Well, we really started with our list of things we absolutely had to do before we die. The current buzz word is “bucket list,” but that is just flat-out too cliche for me. Regardless, Al and I spent some time considering the reality of how many summers we have left of adventure travel, and how we want to spend them.
This trip to Alaska was at the top of both of our lists, and while there wasn’t too much adventure involved, we did the grand sweep of Alaska and found out what we want to go back for. And boy oh boy, will we be back.
While trying to arrange the trip myself, there were just too many possibilities, so we put ourselves in the most capable hands of Alaska Tour and Travel. They were quite amazing, and with one small exception, everything they set out for us to do was spot on. I even argued with them about the twelve hour (!) tour to the Arctic Circle, but they assured me we would enjoy it. They were right.
So we started in Fairbanks, and spent an afternoon in the amazing Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The next day, we flew an hour and half or so in kind of a rickety 1980 Piper Navajo bush plane with a pilot that seemed a little too casual, but landed safely in Coldfoot. There we met our tour director, Barbara, and the five of us drove 10 hours back to Fairbanks.
What a great trip. We inspected the pipeline, met strange and wonderful people, watched the sunset from the Yukon River, saw caribou, moose, a lynx, gorged on wild blueberries and most of all, luxuriated in the vastness of a wilderness so immense it’s hard to grasp. The fall colors were breathtaking.
Even the aurora came out and gave us an incredible show from Joy, Alaska, where we stopped for late-night coffee. There were only five of us in the little van, including Barbara, the tour guide, who had just retired from the UAF, and she was very smart about everything. The Haul Road (Dalton Highway, built to build the pipeline 30+ years ago) is not for the faint of heart, as we drove 230 miles on this dusty gravel road with gigantic semis zooming past throwing rocks as big as my fist.
An amazing adventure. I don’t need to go this far north again (although Al would like to traverse the Brooks Range and go all the way to Prudhoe Bay), but I’m glad I saw it. There’s nothing quite like walking on tundra (it’s like walking on a trampoline) and getting the whole story from a woman who majored in soils management. What a day.
Next: Denali National Park.