Quickpost from Alaska

A peek behind the curtains at the glamorous life of an outdoor journalist

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Greetings from the Sea Bean internet cafe in bustling downtown Seward! Sorry for the slow post. I actually spent most of my flight time up here composing a rather brilliant blog post, but had DNS server complications getting it out from Anchorage. Tragic, really. You’ll never know what you missed.

Dang, I need a shower, and badly. Life’s been a scramble since I first landed at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage. Grabbing a rental car, finding a throwdown campsite, trying to sort and ready all my camping and media gear amid torrential rain.

Really, what’s wrong with the people up here!?! You can’t find a decent overhanging roof anywhere in this state! Not even out in front of the Safeway grocery! Baseball dougout sheds at the local city park? All locked. What’s a dirtbag journalist supposed to do? Spend money!?! Sorry, that’s verboten by my publishing overlords. YOU try sorting a month of camping, photo and video gear inside of a rapidly steaming reantal car while it pours outside. Makes groping high school sex in the back of a VW bug seem straightforward.

After one night I was forced to capitulate and get a cheap motel room to organize. But in the Last Frontier ™, where a Motel 6 can set you back $140, cheap motel rooms can be alarming places.

I ended up at the Mush Inn in northern Anchorage, run by a cool desk manager, but quite the – uh – venerable instutution. Right up front at the desk was a poster-sized announcement from the Anchorage Police Department saying that certain establishments had an unwelcome frequency of disturbance, drug and break-in call-outs, and they’d be billing for excessive visits in the future, so patrons could be tossed at will by management.

If that wasn’t enough to put one on notice, the fist-punch holes in the wall, and impressively brown water issuing from the shower did. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. It was dry. I got no bedbugs. I’d call that a win. Besides, it was better than the nearby ho-tel that sits above an old strip club, a relict from the halcyon pipeline construction days. Trust me; I’ve stayed there before. By contrast, the Mush Inn was Fodors five-star.

After a crazed afternoon of gear sorting, and watching endless radar loops on the Weather Channel, all showing conveyor belts of green cloud blowing north out of the Gulf of Alaska, I passed out for 18 hours straight, then sallied forth and boogied up my first trail in thick fog, hollering periodically to scatter any lurking Yogis. The weather cleared up delightfully, so after a solid day of marching, I pitched camp, as is my usual wont, on an open, scenic overlook. Big mistake. The wind came up big that night, and while my tent performed admirably, I got little sleep.

So, no time for weeping. The next morning I marched back out, immediately switched out batteries and food, drove two hours to my next trailhead, and set out again, since it doesn’t really get dark right now until 11p.m. up here.

The weather on that trip was gorgeous. Bright blue and maybe 85F with 98 percent humidity. My desert boy sweat glands poured full-speed in a futile attempt to gain evaporative cooling as I marched for 10 miles through a head-high tunnel of blazing pink fireweed, the peaks soaring overhead, steep enough to crick my neck.

Aside from the brilliant flowers, there were other payoffs for the jungle climate – namely raspberries.

The word ‘raspberry’, however, does little justice to these nuggets of juiciness. The bushes stood ceiling height with berries so thick you could rake them single-handed. And these weren’t your average little niblets; they were the size of hand grenades. I’m quite certain I consumed the world-record raspberry before scientists had a chance to examine it. Sorry about that.

Mileage came slowly, but I gained the alpine tundras before I ate myself sick, and was rewarded with ear-splitting solitude and horizon-to-horizon vistas out across the Kenai mountains. Ho-hum. Shoot video, take photos, jot notes, all the while dealing with the day-to-day tasks of staying fed, hydrated and sheltered. After this overnight assault I hitchiked the shuttle and by the time I got all that done it was late. 

So yesterday I took a break from big pack hauling and did what I assumed would be an easy day hike….about 14 miles round-trip with a 3,700-foot vertical gain. Again, in full sun. Really, you don’t want to hear the details – aside from the scenery, which was absolutely awesome. You’ll get the full low-down once we publish photos and footage to prove I’m not lying.

Now I’m trashed, stinky, and I’ve got to deal with all the files before I manage to erase some photos or video and my editors spank me hard. And damn, full 1080P Hi Def video eats 8GB of card space every 45 minutes of shooting! I see racks and racks of fat hard drives in my future, stretching into the distance like the intro scenes from The Matrix with all those machine-tended baby farms.

Thankfully, the weather now sucks again. This morning dawned cool and foggy, and it just began pouring again. There’s no scenery aside from foregrounds, and not much reason to hike for vistas, so I’ve just finished downloading the pics, vids, and my second triple-shot latte. Otherwise it’s $20 for public internet access. (Pitchforks!) All of which accounts for the manic tone of this post.

O.K. outta here. My overnight backpack’s already packed and ready. Gotta drive several hours to next trailhead, listen to rain pound on the Toyota Highlander while I toss and turn to find a comfortable position amidst the duffles, then set out early manana into yet more howling wilderness.

Ahh, the dream life of the outdoor journalist! The glamor! The travel! The romance! Speaking of which, Mistress Betty shows up on the 7th. By then I oughta be quite the dreamboat. Can’t wait to see ya honey!

And hey campers: Judging from all the Google Alerts clogging my e-mail inbox, it doesn’t seem like the newspapers need to fill any more column inches with lost trekker tales, so hike safe out there. — Steve Howe

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