August 13, 2013

UPDATE: Alaska, My Ass!

I had to really grit my teeth to get through the last month of publishing Marketing, My Ass. And though I love my life as a writer, by the end of it all, I was grumpy and needed a change of scenery. Fortunately my friend Shaune was in the same mindset and had some air-miles to share. Yay! Off we went to Alaska for 10 days. Spontaneous and last-minute is always a 50/50 gamble in travel, but this one paid off. It was one of the best trips I've experienced, and I can happily recommend Alaska as a travel destination.

My favourite moments? Well, most of the spectacular visuals were captured by Shaune's camera and are available on her blog, if you want to see the panoply of mountains, wildlife, rivers, forests, and all the awesomeness of Alaska. It's no exaggeration to say that Denali National Park is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I'm glad they had the foresight to limit the number of visitors to this six million-acre preserve, and that only trained guides can take people past the 19-mile paved road. After that, the driving gets tricky, on huge winding cliffs - I was happy someone else was at the wheel.

Later, sitting outside our resort and enjoying the sun-that-never-sets (summer in Alaska is short and the sun is still shining at midnight), I felt the pull of the mountains, the call of the wild, the "something" that writers and poets sigh over and try to turn into words. It's a connection to nature that can't be denied, a strong, quiet reminder of our humble beginnings on this continent.

As much as I want to escape people when I travel, it's always the people that I remember most. Alaska was no exception. Those who live in this sparsely-populated state are proud of their adopted home - most of them are not originally from Alaska - and they love to share this passion with visitors. The tour guides we encountered (with the exception of one, who was so shy it made you cringe) were laid-back, obviously happy to be doing what they were doing, and incredibly knowledgeable. They were good story-tellers, and there's nothing like a good story to pass the time when you're on a boat, a train or a large, comfortable bus.

I enjoyed the tales of the pioneers and heroes, from Mary Carey - a woman whose retirement plans to travel to Alaska were initially foiled when her husband suffered a fatal heart attack. To help get through her depression after losing him, she decided to go on her own. The rest is the story of a very courageous 60-something woman carving out a place for herself in the Alaskan wilderness and building an entire homestead alone and/or with the help of some rugged men who became her friends. Mary never gave up and was successful in getting a road built to her little inn, now looked after by her daughter after her death at 91. Talk about perseverance. She wrote a book called Alaska, Not for a Woman, and is fondly remembered by area folk.

Another hero was a bush pilot by the name of Don Sheldon, who pioneered the technique of landing on glaciers, and was always ready to help during a rescue operation. He risked his life several times to save people who were clinging to cliffs, lost in the mountains or crashed on land. He was a gunner in WWII and founder of a well-known Alaskan piloting school and program. Because there is only one major highway in Alaska, 1 out of every 50 residents has a pilot's license, which you can get at the early age of 14.

Becky Irish was our tour guide through Denali - an ex-military gal with a strong character. Drawing from quotes by Thoreau and Paul Muir, among others, she imparted her own wisdom about our need to reconnect with nature after living in the chaos of concrete cities. Becky lives in a small cabin, chops wood to heat her place, has a dog and sled to get around in winter, and ended up in Alaska by falling in love on her first visit and just "staying there". She's been guiding visitors to the park for 16 years.

We saw a widescreen show of the Aurora Borealis (which I have been incredibly lucky to see in person, up near Kenora, Ontario) by famed panoramic photographer LeRoy Zimmerman, who has collected his favourites and set them to classical music. A wonderful show, but nothing comes close to the real thing. And (duh) while we were hoping to see them while in Alaska, they are only visible in winter's darkness.

On the last leg of our flight there (I'm composing a letter to Delta to complain about tourist torture with their overcrowded interiors) we met Charles, who was happy to tell us about Anchorage, his home and playground. Charles named all the restaurants we had to visit, the things we had to do, and what to see. He was pretty right on! Thanks, Charles.

At the first resort near Mt. McKinley, we met Jim, who works in the oil industry (obviously one of Alaska's biggest resources) who was also full of tips about where to go and what to do. Jim is a frequent visitor to Alaska, drives a motorcycle in the summer and a "snow-machine" (not snowmobile!) in the winter. He was a true gentleman, our Jim, sharing breakfast with us on our last morning and picking up the tab.

Then there was Dee and Joe, a couple on the train from Washington state who shared our dinner table. Dee was celebrating her 70-something birthday and Joe had the sweetest smile. Last but not least, we shared a bench and view on our last boat tour with Candy and Al, the nicest couple I've ever met, from Long Beach, California. Very much in love and celebrating their 35th anniversary, Candy and Al were so much fun that they restored my faith in humanity. No easy feat these days.

Photo by Candy's husband Alan/Albert.

Aside from a 26-mile bike ride, there was more sitting than either of us is used to - a necessity given the miles that we travelled and the places we saw, but I'm sorry that we didn't fit in more hiking, or a white-water rafting trip, or something more active. We were on six plane flights, two long rail rides, two boats and too many coach buses to mention. All with very entertaining tour guides, lots of information, and comfortable seats. My rear-end felt flat and bruised at the end of it all, though, and I laughed out loud when I came across this product on a hardware store shelf on our last day. Guess I'm not the only one with monkey-butt after hours of travel...

For sweat absorption & friction relief.


  1. I really enjoyed your perspective and all the snippets of the people and heroes we met and heard about along our travels.

  2. Great post, Lorrie! I am very jealous. Somehow the fact that people, more than landscapes, inspire you does not surprise me. Your love of people and their stories is palpable in this piece and in others.

  3. Thanks for your kind words, Shaune and Nancy. Glad you enjoyed the little recap.


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