I found a great deal a few months back. We landed round trip tickets to the 49th State, Alaska, for under $450 a person. That’s a steal of a deal, and after a short discussion, I gladly gobbled the tickets up and confirmed some plans for us with my sister and bruh-in-law. This was my 5th trip to Alaska, and Katie’s 3rd. She likes to remind the 12 year old boy I devolve into when I talk about traveling to Canada or Alaska, that we have already been there several times and maybe it is time to explore new places. She is not wrong and I am grateful that she agrees to explore new parts of the my favorite regions over and over.
I am not sure what it is about the state of Alaska that excites me. It could be its unique geographic boundaries that seem to barely contain it’s varying an dramatic terrain, all the splendor! Maybe it’s the landed gentry, the fauna: wolves, bears, moose, elk, and buffalo; the great beasts of our natural world. Perhaps, it’s one of the many volcanos looming in the distance, occasionally puffing out some steam, reminding you that your surroundings are primal, natural things that would humble you if they desired. For me, part of it is surely the variety of Mountains, classic looking shark teeth, frothed with snow and ice, to lower round cupcake sized rocks, sentinels in the distance. My eyes have been clear and wide from a good nights sleep, and blurred, bloodshot from the long travel it takes to arrive in there, regardless, the terrain never ceases to force a space between the two rows of my teeth, letting my lower jaw wag in the wind and force my heart quiet and still. It’s sounds dramatic, because it is.
How many places do that to you? I can’t think of many. Granted, the scope of my global experience is fairly narrow. When it does happen, it tends to be in the presence of the natural world. My body doesn’t provide the same physical reaction when presented with the fairly good evidence that humanity can create civilized wonders. They never seem as humbling, even in context. Maybe that is unfair. Art definitely humbles, and evokes a physical reaction.
Broadly speaking, Americans have a bad reputation for ethnocentrism and xenophobia. It has been suggested that this is true because they lack exposure to cultures outside of their own country (shit, read: County, or Town in some cases) and they source information that reinforces their world views (I think we are all guilty here). But, in a somewhat shitty defense of the former – when exploring is concerned, North America is pretty spectacular, geographically vibrant (read: fucking RAD) and culturally diverse-ish. In open honesty, when considering vacation, I am not usually super charged to leave the continent. I feel ashamed to say it out loud, but I would prefer to go back to Yellowstone or Alaska than go back to Italy.
I think that partly has to do with how I want to see these places and how my perspective on “seeing” a place has changed. Just last year, a friend of mine and I were exploring the next county over from ours, and we found an abandoned western movie set. Someone had filmed a western movie in Central Illinois. Who knew? How much do we really know or see of the geography we live in? Check your google maps history. I am still surprised at the frequency of my visits to the same places and how I always take the same route to get there. I am most likely only experiencing a few of the same miles of my own town, over and over. Maybe it’s just me, maybe not.
I think how we consume and explore places and other travel destinations matters. A person bike-packing the Great Divide trail or backpacking the Appalachian trail experiences something completely distinct than that of the car tour of the smokies, or a visit to old faithful. A slow, human powered digestion of a landscape versus the blitz view of a natural phenomenon. I think the former is a more thoughtful approach to travel and exploring. Maybe it’s just a difference in how people view the world they live in: something to visit or something to experience? In the end, I think you need both, each has it’s own independent value.
Someone close to me recently pointed out that hobbies and traveling are a privilege. To their credit, it’s true, and I was most likely whining. Travel and experience places how you want. I should just shut up and relish that I can travel at all. I should feel lucky to have the means and opportunity to do any of it…many don’t.
We really enjoyed our trip. In Anchorage, we rented fat bikes and explored the plethora of pedestrian trails groomed for fat biking and skiing. Checked out the local pastry shops and every brewery we could find. We ventured down to Homer, Alaska too! While we were there we witnessed a raft of seals enjoying their dinner and a whale playing in the ocean. Back in Anchorage, we were also able to attend a free presentation on the Baja Divide by Lael Wilcox and Nicholas Carman (plus: free Tecate, Chips, Salsa and Guac). If that wasn’t cool enough, we also got chat with them after. So stoked from the family and outdoor time.