This is the third-worldest road in America. Sixty miles of potholes and washboard shakes my stomach to cramps, my heart to palpitations. The jarring of the car over all the unswervable pits personifies ‘Lil Red and she becomes sentient too.
“Ouch,” she says. “Slow down, please. You’re hurting me.”
In four hours we arrive at McCarthy. And the road makes a bit more sense. For the local secret is to keep the rest of us out. Giant mountains tower over glaciers that purge their moraines right into the town. This is the largest National Park, and it is not just large but massive. Impressive. Scenery like nowhere else on earth. It is hardly spoiled by humans, and the forbidding road ensures the longevity of the essence of this place.
The men at The Potato allude to the Incident of the Pig in the Night. The Potato boasts impressive fare and the guy who works there says that he likes winter best. He is a local, soaking in the solitude of dark McCarthy, far beyond the rest of the world. I tell him I’m Alaskan too, but this is one place on earth where just being from Alaska doesn’t make you cool.
The girl who drives a van no doubt sought adventure in Alaska for the summer. What she got instead was a job carting tourists back and forth on a portion of this most unimproved road. McCarthy to Kennicott every hour of every day, and it’s the last day of August when all Alaskan summer hires are so sickened by their clients, that it’s impossible for them to be nice.
When I was a river guide and rowed heavies down the Talkeetna and the Su, I quit before the spawned-out silvers stunk up the sloughs and all my friends started to leave. By August, the goodbye parties keep you up all night, and there’s no life left in the diminishing daylight for civility, for being nice. Your tips understandably dwindle,
you question what your life is for.
And this poor girl who drives this van over the terrible McCarthy Road has a cold soar from all the goodbye parties. She glares at us as she glares at the road. Short answers to our questions and she’s among the last of the summer people to leave.
Don’t ever be the last to leave! The dregs of summer are best gulped quickly, ski-daddling to wherever’s next! Seasonal people, heed me! Don’t wait until September!
I ask the girl about the pig in the night. Her eyes almost alight. But my out-of-townness belies that I am just goading her for McCarthy lore. Was it wolves or a bear? All the local dogs ahowl? Tent City all awakened by the hour of midnight squealing until someone with a gun took its life, quit the wails, McCarthy quiet once again?
Or was it something else?
The girl says she doesn't know. And then it's just us slowly bumping down this awful, awful road.