Alaska 2006

This year’s adventure took me to the other side of the country and north beyond the Arctic to Alaska.

I flew into Anchorage, arriving after 14 or so hours in airports and on planes. Adjusting to the 4 hour time difference from home was made all the more difficult by the nearly 20 hours of daylight that most of Alaska sees this time of year.

I picked up my rental car and stayed the night in Anchorage before heading south for the 2.5 hour drive that would take me to the port town of Seward – named after the former Secretary of State who bought Alaska and, I might add, was from Auburn, NY, the city in which I was born. I stopped by Exit Glacier and was able to walk right up to it, though I don’t think you’re supposed to get quite that close – there’s a warning at the head of the walkway that says something like, “Stand Clear! You wouldn’t stand near your house if a car was falling off the roof would you?” – but there didn’t appear to be any imminent danger. Now, I’m used to Northeast winters and seeing lots of snow and ice, but to see the sheer mass of a glacier was phenomenal. The deep crevices, the almost glowing blue hues of the ice, and the enormity of it was quite the sight.

Seward is a charming little coastal town, very much reminiscent of Rockport, MA, actually. Everything is close to the water and there are many quaint shops and eateries that line the main drag. My hotel was of an older style and my guide book claimed that there were reports of it being haunted, though I didn’t notice anything during my stay. After checking in I headed down to the shore and found the perfect spot to sit atop a pile of large rocks on one that was broken in such a way that created a nice seat. In the bright sun and nearly cloudless sky literally surrounded by towering mountains on all sides with a fresh cool breeze in the air a calm rushed over me. I found myself with tears in my eyes as I was finally able to let go of the stress that I had been carrying with me for the past year. For the first time in just as long I felt a real joy. I am so thankful for that moment.

My second day in Seward took me on a half-day cruise around Resurrection Bay checking out the wildlife that would float, fly, and otherwise pass us by. We saw bald eagles (couldn’t get a picture though), otters, humpback whales, mountain goats, all manner of birds, and puffins. Though I got a little sun and wind burned it was totally worth it to be out on the water again and feel the spray.

I then drove back to Anchorage for the night before heading up to Denali National Park. Along the 4 hour drive I caught site of Mt. McKinley – the highest point in North America at 20,320ft. Upon arriving at the park I hopped on a shuttle bus that would take me 52mi into the park on our 6 hour roundtrip journey. Along the narrow mountain roads that often took us quite close to the edge I saw Dall sheep, 10 grizzly bears, a number of moose and caribou (including a moose that had just given birth to two calves that were still learning to walk), tarmigons, snowshoe hares, and some amazing scenery. Though I was scheduled to take the shuttle again the next morning, I decided it was more important to rest so I slept in and drove down to get some pictures of the great mountain before driving north to Fairbanks, where I would spend my next two nights.

After relaxing from the almost 3 hour drive from Denali, I did some research on flightseeing tours to the Arctic Circle. From what I’ve read, the Haul Road which crosses the Circle with the pipeline and heads up to the northern coast can be pretty rough on cars. So, instead of risking damage to my rental, I spent a little more than I planned in order to cross the imaginary line. It was a 3 hour flight that took me 300 miles north to Anuktuvuk Pass, a small town about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle in the Gates of the Arctic National Park – a town that lies in the middle of true wilderness, has no roads leading to it, and who’s name, I am told, literally means “place of lots of caribou droppings” because of the great herds that live in the region. It was a bumpy flight at lower elevations as we flew so close to the mountains of the Brooks Range that you felt as though you could just reach out and touch them. Though I only spent about an hour and a half north of the Arctic Circle, mostly in the air, The views were tremendous and it was amazing to know that the 3 of us on the flight out were the only people within about a hundred miles in any direction.

The next day I began my journey south again. I returned to Denali for another tour through the park and met with another round of good luck in wildlife sightings. This time, though, as we pulled up to one of the rest stops along the way we came across some rams that were grazing about 10 feet away. Luckily they didn’t seem to mind our presence so much and just took their time as they passed through.

After a good night’s sleep I headed back down to Anchorage. I stopped at another viewing spot and got some shots of McKinley before making my way down to the city for the last time. To use up the rest of the afternoon I went to a couple of movies, browsed at the bookstore, and grabbed some dinner before dropping off the rental car around 10pm. My flight was at 1am and I finally returned home around 7pm exhausted from the flights and the long days but refreshed in a way that I didn’t even know I needed.

It was good to get away and, surprisingly, nice to be so solitary and secluded for the week. I had a few nice conversations with people along the way but for the most part I was alone. It allowed me to go at my own pace, really get into one of the audiobooks I had, and look at myself in a new way.

I called one of my best friends a couple of times to share my joy. She was so happy that I was able to be so selfish for awhile and take a trip like this. Upon reflecting on her statements I came to understand that I had gotten too worn out and bogged down with everything this past year that I forgot to do things for me; I forgot that I was worth being spoiled every now and then, that I deserved to have joy in my life. It’s interesting how easy it is to forget that sometimes.

Now I look toward next year and what adventures I might have. Who knows where I will go?

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