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Sunday, August 31, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
Just returned from Alaska. Overall the trip was a lot of fun. The landscape was nothing short of spectacular and I’m so grateful for having had the opportunity to go there, but leaving your little sister behind, knowing you’re going to be 10,000 miles apart and having no idea when you will see her again pretty much sucks.
The highlight, at least for me, was the couple of days spent in Denali National Park. It wasn’t nearly enough time; at least a month would be needed to even begin to do it justice, but even just the few days we spent camping there and exploring the interior of the park were incredible.
The most interesting part was trying to get back to Anchorage from Denali. We left the park around noon driving south on Route 3, the only direct road between Denali and Anchorage. Hannah and I had picked up two hitchhikers who were trying to make it to the airport in Anchorage to catch their flight back to New York after having spent 6 weeks hitchhiking around the state. They were cutting it really close to their departure time, but we felt confident that we could get them there in time.
After thirty minutes we approached a construction worker in the road who was bringing traffic to a halt. Coming to a stop, we watched as the car in front of us carried on a muted exchange with him, then proceeded to pull a U-turn and return in the direction we were all coming from.
We pull up next and ask what’s going on.
“There’s been an accident” he explains,
“A natural gas tanker rolled just down the road”
“The road will be closed for 30 to 40...”
minutes, please God, let him say minutes...
“You’re going to have to turn around, go through Fairbanks and hook around on Route 2”
That’s 15 hours minimum, as opposed to the 4 hours we were planning on. Unbelievable.
We pull a U-turn and start back up the road trying to figure out what we’re going to do. Drive it? Go back to Denali for another day or two? There’s GOT to be another way. Either way, the two guys in the back seat have officially missed their flight. We pull out the map and discover one road that we could take that would allow us to skip having to go all the way up to Fairbanks.
New ETE for Anchorage: 10 hours
After a quick stop at one of the gas stations that are so few and far between on the road, we turn East onto the Denali highway. “Ok” we’re thinking, “so this is going to take a little longer than expected, but we’ll get to see a lot more of Alaska this way. Things could be worse”
They sure can
After 10 minutes down the ‘highway’ the pavement stops and becomes gravel.
“This can’t possibly be gravel for the next 150 miles”
Oh yes it can
For the next 3+ hours we proceed to speed along twists and turns on the Denali highway taking in the incredible scenery. At least I assume it was incredible. Bouncing and sliding along the ‘highway’ everything becomes a little blurred, your back starts to hurt and you’re more than a little preoccupied with the thought “Please don’t get a flat tire, please don’t get a flat tire, we are SO screwed if we get a flat out here” Over the course of the 150 mile stretch of road we see only a handful of cars and there's literally a whooping two places to stop, all of which not-surprisingly have large signs anxiously proclaiming “Tire repairs performed here!!!”
We made it across barren landscape, car and tires intact, though what used to be a black Camry is now definitely a brown Camry.
Only 7 more hours to go
The rest of the trip goes relatively smoothly. Down through Gakona, Glennallen, Palmer, and the now (unfortunately) famous Wasilla. After a while it’s almost difficult to stave off the creeping indifference to the beauty of the mountains, rivers and glaciers since there appears to be no end to them. Finally, descend back into Anchorage. We drop our traveling companions off at the airport, wish them better luck on their flight home than we had on the drive and say goodbye. The rest is details.
Moved Hannah into her dorm and we went shopping WAY too much to outfit her with all the typical college-dorm paraphernalia. There was a day-long orientation for students and parents at UAA. I was a bit unsure of what was expected of me, though figuring I was there on my parents behalf, when the large group of student and parents split up I found myself sitting in on the parent sessions and on the receiving end of some very odd and perplexed looks. The comments I got ranged from the kind:
“Umm, aren’t you supposed to be in the other room with the other students?”
To the confrontational:
“You have leave right now, you can’t be here in this meeting, this is for parents only!”
Though they probably never fully believed me, the other parents did come to accept the presence of a 26 year-old who was apparently claiming to have an 18 year-old daughter that he was dropping off for her first year at college...They grow so quick...
In the end I actually came back home to Connecticut one day earlier than planned because as time went on I realized how much I still had to do to get ready and pack for Africa and my planned one day layover back home just wasn’t going to be enough. A painful good-bye ensued at the airport curb followed by a sprint to the gate since I had been unable to pry myself from her any sooner than I absolutely had to.
The thought of having to get on another flight in 2 days, this one destined to traverse one ocean and two continents is incredibly exciting but a little sad too. I don’t expect the coming good-byes to be any easier but they’re inevitable and are a necessary part along the coming journey.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Over an unfamiliar landscape at 34,000 feet the sun has been hanging just above the horizon for the past 3 hours in a seemingly suspended, perpetual sunset. Hopelessly, my fellow travelers and I pursue it westbound, only for the moment and for another four hours it appears that we are succeeding.
Somewhere over the expansive canadian provinces, we are making our way toward Anchorage. The plan is simple: cram in as much of Alaska, it’s mountains, rivers, inlets, glaciers, towns and cities all with my sister, quite possibly my favorite person in the world. Yeah, there’s the whole “moving-her-into-the-dorms-of-UAA” the official purpose of my trip, but....being my first time to Alaska I’m hoping we will be able to take in as much of the state as possible.
I also can’t think of a better way to spend 10 of my last 11 days in the U.S. The day after returning from Anchorage I set off for, what is to me, the huge and gaping unknown of Africa. After months of planning and years of dreaming I’m finally going - flying for AirServ is actually happening.
Provided everything goes according to the current plan my ultimate destination and future home for the next year will be the city of Goma in the far eastern reaches of the Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC. A city hemmed in by Lake Kivu to the south, one very active volcano a few miles to the north and refugees of the past and current conflicts of Rwanda and Congo, Goma serves as one of the largest and oldest bases of operations of humanitarian flights for AirServ International.
For the past few months I’ve been bombarded with questions about AirServ: What will you be doing? What will you actually be flying? Will you be carrying a gun over there? What are the living conditions like? Why on earth are you doing this? Some of the questions I’ve been able to answer, some I haven’t. Hopefully sometime in the near future I will have an answer of sorts to them all.
But for now, I’m content with the questions and the unknown. For so long I have had answers, a plan, an order in my life and a fairly intentional direction. Though over time those plans have steadily changed and now I find myself on a course whose path and destination aren't so clear to me and I kind of like that. So for now, I find myself relaxing in the vast, expansive unknown of where life is taking me, except for knowing that in the immediate future, it is leading me to the Congo, that is, right after a quick stop in Alaska.