The sun rises over the mountains on the Sterling Highway on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, outside of Sterling, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Out of the Office: Deep breath, long drive

I’ve made the drive between Soldotna and Anchorage probably hundreds of times, including twice a week for a large part of the last two years as I commuted to the University of Alaska Anchorage.

It’s a nightmare; a messy, dangerous road that takes nearly three hours to cross, three hours I could use doing so much other stuff.

It’s also the road where I got in a horrible wreck six years ago. At the same time, it’s also a beautiful drive through mountains and past lakes, often with relatively few other cars on the road. It’s a good chance to just put on a podcast or some music, take it slow for a few hours and enjoy.

Given the choice between loathing and enjoying the experience, I definitely leaned toward the latter as I drove up to Anchorage on Saturday to cover the state swim meet.

I woke up early, picked up both a large Diet Coke and a large mocha frappe from McDonald’s — because I am bad at making decisions and desperate for caffeine — put on Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album, “The Loneliest Time,” and hit the road shortly after 8 a.m.

As I started, the presence of the sun was almost imperceptible over the mountains, a slight purple hue outlining their shape against the sky. Over the first two hours of my drive the sun rose, appearing blocked by the mountains even as it was clearly over the horizon beyond, an experience that was indeed pretty neat.

I had been nervous about the road conditions. I got my snow tires put on and my car checked out in the days before, but the roads were almost entirely clear, and aside from two brushes with road construction, I had an entirely uneventful drive.

After rising, the sun shone from a clear sky. I only saw a couple of other cars in my lane, and the ice was easily enough avoided. I finished one Carly Rae Jepsen album and started another — 2015’s classic “Emotion.”

The drive could have been very different — raining, snowing, littered with traffic and wrecks, all things I’ve seen before and will see again — but on Saturday it was laid back, with chill vibes abound.

Driving back only six hours later was similarly tranquil — albeit fueled by significantly less caffeine. The sun set early on, and I alternated between my road trip music playlist and a variety of podcasts in a drive that didn’t feel quite as long as I knew it was.

I’ve always liked the act of driving, and I think it’s because only when I’m driving do I take the time to slow down. I listen to podcasts while doing work. I queue up Disney+ or Netflix on another screen while playing a video game while scrolling Twitter or TikTok on my phone. Doing those things would be hard while driving 55 miles per hour down the Seward Highway — and of course also illegal.

I still listen to podcasts — at double speed — but holding the majority of my focus on the road and the surroundings is refreshingly simple.

I would never choose to slow down and take a breath, but that is what happened on Saturday, and it was kind of nice.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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