By 2:30 a.m. on Friday, the car was a mess of empty Costco cups, half-eaten Red Vines, iPhone and iPod charging cables, dead mosquitoes crushed and smeared on windows and seat leather and the crumbs of a rather large Starbucks cookie that proved too great a temptation as we drove out of Anchorage late in the afternoon. It also wreaked of exhaustion. Heavy snoring sounds came from the backseat, complimenting the voice reading the “Game of Thrones” audio book on the stereo.
Today’s 328-mile leg was as much in my head as it was distancing ourselves from our home for the last 20 months. I asked the kids how they felt as we boarded the U-Haul for the first leg. Their reactions surprised me in one sense. “I’m excited and a little sad all at the same time,” my middle child said. “Why are you sad,” I inquired. “I’ll miss my friends,” he replied. Friends, I thought to myself, are better had from the beginning than at the end. A lesson I need to remember myself. We didn’t build as tight a community in Anchorage as we had in Missoula. There were no tears shed as we left Anchorage today, in spite of some good friends that we made here. The psychology of leaving a place is all in the fabric you weave when you arrive. It’s in the depth of the roots you put down and the amount of yourself that you give over to a place and the people who are rooted there. Leaving Anchorage was not difficult for me. I didn’t put down the kind of roots that can hurt when you rip them out. It was partly for the family’s sake and partly my own inability to invest in a place. I didn’t feel the same weight as they did when we left Missoula or Salem, for that matter, just a sense of adventure in the unknown and new roads to follow. Somewhere past the Matanuska glacier, the road turned new for me. The turns were unexpected and there were new vistas to behold. This is the familiar for me. The excitement has always been in the trip, the adventure. If the devil is in the details, it explains why I tend to leave those for others. And here I must credit my dear wife for her ability to deal with the devil and the details all at once. She is my rock. Give me the unknown, the not-yet-thought-of, the doorways of possibilities and the huge, undiscovered skyline always in the distance on some new road. The mountains eventually gave way to scrubby pines, over which the sun finally set around 11:30 p.m., just after we fueled up in Glenallen. But the little letter just to the right of our rear view mirror read N, and there is some truth in that. It’s true that you must go north to Tok before you can can leave Alaska and go south. We were north enough to notice the sun begin to rise again, just as we made our way into the parking lot of the Westmark in Tok. There is something about driving through a sunset and a few hours later driving into a sunrise that makes the passage of time and the coverage of distance seem to pass quickly, as if in a science fiction movie. It does absolutely nothing to alleviate the flocks of bloodthirsty mosquitoes that nearly drained me as I carried our luggage to the room. I fell asleep to these thoughts and the persistent itching on my arms and ankles.