When I fall asleep at night, I don’t think about the homework I neglected to do, the dishes I left unwashed, or the looming threat of the zombie apocalypse. My mind is far from school, sanitation, and the walking dead. Instead, it’s in a town approximately 961 miles north of my current location. It’s in Juneau, Alaska, my adopted summer home and the only place that has ever managed to capture the majority of my waking thoughts and lucid dreams.
My fascination with Alaska first manifested itself in my fifth grade state report. I distinctly remember gluing pictures of polar bears to poster board, feeling satisfied with my perceived knowledge and skill. At the tender age of twelve, I read Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, prompting me to seriously consider visiting the Great North for the first time. My fanciful daydreams consisted of a tween version of myself roaming the foothills of the Alaska Range, amidst moose and mountains, lost in the wild like Krakauer’s protagonist, Chris McCandless.
A few years later, I made my Alaska dream come to fruition, while combining the necessity of making money during my summer break from university. In early 2012, when I was offered a job in the capital city Juneau, I immediately accepted, ensuring that my dream of visiting the state would be memorable.
When I fully realized I would be spending three months in the Last Frontier’s capital city, my hopes of living out some Arctic, Jack London fantasy were dashed. Within ninety minutes of my arrival in town, however, I found myself staring at the terminus of the Mendenhall Glacier, the antithesis of urbanity and the epitome of the natural Alaska I originally sought.
You could say that Juneau was quick to prove me wrong.
It didn’t take much longer for me to understand that Juneau was unlike any other place I had ever visited. From downtown, it’s possible to walk past the Governor’s Mansion and wander up into the mountains on the state’s oldest road, Perseverance Trail. In less than twenty minutes, it’s possible travel from sea level to nearly four thousand feet upwards onto the side of Mt. Roberts via the Mt. Roberts Tram. In the course of a day, it’s possible to enjoy the rich history only found in state capitals and the insane natural beauty only found in Alaska.
I spent three months in Juneau, and when I wasn’t working, I took advantage of everything the city had to offer. I saw glaciers calve at the South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm, I serendipitously met Governor Sean Parnell at a community picnic, and I spent days climbing the mountains that surround the city. As a result, I returned to the Lower Forty-Eight with three months’ worth of memories that are sure to stay with me for the rest of my life.
As you read me wax poetic about my extended stay in Juneau, you may feel excited about the prospect of seeing glaciers, overwhelmed at the amount to see and do, or even bothered that your visit to Alaska is significantly less time than my gratuitous summer break. THIS IS NATURAL. Yes, Juneau has a lot to offer, but the good news is that if you plan carefully, you can experience a lot of it even with the strictest time constraints.
One year ago, I foolishly thought my chances of seeing Sarah Palin were greater than seeing a bald eagle scoop up a salmon from the Gastineau Channel (note: I saw the latter at least twice during the summer). And fortunately for me, the only Sarah Palin sighting I had was her likeness in the form of a cardboard cutout on the steps of the Alaska T-Shirt Company on Franklin Street.
It’s one thing to read a book, write a glorified book report, or watch a Travel Channel special about a place, but to experience it firsthand is entirely different and infinitely more valuable. Travel in all forms allows for an enhanced understanding of the world, and to spend even a week in a place as unique as Southeast Alaska is treat for any traveler. Regardless of the fast-paced nature of your itinerary, know that the Alaska you always dreamed of visiting is well-within reach!