Chill out

by • May 6, 2014 • ToastComments (0)1166

Beware, be prepared, enjoy it

During my first backpacking trip in Alaska, I tried very hard not to be too nervous about bears, nor too worried that I’d be cold during the night. I’d heard all of the cautionary tales about wandering wildlife and plummeting summertime temperatures – “It can even snow in July,” the brochures ominously reminded. New to the state and intimidated by the vastness of everything around me – with the sheer volume of the backpacking choices just minutes from home – I  simply overdid it.

It’s a big world out there to explore – especially in Alaska, where the adventures never cease. MELISSA DEVAUGHN

It’s a big world out there to explore – especially in Alaska, where the adventures never cease.

With a heaving backpack overburdened with extra wool gear and two bear bells announcing my every step, I forged into the backcountry. I carried enough food to feed me for a week, although this trip would only be two days. And although on a well-traveled trail, I had two maps, a compass and a written trail description, just in case.
By the end of the first mile, I ditched the bear bells. Yes, they might spook approaching wildlife – but how would I ever enjoy myself amid those annoying with every move? And later in the night, when I awoke drenched in sweat from all of that extra wool, I unzipped my bag, shed the wool socks and sweater, and relished the cool breeze of an Alaska night tickling my skin.
And so went this trip into the beautiful wilderness that is Alaska. With each step, my fears subsided and while I stayed alert – because bears do live in the wild. I also gained perspective. Bit by bit, I relaxed and let myself enjoy what I experienced. I balanced the necessity of making noise in bear country when needed, with the solitude that can only be had when walking silently. In those moments, I appreciated the sound of my own breathing, the whistles of marmots peeking from their meadow holes and the trickling of water from a lazy trailside creek. At night, I knew it would get chilly, but I also felt confident that I would not freeze to death – even if it did snow.
In the nearly 20 years since that first trip, there are some aspects of my Alaska explorations that I have not changed. I always pack a map and compass – just in case – and I still bring extra layers for those unannounced snow and rain showers that do, indeed, happen in July.
And my appreciation of Alaska’s outdoor recreation opportunities has deepened with every single outing.
Adventuring in Alaska is our topic this month, and while we do want to remind everyone to beware of wildlife and prepare for all conditions, we also want to reiterate this: Enjoy it. There is nothing like the sound of a loon calling on a distant lake, the feel of the waves as they push a sea kayak into a hidden cove, or the sight of a moose climbing the rise of an open valley.
So, strap on a pair of crampons and explore that turquoise glacier – with the aid of an experienced guide. Travel to remote communities to see how self-reliant Alaskans really live. Go into the backcountry and celebrate those rare animal sightings – hopefully from a safe distance.

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