Portage Cruising


I work by a lake. A very young lake – a hundred years ago it didn’t exist. Instead, there was a glacier. The glacier is still there, but, as it’s melted and retreated over the past century, it left behind a deep valley that filled in with its liquid remains. Such is the nature of time and the effects of climate change.


Because of the extent to which the glacier has retreated, it can no longer be seen from the shore. The hike up to Portage Pass that gets you a view requires a jaunt through a timed-entry toll tunnel (which makes me disinclined for those two obvious reasons). The other option is to purchase a ticket and go out on the cruise boat that runs hour-long tours to the face of the glacier.


It’s taken me four months of living and working on the edge of this lake to get out on the boat (factor in that I get to go for free and I really have no good excuses). It was well worth it and a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon in Portage Valley.


That was a big item on my Alaska summer checklist. With only one more weekend left before I migrate south, good thing I got it in when I did!

 

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Portage Cruising

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.

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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.

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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 in bloom

Alaska summer is a relatively quick season. So, I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised by the sudden and overwhelming emergence of wildflowers. Somehow, in this cold and wet place, I just wasn’t quite expecting it though. 

It’s heartwarming to know that flowers are much like everything else here: a combination of familiar and new. 

crimson columbine
chocolate lily
I know it’s summer because flowers are blooming and tourists are arriving en masse and the sun is bold and intense on the rare clear days in Portage Valley. But I have to admit I long for something a little bit warmer. 

Paul is coming for a visit in a few days and we’re going to go in search of just that, exploring some of the inland areas of Alaska that aren’t rainforest wet. Can’t wait for Paul to be here to share this beautiful place with me (though, with his many years of having lived in AK, I’ll be relying on him to play tour guide for me) and to finally get down to Seward and up to Denali and Fairbanks. 

lupine

Counting down the days until I’m headed out to explore more new places!

Alaska in bloom