A friend texted me this morning to see if I was safely away from any fire danger. We chatted a bit, he offered up suggestions for a new podcast to listen to and a short story to read, and I invited him to come with me to Alaska.
Eleven years ago this week, somewhere outside of Juneau, a member of Ryan Redington’s kennel staff handed me a sled dog puppy and it promptly bit me. It was a highlight of a week full of highlights.
To celebrate my graduation from college, my mom, two cousins and I went on a cruise to Alaska. This was, of course, back when you could go on a cruise ship without much risk of a deadly disease or a weeks-long quarantine, back when our passports would still allow us to disembark and have a shore excursion in Canadaland.
That week, I ate a lot of chocolate ice cream (likely literal gallons) and managed to find myself with champagne in hand at least once each day.
I rode the White Pass Railroad into Skagway, went sledding with Redington in Juneau, saw totem poles and a lumberjack show in Ketchikan. I stood on the deck of our ship with a mug of cocoa in hand and watched glaciers calve in Glacier Bay.
I took lots of photos of the carpet on the ship.
I wanted to go back as soon as I returned home. And now it’s eleven years later and the world is a mess. Global pandemic, a fight for justice and equity, hundreds of thousands of acres of the west on fire. The places where I would normally take solace, where I would go to recharge, are unavailable to me, unavailable to nearly everyone.
My home is now my workspace. I don’t remember the last time I went into a grocery store. I cannot see my friends without risk. I do not list this Inventory of Awful as though it is an injustice or inconvenience or irrationality that only I suffer. It’s just…how the world is right now.
It all has me plotting an escape. There are many things I love in this world, but I love few more than the time I spend planning a trip somewhere else.
I like train schedules, and airport maps, and spending hours looking for the perfect hotel/lodge/airbnb.
And Alaska is in my head. So now I have a map and a AAA travel guide and a couple of other guide books and a list of websites. I know it takes four days to go from Bellingham to Skagway via the Alaska Marine Highway. I have recommendations for restaurants along the way once I’m back on land, and I have a vehicle I trust to make the trip there and back. And I have a list of gear I need. Because second to my love of trip planning is a love of making lists of things I think I need just in case. (In this case, the list includes an actual spare tire, a tent, and a bear box. Just in case.)
For years after the fancy cruise ship Alaska trip, I dreamed of something that is basically the opposite. In my mind, I made the trip solo or with one or two trusted companions. But now, I imagine a caravan of friends, a dozen of us or more, multiple vehicles, shared dinners around a campfire. Someone should bring a guitar.
I know that this is my escape now, diving into guide books and reading reviews of tents and camping pads. I know this is how I can redirect my mind from all the ills of the world. I know this is a supremely odd coping mechanism.
But I think you should start planning, too. Come with me.