Posted on September 18 2018
Coming from a small town in Michigan, I dreamt of traveling overseas to Australia, Norway, India and Japan. I never thought I would get to check these places off my list in my twenties. Because I valued getting outside, going on adventures and helping others, I was able to make traveling a part of my career. It’s important to have good mentors and mine told me to "always stay available.” This advice has opened many doors and is the reason why I ended up packing my bags for an adventure in Alaska.
My desire to go to Alaska began as a kid seeing the mountains of Valdez, Cordova, Alyeska, and the Chugach in Warren Miller and Teton Gravity Research films. Books by John Muir and John Krakauer led me into further anticipation of the enormity Alaska has to offer. I've been waiting for years at my shot at “the last frontier.”
The surreal feeling of going didn't leave when I hopped on a train in Truckee to Sacramento, or even when my flight had a layover in Seattle on its way to reach its final destination. Arrival finally hit when I looked out of my plane window to see the Gulf of Alaska, the southern fjords giving way to massive snow-capped mountains of the Kenai Mountains. The 2 am twilight of the Alaskan summer's nearly never-ending light still hung onto every peak.
What followed was nine days of non-stop exploration with nine new friends. Our first adventure came after driving up to Healy. We took nine ATVs 30 miles into the backcountry shouldering Denali National Park and Preserve. Snowmelt in the high country still made for interesting river crossings as we explored old gold mine sites and panning claims. Just like any long ride in the backcountry, there was plenty of dust, mud and wind in our faces as we drove from the valleys to high ridge lines.
We got back to the lodge ready for a little rest. I looked down at my One Eleven watch and the watch face was as dirty as I was. I've only had it for a few months, but it's already been with me at weddings, client meetings, surf sessions, coffee shop work marathons, and now, a backcountry trip. Each time I got it dirty, I dipped it in some water to make it clean again. Thank goodness it was water resistant! I knew my watch and I still had a lot ahead of us.
My friend Becca rallied everyone to get back on the ATVs to head out to her favorite spot on the river for a bonfire celebration. We loaded up the dogs and beers, and stayed out till the sun actually set—right after midnight. From there we headed south, explored Denali National Park and hiked around a lake. We snuggled into bed in a cabin in Kenai around 1 am. We were just a few hours from another early wake up call, but I was too excited to sleep knowing we were going to be hiking Exit Glacier.
The hike was steep, climbing roughly 3,500 feet up mud, rock and ice in just over four miles. The highlight for me was seeing a black bear run up to the edge of a grassy area, stop, and appear to look over the edge down at the glacier before he got spooked and ran into some bushes. At the summit, we stopped at a small ranger station to rest and I enjoyed a traditional summit beer. After a little exploring, I ran most of the way down to catch the group in front of us. We all reconvened at base camp for a massive spaghetti dinner before skipping rocks on a lake and finally heading to bed.
The next morning came and I was ready for what was possibly the most uniquely Alaskan thing we would get to do—a fjord and wildlife boat tour! We were warned by the guide of large swells (they even offered a refund) but we stuck with the plan—a few of us opting in for the Dramamine. After leaving the dock, we were quickly rewarded with a few sea otter sightings on the way out of the bay. Shortly after, a pod of porpoise started swimming, jumping and playing in front of the boat for a good 10 minutes.
The visibility was low, but it made for amazing views of the surrounding land peeking out of heavy layers of fog. The seas got a little choppier before we made our way to a tidewater glacier where the rain started coming down pretty hard. We saw puffins and were even lucky enough to see two whales. At the end of the tour, my camera completely stopped working. It turns out $3,000 pieces of gear are not as durable as the trusty One Eleven watch I was wearing throughout the trip.
Alaska's wilderness met and exceeded all the hype. At the end of the trip, I was pretty exhausted, but I deeply missed the last frontier. I left feeling fortunate, remembering that we don’t always get to choose the adventures we take. My hope is we can get off grid more often and leave behind the idea of what an adventure should look like. Because the best kind of adventure is the one that isn’t planned.
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Photos and video courtesy of Travis Wild of @travywild.