My Great Alaskan Adventure: MacLaren Wilderness Center and Backcountry

June 25, 2016

When we arrived at MacLaren Wilderness Lodge we received our room assignments and went to claim beds. My room consisted of me, Mackenzie, Edie, and Morgan- a great group even though, honestly, no combination of girls would be bad because I already loved everyone like a dysfunctional little family. After we unpacked and I stealthily stole the kettle corn, Kristen came in to see if anyone wanted to workout with her and Josh. Edie and I reluctantly agreed because up until that point the trip consisted of mostly just sitting. We ran up a massive hill (it’s almost as if we were in the mountains… oh wait) and did a mix of exercises before running back down. During our cool-down we had a randomly deep conversation about religion. I was designated the “sassy trouble-maker” of the group to which I replied, “impossible, I’m a good catholic girl,” motioning to the Kairos cross around my neck. Josh then asked me about my faith and I learned that he too was a Christian and seemed to have a strong basis of belief. This was a conversation that I hope to get further into at a later part of the trip.

By the time we returned to the group it was almost time for dinner. It was a “real meal” because we got to choose off of a menu and did not have to cook or clean-up afterwards, which was a nice change of pace. I sat with Morgan, Edie, Ethan, Leah, and Rory. I ordered a bacon-cheese burger and it was exactly what I needed. After dinner we gathered to play Cards Against Humanity. I won with about five black cards when the game ended. The game revealed that Edie, Breezy, Ethan, and I were the four most morbid people on the trip, which was honestly kind of what I expected. The game ended when Kristen came in to give us the run-down for the following day- we were going into backcountry for a night and had to re-pack our packs. After she finished talking to us, I left to begin packing Cheaper by the Dozen since there were twelve of us on the trip. After it ended Josh sent us to bed where I thought I’d just instantly pass out, but my room ended up staying up and talking until almost 1:00 AM.

June 26, 2016

Waking up in a “normal bed” this morning was incredibly refreshing in comparison to waking up mummified in my sleeping bag. Breakfast continued the good morning because we had once again a “real meal” and I was able to get a ham and cheese omelet with tomatoes, hash browns, and coffee. After breakfast I was able to take some time for myself and journal, which was incredibly important for my mental sanity. In order for me to keep up high-energy, I first needed to take time for myself.

That night we would be camping in the backcountry and we had to take a boat to the location in two shifts. I was on the second shift, so the girls minus Laura and Ann went for a walk to a nearby bridge with a great view while I sat on the bridge (sorry Dad!) and wrote. The boat ride was amazing and I could not stop smiling. Our campsite was on this breath-taking plain with the river to one side and snow-capped mountains to our other.

Once we had fully unpacked we grabbed our water-bottles and cameras then set off to hike a giant rock. This was our first active activity of the trip, which was a nice adrenaline release, The beginning of the hike was relatively flat, although we did have to jump a couple of rivers. Josh continued to show us his “tracking skills” from footprints that he has demonstrated earlier at lunch. He had dramatized the demonstration, but he was still surprisingly accurate in guess whose footprints were whose. Our guide for the excursion, Matt, was incredibly knowledgeable and entertained us during the flat part of the hike. The steep part was only about twenty minutes and the view at the top was probably one of the best of the entire trip. We took some pictures on these huge rocks and then climbed to the other side to take pictures of the glaciers and snow-covered mountains. I was terrified Ethan was going to die as he climbed further and further out onto the cliff, but he didn’t. Then the girls did really bad yoga while everyone else laughed and took pictures. Before we walked back down Josh had us take a few moments to just take in our surroundings and think. The walk down was quicker because we just bushwhacked and slid down the rock. Josh and Kristen talked to me about what it would take to be a rustic leader. They each individually told me they thought I could handle it and said they would write me recommendations- assuming I could stay out of trouble. Josh and I then talked more about faith and it was comforting to know that there was someone out here who had a similar a faith and similar beliefs as me out here. Right before we arrived back at camp, Kristin showed us how to clean water with a water pump.

When we arrived back at the camp we settled in for a relaxing evening. We played an incredibly frustrating game of Uno for at least two hours. Finally, dinner arrived with Matt, ending the game and probably saving a lot of our friendships. The dinner was lasagna and delicious warm bread and butter. After dinner we all just sat around the campfire and talked until about 10:30 P.M. We then moved into my tent for a dance pater. Even though we didn’t really dance much, it was still a fun time and we all spent the time doubled over in laughter. Once Kristin and Josh kicked everyone out of our tent, Edie, Leah, and I stayed about for probably at least another three hours talking, singing, and annoying the guys in the tent next to us.

It’s crazy to think that we’re already over a third of the way done the trip. I feel like the last two days has brought us all so much closer as a group. I am looking forward to the end to see where the trip takes us but I know it will be hard to say goodbye to everyone. I’m just going to take it all one day at a time.

***Oh, we also had an outhouse with no door and an amazing view, her name was Allison.

June 27, 2016

I made the first boat back to camp this morning that left around 8:00 A.M. Back at MacLaren Lodge there was an accident with an engine while trying to fix the big boat. Since the big boat was still broken, Matt had to take four river trips to get all of us and our stuff back instead of only three. Breezy, Jack, Kristin, and myself froze on the first ride. The warm breakfast followed by a hot shower made it slightly better; however, during breakfast I realized I had lost my wallet. I was sure it was not in my bag and most likely back at the mercantile shop in Denali. After I showered, I took the opportunity to FaceTime Dad and Zack quickly just to check in before Zack left for Costa Rica. I had time to journal too which was great because I was able to take some me time and relax. Overall I am very happy with my dedication to journaling throughout the trip so far.

My Great Alaskan Adventure: Denali

img_7682June 23, 2016

Today, instead of writing about my eight hour bus tour through Denali National Park, I listed interesting information and facts that our bus driver Bear told us.

Bear: we are pretty sure he got his name because he fought a bear and won, but we don’t know for sure

Denali Wildlife Sightings: moose, seagulls, hare, doll sheep (from really far away on a mountain), ptarmigan (Alaska state bird), caribou, more birds (there was this really annoying group of people on the back of our bus that liked to yell for Bear to stop every time he saw a soaring bird- every. time.)

Time of Departure: 7:00 AM

Park is six million acres.

We were park of the 33% club- the 33% of people that were actually able to see Mt. McKinley (Denali) because normally it was too cloudy.

Mt. McKinley has been reported by pilots from over four hundred miles away.

Teklanika Campground- last ground site that you can drive to in the park with a minimum three night stay.

Stop #1L Teklanika (8:20 AM)

Igloo Forest- spruce trees

Sub-arctic climate- can snow at any time.

Igloo Canyon Campsite elevation- 2940

2006: Found evidence of dinosaurs and some areas have so many dinosaur tracks they are called “dance floors.”

Sable Mountain has no off-road hiking because of wild-life protection.

Stop #2: Toklat (10:02 AM)

There are twenty-five species of mosquitos in Alaska, but only one amphibian- the tree frog- and no snakes other than people who have pets.

After our bus tour we went back to the campsite and began making camp-site enchiladas that were absolutely delicious. The night consisted of lots of different games- Mafia, BS, slaps, spoons, and others. The night was eventful because Morgan, Leah, Breezy, and I had to move camp and re-setup our tent. Once the boys finally left us alone and our tent was moved, we quickly fell asleep.

June 24, 2016

This morning Kristen started shaking our tent telling us not to leave because there was a giant moose and we would probably die. I wanted to look out of the tent window, but Breezy was still asleep and see was on the window side. It was okay though because the moose was still sleeping behind the bathroom. Right before we left the camp the moose and one of its babies crossed the road and we got some great photos!

We did a mix of busing and walking to reach where we would see a dog sledding demonstration. Even though I openly admit I am not a dog (or animal) person, the Alaskan Huskies were pretty adorable and the lighting at the sight was also pretty great for pictures. The most interesting fact about the sled dogs was that each litter had a theme for their names. For example, the volcanic litter had names like Lava and Ash. The demonstration itself was cool because we could learn how during the winter the dogs really served as “warriors to wilderness” and helped things run smoothly at Denali- the only park in the system that used sled dogs. We also learned the difference between the Denali dogs that were bred for strength and the Iditarod dogs that were bred for speed.

We then quickly stopped at the camp-site’s convenience store for snacks before we embarked on a bus-ride essentially to the middle of nowhere. The bus-ride included a couple food, photo, and bathroom stops where we received our first “potty bags,” a part of the “leave no trace” mentality. The highlight of the bus ride was our dance party when “DJ Logan” played middle-school hits like “Tik Tok” and “Dynamite”- songs that sent me right back to awkward, sweaty, Lawrence Middle School dances.

My Great Alaskan Adventure: Anchorage


June 21, 2016

Today the long-awaited day arrived for my departure to Anchorage, Alaska. We departed for Newark airport around 5:30 a.m. so I could catch my first flight to Houston, Texas at 9:25 a.m. I spent my time playing killer Sudoku and eagerly awaiting another soft blue t-shirt to join me at my gate; however, when it came time to board I was still on my own. The first portion of the flight I do not remember much of as I was asleep in my window seat. Next to me sat an older man with a kind face who I could not help but notice was also social media savvy- checking both his Facebook and Instagram before we departed. The rest of the flight was marked with writing, reading Tuesdays with Morrie (trying desperately not to fly through the book, but nevertheless finding myself sucked into Mitch Albom’s pages as I had recently done with his Five People You Meet in Heaven), and occasionally getting lost in my own thoughts because planes typically give individuals a unique opportunity to do just that.

Flight two from Houston to my final destination of Anchorage was going to to be the killer- seven hours. I still had not met any other rustic students and had a momentary freakout that when I showed up everyone else was going to be best friends and I was going to be the “new kid” who was going to get bullied out of the state of Alaska. Clearly my freakout was entirely illogical. I finished reading Tuesdays With Morrie (STRONGLY recommend) and was trying to hold off from starting my next (and last!) book until at least hour five.

The first three hours of flight two were uneventful as I watched Star Wars: Episode IV (because the proper order is (IV, V, VI, I, II, III, and now VII) until I decided it would be fun to spill water down the front of myself. I popped open my brand new water bottle and all the water began spraying out the top because the straw got suction-cupped to the bottom. Thank goodness that my quick-dry jacket was actually quick to dry and water-resistant! It was a struggle to get napkins though because the flight attendant was too busy fawning over the “unaccompanied minors” sitting next to me and bringing them free food. I was staying positive though because of the beautiful mountain views outside my window.

With two and a half hours to go I would say we’re in the final stretch, but that’s kind of idealistic because that’s a pretty long stretch. My quick-dry shirt did in fact dry quickly and now is ready to once again be worn. While it was drying I started watching Dead Pool because Matt recommended it awhile back. Thoughts- it’s really good but also makes me want to vomit and pass-out at the same time.

Around seven o’clock we finally landed in Anchorage and I went to try to find both my bag and the other Rustic staff. At first I couldn’t find either and I began to panic until I finally caught a glimpse of the purple rustic shirts I had seen on SnapChat. The staff member came over to me and introduced himself as RJ from New York. He said we were waiting for one other girl- Julia, who I later found out liked to go by Breezy- and then Josh (another staff member) would pick up RJ, Breezy, Leah, and myself.

When we reached the hostel we’d be in for the night we met the third staff-member, Kristen, and another student named Logan. Breezy, Leah, and I went up to the girls’ room, but everyone was asleep and no one was very welcoming. We went back downstairs and got to know Josh and Logan over some not great, but very welcome pasta. Soon after, I showered and got ready for bed. It was around 10:00 PM  in Anchorage and 2:00 AM at home in Lawrenceville. I had already fallen in love with the state, the city’s fresh air and the spectacular landscapes.

June 22, 2016

Today I lost my favorite pen, but I guess that’s okay because I’m in Alaska and it’s completely and utterly beautiful.

Since it’s bright all the time here and there’s a four hour time difference, I woke up relatively early this morning. Leah, Breezy, and I were ironically the first ones downstairs at the hostel so we hung out, talked, and played a bit of chess before the rest of the group came down and breakfast began.

Today we journeyed to Denali National Park and it was about a eight hour ride total, but that included a break at a convenience store similar to Wal-Mart as well as a lunch break and some other scenic spot and gas breaks. The most exciting part of the trip was my idea to purchase a group mascot that took the form of a ram named Randolph Jr. Laura and I were incredibly happy with our purchase and so was the rest of our group.

When we arrived at camp in Denali National Park we set up tents and began unloading bags and making dinner. Our dinner was rice, chicken, and veggies which was delicious and once again very much needed. After a quick orientation we began packing the van with “smelly stuff” to avoid bears and other scary animals. Overall the day was a good start to my adventure in Alaska and I have high hopes for the rest of my trip.