There are people who crave adventure and excitement. They are the daredevils. The thrill seekers. The adrenaline junkies.
Somewhere on the adventurer spectrum is another group of people. These folks don’t exactly laugh in the face of danger, but neither do they run from it. They know their limitations and will take calculated risks for the right reward.
And then there are people like me, who avoid danger—real or imaginary—at all cost and in all forms, be it animal, vegetable, or vehicle. We feel absolutely no need to ride a moped, much less a motorcycle, and haven’t even a passing interest in giant waterslides or amusement park rides, never mind hang gliding, sky diving, or zip lining.
We are perfectly happy to stand by and let others have all the fun, thank you very much. Send me a postcard, a few pictures or a video. Hell, I’ll even sit through your slide show as long as I get to stay right here on terra firma and can move about at my own speed wearing a seatbelt, comfortable shoes, and a helmet. Although I may need to see the video once first without the sound on to reduce my risk of triggering an anxiety attack, as long as I can have a supply of St. John’s Wort and maybe a bottle of vodka handy, we’ll be good to go.
My friend LaVon, on the other hand, is a speed freak. Since I’ve known her she has loved to go fast, see new places, and try new things. With the exception of boat rides, reading my books, and learning to drive the speed limit, she’s always up for just about anything, and has more than once been frustrated by my more timid nature. We always have a good time but I suspect she thinks we’d have a lot more fun if I wasn’t such a stick in the mud. That’s okay with me, since I think she’d have fewer concussions if she could develop a tolerance for standing still.
Our differences boil down to this: I have an exceptionally vivid imagination, and can ‘experience’ things in my head without actually doing them with my body. Which means I don’t have to drive a motorbike up a vertical incline or break any land speed records in order to get an adrenaline rush. Plus, I can feel my skull being fractured and limbs being crushed and/or severed just thinking about flipping over, falling down, or flying over the edge of a mountain road, so why not save the gas and avoid the bruises and bloodshed?
So, what, pray tell, does any of this have to do with our road trip? Not much, other than this: We were going to Alaska. To stay for a week. With LaVon.
It had been a couple years since we’d seen each other so I was excited. I was also ready to take on the challenge of saying no to a motorcycle ride—again and again and again if necessary. And we could walk, talk, hike, and see the sights without exceeding 60 mph, so I had little to fear.
And then came the day of our departure. Having checked into our hotel room—the night before our tour of previous homes—I went to the window to take in our view and stopped dead in my tracks. For there, on the wall above the desk was the largest spider I had ever seen in person. With the Jarhead having gone to bring up a couple items we’d left in the car, I had no one to whom to babble incoherently while pointing at the wall and trying not to wet my pants. And in that situation, I had no choice but to stand there frozen with fear and a scream coiling up in my throat.
“Don’t scream,” I told myself. “There are people in the adjacent rooms trying to sleep.”
“Awesome,” I countered. “I’ll awaken them with my cries of terror, and someone will come running in with a firearm.”
Fortunately the Jarhead arrived before I could test that theory. And fortunately he had remembered to take a room key, or else he would have been standing in the hall all night while I died of fright. And fortunately he swiftly dispatched the offending arachnid to the next realm. He did this not because he fears spiders like I do, mind you, or because he loves me. No. The truth is, he killed the spider because he knew if he didn’t, I wasn’t going to sleep a wink—and neither was he.
Despite this initial brush with death, I was still pretty jazzed about our trip. In fact, it wasn’t until we were on board the plan to Anchorage and buckled in our seats that I was hit with another wave of mortal fear. The flight attendants had just finished telling us about the emergency exits and what to do in the event of a water landing. At that moment, I grasped the Jarhead’s hand and looked into his eyes. He could clearly see the concern in mine.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“What if the plane takes off,” I said, swallowing hard, “and I need to use to the bathroom before the captain turns off the fasten seatbelts sign?”
It was a fair question, I thought. Apparently reasonable people can have differing opinions, however, because at that point he smiled patiently and went back to reading whatever was up on his tablet.
Three restroom visits, two movies, and one bottle of wine later (it was a five-hour flight, after all) we were on the ground in Anchorage. My fear of flying without emptying my bladder had subsided and instead of 9pm Central Daylight Savings Time it was 6pm Alaska time. So now the only thing I had to worry about was how long it would be before the Jarhead fell asleep in his plate of enchiladas, and who was going to help me put him to bed.
Until the next morning, that is, when we set off for a hike up Portage Glacier…