adventure, Alaska, Amazing Race, Backpacker, Backpacking, Cali, California, Cliff diving, Fanastic Race, Getty Museum, graduation, Hollywood, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Race, Party, photography, photos, Retreat, Road trip, SoCal, The Getty, The Getty Center, Travel, traveling, trip, Venice, Venice beach
(Ok, I’m back. Time to finish this story and catch up with the Firsts!)
Before I made it to California, I had another unfortunate run in with the Denver airport. Thankfully however, it wasn’t for another 9 hour layover.
At least I knew the airport by heart and revisited my comfortable corner. During the height of my boredom the first time around, I wrote this note to myself since I knew I would be coming back. I wanted to see if it would still be where I hid it, tucked away behind a phone kiosk, and alas, it was. HA!!!
California, how I missed thee. I hadn’t been to Cali in a few years, but once again, I found myself walking through the familiar lengths of LAX. I had a few weeks to kill, had some plans, had plenty of free time, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to get
into, but I trusted myself to cause some laughter inducing mischief.
First on the list and the heart of the trip: my cousin’s graduation.
Attend my cousin’s graduation
Also got to meet my new baby cousin. New boy in the family! Finally!
Highlight #3: The Getty Museum
I’m not one for museums, never have been, I’ve never really found the level of engagement I need to enjoy a museum. With that said, the Getty did house some exhibits that I found interesting and I absolutely loved the garden grounds. The building itself was my favorite part to be honest, it was like a beautiful fortress resting high above the clouds and the world below.
Highlight #4: Clubbing in Hollywood
My sister’s wanted two things for her birthday. Fishbowls and to go out in Hollywood. We accidentally made them pretty strong, but they were still delicious!
Later that night we made our way into Hollywood. Some of my sister’s friends showed up and recommended a spot we decided to check out so we made our way over there. 600 dollars for table service? SIX. HUNDRED. I nearly told the group I’d wait in the car! Mathematically though, considering we had a small group with us, it kind of evened out to a regular cover charge. “This is pretty much what you’re going to run into out here, even if we go to another place” said someone in the group.
Before we walked in, we all huddled together for a quick pep talk. My sister’s friend jumped into the center of the circle like some rabidly enthusiastic football coach “Ok. We just spent a lot of fucking money. So we’re gonna go in there and do this proper! Readyyyy break!”
The venue was actually pretty cool. We were greeted by a fireplace lined outdoor courtyard filled with a large rectangular fountain running through the center of it. This fountain was overflowing with bubbles, while a beautiful young lady was seated on a swing mounted above. She smiled as we walked passed and gave a light kick to the foam, littering the air with glistening bubbles.
We got our table, neat little spot actually. Food, drinks, mixers, fruit. It was honestly a nice spread, and my sister seemed happy so it all worked out. The group wandered the venue and we eventually ended the night on the dance floor.
In rare form, I ended up drinking too much and got myself a pretty potent case of the spins. I guess that’s what I get for accepting shots from the costumed woman sitting on the shoulders of a man on stilts (even if most of it got in my eyes)
Go clubbing in Hollywood Dry Heave until the sun came up
Highlight #5: Venice
I’ve been to Venice beach many times, but every time I’m there the beach is a playground for photos.
Highlight #6: Cliff Diving
Go cliff diving in California
Highlight #7: The Amazing Race
I would highly recommend this one to anyone with a competitive group of friends/family. This was easily one of the best things we ended up doing while in Cali.
The race was a mixture of a scavenger hunt, puzzles, riddles, etc that sent us speeding through the streets of Hollywood. We solved puzzles while weaving through crowds at the Chinese Theater, ran through subway stations to catch trains with moments to spare, wracked our brains at the Disney Orchestra building and burned through the streets of Hollywood while police were yelling at us to slow down.
There was a moment there, when a series of cars exploded in the background, that left me feeling like John McClain in Die Hard 3. (The explosions weren’t part of the Race, they just happened to be filming a commercial in the area, but it was still really friggin awesome).
The creators were rather brilliant in their design. Not only were you playing a game, but the race led you to city hotspots with an intention, rather than just milling around in the tourist crowd. You can also make it as intense or relaxed as you want. We just happen to be rabid competitors so we sprinted most of the way.
Like I said, I would highly recommend. This was simply incredible AND they have races opening in more areas. Check it out!
#1 Cupcake ATM We were dumbfounded. “What? That doesn’t exist” we said. We were wrong.
And they came in neat little boxes too. LA can be a strange place.
Eat a cupcake from the cupcake ATM that really does exist
#2 Dinner and Piano with friends
Have drinks at a piano bar in Hollywood
There’s plenty I’m leaving out, but this entry is already long enough! California was a fantastic as always, and it served as a perfect end to my extensive trip.
Alaska to Canada, Canada to Minnesota. Minnesota to California, California back to Philadelphia. (Start at the beginning here: Things I’ve Never Done:31 Returning to Depart)
Good times, good memories, and some great Firsts!
My companion was at the front desk, signing his lease and other official while I slipped into the stairwell and made my way to the third floor. She was here somewhere, behind one of these doors scattered throughout the long twisting hallways with the 70s carpet.
I was on a stealth mission and as such, I dodged and hid in the doorways when residents made their way in my direction. There must not have been any cameras in the building, or security wasn’t watching, but my venture through the labyrinth that was the apartment complex probably looked shady as all hell.
But alas, I carried on! My job was to find her door, set these two stuffed animals my companion had brought back from Alaska, knock, and run back to the awaiting apartment downstairs before she could see me.
“Mission complete!” I shouted as I bolted into the door of my companion’s new apartment downstairs. I laughed and retold the tale but was hastily interrupted when the door swung open. Enter new character: Caelys.
In she walked, the voice and the words I’ve spoken to for ages in physical form. We came across one another through mutual friends and started up a friendship that has lasted over the years. We’ve talked, we’ve skyped, but this was, however, the first time I was actually seeing her in person. Proper greetings were in order, and so, we hugged. It was lovely.
I crossed mountains, swam rivers, fought ice trolls in the frigid north, and finally turned up on her doorstep victorious! With the three of us united at last, celebration was in order! Drinks all around!
Have a drink with friends in Minnesota
On the way home, we stopped at a few places since the fridge was empty. We got some much needed essentials for the rest of the week and the upcoming house warming party.
There wasn’t much planned now that the drive was over. The goal of this entire trip was to assist my companion during his move to MN; I pulled the final bag from the backseat, and my job was now complete.
I had a week in MN before flying out to my next destination, let’s find something to do.
The Mall of America was one such outing. I remember back in 5th grade, hearing about it for the first time and being absolutely captivated by the thought of it. Here I was, walking through the lengths of the massive building, mentally high fiving the shadow of my younger self.
We also stopped for sushi. Delicious, delicious sushi.
I would recommend. Ask for Rebeka.
Eat Sushi with friends in Minnesota
We ventured on; saw the rides, the mirror maze and other attractions before it dawned on me that this was, essentially, just a mall. A mall that had all of the same stores that any would have, just larger and more of them. Does one really need a floor sized Abercrombie?
Lost in a world of mirrors.
-Visit the Mall of America
The housewarming party was next on the list. Caelys brought her friends and we had ourselves a night of games and hastily created concoctions. I discovered a strange mysticism people have with magnetic stacking balls, and finally took my hand at Cards Against Humanity.
Play Cards Against Humanity
Make new friends in MN
After the festivities, the pace for the remainder of the trip settled into that of a relaxed state. The days were spent doing random activities, or visiting more of the Caelys’ friends…
-Meet MJ. Maria. David. Devon!
…while the nights, I found myself in her apartment watching movies and spending some time together. The driving companion and I had been conjoined at the car for the majority of the trip, so it was nice to get away for a bit.
The days slipped away until my leaving date had arrived. I packed up my bag, gave Caelys a hug goodbye, and walked out to the car. My companion and I were off for our final ride together.
This is where I took a bow, and exited the scene. Through the automatic doors I stepped, and into the crowd of the bustling lobby. That feeling, that excitement tinged with just enough fear to keep you heightened, but not enough to actually stop you from continuing, ah, yes, that feeling of being inside an unfamiliar airport, how I’ve missed thee!
At the start of this entire thing, people thought I was out of my mind for even considering such a trip, and to be honest, I’ve never actually considered going to Alaska or Minnesota. All of these entries, this whole story, all the photos, all the people I met and things I saw, are a product of stepping out of my comfort zone and saying “yes” at the very beginning. I could have said no, quite easily too, and erased the possibility of it all from my personal history. How frightening of a thought, how many other “No”s in my timeline could have ended up being brought into beautiful reality?
I suppose that’s a question for another day, because I say “Yes“, yes to it all, and that makes me smile.
-Meet Caelys – Hug Caelys
Conclude the Alaska to Minnesota trip in its entirety
My plane left within the hour. Onward to California!
We let out a sigh of relief as the border disappeared from sight (with no FBI agents driving black SUVs in hot pursuit).
Enter the United States. Hello again.
North Dakota. How would I describe North Dakota? It was…nice? Flat. Green. Empty. Lots of farms and tiny planes flying everywhere, dusting their fields.
Not much for people, more cows and livestock than anything else. A couple houses here and there, complete with rocking chairs and grain silos.
And lots of bugs
We made good time, though our speed fluctuated as we got used to driving in MPH again.
The trip had been pretty flawless, minus the car breaking down a couple times and the border agents, but with our finish line almost in sight, we were……..SHIT! Almost right on cue with our conversation about DWB, a cop sped passed us coming from the other direction.
We pressed our faces into the rear view mirrors, watching the cop as we held our breath. We were clearly speeding so our only chance was for the cop to just turn a blind eye to it.
“Don’t U-turn! Don’t U-turn!” we chanted, hoping he would disappear under the horizon.
Unfortunately for us, the cop slows down and makes the dreaded turn, lights ablaze. We’re not even in the states for an hour and we get pulled over!
At least the cop was nice about it. And a $35 dollar speeding ticket? That was a welcome surprise. I get parking tickets for more than that!
-Get pulled over in North Dakota -Drive through North Dakota
Back on the road (paying close attention to the speed limit this time). No longer days, HOURS until our final destination.
6 hours remained. Then 4, then 2, then 1.
Drive into Minnesota
The expressway turned to residential roads and our finish line was the apartment complex in the distance. With a final right turn, we pulled into the lot and parked, marking the end to our journey.
The car let out what sounded like a long, deep sigh of relief as we stepped out and took in the surroundings. Victory!!! We did it!
-Drive from Fairbanks, Alaska to St. Paul, Minnesota. Venture through the Yukon, through nature reserves, through numerous Canadian towns and through the plains of North Dakota, with our eventual destination lying in Minnesota.
^Be sure to click this one, look how much earth that is! I’m quite impressed.
The drive was over, but not the trip entirely. No, no, no. Inside that apartment complex was a dear friend of mine, who I’ve known for years but never had the pleasure of actually meeting face to face. Inside she waited, unaware that we had arrived.
The drive was finished, but the week in Minnesota was just beginning.
Let’s go find her…
We packed in the darkness and left Banff while the sun was still nestled behind the mountain in the distance. Today was the push. Today, the Canada chapter was ending.
Onward, once more.
We passed through Calgary, the home of two brothers of the soul from my retreat down in Peru (Previous Entry: The Ayahuasca Retreat). Not one, but two people from my retreat, how exciting! This was the closest in proximity I’ve been to any of them in almost a year, and who knows when the next time would be. My dear citizens of the world, scattered throughout, it makes me smile to know you’re out there, but I do miss those physical shapes of yours. Sadly, as much as I wanted to stop, we pressed on.
After the haze of tax and duty free stores littering the landscape, we made it to those familiar looking lanes. This was the first time I was crossing INTO the US from a neighboring country, but the procedure was about the same.
We waited patiently behind the van in front of us, while I entertained myself by teasing my companion about the illegals and getting shot in the face by the former vice president turned border agent.
Finally it was our turn, and we pulled up to the window for the usual questions. However, instead of the “Ok, welcome home boys, go on through!” that I expected, the agent told us to pull around for a search and further questions. That’s new.
My companion is convinced that there were secret microphones in the grass, and my joke about Dick Cheney was overheard through the rolled up windows, thus the reason for secondary questioning. I’m pretty sure it was just random, or training, or they saw two weirdos in a car packed to the brim, and wanted a closer look. Whatever the variable, we obliged and pulled into the awaiting lot.
Uh oh! We’re in trouble now! We got out and sat patiently in the lobby.
The urge to cause mischief was skyrocketing, I had no drugs, weapons or illegal immigrants in any of my pockets, so why not? Surely they wouldn’t hold an upstanding citizen like myself, right?
We surrendered our passports at the counter before being asked to sit down once more. Then, they came for me. Just me. Two large men, uniformed, armed, heavily mustached, and who waddled more than they walked, due to their batman utility belts and their overall girth. “Come with us please” the leading man said, before turning and motioning down the hallway.
The crunch of leather echoed down the corridor as they led me to a very sterile looking room around the corner. Just a small window, small table and two chairs awaited me. Inside they ushered me to one of the chairs, and mentioned they’d return momentarily. I suppose to build anticipation for questioning?
I sat in my chair, attempting to get comfortable and lean back, but the thing was bolted to the floor, as was everything else in the room. When they returned, the older of the officers took the seat across the table from me, while the other stood uncomfortably close with his arms crossed, demonically gazing down at me. Second cop was clearly bad cop.
And then it began. “Where are you going” “Who are you with” “Got any drugs?” “Are you actually traveling together or have you been kidnapped?” “Are you smuggling any moose?” “What’s in your hat?” “What did you do in Canada” “What did you see?” “Why did you want to leave the US in the first place”
I do believe there was a question about whether or not I believed in or sympathized with jihad or something of that nature. It took my everything not to say “Yep, ya got me!“, but I’m sure my attempt at humor would be met with blank faces and possibly handcuffs.
“Please empty your pockets”
And so I did. He reached over the table and picked up my wallet, carefully examining it before he pried open every corner of the leather. Money. License. Bank card, business cards (wait for it!), a condom, a razor blade, and two pills.
He blinked. I blinked. He nonchalantly laid the three items in question out on the table looked at them, looked at me, looked at them, looked at me. I didn’t look up, but I could almost HEAR the veins popping out of bad cops forehead. My heart jumped at the blade, I had completely forgotten that was in there. At the same time, my mind was desperately trying not to laugh at the many scenarios one might use all three items for.
“Don’t ask me about the razor blade, don’t ask me about the razor blade“ my mind whispered. How could I put “I couldn’t bring my usual blade on the plane, so I opted for something smaller and more compact“ into terms that wouldn’t get me held indefinitely.
He slid the two pills toward me. “Oh thank god, he picked the unmarked drugs!“ cheered my brain. “What…are these?“ he said, as he did the now comical, rapid stare from pills to me.
Which they were, but with the razor blade and condom, you’d think I was railroading em right before having myself a good ol’ time.
He held his stare and folded his arms. Much to my surprise he didn’t press, and leaned back satisfied.
The bad cop finally broke from his statuesque posture and stepped toward me. He leaned down and wrapped his sausage fingers around the soulstone hanging from my neck. AGAIN, this is the second person to molest my crystal with their filthy, unwanted hands. I met his glare with one of my own and repeated the exact lines I used with the TSA agent. (Previous Entry: Onward To Alaska)
“Quartz. Crystal”. “Where did you get it?” “Peru”. He stared into with an official curiosity, while I sat there questioning why people are so dumbfounded by quartz crystal.
With no more questions, the officer at the table stood up and shook my hand. He thanked me for my cooperation and said he would be with my momentarily.
Meanwhile, the bad cop uprooted himself and walked out of the room. He crossed the corridor window, and exited through the security door. The officer who was talking to me, reached for the handle before it closed, but he was a second too late and the heavy door clicked shut. He swiped his ID card, pulled the handle, but the door remained locked. He swiped it again, pulled a little harder, yet still nothing. He did this two more times while I watched, peering out from the room where the air of authority is still thick in the air, with this look on my face
One more time he tries, and one more time he fails. He stood there for a second, defeated. And in that glorious moment where zero tolerance meets awkward human nature, he slowly turns his head, looks through the window at me, and lets a timid smile shine through his stuffy mustache. Aw!
Bad cop eventually opens the door and lets him out. They get my papers back in order, then I’m released as well. Bad cop is standing at the end of the row with his hand extended. I thought he was going for the handshake, but he had my razor blade in his hand “Forgot this” he groaned. “Oh. Yeah. Thanks.”
My companion was released shortly after and we returned to the car to exchange stories. All that and I didn’t even get a stamp in my passport. What a bummer.
Hello United States, I’m back!
-Conclude a road trip through Canada -Cross into the US from a bordering country – Get stopped at the border for secondary questioning – Pull a razor blade on a border agent -Enter North Dakota
On and on we raced. Following swiftly parallel to the rise and fall of the earth on either side.
Miles turned to hours. Hours turned to days. We traded off on driving more than before. My companion napped in the passenger side while I took the wheel and pressed on. The drive was long, sure, but never too overbearing. For me, it’s not about comfort, it’s about “doing”. It’s why I don’t care if I have to sleep on the floor, or sleep in a car. The story that’s left behind after it’s all said and done, that’s what I care about. So give me discomfort, give me cold showers and a bit of hardship. I might hate it at the time, but I’ll love it when I’m writing it down.
And so, the journey continued. We were making good time, and still took plenty of scorpion breaks.
Then, the road that had carried us for so long, so far, had finally come to an end. Dawson Creek, BC marked the beginning of the Alaska Highway, though for us coming down the opposite side, this was the end.
The road before us was still long, but that stretch of asphalt I had come to enjoy over these last few days, slowly drifted away before it disappeared from the mirrors.
-Drive the Alaska Highway
Upside down rainbow?
Enter Jasper National Park
Jasper is one place I’d love to spend some actual time in. Not only was it absolutely stunning, but it hosts the largest dark sky preserve on the planet! For a star gazer like myself, that alone is a selling point! And that’s not even counting the lakes, the hikes, the wildlife, and the town itself. I would love to rent one of the little bungalows and just spend a week of exploring with friends. (Official Jasper Site)
-Drive through the Jasper National Park
We sputtered to the pump, much to our relief (The gas gauge light was generating heat for being on for so long) and took a breath of the sweet Jasper air.
Our next stop was Banff, a town similar to Jasper in size and style, but the mere mention of the name elicited many positive remarks from my Canadian friends. Before we made it however, we had to cross the murderous, the dangerous, the frozen wastes referred only as the dreaded Icefields.
The mental imagery evoked by such name was sinister and daunting and I was anxious to see what perils awaited us. One of us was going to die, I was sure of it, I just didn’t know the method of our demise. Yeti attack, glacier collapse, frost Gnolls perhaps? Despite the horror that awaited us, I was ready.
And then, we came upon the Fields of Ice
(Click for full resolution)
Ok so, there were no eldritch creatures lying in wait, and neither of us were in any mortal danger. Color me disappointed.
Cross the icefields
Taste some Canadian glacier water
Almost run out of gas in Jasper
Onward to Banff!
The United States disappeared in the rear view mirror as we made our escape into Canada.
We paused for a moment in the center of a windswept valley. I don’t know what it was about this valley, but when I think back on it, it’s something that really stands out in my mind. Maybe it was because the trip had been so green for so long, this was the first time there was a scarcity of vegetation. Just stunted bushes, rocks and sand.
This desolate area seemed harsh, violent even. It felt eerie and alien, or what I could imagine the surface of another planet looked like.
I sat in the road (something I do from time to time) and watched the clouds move with a terrifying speed overhead. Like fluffy heralds of looming meteorology, they sliced through the sky and threatened, at any moment, to burst with volume enough to drown the entire valley. The wind was strong, strong enough to almost send me toppling over. We didn’t stay long, and for good reason; the grey chariots above us finally made good on their warnings and released a storm of storms upon our heads.
The rain was relentless, and seemed to park itself right over our car for the next few days. We fled, trying to outrun the torrent, but it was all in vain. Instead, we were sent scurrying beneath the Old Gods of Canada, fleeing into the rooms my companion had setup before we had started the drive.
The towns, if you could call them that, were welcoming, though they seemed more like outposts for miners and fur traders of the past. Tiny, with single roads, and were scattered throughout the wild environment that seemed to be biding its time before swallowing them whole. I would have preferred to marathon the drive personally, or sleep either in the car or out in a tent somewhere, but I suppose it was nice to have a bed.
Then, we awoke to the sun and beautiful blue skies. The gloom filled clouds must have released all of their angst, because they hung playfully in the sky. Fluffy and innocent, with no compunction for drowning the world.
“Daww, I can’t stay mad at you!” I screamed up at those mischievous formations as the car started. Sunglasses on, head out the window, and this song in my head:
We carried on!
“Wisdom of the loo”
We stopped at the sign post forest. A little too touristy trap for me, but still worth a look. People come from around the world to hang all manner of street signs and license plates. The original (below) started it all.
“In 1942, a simple signpost pointing out the distances to various points along the tote road being built was damaged by a bulldozer. Private Carl K. Lindley, serving with the 341st Engineers, was ordered to repair the sign, and decided to personalize the job by adding a sign pointing towards his home town, Danville, Illinois, and giving the distance to it. Several other people added directions to their home towns, and the idea has been snowballing ever since.”
We gave it a thorough once over before moving on.
And it was then, that I saw one of the most pristine landscapes I have EVER seen in my life. I’ve been to New Zealand, Thailand, S.Korea, Australia, Peru, Hawaii and countless other US states and NOTHING has come close to the absolute perfection of this scene. It was almost too perfect, like something you see on in a calender stand at the mall and think to yourself “that doesn’t actually exist”. The absolute definition of beauty in nature.
The clouds, the mountains, the trees and the almost glowing emerald water. I jumped up on the guard rail to better my view of the scene and stood their taking it all in.
Muncho Lake (means “big water” in the Kaska language). Definitely click these pictures for the full resolution.
I was overwhelmed. With a huge, (and probably creepy) smile I turned to face the footsteps I heard behind me. I expected my companion, instead I found another wandering traveler who was just as mystified as I was. We both stood there for a good few seconds, mouths agape, grinning and nodding at each other. Words, heck, pictures do little justice for this!
I stared for a long while before I offered my spot to her and dove back in the car for a closer look.
I gratefully accepted the past few days being rainy and overcast; the storm wore itself out and left this stunning opportunity for me.
Even if the trip ended right then and there, I think I would be completely satisfied.
Luckily for me, we were just getting started…
Enter the Yukon Territory
See the Sign Post Forest
Visit Muncho lake
SHEEP ON ROAD!
Time was short
After Denali we had a day left for final checks and preparations. We spent our remaining day driving around Fairbanks, getting supplies and visiting one of the many rifle lined pawn shops trying to sell some items he no longer needed. Harassing lovely ladies in the grocery store and watching movies
The morning of, we stepped out into the unsetting sun and got to work. We had a substantial amount to load into the car, but it wasn’t too much. Within the hour we had everything packed, secured, and ready to go.
Fun Fairbanks Fact – As soon as you start sweating out here, you’re swarmed by the biggest, most rabid mosquitoes I’ve ever seen in my life. Thick black clouds of relentless, blood sucking, FLYING, zombies! I got so overtaken at one point, I threw the remaining gear into the car and retreated back to the house for sanctuary. The screen door held them, but barely. I stood there, horrified, as they jabbed their needles in and out through the holes in the door, desperately trying to pierce my skin.
-Survive an Alaskan mosquito zombie invasion
Everything was ready to go. As he said his goodbyes to his housemates, I stepped outside and took in more of the delicious air I had recently grown so fond of. I walked the length of the yard, feeling enveloped and lost in the vastness of the world around me. “I could live in a place like this” I thought to myself. At least for a time.
(The smoke wasn’t coming from the house, there was some kind of fire/explosion off in the distance that bellowed that thick black smoke. ????)
Our farewells were said, nothing left to do but begin this journey. 60+ hours, Fairbanks Alaska to St. Paul Minnesota. Lets do this!
“Onward!!!” we screamed! The tires sped into action and left a thick trail of dust and gravel kicking up behind us as we tore down the path.
The world outside my window warped and shifted every so often, showing me what Alaska still had to offer. Even after Denali, the route had me amazed at times. The waterways, the vegetation and elevation. Mountains and flat lands. I even caught a quick glimpse of a bald eagle in the wild. Very entertained.
We sped along at a pretty steady pace. My companion drove while I shifted from hanging halfway out the window for pictures, to having my face pressed up against the glass like some excited child peering at the enticing outside world.
-Drive the Alaskan Highway
And there it was, off in the distance; The Canadian border! I’ve never crossed a border by car before. I’ve never been to Canada before. I was heightened with these new “firsts” that were moments away! But first, pictures!!
My Holmes’ like deduction led me to believe that this building, helmed by the red maple leaf, was what we were looking for. We paused briefly before our path was clear and we pulled up to the window. The glass slid open and out leaned a young man in uniform and an air of authority about him. I don’t know if border agents are supposed to be emotionless by default, or if this guy was just not in the mood for our antics, but he stared with his dark empty eyes, analyzing us. My companion was all business while I broodingly sat, trying to contain my giddiness with this new interaction happening in the seat across from me. “What’s your purpose in Canada?” he said robotically. In fact, he MAY have been a robot! I’ve never been to Canada, they may have them up there.
I was trying to maintain my composure and diminish any probable cause, but I just kept thinking…
I laughed and laughed inside my head. Far too entertained for such a bland “who/what/where/why”conversation, especially when I’m sure he’s eying our every move. But! We had left all the guns/drugs/weapons at home so we were free to go within a few minutes.
Now, things get interesting…
-Cross a land border by car -Enter Canada
Two hours situated from the house, was the nature reserve of Denali; a park consisting of millions of acres of amazingly pristine landscape. My companion had never been and wanted to visit before he left Alaska for good, so we made the arrangements.
The drive getting there wasn’t very long, and I got to see a bit of Alaska I hadn’t seen before which was nice. There were some really nice landings and scenic lookouts as we sped through the vastness of the state. He drove, as I hung out the window as I usually do, taking pictures and just being enthralled by the world around me. Before long, we came to a tiny town nestled in between a handful of mountains.
The visitor’s center was a medium sized building with the usual hiking/history posters hung up all over the walls. The cute, pierced, blonde behind the counter directed us to where we would pick up our tickets, then we made our way to the waiting area. Our tickets included a shuttle through 53 miles of the park (The other half of the reserve was closed due to snow and didn’t open until later on in the month).
We walked outside just as our bus hissed to a halt. Out stepped the hero of the day, Wayne. He was an older man, white hair, short stature and a weathered smile. He gave me a nod as he checked my ticket and ushered us aboard.
A quick review of the rules from the man in charge then the bus lurched forward and we began our journey into the reserve.
The landscape was in a steady shift every few miles; from dense trees, to long plains and ice sheets, then to the mountains as we started to climb in elevation.
Our ticket didn’t include a spoken guide, which was fine with me since I’m never really into guided tours. I much prefer the use of my own personal soundtrack, but Wayne took the opportunity to unleash his fount of knowledge upon the unsuspecting bus. The man was like a living archive. I’ve always been put to sleep by guides, but Wayne had so much information and he delivered it with such passion. It was hard not to be interested.
We cruised at a pretty steady pace, occasionally stopping for animals and to look out over the more impressive landings along the way. First scorpion of the trip!
The trip was breathtaking. I’d highly recommend to anyone visiting Alaska or looking for some serious camping/hiking in the area. Check out Denali….and ask for Wayne
-Visit Denali Nature Reserve