The decision to move to Alaska was an impulsive one. Nearly fresh out of college, I accepted with no hesitation an exciting job just over 3,800 miles away from my family. It’s how I found myself making the beautiful drive to Soldotna from Anchorage last week.
Alaska is an impressive place. This probably isn’t news to folks who live here, but it’s what I was thinking in all caps when I rounded the first bend on the Seward Highway outside of Anchorage.
I’d been naively marveling at the cluster of mountainside homes on the edge of the city when the frame of my windshield filled suddenly with the imposing stature of cloud-cloaked mountains. Like dominoes, one peak followed another, which followed another into what seemed like oblivion.
I looked around my empty car excitedly to see if my nonexistent passengers were beholding the same beauty as I. My cat meowed from her carrier.
After several well-intentioned, but blurry, photos taken through my window, I pulled into one of the turnoffs conveniently designated by blue signs with camera icons on them to stop and take everything in.
I realized I was in a very different kind of place. I realized I was a guest on a positively primordial piece of earth that was home to people, cultures and traditions whose roots ran deeper in this land than those of the trees sprouting out of Beluga Point. I FaceTimed my parents and was disappointed at how spectacularly my iPhone dwarfed the scene before me.
Pulling back onto the two-lane Seward Highway, I followed bumbling campers and trucks loaded down with kayaks and mountain bikes slowly along the northern outline of Turnagain Arm before dropping down to the Kenai Peninsula.
I stopped to take a picture of the wooden “Welcome to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula” sign, while chilly rain pattered against the trees behind me. I was glad I’d brought my rain jacket.
Continuing toward my destination, I drove parallel to rushing rivers that were turquoise and turbulent, past carefully carved wooden signs advertising fishing trips, lake view lodges and wildlife viewing. I was struck by the irony in embracing a place that, though new to me, was as old as the planet itself; that had existed for lifetimes before me and that would exist for lifetimes after me. How humbling!
Never once during my drive was it lost on me how lucky I was to call this place home for the time being.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.