Day 97 (July 3): Birthdays and Border Crossings

Today is Lindsay’s 32nd birthday. She’s young, in my mind. We were hardly married when I was 32 and look at all of the adventure that has happened. Yet a new year, though it’s only just one day, seems to evoke either a joy in what is ahead or a reminder of how little one has left.

I turn 37 this year. When my father was 37 he had all three children, the home in which he still resides and was five years from retiring from the US Navy. It’s tempting, oh so tempting, to look at his backpack and compare it to mine.

No two lives are ever the same. This applies generationally as well as cross-culturally. I have friends who are living my father’s life. They have built for themselves a pretty nice kingdom from which to rule their life.

I sense I have less royalty and more gypsie in my blood.

A Brief Celebration

Lindsay experienced this moment of reflection today somewhat too. We started the morning with an infestation of mosquitos. They swarmed the camper when we were in the camper. Then they swarmed the truck when we tried to leave. We were swatting at them and rolling our windows down for the better part of three hours before we finally had them under control.

I sensed a need to drive today. So we pushed on into Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon, for replenishment. We afforded ourselves a decent lunch to celebrate Lindsay’s birthday. While eating we also had WiFi so I checked the weather ahead of us just to give us a sense of timing and, of course, safety.

Lindsay eating “Putine” for lunch (French fries + Cheese + Gravy = Canadian Awesomeness!)

We were disheartened to find that the weather in Prudhoe Bay, at the very top of Alaska on the Arctic Ocean, was going to be terrible in the coming days. There was a window, ever so slight, that we could make our trip to the top of the world with halfway decent weather. But if we didn’t make that window we would be lost to freezing cold temperatures, sleet and, of course, snow. Snow in July?!!

A Focus on Preparations

Our brief celebration turned to a focus on preparations. If we were going to make Prudhoe Bay in the “good weather window” then we were going to have to drive 8-hr days pretty much every day for the next 6 days. It would take two of those days to get to Fairbanks. Then it would take 2 more to get to Prudhoe Bay up the Dalton Highway. Upon arriving, and hopefully taking a tour out to the Arctic Ocean, we’d then have 2 more long days to get us back to Fairbanks.

Were we up for the challenge? Of course! Was it something we looked forward to?

Well, not as much as we thought.

We planned a slower trip north. I knew we could be in Fairbanks in 2-3 days of casual driving. Then we thought we’d stop in Fairbanks for 2-3 days to catch up on the website and social media. Then we’d make a 2-3 day run up and back to/from Prudhoe Bay and settle back in to a nice, slow pace for whatever Alaska had in store.

The Promised Land

Alaska is our “Promised Land.” It is the thing we had envisioned over two years ago that has driven almost every important decision in those years. We did not, and still do not, know why we felt so called to Alaska. We do know that once we get there it is more in the turning south and driving toward Argentina than in the staying.

However, we are so close to reaching this Promised Land that part of me is anxious over the expectations that I have for it. Certainly rushing to the top of the world is not what I imagined in crossing into the Promised Land. I did not expect a land ripe with milk and honey. But I also didn’t expect that I would have to race hard into the land of my dreams.

I’m not so certain what is normal to expect in life anymore. As I recall the tension that exists in life between two things, certainly we can be anxious out of excitement? But what balances that excitement? A fear that something will go wrong to prevent our fulfillment of purpose and experience? A worry that things won’t go the way we thought they would when we finally “get there”?

I imagine Moses felt the same tension, though he had direct face to face contact with God Himself. Could that Presence alleviate the fear of going to a place you have been called and not knowing what to expect once you get there?

Moses had a few million people following him. I have just my wife and my dog.

Yet Moses, historically, dropped the ball and never entered the Promised Land.

I did.

Entering the Promised Land

We stopped at a free dump station to empty our tanks and fill up on fresh water. While there we also topped off our fuel. We were now ready, physically, to make the crossing into Alaska. But emotionally it was a different thing.

I didn’t tell Lindsay until we were well underway that this would be the day we entered Alaska. Part of me wanted to keep it a surprise. Another part wanted her to not have to deal emotionally with what I had experienced in my anticipation of the Promised Land. I felt, as her husband, that I should carry that burden.

We were around 6 hours from the border when we left Whitehorse. When I finally told Lindsay that I felt we should push on past the border into Alaska she did not hesitate to agree. In fact I even think she said “Good,” and “It’s time.”

The “Sign Forest” in Watson Lake… Go Gators!!

We did stop at a gorgeous lake to let Everest run and swim. She is the unfortunate victim of her owner’s nomadic lifestyle. We always find ways to get her fun and exercise. It’s just always different and likely never enough for what she would want if she could tell us.

From there we drove a few bumpy hours through the Yukon to US Customs. Passing US Customs was surprisingly not as stringent as with Canada. I declared the fruit and vegetables that I carried and I was told what I could keep and what needed to be turned over. After complying with this we were told to enjoy our time and on we went.

Meeting the Alaskan Dream

If the crossing was anticlimactic, our first experience with Alaska is far from that. We drove a few miles and finally realized that the brown, wrinkled mountains we had been following through the Yukon were suddenly massive and covered with snow. They were far enough in the distance to seem like a barrier of sorts to encapsulate the state. Maybe they were for protecting dreams – ours and others.

We met a man from Jacksonville on our drive through the Yukon. We noticed a Florida Gator logo on a boat that he towed and when we passed him Lindsay rolled the window down and did the Gator “chomp.” He smiled and did it back. Whens e pulled off at a rest stop a few miles later he pulled over and ran up to the truck excited.

He was from our hometown. Yet he visited Alaska a few years earlier and said he could not leave. Instead he found a realtor and purchased a piece of property which he turned into a fishing camp on Seward. It was his dream, he said, to live in Alaska. So he spent summers with his family in Alaska leading fishing charters and living each day as fully as he could. Maybe those mountains protected his Alaskan Dream as well.

Alaska Sunset

Our first Alaskan “sunset”

Wrapping The Day

We drove about an hour into Alaska. The further we drove the more I wanted to push on into Fairbanks. But we didn’t have a place to stay in Fairbanks. And even though we’d have sunlight for most of the drive, the sun would still set before we arrived. I wasn’t going to drive any part of the Alaskan Highway at night. Not even the last few miles.

So we found a free campsite in a park along a lake. By the time we wrapped our day it was around 10:30PM but the sun still hung above the lake casting colors we had only dreamed about. The mighty mountains remained in the distance and we found ourselves settled to the sound of Alaskan wildlife.

It was strange falling asleep with the sun still shining so late at night. But I suspect that everything about this place will be different than I imagine.

I think that’s life.

Creating expectations about a thing only to have them shattered. How we respond when the expectations break is where we find either the joy or sorrow of life.

Right now I find myself amidst joy.

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