The first five minutes in the Behemoth weren’t good. On first smell I could tell something wasn’t right. Then something in the truck caused my hyper sensitive lungs to react, and suddenly I needed my inhaler.
On our first corner we climbed a small hill, and our flatbed Chevy Cheyenne work truck slowly putted up the incline, chug-chug-chugging as hard as my lungs. After the hill we finally hit 30 MPH and the rig started hiccupping down the road. Hop-hop-hoppity hop like a bunny rabbit. My husband started laughing. I was starting to have serious doubts that I could make it the full 320 miles while involuntarily head-banging and gasping for breath. My lungs that had oft landed me in the E.R. felt like they were being crushed by a garbage compactor. You see, we were going to travel the Golden Circle from Skagway to Whitehorse, then finally to Haines for the SE Alaska State Fair. A trip we had done once before, albeit in my old car.
Five minutes later (which felt like thirty), we arrived at the ferry terminal. Late. It was 5:15 A.M. and plenty bright outside. This was, after all, Alaska during the summer. Getting out of the rig I noticed the lettering on the door read “Quality Asphalt Paving”. I was breathing in creosote! That explained the funky smell and asthmatic reaction. “Maybe I should get a snorkel and breathe out the window,” I joked.
Ten minutes after that I lost my voice, which would not return for the rest of the trip. Guess I wasn’t going to be entering in the singer-songwriter competition at the State Fair, or singing along to my guitar around the campfire.
We met up with our friends on the early ferry ride, and after seven hours we unloaded in Skagway. The creosote-saturated rig chugged 20 mph down the busy main road, and soon we started the ascent through the pass that was so foggy you could hardly see the white camper towing a white car with no brake lights ahead. The thick air squeezed my lungs even more. I rolled the window all the way down and tried to stick my head out, and my daughter strapped in to her car seat behind me started coughing.
“You are the most sensitive person I have ever met!” my husband reminded me, which did nothing to alleviate the pressure on my lungs. I couldn’t respond because my voice was gone and the loud truck engine drowned out my whispers. Which I’m sure my husband appreciated at the time.
It’s too late to bale out now, I thought to myself. There was no cell service, hospitals, or even pull-outs. We climbed higher and higher through the steep mountain pass that paralleled the Chilkoot Trail, where many a miner lost his hopes and dreams — and a few lost their lives — on their way to strike it rich in the Yukon.
Those men and women that came to Alaska to find gold, those were the rugged, the hardy, the fittest, the dreamers, the hopeful, the swindlers, the fools, the brave, the brawny. People like me did not come. The truth is that I would have died long ago back in those days, first at age one when I came down with pneumonia, and again at age four when my asthma landed me in an oxygen tent for a week. Yet here I was, chugging up the pass in the untested Behemoth on its maiden voyage as we traveled around the Golden Circle of yore.
We finally made it to the summit and on the downhill crossed in to Canada after stopping and showing our American passports to the Canadian official. Once we got off the mountain the air cleared, the sun appeared, the road leveled and straightened and we could pick up the pace. With speed, the Behemoth stopped jittering and Jason, my husband, cracked his window to let in a cross breeze. My lungs relaxed a little with the breeze, although my daughter’s coughing worsened. I quietly started plotting my escape from this toxic truck… I would take the kids with me, fly back to Juneau, as soon as we got to Whitehorse. Jason and the Behemoth could find their way back on their own.
Once we got to Takhini hot springs, my lungs had stopped barking at me and I almost forgot about booking a flight home. Instead, I noticed the beautiful white and black aspen trees. Looking closely one could see their magical eyes. The trees see all…
(To Be Continued…)