I headed south on the Richardson Highway towards Valdez. Cloud cover emerged and the rain began. Thompson pass at 2800 feet in elevation is the snowiest locale in Alaska with about 551 inches of snowfall annually. As the elevation increased, the temparture plummeted towards freezing. My eyes nervously served as sentinel to the thermometer gauge. At the summit of the pass, it read 33 degrees fahrenheit. A frigid pearly blanket preempted the attempts of any plant life to take hold in this, the snowiest place in the USA, and probably most animal life as well. An eery feeling of the absence of life consumed me. “I shouldn’t be here,” I shuddered. But experiencing lifeless, inhospitable environments like Thompson Pass often provide an unparelled awe, perspective, and appreciation for the contrary. I snaked down to the shores of Valdez, flanked by bridal waterfalls so ethereal, I’ve only seen them in my dreams. Road construction halted my ambivalent experience of the Chugach mountains. A chain-smoking 20 something flager recommended the Totem Inn as a cheap bed for the night. The rate was 125 dollars, not cheap by any means, but a deep freezing exhaustion had crept into my bones. I would’ve paid 300 if it meant I didn’t have to climb back on my bike and search for another hotel.
I rushed to my room, hurriedly discarded my riding gear and undergarments, and huddled under the life-giving warmth of the Shower Massage head. I needed a drink and some company. Reinvigorated, I walked next door to Landshark’s Bar. I chose a seat in front of the craft beer taps. The ambiance of tacky Jimmy Buffet’s Parrothead paradise seemed like it was trying to hard. But the clientele was getting rowdy, and with AWOLNation’s ‘Sail’ playing on the jukebox, a song my brother promoted over the airwaves of privately-owned, indie CD102.5 in Columbus, I felt a little at home.
After two Alaskan IPA’s, I sauntered outside to the patio to proposition a fellow patron for a cigarette. Justin turned out to my cigarette supplier for the night. He was tall, skinny with pale skin and sunken eyes. His nose protruded from his face as if it were a topmast on a clipper. Justin’s soul seemed sad and lonely. He was a contractor for Alyeska, working on the pipeline. He pointed to his camper on the bed of his truck in the adjacent parking lot. “I work then I come here to this bar. I’ve been up her for 6 months. I’m recently divorced and my kids are back in Oregon, so it’s pretty lonely, but at least the money is good.” I empathized with that notion and headed back inside for another of Alaska’s finest hoppy libation.
When I returned, Justin seemed different. The manner in which he talked and his body language exuded a sort of violence. He began invading my personal space and his speech oscillated between physical compliment and emotional manipulation. His eyes were glazed, leaving his sad soul empty. As his inebriation progressed, the more it became apparent he was attracted to me sexually and attempting to pick me up for a one night stand in his truck camper. While I was flattered, the drunken and aggressive approach caused a deep, nauseating feeling in my gut. I needed a companion to interact socially that night, not sexually. After I swilling my fifth brew, I returned to my hotel room to retire for the night. But lying in bed, I regretted not confronting Justin about his disconcerting attempt to seduce me. I just left without saying goodnight. Of what was I afraid? Being wrong or maybe being right? Being criticized? Of not knowing what he’d say or feel? And another question crossed my mind, was I being homophobic? Maybe, he wasn’t hitting on me, but his gregariousness was merely enhanced by drink. Intellectually, I am an LGBTQ advocate and ally, but have I retained a bit of homophobia on an instinctual, physical level?