At the outset of our marriage, I never expected to live in five different states within 10 years' time. Still, when you meet your husband on a Greyhound bus in Oregon, he's from Massachusetts, you're from California, and he seriously suggests beginning your married life in Alaska because it is neutral territory, you should expect some deviation from the norm, right?
I had to agree that living in Alaska did sound like a great adventure. What did not excite me was the 5,000-mile drive over rough terrain in my husband's ancient, rusted pickup truck.
It took several weeks of preparation to ready the truck for the journey. First, my husband built a plywood covering for the back of the truck. Inside, he fashioned a pair of wooden storage boxes running the length of the enclosure on either side. These would also serve as our bunks.
This setup worked well, except for one thing: The boxes were quite deep. Pads placed on the lids for cushions, followed by our bodies encased in thick sleeping bags, meant that there was about one inch of space separating our noses from the ceiling. My husband thought the bunks a nifty innovation on his part.
"They're cozy," he said. "Buried alive" was my description. Every nook and cranny not occupied by our bodies was filled with gear, including a Coleman stove, lantern, clothes, and boxes of knickknacks I couldn't bear to leave behind, but should have.
Tied to the roof was my husband's canoe, a decision he came to regret. Because it jutted several feet over the tailgate, it was the perfect height for someone just over six feet tall to crack his head against every time he walked behind the truck.
Alongside the canoe perched our red cooler. Rolls, chicken, ham, and mustard provided lunch fare. Freezer bags filled with beef stew and chicken soup were heated on the stove for dinner. My mother-in-law contributed two dozen miniature cheese cakes, each topped with a cherry - her specialty.
Armed with his trusty pocket knife (how else to spread the mustard?) and the Alaskan Milepost map book, my husband declared us ready (more or less).
Our starting point being just south of Boston, my husband calculated it to be a 10-day trip if we covered 500 miles per day. He cautioned me at the outset not to even think of staying in hotels. We were, he pointed out, outfitted for outdoor survival.
You can imagine my glee when, our first night on the road, we ended up at a Holiday Inn in Ontario. I am not sure what possessed my husband to stop where he did. We were tired and had been driving for hours in a torrential downpour.
Perhaps my husband was feeling tenderhearted toward his non-outdoorsy wife. Whatever the reason, he soon regretted his decision when, driving into the underground parking lot, the canoe became soundly stuck in the overhead ramp. It took much wrangling to get it unstuck.
From the next day on, we fell into a routine. We would rise in the morning between 5 and 6. That was easy. After several hours of being pinned into place by our gear, zipped into our sleeping bags, and breathing directly into the ceiling, the desire to move an inch in any direction was great.
My husband had the hard job. That being, to dig himself out of his bed, warm up the truck, start the stove, and put on water for breakfast. After some cereal and a cheesecake (traveling alone in the wilderness can be liberating), we'd be on our way.
SLOWLY, I began to appreciate the rewards that can only be had by leaving the creature comforts: hotels, restaurants, and the well-maintained interstate.
We relished the solitude of driving for hours on end without sight of another human being. And the feeling of expanse beyond either side of the Alaskan Highway was exhilarating. We felt privileged to (seemingly) have this breathtaking scenery all to ourselves. When we stopped for lunch, there would be absolute quiet, save for the sounds we made. If we were fortunate, we might spy a small fox leaping through the brush.
After eating, we would drive until dark, fix dinner, then pack ourselves in for the night. Often, I would read to my husband from a book entitled "Grizzly Encounters." In those moments, our old truck felt more warm and cozy than I could ever have imagined.
On the 10th day of our trip, we pulled into Anchorage at dusk. It was a strange feeling to reenter civilization after days of aloneness on a deserted highway and oddly disconcerting to have our routine broken.
We lived in Alaska for only six months, but we enjoy recalling our time spent in "neutral territory." What we cherish even more, to my surprise, is the memory of the trip itself. For it taught us early on that, in the great adventure of marriage, as in life, it is not the destination but the journey that matters.