Friday, June 11, 2010

Onward and Upward.

Where to begin?

We've made it to Anchorage.  I'm currently sitting on a couch in my Mom's living room, passively listening to a television program about dogs who get massages.

I didn't blog the last portion of the trip during the trip itself because I didn't have time.  I completely underestimated the single-mindedness, the obsession that I would experience once we reached the Alcan.

"We're almost there!  Only 1500 miles left!" I would say as Sophie softly sobbed.  The last three days we went from Edmonton to Fort Saint John, then to Whitehorse, then to Anchorage.  The whole time I continually mentioned the possibility of our taking a day off, or doing some sightseeing, all the while staring at the road white knuckled and in truth completely unwilling to stop for any non-essential reason.  Even sleep barely qualified as essential.  Certainly less essential than gasoline.

The few pictures that we did take were from the car.  As we rolled through Dawson Creek, the town best known for its millions of motels with kid-friendly water slides, we were on the lookout for the Alaska Highway mile zero monument.  Once we noticed it, Sophie had about fifteen seconds to find the camera and take a picture which, amazingly, she did.

That night in Fort Saint John, which is about an hour past Dawson Creek, we celebrated our arrival by eating at a cash-only Japanese restaurant.  So much better than the ones that take plastic.  I can't even tell you.  We didn't take any pictures.  Here is a picture of some other food.

 I love obelisk week.

Fort Saint John to White Horse.  Oh my God!  Longest day ever!  Sophie and I saw nine black bears, a porcupine, some bison, sheep, goats, caribou, squirrels, dragons, more squirrels... had I known in advance, I would have, well, done nothing differently.

And then there was the incomparably beautiful Lake Kluane, where most of the world's grandeur is manufactured.

Sophie and I were enjoying ourselves.  Pretty day, pretty drive, slowly growing closer to home.  Note Sophie's shirt: "Make Cupcakes, Not War."

Gosh, it was beautiful.

We stopped for dinner in a podunk town called Watson Lake.  Travelers, be wary of Watson Lake.  The density of things in the category, "stuff you hope to see in what is supposed to be the only major settlement in between Fort Saint John and Whitehorse," was frightfully low.  I will relate to you a story.

SOPHIE: Do you think I'll be able to get the quesadilla without chicken?

JOE:  Oh, of course.  It's not like they pre-make it, or anything.

WAITER:  May I take your order?

SOPHIE: Yes.  I'd like to order the quesadilla, but without the chicken, please?

WAITER:  Excuse me?

SOPHIE:  Um, I'd just like this quesadilla, but I want it with no chicken.  No meat.

WAITER:  No chicken?

SOPHIE:  Yes, no chicken at all.

WAITER:  You're sure?

SOPHIE:  Yes, I'm sure.

WAITER:  I'll be right back with your drinks.

Please imagine here a brief pause.

WAITER:  I spoke with the chef, and he wants me to ask you, are you sure you didn't mean that you want the quesadilla with the chicken?  Like, not without chicken, but actually with it?

SOPHIE:  No, I would really like the quesadilla without the chicken, please.

WAITER:  Okay.  I will go tell him again.

More pausings.  Waiter brings food.

WAITER: Okay, m'am, here's your "cheese-a-dilla!"  Ha ha!  Ha!  Ha! Ha ha ha!
The waiter here is thinking about how funny it is that Sophie's quesadilla has only cheese, and not chicken.  It is funny because he knows that the primary ingredient of a quesadilla is chicken, and that the cheese is not very important.  He does not know that quesadilla means "cheesy tortilla" in Spanish.

Exit Waiter.

JOE:  Does he not realize that the word quesadilla means "cheesy tortilla" in Spanish?

Needless to say, we decided to push on to Whitehorse, bastion of civilization that it is.  We hit the Yukon right as the sun was setting.

Splash!  Bang!

Just kidding.  The hour plus that the sun took to set was extraordinarily beautiful, but we took no pictures.  You will just have to trust us.  We stayed that night at the crazy Yukon themed Best Western, which had thin walls and was right next to Whitehorse's only night club.  Thank God for Xanax and ear plugs.

Because we arrived so late (a little after midnight) we left late as well, at about 1 PM.  One of my tires had lost a lot of air somehow, which was moderately terrifying, but it turned out not to be flat or leaking in any meaningful capacity.  All it needed was a little FREE AIR, the socialist staple of gas stations worldwide.  The air loss is still a mystery to me.  I suspect foul play by drunk teenagers.

Drivers be warned: the section of road from Whitehorse to the AK-YT border is awful.  Horrible.  Terrible.  Edible.  Scratch the last.  The frost heaves gave both Sophie and me a headache.  A wild swan marks the end of the awful road conditions.

Look at its nest!  Isn't it cool?  The swan lives in the international zone between the Canadian and Alaskan border entry stations, which is approximately the same width as the state of Israel.  Seriously.  It took us like 45 minutes to get from one to the other.  But we did see a swan.  In its nest.  That it built. Without arms.

Before we knew it, we were driving past the Wrangells.
I was seriously considering turning over to the Dark Side of the Force.  My shirt disqualified me.

Sophie wanted to stop, but my homing instincts were overwhelming my ability to compromise.  In the end, the compromise was this. 

"If you want to get home tonight, you can drive."

That was totally fine with me.

By the time we got to Glenallen, we were starving.  We tried to stop at the first restaurant we saw, but it was closed.  Pretty much everything was closed.  But we were saved at the last moment.

What!?  Excuse me!?  In the parking lot next to the last gas station in Glenallen is this wondrous food truck.  The man you see peeking out is a recent stroke victim.  I know this because I asked him the name of the large mountain behind us.  He informed me that although he is constantly being told the name of said mountain, he cannot remember because a recent stroke severely impaired his ability to form short-term memories.  His wife cooked two huge and delicious plates of food: Pad Thai for me, and a veggie stir-fry for Sophie.

Please note how much better Sophie is at taking pictures of food than I.

The drive from Glenallen to Anchorage went quickly.  We were finally in territory that I had driven before, albeit not in such a sweet car, and waves of nostalgia and satisfaction at having successfully (almost) completed the drive fueled me onward and upward (but really southward).  The sun started to set, and then kept setting for a really long time.

Hitting Palmer was exciting!  I was, like, so excited!  I could finally tell Sophie that we were almost home and not be lying.  The closer we drove to Anchorage, though, the weirder I felt.  A little voice in my head kept saying, "You can't drive here!  Cars don't go here!  This place doesn't connect to the other places.  It's not going to work."  Taking a left onto Gambell was like turning into a dream, or something.  It being 2 AM and I having just driven for twelve hours probably aided the sensation.

All in all, my favorite part of the drive is just knowing what it looks like between here and Cleveland.  At the end of the first semester of my first year of college I had to write a paper that summed up the freshman experience thus far.  I wrote a lot about how I was confused about being in a new place because on a very deep level I didn't understand how I had gotten there.  I couldn't understand how Cleveland and Anchorage connected.  Now I do.  Neat.

P.S.  If you want to read the paper, leave a comment to that effect and I'll post it.


  1. Great job, Joe! Looking forward to more posts from you both on the road/rails/ferries across Europe... Safe travels and have an amazingly fun time (with or without random Thai and Korean food ;-)

  2. I want to read the paper!

    I'm glad you solved that deep existential crisis four years later. It's good to tie up loose ends like that.