by Mary Helen Darah
PUBLICATION DATE: Sept 04, 2018

If you have been keeping up, I got on the plane then hopped on the “damn boat” to experience Alaska. I also was on what felt like every form of transportation known to mankind including, a bike, seaplane, train, ferry, converted school bus and scary, non-registered mini-van shuttle with a driver in need of massive dental work and a woman. I am happy to report that I am home safe, sound and full of memory-making moments. I learned a few tidbits along the way that I did not read in any of my research prior to the trip which I feel I must share with the novice Alaskan voyager.

FLAG

Even though there is an all-you-can-eat buffet – DON’T GO THERE
My travel buddy Pam and I began our trip on a cruise, the best and only way to experience Glacier Bay National Park. Fellow cruisers reassured me that it was not possible for me to gain ten pounds in 7 days but (always the overachiever) I came pretty darn close. If I had to do it all over again … who am I kidding? I would have had a second helping of the crème Brulee.

BE in awe
Just BE. There were so many moments that I did not capture on film because I was simply gobsmacked with the beauty of my surroundings. Therefore, I have no photos of the Orca or Humpback whales that I saw off the side of the boat but that moment will be with me always.

Leave your work at home
Pam brought her laptop. We had grand illusions of journaling, downloading photos, and me secretly cranking out a few articles, even though I promised myself I wouldn’t. WE NEVER USED IT. Take out the electronics along with the extra pair of dress shoes that will never leave your suitcase.

Apparently, size matters
Alaska is, roughly, twice the size of Texas, a fact that the majority of Texans refuse to believe. In every city we visited, we could find t-shirts showing the vastness of Alaska with Texas looking like it had a massive case of shrinkage.

Finding God
In many towns we visited, there was a rule that there could not be more bars than churches. This explained why you could find God and a local watering hole on every corner.

Learn to sing (or at least hike) in the rain
If we had let the drizzle and the occasional downpour deter us from exploring this beautiful land, we would have missed out on so many incredible moments.

sunnyside_mh on a rock

Do not engage your seaplane pilot in conversation
Our seaplane pilot, who flew us over the Misty Fjords, and who I also believe was a tad infatuated with Pam, kept turning around and using large sweeping hand gestures to point out various mountain ranges. I would have preferred it if he was non-verbal with both hands on the wheel.

Keep your gas tank full and your bladder empty
Gas stations are few and far between and so are flush toilets. But, I highly recommend that you bite the bullet if you take the Denali National Park Tundra Tour and go the whole eight hours. You will ride in a converted school bus on gravel roads … do the math before you drink that industrial-sized water bottle.

Live on the edge of your comfort zone
Get uncomfortable. Hanging onto my seat due to turbulence while getting way too close to a mountain in a seaplane, being what felt like inches from a grizzly and bull moose, going up a ski lift another 500 ft. because, evidently, we just weren’t high enough on Mt. Growse, dangling over the edge of a one-lane gravel road to see a big hunkin’ mammal, and stopping on one of the highest train bridges in Alaska for a photo op would never be seared in my mind and heart if I had stayed firmly planted in my comfort zone.

moose copy

World peace
One of the many things I loved about our trip was meeting and bonding with people from all over the globe. I wish world peace were as simple in the outside world. Dancing to “Uptown Funk,” feasting on freshly smoked salmon, witnessing the calving of a glacier and seeing a sleek dark hump emerge from the deep waters transcends all language and cultural barriers.

I feel disproportionately blessed to have had the chance to cross “experience Alaska” off my bucket list. If you are unable to go and are not afraid of potential boredom from viewing endless grizzly and eagle photos and hearing travel tales, I’m happy to share. For this, (pun intended) was just the tip of the iceberg.