It’s called “road breath.”
Legend has it that the testament of an epic adventure happens when I pant on dad. According to him, temperature, hang-time and disgust are measured in equal parts. Apparently my “road breath” has hit a record level. “Just the right amount of stink,” he keeps saying.
It makes sense, really. If glass reflected scent, dad would never look in the mirror again. His “road breath” smells like an espresso machine farted. I can’t inhale enough of it. I knew we were on the ride of our lives, but with dad’s new system, I’m thrilled to know it’s official.
Speaking officially, did you see the headline in the Anchorage Times?
‘FETCH IN 50’ HAVING A BALL ACROSS ALASKA.
The pun was clever, I thought, though I’d have opted for ‘FETCH IN 50’ THROWING A PARTY UP NORTH. Get it, throw? We didn’t make the newspaper, of course. Please, that’s for important intel like today’s crime and tomorrow’s weather. Heaven forbid you just walk outside.
But I digress because that’s what humans say. The truth is we drove, hiked and fetched our asses off for a week and a half in the Last Frontier. And that is the news I’m set to deliver.
Our entrance to Alaska was quite the spectacle. We ditched the paw-parazzi by crossing the Yukon River by ferry. It took less than five minutes. From there, Betty tightroped Canada’s spine for 50 miles on the Top of the World Highway.
The day was gloomy, but the smoky clouds gave birth to the northernmost border crossing in the U.S., a spot open just four months each year. “We earned a photo at this sign, pup,” dad said. He hopped out and fumbled his tripod for a minute, maybe two. Then the security door opened and the border agent appeared.
Bent over, dad looked between his legs.
Uh, would it be easier if I took the photo for you?
We made it!
She got our snapshot, but I doubt I looked at the camera; the scent from a nearby pole hijacked my everything. It smelt like one… no… two retrievers. I pulled dad across the street to confirm and spray.
My guys are inside, the agent said. Would Gus like to meet them? Slow day at the border, I thought.
I was right, two retrievers. Back and forth we branded the northernmost pole in the U.S., although I misfired on one and it flew back to Canada. We ran around the station off leash until the next traveler arrived. God, I’d love to inspect one car, just one!!!
We slept in the pines that night, beneath a bridge on the river. Dad did the math: it took 400-plus hours to reach Alaska, and less than two to update my fetch resume. But the adventure had just begun and west continued to be the way.
First it was Chicken, a gold-mining town with 8 residents, none of them birds. Then, Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaska Highway. I didn’t get to drench the “landmark” due to the tour bus of elderly photographers. I did, however, deuce in the nearby mulch. I pray the stench peels its paint.
The holidays came early when we landed in North Pole, Alaska, a cash-grab of a destination where it’s “Christmas all year-round.” Dad hardly blinked. He said the real Christmas miracle was catty-corner Santa’s workshop, where a fully functioning Blockbuster sat across the street.
That evening we entered Denali National Park, an area similar in size to a former fetch-flame of mine, Massachusetts. Like the entirety of the American park system, I’m not allowed out of the car. Pets can disturb wildlife, all the pamphlets say. They should really clarify that term – “wildlife” – you know, before opening the gates to vanloads of insufferable sightseers. Talk about animals.
By Day 3 we made it all the way to Anchorage. A nice young vendor at the Sunday market gave me scraps from the salmon cookout. I’ll always remember her face.
Dad chose the fishing town of Seward in the Kenai Peninsula as a settling down place. We hiked through bear country in the sopping rain and I had my first ocean dip of the trip. But the settling down part never manifested.
We arrived during the annual salmon fishing tournament, so Betty remained our home. Locals said that fall arrived a month early, which meant rain, rain, rain. We camped on the edge of the Gulf of Alaska with glacier views and bald eagles soaring above. I slept and dad wrote.
A week into Alaska and still no sign of the sun. The clouds had blocked our view of Denali (the former Mt. McKinley) and dad was cold and wet. It was time to move on.
A couple long days on the road followed. We crossed the border two more times. The drives were cinematic. Trees were yellowing and life kept giving. 800 fresh land miles brought us to Haines, Alaska. That’s when the sun came out.
It was like the opening of an award-winning play. Pull the curtain back and the sky, the peaks and the stars all appear. The ocean turned a Godlike shade. “Oh there you are Alaska,” dad said.
Since then we’ve left Alaska, but Haines is what I’ll remember most. And not just because I had the game of my life in a quiet Alaskan cove – one that brought me to a shiver – but probably because dad showered two nights in a row. That’s no small feat in and of itself.
The next time we talk, my “road breath” might be harming the ozone. Betty’s going on her fourth oil change of the trip today and dad said that for her 200,000-mile anniversary, he’s putting some shiny new windshield wipers on her. Boy does dad know women..
Until next time,