Way, way back when, when I was just 16 years old and living in Seattle I had no idea what adventure travel was. I didn’t even know the term existed and I hadn’t even really traveled before. My only real travel experience up to that point was a Disneyland trip when I was 10, some short weekend excursions around the Pacific Northwest, and a road trip somewhere. Looking back its still clear to me my favorite places to go were “outdoorsy.” My favorite memories all have to do with hiking, camping, and fishing near the mountains and waterways of Washington State. Disneyland remains a distant memory ranking far below camping at Spirit Lake and hiking the Skyline trail, both in our stupendous Cascade Range.
When I was 16 my dad got a job in Alaska flying helicopters. I remember him and my stepmom, my brother, and my stepsister loading the family Ford LTD beater station wagon as packed as they could get it. Stuff strapped to the top and barely enough room for the dog and cat inside. It was January when they headed off to the Alaska Ferry terminal in Bellingham. The northbound ferry would take them to Haines and then they would drive further north to their final destination of Talkeetna, Alaska, a very foreign sounding place. I was living with my mom and stepdad and thought I would go visit for the summer and then come back to Seattle for school. As letters and postcards started drifting my way from the Great White North, Alaska seemed like a place I wanted to live. It sounded rural, exciting and a little scary. This was not a big city but a very small village with only 350 people. No grocery stores, no malls, and no banks. No fast food restaurants. I heard stories of a bear chasing a moose in their backyard, snow machining on the river, X-country skiing, snowshoeing, and best of all… snow piled 10 feet high!! I kept hearing from my siblings that they were out all the time with their friends having fun. Without a car to get me places my biggest adventure in Suburbia was sneaking out of the house, hopping the bus to downtown Seattle, and scoring a backstage pass to meet Iron Maiden. An experience to remember but not the type I wanted moving forward.
Before I even set foot in Alaska I had decided to move there. It only took me a couple days to know I had made the right choice. I arrived in June 1984. I had missed all the fun winter activities but summer was blooming. That first summer I packed in as much as I could. I fished with my stepmom religiously and bought a dirt bike to zip around the back roads. I hiked from our door step. We went river rafting and camped. We rode in airplanes up to the glaciers on Denali. We watched moose walk down Main Street. We swam and went canoeing. I was in my element!! Looking back it is abundantly clear that this was my first adventure travel experience. I was in constant pursuit of outdoor activity and interaction with the natural environment. Culturally this place couldn’t have been any more opposite than living in Seattle. I dove in and tried to learn as much as I could about living in this harsh environment.
My biggest hook was in August. In the middle of the night my dad decided it was a good time to wake us all up. My first reaction was “Jeez dad, what the hell?!! I don’t want to wake up at 2 am to go outside.” I remember how cold it was. This was supposed to be summer and yet it was 30F in the middle of the night. What could possibly be so important? He pointed to the sky and I fell in love with Alaska for about the 20th time that summer. The Northern Lights danced around the sky in a full ribbon of green. It was like a laser light show but only better, a million times better. My family watched for over an hour until the sleepiness overtook us. I knew I really would be staying in Alaska through my last two years of high school and maybe beyond…
Since my first introduction to Alaska 31 years ago I left after high school but returned 12 years later and lived there for another 8 years. When I moved away again in 2007 I promptly returned to buy property. Talkeetna has felt like home since I first laid eyes on it. Alaska continues to be one of the very best destinations in the world for adventure travel. The list is endless when it comes to truly experiencing all that Alaska has to offer.