Dalton Highway Part 3.
On the Dalton Highway in Alaska, it became increasingly cold above the Arctic Circle. I had not expected this kind of cold in mid-august and was ill-prepared in terms of warm clothing. Persistent cold wind and rain meant I took very few breaks and had to skip lunch. In the last few days of my travel, I met Jimmy from Taiwan with whom I cycled on and off. At times, we would also camp together.
One evening, I saw his tent pitched near the Alaska Pipeline. As there was no place to hide on the Dalton Highway, I decided to pitch my tent near to his in the shadow of the maintenance container. As we finished eating, we saw a thick cover of clouds rolling down the hill. We reinforced our tent pegs with heavy stones and sneaked into our tents.
The next morning, I heard the pitter-patter on my tent. It was unusually bright inside the tent for a rainy day. I peeked outside and couldn’t believe what I saw. Everything was covered in white. One couldn’t see very far due to snow and fog. I went back to sleep hoping for the best, but it kept snowing. Soon the wind picked up and started shaking my tent.
The snow accumulated on top of the tent within minutes further stressing the tent poles. Every now and then, I would slap the tent ceiling to shake off the snow outside. Inside the tent, it was a different story. Water seeped from the tent floor making the sleeping mattress and sleeping bag wet. I was feeling cold despite wearing all my clothes inside the sleeping bag.
Hours and hours passed by but the weather turned worse. I suggested to Jimmy that it would be very dangerous to cycle in this condition and that we should stay another night here. He agreed with me. I was thirsty and hungry but was too cold and weak to go out to collect snow and melt to make water. I fell asleep due to exhaustion.
In Layyah, mom caresses my hair and then suddenly pours oil on my head as she would often do. “You have dandruff. Let me massage your head.” I reluctantly let her do that and close my eyes. Son, why are you angry with me? You haven’t been eating well for past few days. Look, I have cooked your favorite dish for you.” I smell a sweet aroma of spicy daal and hot tandoori roti. With my half-open eyes, I see mom holding a bite of roti. “Let me feed you fresh roti and daal with my hands,” she says. I open my mouth and the food melts in my tongue. That familiar taste, the same richness of flavors and her love, and the crispiness of roti that she used to make at home in our clay Tandoor.
“Kamran, Kamran, are you okay?” Jimmy woke me up. I told him I was feeling cold. Jimmy brought some warm clothes for me to wear. He melted snow and made hot tea for both of us. After that, I felt better and cooked chickpeas. “Do you want to eat naan?”, he asked. He went and grabbed a packet of them.
I put one naan on the gas stove. The smell of bread arose from the fire and floated in the tent. I cut a piece of hot naan and scooped chickpea gravy into my mouth.
For a moment, I had left the Dalton Highway. I was in Layyah—on the roof of our old house—on a winter Friday afternoon—freshly bathed and wearing blue clothes—sitting on a charpoy in the sun—with mom trying to feed me—and me asking her to buy me a tricycle before each bite.