Jasper, Alberta / Mile 1,959 – I am sitting in a bar in Jasper town, slightly delirious from fatigue after a grueling 30-hour, 1,200-mile push from Whitehorse. Miraculously, your three weary travelers are still friends after so much quality time in my little Honda Accord; I believe the fact that no eyes have been gouged out is a testament to the character of everyone involved. (Don't worry, Mom, I didn't do all the driving myself-- Samantha and I took turns, and Elise would have helped too except for the fact that a theft in Zambia robbed her of her license.) We were treated to a menagerie of critters that included fox, lynx, elk, deer, a porcupine, and several herds of buffalo, some of which wandered onto the highway. Along the way I discovered many new techniques for remaining alert during a monotonous nighttime drive. One of the best tips I can offer is to put your iPod in random mode, because nothing will keep your brain alert than not knowing if you're going to hear Vivaldi or Modest Mouse next. I also conjugated Spanish verbs, recalled the handful of poems I have memorized, and reconstructed my daily class schedule for every year from sixth grade until senior year at Williams. Your results may vary.
Over the last two days, we drove the Alcan all the way to its over-hyped origin in Dawson Creek, B.C., and then crossed into Alberta en route to the first of two magnificent national parks. We stopped for a picnic in a kitschy "forest" of random road signs from around the world, and we took a relaxing soak in the warm, stinky waters of Liard River Hot Springs. Among the many roadside attractions we passed, only the hot springs, in my humble opinion, is worth its salt. (Calcium sulfide, to be precise.)
During many of those blank miles, Barack Obama was on my mind-- and not for the reason that you'd think, as the news coverage of the Democratic convention up here is basically nil. Before leaving Anchorage, Samantha and I bought an audiobook of Dreams from My Father, with Obama himself doing the reading. We popped the CD in during the long and desolate stretch where the Alcan weaves back and forth between the Yukon and British Columbia, where a lone trash can merits a roadside pullout and signs for two kilometers in either direction.
Dreams from My Father, for those not familiar with the book, is Obama's memoir of his struggle for identity, written long before his political career took off. The book is a far more candid and real glimpse into the character of a presidential candidate than we can probably ever hope for again. Nobody who knows me would doubt that I'm rooting for Obama in November, but listening to Dreams has made me really, really, really want him to be President. Above all, I was struck by his ability to sympathize with, and manage the dialogue between, all of the wildly different characters in his life story--black and white, American and foreign, rich and poor. His is the very antithesis of the with-us-or-against-us attitude that has so completely squandered America's moral leadership and the world's good will toward us over the last eight years. It seems easy to dismiss Obama as a smooth-talking peddler of empty bromides about change and bringing people together. But give the man a microphone for a few hours and listen to him talk about his life, and it is not hard to imagine him calming the passions of belligerent world leaders or presiding over a vigorous debate in a Cabinet of the best and brightest. There's more to say, but it's long past time for me to go to bed... more from Banff in a couple of days.