If an Alaskan has a DUI, the driver’s license carries a mark that says he or she cannot be served alcohol. After three DUIs and three marks the license is revoked, forcing the offender to use just a regular state ID. He is prohibited by law to enter any business premise that serves or has alcohol. I learned about it one night when another bartender asked me again for my driver’s license. Over the last week we blended with our environment in behavior and appearances, if one goes beyond our super-tight cycling spandex. The guys stopped shaving and had three-plus day beards and lots of stubble. As each night and day crept up earlier in the afternoons, we congregated at the bars on our way to the next camp site. Beer and pie were ordered at once. Now, instead of slices, we ordered entire pies.
It was only 40 miles to get to Gracious House! No one knew how much gravel, sharp downhills and continuous cycling would impact everyone - including the five of us who are just in our 30’s. We were fatigued when we arrived at 5 p.m. By 10 p.m. everyone was in their tents, deep asleep or resting. Neil, Joe and I were still at the bar, barely conscious, having absurd conversations one only has when one is close to collapse. Everything and anything seems to be hilarious and significant. Exhaustion is a fantastic drug for hallucinations.
Being at Gracious Home fueled our imaginations late at night. It was an odd place: a huge outdoor attic with relics from various times. One could find anything there from trailers, lodges, tires, fences with antlers, motorcycles, a couple trucks, helicopters and a random airplane. It was also one of the few lodges that remains open during the cold winters, only accessible by snow mobiles or dog sleds.
A perfect set for a low-budget horror movie where researchers get attacked by grizzly bears or zombies during the cold winter months. They would struggle in the darkness to find a way to escape via the plane. In the meantime, mutated zombie bears would attack them. Several would die before arriving to find out that the gas in the tank was frozen. They would be found many years later. The end.
Archaeologists, Helicopter and Obliviousness
Breakfast was in a megatrailer with white plastic-looking walls, cheap carpeting, a row of white foldable tables and chairs with no windows. I imagined that I was a big part of an experimental science project with an unknown outcome. Several other groups were randomly dispersed at the tables waiting for their turn to have breakfast. They were in quiet murmured conversations.
Next to us were some geologists and archaeologists. We had admired their helicopters the night before. Their job was to preserve Alaska for future generations by flying and checking out areas where corporations were planning to build or change the landscape. If they found a potential historic site, the company would need to pay to further investigate or select another piece of land and repeat the same process.
The arrival of Joan and Lisa lifted our mood and our hushed conversations. All of us were tired and on drugs by now - I mean painkillers like aspirin, Tylenol and its cousins. Joan, however, is one of the natural highs on the trip. Her chipper attitude and her bright smile and spirit can motivate anyone! Supported by the steady pace of Lisa and Ron, all three kept the touring spirit going.
You just had to love it, especially in the morning when it was hard to hit the road. They keep it real.
Our trip was coming closer to its end. Denali National Park was three days away and the excitement to finally see it was rising rapidly. Except, Neil and I had no idea what was so amazing about it. Neither he nor I did any research and we just kind of thought, "Oh, Alaska, cool… Cycling, nature, and a resting day in Denali National Park. Sounds fun." Neil thought he'd do laundry, while I contemplated where to get espresso and read. In summation, we had no clue that we would see one of the highest mountains in North America - “Mount McKinley” - and one of the most stunning national parks.
We all had mixed feeling. I was sad and deeply grateful for the wonderful scenery I witnessed on this trip. Yet, I was relieved thinking of not having to ride each day and instead be soaking in a hot bath, getting a manicure/pedicure while sipping a cappuccino in NYC. My girly side slowly emerged and was getting fed up with dry hands and looking like a grizzly bear each day.