After spending a few magical days in the San Juan Islands with my friends Laura and Natalie, we made our way up to Anchorage, Alaska. The Last Frontier had been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, and I was finally en route. My excitement was palpable.
Our flight from Seattle was quick, with thoughts of what was to come helping to pass the time. But when we arrived in Anchorage, our backpacks filled with shorts, sandals, and camping gear, we were greeted by a familiar friend: torrential rain. Trying to not let this (literally) dampen our spirits – or us – we pressed on…to the nearest REI. After an educational and hilarious visit, we waved goodbye to the staff (who looked convinced that we were going to die out in the wilderness), tossed our newly purchased bear spray, tarp, and rope into the rental car, and hit the road south. Very excited, slightly terrified, and with plenty of snacks to go around.
The two and half hour drive to Seward from Anchorage felt like 25 minutes. I really don’t know how to explain it. As we hugged each bend and carved through the valleys, an awestruck silence resonated in the car as the surroundings took hold of our senses. I’ve driven on many beautiful roads, but this one easily stood out. We stopped frequently, snapping photos and running through fields like 5 year olds. And the rain didn’t stop us. Being Pacific Northwest girls, it would take a lot more than a little rain to slow us down.
After a quick meal and some much needed caffeine at an adorable coffee shop, we lugged our backpacks and gear up to the tiniest Airbnb room right next door and prepped for the next few days. Natalie and Laura entrusted me with planning this part of our trip and, to be honest, I was crossing all fingers and toes that it would work out. You see, I had booked us a trip out to Bear Glacier, a remote part of the Kenai Peninsula that’s not accessible by car. We’d arrive by water taxi and would be dropped off with nothing more than the packs on our backs and a couple of kayaks we would rent from a local guide when we got there. I hadn’t planned for extreme weather and, from my cozy, bear-free bed at the Airbnb, all I could do was hope that what I had stuffed into my backpack would keep us dry, safe, and not too hungry.
By the next afternoon, after more coffee and one last dose of wifi, we were off to Bear Glacier. Thankfully, our water taxi driver, Captain Louis, quickly befriended us. He immediately calmed our nerves as he explained that “Bear Glacier” would be more appropriately named “Bear-less Glacier” as most of the bears in the area had been over-hunted a few years back. This is sad news for the bears, but it certainly helped us relax. Our conversations - mainly revolving around Captain Louis’ words of wisdom - carried us on our way, and in less than an hour we pulled into a little inlet where the owner of the kayak rental greeted us.
After waving goodbye to our new favorite captain and getting directions to our island/campsite from Ron, the kayak guy, we waved goodbye to him as well as he took off into the sunset. Though his camp was not too far from our island, we stood there for a moment, dumbstruck. We made it. Bear Glacier, three girls, three backpacks (mostly loaded with sour gummy bears), a tent, and, finally, three kayaks.
Bear spray in hand, we walked around the island looking for a place to set up camp. Every few minutes, a loud, deep rumble echoed in the distance. We quickly figured out that it was the sound of icebergs melting and breaking into the sea, but at first it was eery, and slightly resembled the rumbling stomach of a hungry bear. The rumble was powerful and almost prehistoric, as if the icebergs, floating like gentle giants all around the island, were talking to one another.
Despite our uneasiness with the unknown noises, we found a spot and scrambled to set up camp before dark so we could hop into our rainbow-sherbet-colored kayaks and enjoy our first night on the water. Those next few hours, in the company of friends and surrounded by the indescribable beauty of Bear Glacier, will easily remain one of the most memorable nights of my life. The golden sun peaking behind clouds while kayaking among the glaciers, helping the still water reflect the world around, only enhanced our already magical surroundings as it began to dip below the tree line.
My worry of our survival quickly faded and I slowly released my death grip from the bear spray, but there was something bittersweet about knowing we only had two days in Bear Glacier. That feeling, however, did not put a damper on unpacking our most treasured backpack – the one containing the food, obviously – around the fire on our first night. We ate, drank wine, and talked life, faith, and family as the deep rumble of icebergs added to our conversation. Most important, we promised we would revisit soon. We promised to make this trip a tradition.
That night on Bear Glacier never got completely dark, lingering instead in a twilight that matched the deep glacial blues before the sun crested the horizon. We tried to suppress our excitement and get a little bit of sleep, but the magic that seems to run on every road and trail in Alaska kept us awake. Fortunately, the morning greeted us with a steady wind that remained for the rest of our time there and pushed us to explore and kayak through the region, a place that felt largely untouched and unseen. We squeezed in all we could before the tides were perfect for Captain Louis and to come pick us up again.
As we sailed our way toward Seward, I remember feeling a certain lightness. I was happy knowing that Bear Glacier exists. Happy knowing that, even though I don’t get to wake up to its beauty every morning, the bald eagle flying above me does and he let us stay a while in his world. After saying my last quiet goodbye for now, I can only hope that the next person who stumbles on the same random kayaking website I did will say yes to an unknown adventure. Because those adventures are out there, waiting for us to pack a bag and go.
I can still vividly remember those summer days spent browsing the aisles for school supplies with my mother. Dutifully referencing my shopping list, I’d thumb through notebooks and erasers. The smell of fresh crayons and pencils dancing lightly in the air, bundled up in rows and rows of bright packaging. I would deliberate over the rainbow of color options for tablets and Trapper Keepers. And the most prized possession on the list? A brand new backpack. I still remember the year that my mom bought me a forest green Jansport with a leather bottom. I felt like the coolest kid in school.
I know some kids dread the beginning of the school year, but I always eagerly anticipated this moment. Sure, I was sad that those lazy days of summer were behind me, but there was a certain excitement about the first day of school. The slate was clean and we got a fresh start. I could spend time with my mom shopping for brand new goodies wrapped up in colorful packages. We would go home and I would carefully organize my loot, imagining what was in store. What would the teacher be like? Would there be new kids? What fun projects would call for crayons and glue and construction paper? It was a brand new journey just waiting to unfold.
Crazy to think that all these years later, now I’m the one in my mother’s shoes. No longer that little kid running through the aisles at the store, I look down and my own son has taken my place! He’s still a little guy (2-and-a-half this month), but he already started his first day of nursery school earlier this year. He doesn’t need much in the way of school supplies just yet, but this new chapter is already beginning to unfold. From the first moment I laid eyes on him when he was born, to the countless dirty diapers and late nights, to his first steps and his first words. Now he comes home from school telling me stories about his day and singing new songs he’s learned. And I get to watch him grow and learn and change, with a gentle hand to guide him as he embarks on his very own journey out into the world.