Sometimes the skies, sometimes the particular and ephemeral snow crystals on your sleeve, sometimes the way the trees that would be imposing and majestic if stood under close up seem like fragile grass stalks against the expanse of ice. Or sometimes Alaska is wholly inside, a sequence of articulate thoughts—libertas, the Michener novel, extraction economy, Seward’s seven million US dollar Folly—alongside textural emotion: fear, towering vertigo, all the promise and potential in being lost.
We catch a ride north to find firmer conditions, end up in Talkeetna where my sister-in-law lives, certified badass Denali mountain guide and search and rescue. We hang out with her and Judy and Joey, ride the race course loop in town at high speeds and in short sleeves. Lael entertains herself lofting snowballs into the river while the rest of us drink some beer as a refuge from good sense. It’s a day spent pedaling in that style where you’ve gone to the trailhead just to do a circuit with good friends because cycling is joyful, where you go as hard as you can up the climbs to see if you might stay ahead emphatically and especially because you’re not racing. Alex with his stupid hat that I’m envious of dominates all the photos I take, I want to throw it in the water behind L’s frosty chunks.
This heat spell sets some of our plans back, but they were just wispy talk anyway, replaceable by any number of alternative excellent foolish ideas. Nick’s next one for the last couple of days before they leave to the White Mountains 100 is that we should go up to Resurrection Pass, sleep in a cabin and come back down. The parsimony of it is immediately appealing. Carp picks us up in his transcendent old bus as if it makes even the slightest bit of sense, as if we’re being picked up before sunrise for school like when we were kids. I nap through the drive.
The ascent is at first mossy soft, then a slippery luge trough into kilometers of grey ice that the studded tires make short work of though you don’t want to put your foot down. Higher up it’s shin covering slush for a hike a bike, just three or four hours. We could turn around and sleep next to the bus but Alaska’s not a turnaround sort of place since if that was a possibility you wouldn’t have found yourself there at all, having turned around much further south. We keep with the inspiration that there will be colossally nothing to do at the cabin other than talk and think through sips of whisky and stoking the stove, which everyone could do with more of. The next morning we descend and go bother Eric Parsons.
Sometimes Alaska is New Zealand or Chile, sometimes Norway and the Swiss Alps with higher more muscular peaks. It’s always the USA though, the implication of commerce in front of culture—once gold, now oil—maybe commerce as culture, gas stations, bail bonds, fast casual restaurants, blocks with familiar B- brands, Payless Shoes and Dick’s Sporting Goods. People dressed unusually slacker slovenly hunting fishing overalls Carhartt double bar tacked two sizes too large, obligatory ball cap as if they’re fedoras and it’s the 1940’s. The irony of t-shirts with angry bald eagles and camo printed on them, made in China.
But a big dose of everything as well that makes me happiest about home, no one up in your business, any damn thing is sure, whatever, as long as it doesn’t interfere, no we’re not obligated to help you but we probably will because it’s right. No judgment or smugness, whatever, go sweetlyfuckyourself, hey, how are ya? The other paradox, the good one, in the belief that anyone can make it if they possess the merits of trying hard and luck, but that both of those are also essentially meaningless beyond the value you assign to them (which for us is very irrationally high).
Alaska is somehow cowboys, hunters, astronauts, and destitute 49ers fused into one. Makes me happy.