In a car that stinks from the road of life
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Sometimes I feel like I’m at the end of my road, like my passion for life is dead, like I no longer care about things I supposedly love. For example, most of my friends would agree that I’m a rock climbing nut. However, I have plans to meet a climbing buddy this afternoon and it feels like the last thing I want to do. I don’t even want to write this column.
At this moment, I’d rather read a particular book by the river. It’s a story about a man living in the Alaska bush and it takes me back to memories of my teenage days. In other words, my mind wants to escape to anywhere but here, the present. I think it’s a very human condition.
I stare out the window at cars going by on Grand Avenue and remember driving down the same road, to Interstate 70, with a truck loaded high with raft frames, kayaks, dry bags – a sawed-off shotgun was even stashed somewhere in the heap. My high school buddy and I were ready for the northern wild. July sun beats through the windshield into our laps. Michael is 19, I’m 18. We won’t see a familiar face until we rendezvous with his dad in Whitehorse, Yukon, when he arrives by plane. Michael guns the gas and we leave the United States behind as quickly as we can. I’d never been to the border and before long we’re cruising through Calgary, then west, making a short stop at Lake Louise.
Walking up to the lakeside “castle,” the air is moist and frigid, a sticky chill. We take turns snapping each other’s picture in front of the lake with disposable cameras. I feel so far away from home – my blood stirs because I know it’s only the beginning.
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The journey has yet to feel real as the dense Canadian woods pass by my passenger side window in a green blur. Near the west end of British Columbia, we turn onto the Cassiar, a dirt road hundreds of miles long. Bears and moose are everywhere. I dance erratically while talking to my mom on an outside pay phone – the mosquitoes are piercing my skin through three layers of shirts. “Gotta go, Mom, bye.” We keep driving.
One of the most exciting discoveries we make in B.C. is that the drinking age is 18. Michael and I pull over on the Cassiar to settle in for the night with a 12 pack of beer. We laugh and sip suds inside the cab under the midnight sun until we have to pee. That’s when we notice the dark cloud of mosquitoes surrounding the truck. A dilemma: If we open the doors to “void,” as they say in the medical profession, not only will we be ruthlessly attacked by flying needles, hundreds of the beasts will enter our sanctuary of the cab as well. We decide not to pee. Hoping we won’t end up wetting our sleeping bags, we lie down, one across the front, one in the back. Hours later, I wake up to the sound of intruders. Mosquitoes are in the cab! They’ve already been sucking our blood. Michael wakes up. Together in horror, we watch several more pests enter the truck trough the air vents. I feel like I’m in the movie, “Alien,” and smash them as fast as I can, leaving a few dark red, dime-sized stains on the interior. We quickly empty our bladders and take off on the dirt road again, windows down and speeding to blow the insects out.
When we get to a gas station in Whitehorse, some girls giggle at our “Colorado accents.” We check into a motel and now there’s nothing to do but wait. We go to a bar to kill some time. The tender asks to see IDs. “Is this a joke?” he snarls at me, throwing my driver’s license on the table.
“No! I’m 18, I swear!”
“I know. The drinking age is 19, idiot.”
So it was – we forgot we’d crossed into Yukon province.
Now, my 27-year-old self sits here, looking out at Grand Avenue and wonders what else I might’ve forgotten through my life. All too often I forget how rich I have it, I think.
There’s a storm blowing in over Red Mountain. The wind picks up and the sky swirls in patches of gray and white. Paper fliers whip from posts and bulletin boards along the street. It looks like rock climbing in this weather is going to be a little more exciting. Someday I’ll probably pull this column out of an archive and remember the good old days, and that thought puts a big breath of air into my lungs.
Another quote still lingers in all these thoughts, as that past Alaska experience drains from my head, splashing back into a fountain that only ever gets deeper.
Michael and I pick up his dad at the airport. Steve steps into the driver’s seat of his truck, takes a deep sniff and scowls at us. “It stinks like farts in here.”
Thinking of that, I’m reminded not so much has changed – my Subaru still stinks like farts.
Derek’s column appears every other Monday. He can be reached at dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise. com.
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