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Breakfast with Mike at the Arctic Circle

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On the night before our last day of driving, as we sat at a picnic table on the edge of a gravel parking lot, enjoying some brats grilled in a frying pan and drinking wine as if we are in a fine restaurant, we made two promises.  The less monumental promise was to eat breakfast at the Arctic Circle. The more monumental was that we’d open Mike up.

Dawn breaks in Eagle Plains, Yukon in the same gorgeous manner it has for most of the trip – sunny and still like a day in the Caribbean.  When the sky is like this you can see as far as you wish, making one wonder if eyesight is limitless.  The horizon is clearly defined and even the smallest of nature’s wonders, the pebbles at your feet and the spider webs stuck in the eaves of the building pop out of the background. As for the temperature, it hovers around 50 degrees.  A tee-shirt and shorts are inappropriate.

Last night, Jim, Dan and I slept in the manner of Cub scouts bunked up in one room to save on the motel expense.  The proprietors aren’t shy.  They get what they can from the passersby, owning the lone oasis in 500 miles between Dawson and Inuvik.  We went to bed late, drinking cognac and Scotch in a lounge that looked as if Ruth Wilkinson decorated it, with a worn-out plaid carpet and a stuffed animal’s head tacked to the wall above an out-of-tune upright piano.  The location has wi-fi, but it doesn’t work all the time.  Patience, as would be the case in anyplace way out of the way, is one of the Yukon’s prized virtues.

Come the morning, Dan sees what it is in the way of food that he can scrounge up from the kitchen.  He manages to purchase six eggs, some potatoes, a slab of ham and a few links of sausage for $41 from the cook, who is busy preparing pancakes for truckers.  This being Canada, the bill comes close to $50 American.  We have fixins’ for toast in the RV and coffee. By 9:00 AM, after waiting 30 minutes for the crew to assemble, we’re on the Dempster again.

The Arctic Circle is designated by a circular wooden sign that Jim calls the Arctic Half-Circle.  The marquee proudly states Latitude 66 Degrees North.  There’s one picnic table in the parking lot and another down a short hill in the scrub bush behind it.  Armed with charcoal and lighter, Dan is worried we’ll start a forest fire.  The nearest forest is 250 miles away.  Ridiculous as this seems, he decides that the table down the hill is the one for us and falls on his ass in a heap trying to get there.

Failing the first attempt, we climb back up the hill and ignite our charcoals where the Arctic Half-Circle sign is.  Dan cleans out a wound on his hand with peroxide as the bricks turn from black to black with an edge of gray at the edges.  It’s not a bad wound, but it gives a chance to use the first-aid kit that we brought.  We’re so hungry and eager to get going again that we begin cooking sooner than we probably should.  Inuvik lies 10 hours ahead, maybe more.

I turn Mike’s urn over like an egg that is fried to the point that it’s ready to be eaten.  You must open the  box from the bottom.  Three Phillips-head screws hold the hexagonal base in place.  The screws turn easily.  Under the lid, there’s a pad of pristine white cotton – a wig of sorts – and beneath that, a plastic bag holding ashes.  I dip my finger into the light gray cremains and anoint my sun-tanned forehead as if it was Ash Wednesday.  It’s a Monday.

The ashes are silky and have the substance of flour.  There’s no odor.  We leave the urn open and watch as the wind whips the top of the opened bag.  All is still, except for the sound of the plastic moving against itself.  But the ashes stay put where they are.  Mike is happy.  The four of us take our places for breakfast, saying nothing.  Three of us eat as the fourth sits at the head of the table.

Dan takes charge of the mise en place.  He is a tireless worker, the kind of man that any woman would want to marry if handy fits her description of romance.  Jim and I attend to closing Mike up.  The screws are missing. I am certain I placed them on the table next to him, but all I find there instead is a dime.  The dime is Canadian, left there by some traveler before us, but I know that people like Cheri Allen and Leslie Johnson, who believe dimes that appear where you don’t expect them are signs from the dead, would think otherwise.  I place the dime in Mike’s ashes before sealing him back up.

Dan admits that he picked up the screws being afraid that we’d lose them.  Nevertheless, we apply duct tape to make Mike secure for the trip’s grand finale.  The day is sad in a lot of ways, not the least of which is that we know that our trek to the end of the road is near over.  A similar resignation is what Mike must have felt for his last 20 years.

Till Next Time,

Vic

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