Alaska in the summer.
It's light 24 hours per day. Well, maybe it gets dusky at around 2:30AM, but still, you never need a headlamp. I just got back from the Great Land, and am going to share some images and short stories from that experience here. I started this post on July 24th and will end it when I've run out of good things to show and say... so be sure to check back occasionally.
It’s been almost a month since I’ve spent time on social media. And let me tell you… that has felt damn good, in the way that cleaning the dust and grime out of the corners of your room feels good. Or that feeling right after yoga.
One great thing about Alaska – other than it being the most Wild place I’ve ever been – is that you really have to work to stay connected, and it didn’t seem right to spend our limited time up there chasing an internet portal. So I just put my phone in #airplanemode and soaked up our surroundings… which I’m sure @instagram's algorithm has punished me in some way because of. It’s a hilarious world we live in, huh?
"Looks like highs in the 70s and 80s, no need to pack that warm jacket," I said to my girlfriend, as we were whittling down our gear for a 3-week road trip in a Subaru hatchback. I visualized everything we brought being a part of our daily shuffle-fest, so I was terrified of bringing too much. Turns out that logic made me overlook one very important rule I already knew about Alaska. That is: it does what it wants, weather reports are nearly meaningless, and you should always be prepared with your warmest gear. Boy Scout rules. Good thing I run warm and Haley didn't mind tramping around in men's L marshmallow gear.
It rained our first 8 or 9 days up North. Perpetual rain when you're tent camping gets old after the first cozy night of pitter-patter on the rain fly. Our lives turned into mad-dashes from the car to the tent, tent to the car, and car to covered shelters. Sometimes we'd drive 'til we found a pocket of non-rain within the rain... like the picture above. It was raining all around us, but we needed to cook dinner, preferably outside. So we drove into a town, and low-and-behold, the only place it wasn't raining was the parking lot of the fanciest hotel. We jokingly considered ponying up for a room, dreading night four in a leaky tent, but the man at the front desk informed us the hotel was "fully committed." Fully committed? Who says that?
So, instead, we parked in their parking lot, unloaded all our cook gear, and proceeded to have a full-spread dinner of pasta and tuna fish salad. A momma black bear and two cubs playing nearby provided the evening entertainment. It was a 5-star rubbertramp meal, courtesy of the Alyeska resort. We finished eating, reshuffled the wagon, and went back to our leaky tent under the melting glacier.
An older couple approached us at our car as we readied for a hike. Mid 60s, husband and wife, both lean like you'd imagine those who once chased food for days. They carried light adventure packs, each with bear spray in the mesh shoulder pocket. "You guys been camping?" the man asked, inspecting the gear tornado in our trunk. "Yep, up in Portage Valley... 3 nights so far, 3 nights of rain." I said. "Ha, you two are our new heroes," the woman responded. "Three nights camping in Portage, that place is a weather magnet."
"Yep, we have a saying up here... It's shittier in Whittier," said the man. And then they charged off to walk what I'd bet was 15-20 miles.
Shittier in Whittier, huh? Haley and I both laughed. In our innocent wanderings, we had picked one of the worst valleys in Alaska to set up camp. I later learned that our campsite – named Williwaw – means "a sudden violent squall blowing offshore from a mountainous coast." Well, now we know, and well done Williwaw... you were the sole reason I had to retire a tent that's been loyal for a decade.
Despite the man's weather warning, we explored Whittier town the next day. I'm not the first to write this, but Whittier is strange. Strange in that way that makes it worth a visit. A 2.5 mile dark, dripping wet, one way tunnel thrusts you into the "city under one roof." All – or most all – of its residents live in a Cold War era, ex-military high rise. Talk about cramped quarters... especially in the perpetual darkness of the Alaskan winter.
The other military building from that era – the Buckner Building (pictured below) – has been vacant since 1966. In its day, it was one of the finest and largest architectural feats in Alaska. Whittier residents claim ghosts haunt that old building and their town, though they're mostly "benign."
"All storms pass," a wise friend of mine likes to say. And indeed they do... a hard but true reminder in the midst of any life squall.
This is Mount Denali. It's not my most unique image, and certainly doesn't show off its 20,310 feet of grandeur as "the tall one." But it'll always be a special image to me nonetheless, because it's the only time I've really seen it "out." I've spent 7 days in and around the Denali area, and this moment only lasted about 15 minutes. I should probably have bought a "30 Percent Club" T-shirt at the gift shop, since I'm now one of 30% of visitors who've actually seen the mountain. Yes, they actually make those.
“Here, moosey moosey moosey.” This ends up being a common jingle my girlfriend gets to hear when I’m in the North country. Of course my involuntary call never works, but it signifies how much I love moose. I’m not really sure why. Maybe because they’re always moosing around in the water, kinda like me. Maybe because of their horse snout and elk body. Maybe they remind me I’m in wild enough country to actually see them. It’s kind of like trying to define your spirit animal. You try, but words almost always fall short.
We got indoctrinated to AK Island Time during our last week up north. Home was a small island off the coast of the Kenai peninsula, accessible only by boat. Tides swung 30 feet twice a day, so our life revolved around the high tides. We hiked, drove skiffs, played croquet, shot the .44 magnum, ate smoked salmon by the evening fire, went to community dinners and softball games, and helped build a friend’s cabin. It was the perfect mix of relaxation and grit, Alaska’s version of Island Time. And without the use of cars or cell phones, we walked and made plans the old fashioned way… by just showing up. Remember the days when friends just showed up at your house?