I found my truck sitting in and under several inches of clean, new, powdery snow Thursday morning—a surprise to the handful of us staying at the Northern Rockies Lodge near Muncho Lake in British Colombia. Forecasters told us the snow was finished before we went to bed. I delighted in their error.
When the dining room opened at 7:00 I was the lone guest. Others had no doubt opted for an earlier start, and as I sipped my tea I was wondered if I should have done the same. With this much snow on the road, traveling would surely be slow. The previously anticipated seven-and-a-half hour drive north to Teslin was likely to be more like nine or ten hours in these conditions.
I sped through my eggs and bacon, cleaned the snow off the truck, filled the tank, shifted into four wheel drive, and pulled onto the Alaska Highway heading north. The road was out of sight under the deep snow but, with the sun low, the roadway was distinguishable by shadows cast by the sharp edges of the broad ruts dug out by plow blades.
Easing my way through the gears, I was pleased to hear the snow compressing beneath my tires, and to feel the truck sure beneath me. The speed limit was 100 km/h and I was surprised to have reached that speed and be cruising comfortably in sixth gear in short order.
I stopped on a long stretch where visibility was good in both directions, shut down my iron horse, and stepped outside. A singular beauty is the wild landscape bathed in a fresh snow. A still higher gamut is that landscape awash in quietude.
The boughs of Douglas firs heavy with snow in front of steep, jagged mountains outlined by gray clouds on the icy horizon set the backdrop for the only man-made items in view: a silver Nissan truck, and a yellow sign warning me to beware of bison. I wished the truck removed from the scene, but not bearing the coat of a bison, that wish quickly passed. As I stood silently breathing it in, the day’s first sun lit the tip of a peak to the west, turning it a pale salmon. I watched as the color slowly seeped down the slope—that higher gamut of beauty expanding. In the far distance, a plume of snow signaled the approach of a vehicle. Time to go.
A mile down the road, the source of the snow plume came into view. As the semi roared towards me, it felt menacing, and seemed to fill the whole road, like some post-apocalyptic machine come to life. By the narrowest of margins, the giant truck raced by inches from my left mirror, the compressed air between us pushing my little truck, causing it to rock and sway. I gripped the wheel tight until the monster passed, then slowed down to catch my breath.
A few miles farther, the forewarned bison appeared in the form of a calf following her mother in the road from the right. I stopped well shy of the pair and watched them cross. In the deeper snow off the road, they plunged their giant heads into the snow for whatever browse they sniffed below. Another, larger one stood beyond them doing the same, while yet a fourth lounged comfortably in the snow nearby. Later in the morning, caribou, less tolerant of carbon-spewing steeds, appeared and disappeared along my drive, not interested in posing for photos.
So many places I wanted to stop, set up the tripod, try to capture the scene, but without shoulder, or straightaways long enough to feel comfortable blocking the road, I didn’t dare stop. I suspected another truck like that last one might not care to slow for a photographer, nor would they have time to stop should they find me around a bend in the snow. To be safe, I had to keep moving. Perhaps it is best, as I certainly haven’t the photographic skills to freeze the beauty of that landscape in a way fully appreciable by another. I think this might be the nature of such a singular beauty. To possess such a moment is to hold in my hand a non-transferable deed.
There ended up being no more trucks that day, and since my phone had not worked since entering Canada a week and a half earlier, and radio waves being non-existent, my world was as silent as it was white. Perfect. To enter into this scene either song or speech would have been to contaminate it.
The only disappointment in the day, came six-and-a-half hours into my drive when I reached my destination, Nisutlin Trading Post, way ahead of expectation, and way too soon. I wanted to turn around and drive back to Muncho Lake, experience it from a new perspective, then do it again the next morning. I did not want this leg of the journey to end, but I a ferry to catch in Skagway on Friday.
There was a touch of silver lining on the flip side of my disappointment. It was still early, and I was full of images, ideas, and words. For ten days I had traveled with two beers in a cooler in the back of the truck. Tonight, I would open one of them and spend a few hours writing, and processing my photos—remembering, relishing, reminiscing, trying to find expression worthy of my experience.
After checking in, finding my room, and tossing my bag ion the bed, I took a few minutes to check email and let the world on Facebook know I was alive. I had not used the computer much that week, but the battery was low nonetheless. I reached into my bag for the power cord, but came up empty. Deciding to worry about that later, so I headed for the shower, then across the highway to the only restaurant for who knows how many hundreds of miles where I hoped to write as I dined. Later, I would continue my writing over a beer In my room.
Any other time, what happened next might have upset me. Not today, though. Not on this singular day. Choose any trite metaphor–the apple cart of my day would not be flipped, my milk would not be spilt. I would not be shaken by the discovery that my power cord was not only not in my bag, it was also not in the truck, or the parking lot. My computer would soon die, and I had no way to recharge it.
As a result, over supper that evening, I had the great pleasure of writing with fountain pen, on unlined paper. I suspect the other diners that evening might have wondered what the man dining alone in the corner, writing furiously with his olde fashioned pen, could possibly be smiling so broadly.
Back in the room, the mandolin came out and I played, and I sang, until my fingers were sore from their workout, then I wrote some more. My two beers never emerged from the cooler, not due to any decision, but simply the result of contentment. I never even thought about fetching them.
The next day, a phone call from the hotel room informed me that my white power cord had fallen out of my bag in the parking lot at Northern Rockies Lodge and landed silently in nearly a foot of equally white snow where it was later plowed into pieces by a good man on a Bobcat doing an important job. When I asked the man on the other end of the phone if it would be worth mailing it to me and repairing it, he replied with a chuckle, “Oh, hell no. The wires are okay, but that cube in the middle is toast.”
Earlier that morning, with a full moon setting on the mountains before me, I drove to Whitehorse, YT in search of a new cord only to find the only store carrying Apple products dark and lifeless–a sign on the door saying “Closed for Good Friday.” Reading the sign, I smiled and thought, No, you got it wrong. The good day was yesterday: Good Thursday. But as I pulled back out on the road and pointed my truck towards Skagway, I had a sneaking suspicion Friday was gonna be pretty good, too.