This is me and my best friend Ellen doing what many Anchorage teen hippies did back in the mid-1970’s – hitch-hike to Homer, AK.
The small, coastal fishing and tourism town, 221 miles south of Anchorage, on the Kenai Peninsula had at that time become something of a Mecca for nature-seeking young people. Homer, with its picturesque setting along the northern shores of Kachemak Bay, was one of the rural places in Alaska that seemed a desirable place to buy some land and build a cabin.
That was the Dream, folks.
Residents of Homer couldn’t have been too thrilled to see a bunch of long-haired types showing up during the summers, many to work in area fish processing plants; others to squat with their own pup tents or handmade shelters on the famed Homer Spit, a 4 ½ mike spit of land that juts into Kachemak Bay.
The whole ‘back-to-nature’ thing began in earnest with the first-ever Earth Day, held in April, 1970. Then, I was a Tween. By the time I entered middle school, or Junior High, I had folders decorated with colorful nature scenes – fields of wild flowers or of North Face, the actual mountain in Yosemite National Park. The folders were created by the Sierra Club.
Even though it would be another three years – and not until I entered high school in 10th grade – before the transformation from a somewhat shy, awkward pre-teen to full-on fashionable Hippie. I entered middle school, like all girls my age, wearing whatever Twiggy wore, The indeed twiggy-like fashion model with doe-like eyes and trademark pixie haircut. She, like a lot of pop culture then was part of the British Invasion in music, fashion and cosmetics. I favored baby doll dresses and platform shoes. I may have worn wore Cover Girl Blue eye shadow and Love’s cologne but I had a crush on British singer/songwriter, Donavan. But by Ninth grade, I was someone who wore handmade denim overall skirts - hand embroidered with beads and embroidery thread - with expensive Raichle hiking boots and no make-up at all.
I still remember how betrayed I felt by the Media and whoever it was who told me to stop with normal grooming routines. Yet rock stars we all worshiped were all dating and marrying fashion models. It would be a few more years still after the photo above was taken before I would grow weary of heavy, ill-fitting clothes and hair that badly needed cutting.
But there was Ellen and I with my faithful rescued Border Collie, Yukon, standing under the sign (I can’t recall if we were heading there or heading back home) taking photos. Nowadays, we’d be pasting these images on our social media pages.
I still remember the less-than friendly looks we got from the townspeople on that trip to Homer, especially when we’d naively ask about land or cabins for sale, or possibly seeking property to ‘homestead’ (a State-run program that allowed residents to acquire wild parcels of land back then).
I doubt we had much money. Inquiring about land? We were 16.
I know what you are thinking: Who hitch-hikes with a dog? I guess we felt safe with Yukon.
On my back, I’m wearing my green Kelty backpack I had bought, along with my own red North Face pup tent and a blue, down North Face sleeping bag. I was an astute student of what one had to possess to be truly ‘back-to-nature.’ I spent hundreds of dollars on all three items in order to fit in with the group of friends I had begun hanging out with. I felt welcome and a part of something among my new friends, many of whom lived with their families in handsome, but modest homes along the so-called “Hillside” of Anchorage, the flanks of the Chugach Mountain range that borders Anchorage to the east.
I initially fell in with this group of kids, who all attended Service High School, a large, new campus tucked right up against towering mountain peaks. I had met most of them the night they showed up at my house on 12th Avenue when I threw what became known as the “Woodstock” party.
The winter after my father’s kidnapping and murder, I somehow managed to live at our house without adult supervision. FOR MONTHS. Yet, I still went to school, riding the bus to East High, where I had entered high school that Fall of 1973. I wanted to go to school. I wanted to be a normal teen. I had a stepmom, a woman my dad had married just a month before he was abducted. But she was only a teen herself (though she looked much older, it seemed. My dad, who had turned 40 that spring, routinely dated cocktail waitresses and topless dancers in their 20’s).
I barely knew his new wife and hated her. After my father disappeared that August, I refused to have anything to do with her. She and my dad had been mostly staying at one of the massage parlors my dad had begun running. I had lived at our official residence.
After my father disappeared (it took police months to find his body) my stepmom put some roommates in the house to help pay the bills. One was a couple who were a pimp and his girlfriend/prostitute. They were both hardcore heroin addicts.
I, on the other hand, attracted a group of young people – homeless teens – some who stayed at the house for a time turning the place into our own version of Neverland.
Do you see why being a Hippie Wanna-Be had such appeal to me? What I knew at the time at home was anything but desirable to an otherwise regular teen girl.
It’s another story how I got through that first winter without adult supervision and when that ended. But it didn’t end before I managed to rent a copy of the film ‘Woodstock’ and rent a film projector and with a sheet strung up in my living room, played the movie to a house full of teens who had come from all over town.
By the spring of 1974, I was fully into the whole hippie thing, as least in style, if not substance. You wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between me and my new group of friends with our matching boots, and skirts, or jeans, or down coats, or flannel shirts. And of course the name-brand pricey gear we all just had to have.
Think of that Kelty backpack, which I still have, as the IPhone of the 1970’s.
I got the nearly $1000 I needed to buy my camping gear by holding a garage sale that spring, several months after learning that my father, who disappeared in late August, had indeed been murdered. His body was eventually recovered in an old mining area, about 50 miles north of Anchorage. His killers had been rounded up and were sitting in jail awaiting trial the day I put out everything I could drag outside the house to sell. Mostly junk, really, some dishes, old tires, fishing waders and such.
A friend of my dad’s named Ed who ran a pawn shop, drove up, looked over everything and handed me hundreds of dollars in cash to buy it all. Ed was a big guy with a big heart. I had always been fond of him never more than at that moment. I knew he didn’t want the junk. He was just trying to help me out.
He was the last person to see my dad alive. My dad had invited him to go get a drink but Ed, who had a family, declined. Word was he always thought he could have stopped my father’s death if he had taken my dad up on that drink. I don’t think so.
So Ed loaded everything up into his station wagon and drove off. Soon, I got my outdoor gear that I used for many outdoor adventures during the remainder of my teen years.
Despite the decades that have passed and all the moves between several states and cities, I still have that Kelty backpack.
Kim possesses an M.F.A. in Nonfiction Writing from Columbia University. She continues to write and teach at University of Louisiana Lafayette.