On the Road Again (Fairbanks to Anchorage, September 23rd)

It’s that time of year again. No, I don’t specifically mean it’s that time of year when otherwise normal groups of dads conspicuously plan to dress up like belly dancers or find other extravagant reasons to wear garish amounts of makeup. What I’m actually referring to is that time when folks come knocking (figuratively…as I have yet to encounter anyone who uses a ‘door knock’ .wav file to announce the arrival of incoming email) asking for contributions to an organization with a two-word name that starts with U, ends with an –ay, and sounds very Canadian, eh? (Also sounds like ‘Ewe Knighted Whey’) I’ve been asked if those fundraising efforts can be combined with Juju’s Journey in some way. Well, it is possible to designate specific recipients by listing the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and it’s EIN# (which is EIN#20-1173824.) We still have a very, very long way to go to fund research to find cures for pediatric cancers.

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Now that we were resuming the driving legs again, it seemed like a really good idea to finally get MoshiMoshi a bath. My formerly white vehicle was now as much a caramel color than not…and therefore woefully unacceptable from a branding and marketing rules perspective. I don’t recall having actually laid eyes on a car wash since maybe Prince George, BC (possibly Whitehorse, YT, but I can’t remember seeing one) and MoshiMoshi was well overdue. Besides, we also really wanted to get the logo-enabled door magnets back on (the first pair of which had been ripped off the car as we drove through the sudden hailstorm that erupted when we were inconveniently posing for a picture at the Welcome to Yukon Territory sign…also explaining the funny face I have in that pic.) The other big question was whether we would be able to get everyone’s stuff in the car, with luggage, without having either Maria or Russ be strapped to a lawnchair atop the roofrack. (As it was, we’d already shipped home a steamer trunk of Russ’ unmentionables.)

We were a little cozy, but the car was clean, our door magnets were on, and our tank full (literally and figuratively). I was excited to get going as, among other things, Shauna and Helena (my wife and daughter) had travelled to Anchorage the day before and were waiting for us there. (If anyone from school is reading this, she was also, of course, terribly ill those days and clearly could not attend school…) We’d been apart for a long time at this point and I was eager to put an end to that dubious streak… I was also (strangely) looking forward to getting back on the road and seeing more of this amazing countryside. The day I am tired of taking in the beauty of that amazing state will be…um…never.

That said, it was also a little sad to get going, as we were getting farther and farther away from the meat of this Journey, which had become a unique and really amazing adventure.

And so the atmosphere in the car was a bit muted, although at first some glorious panoramas kept us company. Immediately south of Fairbanks the road goes through some hilly countryside and you get some spectacular views of Denali and the surroundings. This is actually key, as Denali – the mountain that is – is not visible from the road when you drive by the National Park. Just about the time my pulling over for photography started to get annoying, we drove into some rain and everything at elevation more or less started to disappear on us, which pretty much sucked.

It was a couple hours before anything really interesting came back into view, which left us with a terrible satellite radio connection, some overworked playlists, ‘I spy something fog-colored…,’ and a handful of CDs to amuse ourselves. It was thus that I had the opportunity to introduce both Maria and Russ to the musical Hamilton. Hamilton was so excellent on Day One (a leg driven mostly with Phil) and kept us awake whilst driving through the early, single-digit morning hours on the way to meet sunrise at Crater Lake. Now, these two characters claim to have enjoyed the experience less than Phil and they are – and this is just shocking – unconvinced of my ability to sing all of the various voices with such striking authenticity. The way I see it, if I could just settle on a single cast member to practice up a bit, I’m sure I could get a Tony nod in the highly-regarded and much-contested ‘Leading Role in a Sing-Along Roadtrip’ category. Since I skip over much of Act 2 in a defensive act of emotional self-preservation (whether or not it’s wrong divulge plot details of a historical musical, suffice it to say that it just wrecks me to listen to the songs about and then after Hamilton’s son’s duel), we started to delve into Maria’s collection of 80s tunes. Apparently, the notable things that I sing ‘better’ than Hamilton are old Police songs, especially ones in which Sting’s voice is less refined (or perhaps that is under-produced?). Maria has a wicked sense of humor and strangely we heard a lot of Police songs in relatively short succession. In this manner, I’ve permanently changed Russ’ relationship with the song ‘So Lonely,’ and apparently not for the better.

The strip of tourist shops and restaurants outside Denali NP was locked up and ghost-town like – a huge change from less than a week before when it was completely jammed with folks my parent’s age, waiting in an aggrieved manner to queue into buses headed somewhere I hoped we were not. (Note to self, avoid Alaska hotels owned by cruise lines…) It was a nice change in a way – I had clearly reached a point of becoming very comfortable with the dramatically lower population up North – but the part of me that likes gifts shops with native, cultural wares was a little disappointed as we rolled on through.

I had nowhere to fit a totem pole anyway…(which is what I really want!)

It was inclement south of Denali, so we were unable to take advantage of some of the stunning vistas that Eric and Robin had raved about (when they headed back home early the morning of the 17th). Thankfully it cleared up by the time we got to Wasilla, so we were still able to see Russia.

There is yet another ring of mountains protecting Alaska from Anchorage (I’d like to think that Alaskans find this last comment funny, as Anchorage is not really considered to be part of Alaska by some, since it’s lately become ‘Boulder-ized’ or something like that). It is a striking protective range, and getting beyond meant we would finally come to rest, see my family, but then rest of the company would soon have to part ways. We settled in at the Springhill Suites up near the University Campus (Must, must, must offer another shout out to the good folks at Marriott for setting up these stays for us – we are so hoping that the next time we do this we can have you involved up front!) I sort of went out of my mind with happiness to see Shauna and Helena again…you know, that sort of goofy smile-that-you-can’t-wipe-off-your-face sort of happy. They had been enjoying town so far and saw the Anchorage Heritage Museum earlier that day, which apparently is just awesome. Anchorage is actually a really neat town (at least it is in late September, when it’s cool, but not freeze-your-face cold or overrun by giant mosquitos known to steal away with household pets and small livestock). On that particular evening, Anchorage was hosting an annual pirate pub crawl. Never…never in my life have I so wanted to be a Pirate, or at least be in a pirate costume. I gazed around longingly at the literally scores of folks traipsing about in piratical regalia. It was tempting to at least buy a pirate mask (which were going for a song at the street vendors, given that they were priced at only a buck-an-ear…) It was nice to be desperately disappointed about something a bit more whimsical for a change. But even so, my inner anguish sounded something like this: “Aaaaaaaargh…” (I can’t quite decide how to simultaneously punctuate an exclamation point and an ellipse. English can be so inadequate sometimes…)