I mindlessly picked off the salty sweat that dried on my skin. It came off in delicate flakes. I never realized how much salt our bodies contain until it began to ooze out solidifying on my skin during hot yoga. It was easy to drift off into thoughts of the strange things that make us human as the rain rhythmically beat on my window. The wipers swiped back and forth–back and forth. Today was the perfect day to drive straight home, make a cup of tea and mindlessly clean house. It had hardly rained all summer. I was thankful for a day off and a reason to be lazy.
A surge of adrenaline shot through my body. It somehow crawled its way through the clogged salty passages of my body. I had lost control of my car in the flooded ruts of the highway. Reminding myself to stay calm I slowed down and regained control of the car. Fate was on my side that day as I conveniently slowed down next to a hitch hiker. Thinking I was pulling over for him the hooded figure began to walk toward my car. A large bulky backpack hid underneath his rain fly. I contemplated driving off and leaving him in the rain. I had a house to clean, but my foot didn’t move. I stalled until his hand was on the truck of my car. There was something about this ominous hooded figure that presented both excitement and mystery and I am not one to pass up either one of those. I got out of the car and walked to open my trunk for him, forgetting a several day old suitcase from my last tour that had exploded in the trunk. Of course, there were several intimates right on top. I pushed it aside mumbling something about living out of my car. He chuckled, sling shot a thong across my car and shook my hand. Awe, who was I kidding? A day of cleaning house was way too conventional for me anyways, plus he already got a hand on my intimates.
“Thank god you don’t drive a rusted out pirate van,” the voice from under the under the hood said as rain drops dripped off his long dark lashes.
“Well yea, I am too, I don’t think my lace thongs would be happy in a soggy pirate van,” I jokingly implied for him to expand on his story.
“I just turned down an offer from a delusional man driving a rusted van painted like a pirate ship. With whiskey on his breath and a patch on his eye he asked if I wanted to sail the arctic seas.”
“Hahah yea, that’s pretty standard for Alaska. Honestly though, you would have come home with a better story if you sailed the arctic seas with an Alaskan pirate. I don’t know if I can compete.”
“I don’t know about that,” he winked, lifting his hood revealing a smile to melt any girls heart.
I was suddenly aware that I just came out of an hour and a half of hot yoga. My hair was in a knot on the top of my head and I was sitting in a very messy car, barefoot and braless. I picked up the right hitchhiker at the wrong time for sure. Thankfully, as he got situated I realized he was much dirtier than I was. We were the perfect match, it seemed.
I looked him over out of the corner of my eye as he peeled off layers. I scolded myself. I needed to keep my eyes on the road as to avoid hydro plaining again, but he was hard to look away from. JP was his name, I’m sure it was short for something.
“Where are you headed?” he asked.
“Me? Shouldn’t I be asking you that question? But umm, well.. I was headed right here,” I pointed as we drove through Eagle River, Alaska, “this is exit.”
He looked at me hesitantly.
“The question that matters though,” I said, “is where are YOU going?”
JP was heading to Denali National Park (DNP) to backpack and hopefully catch the Perseid Meteor Shower. Part of his backpacking group had found a ride ahead to Talkeetna. The way of the backpacking hitch hiker is to split up and all meet in one location. It’s easier to travel that way. Their meeting spot was the Wilderness Access Center (WAC).
“It looks like I am going to the WAC then.”
I reset the odometer at 0 with only 232 miles left to go.
I began geeking out and drooling over our universe and how lucky I thought he was for the opportunity to backpack out to DNP for such a breathtaking event.
“Well, you can’t drive home all alone tonight, that’s too far. I won’t allow it. So, it looks like you’ll be coming camping with us eh?”
Ugh, how could I resist this kind of adventure. He knew my love for the universe and adventure was too strong. He knew I couldn’t say no. He was playing me. Trying not to give in so easily, I began to explain how I wasn’t properly dressed for an overnight camping trip in the wilderness.
“You basically live out of your car, from the looks of it.”
He did have a point.
I had to make one unannounced stop before we got too far into our journey though. I pulled into a mom and pops store in small town, Alaska. He asked what I needed that he didn’t already have. I simply replied that he shouldn’t worry, but trust me, it was a necessity. I told him to wait in my car with my most valued possessions while it was still running. What else would any Alaskan do, but trust a strange man she just met?
I came back with a bottle of my most favorite drink, Champagne. Before he said anything I recited my life motto. “Always carry a bottle of champagne because life is a celebration!”
Finally, we were on the highway. I found myself reverting into my tour guide ways. Even on my day off I couldn’t help but point out geological features, land marks, and talk about my most personal stories the ones I couldn’t share with tourists.
He opened up and began to share his also. JP first came up to Alaska when he was 16, to work for an elder woman who lived off the Homer spit. She was connected to the fishing industry down there. Trying to get his foot in the door he spent his first summer eating home-made salmon every night, while doing odd jobs like mowing her lawn and chopping her fire wood. His hard work paid off and he was able to return the following year on one of the fishing vessels, JP worked the next two summers fishing. He hadn’t been back to Alaska since he was 18, but it always felt like home. Since most of the time he did spend in Alaska was working he had to come “home” to explore the wilderness and an image of life his fishing captain implanted in his head.
“I remember on my 18th birthday my skipper, invited me to dinner one evening. As we climbed up the Homer hillside we came upon a simple yurt placed so eloquently in the center of a vegetable and flower garden. Chickens cackled in the distance as the most beautiful babe came out to greet us in a dusty apron. All I remember thinking was, this, this is the life I want. All I need is a babe and a yurt, so I came back to Alaska to do some traveling and scope out property to buy so I can build a cabin and naturally, find a babe.
My older brother, he’s 36 now, spent his summers in Alaska. From the age of 20-30 he was a naturalist guide in the park. When the US economy crashed National Parks were the last thing people were going to see and he lost his job. He’s doing fine now. However, his stories about dismal outlook of the U.S. economy kinda made me think this whole world is going to shit. Anyone who can’t live a sustainable lifestyle are going to be the first people to go. I might not have gone to college, but I fully intend to make a good life for my family and hopefully live out our days in the untouched wilderness away from all the bs of the world.”
We continued to talk until I smelled something strange. The type of bad smell that comes from a bad car, I worried my car was doing something strange again when I noticed a wood-paneled car with peeling waves painted on…. “THE PIRATE VAN!!” we shouted in unison. We laughed as I hit 90 and put him in the dust. The last image I had of that van was the one eyed man shaking his fist at us out of his peep hole on wheels.
Talkeetna came into view and we saw three more hooded figures with backpacks.
“My mates! Pull over?!”
I was now at full capacity and full speed ahead to DNP. We arrived just in time to check in at the WAC and make the last bus into the park. I’ve been into the park plenty of times and decided to take a rejuvenating nap as the bumpy road rocked me to sleep.
56 miles later we arrived at Wonder Lake. This was our stop. We tumbled out and began a five-mile hike away from the road. We were lucky the rain had stopped and the clouds had cleared several miles back. Our chances for viewing the meteor shower were high! We had camp set up close to 11pm. First thing I did was unfold my massive blanket and spread it out over the dew covered moss and lichen. The Alaska range towered in the distance as we made the glacier valley our home for the night. We were over 400 miles from any civilization, and my body could tell. It became in sync with nature feeling every vibration and hearing even the faintest bird call. The entire group was dead silent afraid that speaking would ruin this moment.
We all piled on the blanket with our backs to the ground and eyes glued to the sky. Everyone jumped as the “POP!” of the first champagne bottle was the loudest sound that echoed through the park.
“Sorry,” I whispered.
We passed it back and forth as the wolves began to howl in the distance. The three local wolf packs of the park tend to stay close to the entrance 40 miles back, but their calls were as loud as ever. It was perfectly synced with the start of the meteor shower as we saw Brett’s hand shoot up with his long slender finger, pointing. We stayed there for hours talking about the universe and passing the bubbly back and forth.
As we all gathered into our tents and sleeping bags it was a general consensus that we were the luckiest 5 people in the entire world. I fell asleep dreaming of stars.