Day 1

15 08 2010

I love my backpack. It’s blue. I like blue. Also, it’s big, but not too big. I love cramming it full, adjusting the straps, and slinging it on my back knowing that it contains everything I need for whatever journey lies before me: shelter, water, peanut butter – life’s basic necessitates.

When I put it on, it feels like an extension of me. Even when my neck and back start to ache from the weight, its presence is comforting – kind of like a non-stop hug from behind.

I keep reminding myself of this as Margo and I stand in line at O’Hare – contending with an early-morning mob of people equally eager to get through check-in and security.  I drag my backpack behind me like a pile of rocks, suddenly jealous of anyone (everyone?) else who has wheels on their bag. But once we navigate the longest airport line I’ve yet to encounter, we make a final Starbucks run and hop on our plane.

Getting ready to board the plane

The six hour flight is more or less uneventful, save Margo being hit on while standing in life for the bathroom. This makes me laugh. A lot. The guy looked like he was 12. He was in the army, being sent to Alaska for who knows how long. I applaud his persistence – knowing he’s about to face an Alaskan winter with lots of other dudes. But his tactics are far from convincing, and he falls far short of smooth.

View from the plane

We know that Anchorage has been experiencing record-breaking amounts of rain this summer, but as we get closer to our destination, the pilot draws our attention to the windows. In the twenty years he’s been flying this route, he says, the view of the mountains and glaciers below is in the top five. One of the best he’s ever seen. I sit glued to the window, my excitement taking on a life of it’s own inside me. Beautiful. It’s all so beautiful. I stop and remind myself how blessed I am. So. Very. Blessed.

Another view from the plane

The Anchorage airport is small, and Margo and I find our way easily. We half-jokingly recount the times we’ve lost our luggage on past trips as the carousel makes round after round in front of us. I’m not nervous, but I do hold my breath a bit – saving a relieved exhale for the minute I spot my backpack, quickly releasing all of the memories of misplaced bags and days spent without a change of clothes.

We make our way to the curb, but our taxi driver is less than thrilled at our approach. He claims he’s been sitting in line for hours, and our trip is too short to matter much to him. He tries to convince us to take the shuttle, but we know this option is cheaper – so we insist.

Our next goal is to pick up our rental car. The log cabin-esqe office of the car rental place is plopped awkwardly in a field of cement, surrounded by a few dozen cars. Pat, the guy behind the desk, likes us instantly. Margo works her charm on him and he extends our return time, free of charge, with a few quick key strokes.


By the time we meet Sally, our silver Grand Prix, we’re hungry and backtrack a block or so to a Pizza Hut we spotted from the taxi. Our second encounter with a true Alaskan native (the taxi driver was a self-proclaimed import to the area), Wayne, the Pizza Hut guy, goes equally well. He’s cheery and helpful and offers us some advice for our stay.

Once our pizza is ready we bust out the map and start our drive (with, well, only a few missed turns). As we head up the highway away from Anchorage, our radio station choices dwindle to three-ish. Which is fine, because even though it’s a gloomy day, the scenery is eerily captivating, and I’m content to watch it pass by outside.

It took us a few hours to get to the lodge where Kristin and Dan are staying. But we see Kristin instantly, and we load their stuff, grab some coffee, check out our first kind of-view of Denali, and get back on the road in about 15 minutes.

Stopping by the entrance of Denali before heading back to find our ghetto campsite

By the time we got to the park, all of the visitor’s centers are closed, but we take a few minutes to get our bearings and figure out where we need to be the next day. Then, the discussion about where to sleep tonight begins. Alaska is a free range state, so we can technically pitch our tent wherever we want, as long as it’s not private property. Anything inside the park is out, and after a quick hike along a river we decide our best bet is a little paved turnaround on the side of the road. We’re sharing the area with a camper and one other tent. We manage to get our tents set up just before the rain starts. A fitting ending to our first day.

Our first campsite




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