The Penultimate Leg — Anchorage and home (Sept. 24-25, 2017)

When we last left our heroes—oh, so long ago—they had concluded their northwardly progress to an end of the Earth and were again approaching a far more normal latitude. (Consider that Barrow is 71.79˚ north….Fairbanks is 64.84˚….Anchorage is 61.22˚…Belmont would be 37.52˚). We had even passed through Wasilla (and not seen Russia from a front porch). I had been able to reunite with Shauna and Helena—who had both flown to AK the night before—and in many ways felt more complete than I had in some time.

Touch is such a wonderfully important thing. The ability to hug and hold hands after dwelling so long on the void left by Juliet’s absence was immeasurably important. The closeness and touching of flesh can brook the inadequacy of words. The varying bits of pressure, the warmth…the shared communication of that intimate contact—even when fleeting and fully platonic—can require paragraphs to extoll. Even when there is just a closeness, the presence of physical form, of here and now, that can bring a profound comfort. I will never forget the last time I was able to hold Juliet’s hand, after the last breath. In spite of all of the inescapable badness of what had happened, she was at least still physically there, present.

How I miss this.

And I try very hard not to torture myself with fruitless wishes of un-doing the past. It was, it is. But that doesn’t mean I can’t long for it not to be the case…

That Saturday morning I awoke early and dragged myself together and headed into downtown Anchorage to meet a journalist for breakfast. I jabbered at him for the better part of an hour while he took notes. Sadly, nothing seems to have come of the interview. But then again, writing about the trip after its completion for sure lacks some of the sensation of the tale whilst in progress. (It’s even taken me two years to draft this blog post!)

Four sweet bears in the wind and drizzle…

A shaggy, yet gentle ruminant…

In that vein, we seemed to have abandoned some of the trappings of the journey. According to the original plan, we would have piled into Moshi Moshi and made the drive down to Whittier, or possibly even to Seward, in an effort to get down into the Kenai peninsula. But on that day, I barely had it in me to do another long-ish drive and our newly-expanded crew seemed much, much less inclined to cram into the backseat, three abreast, to cruise over the unknown windiness of the mountain between us and the Prince William Sound side of the Kenai Mountains. Instead we found a guided tour—on a spacious and modestly slow bus—of the area with a visit to a wildlife conservation center boasting lions, tigers and bears. Okay, actually just bears, and a host of shaggy arctic ruminants, hawks and a bald eagle, wolves, and actually quite an array of various (mostly) rescued animals with rather big and respectable habitats.

A gentle, yet shaggy ruminant

Of course, it rained a lot.

[Link for more of the Gentle, yet Shaggy Ruminant.]

That evening we had dinner with Tank Tankersly and all of his tank-tastikness, which always makes for an exciting and engaging evening. I was also happy to be able to introduce the man, the myth, and my kayaking compadre to Shauna and Helena. It being the last night in AK, we sort of splurged on everything Alaska-ish we could find on the menu that was sourced fresh from the waters nearby. Anchorage is such a neat town and has a really solid food scene, for absolutely sure…but damn…the fresh fish and seafood is such an amazing canvas for gastronomic art.

After dinner and ounces of courage, we made Russ bald. We were unable to convince Maria that she would look as handsome and liberated as Russ with did with an exposed scalp, so it was a solo shave. (My own head-shaving being planned for a moment after I finally got Moshi Moshi back home.) [The Russ Cut…JJJ Headshaving #6] What can I say, Russ did it with flair 😉(And yes, that’s a non-accidental ‘Office Space’ reference…)

The following morning we began that drill of getting ready to go home. I dug up the paperwork with the instructions for how to ship Moshi Moshi from port in Anchorage on down to Seattle and was horrified to learn that it was far more involved than just showing up and handing over the keys. All belongings inside needed to be boxed, labeled and sealed. The gas tank had to be below half-full. The car itself had to be cleaned…outside and in. Are you flipping kidding me?!?! We shoved things into high gear and found some boxes and tape. Moshi Moshi thankfully wasn’t quite the unmitigated disaster it could have been at that point, but it was overrun with random stuff and things that simply didn’t pack well…like a cooler, and a full spare tire (thankfully unused!)…and I had certainly been planning to use the trunk like extra luggage to get supplies and such back to California.

We ignored the letter of the instructions and did the best we could. The car detailing we arranged – after calling basically every detailer open that morning – took just forever…I had to repeatedly implore the folks to hurry, promising that I actually didn’t care about it really being all that clean inside. Russ accompanied me on the early, yet already anxiety-filled phase of this process and at one point remarked, “You are taking this remarkably well. I’m totally stressed out for you!”

As it goes, about the time I had wanted to be leaving for the airport, I was just finally making my way onto the grounds of the port at Anchorage. If you haven’t ever driven into one of our maritime ports of entry, these are secure facilities with checkpoints and such, and they are confusing as heck to drive around. It’s sadly also not legal to take pictures while you are in there. Watching my finite remaining time tick and fritter away, the multi-stage sign-off process of getting initial paperwork for the car printed out, having the car inspected, driving to another location, and then yet another, and finally turning over the key slowly played out. I then bade my trusty four-wheeled steed a bon voyage on the high seas and parked my own self on a curb, waiting for a Lyft back to the hotel.

I was so late that all my travelling companions ultimately left the hotel long in advance of my return. Russ and Maria each needed to make different flights and all were increasingly dubious that I would actually make the flight. As we had a fair bit of time together and I had a lot on my mind and a story to tell, the Lyft driver and I struck up a conversation. Not sure whether quality fares are just in short supply late on a Sunday morning in Anchorage, but he seemed to take it as a personal challenge to get me to the airport as soon as possible, and he agreed to hang out in the hotel parking lot while I quickly checked out. Disagreeing at times with Waze, and making a variety of ‘interesting’ traffic law interpretations along the way, in the end it was very close. I emerged from the slow trickle of passengers filtering through the security line and arrived at the gate just as boarding commenced. Shauna and Helena then sauntered over with lunch in hand. Shauna was so genuinely surprised that I would make the flight she hadn’t gotten an extra meal for me.

And then it was all over…at least, sort of.

The Ascension

In leaving, I already knew that I wanted to go back. Even as the plane did a short loop around Anchorage, gaining altitude before turning south, I looked down longingly at its place on the Earth, feeling that I was already missing something.

There is an expression, ‘Leave only footprints, take only memories.’ I wonder if it’s equally the case that at certain times, places, you can leave a little bit of yourself behind. I’m not entirely certain where in Alaska I might find that bit of myself, but it’s out there. Maybe on the rocky beach at Point Barrow, maybe in the cold waters of Shoup Bay, perhaps it would be at a memorable spot on the windswept shores of Kluane Lake in the Yukon. It could be one of these, or a half dozen other places.

I’m not sure where, or how. I’m only sure that part of me is still out there…and probably still endlessly looking for something.

But whatever that case might be, I would be back at a desk and clad in office attire the following morning.

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