The Canadian customs officer glances at our passports, and peers through sunglass covered eyes into our rusting, beloved pathfinder. I’m acutely aware of the not so sweet smell of cat urine permeating from the back seat. We’d unceremoniously shoved Porter into his cat carrier ten minutes ago and he responded in kind, promptly pooping and peeing to voice his displeasure. We’ve been on the road an hour.
“Destination?” He finally asks.
He gives our car another glance, his eyebrows furrowing doubtfully. I resist the urge to tell him that she may not look like much but she’s got it where it counts and that she can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Do Canadians even watch Star Wars?
“Visiting?” He asks looking past the hissing kitty to the boxes piled within the Nissan Tetris.
“Moving,” I answer. If he’s giving one word questions I’m giving one word answers.
This is becoming more complicated than I expected, I say something about wanting a change, how we’ve lived in Alaska our whole life and wanted to try something different but he looks skeptical. What? Don’t people do that around here.
“Where’re your guns?”
I’m confused, I have a pet rabbit in the backseat, clearly I am not a hunter. “We don’t have any.”
Now he’s completely thrown. Every Alaskan stereotype has just blown up in his face. We’re one bad, “Russia from my house” joke away from destroying U.S/Canadian relations. “Why don’t you?” he asks.
So it is a stereotype type game than is it. Perhaps I should call him officer Do Right, ask where his red uniform, goofy hat, and 2×4 to the face were. But I want to make it to Teslin Lake without a full body cavity search. “We just don’t.”
Ten long seconds slip by, than without a word he walks into his little house, passports in hand. I look at Brittney in the passenger seat who looks as surprised as I do about the lengthy questioning. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” I think, “but this guys’ sure making me feel like I did.” Finally our Canadian friend trots back out of the house, returns the passports, and is already walking back inside as he tells us, “drive safe.”
The Canadian side looked just like the U.S side as we wove our way down the valley and toward the town of Carcross. We free Porter from the clutches of his cat carrier and allow him to again roam free. For the next four days he would shift from my lap to Brittney’s with occasional forays onto the little bed we had so painstakingly constructed and set aside for him the night before we left.
But we were finally on the road, putting miles behind us. As the adrenaline from our high stakes border crossing wore off though we finally began to feel the effects of the 3:45 alarm that morning. We’d been parked in front of our ferry promptly at 5 am for the seven o’clock departure and sucked down as much caffeine as possible so we could say goodbye to our beloved Juneau. It had been fourteen hours since that alarm though, and the four hours of sleep the night before were catching up.
We cruise through Carcross and turn off the main road bound for Whitehorse and instead make our way up a skinny two lane one, a shortcut to the Alaska highway. The realization of what we’re doing begins to hit home. I glance in the rearview mirror and see every material possession I own. Some books, some clothes, camera, rock climbing gear, and…. that’s it. What on earth am I doing? It finally connects that I don’t have a home. I drive a few more miles missing Juneau, the glacier, the Rookery, everything that made life so comfortable and easy. I take a few deep breaths and look in the passenger’s seat.
Brittney has her head back and eyes closed, a look of peace and joy on her face. In her lap, his head resting on the door, is that stinking cat that we love way to much. And just behind me, her cage taking up more room than any of our stuff is Penny the bunny. I may not have a house, but in that rusty, beat up, and reliable Nissan Pathfinder was all I needed to make anywhere I am home.
Our car zips up the road and makes it onto the Alaskan highway, we hang a right, bound for the Timberpoint Campground, the first of four nights we’d spend on the road. We finally reach the site at 7 to find a wide stretch of mosquito infested grass overlooking a lake. We’re so tired we don’t even care and set up the tent in record time. With the wind beginning to howl and the rain becoming heavier we make perhaps our biggest mistake of the day. We cram ourselves, the pets, their food, and litter box into our tiny two person tent. The wet cat food is immediately flipped over and a gust of wind rips our poorly hammered stakes out of the hard rocky ground, making the whole tent shake violently.
With the pets still inside Brittney and I rush out, dragging the tent across the ground to a spot we pray is softer. Of course we don’t have a hammer so we grab the next best thing; the nalgenes, and begin furiously pounding the stakes into the earth. As the wind roared, the cat meowed, and the mosquitoes still managed to bite us in the face I look over at Brittney, her face down swinging with all her might.
“Hey,” I call over the wind and she looks up. “I may be reconsidering our life choices here.”
Brittney smiles, throws her head back and laughs.