My expectations of Alaska were muddled. On the one hand, all I hoped for was to – sleep, read, look out the window at the snow and spend time with our dearest friend K - it is a wintery wilderness after all. On the other hand, my primary source of pseudo-knowledge about this state was ‘Northern Exposure’ and when K told us that the TV show was actually based on her town Skagway, my expectations escalated to include moose wandering down the street, listening to the dulcet tones of Chris-in-the-Morning, and hanging out with the eclectic towns folk at the local bar. As it turns out I think I might have got Alaskan climate confused with the Arctic Circle, I thought the landscape would be pure white from self to ground to sky, snow up to my waist, blizzards of sleet stinging my eyes and all forces of nature - bears, wolves, wind, glaciers, and craggy mountain peeks conspiring to keep the fragile humans in there place – indoors watching ‘Northern Exposure’. But thank god for ignorance, as Alaska turned out to be a place of wonder, awe, and the tiny town of Skagway was infused with enough Northern Exposure quirkiness to keep us entertained and delighted beyond our imagination.
Here in shorthand are a few of my favourite things:
- The 6-hour ferry ride through the archipelago. Calm slate grey sea, snowcapped peaks, glaciers, sea lions, slowly drifting snow and a mountain/seascape that revealed itself slowly at dawn then disappeared into fog and cloud and twilight.
- Eating mac ‘n’ cheese, wrapped in bacon then deep fried, matched with parsnip milkshakes, and followed by cinnamon infused whiskey.
- Walking along the train tracks out of town, past frozen waterfalls and aqua blue rivers, listening to the vast silence of the wilderness trying to breath its stillness into my lungs. Then stopping for shelter and a snack in an old caboose.
- Driving over the White Pass into Canada, with an extremely generous women who took the afternoon off work to make sure we didn’t miss this sight, and gave us an historical commentary along the way and silence when the white on white scenery demanded it.
- Visiting the Mendenhall Glacier, with Doug our taxi driver on many occasions, who really should be a documentary narrator, every second of the journey was filled with facts, and histories, and stories of his life in different seasons. I feel very close to Doug now.
- Meandering conversations with K, in the kitchen, on the couch, over coffee tea beer sugar puffs and dinner, under the covers, through thin walls.
- Walking along the boardwalk of town, looking in the windows of the coloured movie set ye olde shoppees closed for the winter.
- Meeting the town’s folk who from ever corner of the states came to Skagway for a summer and simply never left.
- Running down the middle of the empty streets and along the airstrip away from the lights of town and into the darkness, then lying on the icy tarmac, out of breath and exhilarated to watch the dynamic show which is … the Aurora Borealis.