To be honest, I never really wanted an adventure in Alaska. Nor did I want to hang out in a state or any place that cold—I’m from New Orleans, after all. We wear shorts and flip flops in December and the second the temperature drops to 50, we break out the sweaters, corduroys, and boots. I may be worse than most; if I sit under a vent in a restaurant, I get chilly and have to move seats. So when my friend and her son invited my son and I with them on their trip to Alaska, I was a little hesitant. Mostly because of the cold. And the snow.
But then, you know, there’s my son, and like most parents, I’d do just about anything for him, even freeze my ass off in Alaska. Oh, I forgot to mention, we weren’t going in the summer, when it might be lovely and temperate and green—we were going in February, for Mardi Gras break. After some hesitation and attempts to persuade everyone to change the destination, I gave in and before I knew it, I was ordering fur lined boots and extra-insulated jackets for the trip. Lots of those hand warmer pouches—I think I brought about fifty. So did I freeze to death and spend a miserable week and a half in Alaska? Of course not, but you guessed that, I bet.
Sitting outside on my deck today, in 80 degree weather at the end of November, I’m writing this to tell you that I came nowhere close to freezing, only used four of those hand warmers, and am so incredibly glad I went to see a place I might never have gone if I weren’t pressured into doing so. Alaska is breathtaking, and I’m grateful my friend asked us to go.
Though we divided our time between Fairbanks and Anchorage (didn’t get to see Denali Park, but I plan on going back—in the summer, of course), I was able to get a glimpse of some of the raw beauty and wilderness of this state that enjoys and even relishes a spot a bit off the grid from the Lower 48. The countryside is expansive, and once you drive out of the city—even just a few miles—you are smack in the middle of mountains, evergreens, and wildlife. Okay, you don’t even have to go out of town for the wildlife; a gigantic moose wandered right under my hotel window on the first night there.
There is a serenity and quiet that comes with all of that snow, and while people who have snow on a regular basis know this, a southerner like me has never experienced it before. Something about it is very peaceful, and this totally distracted me from being cold–which surprisingly I wasn’t. Yes, I was bundled up, but really, it wasn’t so very cold somehow.
The first day, we snowmobiled out to a glacier. A guide took the four of us fairly far out–we were in the middle of nowhere really–to see this big beautiful glacier. My first time on a snowmobile and I’m not going to lie that I was any good at it…
But when we rode up to the glacier, it was worth every mishap and near accident to see that sight. The sky was smokey white and gray and there was suddenly this blue like I’ve never imagined–and big crystalized chunks sitting on this untouched white snow. It was amazing.
We were able to go inside of what felt like a blue cave, the walls smooth to the touch. Our guide was pretty sad as he told us that this might not be here in a few years, that he’d never seen such loss of glaciers as he had in recent years. They were disappearing at an alarming rate, he said.
We spent a while walking around before heading back. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. So, something I learned is that driving a snowmobile is kind of hard–there’s balance involved and you have to use muscles to steer (it doesn’t just do everything for you, in other words). The ride back seemed way longer than the ride there, and by the time the road was in sight, I have to admit I was glad. It really was like work! The next day, we went on a dog sled ride. Again, we were in the middle of nowhere and as we stood wrapped in extra clothes, took off, feeling like we were the only people on the planet.
We stumbled upon the Iditarod one day too, which was fun, and also found a ice sculpture park. Hardly anyone was at the ice sculpture park–hardly anyone was anywhere at all, when I think of it. There were no lines at stores or crowds at restaurants. There was the sense of lots of room for everyone. The Alaskans we met were friendly and rugged–they gave the impression that they could handle just about anything that came their way.
Taking a quick flight to Fairbanks, we went to Chena Hot Springs, and put swimsuits on to go sit in hot springs. I know, I was surprised at myself. But only my head was cold and after a few drinks, everything amazingly warmed up! Apparently the thing to do here, besides jump in the hot springs, was to have a martini in an ice glass. Great idea because it keeps your drink cold, but a little tricky to hold….
We went to some museums and the boys gave snowboarding a try. I attempted it for two seconds, but that was plenty. Snowboarding is much more difficult than it looks and when you fall, you realize how hard snow actually is. Our last day was a light one–we just got some giant frisbees and slid down a hill for hours. So much fun. Simple and good. Walk up the hill, slide down. Repeat.
As I watched my son, I felt the sun strong on my face and took my jacket off for a while. I was getting warm, something I never imagined would happen. It really wasn’t as cold as I thought–even for a baby like me. By far, this was one of the most interesting places I’ve been and if it had been up to me, I wouldn’t have gone. I would’ve said, I’ll take my adventure in the tropics, thank you very much. But Alaska is a special place and my son absolutely loved it, which made it all the better for me.