After living in Alaska for a certain amount of time, one can start to feel like a regular, like one has the measure of the place. One might become familiar with a few favorite hiking trails or public use cabins. A seasoned Alaskan can give directions pretty much anywhere over large regions of the state, knows how to handle Anchorage traffic when the time calls for it and knows the best hole-in-the wall eateries.
After a certain amount of time, it can start to feel like, as an Alaskan, one should be seeking out adventures that are off the beaten path. An Alaskan should take care of their adventures on their own, from planning the trip to packing the food to getting there and back. It can start to feel like one shouldn’t engage in the more “touristy” attractions the state has to offer when one is not a tourist.
This past year changed a lot of that. With the novel coronavirus causing restricted travel to and from the state, the bulk of Alaska’s usual Outside tourists were nowhere to be found. Who, then, was going to take day trips around the Kenai Fjords, book fishing charters and explore glaciers to help support the local tourism businesses that play such a significant role in our economy? The Alaskans, of course.
For the first time in a long time, we had the state to ourselves for a while. We got first dibs on a lot of opportunities we normally would have to wade through tourists to get to.
I’ve caught myself looking at a guided tour or expedition in the past thinking, “that’s not for me, I’m not a tourist. I live here.” But this past year challenged my notion of what counts as a real adventure for a real Alaskan, and I’ve decided the more touristy adventures definitely count.
Take the guided tours of Matanuska Glacier in the Mat-Su Valley. The glacier can be explored freely in the summer, but visitors must be accompanied by guides in the winter due to the heightened danger the crevasses pose at that time.
My partner and I booked a tour in January (for the insanely low Alaska resident price) and as we drove off I mentally prepared myself to be grumpy at the prospect of sharing the adventure with a group of other people.
When all was said and done, touring the glacier was one of the best Alaska experiences I’ve had since moving here, and I had a positively gleeful time being a tourist in my own state for a day.
Our guide was knowledgeable and friendly. She shared observations as we passed certain features of the glacier and advice on how to maneuver through some of the more difficult spots. She didn’t overload us with information but was happy to answer any and all questions we had.
At first, I thought I would get annoyed at being part of a decent-sized group that would surely be stopping often to accommodate people taking photos of the surroundings. It took less than 10 minutes for me to become one of the people snapping the most photos. Everywhere I turned, my eyes were practically assaulted by the stark, piercing beauty of the ancient ice, sprawling out before us for miles.
We walked over frozen water, climbed through an ice tunnel, and ventured into myriad crevasses. Traipsing across the jagged landscape, we saw formations in every kind of shape, the ice falling over itself every which way. Lines of glacial silt decorated the glacier, cutting blocks and walls of ice into geometric shapes.
I took off my glove and ran my hand along the cold glacial walls, incredibly smooth. Looking wasn’t enough — I wanted to be enveloped by the place. In that moment, I had never seen something so beautiful.
That tour of Matanuska Glacier was one of the best trips I’ve taken. I didn’t plan it myself; there were guides to map the route and provide the ice cleats and pull me right up to the glacier’s edge in a sled on the back of a snowmachine. But none of that made the experience any less “Alaskan.” I still left that day feeling closer to nature, closer to Alaska and exhilarated by the beauty our natural world holds.
If you end your day with that exhilarated feeling, you’ve had a pretty Alaskan day, no matter what you did.