“The longing provoked by the brochure was an example…of how projects (and even whole lives) might be influenced by the simplest and most unexamined images of happiness; of how a lengthy and ruinously expensive journey might be set into motion by nothing more than the sight of a photograph of a palm tree gently inclining in a tropical breeze.”
–Alain de Botton’s, The Art of Travel
What influences your decision to choose one travel destination over another?
I’ve learned that a travel wish list evolves as interests, hobbies, work life, and family priorities change, and that sharing travel stories with friends or reading about others’ experiences may prompt a closer look at what is meaningful and worth our time and expense. These interactions can enrich our lives in surprising ways.
Shared writings such as contemporary travel essays and memoirs, also known as “armchair travel” stories, detail such feats as navigating custom-built kayaks through polar bear territory, solo hiking hundreds of miles on cross-country trails, and trekking through Florida swamps in search of a single rare orchid. These true stories connect us to the world’s cultures and complex natural landscapes, and challenge us to rethink what’s possible.
Several years ago, I read Jill Fredston’s Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic’s Edge and vowed to explore the Far North. I soon revisited Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams and later discovered Nick Jans’ essays about living in Alaska. The cumulative effect of reading these narratives was an intense desire to experience Alaska. It advanced to the top of my travel list.
Five years later, a flight into Anchorage to explore the interior of Alaska kicked off this much anticipated 10-day escape.
One by one, the must-sees were checked off: the Kenai peninsula and Kenai Fjords National Park, a hike to Exit Glacier, the northern lights at 3:00 a.m. in Fairbanks, Sandhill cranes with offspring at Creamer’s Field, an enormous bull moose in Denali National Park, working float planes, two full days on the Dalton Highway–to Atigun Pass and back, wild lingonberries, spawning salmon, and a black bear family hanging out near our picnic table at the Arctic Circle. The brown bear, or grizzly, remained elusive on this trip.
Caribou and musk ox–other Alaska wildlife icons–were missed in the Brooks Range, but several of both species grazed inside the scenic Alaska Wildlife and Conservation Center south of Anchorage. Views of Denali towering above everything else on a clear, sunny day–the last full day of the trip–completed this dream vacation.
What’s next? Richard Preston’s, The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring has inspired a trip to Northern California and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park to stand beneath the canopies of the world’s tallest trees. Or maybe New York City in the fall…
If you’re into planning ahead or curious to learn more about what’s out there to explore, visit the Travel Neighborhood where memoirs, essays, travel bags, foreign language phrasebooks, DVDs and popular guidebooks may be checked out free for three weeks.
(photos by K. Sain)