Two years ago I made a crazy decision to move all my things into storage and set out to explore all fifty states. This summer, with only one state left on my list, I made another crazy decision and drove all the way to Alaska. With 1 friend, 12 states and 3 Canadian provinces behind us, our summer has been full of extraordinary days, miles, and moments.
One of our first stops was Grand Teton National Park where I quickly fell in love with the rugged mountains.
A ferry would have taken us across Jenny Lake - Grand Teton NP in just a matter of minutes, but we decided to make the trek on foot. The speedy ride across the lake could never rival the feeling of walking through these mountains.
We had plans to reach Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market early in the day, but with traffic out of Portland we arrived long after most vendors had packed up and gone home. Although we didn’t get the usual experience, it was an amazing feeling to catch the market in a different state, with open windows and empty tables illuminated by natural light.
Before this summer I had no idea what the Alaska Marine Highway (AMH) was. It wasn’t long before I realized that it is not your usual two-lane asphalt roadway. In reality, the AMH is a ferry system that provides transportation to Alaskan communities that aren’t accessible by road.
We drove our car onto the Matanuska ferry deck and made our way through the Inside Passage on our way from Prince Rupert in British Columbia. While we heard the AMH continually referred to as “the poor man’s cruise”, I’d take it any day! We rolled out our sleeping bags on the back deck, and spent our afternoon sipping coffee, taking in the scenery and playing rounds of dominoes.
Driving off the ferry at Juneau, we met up with a college friend who gave us the local tour. Despite daily rain showers, we caught a few glimpses of sun and made it out for some fantastic hikes, glaciers, incredible seafood and even late night sightseeing. We happened to be there at the height of berry season, and we foraged through some of the most fantastic beaches, gathering enough nagoon berries to bake a pie on one of those rainy afternoons.
Our trip to Sitka was a complete last-minute decision. We hopped back on the AMH with nothing more than our backpacks, leaving our car behind to explore the quaint community.
Sitka was welcoming and the local fire department even let us stash our bags at their downtown station while we checked out the city on foot. At the edge of town we found Totem Bight State Historical Park , and with a break in the rain went out for an evening stroll, walking along the towering trees and totems.
Our time in Alaska passed far too quickly, but incredible sights and adventures awaited us as we entered the Canadian Yukon. I’m fairly certain we saw more animals than people on this portion of the drive, and while a grizzly gave us a few stares from across the way we were able to watch him as he raided the roadside berries.
After spending time on the road, even the most ordinary things start to feel special. Thanks to the generosity of Holiday Inn and their support of extraordinary journeys, we were able to catch a few fantastic nights at their hotels. After a few days of “roughing it” not much can beat a hot shower, cozy bed and a little wifi for poolside planning.
When we finally reached Banff National Park we made our way to Lake Louise for no other reason than the fact that it shared the name of a dear friend. When we rounded the trail, we were taken aback to find this bright lake with glaciers and mountains standing at its side; this ordinary detour turned out to be amazing!
After visiting all fifty states, I can honestly say that some of my favorite moments appeared in the most unexpected of circumstances, emerging from the simple things that exist in every corner of this world. After all, some of the most amazing experiences can be had just driving with the windows down, tasting fresh fruit from a roadside stand, or listening to the sound of your feet on a dirt trail. Wherever the journey goes, being open to the ordinary things is what eventually reveals the extraordinary.