Around Alaska with Friends and Family

Living in Alaska for many people means living in a place that is very far from any kind of family due to the many that originate from elsewhere in Alaska’s urban areas.  For me that holds true as well. I was raised outside Chicago, IL and almost all of my family and friends are still located east of the Mississippi River. That usually limits our visits to my one annual trip back to the area each year, but occasionally some people make their own trip north. This summer Alana and I had a bounty of visitors, having people stay with us for more than a week on 4 different occasions.

It all started in the first week of June, when my longtime friend Ryan and his brother Sean came up to visit for a few days. Neither had been to Alaska before and were anxious to participate in any and all mountain man style activities. We started the trip by heading south to the Alaska Range, spending one night at the Fielding Lake public use cabin.  We saw moose and sheep on our way down, shot my rifle in a gravel pit and then chatted around the fire with a pastel colored sky to the north. We returned to Fairbanks the next day via the scenic route, going by way of the Denali Highway before continuing north once more.  The mountains were in the throes of late spring and much of the ground at higher elevations was still covered by snow.  That didn’t stop us from taking a couple short excursions away from the road. On the way we came across a bald eagle feasting on a beaver kill. We managed to salvage the tail for ourselves, a feast in which we would enjoy later.

Our return to Fairbanks brought about more activities closer to home.  I enlisted their help in making a garden bed for my potatoes, Alana taught them how to use a chainsaw and fell trees and Sean learned how to drive stick.  We spent a day walking a portion of Chena Dome with a rifle, looking for any high travelling bears. Our last day was spent on the water, floating about 15 miles of the Chatanika River in packrafts.  I took this opportunity to propose to Alana, and at least two of us ended their visit with very high spirits.

The first week of July brought about our next batch of visitors, my mom and my stepdad, Craig. My mom had visited Alaska twice before, once in winter and once in summer but it was Craig’s first time. We left the day after their arrival, heading southeast towards the Wrangells, where we stayed in an Airbnb on the Nabesna Rd.  The cabin there was our basecamp for days worth of hiking. We made visits up Caribou Creek to the cabin, TrailCreek, the Skookum Volcano trail and up the trail past Devil’s Mountain Lodge to the gold mine. The weather was dry, bugs were mediocre and the walking was great. Not many complaints to be had.

The trip continued further to the west after crossing the Denali Highway once more. We spent a few days in Healy hiking around some more.  We took a trip into the park, seeing a caribou on our drive out. Stopping at mile 12, we hiked up the Savage River, exploring the ground and following a plethora of bear sign.  Another day we hiked out the Triple Lakes trail, stopping at the last lake to play cards before returning. On the day of their departure, we returned to Fairbanks and Craig built the supporting post and beam for our front porch while I “helped.”  Some friends came by for dinner and drinks before we left to head to the airport and end another visit.

My sister, Maddie, was the next visitor and the one I was most nervous about.  She came during the middle of August. That week was my return to the Arctic and the cabin where I had lived for the fist time in about three years.  We  hiked around, picked tons  of blueberries and looked around for any animals. When she left we thought she hadn’t enjoyed any aspect of the trip but were surprised to hear two weeks later that it was the only thing she was talking about and couldn’t stop bragging to her new high school friends about her experience.

This past week marked the last round of visitors for the year. Alana’s family came to visit and it was my first chance to meet all of them.  Her sister Natasha and her boyfriend Pete arrived first and we made a trip down south to Healy. They went to float a portion of the Nenana and I took the dogs up Mt. Healy.  We gathered back together for a trip into the park before taking a helicopter ride out to the east near the Yanert Glacier.  We saw dozens of moose and sheep and feasted at 49th State Brewing Company before making our way back north.

We floated down the Chena River through town the following day while awaiting the arrival of the rest of the family.  Airline snafus delayed everything by a day and so Peter, Natasha and I biked/ATVed out to Lee’s cabin alone instead of as a group.  I returned the next day to the parking area to deliver bikes/ATV to the rest of the family.  We made our way back to Lee’s enjoying our time sitting around the fire outside and watching the northern lights and stars come out upon nightfall. Most of the group returned to Fairbanks the next day, spending their time hanging around while Alana went to work. Ed (Alana’s brother-in-law) and I went further north to look for moose with my friend Claire. No luck. However, Ed enjoyed his first time out camping and packrafting and I enjoyed checking out a new area.

The final few days were spent hanging out around town. We went to a few new (to me) restaurants and celebrated Natashas birthday.  Despite being in Alaska for over 6 years I have never goldpanned, but that changed one day last week. We took a trip to the Gold Daughters, finding some flakes of gold and for most, discovering that it was a surprisingly enjoyable activity. Later on we went out to Chena Hot Springs Resort. There we took the ice museum tour, where most of our group enjoyed appletinis in cocktail glasses made of ice, before relaxing in the natural pools. The remainder of the trip was spent doing small activities around town before they returned south.

The arrival and experience of visitors prompts some personal reflections and changes.  It is a chance to see the areas in which we travel and live through the fresh eyes of another.  It also serves as a chance to try out new things that we are otherwise reluctant to do.  The experience can occasionally be stressful, but is a welcome opportunity to spend more time with those that I care about and enjoy the diverse activities and areas of this great state, both new and old.

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