Suddenly, I’m in Fairbanks, Alaska. I’m in an unfamiliar room surrounded by unfamiliar people. I’m eating some tasty chowder, talking about Acts chapter 2 and hoping that my wet socks are not stinking up the room. Wait…..How did I get here?
So I’m one of those crazy Jesus people.
This is no surprise to those who know me. But as my readership begins to extend beyond my friends and family, it is probably worth stating this explicitly. Even though I’m still early on in my telling of this story, I’ve already wrestled with the spiritual component of it.
I want this story to be completely honest and transparent, as well as being an accurate portrayal of who I am. I wish this story had a more compelling main character, but unfortunately I am stuck with myself. 🙂 My faith is woefully imperfect, but it is still the most integral component of who I am.
On the flip side of this, I always want to be mindful and sensitive to how a non-Christian person will read this spiritual mumbo-jumbo. I want every reader to be able to connect to this story, regardless of their beliefs. I have to acknowledge that the way Christians talk can sometimes be extremely off-putting to non-believers. (“This weird guy on the street just asked me if I was washed in the blood of the lamb! What the heck does that mean!”)
Furthermore, am I really comfortable in setting myself up as an example of what a Christian life should look like? During this adventure I will cuss, I will drink beer, I will break laws (and there was already partial nudity in the last post). I will often be a living contradiction to the things I claim to believe in.
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the wold today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving wold simply finds unbelievable.”
I know I’m overthinking this, but the answers to these questions are very important to me. Maybe the best way to proceed is to continue to be perfectly candid about what happens and why I think it happens. In that case, I cannot deny my belief that God had his fingerprints all over the events that took place this day.
I slept really well. It was probably my warmest night in a tent so far. After packing up, I rode out to the site where the wonderful camp host, Kate, was staying. She had asked me the night before if she could take my picture and put it up on the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge facebook page. They like to look for interesting stories among their campers and apparently mine qualified. I signed some release forms, got some advice about campgrounds near Fairbanks and headed on my way. You know what they say, once you make the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge facebook page, Good Morning America is just around the corner. 🙂 (Note: I don’t see it posted yet.)
Early on in the day I had my first two breakdowns of the trip. One mechanical, one physical. The mechanical one was a total failure of my accessory circuit that runs all of my added components. Most notably my heated hand grips and the charging ports for my electronics. I’m far from a master electrician, so I was not too surprised; but I was pretty confident in finding a solution once I stopped.
How could something go wrong with this meticulous organization?
The physical one was a deafness in my right ear. I always wear ear plugs when riding and the style I have been using have to go pretty deep into the ear canal. Apparently some wax had been jammed down in there, creating an obstruction. I guess I will be in mono sound mode for awhile.
I reached Tok, Alaska pretty early (it rhymes with “soak” not “sock”). The best thing about this town is that it is the first place with US cell reception. I spent some time at a gas station drinking coffee and responding to a dozen or so text messages that had been waiting on a signal for delivery. I also fixed my electronics issue with a simple dismounting of my accessory master switch. I will do a full inspection later on.
From my perspective, Tok seems to mark the end of the wilderness. For hundreds of miles previously I felt like I was merely a guest in a land that nature owned. Past Tok, human influence becomes much more apparent. There are power lines, intersections and I think I even saw a school at one point.
My next stop was Delta Junction, which marks the official end of the Alaska Highway. It also had a library with the best internet I’d had since Dawson Creek, BC. I spent a couple of hours there writing and getting updated.
About 50 miles outside of Fairbanks es regnete. (I have exhausted every option in English for saying “it started raining” so I am now going to start using other languages). I think this was maybe the first time I audibly swore at the rain. I could tell it was not going to last long, but I still had to go through the inconvenient process of donning my rain gear along the side of the road. How have I had so many consecutive days with precipitation? Is this Seattle in December?
I got into Fairbanks right around 5pm. The sun was now shining brightly and the temperature was in the 70s. As my speeds decreased, I began to heat up. I turned off of the highway and looked for a good parking lot in which to strip off my rain gear. I chose a nondescript office building with just a couple of cars in the lot.
As I was doing my doing my patented dance moves (I call it the “one-footed boot cover hop”), a couple of guys exited the building. One of them saw the sign on the back of my bike and approached me. “I’ve Been Everywhere, huh?” he asked. I gave him the 10 second “parking lot description” of my trip and apologized for intruding on his business. What he said next totally caught me off guard:
“Well….do you need anything?”
I’ve met dozens of people at gas pumps, visitor center parking lots, scenic overlooks and campgrounds. When I tell them about my trip, there are some common responses, most of which I now have a canned answer for: “Why?”, “How long is that going to take”, **laughter**, “So you’re single, huh?”, “How many CC’s is that bike?”, “Right on, man, do it while you’re young”, “Well you’re not going to (their hometown), so it doesn’t count.”
But this was a response I had never heard. “Do you need anything?” Though I probably could have used a hug at that point, I just responded that I was good. He told me that if I wanted something to do that evening, there was a celebration at the oil pipeline viewing station a few miles north of town. He said there would be cheap food there. He gave me his business card and said that if I needed anything while I was in town to get in touch.
As I rode to Wal-Mart to pick up some supplies, I decided that in a few days I would send him an email thanking him for his warm reception. I had really enjoyed chatting with him. After Wal-Mart, I decided to find my place for the night. I was really tired for some reason and wanted to get my camp set up. It was only then that I realized that the free campgrounds I had considered as possibilities were hours outside of town. Camping close to town was going to be expensive.
I also realized that I was really hungry, having only eaten an apple and a couple of Nutella filled tortillas all day. The $1 tacos at the pipeline celebration began to sound enticing. It was on the way to Chatanika, the next place on my list, and I figured I could find some secluded place to set up my tent in the area.
There were way too many cars at the pipeline to fit into the lot. They lined both sides of the highway for a significant distance. I found a gap for Annie and walked towards the party. The food smelled good, but there were discouragingly long lines. I crossed from the lot over to the viewing area.
On a little footbridge I happened to see Rick, the guy I had met in the parking lot a couple of hours earlier. I greeted him by name, but he did not recognize me since I had been wearing both my helmet and balaclava when we first met. When I defined who I was, a big smile came across his face. He changed his direction of travel and walked with me towards the pipeline.
He talked about the pipeline and introduced me to some other people, almost like we were old friends. A few minutes into our conversation a driving rainstorm blew in from the north. He invited me to take shelter in his truck which was parked a short jog away.
I was not surprised to see an ESV Bible perched on his dash. From our first encounter, I had my suspicions that he was one of those crazy Jesus people. Somewhere along in our conversation, he invited me to stay at his place. Though I dislike feeling like I am intruding, the rain driving against the windshield made the offer impossible to refuse. He was on his way to a meeting of his church’s community group and I decided to join him.
I did not want to leave Annie along the side of the road, so I followed him to the house where we were meeting (the Anderson’s, coincidentally). I got drenched on the way, but the clouds had cleared by the time we parked. I was warmly received by the other five already in attendance.
I was low on energy, but they thankfully had some really good food. I think I continued to eat throughout the majority of the meeting. We were focused on a section of scripture describing the functions of the Church in its very infancy and discussed how those lessons applied to us in our modern day. A phrase that Rick repeated multiple times was living a life “that demands a Gospel explanation.” The discussion was lively, candid and completely devoid of ego. A great mixture.
It was getting late by the time we made it Rick’s house. His wife, Cherie, was in bed, but she had already prepared my bed with fresh sheets. We stayed up for awhile eating even more food, looking at maps and chatting about a wide variety of things. Our subjects ranged from subsurface land rights to federal reserve policy to cross-country skiing technique. Rick works for a gold mining company, so I got to learn lots about this unfamiliar industry.
After a long shower, I turned in for the night. Rick trusted me enough to give me both a key to his house and his wifi password (not sure which one was more valuable). I had a warm bed, adorned with those decorator pillows. (Am I just supposed to put them on the floor while I am sleeping? I still don’t quite understand those.) I could scarcely believe how well I was being taken care of.
As I lay in bed recounting chain of events that had led me there, I eventually had to give God thanks for the rain cloud that I had previously swore at. Were it not for that cloud, I would have neither a roof over my head or so much good food in my belly.
So this day is one that definitely requires a “Gospel Explanation.” There is no other way I can make sense of it. Similarly I hope that my story of this trip also becomes one that requires a “Gospel Explanation.” I’m not going to preach sermons here. There are plenty of places better suited to that. (Might I recommend the Covenant Church in Norquay, Saskatchewan. :-)) There will be no lengthy lectures of my opinions on transubstantiation or ecumenicism, but God’s presence should be obvious in the recounting of my experiences.
Phew! I’m not going to admit how long it took me to write this one…
Stay awesome, everybody.