Our escape to another world

To travel is to escape to another world. Sometimes it’s to escape work. Sometimes it’s to escape family. Sometimes it’s to escape normalcy. During a global pandemic, however, the possibility of escaping the day-to-day challenges seemed impossible. We’d tried – and failed – already. That didn’t stop me from wishing and hoping and thinking and praying, and ultimately planning another big trip. The need for escape was more acute than the likelihood of failure.

Visiting state number 5-0 for both of us

And so, when airfare plummeted to the only state we hadn’t visited, I snatched up four tickets to Fairbanks with a simple expectation of crossing #50 off of our list. We boarded a plane from Indianapolis with excitement and a bit of trepidation despite all of us being fully vaccinated. It had been more than a year since March 2020, more than a year that we had been wearing masks, more than a year since we’d even gotten on an airplane.

Welcome to Oz

We landed 12 hours later and walked out of the Fairbanks airport to what felt like a different planet. The world might as easily have changed from black and white to color, with munchkins dancing and singing around us. The first adjustment was simply the amount of daylight. Arriving in mid-June meant a mere three hours of quasi-darkness each day. It never actually got dark during our trip; just an ethereal twilight that was rejuvenating and exhausting at the same time.

Even after midnight, the sunset never quite took hold in Anchorage

The second, and most dramatic, adjustment was the lack of masks. It was as if we arrived in a spot of the world nearly untouched by the challenges faced in big cities. Masks were still required in certain situations, like indoors during our crowded tourist boat excursion. We personally chose to wear them on occasion at crowded restaurants. Otherwise, we went without. Almost every activity was outdoors, and almost every circumstance put us far away from people. Alaska is a pretty big state, so there’s plenty of room to stay six-feet away from someone. With the long daylight hours and warm weather, dining outdoors was almost always an option as well.

Safety in low numbers

A room with a view: cabins at Sheep Mountain Lodge are a respite from the everyday

We had already taken some precautions to limit our Covid-induced anxiety level. We rented a car instead of taking a train from location to location. We rented two Airbnb homes and stayed in cabins most other nights. Then we packed a cooler filled with snacks, drinks, bread and lunch meats for dining when we couldn’t find a comfortable place to eat. This turned out to be an additional blessing, as we discovered that many towns only had one or two restaurants, and they weren’t always open when we passed. Our first day we drove more than five hours without encountering any dining. Having food meant we could stop and soak in the incredible scenery without worrying about grumbling stomaches.

A young moose was as curious about our car as we were of her

Not only were restaurants few and far between, the number of vehicles was equally sparse. The first full day, we pulled to the side of the road to watch a mother moose and her twins. During our five minute stop, not a single car passed in either direction. The scarcity of people didn’t translate to restaurants, which were constantly packed and in short supply of servers and cooks. We learned after the first few days that reservations would have made our lives much easier. It removed the spontaneity, but was preferred to sitting in a car for an hour, waiting for a text that our table was ready.

Not all rainbows and unicorns

The trip wasn’t completely perfect. We’d had a healthy dose of time together over the previous year, and suddenly feeling “normal” again didn’t erase that baggage. The additional time in the car with one another was grating at times. We bickered, we argued, we fought. By the end of the trip we were able to laugh at the fact that each one of us had experienced a meltdown at least once along the journey. There were moments of complaints, whether it was due to hunger, less-than-glamorous accommodations or skipping an anticipated activity.

In the end, the positive feelings outweighed the negative ones. Most significantly we were able to return home with a feeling of lightness. We greeted the summer months without a paranoia of spending unmasked time with friends outdoors. There were plenty of evenings we dined with others indoors as well. The Delta variant prevented us from feeling completely free, but some of our Covid fears had thawed. Our escape to another world became more than just a typical travel escape; it carried that escape into our everyday lives, too.

More details and tips for traveling to Alaska coming soon. 

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