For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again. ~ Psalm 78:39
At the moment, I’ve not got the patience to count all the miles that I traveled on my road trip from McCarthy, Alaska to where I am now, the Bay area in northern California. I had purchased a conversion van, intent on seeing more of Alaska, to see sites I’ve not yet seen and to hopefully gather material for my winter writing, a novel set in Alaska.
From McCarthy I traveled to Denali National Park where all tourists had cleared the scene and with a serene sense of ecstasy, I found the hiking trails to be empty, empty as all eternity. It was glorious, and quite possibly my favorite leg of the trip. Immediately upon leaving Denali, I ran into a snowstorm. Mind you, this was still September, but also note that this was Alaska. By Alaskan standards, I doubt that it would have been a snowstorm, because, after all, the roads were still open. That highway traffic slowed to 20 or 30 miles per hour probably wouldn’t be enough for the locals to label it a “storm.”
From Fairbanks it was about 10 or 12 hours of driving down to Haines on a stretch that was quite surprisingly stunning. I hadn’t realized that the road connecting Fairbanks and Haines was so beautiful, but beautiful it was. My appreciation of the epic views were only momentarily suspended when I realized that I would probably run out of gas. Though the scenery was stunning, the roads to traverse were very hilly and windy, and my old 1993 Chevy conversion van simply had to work too hard getting up and down and around.
A good bit of this stretch is through Canada, actually, and most of the drive through Canada is remote. I took particular note of the remoteness, first in appreciation, because I love remote locations, but gradually in desperation, noticing more and more the absence of fuel stations. Signs to the border stated that there were hundreds of miles, and I knew that my tank wouldn’t make it. My poor van had to huff it so hard going up some of those steep hills that it was as though I could watch the fuel needle slowly make its way down and to the left. Normally one doesn’t note the regress of the fuel needle unless one has covered many miles. Glance at the needle once, take another quick look an hour later, and then one can see some movement. But as hard as the van was working, the needle seemed more like a ticking clock, one ticking (quite unfortunately) counter-clockwise.
I resigned myself to the fact that I would run out of fuel and mentally began to prepare. There was a bit a panic, but I’ve been in much trickier situations before, having traveled to areas where I couldn’t speak a lick of the local language. Here, at least, I knew a good bit of Canadian and felt confident that I could communicate well enough with the locals. It wouldn’t due to stand outside looking desperate, I thought, because so few cars came by. A sign on the van, perhaps? That way, I would sit back in the comfort of the van and enjoy a good book while I waited. I reviewed the options, watched the clock counting down, and drove on.
Shortly thereafter, I had a sudden epiphany. The “miles” listed on the road signs were, in fact, in kilometers. This meant that I was a good deal closer to the American border than I had realized. This was good news but by no means was it a welcome relief. I still knew that I wouldn’t make it to Haines. But perhaps if I could make it to the border, then I could figure something out there. I also remembered that there is a fuel pump not too far from the border, but I wasn’t sure how far. Even so, even after the epiphany, after counting the kilometers, I still didn’t think I’d make it to the border, let alone a fuel station. The clock was ticking.
When I pulled up to the border, the fuel needle was in the red, ominously on “empty.” Even so, I was starting to feel hopeful. The border guard said that the fuel pump was only seven miles. I’ve not yet referred to this as a “gas station,” because it isn’t. It’s an old fuel pump that sits outside a restaurant at “Mile 33.” Or perhaps it’s “Mile 36” or “38,” I can’t recall. In remote areas sometimes locations are simply referred to by their mile markers. This may very well represent a lack of imagination, an easy out way back in the day for the settlers who, after long days of futile gold panning, simply didn’t give a damn about imagination. To me, it’s a welcome relief from marketing and advertising. You stop at places like “Mile 33” (or whatever the hell it is) not because you are lured in by a sign or a “buy-one-get-one-free-sale” but because you actually need something, or, as in my case, because you’re desperate as all hell.
Running on fumes or so I assumed, gauging by the gauge that had given up fall any further, I pulled the van into the deserted little lot and up to the fuel pump. I felt a familiar feeling. There’s something like a giddy satisfaction that hits me when I’ve been able to avoid this kind of adversity and scrape by a catastrophe. I suppose it’s my own James Bond type feeling, I feel a little snarky a little cocky and self-confident. Of course, things sometimes don’t work out, and even when I’ve had everything lined up to the letter for a trip, sometimes the cosmos still works against me.
Shit happens, as the poets say in various, more poetic ways. But when things line up, I’ve learned to appreciate it, because after living a vagabond existence for several years, you learn to embrace the tenuous nature of life. I’ll resist the urge to quote Forest Gump, but we really never know what we’re going to get. We are flesh, a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again. What we learn, only seemingly by endlessly crashing against the walls of our lives, is that if you are wind, temporal and impermanent, you might as well not fight it, might as well appreciate the ride.