I flew into Anchorage at the end of summer; mid-August, with a suitcase of summer clothes. Hailing from sunny Queensland, I couldn’t imagine needing a jacket. Yes, naive, but too late once I’d arrived.
It was instantly apparent I’d freeze, and as I headed toward Eagle River where I’d be staying in a cozy house on Fire Lake, the auburn leaves confirmed that fall was settling in. My friend, and guide, who has lived in Alaska for over thirty years, was resplendent in singlet top and cropped pants. I shivered just looking at her, wrapping my scarf tighter around my neck, begging for a jacket.
I’ve been watching the Hallmark Channel for years, with a secret love for American feel-good movies. You know the type; all-American families spending summer at the lake, bonding over shared traumas and joys. I found myself in a Hallmark movie.
Early each morning I woke to the sound of a small sea-plane starting its motor and bouncing the way along the surface of the water. I’m told it’s not easy for the planes to take off on Fire Lake. The water is so smooth and clear it’s like a mirror, making the lift off difficult. I could see every shade of green and amber from the trees reflected in the waters, the colours so bright it’s hard to tell where the shore ends and the water begins. Late afternoon the fog sets in, wrapping the mountains above in a misty veil. It’s overcast a lot at this time of year, and it rains on and off most days.
My hosts shared the best local Alaska had to offer, so naturally, freshly caught halibut and salmon were on the menu. I hadn’t tried halibut before, but was warned it’s a must in Alaska. The fish was topped with mayonnaise, garlic and lemon pepper, wrapped in foil and cooked on the barbeque. It was delicious; subtle and mild, taking on the flavour of its marinade. It reminded me of chicken, but doesn’t everything we haven’t tried before?
I wanted to do what the locals do, so I shopped at Walmart and Fred Meyer, ogling at the range of firearms on display, and the sheer variety of groceries. I couldn’t help but fill my trolley each and every time I went to a store, buying into the materialism that we all like to pretend we are immune to. There were so many different flavours in Oreos, Pop Tarts and breakfast cereals (which look more like confectionary than breakfast), and I spent hours in each store. Rainy afternoons were spent in a cosy coffee shop, drinking a flat white and chatting with friends in front of a fire.
We did all of the touristy things you’d expect— road trips to Valdez, the Alaska Zoo, visiting the bears at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre at Girdwood, weed shops and cozy lunches in Talkeetna, shooting practice at the side-of-the-road gun range, and a night at the Princess Lodge in Copper River. Each day grew colder, but we filled every moment with more memories, and I delighted in watching the trees change colour day by day. In Australia the changing seasons are so much more gradual, so I was astonished by how quickly summer moved into fall.
The timing of the trip to Alaska was perfect, as the Alaska State Fair was on. We spent a day eating loads of local foods, checking out all the stalls and exhibits, and we even managed to catch the pig racing event. I was constantly overwhelmed by the size and beauty of the snow-capped mountains everywhere we went. One minute I was sipping on a cool juice and eating curly fries, and then I’d catch a glimpse of the majestic mountain backdrop and be reminded of where I was. I probably looked like a crazy tourist taking photos of gas stations and apartment complexes, but I was actually snapping pictures of the incredible mountains in the background. Coming from sunny Queensland, I could not get enough of the snow capped mountains and glaciers everywhere we went. Queensland is beautiful, and one of my most favourite places on earth, but the starkness of Alaska is really special. There is an eeriness to it— I felt unnerved, but nature has a way of doing that to me. Even the plane trip from Vancouver to Anchorage is incredible as we flew over the Canadian Rockies, and I gasped as I looked down on the glaciers set high in the mountains. A beauty so startlingly different from the tropical coastlines and reefs of Queensland.
There was just so much to love about Alaska, and I think that staying with locals, and seeing the world through their eyes enhanced it. They know the best places to eat, drink, and visit. The vacation went far too quickly, and before I knew it I was on my way back to Australia. Alaska is a place I regularly dream of, and if I thought I could manage the cold, I’d move there. However, I now have the added bonus of my daughter living there as she married an Alaskan. I keep planning my trip back, making lists of all the wonderful places I didn’t get to see, and all the places I want to revisit. Now to wait until the borders reopen …
Stunning glaciers flying over the Canadian Rockies