Bracing myself on the edge of the passenger seat with my left hand, I tightly grip the door bar with my right. “Let’s take it slow”, I say to Bob as his foot quickly jerks from the gas pedal to the brake. The past hundred miles or so that we have been approaching the imaginary line separating the Yukon Territory from the noncontiguous state of Alaska, the road has been a myriad of dips, bumps, holes, and gravel that send the bus airborne, rendering all passengers weightless for a mere second. There are no visible lines restraining your vehicle between the boundaries of the road or steering one clear of any oncoming traffic. Of course the oncoming traffic is few and far between aside from the countless dogged souls on a personal mission to pedal their way across the last great frontier. Coming to a stop behind two other vehicles a friendly woman informs us “it’ll be about a 5 minute wait”. The stretch of road ahead appears to be a sea of holes paved with dirt and rocks. “Hey, do you need a ride through this shit?” Bob hollers out the open bus door. Maneuvering his bike through Walter’s cluttered vestibule, our wayfarer gives his thanks. The young, lean man having no more than a pack on his bike and a homemade flag pronouncing “Jesus Christ is our God”, spoke with a twang in his voice that, for a moment, took me back home to the south. The conversation was your normal getting to know your hitchhiker conversation, talk of the Carolinas and his recent misfortune of being a victim of a hit and run. Walking away with only scrapes and bruises, he was more worried about being set back on his journey a few days. He hopes to make it to the far point of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and back before winter sets in. As our jaunt across the rubble came to an end he carried his bike off the bus, and politely handing Bob a pamphlet asked if he could pray for our safety throughout our travels.
Driving through the Yukon Territory is like slipping through a portal to an imaginary land. The sky is endless and filled with cotton white clouds casting gray shadows on the mountainside. Each massive, majestic peak is unique, ranging in color from greens to browns to snow tipped white, and terrains from thick forests to rocky mounds to sharp glacier carved crevices. The road flows up and down and forms snakelike curves as we tip toe, not over, but around the sleeping giants. The waters of the rivers and lakes are sparkling crystal with hues of blue and green. Only on postcards and in books have I laid eyes on places of such beauty.
Approaching the border crossing we run through all the possible incidences, such as the commandeering of our tomato plant and how we will explain the 40 cubies of 200 gallons of veggie oil stacked under every table, on each step, and hidden around every corner of the bus. Bob slowly pulls the bus up next to the little guard house with the little window, and a little, but round man steps out. We hand over our passports and he begins to go through the routine questions that we have come to expect at our border crossings: “where are you from” , “what is your reason for traveling to Alaska”, “how many people are on board”, “how do you know each other” and “can you please step outside of your vehicle and stand over there”. We single filed out of the bus and realizing that the temperature had dropped well below, well cold, some of us quickly reboard the bus to put on proper attire. Appearing to be senseless tourists shivering in the cold meaning no harm to Alaska, and carrying no illegal drugs or weapons, the guard promptly steps off the bus and tells us “you may board your vehicle again and have a nice evening”. Our celebration is not flashy, simple sighs of relief at the ease of our crossing, jubilant grins at the satisfaction of making it this far, and butterflies of excitement at not knowing what to expect next.
One thing that I think we did know to expect, but were unaware of its impact, is the sheer beauty. There are copious amounts of words that can and have been used to describe Alaska; however, I will simply say that it is awe-inspiring in all its glory and everyone should visit atleast once. After only a handful of miles past the border, Seth pulls the bus over at a scenic overlook. Sitting in the driveway with a look of curiosity on his face, a scraggy wild fox invites us to come out and play. Cautiously keeping us at a certain distance, the fox loiters about entertaining us with his mere existence and accepting our offerings of bread. Snapping hundreds of pictures, we could possibly remain for hours, us staring at him, and him staring at us. Unfortunately, Kentridge has other plans in mind. Pouncing out of the door and darting across the highway, he chases the fox into the woods. After a few minutes of worried whistles and calls the incorrigible hound returns, and we all hope the sly little fox got away unharmed. Spotting clean outhouses stocked with toilet paper, we decide this is the perfect place to spend our first night in Alaska. The hours pass, but daylight seems to linger forever. It is well into the night before darkness finally sets in. And as we climb under the covers, bellies full with satisfaction, we begin dreaming of the adventures that tomorrow will bring.