Alaska Mileposts

Funny to realize how far we are into the summer. The days have learned how to fly.

Looking over the season, at the things I’ve done and yet to do, at the visitors that have come and are coming, at the noticeable way the weather is changing here, I took a moment to closely examine my calendar. And I realized I’m more than halfway through my time in Alaska. In 58 days, I’ll be settling down into a (hopefully not too) packed car for the long cross continent drive home.


My Alaska experience has been different that I thought it would be. Not necessarily in a bad way, but also not in the best of ways. It’s been more beautiful than I imagined it could be. It’s been scarier than I imagined it could be. It’s been more intense than I imagined it could be.


Honestly, maybe secretly, I was hoping I’d find a place that felt like home here. That hasn’t happened yet. I’ve found much to love here (namely, the glaciers) and much to temper it with (namely, the deadly wildlife). I’m still enjoying the experience of being here; soaking up the culture and scenery; embracing all the varying opportunities that I can. But… home still beckons and I’m watching closely for approaching autumn.

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Alaska Mileposts

alaska highway

The last two weeks have been such a whirlwind that I almost don’t know where to start. When I decided to leave Yosemite for DC, I made the conscious choice to be open and see where the winds of opportunity would lead me. I fell into a great path interning with the Smithsonian and immersing myself in the urban experience of our nation’s capital. But mountains and wildness called and I jumped on an opportunity to spend a summer in Alaska.

And here I am. In the past eight months, I’ve lived in three very different places: Yosemite, DC, and now here. Specifically, I’m in the Chugach National Forest in Southcentral Alaska. The heart of the mountains, sandwiched between Turnagain Arm and Prince William Sound. My summer promises to be cold and rainy surrounded by unswimmable waters (due to the extremely cold temps and glacial silt content) and mostly unascendable mountains (due to lack of trails and treacherous, eternally snowy/icy terrain). Don’t read that as negativity. Read it as bafflement. At a wilderness that’s a completely different kind of wild. This is truly the last frontier.

But I’ve got to step back a moment and reflect on the long road trip that brought me here. I chose to drive to Alaska rather than fly so that I would have more flexibility to explore the state during the summer. I’m glad I made that decision. Already I have several small regional road trips in mind, starting with heading down to Kenai this weekend for the Kenai River Birding Festival. The drive itself was a huge life experience and an integral part of this summer. I went from DC, through North Dakota, into and across Canada, up the Alaska Highway, past Wrangell – St. Elias, and down into the Kenai Peninsula. All those miles and days of travel, with so many hours of boredom and introspection and new experiences. I won’t go into a play-by-play, but some summary highlights: I drove a fifth of the way across the planet; I have now been to Canada (4 of its provinces/territories, including the Yukon) and driven in a foreign country (note to self: be solid on the km to mi conversion beforehand next time); I’ve driven the Alaska Highway; I’ve seen moose, caribou, stone sheep, snowshoe hare, arctic ground squirrel, gray jay, harlequin duck; I’ve seen the Canadian Rockies, glaciers, braided rivers; and now I not only live in Alaska but also in a National Forest. It’s been a long summer and I haven’t even started work yet!

 

alaska highway

of spring moments

 And, just like that, another weekend has come and gone. This one held a special note of significance as it was my last one in DC until the fall. Next weekend will see me in New Orleans and the one after, I’m off on my way to Alaska. This weekend held some of my favorite things in DC: a lazy, rainy morning spent drinking coffee and hanging out; a game night with friends; a sunrise birding stroll in Rock Creek park; rooftop happy hour (complete with the returning chimney swifts!). Spring weather has genuinely settled in and it’s the perfect time of year to be outside in DC. 

 

I’m so excited for things to come. Seeing my Yosemite girls at Jazzfest in a couple of days. Heading out on a new life adventure this summer. Yet, I carry a balancing weight of fears and anticipated hardships. A (arguably overly) healthy respect for the wildness of Alaska (the Sierra on steroids seems an accurate analogy). The step back in to a long distance relationship. 

Such is life, right? One adventure pushing into another until you notice the days are breezing by and calendars can’t quite contain the flow…

of spring moments

of 133 days

Sometimes you want to craft an elegant missive skirting around to a point. And sometimes you want to shout the bottom line at the start and work toward recovery and explanation. I think today falls to the latter.

I’m moving to Alaska.

With necessary elaborations and conditional statements. I’m moving to Alaska for the summer – 133 days to be precise. I have a unique opportunity to go work with Alaska Geographic running a visitor center on national forest land. And how could I say no? Glaciers, grizzlies, almost constant daylight. New birds, new trails, new everything.

DC has been a hard sell for me. I’m surviving the urban experience, but it in no way provides me with a fully engaging and healthy life experience. But I don’t want to give it up. Because it is exciting. And because Paul’s here. But I need more. Usher in Alaska to provide the balance to the scales.

Extreme urban in winter. Extreme wilderness in summer. …that’s the theory.

I’ve never been to Alaska. It’s always been this sort of mystical place in my imagination – stuck up there at the very top of our continent with its promise of being ‘the last frontier’. Will it live up to the high hopes I have for it? I can’t wait to find out!

Let the countdown begin to an 8-10 day drive across a fifth of our planet from the heart of DC through Canada (somewhere else I’ve never been) to southern Alaska that will mark the start of an indescribably intense adventure in nature. And to start wrapping my mind around this crazy reality, I’ve picked up a little bit of light reading:

bears
required Alaska reading

 

Cheers to returning to the seasonal life and following wherever the path may lead!

of 133 days

of friendsgivings

cityscape
today’s cityscape
Life in DC moves just as swiftly as life in the mountains. There’s certainly a different timbre to the current and yet it’s no less powerful for the difference. The days are passing. The seasons are changing. The holidays are right on top of us – literally with tomorrow being Thanksgiving. And I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of this place.

 

We’re in “Friendsgiving” mode this year. From last weekend’s dinner party with some lovely folks we met on a weekend hiking trip at Harper’s Ferry to tomorrow’s double turkey adventure with a ridiculously early morning to prepare a traditional lunch for Paul’s hard-working staff and then straight off to Maryland for another gathering of scattered merrymakers. Cheers to finding traditions that are universal no matter your environs.

 

I’m mastering the transportation scene here. Mountain life prepared me for walking many, many miles and I am always inclined to walk when I can. I am also a big fan of the subway system (dare I say I’ve mastered it? does that claim hold given that I haven’t gotten on the wrong train by mistake in over two weeks?). Uber and cabs are good in a pinch. And I’ve even braved the metrobus. Somehow buses are the most intimidating of all forms of public transit. And, by no means whatsoever, do I drive. I drove myself across the country and into the heart of DC where I parallel parked on the side street behind my building. I haven’t sat behind the wheel of my car since then. And I’m just fine with that.

 

Exploring is non-equal parts exciting, entertaining, tiring, boring, and hilarious. I’ve by no means done it ‘all’ and, of course, I never will. I still haven’t done even a small percentage of all the things that I want to get around to doing. But I’ve spent hours in museums and art galleries. I’ve been a patron to coffee shops and happy hours. I’ve been to yoga studios and night clubs. I’ve found city trails and gone urban birding (and even found a few golden spots that escape the city noises and bustle).

 

Speaking of city noises… it’s amazing how they grind away at your nerves only to slowly fade into background noise. Sirens are still loud as ever but not as startling. Street sounds in general become an incessant droning companion. I tune out so many conversations on subway platforms and sidewalks and jostling rush hour-filled trains with earbuds and daydreams. Braying zebras still provide a rather unwanted early wake up call some days, but then who’d want to ever get to where they tune that out? (#zooadjacent life is pretty cool).

 

I’m finding my community too. It’s been a struggle feeling isolated without my Yosemite girlfriends and feeling purposeless without a demanding job. But good things come with time and patience. I’m finding kindred spirits through my yoga practice and through social efforts (which is kinda intense for this introvert). And I’m finding my passions and causes in this urban maze. In addition to participating in a work/study program at a local yoga studio, I’ve fallen in with the Smithsonian. This is a dream organization for me with a history, purpose, mission, and vision that I really identify with. I’m volunteering (who knew it was a thing to rove a museum??) and interning at the National Museum of American History. So fitting a place to land in this city of old and living history. More on the museum to come, I’m sure…

 

I still don’t get nearly enough nature in my daily existence, but I am somewhat making up for it with yoga classes and logging pavement miles. And, all in all, I’m having fun being in a new place and holding my homesickness as a precious gift.
of friendsgivings

of new realms

Rather than try and describe the culture shock of the past month (have I really already been in DC a whole month?!), I’ll let some pictures suffice.

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I can’t say that I don’t still feel like a stranger here. Though maybe I’m edging into that slow transition to acquaintanceship. And I can’t say that I’ve done half the things that were on my ‘first things to do’ list. Because, even being unemployed, I don’t manage to have much downtime. I can say that I’m still diving in headfirst, embracing the things that call to me… museums and galleries, green spaces and urban trails, restaurants and happy hours, bookstores and libraries, yoga (“and running” would fit well to round this out but, let’s be honest, that certainly hasn’t happened yet).

I’m still on a mission to find those things that I will love most and that will make this place mine. Those moments that inspire a feeling of kindredness and connection. And I know they’re out there. DC definitely isn’t lacking for options and opportunities… well, I mean, except for in the mountains category…

of new realms

of other coasts

I stand far underground, waiting, contemplating the teeming sidewalks and city streets somewhere overhead. I recall my once-upon-a-time assumption that the ground beneath my feet was solid — an idea permanently banished during my first escalator ride down to the Cleveland Park Metro station platform.

Life has suddenly become so very different. So very beyond different.

When you’re talking about going from the remote wilderness of the Sierra Nevada to the heard of the nation’s capitol, “different” falls flat as a descriptor.

I’m a week into life as a DC resident. In that time, I’ve gotten a personalized nocturnal tour of the National Mall, met the president of Germany, watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, gone to a Star Trek-themed burlesque show, and eaten grasshoppers.

But, let me back up… I’m a rather lackadaisical blogger. Up to this point, the purpose of my writing has been to share what it’s like in the world of a National Park resident — living, working, volunteering, playing in the remote mountains of Yosemite.

For just shy of five years, it’s all been hiking and climbing and backpacking and swimming. It’s been reveling in isolation, coping with lack of reception, dealing with an increasing desire for change of pace and scenery, and struggling with an overly stressful (though rewarding) job. The past six months has also included the rather painful addition of a long distance relationship.

And so, I called it. I packed up, quit my job, and drove east. Three and a half days later, I found myself on the opposite side of the continent. I’m unemployed, uninsured (sorry, Obama), and psyched.

I’ve traded hiking trails and climbing routes for escalators and elevators. A high-profile job for a simple volunteer gig. A bachelorette pad for a co-habitation complete with cat. A world of knowns for a world of unknowns.

Now it’s all public transportation and urban birding and happy hours and climbing gyms and weekend warrior adventuring.

And so the wheel of time turns. And so another chapter begins to unfold. And so a new world of adventure opens.

of other coasts