Volume II : Chapter V
In my favourite childhood book, the main character lives on a small asteroid no larger than the house I grew up in. If he wants to see a sunset he just needs to move his chair a few feet forward and he can watch it set again. I always imagined it worked the opposite way just the same, if he were to move backwards he’d never have to see it set if he didn't want to. Ever since I was a kid this stuck with me. When I first learned we could do this here on earth I knew one year I’d get myself to the right corner of my own planet to see it for myself.
My body wakes and sleeps with the sun, something I didn’t fully take into account before this trip. I was too fixated on just getting to that corner. I haven’t used an alarm in three years, if the sun is up, so am I. Voluntary sleep deprivation was an odd way to start the summer, in a place where the sun doesn't close the day.
After sifting through all the shit that comes with our immigration process we knew it would be a while before we could head south again. I love Vancouver in the summer but I find it hard to commit my time to it when the weather is warming in so many other usually frozen places. We recruited our friend Teia for the trip and headed North for a long overdue visit to see our parents (hi mom, sorry mom). Seeing them was our only concrete plan and by some very convenient coincidence both our parents were now living in the same small town about 12 hours away. We camped out in the basement there for a few days, eating out of the garden and getting slurpees at the 7/11 where Jill used to go after school.
Smithers is beautiful but like every visit to your hometown, the nostalgia fades into familiarity pretty fast. We knew it was time to go and the summer solstice was coming up quick. My mom handed us three netted bug hats as we packed the car.
We’ve driven through Texas and a lot of desert before so I was no stranger to wide open spaces. It’s different up there though, remote but not desolate. It's big sky country but the sky leaves space for the mountains too. It’s beautiful and vast. We’d go hours without seeing another car, there was even a day we counted more bears than people. It felt like the end of the earth, especially when the paved roads turned to dirt without warning. We camped wherever the hell we wanted; it was a luxury I hadn’t experienced before. Every time we stopped we were the only people around, we shared the space with each other, the animals and bugs. The mosquitos outnumbered us by thousands and those bug hats my mom handed us ended up being our daily uniform. They travelled in clouds and came at you as soon we exited the car. Even with that fucking hat on they’d still try and get as close to you as they could, hovering in your sight. I imagine I ate about 100 on the trip considering all the meals we cooked outside. It didn’t take away from the fact that we were staying in the most stunning places every night. I don’t know if it was luck or just how things work up there but every place we pulled over made the perfect camping spot. We’d driven ourselves in circles doing this in the lower 48.
Somehow we were running behind schedule, it probably had to do with the fact that we had terribly misjudged how big it was up there. Where we wanted to go in Alaska was further from home than our trailer was way down in Louisiana. We really wanted to make it to Alaska, even if just to hit to the border and say we did it. We had a list that needed checking off so we found a place where the road dipped in and we could cross over the border and touch down. Hyder is the town, its one street with a few business’ that are mostly seasonal. There’s a shitty bar on the main (only) drag with bills all over the walls where you can take a shot of everclear (they call it getting Hyderized). You leave with a signed certificate, an even better souvenir than the passport stamp we didn’t get crossing over.
We camped the whole way up, driving as straight a line north as the roads would allow. By way of a logging road in the Yukon, somewhere outside of Whitehorse we found a place to set up camp for the big event. This was as far north as we would make it. We had a little dirt clearing beside a lake all to ourselves, some guy down the road gave us some wood and we settled in. I don’t know what I was expecting to happen but it wasn’t some fantastic show in the sky with a definitive beginning, middle or end. The sun started to set, we hadn’t made it as far as we needed to avoid that but something was different. It stopped just below the horizon, we found ourselves stuck in perpetual civil twilight. This does something to your brain, you anticipate this darkness that has cycled every night of your life until this point but it doesn’t come. You’re just suspended in twilight. The stillness is almost apocalyptic, rightfully so, I always thought if the sun stopped moving it would be at the end of the world. It wasn’t as romantic as I wanted it to be but it was incredible, powerful in its subtlety. We ate mushrooms.
We stayed up all night since it never came. We walked around the woods off the side of the logging road and found a rock labyrinth and debated its meaning. We didn’t want to accidentally disrespect some important monument out in the middle of nowhere but we decided to walk forward towards the middle and backwards in the same steps back out. This would ensure we reversed any curse we may have brought on by walking through. We all made wishes with rocks and kept them to ourselves. We heard wolves, tried to sleep and failed. Wandered between the roads, the woods and the lake for hours. Everything looked beautiful in soft blue light.
We watched as the world came off pause at dawn and felt time lurch forward again. We made coffee that didn’t work and smoked cigarettes covered in dirt. We were at our turning point, from there we would drive south and the days would stay long but night would return in time to get us to bed. We had our first showers since Smithers in a hot spring and lost what we thought were our summer tans in the water.
The way back felt different, we had spent the first half of the trip rushing north as fast as we could but Jill and I never feel the same urge to rush home. We took our time and headed over to Alberta. It looked a lot like BC at first but gas was cheaper and the trucks were bigger. I saw truck nuts for the first time in Canada and the landscape flattened out in parts. Collectively we were less excited as the trip wound down and we started missing our beds, showers and food that wasn’t a packaged curry with a can of beans.
We spent the last night lighting off all the fireworks we bought and forgot to use. We stunk like sulphur the rest of the way home.