Wednesday, February 25, 2009

When I Left Alaska: Anchorage 1983

In late May, Brock and Matt drove over from Iowa City in Matt's little red Chevy Vega to Des Moines so that we could drive to Alaska. I had gone to Des Moines to spend some time with my parents and Urbandale friends before I left for that summer of supposed adventure. But as we set out, heading across the U.S. West to Seattle (Brock's hometown, essentially) I could tell there was something wrong.
Something amiss.
I started my first journal of my life for this trip. In my own odd, idiosyncratic scribbling script, I wrote down the events and thoughts and feelings of the trip to Alaska. (And I kept an ever-changing journal since then.)
Yes, I enjoyed very much the stop at Matt's house in Sioux City where we stayed at his parents' house and met them and his Mom was sweet and her long time dog dies the morning we left (and where they gave me Matt's younger brother's sleeping bag to use--his younger brother having died by self asphyxiation.) then the drive west across South Dakota (my birth state) to Devil's Tower in Wyoming, the camping in the snow in the Bighorns outside of Buffalo, the long long drive across Montana with a stop in Deer Lodge and having a beer at a funky old-time saloon, the drive into Missoula and Lolo and into Idaho and stopping for gas after the curvy mountain drive in Lewiston, the camp in eastern Washington along the Snake River where the sprinklers came on and heavily wetted our tent, the drive into Oregon along the Columbia River and stopping at the Dalles where some guy with about three young kids laid back in his van and was making out big time with his wife, the stop at the big falls along the interstate before Portland, then the stop in Vancouver, Washington where I had lived as a boy, then to Brock's parent's big house in the Seattle suburb Redmond (Brock was from Bellevue next door). It was great, yet, something was missing. I felt it.
And after a day or two at Brock's house--the visiting and buying of camping gear (including a tent) in downtown Seattle, we packed and took off for Alaska via the highways of British Columbia and the Yukon. Again, it was great. We camped everywhere we stopped, up to Prince George and the decision to take the smaller, Pacific western rout rather than the Alcan Highway. the camping in Provincial Parks where there was no one else, just the wind through the trees and camp smoke. The drive north, up and up along mostly gravel two-almost-one lanes, roads along glacial lakes and small treed plains and snow-marbled mountains, then into the Yukon where we stopped in Whitehorse and got a semi-town camp at a place that offered showers for three dollars in a long trailer of showers. Man, that was a fantastic shower. Then through the lower Yukon, stopping in Destruction Bay where we bought over-priced cans of tuna and mayo and some vegetable matter and went down to the lake which was an eerie translucent blue with chunks of glacial ice in it and we made huge sloppy disgusting sandwiches which we ate along the lakeshore (man, we ate terribly cheap cheap food on that trip). Then to the Alaska boarder where we were stopped and sniffed and investigated for marijuana possession (Matt--but he'd smoked it all and there were only seeds and residue and they let us go) and then camping along a nameless (to us) river outside of Tok, and the drive into Anchorage where we stayed at a fee-less campground near Eagle River. In Anchorage where we met Wayne Rockne a long-ago co-worker friend of Matt's father and he served huge martinis and his wife laughed at our Iowa City--abandoned--cat's name that was Alfredo Garcia. In Anchorage where we gadded about town, looking for work in the daytime (with no address--just a P.O. Box we'd procured) and the drive down to Seward looking for fisherman work, then the jobs for Matt and I (not Brock) at a Shakey's Pizza Parlor on Minnesota Boulevard in the city of Anchorage--(oh, the Monkey Bar, the Alaska Bush Company--a strip joint--and the dead end bars of 2nd Avenue where an ex-con asked me to call his wife who had kicked him out and she would not take him back and then he asked me to take a walk with him and I knew--just knew--he wanted to rob me and said no, and where a Eskimo/Native asked me to tell him a story and I was so bad at it that he dismissed me, the drunk)--but through it all something never sat right with me. And so, after a day/night of working the Shakey's Pizza place, sleeping for weeks in a tent among rainy weather, me missing my serious girlfriend Cin (who was now in Chicago) and Matt missing his girl, Holly, and Brock unemployed (but Brock did not want to go; he chided us and was willing to stick it out) and lowering reserves of small dominations of money (despite one parental infusion via Western Union), Matt and I called it quits and said we would go home.
And after a trip up to Fairbanks and some more camping, we did just that. 
We headed home.
But what had been wrong?
And it was the journal. It was high expectations. It was thinking that this trip--to Alaska--would be the penultimate trip of my lifetime. I had already force-fed myself the directions and outcome for the journey. And, when it did not fit my preconceived notions as it transpired, I was in a land of disappointment. 
It was not a huge disappointment, but a slow-burn nagging one. I think it led heavily in my decision to forego the whole summer in Alaska--as we had planned--and made me give up. Return to the known world of Des Moines and a job and closeness to Cin in Chicago. As for Matt, I can only suppose that he was tired of living in a tent, saw the personal embarrassment of wearing a Shakey's Pizza uniform to work, missed his woman, that he, too, wanted to return to Iowa.
And, so, we left.
Brock was over-ruled.
We drove the long distance back, camping, sight-seeing, to Seattle where we dropped off Brock, then Matt and I headed to Iowa. (I still recall clearly when we entered the Canadian Boarder from the U.S. at Beaver Creek port-of-entry: the boarder guard looked briefly at our IDs, smiled, and then waved us right through; so unlike the inquisition we had experienced when entering the U.S before.)
Our respective homes, all of us. (Well, Matt went to Iowa City to live, not Sioux City.)
(Brock had just graduated from Iowa. I went back for my final semester and graduated in December. Matt never did graduate.)
Yet, when I think about it, even these many years later, it was a strangely big achievement.
I mean, how many people dream of it, how many plan it or consider it: a drive to Alaska with work, a summer spent in the Last Frontier?
And, despite internal misgivings, the truncated experience, we did it. We went.
Brock, Matt and I in 1983.

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