Tag Archives: Travel

Alaska, Again.

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 quit and still.  It’s sounds dramatic, because it is.

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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.

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Photo taken from: https://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/gogh/gogh.vegetable-montmartre.jpg

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.

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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.

I digress.

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.

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Meandering thoughts about Midwest’s “Mountain”

This February some friends of ours rented a cabin near Mountain, Wisconsin settled in the southern part of the Nicolet National Forest.   It was a great break from a fairly brown and dry winter here in central Illinois.   It had been a while since I had been that far north in Wisconsin – 4 years maybe?

As a kid, every Winter I spent a week up in this area cross country skiing with my Scout Troop, exploring all the local groomed trails and jumping up into the Upper Peninsula for better snow or steeper hills.  It is where I learned to ski (both XC and Downhill).  With exception to the bigger trips to the National High Adventure Bases – Bahamas for sailing, New Mexico for Backpacking, Ontario and Manitoba for Canoeing – this was my favorite annual trip and still remains my favorite winter activity.  I still try and ski once a year (even in town if I can).

We stayed at an old Civilian Conservation Corp Camp, turned conservation education camp, called Trees for Tomorrow.  I highly recommend stopping by – it is farther north, in Eagle River, but in the same area and worth the trip.  You can rent all the equipment to XC ski there.  The local rangers used to put on education sessions, the last I can remember was on Raptors – he brought in an Great Horned Owl and a Hawk.  Our Troop was given the run of the place, and were free to use the main auditorium to play movies on the big projector screens in the evening.

The timeline was kind of funky for many families – leave Illinois the day after Christmas, and returning on NYE.    This annual pilgrimage to the Mountain area became a family tradition – my parents, sister, and eventually some of my sister’s friends would come up.   We spent each day, all day skiing, drinking hot chocolate and having snowball fights at night.  While in undergrad – I would go on this trip, and do a same day return to campus to spend NYE with friends. 10 hours total in car to be able to fit as much excitement in as I could.

These trips to Mountain and Eagle River became a defacto model for how we chose to plan and spend out time outdoors.  Long drives book end the trip allowing us to get the hell out of central Illinois and into unfamiliar geography.  Grocery stores for lunches, snacks, provisions, not restaurants.  Spending 10 hours outside each day to max out the time off before we had to head home.  I don’t think this is a unique way of doing things just for me or my troop, but the way to diehards in the middle of a state of mostly farm land do.

I think somehow Wisconsin is taken for granted as a State. Being from Illinois, I love going there, and I think it might be one of the Midwest’s best states.  The farther north you go the better it gets for living, skiing, paddling and Mountain Biking.  Devils Lake is perfect for climbing, and hiking.  Kettle Moraine is beautiful, and has backpacking routes and killer MTB trails.  The farther north you go the more plentiful the outdoor space becomes – Dairy’s and farm fields give way to hills, and valley’s carved out by the blades of indifferent Glacial Ice during it’s northern retreat. Walls of trees buffer everything and eventually you run into a natural moat, a giant sea of fresh water – Superior.  Directly East is Lake Michigan, another inland titan.  You can surf both apparently.  What are we doing here?   Funny how one word can trigger all these thoughts, memories, and information…

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