Stuffed Station Wagon Man (or, The Trouble with Hitching in the Yukon)

[In the summer of 2002, about halfway through my five years at Zendik, I went on an “out.” Since I had next to no money, I traveled mostly by thumb. My desire to excise my Deathculture fantasies – and return, purified, to the Farm – spurred me to break my neck for The Land of the Midnight Sun.]

Halfway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, just short of Denali, I stand shivering, with my thumb out, in freezing rain. Fuck this, I mutter, I’m going home. I’m about to cross the road to the southbound side when an overloaded station wagon pulls up in front of me. The driver is a thin, bright-eyed, middle-aged man; his passenger, squeezed into one corner of the back seat, is a very large husky.

The man seems friendly, normal enough. He’s just wrapping up a three-week sight-seeing/picture-taking tour up north, and is heading back to Boulder by way of Fairbanks. I take this as a sign from the Psychic Realm that I’m meant to get the hell out of Alaska. I wait patiently as the man removes various items–an atlas, a flashlight, a cooler, a camera, a dog bowl, a roll of paper towels–from the passenger seat and footwell. Then I climb in, relieved to know that within a few days, if all goes well, I’ll be back at my brother’s house in Idaho–home, for now.

It takes us about five minutes to explore dusty downtown Fairbanks–a cluster of ramshackle frame buildings, half of which house saloons. Then we head south towards Chicken, where we’ll cross the border into Canada. On the way I learn a little more about Stuffed Station Wagon Man. Back home in Boulder, he composes actuarial tables for a living, and flips antique rocking chairs, on the side. “Buy low, sell high!” He used to have a girlfriend, but she dumped him. “She didn’t like how I kept my kitchen,” he says. “She thought I shouldn’t dry my socks on the stove, while I was cooking oatmeal. What’s the problem? Just conserving energy.”

At the border crossing in Chicken, it’s so cold and wet that the guard refuses to leave her booth. She glances quickly at our IDs, determines it would be impossible to search the car if she wanted to, and waves us on through to the Yukon. As Stuffed Station Wagon Man squints at the road ahead, which is vanishing into the gathering fog, he asks me what I think of the state of the world. “I think it’s pretty fucked up,” I say. “I think we need to create a culture where people are honest with each other, where there’s no money and–”

He cuts me off. “Nah, we just need to get rid of the electoral college,” he says. “One person, one vote. Solve everything.”

I scoff. “That’s not gonna do a damn thing! You’ll still have the same corrupt system, the same slimy politicians–”

He interrupts again. “Nope! Everyone’s equal, with one person, one vote. Y’ever hear of the Masons? You know, the pyramid with the evil eye on top, on the one-dollar bill? They got us into this mess…. Well just wait. Twenty-twelve.” He nods, and sucks a little ketchup out of one of the opened packets gracing the dashboard. “Twenty-twelve,” he says.

I desist. In my two and a half years of selling Zendik propaganda on the street, I’ve learned it doesn’t pay to argue with fanatics.

The dog–who seems remarkably well-adjusted, considering her upbringing–keeps trying to jump into my lap. Glancing behind me, I can see why: She is losing seat to an advancing tide. Of Stuff. Tarp, tent, thermarest. Fishing pole, galoshes, gasoline can. Bungee cord, duct tape, binoculars. The number of Necessary Items he has packed into his car is truly insane. There’s every possible thing you could need, to fix or fill or find something on the road. He is, apparently, traveling on a shoestring–and if that shoestring should break, he’s brought a replacement.

I’m no longer so thrilled that Stuffed Station Wagon Man is going all the way to Colorado. The proximity of our destinations means we could potentially be traveling together for days. That is, unless I manage to ditch him.

Early in the second evening of our joint sojourn–when I’ve been with him for about twenty-four hours–he mentions stopping and camping for the night, even though it’s still light out. I say I’d rather keep going. “But where will you sleep?” he asks. “And how will you get another ride, out here in the Yukon?”

I shrug. “I don’t know,” I say. “But I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

Finally, he decides to stop and camp at a gravel pull-out with a stinky dumpster and no toilet. I hoist my backpack to my shoulders, and bid him farewell.

The problem is, as he has pointed out, this is the Yukon. Which means there are no people, just pine trees and more pine trees. A car passes maybe once every five minutes. None stops. I walk–mainly to get away from Stuffed Station Wagon Man–but I know walking won’t do me much good. Not in the Yukon.

Just when I’m getting worried–starting to scope out the sludgy tundra for a possible camping spot, without success–I hear the wonderful diminishing grumble of a car stopping behind me. What a blessing! A ride! I turn around, ready to grace this angel, whoever he is, with my brightest, most grateful smile–only to discover that my knight in rusty Subaru is, you guessed it, none other than Stuffed Station Wagon Man. That’s what you get, for trying to ditch someone in the Yukon.

What can I do? I get in. Or rather, I start to get in, but realize there’s a problem: In my absence, Stuffed Station Wagon Man has rearranged his gear such that some of it is filling the the footwell of the passenger seat. “What do I do with my feet?” I ask.

“You can sit cross-legged,” he says.

So I do. Laughing to myself, and fuming.

The next morning I do manage to ditch him, Yukon be damned. Partly I succeed because I get up very early, well before man or dog is stirring. Partly I succeed because I am now approaching the town of Whitehorse, where most of the Yukon’s population is concentrated. I am eternally grateful to get a ride with a normal young businessman, who’s driving as far as town, and no farther.

Past Whitehorse, it happens again. I get a ride from a snowbird in a camper, who’s going all the way to Arizona. Maybe this one won’t be psycho, I pray as I get in.

If you liked this post, you’ll love my memoir, Mating in Captivity, in which my twenty-two-year old self enters a cult with a radical take on sex and relationships. Learn more here.

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