In some ways, the isolation of the pandemic has proved even more harsh for me.
I’ve spent the majority of it — actually, this week marks one year since I touched down in Alaska — here, thousands of miles away from my family, friends and every other place I’ve called home.
I think of myself as pretty independent, though. I moved to Anchorage without ever having been to the state before, and then made my way down the peninsula all by myself. I also spend a lot of time alone, as I don’t have a partner or roommates or a big group of friends to share every day with, which is OK with me for the most part. But trying to live through a pandemic while simultaneously starting a new life and job in someplace foreign hasn’t always been easy.
The other weekend I was feeling the effects of isolation a little more than usual. I wanted to get out of my tiny apartment for some fresh air, but I didn’t know what to do or where to go.
And then I devised the perfect plan: I decided to summit Skyline Trail, alone.
With every passing mile marker on the Sterling Highway I got more nervous — for bears, lack of people and the possibility I wouldn’t make it to the top. I almost quit before I got there. All I had were my Nikes, backpack and bear spray.
I wouldn’t really consider myself an avid hiker like many other Alaskans I’ve met throughout my time here.
My friends Nico and Ariel have taken me out on some trails up north, and I’ve done a few smaller-scale hikes with the newsroom on the peninsula, but otherwise I haven’t dared to conquer many mountains in Alaska.
The hardest treks I’ve done were while I was living in South America. To get to Machu Picchu we walked for 6 miles along the train tracks, then climbed for over four hours to reach the peak, which sits at almost 8,000 feet in elevation. In total that day, I walked 15.5 miles, took over 35,000 steps and climbed 265 flights of stairs.
In the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia we hiked 11 miles out and back on the Mirador Las Torres trail, which is rated strenuous with an almost 3,000-foot elevation gain.
But otherwise, die-hard level treks scare me. And until a few weekends ago, I had never hiked alone before and am well aware officials recommend trekking in groups to minimize risk in bear country.
Making my way up Skyline was therapeutic for me in many ways. I have always found unmatched beauty and spirituality in the mountains (it must be genetic — both of my parents are career U.S. Forest Service employees), but this hike meant more than all others that have come before it.
Once I hit the saddle, not reaching the peak wasn’t really an option. I maintained my pace, every step a little harder than the last, until I hit the summit. I tried to visually scan the scene at the top so I’ll be able to look back on it when I’m older. The sky had cleared just in time for me to see the trees, lakes and roads from the peak.
For me, Skyline was actually a holistic representation of myself at this exact point in my life. I learned that when I want to do something, I don’t have to wait around for anyone else’s schedule to clear up. I can brave the wilderness all by myself.
This story has been updated.