Allegra, Grant and I emerged from the densely wooded trail, stepping out onto the wooden bridge for our first view of Resurrection Bay.
Mountains jutted up from the water as the evening sun shone through Tonsina Creek Valley, and ravens flew overhead. Spawning silver and chum salmon pooled up in riffles below us, and our noses filled with the decaying fish that came before them, soon to be the ravens’ feast. Leg and Grant’s enthusiasm was great enough to be contagious, and I have to admit, I needed some of it.
Things felt heavy this summer. Alaska was overly hot and thousands of acres burned in wildfires that choked Anchorage with smoke. Working to conserve cherished rivers and fisheries seems harder than ever. And, as I get older, the more I have come to understand that almost nothing goes the way I expect it to.
On good days, the accumulation of all this results in a lot of deep sighs, more cynical humor than usual, and a solid hour of needed decompression when I get home from the office. On bad days, I simply work on preparing my business plan and chart the logistics for when I leave it all behind and move somewhere near the equator to open a mango stand on the beach.
Allegra, a friend from high school, and her husband, Grant, flew into Anchorage in early September. They live in Brooklyn, N.Y., and were eager to see Alaska. I guess I’d use the word ‘eager’ to describe most guests, but Allegra and Grant were uniquely zealous. They clearly love the outdoors, but have limited experience. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from their trip. But I quickly noticed they were in town with eyes wide open, ready to say “hell yes” to everything. Luckily for them, Alaska said “hell yes” right back.
I sent them off on a road trip while I worked during the week. They returned exhausted, but with satisfied smiles on their faces, somehow encapsulating a visible look of calm that you can get only from being “out there.” They’d been away from work, from screens and from the buzz of the city. They were clearly eager to see more, and I wanted in on it — but more for the calm than the scenery.
For me, it’d been another one of those weeks. I was exhausted. But I don’t get to hang with my high school pal often (to say the least) and traveling across the continent is no small task. I wanted them to have an awesome time, and recognizing that characteristic and enviable decompression that “out there” gave them, I knew I needed to go.
We re-packed our gear and headed to Caines Head State Park in Seward, which borders the Kenai Fjords National Park. It’s a stunning landscape that makes any visitor feel extreme gratitude for the ability to just see a place that beautiful and quite simply, as it should be.
It was a gorgeous, blue bird weekend in Seward, which is known for frequent dense fog and rain. Leg and Grant were effusive about what Caines Head had to offer us. And, taking slight advantage of their willingness, I took them on a slog of a hike that next day, covering 13 miles of trail with a significant amount of elevation gain.
Mid-day, we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches perched on tundra atop a bluff overlooking the bay. Dramatic fjords dotted the horizon and we were eye-level with a few blue glaciers across the water, barely hanging on at the end of a hot summer. Grant remarked with a chuckle, “This might be the most beautiful place I have ever been.” Objectively, that’s possible, I realized, as I scoured the ground next to us for wild blueberries.
Alaska didn’t stop there. Over the course of their short trip, we saw a stunning 180 degree rainbow over the bay with every color in full view. We felt the adrenaline of a full-on bear encounter. We cooked meals on the beach with no humans in sight. They saw whales, sea lions, otters, and moose, and even experienced a 5.2 magnitude earthquake.
It was like Alaska was rewarding their enthusiasm, continuously saying, “Now watch this!”
For me, it was a needed reminder of what I work for and what keeps me here. The mountains never get less beautiful, nor does the gray, purple and blue dusk over Turnagain Arm. But sometimes I forget to notice. I forget how often I said, “Wow!” when I first moved here. I forget that seeing giant Pacific salmon spawning in clear, undammed streams with no concrete for miles isn’t something everyone gets to see on an average weekend.
I originally thought I was there to guide my friends and ensure they had a great time. But the opposite turned out to be true. They treated me to their contagious joy and they shared in the satisfactory and exhausting gratitude of our healthy bodies, which carried us to get to see truly stunning natural places. Their enthusiasm reminded me what the core of my body knows to be true — that these special places are damn well worth protecting, and working extremely hard to do it.
We were quiet on the drive home, weaving our way back over mountain passes on the Kenai Peninsula through the Chugach National Forest. Our bodies were tired, but somehow looser and lighter. Allegra and Grant were reluctant but ready to return to their lives in the big city. The weekend had filled me up enough that I decided I could once again shelve my plans for the mango stand, resolving to head back to the office with enthusiasm—at least until the next time I have to get myself “out there.”
They have a standing invitation to return, but I might need them to do so more than the other way around.
Jenny Weis is the Alaska communications director. She lives in Anchorage.