Alaska, a cold, unforgiving frontier perched high on the globe, where the sun slides across the sky more slowly. I was intrigued by this place, so different from anywhere I had ever visited. I had no idea what to expect as I stepped off the plane and onto the chilly tarmac. That night as I looked out my window at the river behind my hotel in Anchorage, where a man was still salmon fishing in the light of the sun, I could tell that this was going to be a different kind of trip.
The next morning we got up surprisingly early, to catch the train to Denali. Inside our hotel room, black out curtains drawn, my friends and I were slow moving and tired. All we needed was to step out the door and, bam! The sun greeted us, like it was high noon instead of four in the morning.
With the sun shining down on me I felt rejuvenated. I was on Alaskan time now, and I never wanted to go back. With our new burst of energy we made our way through the biting wind to the railroad and boarded our glass top train, ready for the next leg of our adventure to begin. We trundled along on the scenic route, surrounded by tall green trees, beautiful blue lakes, and wildlife popping out of every nook and cranny, time seemed to shift again. The slow swaying of the train car, coupled with the lazy stare of a moose, and the friendly smiles of the staff slowed everything down. The bustle of the early morning became a lazy stroll, like the swaying of a hammock in a tropical breeze.
Our train ride did come to an end, and we were deposited at our new hotel at the mouth of Denali National Park. Beauty and splendor was right outside our door. Hiking, river rafting, birdwatching, anything you could dream up was just a bus ride away. It was breathtaking, with more wildlife than you could ever hope to see and spectacular views of the mountain range that gave the park it’s name. Week one flew by in a flurry of activities, and soon we reboarded our glass top train back to Anchorage.
As we stepped back into the same hotel room we spent the first night in, I felt changed, in tune with the Earth. Denali’s trees had spoken to me and I felt the wilderness calling to me once more. After a week of activity, spending the week in a city seemed somehow wrong. So, we quickly repacked our bags, rented a car, and with some spectacular advice from a hotel employee, started our next adventure.
It was time for some spontaneity. After a few hours travel we stopped at a local diner packed with as much character and quirky salt and pepper shakers as humanly possible. A friendly waitress there gave us directions to the bridge down a dirt road where we could see the bright red salmon in their spawning grounds. This experience proved once again that there are two things that Alaska has no shortage of, friendly people and wildlife.
As we made our way back to the main road, I knew there was no way this trip could ever get any better, so I did my best to freeze this moment, but as time so often does, it moved on. Soon we found ourselves driving out onto a sliver of land, barely wider than the road, called Homer’s Spit. As I looked around at the kitchy shops of this fishing village on stilts I had to wonder if we were at the right place, but another friendly local with a toothless grin soon lead us to a pathway which took us beyond the row of shops.
Here as I stood on the black pebbled beach, where the water stretched as far as the eye could see, and the ground seemed to be made of shards of black onyx, it happened. Time stopped. It may have kept moving for the rest of the world. But for me, in that moment, the sheer beauty of the glassy water and the cool breeze proved to me that time can stand still.
The spell was eventually broken by a playful otter, but that one moment will stay with me forever. In a way, that moment continues on, and as I carry that experience with me it will always remind me that the time I have on this Earth is precious and sometimes the risk of the unknown is what will lead to the happiness that you seek.
About the Author: Katie Manzano has been traveling her entire life, with cross country trips every summer as she grew up with her family. Her favorite places to travel are National parks in an Airstream trailer.
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