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I am just returning from a trip to Alaska which, unless you happen to live there, sounds exotic. And it is. Alaska is a rare commodity in our country, a land of truly wide-open spaces. That doesn’t mean you can’t find the chains and outlets that populate our land; it’s just that instead of dominating, they defer big-time to the majesty of the wilderness. McDonald’s is no match for Mount Roberts.

 

My mind and my body frequently part company despite my best efforts, so traveling presents a challenge for me. On one hand, I love to see, smell, learn and experience what is new and unusual. On the other hand, travel invariably means little or no sleep, an unhappy stomach and aches and pains in places I don’t normally think about. The hope is that the mind takes over during special moments…and there were some very special moments in Alaska. I found myself in a kayak for the first time in years, more than holding my own with people who I figured as more, well, outdoorsy. The weather was showery and cool but when you come from 90 degrees and steamy, showery and cool is pleasant. Instead of cars, smog and noise, we were in the company of eagles, whales, dolphins and a very large sea lion. 

 

Another day found me in a helicopter over a series of glaciers. At the top of one, we landed in a sleet storm at a dog sled training camp. I never pictured myself balanced on the runners of a sled in June (or at any other time) but there I was, leaning left and right as if I’d been doing it all my life. I’ve heard people worry about how sled dogs are treated. Well, I love dogs and I’m here to report that these dogs love running sleds. They are happiest when on the move and the noise from the teams when they’re getting ready to go out is deafening, kind of like being at a rock concert if the audience was all canine. The dogs come to the camp young, where they are coddled and cuddled to get acclimated to humans. A real bonus for visitors (unless you’re a crabby sort) is getting to hold a bunch of squirming 6-week-old puppies. The dogs have constant company, plenty of food, lots of attention and affection, and a routine. Not a half bad life.

 

The dogs weren’t the only happy campers; almost everyone I met in Alaska liked what they were doing and how they were doing it. We met a woman who serves as the camp’s cook in the summer and works as a Head Start teacher in a tiny town called Haines the rest of the year. She radiated cheerfulness and good will. I envied her.

 

Being less than the intrepid traveler, I took one of the big, established cruise lines for the first time. Cruise ships are a different sort of trip and I would plan carefully and research more thoroughly before choosing one again. Don’t misunderstand me, I love the idea of sea travel but I don’t need the floating casino, the gift shops or even the turndown service. I must admit that the stormy day at sea made me appreciate the stability of the big ships.

 

Since I don’t vacation much, I always like to ask myself how a particular trip affected me. I know, a vacation can just be a vacation but I’m a restless sort and I spend so much time in front of a computer or at a desk, I want to try and stretch my wings whenever possible. So – Alaska: I recalled my physical strengths. I pushed past my social limitations to try my hand at karaoke (I won) and the one-armed bandit (I lost). I read and thought and watched out for Northern Lights and black bears. I bonded even more closely with my sister and returned refreshed and ready for anything, even 90 degrees and steamy.

 

 

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