At the hostel in Anchorage, Diesel is a celebrity. Everyone that walks through the door is greeted as though they were old friends as hand shakes turn into hugs and inside jokes are shared. He draws people to him effortlessly now, just as he always has. He heats up some leftover pasta for me and I greedily devour it while I watch him buzz around the room.
He’s larger than I remember. Dressed casually in grey mountaineering pants, a black t-shirt and flip-flops, all 230lbs of him is packed into a frame that probably isn’t more than 5’10” in height. Both his arms and legs challenge the seams of their respective coverings. There is no hair on the top of his head, but the smallest of 5 O’clock shadows has emerged around his jawline, highlighting his dark features. Even in a room full of people, this man would stand out.
He collects two bottles of alcohol and a handful of shot glasses from a shelf in the kitchen and sets them on the table.
Hey have some of this. He begins filling the glasses and offering them to people nearby. It’s really good stuff. It’s from Japan – I got it at La Bodega, the liquor store down the street, you know?
Most people take some convincing, but eventually succumb to a barrage of pleading and take a sip. It’s called Hannya and it’s made with apples and chilli peppers and I kind of like it. Sweet heat, with a bit of salty. Weird, but good. My tastes don’t seem to match the other Alaska enthusiasts and none besides me ask for a second shot.
A girl living outside in a camper ambles through the door and they exchange a heated greeting. She sits down with us and we chat for a little bit. She is tall with a full head of dark, insubordinate curls and a mouthful of sass. I like her. At first the two of them seem close, and begin teasing each other like brother and sister. Eventually I realize her distaste for his taunting remarks is genuine and I feel compelled to offer an explanation.
It just means he likes you.
She looks up at him, past me.
Is this your girfriend?
He sits up immediately and shakes his head. No!
I take another bite of penne and reach for my shot glass.
When Diesel tires of the Japanese liquor he switches to Gin, which is far easier to share than the Hannya. Eventually we find ourselves outside at a picnic table with six or seven other travelers. By now it’s after 1am and though the sun has mostly disappeared, it’s still light enough to see the sauna at the other side of the yard.
I recognize a girl from the plane I was on and strike up a conversation with her. She is from France and like me, only has a very short time to take in Alaska so we swap ideas over the best way to make the most of it. She has friends in Homer and is thinking that she will try and take a bus there tomorrow. I remember a phrase from my Lonely Planet that claims Homer will make you a believer, so I know I will be there at some point, too. I’m about to ask how long she thinks she will stay, when Diesel leans over and starts to speak to her in her native tongue.
The gentle, young man across the table, who everyone refers to as P, points to Diesel and shakes his head. Man this guy knows how to speak every language. Seriously!
I listen politely to small talk in French, wondering if I will get a chance to return to the conversation. After a few minutes, I turn to the tall, lanky, dark haired man sitting beside me, across from Diesel. I’ve noticed that Diesel and some of the other travelers hold him in high regard so I make a point of listening closely to him talk about a girl he admires. He calls her a true Alaskan woman. From what I gather he also manages the Base Camp Hostel where we are staying.
It’s sometime around 3am by the time we finally call it a night. It doesn’t seem any darker than it was at 1 am and I don’t feel tired. I remember from my time in the Yukon, feeling as though the whole experience was a lucid dream, where even now I question the validity of it all. This evening it feels as though I’m on the precipice of a similar odyssey.
We are sleeping in a dorm with two other travelers, one a young girl from the midwest and the other a seasoned trekker trying to get some shuteye before an adventure that has taken several months to organize. Diesel is on the top bunk, while I claim the bottom. We giggle quietly over the fact that the bed frame sags significantly under his weight. I ask half seriously if he would like to trade beds with me.
Hey, come here.
I can tell that he’s leaning over the side of the bunk and I maneuver so that I am looking up at him. He is bracing himself with one hand on the bed post and the other gripping the mattress and he begins to lower himself towards me. I push myself up towards him until our lips touch. When they part, his balance begins to falter and I put my hand on his shoulder to try to push him back.
I retreat to the safety under the buckling upper bunk and listen while he attempts to regain his balance. I imagine him on a rock face, high above the ground with the sky and clouds as a backdrop.
He crashes loudly to the floor after what seems like an eternity of struggle.
I swallow a chortle and instinctively reach out.
Are you ok?
He staggers to his feet and puts his hands on the bunk without acknowledging he’s heard me.
That was your fault.
He feels his way to the foot of the bed and climbs back up the ladder. I lie still as the bed above me buckles under the weight of his 230lb frame. I wait for the flailing of sheets above me to subside before closing my eyes and drifting off to sleep.
To read how this journey started click here
To read the next chapter, click here