North, to Alaska: A Prologue

2. North to Alaska: Prologue and Chapter 1 Life Out Here

When has your life taken a dramatic turn? 

North, to Alaska 

In Haines Junction, where the Alaska Highway diverges at the foothills of Mount Martha Black and Mount Archibald, muddy rigs and stickered Subarus pull-off for a Frosty’s burger and shake. The girls – sisters, we supposed – were serving Americans, and as we waited with our number in hand,  I admired a series of baskets ripe with those fuchsia blossoms quintessential of the Northwest. Across the street, I caught sight of Our Lady of the Way; the poetry of the name and of its being there of all places, and of all days, was not lost on me. 

At the counter, an older Indigeous man asked the pony-tailed teen for “poutines,” which I thought might be a Candain style of fries, cut funny like jo-jos or shoestring fries. According to the Maclean’s magazine and other quality Google sources, poutine, Quebec slang for “mess,” is a fry dish served with cheese curds and gravy. It was invented by a hungry trucker in 1957 who wanted to mix up the usual.

Finally burgered out at Historic Milepost 1016, I opted for a BLT and Coca Cola. Zach tried their Hawaiian burger and butter pecan ice cream and we studied what I supposed to be the icefields. 

“That was a lot better than I expected,” I told Zach as we parted ways to continue our caravan to the Yukon-Alaska border. I was anxious to see the icefields a bit closer, anxious to leave the Yukon before getting caught, anxious to see frost heave.

I left Haines Junction with all the jittery expectation of an anxiety-plagued mind, but it was not the acute kind of worry that shadowed the day. By then it was a dull headache, a nagging sense of dread that had accompanied me from the first day I learned the phrase “frost heave.” 

“If you’re not paying attention, you’ll fly right off the road.”

“The worst part is Destruction Bay. It’s two hours of frost heave.”

These were the voices of reason, of warning, which haunted me as the windshield filled with the St. Elias mountains.

I braced myself as time ran out. 

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