Saturday, June 1, 2002

Heading for Alaska

On a blue-sky summer day, we piled into a Volkswagon van in northern California and headed for Alaska. There was Josh and Nell, friends of mine who had started dating the summer before while in Mexico.
Josh was a handy man who liked mountain adventures for their challenge, not to get away and certainly not to enjoy the serenity. When we climbed Mt. Whitney the previous February, when sparkling blankets of snow lay wrapped around the barren, rocky faces, he bemoaned the fact that the kingly peak wasn’t more attractive. When we were climbing the Grand Teton on our way up to Alaska, Josh opined that it was "almost too ugly to be worth climbing.” And when we were in Banff National Park, with its turquoise lakes and hanging glaciers: “I don’t know, this is almost too pretty for my taste.”
But what Josh lacked in aesthetic sense, he made up for in his sense of adventure. When we would load up the van to drive to our next destination, he would turn on Creed and beat out the first few beats on the steering wheel. Josh liked cheese. He liked Easy Mac because it had cheese in it. He liked to camp in open meadows, with streams flowing through them. He liked the security of a tent. He didn't like small fish.
Nell didn't like any fish, but she was a great climber. She was a great hiker too, and the only one who could keep up with Josh on our hikes, possibly because she and her future husband were both competitive. Nell was an achiever. She double majored in Spanish and philosophy/theology while playing basketball in college. Nell liked driving fast on the Alcan. She liked country and Spanish music. She liked salsa.
Then there was my sister Jen. But enough about her. We each put $500 into a joint account and crossed our fingers in the hopes of getting to the giant fish of the great white north and back again. It was easier for some of us to do than for others. For me, it was the last penny I had. But I doubted the opportunity would come again.
I loved the myth of Alaska. It stirred something deep in the heart. We were off.

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