch waiting for it to open. It would be the only time we would sleep outside, since there turned out to be countless hunting and fishing cabins along this section of the coast.
By the time we arrived to the first river, the Little Susitna, I was traveling light again with nothing but the clothes on my back. I had been considering the best way to cross a river, knowing that it would be unavoidable. So, I quickly stripped naked and put all my gear into a large trash bag which I tied in a knot and slung over my shoulder with a long strap. Then quickly stepped into the water and swam across, Shiloh following closely. It was extreme low tide, which I was thankful for the timing, the river being so low that it was just a narrow channel. Narrow as it was, it was difficult enough a crossing. Not knowing the area, I was ignorant to the fact that the next river to cross was the Big Susitna, a giant compared to the Little Susitna.
By now, I was walking barefoot. The sandals that I had were unsuitable for the mud, twisting on my feet with every step, and before long they were left at a cabin along the way. I also left my bulky coat, as daytime travel was much too hot for such extreme gear. I was now enjoying the joy of the journey without the burden of carrying a load; it was a terrific freedom.
By the time I reached the Big Susitna river, it was again extreme low tide. Being very thankful for the timing, I crossed a wide area of mud flats indicating how wide a crossing it would be at high tide. The channel was a bit larger than that of the Little Susitna, but there was no way I was turning back, so again I crossed without hesitation. Safely back on solid ground, I had no idea that I was now on an island, and that getting off the island would require crossing the true giant, the main flow of the Big Susitna, consisting of three more channels, each more challenging than the last. Finding a cabin with a sign above the door, reading “Island Duck” was my first clue about what lay ahead.
Reaching the edge of the island the following day, I was beginning to see that not only had God arranged lodging along the way, including some form of sustenance left by the previous year’s hunters, but God also had his hand on the exact timing of the entire event. I was again approaching a crossing at extreme low tide. Since the tide was out, I was facing three separate channels instead of the ocean of a river otherwise to be faced. Approaching the first channel, I was oblivious to the fact that there would be two more, and crossing the second, I had no idea there remained one more. Reaching the final channel of the Big Susitna, and the last obstacle of getting off the island, I was dismayed at what lay in front of me. This last channel would be truly impossible to swim across. The water was full of small boulders, the water rushing through them and over them, any attempt to cross would be like stepping into a meat grinder. Facing no foreseeable option, I began heading upstream hoping to find a safer section to cross. Much to my relief, I came upon an ice jam several feet thick resting on the rocks, the water being squirted out underneath. We quickly walked across. Spending that night in a cabin at the water’s edge, the next morning I watched as the ice was washed out to sea. God’s hand was upon me, and he was making it abundantly clear.
Making several more significant river crossings, the most difficult would prove to be the Beluga River. Approaching the river’s edge, I was met with a most challenging sight. The river was much wider than any single channel that I had crossed so far, and full of chunks of ice speckled as far as I could see. This crossing truly seemed impossible. Still warm from the effort of the hike, and not wanting to lose that valuable heat standing around, I quickly began walking up river, looking for my best option for crossing. I opted to enter the water on a sharp bend, hoping that the rushing water would help push me across. Stripping down, I quickly made my way, Shiloh close behind. We were nearly halfway across when Shiloh began to try to climb onto me, the added weight pushing me under added to the struggle of such a difficult crossing, I now was fighting for my life. I kept trying to push her off of me but without success, finally pushing her away as hard as I could, she turned back for shore. Now exhausted myself, lacking energy to continue, I clutched my bag of clothing and with the air trapped inside was able to rest before continuing on. Taking several more such breaks before reaching the other shore, I arrived completely drained barely making it. I did not have the energy to climb out of the water and just laid on the shore for several minutes. I was dizzy and disoriented and the world in front of me was tilting back and forth. Finally inching my way out of the water, I lay in the mud, thankful for the hot sun to revive me. Now safely on land, I began calling for Shiloh to join me. She was stuck on the other side of the river and too scared to come across. Finally building her courage, she made another attempt. This time when she got midway, she scrambled onto an iceberg, and I watched as she was carried down river. Fearing she would be washed to sea, I was relieved when she finally jumped back in and made her way to shore, much farther down river from me.
By now my feet had been injured from the journey. There was often ice under foot with a layer of icy water on top. My feet were numb from the cold and I punctured my skin as I crossed some patches of beach grass. I was moving quite slow now, carefully placing one foot in front of the other, although having a great adventure. I found myself smiling broadly as I walked. Shiloh was having a great time too, running ahead, she would disappear from view, then in a flash she would reappear. She was literally running circles around me.
I was walking in the provision and protection of the almighty. It was with this experience of faith increasing, that on the 15th day of the journey I found myself facing the largest bog I could imagine. Each step was taking us deeper into a mass of knee deep brush. Being barefoot, I found myself making a very windy path, each step seeking the easiest passage. Since my feet were injured, each step was labored, and I could not see to the end of the marshy bog. I was in trouble. I stopped in my tracks, looking to heaven, I said the most desperate prayer, “Lord, show me the straight and narrow path that you have prepared for me.” Not knowing where the words came from, but believing that there must be a better way, having experienced the hand of God on this trip and his perfect timing now for 15 days. I stood in my tracks for a moment, looking around to reevaluate my situation. Spying a high spot in the bog, I decided to make my way there for a rest. Within a few minutes I climbed onto an island of solid ground, with what appeared to be miles of uncrossable marshland ahead of me. And what I found there was the most amazing and welcome sight. Apparently I was standing on an abandoned oil or military pad, and in front of me now was an overgrown roadway, cut through the middle of that bog, leading all the way to the most beautiful white sand beach. All that remained of the road was an animal trail down the middle, wide enough for just one foot in front of the other, and so straight you could shoot an arrow down it. I had discovered the “straight and narrow path”. Through the events of this journey, God was delivering a message, and his words were becoming abundantly clear, “I know exactly where you are and I know exactly what time it is.”
Later that evening, I arrived at the remote village of Tyonek. The wind had begun to pick up and walking on the sandy beach I was being pelted with sand. I would have walked past the village but rounding the point brought me out into the direct, unsheltered, unbearable blast of the sand storm. So, I turned back and stepped off the beach, approaching the first house I came to. Little did I know that my trip was now over, and soon I would befriend the people of Tyonek. Knocking on the door, I was greeted by a young man. Seeing several sheds and abandoned vehicles around, I simply asked him if I could weather the storm in one of them and be on my way in the morning. Settling into a truck in his back yard, I was surprised to be greeted at gunpoint some 15 minutes later by a handful of men with rifles. “Get out of the truck.”, someone was shouting. “You are on private property,” they continued. I tried to explain that I had permission from the property owner, but they were hearing none of it. Taken back to the community center, it was not long before they had softened toward me and were eager to hear all about my adventure. Showing me a missing persons poster on the wall, there was a picture of me. It said “Missing”, “Mentally ill, last seen heading toward Tyonek”. Someone had reported me missing, insinuating that I must be crazy to make such a trip. So, it was that the people of Tyonek thought I was escaped from a mental institution and were concerned for their safety when I showed up. But within an hour, they would all be my friends.
Food started pouring in, and we talked about what lay ahead, telling them only that I was hoping to cross the Alaska Peninsula by way of Lake Iliamna. They cautioned me that it was impassible this time of year, that the ice met the sea in places and the cliffs offered no way around. they suggested that I fly back to Anchorage and return later in the season, at which time they would take me down the coast with them on their annual clamming trip. My feet were in great need of a rest, and could use the time to heal, so I agreed. I spent that night in the village, being welcomed into their homes. It was a great experience of hospitality, we watched movies most of the night and the next morning after a tour of the village, I flew back to Anchorage. I was fully planning to return later in the season, but God had other plans.