The following week, Miles arrives at Culver Creek. He says goodbye to his parents, does some unpacking, and then meets his roommate Chip Martin. Chip asks Miles if he is named after a Robert Frost poem that concludes with the line “Miles to go before I sleep,” but Miles doesn’t know what he’s talking about. When Chip sees the map of the world that Miles has hung on the wall, he starts to list the countries of the world in alphabetical order. Miles is stunned, but Chip assures him that “everybody’s got a talent.” When he asks Miles what his talent is, Miles struggles to come up with an answer, but eventually says that he knows people’s last words.
The line “Miles to go before I sleep” comes from Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” In the poem, a lone traveler passes through a “lovely, dark and deep” forest and considers staying there, but reminds himself that he has “promises to keep” and a long way to go before he can sleep. This poem foreshadows a choice with which the characters in the novel are confronted: to stop when things are “dark,” or to persevere in the responsibilities of living.
Chip tells Miles that he is at Culver Creek on an academic scholarship. He wrote his scholarship essay about his love for long books, and said that the only problem with them was that his dad would beat him with those books. Chip tells Miles that his parents are recently divorced and that this is his third year attending the school. He warns Miles that he needs to be careful about other students and teachers at Culver Creek.
Chip’s decision to focus on school and make his way to Culver Creek despite his difficult home circumstances is another example of the perseverance that marks many of the characters in the novel. Even though Chip has just met Miles, he gives him advice and seems to care more about him than Miles’ classmates in Florida did.
After Miles helps Chip unpack his things, Chip explains to Miles that there are two types of people at Culver Creek: boarders and Weekday Warriors. Boarders live at the school, while Weekday Warriors spend their weekends in their mansions in wealthy Birmingham suburbs. Chip, who is poor, hates Weekday Warriors and implies to Miles that he should do the same.
Miles will come to learn that Chip is a very principled and strict person, and the fact that he hates an entire group of people simply because they are wealthy is a good example of this.
Chip nicknames Miles “Pudge” because he’s so skinny, and he tells Miles that he should call him “the Colonel” instead of Chip. Then he takes Miles to meet Alaska, who has a single room because her roommate was recently expelled. When Miles sees Alaska, he decides that she is “the hottest girl in all of human history.” She tells them a story about how she was watching TV with a friend over the summer and even though she has a boyfriend, the friend reached over and squeezed her breast in the middle of their otherwise platonic conversation. Miles is astonished by Alaska and the huge stacks of books that cover the floor of her room.
When Chip tells Miles to call him “the Colonel” and gives Miles his own nickname, he welcomes him into his circle of friends. Alaska is similarly friendly toward Miles, even though she doesn’t know him at all. Both Alaska and the Colonel are comfortable enough with themselves that they do not feel the need to change how they behave around a stranger. Miles, on the other hand, feels overwhelmed.
After buying cigarettes from Alaska, the Colonel and Miles go down to the lake and Miles smokes for the first time. The Colonel explains to Miles that they refer to the dean of students as the Eagle because he has such a sharp eye for misbehavior. Miles worries that he will get in trouble and his parents will find out, but the Colonel tells him that the Eagle almost never calls anyone’s parents. Much much more important than staying out of trouble, the Colonel says, is remembering never to rat on another student, even Weekday Warriors. Miles is skeptical because he wonders how he will be able to deal with bullies if he cannot rat them out.
While Miles’ parents hover over him in Florida, students are very independent at Culver Creek. There, loyalty is valued above all else, and while doing things like smoking manage to go unpunished, reporting bad behavior—something with which Miles sees no problem—is a serious offense. When Miles decides to try a cigarette, he tests out a new identity for himself, but his thoughts reveal that he is not entirely comfortable with this new way of living.
The Colonel leaves and Miles tries to smoke another cigarette. He tells the reader that he doesn’t have a good reason for smoking, so it might as well be that it will keep bugs away. Alaska shows up and she introduces Miles to the last words of Simón Bolívar, as recounted by Gabríel Gárcia Márquez in the novel The General in His Labyrinth. According to the book, Bolívar died just after saying: “Damn it. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth.” Miles asks Alaska what the labyrinth is, and as she contemplates her answer, he thinks about how beautiful she is. She tells Miles that the labyrinth is a mystery because it could mean life or death—Bolívar might have been trying to escape from either.
Miles and Alaska both spend a lot of time thinking about the mysteries of life, but while Miles actively seeks the mystery of his Great Perhaps, Alaska is concerned with figuring out how to get out of whatever labyrinth life gives her. At this point in the novel, Alaska does not know what that labyrinth is. However, the fact that she conceives of life as something someone might want to escape intentionally suggests that Alaska’s life has not always been a happy one.
Miles doesn’t know how to respond, so he asks Alaska about the books in her room. She says that this is her Life’s Library. She wants to always have something to read, but she hasn’t read all of her books yet because there are so many cigarettes to smoke and so much sex to be had. Alaska tells Miles that he is smart like the Colonel, but cuter, and she promises to find Miles a girlfriend if he helps her figure out what the labyrinth is. Alaska then asks Miles if he ever runs home in the dark because he is scared of walking. This strikes Miles as a very intimate thing to say, and the two of them run back to their dorm holding hands.
Miles interprets Alaska’s willingness to confess a secret habit to him as significant, but this is not necessarily the case. Although Alaska is interested in heavy topics like literature and understanding the labyrinth of life, she gives equal value to smoking cigarettes and finding Miles a girlfriend. Her willingness to be vulnerable around Miles might suggest that she considers him a friend, but it also could mean nothing at all.