“The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything.” ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Nature is a spiritual thing. Sacred as any church, silent and still, it provides a wonder, yearning and fulfillment that is unmatched. Even after we leave a park, beach or forest, a little piece stays with us to sustain us until our next adventure. It is this piece of Nature that claims us. And we don’t want to ever let go. This is Alaska, mile after mile of beautiful awesome natural open space. But it’s not just the natural beauty that grabs your spirit; it is the whole incredible experience. So in this post I will make a very lame attempt to wrap up my Alaska experience by reminiscing on what Alaska taught me – and hopefully it will inspire you to make the trek.
To help in this attempt I will channel Alexander Supertramp (Christopher McCandless) as I list my Lessons Learned in Alaska. Many people now know about McCandless and how the 24-year-old idealist bailed out of his middle-class suburban life, donated his $24,000 in savings to charity, and embarked on a two-year hitchhiking odyssey that led him to Alaska and the deserted Fairbanks City Transit bus number 142, which still sits, busted and rusting, 20 miles down the Stampede Trail. The book and resulting movie “Into the Wild chronicled his journey and subsequent death. Proving yet again the unforgiving nature of this wild country.
But I digress…… Alaska – 7 Lessons Learned
Don’t Be in a Hurry – Go at Your Own Speed
Just because someone did something faster or slower makes you or them no less or more. We were all created differently and go at different speeds. It makes no sense to make comparisons with others, only yourself. Go at your own speed; and you get decide how heavy your foot weighs down on the gas pedal and how long you want to stay.
When traveling in Alaska uncertainty becomes your best friend and flexibility is your mode of operation. Not always a bad thing, but you might lose your ability to make long-term plans. Even when you attempt to plan, you know in the back of your mind that irrationality will overpower reason when presented with an awesome alternative like a campsite right on the water with beautiful mountain views. Your future is always in flux, so forget a five year plan, it’s a stretch to think about where you will be in the next five days.
“Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around be nomadic, make each day a new horizon.” -Chris McCandless
Enjoy the Ride – Embrace the Potholes and Rough Roads
I can’t describe what makes 2,500 miles of driving over a highways that are frozen most of the year so great. But if you love road trips this one that has to be on the top of your list. All the naysayers are going to say it sucks and that the road’s too rough and you need to carry extra fuel and replacement tires with you.
Don’t listen to them. Use your common sense and enjoy the ride. The frigid winter takes its toll on the highway. As you drive further north you see the road take on various shapes. Potholes litter the road, ice heaves threaten to launch your rig into the air as if you hit the wrong button in Inspector Gadget’s car, and the change between pavement and gravel will give your back an adjustment without a visit to the chiropractor. All that being said, it’s great fun. The Alaska Highway wouldn’t be the Alaska Highway without all these challenges. It’d be just another highway.
“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Play Like a Local – Alaskans and the People That Visit There are Some of the Nicest People in the World
Many are transplants, people who travelled north for a multitude of reasons and never left… There is a pioneering spirit among Alaskans; they are all quietly bonded by a land that they love and their collective choice to live up there. They are among the most friendly and sociable people I have yet to meet on the road, always eager to engage in conversation especially when it is about the land that they love.
You can learn the “don’t miss” places that may not be in the tour books and bond with folks that sometimes become friends that you keep long after you leave.
Don’t be afraid to get out and join in – It may be while doing the “Chicken Dance” at the Chickenstock Music Festival, running the 10k Midnight Sun Run in Fairbanks or while sharing a brew at the local Elks Lodge or brewery; by joining in the fun you certainly meet some great people.
“You will see things and meet people and there is so much to learn from them.” ― Christopher Johnson McCandless
The other folks that you meet on the road are other Alaska travelers – and they are a friendly and adventurous bunch. I was lucky enough to hang with the “Loosey Goosey” group; Escapees members from all over the US. Some of them had traveled this journey before and they were an awesome resource for us “newbies”.
The Xcapers Convergence at the Tenderfoot Campground was great fun and another group of fun loving Alaska travelers. We shared a number of social evenings as well as some great fieldtrips and seminars.
If you think traveling to Alaska will be lonely, think again…….
Alaska Is Spectacularly Beautiful – Photos Will Never (Ever) do it Justice
There can’t possibly be a more beautiful place on Earth! Although you see the pictures, nothing can truly prepare you for the beauty, scope and scale of Alaska. And no matter what type of professional camera equipment you may bring nothing can capture the true splendor of this place.
Breathtaking doesn’t do it justice and it’s just the beginning of what this state has to offer.
People ask “what was your favorite place” and my answer is invariably “wherever I was at the time”. Picking just one place is near to impossible, every stop on the route, every turn in the road, every new day is beautiful and inspiring – seemingly better than the one before until you realize that they are all equally amazing.
You are Stronger Than You Think
Alaska is a special place. It is a place that encourages strength and pushing boundaries. Just making the decision to travel there is overwhelming to most people. Yes, this solo female traveler had some reservations about taking a 30’ RV towing a jeep from the lower 48 up to Alaska for the summer. And the trip was not without its challenges, but none were insurmountable and each one makes you stronger.
“If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.” ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
This is a place that has little use for the foolhardy – there are dangerous animals, crazy weather, daunting mountains, wild rivers, treacherous ice fields and vast open space. The terrain can be as unpredictable and perilous as it is awesomely beautiful. It is not a place where you can ever become too comfortable and that is one of the things that make it the most exciting.
Traveling to remote places that are not easily accessible is part of the journey. Float plane to Katmai National Park to watch the bears at Brooks Falls, flying to Utqiaġvik at the top of the world where the sun doesn’t set for 4 months of the year, dirt road to McCarthy & Kennicott in Wrangell St. Elias National Park; all places where Mother Nature dictates the lives of not only the wild animals but the humans that live and visit there. You develop a great respect and an overwhelming desire to protect this beautiful planet that we call home.
“It is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found.” ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Alaska is an Addiction
There are places that can remake you. Alaska is one of these places. Of course, you never recognize these places while you’re in them. It’s only after you’ve made it in, made it across and made it out, that you can see the change, because it’s only in looking back that you can see what you were.
After roving for an extended amount of time in such a beautiful place, good luck returning to ‘the real world’ anytime soon. A routine just cannot compete with the daily excitement and freedom you become accustomed to while on the road. You are hooked and it will take some serious therapy to get you off the ever-wandering horse. Best of luck coping with the withdrawal syndromes, maybe the only treatment is to go back….
If this has inspired you to travel to Alaska then my goal has been accomplished. Check out these maps below when planning your own adventure to this awesome place – click on the blue icons to read up on each place and be sure to share with me your own spectacular finds, as I will be back.
Into Alaska! June 1st – July 18th
Alaska July 18th – August 17th
“I’d like to repeat the advice that I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.” ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
To wrap it up the best advice I can give is to forget all the excuses and go, you will never regret it.
For now it is time for my next adventure – stashing the RV and boarding a plane on Monday to Peru. Machu Picchu & the Galapagoes Islands here I come!