For your information, this story is a continuation of my first article, ‘Of Independence, I Carried Blood’ where I talked about the first part of the story. To give you a quick recap, I went to Alaska by myself to do my first backpacking trip and met this French guy at the camp, and we tagged along to do the backpacking.
I would start by saying that your idea of what God looks like is wrong. Most of you probably have not even thought about whether God has a face, a physical body, or whether he has ten pretty fingernails, whether he can play basketball, or whether his favorite is Chao-long. Or did he (God) even try the fried chicken stand near the Capitol? That fried chicken has different layers of good and bad calories, coated with homemade fried chicken breading mixed with human fluid while waiting and salivating for their fried chicken to get toasted. It was so good. If God had not even tried that fried chicken, I would say he missed half of his life.
I grew up going to church on Sunday and listening to the pastor, who either always sounded angry or too nervous. To my recollection, they didn’t talk about the physical features of God. It could be a complicated subject, don’t you think? If they said God looks like a white man, black people would object, and if he is black, many Filipinos would disagree because glutathione is so expensive. In addition, religious people are so sensitive to what they believe in that if you ask them something you don’t understand, they won’t forget your face and see you as a potential threat to their existence. I remember asking a religious person how you know if the Bible is not like Harry Potter. This guy responded with a question to my question. He looked me in the eye and words came out of his holy mouth, ‘How often do you masturbate?”. That’s when I realized that I would have to figure things out on my own. So I traveled to Alaska, and there I figured that God had feathers.
I went to Alaska in the summer of 2021, during the COVID era. I was waiting for my bag at the airport. I was mesmerized and intently looking at the frozen bear displayed in the waiting area. The bear was a bit taller than me and had pretty good muscles. I zoned out while looking at the bear’s fangs and imagined myself running away from him. This white guy approached me and started with, ‘I am looking forward to killing a bear this time.’ I responded, “Yeah? Okay, great!” then gave him my nervous smile. I asked him, ‘Why do you hunt?” He said it was the thrill of hunting… that sense of adventure and excitement of seeing the warm, dark blood flowing from the animal’s carcass back to the earth. ‘Don’t you think it’s the same feeling if you hunt human beings?’, I asked. I just realized that my question was so stupid and his response could define how many seconds are left for me to live. He was discombobulated for five seconds, then started laughing and never answered me. He wished me luck for my trip, and deep inside, I wished him bad luck even though he was nice to me. While the intention was reasonable, it was difficult to accept.
I grabbed my backpack and went to the bus waiting area. The night before going to Denali National Park (which was my backpacking destination in Alaska), I stayed at my tent in Fairbanks, along the river at the back of the hotel. I was checking in at the campground, and the receptionist explained to me that I was lucky to get the spot because I was nice to the manager when I called. I reached the spot to set up my tent and I felt isolated, surrounded by humongous camper vans, and the desperation creeped in while I tucked myself inside my sleeping bag while feeling the gravel behind my back… a reflection of poverty and good luck at the same time. Who cares? I saved money and I can hear the river flowing and singing lullabies to my poor soul.
I woke up before seven in the morning to catch my shuttle going to Denali National Park. The driver called me, and they couldn’t find my location, so they asked me to meet them in front of the hotel. My location was so poor that even the Google map did not think it was real. Another blow to my poverty. I only paid sixty dollars for this shuttle.
The driver was a Russian lady who did not resist sharing her personal and family problems during the entire two-hour trip from Fairbanks to Denali National Park. I found another Marites in Alaska. She also asked some personal questions of the passengers. I pretended to be asleep when she was hyped up for audience participation. She talked about her cats and how one night she left the door open and saw the bear playing with her cat in front of her cabin. She found herself standing at the front door with tears rolling down her cheeks while the bear was playing tag with her cat, which obviously became the cat’s death penalty. It was a sad story indeed, but she learned to be a responsible pet mommy. Nature has a cunning way of pressing responsibility on your face if you don’t behave right way.
We were thirty minutes away from our destination when the Russian lady drove to the side and pointed to the north. The famous Denali mountain was standing proud and strong in front of us, and the driver said that in the past seven years of driving, it was her first time seeing the Denali mountain. She further explained that only thirty percent of the visitors see the mountain because of the unaccommodating weather. I was happy to hear that my sixty dollars went a long way.
Ten minutes later, we stopped at the gas station with the most decent restroom in the area, as introduced by our driver. I and the other passenger went inside the men’s restroom, and we both realized that the restroom has two bowls without cubicles or a divider in between. I peed while he sat on the other bowl, and it was humiliating to see him trying to cover himself, head down, and ashamed of himself. I started smelling his human waste, and I rushed to get outside of the restroom to free my nose. I was laughing while trying my best to gasp for some fresh air.
We finally reached Denali National Park, and there I met the French guy. While waiting for the visitor store/grocery to check in at the campground, I saw him jump out of the pick-up truck. I was waiting for two hours for the shop to open, so I didn’t mind talking with him at that time. With his thick yet lovely French accent, he told me that he almost died last night because it was too cold and he didn’t have enough camping gear. I was trying to be nice to him, but I honestly thought that he was stupid to go to Alaska without the right gear. I asked him what his plan was, and I told him my plan, and we both agreed to tag along to do our backpacking trip deep inside the Denali National Park. At that time, I was happy to find another lonely soul on this part of the planet and oblivious to the fact that this guy could be an assassin directed towards poor people to control the population.
We picked our backcountry unit spot and started venturing inside the park via a school bus converted to a tourist bus. The park manages a backcountry unit system where they allow a certain number of people to a single unit to let you experience the place in a very remote and secluded setting, where you can see miles and miles of unfamiliar land without seeing another group. The bus was full and the weather was around 10 degrees Celsius, which was not bad at all.
As we went deeper into the park, the scenery was incomparable, landscape seemed endless, the sky and land met and kissed each other at the comfort of thousands of trees placed randomly across the abyss, the wind smoothly traversed over the grassy field, and the sun was peeking behind the clouds, which drew unrelenting shadows on the untainted world in front of me. I have never seen such wonder in my life and I felt that my eyes were flooded by the tears of the gods and nature that seemed unapologetic about my existence and my desire. The scenery folded back and opened with different scenes as we drove around for two hours until we reached our backpacking unit. The driver stopped and people were wondering what was going on. He called us and said that we had reached our unit. I grabbed my backpack and Jean (the French guy) was confused, and we were both scared to leave the bus as we saw a grizzly bear from where we stopped. We came back to our senses and left the bus, finding ourselves standing on the side of the road. Then one of the passengers peaked his head out the window of the bus and asked if we were planning to camp in the area. We said yes, and they gasped in amazement.
I felt like being part of nature, and I just realized that the bus was the only thing that prevented us from being ultimately cuddled by the cold and the risk and joy of walking in the wild. There was literally nothing except the earth. No wifi, no buildings, no pavement, no lights, no cars, nothing… absolutely nothing, except the presence of two souls trying to find their way against the inevitable. If you got into trouble with bears and other wild animals, or accidentally tripped and broke your bones, there was no hospital or someone to call, not even 911. We were left behind, far from the cry and noise of human civilization.
We started looking for a spot to set up our tent. We walked for two miles through the bushes and found the tundra facing the mountain chains covered with snow. Along the way, we found bear poop, which was not a good sign. I was scared and excited at the same time. My heart was pumping fast as I felt my bones trying to sustain my balance. Our tent was high above the bushy area and close to the river, which was an essential source of water. We set up our tent and started wandering around. We hiked to the closest mountain and decided to go back to our tent as the heavy clouds were literally rolling in front of us. It was absolutely amazing and horrific to witness your surroundings transformed into something else.
It was around seven in the evening when we started to prepare for our dinner. We had to walk a hundred yards away from our tent to cook our food. I brought so much pre-packed food and I shared some of it with Jean and he shared his small bottle of whiskey. I took two sips of the whiskey, and I felt the alcohol traveling through my esophagus. I looked up at the sky and it was too peaceful. I can even hear Jean’s breathing ten feet away. We shared our personal stories, and he told me that he rented his tent at his hotel and hitched a hike with strangers to Denali. He was absolutely unprepared for this trip, and he could die at night as the temperature could drop below zero. We did not talk about him dying tonight. Instead, we talked about how we would survive the night in case a bear found his way and started sniffing our butts. Jean was anxious about the bears, and he talked about it every ten minutes. I was exhausted that day, so I went to my tent around ten in the evening and slept like a baby.
The weather last night was fine, with at least around zero degrees Celsius, and I slept all the way. Jean somehow managed to survive the night with a cheap tent, but complained about the moisture inside his tent. “No bears?” and we both laughed at the thought that we had slept off and ignored being smooched by wild animals. We did wander around the area again and decided to get back to the road before noon to catch the bus for our next backcountry unit. We casually strolled by the road, and we saw a bus going in our direction. The bus driver opened the door and told us to hop on the bus. We were confused by the urgency. We responded that we were waiting for a different bus that would take us to our next location. The bus driver, with his stern face, nonchalantly dropped the bad news that a certain section of the road had collapsed and his bus was the last to travel back to the base camp. No time wasted, we grabbed our backpacks and entered the packed bus with only four seats available. My brain couldn’t fathom the thought that we could have walked for days before reaching the base camp if we missed this bus. We were lucky. We passed by some hikers and the bus driver slowed down and informed them about the situation, but the bus was full. There was no other way but to leave these people behind and pray that they would have enough food for the next bus, which nobody knows when.
Jean started drying his socks by hanging them on the seats in front of him. He ignored the wary eyes of the people around us, including the person sitting in front of him. I whispered to him that his socks were emitting a foul smell. He ignored me and said I was rude. I was blown away by his response and apologized. Obviously, the people in front of him were trying their best to cover their noses, but it was not too obvious to offend him. After an hour, we passed by the problematic road. The bus driver explained that the permafrost below the mountain is melting due to warmer temperatures attributed to climate change. The road was uneven and had to be polished to make it viable. We took our deep breaths in total silence as we passed by the road. The elevation was high and any wrong turns could mean death. I saw Jean grab his socks and hold them at both ends to stretch and cover his eyes. I laughed so hard that I was ready to face my death at the very moment.
Kudos to the driver, and we reached our next destination. We hopped out of the bus and started hiking to our next backcountry unit, but were unsure of the logistics tomorrow. Jean and I agreed to finish the backcountry experience regardless of the circumstances. The unit is a plateau tucked in the middle of mountains and surrounded by rivers. We were crossing bushes taller than us and constantly making noises to shoo the wild animals away. While tiptoeing down the untamed path, we yelled “hello bear.”While we were busy keeping ourselves alive and safe, we heard something growling fifty feet away from us. We stopped and noticed two feet stretching out from the bushes… and another set of feet laying on top of each other. “Are those human beings?” and Jean responded, “Yeah, I think they are making out”. While we were struggling to find our way to our next spot, these two people managed to enjoy nature in the most human way possible. It lifted our spirits somehow to see another human life in front of us. We continued our way, and the plan was to ignore them. I got used to yelling, and I unintentionally opened my mouth and yelled “hello bear” while we passed by the erotic scene. They looked at me, and I was dumbfounded and had no idea what to say. I managed to say “Hello” while they were struggling to put their clothes on. They responded with “Hi” and we moved on as if nothing had happened.
We found the right spot to set up our tent, and it was in the middle of towering mountains and overlooking miles and miles of bushes and trees. We decided to go deeper into the area and hiked one of the mountains. We saw deer along the way. It was raining at that time, and we were wet. We almost reached the top of the mountain when Jean spotted a brown bear at the top of the mountain. The bear was eyeing us from the top, and we froze. My knees were shaking, and we had absolutely nothing to defend ourselves against, and the mountain was too steep to run. We let the time pass and the bear left. “I think the bear was bored and gone.”. We continued our way to the top to get absolute satisfaction after hiking for about four hours. I felt overwhelmed to see the view of untamed beauty. We hung out for a bit and then hiked down.
We went to sleep early.
I woke up and found Jean packing up. It was too early to pack up. He was very eager to leave and catch the earliest bus. He started yelling that he would die if he stayed longer. I didn’t know what was happening. He was soaking wet and moving too fast. I was trying to calm him down. He asked me to pack up, and I got out of my tent. His tent was soaking wet inside. It was rainy all night and windy. Jean was not slowing down. He was acting like a drunk deer chased by ten cheetahs. I offered him dry clothes and jackets to wear. He declined, and he looked at me. Without saying a word, I started packing up my tent.
He was about thirty feet in front of me. He was briskly walking, almost running. My bag was heavier compared to Jean’s, and I was carrying a small backpack hanging on my chest with no visibility of what I was stepping on. I didn’t want to be left behind. It would take us a couple of hours to reach the road. We were half-way, and I was already catching my breath and trying my best to push the bushes away from my face to see at least the ten feet in front of me. I felt like my body was surprised by the adrenaline that was pumping at this time. I was literally hoping that Jean would trip and hurt his ankle to slow us down. For a second, I felt my body suspended in the air, and I couldn’t feel the earth below me. My heart stopped for the moment, and I was looking at the sky while everything around me was slowing down. My left foot was finding its way to land. Then, I literally heard my left foot crack as it landed and bent. My face hit the bushes, then smooched the dirt. My left foot felt nothing. I was pulling myself together and managed to catch a glimpse of my foot. It was dangling left and right like a jelly. I screamed and pushed out the little air left in my lungs.
Everything turned white. It was so sudden, and I had no idea what was going on. I was floating, or more like flying. I looked behind me and I didn’t see anything, not even my body. My consciousness was all that was left in me. I was overwhelmed and satisfied with something… like a feeling of being cuddled by my mom when I was a baby. All I felt was comfort. I felt like moving but not making progress in my distance, as everything around me was white. There was not even a dot or a sense of time. Nothing. Then I felt the warm feathers touching my skin. It started with my arms and then mapped my entire body. The feathers were a million times better than cotton. It was warm and soft. I looked down and I found myself lying on the back of what appeared to me to be the back of a bird. I was speechless or more overwhelmed. I felt the wind moving the feathers while they traveled softly to my chest. I felt important. The feathers were rapidly changing colors, flashing hundreds of colors in a second, and it was becoming softer and softer.Then the flashing stopped. Images of my life are imprinted on each of the feathers… all the people I met from birth to my adulthood, my family and friends, the face of my mom, the places I visited, the dogs and cats we owned, the warm Chao-long..everything. It was glorious, and the images changed and flashed every second. Then it stopped. The feathers started moving quickly, miles and miles away from me. I was floating while my eyes were mesmerized by the feathers forming above me while the images were still flashing at the feathers. The feathers were all connected and knitted together. Then I heard Jean screaming.
Fk, fk. Jean was hysterical. I opened my eyes and Jean’s big nose was in front of my face. I was smiling, and I saw Jean quite confused. I shoved his face away from me and lifted my legs up. The jelly foot stiffened like Harry Potter had cast his spell to get it back into shape. I pushed my back up and placed my weight on my arms to lift myself up. I was able to stand with a little pain in my ankle. I looked up at the sky and whispered to God, “Everything is connected” and smiled.
God became more personal to me. I was living with the truth that there is a God, but with a limited idea of what he looks like. He was real to me but not too real to me because I couldn’t make him relate to me and my imagination was limited. I had not thought about what it felt like to be with God… or forgotten about it. As Trevor Noah said in his book Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, “but you can only dream of what you can imagine.”
I moved on and started dreaming.