The air conditioning blows an even, cool breeze on your bare shoulders, and you start to think about that time that the van broke down on the way to Ninilchik. It struggled and sputtered and click click clicked up those emerald hills until it finally gave up on the side of the lonely highway. There was no one around, your cell phones had no reception, and you had at least three hours to drive until you reached the campground. You were about to leave Alaska for good, and it was as though the van sensed that you were all leaving it alone to wheeze out another winter, and it was giving itself over to the inevitable. If it couldn’t have you, if Alaska couldn’t have you, no one else would. The snow wasn’t even gone yet, especially in the deep hollows where the sun didn’t reach until the afternoons.
But this isn’t Alaska, and you can walk in the open without fear of bear or wolf or wolverine. If your car breaks down here you can punch in the number that’s on your AAA card into our cell phone (which is never out of range) and someone will come and save you.
There is something about those desperate moments, though. While the van rested on the side of the road to Ninilchik you were all able to stare off into the distant nothing and everything that is the stretch of road between Girdwood and Homer. The trees thin out, the grass is new green velvet, the fireweed is still far off of but the lupine and dandelions are bursting forward, drinking in the sun. The sun is gaining momentum, and it’s finally going to stick around. You all get out of the van for a while, you let your little boy jump into the stubborn clumps of snow, and you wait for a miracle.
When the miracle comes it’s fully formed and mechanical. After twenty or so minutes the car simply starts with no trouble; you all climb back in and cross your fingers that it can take the next big hill without dying again.
It does. Then it takes the next one. The transmission sounds tired and the van refuses to go as high as seventy but as long as it’s kept at sixty-five or so it’s butter-smooth. You make it past Kenai Lake, where the water is so turquoise it looks like someone dumped gallons of dye into it. You make it past Sterling, Soldotna, and all the way to Ninilchik where the tide goes out and the clams hide in the mud that’s left behind. Where the buildings still have wood-carved signs, in Russian. And the next day it makes it all the way to Homer, where the road ends.