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The trail was blazed in the 1930's by a legendary Alaska miner named Earl Pilgrim. In 1961, a Fairbanks company, Yutan Construction, won a contract from the new state of Alaska to upgrade the trail, building it into a road on which trucks could haul ore from the mine year-round. To house construction workers while the road was going in, Yutan purchased three junked buses, outfitted each with bunks and a simple barrel stove, and skidded them into the wilderness behind a D-9 Caterpillar.

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The project was halted in 1963, where some fifty miles of road were eventually built, but no bridges were ever erected over the many rivers it transected, and the route was shortly rendered impassable by thawing permafrost and seasonal floods. Yutan hauled two of the buses back to the highway. The third bus was left about halfway out the trail to serve as backcountry shelter for hunters and trappers. In the three decades since construction ended, much of the roadbed had been obliterated by washouts, brush, and beaver ponds, but the bus is still there. This is where Chris spent his last days before passing away from starvation.

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Ten months later, Chris's parents decided to visit the place where their son had mets his end. His mother had wanted to travel the Stampede Trail just as her son had, but at the last minute she received a call stating that the Teklanika River was still running to high to cross safely. So Walt and Billie took a helicopter ride to bus 142. For thirty minutes they walk quietly around the decrepit vehicle, amble down to the Sushana river and visit the nearby woods. Billie entered the bus first taking in its shabby interior. They wander in and out of the bus for next two hours when finally Walt installs a memorial just inside the door, a simple brass plaque inscribed with a few words. Beneath it Billie arranges a bouquet of fireweed, monkshood, yarrow, and spruce boughs. Under the bed at the rear of the bus, Billie leaves a suitcase stocked with a first-aid kit, canned food, other survival supplies, a note urging whoever happens to read it to "call your parents as soon as possible." The suitcase also held a bible that belonged to Chris when he was a child.

Leah Thompson