Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sourtoe Chronicle: East of Alaska

At camp near Grande Prairie, Alberta

It’s after 11 p.m. Yukon Time. If it weren’t still as light as Midwestern supper time, I’d take my bellyful of musk-ox stroganoff and hunker down in my sleeping bag for another short summer night here in the sub-Arctic. But nights are pranksters here, and every day is the same joke on any tenderfoot who fools himself into believing an 8-hour night is child’s play.

Eight days ago, I began this journey to the top of the world with my son in a rented van, ostensibly to sip a cocktail containing a severed human toe and to spend the longest day of the year above the Arctic Circle, where the sun won’t ever set. To date, we have driven almost 4,000 miles through great northern cities and a billion acres of boreal forest, past vast lakes and snow-draped mountain ranges, seeing caribou, bighorn sheep, buffalo and moose, burning up the gasoline ration for all of Jasper, Texas, and all my best jokes (and a few of my worst.) What we haven’t passed are a lot of other cars on the road, WiFi hot-spots or cell phone towers.

Now, here in a rare hot-spot campground in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, fresh from a meal of musk-ox, caribou and huckleberry pie, we are still 700 miles and several days from our objective. … and god-knows how far from home and the safe world we left behind. We have come so far north that we can now say Alaska is due west. This is a primitive place and we are vulnerable specks here.

One exceedingly un-primitive tool we brought along is a GPS that guides us through both city and country. Because the voice that directs us belongs (in my mind) to a comely Australian lass, I call her Sydney. She’s a new toy, a special gift for this adventure that’s intended more to comfort the giver than the givee. But Sydney has certainly saved us time and angst, even if she gets intermittently annoyed with my wrong choices. And Sydney is not just another pretty face. She reminds me as the miles pass that life (like GPS) is all about where you are, not so much where you are going, and not at all where you’ve been.

In the meantime, I am getting to know my 19-year-old soon more as the man he’s becoming. He likes to talk about literature, history and philosophy … about life and love and heartbreak … about where the road goes. I think he understand even better than I thought about why we’re on this journey, and that’s good. But he’s also still a child in some respects, too, playing heavy-metal music on his laptop and scattering his clothing around our camper-van as if it were his dorm room. God, I love him.

This time of year, the sun is in the sky for about 20 hours. The other four hours are a chalky twilight, still bright enough to read a Chuck Palahniuk book or play Texas Hold ‘Em on a campground picnic table without a lantern. And to drink Yukon Jack and Chilkoot beer with your son long past bedtime, which never really comes until your body surrenders to the daylight. I awoke at 4 a.m. today and the morning was already as bright as Sunday school.

Where does the road go? That’s what I want to discover. One road, the Dempster Highway, leads to the Arctic, and tonight an old-timer RVer (a Texan, no less, even here) told me the road is a horror show that he’d never drive again, especially in his own vehicle. Chipped windshields, hood dings and mired vehicles are common casualties; head-on collisions and rollovers are just part of the game. My timid new friend just made me more eager to be on a road that not everyone has the balls to drive.

Yeah, that’s the adventure. Just like sipping a cocktail that not everybody has the balls to sniff, much less drink.

This blog will be updated as Internet access allows in this exquisite wilderness. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Chancelucky said...

wow what a great sounding trip and to have the opportunity to travel alone with your son....!

Is there a setting on GPS's that lets you change the voice and accent. We rented one in New England and got a female-british accented GPS.
I still want a surfer GPS voice or maybe Jewish mother.