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.

Advertisements
Alaska Mileposts

alaskan days

At some point over the last few weeks, I went from getting a handle on my new surroundings to falling into a routine here. My life as an Alaskan is one of full throttled intensity. Somehow the long days feel short as I try to squeeze every last drop out of this experience.

I live in a bunkhouse nestled away in the middle of a valley. It has a very college dorm feel with its shared rooms and communal kitchen and living spaces. I have an 18 year old roommate that, through no conscious effort, makes me feel ancient on a daily basis. I miss my privacy and having complete control of my surroundings though it’s nice to have the house camaraderie and a short walking commute. Fortunately, I’m an early riser and have a quiet house to enjoy my coffee in most mornings. Add in this view from the big picture windows and I’d say I have a pretty sweet deal.

IMG_7988

I’m in a temperate rainforest and it rains accordingly – more days than not, and I’m told that the percentage of rainy days will only increase as the season progresses. The rain here tends to be blown sideways by the near-constant wind in the valley. Most days, I wear both a rain jacket and rain pants for my quarter-mile walk to the visitor center.

Speaking of, the visitor center is a “busy” place. Lots of folks pass through the Kenai Peninsula on their vacations and road trips. And many of them stop in to check out our exhibits, upwards of 600 on weekend days. Yosemite left me more than prepared to at ease with a traffic flow that feels staggering to my co-workers. I like bookstores and am so glad to be back to working full-time again.

The extended daylight of living so far north means that the workday doesn’t cut into my exploration time. Weather-permitting, I spend a portion of my evenings wandering the nearby walking paths. Months of living in DC has trained me to ignore my car, so I save driving expeditions for my weekends. It’s frustrating to be surrounded by inaccessible mountains, but there’s lots to explore on the flat planes as well. Wildflower season is in full swing and I can entertain myself for hours seeking out, identifying, and photographing all the flowers, lichens, and fungi.

IMG_0105IMG_0105

Another, less pleasant, aspect of the extended daylight involves convincing my body that it needs sleep. It doesn’t come easily. I’m used to being an early bird — that’s not a sufficient label here. As one of my friends put it, during Alaska summers, I’m not an early bird or a night owl but rather an exhausted pigeon. My best solution: wear myself out to exhaustion. And that’s what weekends are for anyway, right?

It’s a rare day off that doesn’t find me on some sort of adventure. Whether it’s a roadtrip to go sea kayaking in Homer or to a birding festival on the Kenai River, or jumping on a glacier cruise boat out into Prince William Sound, or hiking around Anchorage or Girdwood, there’s always something to go see or do. I mean to take full advantage of all the things Alaska has to offer (well, things that are reasonably within my grasp this summer).

 

alaskan days

alaska today

It’s sunny here. Especially nice in a place that’s often raining.

The Chugach National Forest is the second largest forest in the country and the northernmost temperate rainforest in the world.

Today it doesn’t feel so much like a rainforest. Between the warm summer sun on my face, being back in the workforce, and being surrounded by mountains and glaciers (though one of my housemates just pointed out to the me the Donnie Darko -esque long-eared rabbit face in the snow on the mountainside that’s kind of creeping me out), Alaska is starting to slip its way into my heart.

alaska today

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 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