Alaska,  Sunday social travel talk

Travelmemories: Alone in Alaska

When you travel there, are always certain moments that will stay with you until you die. A certain feeling, happening, song or anything else that reminds you of that one moment you were on the way and experienced something unforgettable. That specific moment may last a while or may be over before you know it. I’d like to share some of these memories with you, starting with one of my most impressive travel memories ever…

One of the places in the world that has a big piece of my heart is Alaska. I could just fill a whole blog with my Alaska memories. If you would have asked me 8 years ago if I’d ever go to Alaska, I’d have smiled at you and probably told you “sure, if I ever win the lottery”. Nowadays I consider myself extremely lucky that I can say I’ve been to Alaska 5 times. Most of these trips I made for work (those of you who don’t know, I work at a tour operator specialized in nature trips) yet it never ever feels like I’m working when there. Being in such an amazing environment just doesn’t feel like work.

May 22nd 2011:
It’s a warm spring day when the plane touches down at Anchorage Airport. A smile appears on my face, I’m back at the place I will always come back to, but never exactly sure when that next time will be. This time I’m alone. My friends back home are worried and told me to be safe. They still imagine Alaska is a place covered in snow year-round and where people live in igloos. When I told them I was going to spend a couple of days by myself up in The Last Frontier, they were afraid I’d be eaten by a bear or overrun by a snowstorm. Or that I’d lost and never come back. You get my point.

After picking up my rental car, exhaustion sets in. It’s past midnight on my inner clock and spending 10 hours on a plane is never a fun thing. Luckily the drive to the hotel is only short and by now, I know my way around Anchorage pretty well so I’m there within minutes. In a desperate attempt to stay awake and fight the upcoming jetlag, I drop my luggage at the hotel and head into town. I visit the Anchorage Zoo (at least I can tell the people at home I did actually see a bear!), have an early dinner at a pub and eventually make it an early night. Tomorrow morning I’ll start exploring. Hello again Alaska, it feels good to be back!

alaska-zoo-brown-bear

The next morning I’m a wreck when I wake up. Due to the time difference I have barely slept, even though I was totally exhausted. Heck, I even Skyped with Martijn in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep. Pure adrenaline! That morning I don’t feel like going anywhere, other than back to bed. But not a chance, today I’m driving 500 km to the other side of Prince William Sound. All by myself. While driving away from the Anchorage suburban areas, my anxiety for the long day ahead slowly changes into excitement.

I am alone in Alaska.
All by myself.
I have the world ahead of me.
Nobody is going to stop me!

In Palmer I stop at Fred Meyer and buy some Red Bull and chocolates to keep me awake along the way. From here, I’ll really be entering the wild lands. I switch the radio on and the first song I hear is “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas. I turn up the volume and sing along, as loud as I can. Nobody can hear me anyway.

I hit the gas and get going as I need to be in Valdez by the end of the day to meet up and make up my plans for the next couple of days. I’ve got a long day ahead of me. Soon, I’m surrounded by the Matanuska Mountains. The Glenn Highway winds its way through the valley and along the Matanuska River. Slowly I’m gaining altitude. There is nobody else on the road but me (and an occasional RV). I get out my small camera and place it in front of me of the dashboard, trying to take pictures while driving. This beauty just needs to be shared with the rest of the world.

The spring has just started, trees are coming back to life and the leaves are still at their greenest. The mountains are still covered in a thick pack of snow and some lakes are covered with ice, which only started to melt away recently.

hertz-car matansuka-river Matanuska-Glacier matanuska-glacier-2

At all of the pullouts I stop and breathe in the fresh air, the mountain feeling and the excitement of being here. At one stop I meet an Alaskan family. They see I drive a rental and ask me where I’m from. When I tell them I’m Dutch, they are very excited that I came all the way to Alaska to explore it. They have no idea how excited I am about being there. I ask them to take a picture of me, the only picture I have taken of me that day. And as it turns out, the only people I really talk to that day, other than the guy that fills up my car with gas.

anto-in-alaska alaska-number-plate

While the music blasts into my ears and I sing along to the last The Killers album I can’t help but feel amazed once again. I’m in Alaska baby! I can’t believe how awesome I feel. It’s just me, driving on the highway, without another soul around me. This is freedom, this is the life! Driving through the most beautiful landscape you can imagine, with the Matanuska Glacier behind me and the massive Wrangell St. Elias Mountain Range right in front of me, I just can’t help feeling incredibly thankful. This is my day in the office.

wrangell-mountains wrangell-mountains-glennallen sheep-mountain

Half way during the day at what is probably my tenth stop of the day, I realize that time is ticking, I need to speed up if I want to make it to Valdez in time. I hit the gas once more, drive way past the speed limit, but who cares, there’s nobody on the road anyway. The thought that a moose may step onto the highway just like that doesn’t even occur to me. I feel powerful and can’t stop smiling. My jaws are painful by the end of the day and my head is spinning. So many impressions, the mountains, the silence and the wilderness that I’m surrounded by.

By the end of the day, the weather becomes dark and cloudy and by the time I’m in Valdez it’s almost raining. But I don’t care … I made it. Other than locking myself in an outhouse (little moment of panic) it was an amazing day on the road. Probably the best day on the road ever.

Whenever I hear the song “I Gotta Feeling” on the radio a smile appears on my face. People have been asking me why that is, and when I tell them they are smiling too.  They like the story. And so do I. Now it’s not just my story anymore, it can be read by anyone. But that’s OK, these kind of stories shouldn’t be kept to yourself. They are here to be shared…

pull-out-glenn-highwayglenn-highway

For me this was “just another day in the office” however it never feels like it. It’s that special feeling and excitement that only being in Alaska can give me.

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have seen something pass by over the past weeks on my Twitter feed. Because I’m going back to Alaska. Four years after my last summer visit, I’ll be going to back to the place I love most. Well, one of the places I love most.  I can’t say too much about my exact plans (I could probably dedicate a whole second blog to that) but it’s going to be another great adventure for sure. Four months from today I’ll be embarking on a plane that brings me back to Anchorage where I’ll start my journey. I’ll be traveling by myself for some days and with others for a couple of days too. I’ll be working in an office (really working behind a computer this time) and I’ll be staying with locals. I’ll be meeting old friends I haven’t seen in years and I’ll be visiting some of the most amazing places I’ve always dreamed of going back to since I set foot in it for the very first time 8 years ago. People who have been to Alaska (you know who you are) will understand when I say that once you’ve been to Alaska, you’ll always want to go back. Back to the great wild land and even though I am no Chris McCandles, back into the wild…

Want to read more about Alaska? You may like these:
About my obsession with seeing Mount McKinley, North America’s highest 
5 Really cool things to do in Alaska
Winter in Alaska: the Iditarod!

Thanks for sharing!

10 Comments

  • Meg Jerrard

    I can’t WAIT to begin creating my own Alaskan memories – we’re heading there in June, also during summer, so while I’m excited to do some glacier hiking, I’ve researched enough to know that it’s not blanketed in snow the whole year round!! Luckily we’ll be flying from Seattle so hopefully won’t be as exhausted as a 10 hour flight, though I would double that flight time if I had to if that’s what it took to get there :D!

    Thanks for sharing your memories and beautiful photos!! Sad we’ll be missing you, but enjoy your next trip back!

  • Rachel

    I live in the Netherlands too. Isn’t it interesting how a place just calls to you, as if it’s home, even if you’ve only been there once or twice? For you it’s Alaska. For me it’s the Caribbean. I wonder why that is…

  • Sammi Wanderlustin'

    My cousin is from the North Pole in Alaska, and when he eventually moves back there, I will totally follow and visit him! It’s somewhere I really want to go for sure. Especially where he is from!

  • Norman

    That was quite an excellent read. For me, as a German, the great wide open land of North America are always fascinating. There are so many spots where you can look into each direction and not see a single spot marred by human habitation/polution.

    here in Europe that’s doesn’t even exist in one direction – let alone roads with no trafic 🙂

  • De Wandelgek

    I really can dig those rugged, “empty” landscapes that are all about nature and almost nothing about culture or human influence. So Alaska fits right in with Lapland, Canada, Tibet and mountainous areas like Himalaya, Pamir and Karakorum. Probably the Andes too. So much to discover yet 😉

    • anto

      I can’t wait to discover the Himalayas for the first time this November … I’m sure you’d love Alaska, shame it’s so damn expensive or I’d go every year!

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