Driving to Alaska: Day 9

58.900279, -123.149354, British Columbia – Teslin, Yukon Territory

April 23, 2019

When we stopped driving last night, it was 30 degrees. The cold weather somehow slipped my mind when preparing to camp in the truck. Perhaps I assumed with the three of us packed into a small space, wearing several layers of hiking clothes, we would simply be warm. I was wrong.

I wake at 3am, beyond the type of cold I can try to manage. It’s Ethan’s night to have the one blanket I did bring, so I climb into the backseat to cuddle Ralphie.

By 5am, Ethan wakes up and is too annoyed with the now 20 degree, frosty air to try to keep sleeping. He hazily starts driving. I’m glad one of us isn’t dependent on coffee for wakefulness; I am useless right now.

Originally, I’d chosen hikes, a museum, and a hot springs along this route as our stops for the day. That would give us something to look forward to. But after so long on the road and the desperate feeling like we were in the middle of God-forsaken nowhere, we just want to keep going. It feels important to get where we’re going even if we have hundreds of miles left.

The stopping we do now is out of necessity.

We’re able to find breakfast at a gas station, and I use the term loosely. This place is more of a singular unleaded gas pump outside a single-wide trailer. Out of which, the owner sells bottles of water and egg sandwiches. The inhabitant of this fine establishment is a woman in her mid-60s. While she microwaves our meals, she enthusiastically speaks of how pleased she is that her Moroccans (slaves? hired laborers? robots?) arrived last night, so she can finally make the four hour journey to the nearest dentist and have some teeth pulled. She has to go all the way to Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon, the only real town in the province, just to see a dentist. I’m not sure I could ever get used to a life like that.

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Another gas station of simlar accord is unique in the fact that baseball caps are hung on every inch of the ceiling and walls. People who stop here are urged to leave behind any cap that they have with them as a token of appreciation towards the owner (for…? existing? another question i’ll never have answered) The only other people we interact with on The Highway are here, having lunch. They are a man of late-middle-age and a woman who can’t be over 35. We sit in a booth with them and learn they’re heading back from Seattle, having visited his granddaughter who is graduating college soon. After this meal, they plan on finishing the drive home to Seward, Alaska, a 25-hour estimation, by the end of the next day. Would have loved to know more of the story there, but I don’t suppose I ever will.

The bathrooms and rest areas (again, I use these terms loosely) along The Alcan are small, dirt pull-offs on the side of the road. One could squat right there or away a few yards to the side for more forest coverage, depending on one’s comfortability with public nudity. Mine’s pretty high. This practice is preferable to me, actually, over the typical searching for an exit, choosing the least nasty looking gas station around, and hoping the attendants don’t realize you haven’t bought anything from their store before you run out of the bathroom and speed away in your vehicle.

One of our bathroom breaks takes place at Kluane Lake in the Yukon Territory. We see the highest concentration of wildlife of the trip here. As I go towards the water to wash myself a bit, I walk beside a caribou. It doesn’t occur to me that this is irregular. He’s thirsty; I’m dirty. We both need the lake, so we respect each other’s space as we use the most basic of natural resources.

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Bison are seen in large herds as often as we see cows back home in Indiana, without the fences. They look genuinely annoyed by the appearance of cars, and do their best to ignore me as I yell fervently from my window in a feeble attempt to gain their attention.

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Later in the day, I use the bathroom across the road from a grizzly bear. I look into his eyes and feel no fear. My spirit was at peace coexisting with these animals. It felt obvious that I wasn’t going to hurt them and they weren’t going to hurt me.

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It’s humbling to see a world that lives without human interruption.

One of my favorite vocal artists and songwriters, Sleeping At Last (Ryan O’Neal), sings a song entitled Saturn. A lyric that has stuck with me for years is, “…the universe was made just to be seen by my eyes”. I’ve often interpreted this lyric as gratitude for the beauty and wonder on Earth that God created for us to see. But seriously, how narcistic is that thought? The audacity my brain has to claim these mountains and glaciers and lakes and extravagances beyond description exist…so I can look at them? These landscapes were here long before I arrived and they’ll be here long after I drive away. Their glory is not dependent on my presence. It’s more likely that all this is here for the creatures which rely on it daily to survive. That’s really determined by the perspective of the person you ask, I guess.

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My final sight before I sleep tonight is the sun setting over Teslin Lake.

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“How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist”
-Sleeping At Last, “Saturn”

Day 9 Mileage Total: 462

Liv – Authentically

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