Wild in Alaska

With recent fire devastation all throughout the west; LA, NorCal, Oregon, Washington and Montana. I can't help but feel a sense of guilt, guilt that I didn't appreciate the land as much as I should. Guilt that I didn't explore as much as I could have. Guilt that I may never get a chance to run, wander, see or just appreciate some of this gorgeous land again due to these horrific fires! It hurts my heart to see what beauty is now engulfed in flames. The trouble is- I thought I had time. This is a reminder that time is fleeting, our land- its beauty is fragile and constantly changing, mostly for the worst. I have a magnetic pull, stronger now more so than ever, to get out and explore deeper and deeper into our beautiful lands. I want to know more, I need to see more and touch what's out there! Now it's not about having time, but rather making time. I want to work hard but play harder. We do not have unlimited chances in life to have the things nor do the things that we want. I want to seize that opportunity when it knocks and be spontaneous when I can. Now is a pretty good time to start...

 Photo: Kate Arnold

Photo: Kate Arnold

Sometime in September...

I'm sitting on the plane, two dark chocolate wrappers in hand- empty. 

Thinking about how I was brutally attacked in the airport and forced to buy these chocolate bars. When I say brutally attacked? I mean, my attacker was also female and her weapon- the cash register that stood behind the counter at the magazine stand. But same thing, right? How could she do this to me?

Really, I'm thinking about the last five days. Was it just a mere dream? A sick fantasy that seemed all too true? 

It was in fact, reality. I was alive- I truly lived the last five days... A thought I was still trying to grasp. 

How did this happen? How did I end up in Alaska? A place forever on my bucket list but so far from fruition, I never actually expected to visit. 

Let me tell you a story... I promise I'll give you the cliff notes version. 

It was a cold, dark and stormy evening here in Hollywood, CA. Last December I was drinking a few local beers keeping myself warm and toasty by my little space heater (pretty sure I was in a tank top and shorts). Skimming though social media, I come across a post by Run Like A Girl. It stated they were looking for ambassadors for the following year; 2017. They're a group of girls that inspire, motivate, encourage and give back to the community. After religiously loving all of Hailey's(one of the three awesome RLAG girls) posts, I eagerly filled out the application. 

I thank those couple I.P.A's I drank that evening because a few short weeks later, I was notified that I was one of a handful that were chosen to represent the RLAG brand. Cue "I've got the golden ticket" song from Willie Wonka!

One month later I was asked to help lead one of their Costa Rica retreats alongside Hailey, awesome right? Yes, yes and yes. I instantly fell in love with this group of girls, what they stood for and their community. I couldn't get enough! Along with the majority of quazi local ambassadors, we flew to Canada to participate in the Be Fearless Race held in Squamish, B.C.. A race in which the ladies of RLAG organize on the beautiful Squamish trails to raise money for the Canadian Mental Health Association. I ran the Trail Marathon with two other Ambassadors, Magen from Texas and Kate from Alaska. Although there were a slew of other runners, we stuck by each others side the entire time, we supported each other, got to know each other, took tons of photos and giggled our way to the finish! It was more a trail run together than an actual "race". I had met Magen in Costa Rica but that weekend the three of us connected on another level. It was a dream weekend spent with some incredible women, not just with Magen and and Kate but with all the girls. The community the RLAG girls have built is nothing short of inspiring. Their supporters, both men and women, radiate love for life; each other and their communities. I had planned to write about it but have yet to- it was an experience that truly touched my heart. I felt supported and loved by this group instantly despite my bad jokes, terrible boomerang dance moves, lack of showering and endless pit of a stomach.

Throughout the summer I kept in touch with the girls from RLAG along with both Magen and Kate through text messages and social media. Since then I had returned to Squamish to help on another adventure retreat with RLAG, but I'd still droll over Kates photos of her life in Alaska- it looked unreal. I had playfully asked about visiting and possible dates and shared the idea with Magen. A possible reunion? It wasn't reality until Magen booked her ticket for those exact dates... instantly my playful idea was coming to life. We're going to Alaska. 

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 7th.

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I ran out of the airplane in excitement. I'M IN ALASKA, I would've yelled it out but of course I didn't because I'm shy and instead preached it in my mind. I spot Magen near the exit and we give each other a grand hug and proceed to catch up on all the latest as we dance outside waiting for Kate to pick us up. We flew into Anchorage, which was only a three hour flight from Seattle, my layover. Kate lives in Palmer, a 45 minute drive away. During the drive we all talk feverishly. Its been three months since Squamish and there was so much to discuss. Kate talks about her life here in Alaska, and her latest adventures. I have to remind myself to wipe the drool off my chin as she describes the adventures her and her husband embark on.

Pick up jaw off ground, wipe drool from chin and repeat.

As we drive, I can't help but gawk at the local mountains as she names and describes each one out to us. Kate glows with happiness, her excitement over her home is contagious and I can't help but fell giddy to explore it with her and Magen these next few days. 

Our adventure begins with a local race Kate and her company put on every Thursday evening in September. We have been so lucky to arrive on the first Thursday of it to occur. It has a kids 1 mile race, 5 mile option as well as a double loop for a 10 mile option.  Starting the race my intention was to run the 10 mile route, however, my hunger got the best of me and Magen and I opted for the 5 miler instead in order to make in back in time for some fresh butternut squash soup before it disappeared.

We sat by a fire, beer in hand, soup in the other, overlooking the lake and the beautiful hues that engulfed our vision.

I sigh, this is the life. 

FRIDAY,  SEPTEMBER 8th

Eklutna Traverse

The next morning we wake to fresh brewed coffee, a heavenly scent. As we all pack our packs for the days adventure, Kate wins over my heart by making vegan pancakes. 

After packing for both worst and best scenarios, we shuffle in the car as Lance, Kate's incredible husband, drops us off at the Pioneer Ridge Austin Helmers Trail head. 

This trail begins with a 4 mile climb with over 1k ft gain per mile till we hit the ridge, and with heavy packs, we begin our crawl up. There aren't many people on the trail but whoever we did pump into during the day were friends of Kate. Despite it being a bit over 30 degrees out in the beginning of the morning, we begin to delayer as the climb begins to get tough. The sun was warm and our excitement for the days adventure was pouring out of our sweat glands. Mmmmhhh yummy.

I don't really know how to describe the moment. The moment we mustered our strength and climbed these ridge lines that made up our days quest. Deep breaths stung as the cold air hit my lungs yet I'm wildly invigorated by the freshness that surrounds me. I'm not in LA anymore and I couldn't be happier.

I trust my legs will walk properly around the technical terrain as my eyes shift all around me. These sights are incredible. I can't help but to stop and take photos; capture this moment I'd like to savor for forever. We continue along the ridgeline, over rock fields, down fields of grass and flowers toward another ridge to climb. Technical terrain to say the least as we all continue forward, smiles plastered on our face, eyes shimmering, hearts happy. We begin climbing another ridge that turned into a loose, rocky, razor blade thin "trail" to our next peak. I try to control my bodies will to shake, fear of the undeniably steep and slippery terrain that shot straight down on both sides. "Kate, what did you bring us on?" I whispered as I lead the group to the top, trying not to show how afraid I was and knowing the faster I climbed, the quicker I would be done. Magen, who lives in a place where there aren't any local mountains, climbed fearlessly. Conquering the mountain with each step and looked as though she's been climbing her entire life. These girls are something alright.  In Los Angeles I have a couple girls that I run with, but a majority of friends I've made in the mountains have been male. Because of RLAG, my strong women friends have doubled, nay tripled in just a matter of months. These girls breed mountain rockstars! As our climbs seemed endless, we approached the final climb of the day with tired legs and happy hearts. Each step up was made with intention as we knew our day was coming to a close. I ran ahead to snap a few photos as Kate and Magen mustered strength for the final push. What a view! Magens hands were on her quads as she pushes the finals steps to the peak. She stops. She looks around and lets out a deep scream that both Kate and I could feel deep in our heart and left me with goosebumps down my arms. We all conquered something within ourselves that day. And with tears falling from our faces we hug each other and take a look at what we accomplished. We, now, only have to run down. Magen bursting with happiness led the way down, in a direction that looked like we were heading right off the cliff. "Ay caramba," I say to myself as we descend. The cliffs edge was just a mirage and was really a technical scramble down to a quazi normal "trail" that lead us straight to the vast yellow and orange colored trees, endless blue berry bushes and finally a soft leveled trail. 

The entire day was filled with steep ridgelines, razor blade climbs, big horn sheep galore, terrible singing, endless pictures, sore bellys from laughing too much, and a little bit of running. We conquered fears, pushed our limits and came out stronger than we were a mere 10 hours and 18 miles before. 

Our day ended with Lance cooking us a feast as we sat around a big campfire surrounded by friends, drinking beer and liquor Kate brought back from Italy. Our bodies tired but our hearts were happy. 

Saturday September 9th

MATANUSKA GLACIER 

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Glacier isn't normally part of my vocabulary. Living in Los Angeles my vocabulary revolves around heat so when Kate and Lance said we'd be going to a Glacier; I was trying to contain my immense excitement. This is definitely my version of Disneyland! 

The drive to Matanuska Glacier is about two hours from Palmer however time is irrelevant when you're completely engulfed in fall colored trees and endless views of of white carpeted mountain tops. Alaska, you are INCREDIBLE. The idea that I'm actually sitting in this car, at this very moment, viewing these sights was completely mind boggling. Mind. Blown.

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We pass the Glacier entrance for a quick 1 mile hike that was basically straight up and back down. It was filled with roots, thick mud and rocks galore but once you reach the top, the entire glacier was in sight. The hike down was an adventure in itself, as Kate and Magen let me lead the way... I don't know why. Follow with precaution, folks. At one point I slipped and held onto two tree branches and was hanging- that's how steep it was. Shocked I didn't pull my arms out of the sockets, we all laughed it off, wishing one of us caught it on camera. 

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After our hike we met Lance for lunch and then headed straight for the Glacier. Words can not express how I felt when we arrived. I've never experienced such a sight so wonderful. We treked away from the crowds to fully appreciate the glacier, its beauty, the silence and all it's wonders. We ran, hiked, jumped, and took a plethora of photos. Lance had set everything up to ice climb and Magen was first to jump at the opportunity. Boy does it look scary, definitely pushing my comfort levels. I was silly to think I wouldn't ice climb as well. How many opportunities would I have to do this again, so I seized my opportunity, pushing my fears aside and was surprised at how liberating it was. Fear of heights aside, it was a magical experience. 

We played on the Glacier as long as we could before a storm rolled in and then headed back to town. As we drove home, we were hit with heavy rain for a few miles before the sky cleared up and a bright rainbow peaked through over the mountains. 

Sunday, September 10th

PORTER GLACIER

My quads burn, my body overheating as I try to keep my panting down. We are running, nay, sprinting up a very slippery trail. I look over to Kate and see her face is red from the intense climb mixed with freezing temperatures. Sweat is dripping off her fine blonde hair and we are intensely focused, you could almost hear the drip of her sweat escaping her face.  It was quite impressive how we managed to encourage each other the entire climb as we all were very short on breath. We were counting down the seconds, every moment mattered as we flew across the flat terrain and started the decent. We were moving fast, but not fast enough. I watched both Magen and Kate pick up their pace as the descent began steeper. This has been the fasted I've ran since spraining my ankle running down Upper Winter Creek a few months back. To say I was hesitant currently would be an understatement. Magen and Kate were in front of me as I overly focused on where my feet could possibly land. These girls are impressive, quite the strong duo and at that moment I forgot about babying my ankle and pushed harder to catch up. I could see my breath in front of me as I exhaled my exhaustion and inhaled the life around me. Grateful to be here. Grateful for these two girls. Grateful for this moment. But how did we get to this point? Were we being chased? Were we racing? The adventure in Alaska seemed to be endless, no doubt. 

Earlier that morning....

We were all quite tired, that was pretty evident. The last few days of adventuring were incredible but long and taxing. We woke with a hunger to continue exploring but were pretty indecisive on what that would entail. In Alaska, like Colorado I found, weather was always a factor. For me, living in Los Angeles I'd see that it was Sunny and 99.9% of the time it'll stay that way(for months). Where as in Colorado this last summer, the Sierra just a few weeks ago and currently in Alaska, it could possibly start of sunny and turn into a horrific lightning and rainstorm or vice versus in a matter of minutes and you don't truly know ow long they would last. Checking the weather forecast was merely a suggestion, mother nature always had a plan of her own.

Despite being tired, despite the omniscient cloudy sky outside, the three of us woke and dressed for a sunrise hike. With hopes the the sky will clear before the sunrise, we drove off, coffee in hand and eyes still filled with sleep. We parked at Hatcher Pass and the sky was gracing us with sweet, cold kisses. Maybe mother nature knew I hadn't showered since leaving LA and she was trying to give me a hint. I hear ya loud and clear. 

With freezing temps, very dark clouds hovering over us, and soft rain massaging our skin, we begin our hike up. Despite the temperature and early time, it was a gorgeous day. This last year of traveling more to the Pacific Northwest, I'm learning more that a gorgeous day doesn't necessarily have to mean a sunny day. Freezing temperatures, rain, snow, ice, really anything- its all perception. I don't think the morning could have possibly began any better. When we reached the top of the mountain, the rain turned to ice as we danced around and laughed till our face muscles and stomach hurt. After our boomerang trials, errors and successes, we made our way down a different trail. 

We stopped by a cute little coffee shop on the way back to Kates house that had the most incredible chocolate chip cookie! I almost didn't want to share it. We picked up groceries and Magen and I made us all a veggie stir fry to kick start the rest of our morning. We then packed our bags and headed out for Alyeska Resort to take a leisurely hike on the Winner Creek Trail. The drive was incredible. The dark clouds had cleared and replaced by fluffy white pillows in front of a cobalt blue sky. The water sparkled as a way to show off its beauty and vast energy. My face was glued to the window, not wanting to miss a thing. Hoping to spot a whale in the distance, I kept my eyes on the water but the mountains in the distance stole my attention. You could see spots of rain storms, sun rays bursting through marshmellow clouds as the water shimmered almost knowing how beautiful the moment was. I could jump up and give nature a high five for it's continuous jaw dropping scenery. In Alyeska we took a stroll on the Winner Creek Trail. It was nice to take a moment and just appreciate our surroundings. Although it's something we've been doing the entire trip, it a nice feeling to not feel stressed our overwhelmed by the city life and to really appreciate nature. The trail reminded me of ones I've ran in Portland or part of the Be Fearless Race in Squamish; Lush, soft, green and just overwhelmingly beautiful. We took our time here, savoring the moment, the beauty and each others company. 

We then headed to Whittier, Alaska. 

The clouds began to return, and it began to rain again as we arrived to the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This Tunnel is the longest (2.5 miles) highway tunnel in North America. It's a one-lane tunnel that must be shared by cars and trains in both direction and it's how you would get to Whittier if you're not traveling by boat. We toured the town, a town of population: 214. We waited for the rain to die down, the clouds to clear a bit in order to go on a hike. Destination, Porter Glacier. 

The hike is approximately two mile in length, one way (four miles roundtrip). The trail begins with 750 feet in elevation gain over fairly strenuous and rocky terrain and levels out at the top of the pass. From there the trail decends down past Divide Lake and ends at Portage Lake. Due to the rain early, the trail was completely muddy, slippery and hard to manage. Once we got over the pass, the sky finally opened up and gifted us with a pristine view of the glacier! HALLELUJAH! What a sight it was. We ran as fast as the muddy and slippery trail would allow and took a plethora of photos along the way and at the lake. It's incredible how accessible these glaciers are to the public! Years ago, this Portage was considered a roadside glacier, however it recedes an average of one foot a day and is now no longer visible from the road. IT's big blue icebergs are found along the lake and boy is it a sight! 

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With the sun setting so late in the day, time seemed to escape us. Several photos later, we realized we would need to get back to the tunnel to make the next opening by 8:15, but we would have to sprint. Which brings me back to the my earlier story. Sprint our littler hearts out we did. We huffed, we puffed, we ran our way back up the pass and down to our car, as if chased, but despite our grand efforts- we didn't make it. We waited the next 45 minutes, basking in the glory of the days events. Driving home late was a chore, difficult with how tired and far we were. A mission I was so thankful Kate accomplished with ease. Arriving back at the house, we all tucked away silently, smiles on our faces, thankful hearts, tired bodies from the wonderful journey the day provided us. 

 When you "just can't"... You color.

When you "just can't"... You color.

Monday, September 11th

The Departure

We packed our bags in silence, sad that our time in Alaska a ending. However, with 1pm flights- it wasn't over just yet. The adventure continues till the very last second. We drove to the Butte for a quick hike where the sun was shinning, the air so crisp you could almost taste Fall approaching. My taste buds danced with excitement, my eyes gawked at the colors, Fall is a wonderful season and the city of Palmer was engulfed in it already. 

After hiking the Butte we walked the bridge tat connected between the Knik River before heading back to the airport. 

I can't quite explain my feelings at the point in time. I was excited to go home and see Juniper but at the same time I am not looking forward to re entering summers heat, the traffic and the crowds. The more I venture out of the city, the less willing I am to return to the chaos, the traffic and the immense amount of people. 

We say our goodbyes and we try not to get too emotional. It's never goodbye but a see you later sort of thing. When I met both Kate and Magen, I knew instantly that these two girls would be in my life for a long time, it may not be on a daily basis but our adventures will only continue. 

Here I am, two chocolate bars deep, on my way back to Los Angeles. Magen, on another flight, will be meeting me in LAX and our adventure will continue in LA until she flies home later that week. 

As I sit at my kitchen table typing, almost two months after visiting Kate, it still doesn't seem real. The adventures, the nature, the bond we all shared during those days is something I can not truly explain but the memories, oh the memories, will always put a smile on my face. I'M SMILING RIGHT NOW. I could almost cry, it makes me so happy. It's moments like these that make everything okay. I may not like where I live, maybe I don't like my job in particular, but gosh darn it, it allows me the time and the money to make these memories. 

If you ask me, you should go! Go somewhere, experience a different place, their climate, their nature. Live more, hug harder, laugh louder, smile bigger, love longer- you've got to take advantage of today because we aren't guaranteed that tomorrow will always come.

Till next time.