The Road To Juneau (Part III)

This was Zach's 27th expedition on the road to Juneau. He was no stranger to the dangers of the vast desolate surroundings and barren landscapes, and he knew very well

3 years ago

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This was Zach's 27th expedition on the road to Juneau. He was no stranger to the dangers of the vast desolate surroundings and barren landscapes, and he knew very well the perils that lay in wait outside the relative safety of the road. Even so, the road always presented a certain degree of unpredictable danger, whether it be a desert sandstorm or a rogue sunflare. Even after over 10 years, Zach still treated every day like it was last, and he packed for the trip accordingly. His pack contained the very essentials, such as a thin flimsy cloth tent for sleeping, extra woven clothes for the frigid evening temperatures, and enough prepared food to last him over a week outside Juneau.

The patch of earth first caught his eyes from over 100 yards away, sticking out as a rare element of greenery amidst a desolate desert. For over 2 days, Zach had trekked tirelessly, strictly following the broken asphalt. At many points throughout his journey however, the road dissolved into smaller broken parts where sand and dirt had all but obscured its continuation. At these moments, Zach was forced to stop for hours on end and find the road again, often times sacrificing precious time in the wrong direction. Traveling the road was also extremely physically strenuous and the unrelenting heat of the alaskan sun required Zach to be fully clothed at all times. Dripping in sweat and exhausted, Zach would fall victim to the endless rows of dunes in every direction, driving him farther to the mindless edge of insanity and mania.

He had undoubtedly passed this fragment of life before and he wondered why he had never stopped to inspect it. As he approached, Zach stepped off the road for the first time, sinking his old, tattered boots into the fine desert sand. Actively picking up his feet with every step, Zach, clad in a black hand woven t shirt and faded camo military issue pants, inched closer to the enormous dune in front of him. Shaped by lethal desert winds, these petrified dunes, staples of the alaskan landscape, closely resembled the giant sloshing waves of the western coast, only as if instantly frozen in time. As Zach passed beneath the dune's providing shadow, the sun moved out of view, offering Zach a momentary reprieve from the blazing temperatures. Sitting with his back against the steep mountain of unstable sand, Zach slung his pack back over his shoulders and released the two front clasps binding the main pocket. Reaching inside, he pulled out a badly dented metal flask and after evaluating its contents between his hands and deciding there to be a substantial volume inside, screwed open the misaligned black lid. He brought the lip to his mouth and with shaky hands, titled the flask up towards himself, dousing his parched lips in a murky, lukewarm water. After a few much needed sips, Zach regained self-control and replaced the bottle in his bag. Re-invigorated and with his thirst quenched, Zach pulled himself up from his place beneath the dune, leaving a human shaped imprint in his wake. After considering his options, Zach decided the only way over was up and, carefully plotting his course, began a series of switchbacks up the steep front facing face. This process took much longer than he expected: partially because of a series of false summits and more importantly, Zach would constantly slip, his feet sliding down the sand, leading to minor avalanches and reversing his hard earned progress. Finally, after 30 minutes of climbing, jumping, crawling, and mantling, Zach pulled himself over the top of the dune, finally gaining a view of what lay before him.

The sun was quickly falling below the horizon and the black oblivion of nightfall had begun to emerge. Just in front of him, a mere 50 yards away, stood the patch of abstract greenery he noticed from his vantage on the road the morning prior. Yet, with his closer position, Zach now realized with disbelief that the growth extended past what he first expected. With the quickly waning light, Zach walked to the edge of the fragile mountain and after gripping his pack between his arms, he mustered his courage and started to slide down the backside of the dune feet first. Rapidly picking up speed, Zach lost control of his descent, and proceeded to fall into a dangerous tumble as he rolled over and over painfully down the dune, finally landing face down in the sand. After picking up himself up, re-arranging himself, and emptying his pockets of sand, Zach gazed towards the now visible mystery before him. As he trudged closer, he observed a variety of life juxtaposed on the desert valley, an oddity that provoked disbelief, confusion, and even more questions. Grass, flowers, and a small tree bloomed from the earth, while veins of greenery extended into the sand like a growing blight. Upon closer inspection, Zach discovered colors, many of which he had never seen before, embedded among the low lying shrubbery, from purple lilacs to blooming bright red roses. This spot of inconsistency, with nothing but desert for miles in every direction, perplexed Zach, whose senses were dulled by the years of uniformity and monotony on the road. Contained within not more than a 10 meter square patch was a vibrant, living ecosystem, the likes of whom had not been seen in Alaska for over 200 years. Zach breathed in the scents and sounds around him, overwhelmed with an existential joy and genuine surprise. Zach kneeled down closer to the ground and breathed in the earthy, dark aroma of fresh soil. Nestled between this microcosm of civilization, a singular worm squirmed its way through the dirt, struggling valiantly for survival from the foreign enemy. Returning to a macro view, Zach noticed a mysterious red fruit hanging from the low vines of a nearby bush. Round, and speckled entirely with little yellow seeds, the fruit resembled nothing he had ever seen.  

Lucas Bernicker

Published 3 years ago