If you’re just tuning in to our Alaska adventures, here are the links to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII. Where did we leave off last? I ogled a moose like mad at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, meditated with bears, and then had Cassidy pull the trigger on booking a dog sledding adventure. On a glacier. And it would maybe make me get over my lifelong small plane phobia. No guarantees on that one, though. There’s more than one way up a mountain.
There are places of magic here on earth, aren’t there? I tell Scarlet bedtime stories about islands of wild ponies – where they greet you in the parking lots and traipse around sandy beaches. This is true. There are places where moose outnumber humans, 3 to 1, and cross the road in front of you on a gray night – looking woefully back at you like Eeyore. There are places of green flashes of light as the sun ducks behind the ocean and tucks itself into bed. There are places where the sidewalk ends, and the stairway to heaven begins. There are clouds that look like cartoon giraffes, and trees you can drive your car through. There’s a place you can go at dusk, against a deep, wide canyon, and a bull elk will step out next to your car – looking no less than an anime character of magic – his antlers reaching the stars. Don’t get me started on rainbows & meteors.
Imagine a glacier full of sled dogs. Imagine a litter of sled dog puppies. Imagine adventure and excitement, and wearing snow socks and gloves in August. Imagine a different world, up in a mountain – tucked away from Wi-Fi. Hidden from your reality.
That’s what I only imagined, at first. It was maybe a 20 minute ride from the conservation center to Alpine Air Alaska, Inc. and we got there early. We could use the bathroom for the last chance on land (doesn’t that make you have to pee already?) and we could have some snacks. I could pace around the parking lot and walk off my small plane phobia. Have I ever told you about my small plane phobia? It’s totally real. It’s a mixture of a fear-based early childhood, due to obvious reasons, combined with a hearty dose of watching La Bamba at a young age, and twisted around with the fact that I have known quite a few people who have died in small planes, or just crashed. Alaska is the place to meet a small plane phobia head-on, right?
We got all geared up for bright reflections, cold snow, and what I later found out – dog stuff – and found out there were no small plane phobias to conquer today. Aw, shucks. I actually like beating fears and phobias, but oh well. Helicopters!
There were seven of us going up, so we watched the helicopter go up and come back twice. I have slight gravity problems when I’m nervous. I don’t trust myself to stand. This is only a two-year-old thing, so I’m still learning it. Sometimes it’s hard to crane your neck and watch the sky when the whole world feels like it’s swaying. You know that feeling? Maybe I hope you don’t. Maybe I hope you do. The camera grounds me so much. So does the ground. It grounds me. (go figure) So we went past the line where it’s safe to stand and I asked if I could sit. The employee waiting with us told us no one had ever asked her that, or done it, so we all sat together. Once again, it’s nice to be a pioneer in Alaska. If I’m to be remembered for ordering two types of ice cream at a beer lodge off the edge of the planet, or for sitting while waiting for a helicopter to take me up into the sky to an island of wild ponies – or sled dog puppies – well consider me memorable. It was a nice sit and wait. Twice.
Finally it was our turn. Cassidy sat up front with the pilot. I wish I remembered his name! He was young and awesome and told us what me might see down there. I put on my headphones and my voice sounded so tinny and funny in my ears.
Punch Bowl Glacier is a giant snowfield on top of hundreds of feet of ice, 3200 feet above sea level. The other members of our tour group were waiting for us, as well as staff members. We were instantly greeted by our sled dog guide – Mariana. I hope I spelled that right. I found out later she was only 19, but she’s one of those young women who has lived a lot of different lives in different places. She was comforting, kind and funny. I was a little queasy at this point – NOT from the helicopter ride – but from catching my breath after all those views and those soaring peaks and valleys. Those dips and sways.
Next up, we take off in ways I never imagined. Sitting on the sled. Standing on the sled. Watching dog butts for miles. Hearing their squealy excitement. Meeting tiny, mewing puppies. Being in pictures. Not being able to feel my feet in August.