Tomorrow marks the last day of our summer in Alaska. In the morning we’ll double-check the roof cargo, throw the last of our things in the car and begin the 21-day drive back to Raleigh. For the trip home we have many fun things to look forward to — visits with family and friends, a wedding in Cincinnati, stopovers in U.S. and Canadian National Parks, and all the excitement that comes with discovering new places. But leaving Alaska is going to hurt. We came here with plans of leaving at the end of summer, but without knowledge of what living here would be like or how difficult it might be to leave.
And leaving will be difficult. I realize the hyperbole on this blog may have tested our readers’ patience. But to me, living in Alaska makes every day feel like a Saturday. It would have been impossible to document the summer without letting that enthusiasm seep in. We came to Girdwood without knowing a soul, without a place to live, and without work — and in those regards, we totally lucked out.
We found a gorgeous place on craigslist for dirt cheap. A newly renovated A-frame cottage on the bike path surrounded by raspberry bushes and mountain views. The loft was perfect for visiting family and the moose meat in the freezer was an unexpected bonus.
I found a job — a good job — one that allowed me to play outside, get some exercise and meet lots of interesting people. At only 25 hours a week, the money wasn’t great, but my schedule allowed us plenty of time for traveling. Plus, working for an adventure outfitter meant we had access to a variety of outdoor gear, a benefit that made many of our adventures here possible — a perk we certainly would have missed had I taken a job as a bartender or something.
But the biggest win this summer was finding Girdwood. We originally targeted Juneau, but arbitrarily changed our minds after reading an email from a friend of a friend touting Girdwood, a town neither of us had heard of. In hindsight our decision was not unlike throwing a dart at a map, but ultimately turned out to be huge. Let’s be honest, Jess and I would have been happy pretty much anywhere in Alaska. But Girdwood was perfect. It was small and gorgeous and it felt like home. Of all our Alaskan travels, Girdwood was my favorite place. And that’s saying a lot given the appeal of places like Homer, Seward and Denali.
But despite all that good fortune, Alaska and I were destined to get along. The state is immensely wild and beautiful. Even more than I had imagined. Every place to live presents some sort of challenge. The challenges people face here align with my leanings toward independence, endurance and love for the outdoors. But leaving Alaska is not a departure from those values. In fact, this experience has brought into focus what truly matters and the kind of man I want to become. When circled on a calendar, this trip represented a big idea. Despite my apprehension to leave, I view returning to Raleigh as fulfillment of that goal and momentum toward whatever unconventional idea comes next. There will be an encore.
As for work, I’m returning to Raleigh without a job. A harsh reality that looms larger by day. My job here was transformative in that I found work I actually enjoyed, and now that I’ve gotten a taste for that, I’ll be reluctant to take a job that doesn’t enliven me. My goal is to find something outdoorsy that challenges my sales and marketing chops and allows me to dabble in writing, photography and design. I believe the dream job is out there — now my job is to find it.
Tomorrow I’ll be sad to see Girdwood in the rearview. But Jess and I have a mountain of stories to share and a stronger relationship to build on. We left many dear friends back in Raleigh that we can’t wait to see. I’m starting to fantasize about the pork nachos at Raleigh Times Bar. Live music, cell service and reasonably-priced fruit await us.
We’ll continue to post updates from the road. But for now, so long Alaska. We love you.