Normal People Take Luxury Cruises To Alaska
By Ej Schaeffer Landsman

I have always wanted to go to Alaska. I have always wanted to have a great adventure. Be careful, sometimes you get what you wish for!

Being somewhat non-conformist, my boyfriend, Rick, and I sought a trip where we could be at one with nature -- not observing it at a distance. We wanted to go a bit off the beaten track, but in a group situation with a proactive approach.

We did an exhaustive search - brochures, Internet, word of mouth.

  • We like to kayak - check.
  • We like to hike - check.
  • Camping? - Well, okay.
  • Remote location only attainable by bush plane - sounds good.
  • Small, personal group - check.
  • Experience Alaska in a way not many do - check!

    Voila! A kayak/hiking adventure to Icy Bay in Wrangell - St. Elias National Park.

    First things first - get in shape! I bit the bullet - joined a gym, hired a trainer and signed up for an Urban Trekking class. This suburban Mom would be "strong like a bull"!

    Gear. No down. No cotton - wait; practically everything I own is cotton! All garments must wick - Wick?!? Mosquito protection. Mosquito: also known as the Alaskan state bird due to size and abundance. Deet. Total body netting - a true fashion statement. Layers. And get this - everything for a 9-day journey must fit into a 12" x 24" waterproof bag!

    In fact, we did receive top marks for thoroughness in packing. So thorough that the night before our departure our guides re-sorted all our gear into "take with" and "leave behind" piles. Painfully, we left behind two overstuffed, footlocker sized duffels - so much for contingency preparations!

    At the pre-departure meeting in Yakutat, Alaska (downtown consists of five buildings and the only paved road), our guides explained how our impending adventure would cause us to question. What do you really need to get by? How we will endure? How do we comfortably and competently handle daily challenges? We would re-evaluate and take stock of what was important. Already, I was considering trading stocks.

    In groups of two and three, we were dropped off by bush plane at the southern point of the appropriately named Icy Bay. Ten adventurers and two guides in all.

    Our sole means of transportation for the next 9 days would be kayaks that arrived rolled up in canvas bags! Klepper kayaks made of sticks, canvas and rubber that we had to put together! This seemingly flimsy craft was to carry the two of us, plus over 200 pounds of camping gear, water bags and food. I'm supposed to trust my life to some guy named Klepper?

    For my first camping adventure I found myself face-to-face with a group of professional travelers. These individuals were here to physically and environmentally challenge themselves to their limits. Did I miss the words "Boot Camp" in the fine print? There was very little earthly real estate these brave warriors had not traversed. They had endured Antarctica, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, trekked in Nepal and Bhutan, and visited Patagonia. I've never even been to Paris! I knew I was out of my league when a fellow traveler remarked that he admired me because I was "So, way out of my box!"

    I had heard tales of the incredible, pristine beauty of Alaska. One of the few unspoiled frontiers. Our first glimpse was breathtaking. I imagined the wildlife and marine life synonymous with Alaska. I couldn't wait to see bears, whales, moose, salmon, mountain goats, wolves! However, the unique place we traveled to was nothing like I could have imagined. It was as if we had traveled back through time - to the end of the ice age and the beginning of evolution.

    Except for a few animal prints it was practically uninhabited. Icy Bay is a collection of steep fjords, massive glaciers, and towering mountain peaks with Mount St. Elias as the centerpiece. Mount St. Elias has a sea level to summit rise of 18,000 feet in less than 10 miles, making it the highest vertical rise in the world. Exposed areas of land and water have only reemerged from under the masses of glacial ice within the past 30 years. The cloudy bay water is filled with icebergs (not marine life) from the encroaching and receding glaciers. It is a raw environment. Ironically, the only bears I saw in the wild were the bears at the Yakutat dump - affectionately known to locals as "the zoo".

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