UI grad finds new breed of traveling pants

The Brotherhood of the Traveling Pants

Can a place have a spirit?

We’re in British Columbia, and a brisk, moonless evening approaches. Dan pulls over to put on some pants. “Shoot. I lost my pants in the Yukon.” We bungee clothes and food to our racks. Sometimes things don’t stick.

No worries, I think. He’s got another pair. I sympathize but find it difficult to act surprised. In the last month, Dan has misplaced his sunglasses, helmet, backpack, water bottle, socks, raincoat and several cans of food.

“And my wallet was in them.”

Now I’m floored but quickly assess the situation. “You’ve got no checks, cash, credit or cell reception, so I’ll foot the bill. Speaking of feet, I’d like mine rubbed.”

Earlier today we were still in the Yukon on a stretch where four cars a day is traffic, in a territory nearly the size of Texas, with a population smaller than that of U of I. For the last hundred miles our only companions were curious but cautious prairie dogs along the shoulders. Good eatin’, we’re told. Now we’ve crossed an arbitrary border, but the vast, beautiful emptiness remains.

Currently, the wind is blowing strong, and several mighty hills stand between us and our morning campground. I give Dan a moment to howl and empathize as the five stages of grief flicker across his face. Forget the contents, his features said, we weep for the container. This wallet is older than I am, made in the days when Velcro was fashionable, and currently held together with only duct tape and love. This loss is the end of an era. But we decide to continue — after all, it could be anywhere.

We bicycle in silence, soaking in the last of the sun setting on the variegated tundra as the miles pass when a car — rarer than a bear — pulls over beside us. An Athabascan local rolls down the window. “A few miles further there’s a cabin. It’s loaded with firewood, and it’s yours if you want it.” We’re uncertain what he means or where he came from. We’ve passed decrepit, abandoned hunting cabins along the way before. Last night we even peeked in one, half expecting to find a corpse clutching a bag of gold. But we had no intention to sleep there. Perhaps, with our unkempt Alaskan beards, we looked more needy than we felt. We take a few more moments with the man, listening to his tales of moose hunts and sharing Dan’s earlier story of woe, then watch him drive away, shake off the rare, friendly encounter as if it were a dream and pedal on.

More miles pass. No cabins have presented themselves, and we stop to discuss our options. Beside us is a river that could offer limitless water of which we’re in short supply. Stay or go?

“I think I see something up ahead,” I say and point to a tiny green splotch a kilometer in the distance. Dan hesitantly agrees, and we decide to investigate. Strangely, as we near the image, it shrinks and eventually fades completely. “Now what?” we think-speak in unison — and turn to our right. The “cabin” by outward appearance, looked to be a five-by-eight-foot shack. But, when we peeked inside its unlocked door, as if by magic it contained kitchen supplies, a tablecloth covered table, two planks in the walls that served as bunk beds, chopped wood and a wood-burning stove! It also housed wondrous stories, a log of all itinerants, dating back 41 years, who happened upon the “resort,” usually accidentally like us, frequently weary and cold. But the tales of joy at discovering this patch of warmth could not be contained in the log’s pages and spilled over as graffiti art across every surface. So I can’t help but wonder: Did we find the cabin, or did the cabin find us?

You might ask: What kilometer marker is it on? I can’t rightly say, but I do know this: It can appear on the road to Haines, in a stretch barren of nearly all vegetation, beside a creek you’ll hear before you see, and whose water is sweet to drink. You may need to be hungry or wet. It can help to be cold.

The next morning we’re awakened abruptly as a man unexpectedly opens our cabin door.

“I’ve found your pants,” says the Athabascan.

Guy is a graduate student.