Out of Anchorage and through the Matanuska Valley, we’d been rolling along the Glenn Highway past mountains and glaciers, but in a steady rain that had us worried. The junction town of Glennallen was drizzly and dismal, nothing more than a gas station and restaurant. For the fifth time, I turned to check the back seat, making sure I had packed my L.L. Bean seam-sealed Gore-Tex parka, and was comforted by seeing its bright orange sleeve sticking out from under the tent and tarps.
When we turned up the Richardson Highway the weather shifted to ever-growing patches of blue sky. The mood quickly improved; my old college roommate and I broke out the trail mix and recommenced our moose-watch with gusto accompanied by bright yellow birch trees along the fast-running Gulkana River. We were off on an adventure as random as all our college hi-jinx had been: a rendezvous with a loose group of Alaskan geologists called Friends of the Pleistocene.
We were to spend Labor Day camping with a bunch of people we didn’t know, visiting geologic sites and hearing lectures on rocks. When we neared the town of Paxson, the meeting point, where we were supposed to set up camp at a gravel pit, we were surprised to find that Paxson consisted of only a lodge.
We headed into the lodge, an odd family-run establishment where the inquiry about gravel pits started a spat between grandmother and granddaughter. We escaped amidst their bickering, and scouted “behind some trees across the road,” banking on the grandmother’s recommendation. The sky was still clear as we crunched across the gravel along the river. Everything looked right – except that the area was empty. Confusion and doubt reigned. It was late Friday afternoon. Where were our Friends of the Pleistocene?
We strung up a tarp between some small trees and pitched the tent. It was almost dusk when we saw a van pulling in; as it got closer, I could read the writing on its side: Geology and Geophysics, UAF. The University at Fairbanks -- we yelped with relief! But the crew of six that hopped out looked just as lost as we were.
“Are you the Friends of the Pleistocene?” we called out.
“Oh, yay, we’re in the right place!” chortled a young woman with a cherubic face and wool hat pulled down over scraggly blond hair. “You guys are the geologists?”
“We thought you were the geologists!” I pointed to their van as evidence.