I pushed the end button on my cell phone to click off from the conversation that I had just had with a close friend of mine. It seems like it is true. Most of life’s tragedies come in a series of three and this was the third piece of sad news that I had received in a short time in that mysterious trilogy of life and death.
I sat for a moment reflecting how short and precious our time is here on this old earth, before I blurted out loud to Bear who was driving at the moment.
“THAT’S IT!” I state with determination. I reach behind him to feel around on the floorboard behind his seat, searching for my schedule book.
Half startled, Bear turns to me and asks “What’s it?” before he turns his focus back to the oncoming traffic.
“Alaska! We have been talking about going to Alaska for almost a decade now, waiting for the right time or when we had enough money saved up. Well, waiting time is over! We’re going this year!”
“What!? We can’t go . . .”
I shot him a look that made him not finish his negative remark.
“Oh, yes we can!” I open up the calendar book and start flipping over the months looking for the first month with not that many bookings yet.
“October. It looks like October will work. And by the way, we are driving …” I pull out my mechanical pencil ad mark off three weeks with the capital letters A-L-A-S-K-A.
“DRIVING??!! Do you know how far that is from Kansas to Alaska??!!” His mouth drops open as he peeks at me wanting some sort of a ‘yeah, honey you are right’ response. He didn’t get it.
“No Mr. Geographic, I do not know how far it is from Kansas to Alaska, and I really don’t care! And by the way, we are driving instead of flying or cruising because I will not be subject to someone else’s time table! I refuse to be on a schedule except our own! When we get there, we get there. We can drive until dark, not push it, get a motel room, eat supper, and shut down for the night.”
“You’re serious?!” He still does not believe me.
Another soul piercing gaze from me to my husband requires no words.
I’m dead serious.
And besides, just a few months earlier while having lunch with some friends in Hutchinson, they offered us their son’s empty home in Alaska if we ever made it up there. And what was more important, that house became available in October! Coincidence? Nah, that is God’s perfect timing.
As planned, we left October 1st in Reno (the white truck) packed to overflowing with two suitcases stuffed to bursting with enough clothes for three weeks; my makeup bag; Bear’s shaving kit; his Martin guitar (of course); my laptop computer; several books and other reading material; Bear’s song writing bag of sheet papers, yellow notepad, and demo CDs; a drawstring sack full of snacks for the road; Bear’s golf clubs and bag (another mainstay of my husband’s); my cross-country skis and snow shoes; extra blankets; a full size quilt; and an extra-large duffel bag packed with gloves, stocking caps, and bib overalls. Whatever kind of weather we might run into, we were prepared.
We slowly made our way up through Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota and then into Saskatchewan, Canada. At the border, as usual, we received the same northern interrogation that we have come to expect. At one point, the Canadian Mountie asked us, “How long do you plan to be in Canada?” even though we made it quite clear we were on our way to the 49th state of our Union.
Bear and I replied in unison, “Just long enough to get across it!”
He frowns at us as he dryly replies to our enthusiasm, “You do know that it is 2500 miles across Canada to the Alaskan border, right? And it is October, kind of late in the tourist season.”
“Yep!” We both smile back with a Cheshire cat grin from ear to ear. We were not going to be discouraged. He looks at us again with a ‘stupid Americans’ demeanor and hands us back our passports.
“Welcome to Canada” he barely makes out as he shuts his little sliding glass window in his booth.
It took us seven days of driving to get to Kenny Lake, Alaska and to the beautiful log home that was loaned to us. We quickly learned to respect the road signs along the way that stated the next town was close to 300 miles away! The atlas was totally deceiving with its mileage between points. Cities represented by Rand McNally really weren’t towns at all but closed up for the season gas stations and abandoned restaurants with no restrooms available at all! However, any discomfort was totally trumped by the absolutely breathtaking scenery. It was indescribable. We couldn’t believe the complete untouched remoteness of the wilderness and rugged mountains with jagged snow-capped peaks around each corner of the bend. And the wildlife we saw! A Grizzly sow and her cubs; caribou; doll sheep; sea lions; moose; bison; bald eagles and the list goes on and on!
Our time passed quickly as we only had a few days to spend actually at the house before we started the long trek back to Kansas. Only this time, we were going to cut south at Edmonton, Alberta and go in through Montana and Wyoming ending up in Dodge City before our next event in Coldwater, Kansas.
Several kilometers south of White Horse, Yukon Territory, we pass a hitchhiker standing beside the road out in the snow in the middle of nowhere. As we pass we notice that this person is bundled up in a blue parka, gloves and a large heavy backpack at their feet. I glance up at the thermometer on the rearview mirror displaying the outside temperature. Twenty-one degrees Fahrenheit.
I expected Bear to pull over as he usually does when he sees someone needing help, but when he drove right on by, I was immediately stunned by his actions.
“BARRY LEONARD! YOU TURN AROUND RIGHT NOW! THAT WAS A GIRL! WE DO NOT LEAVE PEOPLE OUT IN THE COLD, ESPECIALLY A WOMAN!”
“VIC! We don’t have any room! Look at this truck! We are packed to the ceiling!” He reasons.
“I don’t care! I’ll make room! Maybe your precious guitar has to go into the way back!” That usually gets him to snap into reality, as I know he won’t expose it to severe weather conditions. “I’ll let her sit up front and I’ll sit behind you, okay?.”
“Ah, geez!” he exclaims as he whips a U-turn heading back to the stranger. “Okay, but here is the deal. This is our vacation! We are not going to take her all the way to Edmonton! That’s two nights and three days away from here! Got it?”
“Negative. We’ll see. That’s not up to you. That is up to the LORD, and He may have other plans.”
We soon adopted Johanna, a twenty-two year old German girl, for the next few days and nights as if she was our own flesh and blood. We smiled as a few hours down the road she laid her chair back and napped soundly, knowing that she was safe and sound in a warm vehicle with an American mom and dad that meant her no harm. We were able to bless her with her own private motel rooms with hot showers and comfortable warm beds along with as-close to-home-cooking-food that we could find. Good conversation graced our meal times along with a prayer and the LORD’s blessing on our travels. Holding hands during those times was totally foreign to her at the beginning, but by the end of the third day she was reaching for our outstretched hands and bowing her head too.
At 10:30pm on a Saturday night, we arrived in Edmonton and drove Johanna to a hostel that was expecting her. I had told her to use my cell phone and call ahead to make sure that she had reservations. She at first argued that she would take her chances on it having vacancy, but we said, “No, young lady, we are not going to take that chance.” She smiled as she took the phone from me. Bear followed her up the sidewalk carrying her heavy backpack into the dormitory looking building. He gave her a big bear hug and told her to take care and to let us know if she needed anything. He turned away quickly before she could see his tears of concern for this young woman. I am sure he was thinking that she could be our own daughter Sierra in a different situation. When I hugged her goodbye, I slipped her a couple of American twenty dollar bills to make sure she had enough money for the room and hopefully help her on to her final destination of Quebec, clear over on the eastern coastline of Canada.
“God bless you Johanna. We will be praying for your safety on your adventure and that you will be reunited with your family back in Germany soon.”
As we drove away to get our own motel room somewhere in the sprawling city, we were both quiet and sad as we already missed our new young friend.
“Do you think we will ever hear from her again?” Bear asked me in the darkness of the truck.
“No. I think we were there at a point of time to get her safely here to Edmonton and that’s all . . .”
A mother’s tear slipped down my cheek.
Safe travels Johanna, wherever you are.