The Imaginary Night Zoo

Alaska to Florida Adventure: Day 0

After five years of living in Alaska and one year of calling it home, my best friend decided to return to Florida!

Megan sent most of her belongings ahead via mail to family in Florida however we still somehow had an assortment of randomness that needed to be crammed into the Jeep Patriot. In the end, the Jeep carried boxes of stuff and clothes, my bag, a dog that looks like a deer, two rabbits and an inordinate amount of yarn. We remembered the basics (like the Milepost, updated atlas of US/Cananda , toilet paper, water, food, 1st aid, etc.) but, to be honest, we really had no idea what we were doing.

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That black thing on top? It’s full of yarn.

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See?

Trip Soundtrack (an important component of survival)

Our audio choices varied based on who drove. When Megan drove we listened to anything from Celtic instrumental music to audiobooks. When I drove we needed something lively because I do this thing where I start nodding off after exactly 30 minutes behind the wheel (if we’d played smooth jazz, we would’ve crashed and died. In Canada there were cliffs with neither guardrails, shoulders, reflectors, lighting nor road paint).

The Sound of Adventure! We started the drive each day with the FTIsland’s “I WILL” album.

On the Road: DAY 1

May 18, 2015 – Midday start canada

The sky was blue, weather was mild and traffic was nonexistent in postcard-perfect Alaska as we set off. Before we lost reception, Megan announced to our family and friends that we were on our way, punctuated by a choice Sam Winchester quote (see right; which in retrospect was PERFECT).

Through Delta Junction to Alaska-Canadian (ALCAN) Highway, we stopped periodically at pretty photo spots for pictures and to coax His Highness (one of many nicknames for Megan’s anxious deer-like dog) to take a leak. 1 to 2 hours out, Megan realized we forgot His Highness’s collar and tags at the house. However she did have his complete vet history and passport so we pressed on and hoped those would suffice at the border crossing.

Fairbanks to the Border: 

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Australians, Ice Cream Cones & Nothing

We pulled into the border crossing and, removing sunglasses and pausing our kpop, Megan presented our documentation to customs. The gentleman asked a few questions and Megan quickly explained the incident with His Magesty’s tags, but it didn’t matter. The man didn’t even open the pet folder (Megan was a little sad), and waved us through (“we’re not in America!!”).

Megan’s Alaska friends had recommended we fill the tank at every gas station regardless of how much gas we had (sage advice) so we did.

Our first stop was 1202 Motor Inn at Beaver Creek (gas and lodging), a wooden building with a red roof and a polar bear statue on top. A few steps led up to a covered porch and into a quaint room that served as souvenir shop, grocer and diner where a big man behind the counter slurped a chocolate chip ice cream cone while he served Megan. Behind us, a group of Australians lounged and talked loudly at small tables in the dining area.

A young blond woman from the group followed Megan off the porch and asked if we were headed to Whitehorse (we were) however Megan (afraid of hitchhikers, serials killers and hitchhiking serial killers) said ‘no’. The real adventure began the moment we put 1202’s polar bear in our rear view.

The Yukon Welcomes You

The ALCAN immediately morphed into an uneven gravel path through a wilderness of evergreens and snow-dusted peaks. We thought it might be temporary (the gravel) but it didn’t end (it didn’t even feel like a road. We had this conversation a few times: ‘Did we take a wrong turn somewhere?’ ‘But there were no turns.’). Our dusty gravel highway cut a solitary trail in the landscape, winding into the distance without a trace of human presence.IMG_0035

We did see a traffic light. No signs or people or construction. Just the light. (If it turns red, do we stop?)  

Road conditions prevented us from driving very quickly and we saw no other cars for 4 hours (the creepiness was setting in). The first vehicle was a single 18-wheeler truck which roared past us in the other direction like a freight train out of hell, broadsiding the Jeep with a hailstorm of gravel.

Down to 1/2 a tank, we watched eagerly for the next station (they were few and far between but our map indicated we were coming up on one). Arriving, we paused on the highway instead of pulled in because it didn’t take a genius to know there was no gas to be bought.

It turned out to be a deserted 2-pump station from the twilight zone made of what looked like two rusted train cars from a bygone era with smashed windows and fluttering tattered curtains that had long turned copper-colored from age and the elements.

There were no words. We looked at the place, and kept going.

The Night Zoo Knows We’re Here

IMG_0046Gas at last (and road paint)! There was a chilling moment when we were concerned about the reliability of our guidance materials. Happy to dismiss the last place as a fluke, we went inside this station through a screened porch that opened to a quaint store of unfamiliar products and an unsmiling cashier. While Megan paid, I lingered on the porch to look at a wall of fliers for RV sales, etc. (All those fliers. People put them there, right? Where are these people hiding?).

Daylight began to wane so I took over driving; we turned left at a minor junction around dusk and then night doused the sun.

We reduced speed as visibility worsened. The darkness swallowed the beams from the Jeep’s headlights (on any setting) like the lone ray of a flashlight in the vacuum of space which prompted Megan to stop crocheting and keep a keener eye out for moose and porcupines (the prickly guys can apparently shred tires if you run them over. That would suck).

The vanished sun teased us with a perpetual red band that dimly outlined the mountains and, with no moonlight, the sky and road were the same cold color. We were forced to drive even slower when our road paint vanished.

And then there were animals everywhere! Beside the road. In the road. We saw animals that weren’t there and almost missed some that were. There were deer and caribou. The Jeep threaded carefully through a loitering herd of horses. Every pothole looked like a porcupine. Tired and fighting to focus, we cracked jokes and giggled as we discovered more and more faces staring back at us, both real and illusory, from the world on the other side of the glass.

The Milepost promised that Whitehorse (Yukon’s capital) was ahead of us somewhere.

The clock ticked us past midnight and deeper into the next time zone as the Jeep continued to crawl quietly through Canada’s imaginary night zoo.

 

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Next in the Alaska to Florida Adventure: Night Vale’s Corridor 

[Did you wanna read the AK to FL mayhem from the beginning? Start here: Road Trip Manifesto: Go Big or Don’t Go.]

 

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