Searsport man, 91, reflects on solo tour to Alaska
Searsport — On May 8, 91-year-old Bob Perdrizet of Searsport decided he could no longer stand the rainy, dreary weather pattern that had settled over the New England region.
He couldn't work in his vegetable gardens, nor could he complete any yard work.
So he decided to take off for a drive — to Alaska and back.
"That's the reason I went to Alaska, because the weather was so horrible," said Perdrizet, taking a break from tending to one of his gardens on Main Street Monday, June 11.
Despite the objections of some of his children — he has three grown sons and two daughters — Perdrizet climbed in his Honda CR-V on the morning of May 8 and hit the road.
"I always wanted to see how the pioneers made it to Alaska," he said.
As Perdrizet moved into the Canadian provinces, he said he was fascinated by the large rock ledges that jutted out alongside the highway and the series of manmade rock sculptures that dotted the landscape.
"There were 2,000 of the things all the way to Alaska," said Perdrizet. "I made one on the way back when I was driving through British Columbia. I put an American penny and my business card underneath it."
Perdrizet was able to get a taste of the pioneer life on a slightly more modern level when he reached Dawson City in the Canadian province of Yukon.
"People are still staking claims there, and they're still mining gold there," said Perdrizet.
As Perdrizet drew closer to the land of the midnight sun, he said he mostly had the highway to himself, because most natives refrain from using the roads due to the winter weather that typically hangs on in that region this time of year.
What he did see on the highway, Perdrizet said, was the local wildlife, including moose, deer, grizzly bear and elk.
At one point in his trip, Perdrizet encountered a large moose on the highway, and initially he waited for the animal to mosey off the road. When that didn't happen, Perdrizet said, he hollered at the animal in an unsuccessful effort to get it to move, and eventually he accelerated, hoping the sound would scare the moose away.
"He started running alongside my car," recalled Perdrizet.
After being on the road for 10 days, Perdrizet pulled into Anchorage and secured a room at the Merrill Field Inn, an establishment that was operated by a man who formerly worked as a cab driver in the Alaskan city for 15 years. The inn also employed a family of natives, some of whom Perdrizet said were born and raised alongside the Bering Sea.
He described his time at the inn as, "the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my whole life of traveling," as the innkeeper and his staff went out of their way to help Perdrizet find his way around, see some of the local landmarks — including Captain Cook's statue and the starting point for the Iditarod. They also assisted Perdrizet in finding a place to get an oil change for his drive back to Maine.
Perdrizet ran into a few challenges during his solo drive, including a snowstorm, trying to get directions from locals who spoke little or no English, bumper-to-bumper traffic over Memorial Day Weekend and a temperamental GPS unit, but overall he said he'd recommend the trip to anyone who has not experienced it.
"It was an awesome trip. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words," he said. "Well, the eyes are worth 1,000 pictures."
And Perdrizet ought to know. In his 91 years — he'll turn 92 in July — he has seen a lot of the country and the world. He spent time in the Navy as a young man, and was at the Bay of Fundy when Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Atlantic Charter in 1941. He's also been to see the Great Wall of China, and as a boy, he saw much of the country during a trek he took with two friends at age 13 during the Great Depression.
"We heard about all the gold in California," he remembered. "We were kids with this dream of going out to California, getting the gold and getting our parents out of hock."
Leaving his childhood home in Connecticut, Perdrizet said, he and his two friends stowed away on coal-fired freight trains, pan-handled, spent time in jail and in hobo jungles, and made it as far as Nebraska before the trip came to an unexpected end for Perdrizet.
"One of my buddies was crying, he was homesick," said Perdrizet.
Perdrizet said the trio used a coin toss to decide who would escort the homesick young man back to Connecticut.
"I lost," said Perdrizet with a laugh, noting he then helped his friend find his way back home while his other friend continued to California. "That was the first time I got to see a lot of the country," said Perdrizet.
These days, Perdrizet said, he's happy working in his vegetable gardens.
"I give all the produce away," he said. "I just like planting it."