Under the Midnight Sun: Alaska In 72 Hours or Less

In trying to catch up on writing from this year, it feels appropriate to talk about a place of extreme days and nights on the day Daylight Savings Time ends for most of the US. So while most of this writing is several months old, this trip was such a highlight of my year, and so significant for my personal and business growth, I figure it’s better late than never.

When I spent most of January at my mom’s house watching her die, I told Billy one night on the phone that once it was all over, I wanted to go on a solo backpacking trip. Some time alone after taking care of the kids while he was still home due to work, and most importantly, time in nature to try and start healing from losing my remaining parent. 

Life, as usual, had other plans. Not to mention, I like camping with my family. While I enjoy getting out solo, I miss Billy and the kids when they aren’t with me. I spend the whole time taking pictures of things I think they would like, and come home and want to share everything with them. So while I did a lot of camping in the early part of the year, none of it was on my own.

I had just about written off the idea that I would go through with this much needed self-care mission, when I saw a PNW photographer I admire post that she was hosting a workshop on family adventure photography….in Alaska. 

Alaska is obviously far from Tennessee. It’s far from everything. I don’t really like flying, we definitely couldn’t afford for me to, Billy would have to take the weekend off since we couldn’t find childcare with his hours, and to do the trip would mean making it as short as possible which would leave me absolutely exhausted. 

I cried. I wanted my mom. Normally I would call her with a decision like this. And she would either assure me that it was okay for me to go, or she would help me feel better about admitting that it wasn’t. But then—wasn’t I supposed to take a weekend to myself because of losing my mom anyway? And sure, I was thinking somewhere within an hour’s drive of home,  not on the other side of the country, but the end result was the same. And being able to learn from someone I have long been inspired by? Plus Alaska has never been on Billy’s bucket list while it was on mine, so this way I could go without feeling like I was taking away from a vacation he wanted to take. 

So, I bought a seat at the workshop and booked a plane ticket.

And two months later, I climbed into a shuttle at 2am to take me to the Atlanta airport so I could begin a very long—but very fulfilling—weekend to America’s Last Frontier. 

Me, running into 60 degree days away from the oppressive humidity of the south.

The Workshop

I would be remiss if I didn’t give some much-earned credit to Ashley for the work she put into her class. Hosted at the gorgeous Yule Farm in Palmer, Ashley coordinated with several other vendors to make not just a great learning environment, but beautifully styled breakout sessions as well. As this was an introductory class, a lot of the material covered was information I learned in high school, but she presented it in such a fun and engaging way that I enjoyed watching the other students learn terms and tricks that I forget aren’t common knowledge. 

I got to ask a lot of questions (probably too many!) on marketing and the business aspect of family adventure photography, and Ashley and I got to share some Hike It Baby stories, as she used to be a branch ambassador and photographer for HIB before stepping back to focus on her business. And best of all…getting to shoot against the backdrop of Alaska. 

Dreammmmmm location!

The weather was overcast so we didn’t have quite the view of the mountains I had dreamt of, but they were still there, and we still had brilliant greens, gorgeous clouds, and three wonderful families to work with. And introductory class or not, shooting alongside someone whose work I have found such inspiration in was worth the money and the travel alone—I have since had the chance to use some of her tricks and to adapt them to my own personality, and I feel so much more confident than I did before. 

The Landscape

The workshop ended around 3pm and I stayed on the farm drinking coffee and talking to everyone until close to 5. In Tennessee, even in July, that would have made it hard to eat dinner and find a hike I could do and still get back to the car before it started getting dark. But not in the land of the midnight sun. 

On the recommendation from the owners of the farm, I chose the West Butte Trail—a short but steep trail not far from “downtown” Palmer that afforded great views. The trail was rated as moderate on All Trails, and incidentally a week before I had hiked a trail near home that was considered “the hardest short trail in Georgia.”

Guess which one was harder. Everything is relative, or so they say. 

I didn’t start hiking until close to 7pm, after stopping for a beer at Bleeding Heart Brewery, and even though I knew the sun wasn’t going to set until almost midnight, I was still largely in awe over just how light it was outside. I also left my bear spray in my rental car, so made a bit of a fool of myself by shouting before turning any corners, because I knew my experience with black bears in the Appalachians was no preparation for the wildlife in Alaska. 

The trail was not the steepest I’ve hiked but wasn’t easy—721′ in just over a mile, mostly in the 505 stairs leading to the top–but worth every single heart-pounding step for the views once you were done. Because it was so late I had the summit to myself, save for one trail runner who passed through while I was attempting a self-portrait. I stayed at the summit for…who knows how long. Just admiring. Admiring the distant glaciers, admiring the low-flying planes landing so close in the valley, and admiring the way the light caught the dust in the air and made the landscape look like an oil painting. I have wanted to go to New Zealand for almost half my life. Since I first saw Lord of the Rings, I knew—I had to go there. If I had realized that Alaska was just as beautiful, just as expansive and majestic, and so much more accessible—I would have been there so much sooner. 

My goal was to make it back to Anchorage in time to catch the sunset over the bay and hopefully catch a glimpse of Denali, but the double rainbow I saw in the parking lot of the trail distracted me and I hit traffic on the way back, so I ended up watching the last of the light fade from a black sand beach in a city park, too dark to take pictures without a tripod, but lovely nonetheless. 

And while the night before exhaustion had claimed me and I got a hotel instead of embracing the bohemian life and sleeping in my car, on my second night, I picked up the most delicious pizza I have had in my life, and ate that while drinking lukewarm beer in the airport parking lot, before catching an hour of sleep and heading back into another day of travel. 

Seattle

I mention Seattle, just because I chose my flight itinerary based around having a 12 hour layover–or one short day–in the Emerald City (apologies, “Wicked” fans–it was stuck in my head the entire time I was there so you must suffer/enjoy with me). I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy since 2006, and Starbucks has been paying our bills and providing my health insurance for most of my married life, so Seattle has long been on my list of places I wanted to visit. And ultimately, Seattle is a city, like any city—but the day I was there the weather was amazing, I got to ride the ferry, and I determined that Bainbridge Island is truly #goals and I hope the people who live there take a few moments every day to appreciate their surroundings. One day I’ll be back to get a closer look at Rainier.

Home

My final flight landed in Atlanta Monday morning, not quite 72 hours after I left. I ate my last slice of pizza while waiting for my shuttle, and watched reruns of Grey’s on the way home and got to think “I’ve been there!” on every establishing shot of Seattle. But mostly, I thought of Alaska. The stories I would tell my kids, the pictures I would show them. The gratitude I felt for Ashley for hosting the workshop and for treating me like a friend despite my thinly-veiled fangirling. My love for Billy for supporting me in something so expensive and spontaneous. And the pride in myself for leaning into the fear and choosing adventure.

Published by Whimsy & Wilderness Photography

I am a photographer and writer based in Chattanooga, TN, and adventuring around the southeastern United States with my husband and two children.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: