Hi everyone! I’m back! It’s so great to be posting here again. While the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, we’ve finally reached the point where the world is slowly, tentatively, starting to open back up. There has been a noticeable shift in the general mood, and it seems to me that people are eager for content that isn’t centered on the coronavirus. I don’t know about you, but I’m weary of the laser focus on pandemic news and ready for something fresh and cheerful.
In that spirit, I feel that it’s finally appropriate for me to begin publishing again. We’re starting off small and light with a new Flashback Friday post – right on schedule! – but be on the lookout for more robust new content coming your way later this month. I can’t wait to share what I’ve been working on with you!
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Flashback Friday: Returning to Alaska
From 2009 to 2011, May was an incredibly exciting month for me. In 2009, it was the month when I first started my job as a tour director in Alaska and the Yukon. In 2010 and 2011, it was the month when I headed back up north to be reunited with the place and people that had completely taken hold of my heart.
May is a beautiful time of year to be in Alaska. The snow is slowly melting off, and bears have come out of hibernation (often with adorable cubs in tow). Flowers are starting to bloom as the days stretch longer and longer into the night. The whole summer lies ahead, full of promise and anticipation.
Accordingly, May is also the start of the summer tourist season, which meant it was time to get to work! Guiding tours in Alaska was a really unique, special job. It was such a joy and an honor to be a part of what was, for many people, a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.
My forty-four guests and I covered an astonishing amount of territory over the course of our seven to twelve days together: about 1,200 miles in all, including some incredibly remote areas. Along the way, we witnessed the breathtaking beauty of the Last Frontier, spotted lots of wildlife, ate great food, and became a little family for the week. (I definitely got choked up saying goodbye to a few groups, and I received Christmas cards from former guests for years afterward.) The occasional mishap or high maintenance guest kept things interesting, but overall it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.
The absolute best part of being a tour director, though, was the group of incredible people that I got to call my co-workers. It takes a certain kind of person to commit to spending a summer in such a remote place working long hours to take care of the needs of complete strangers. While we had some duds like any job, on the whole, the people I worked with in Alaska were outgoing, fun, flexible, adventurous, charismatic, and gregarious. We were constantly spread out across the region on our various tours, which meant that each night you found yourself with a new mix of people. The result was fast friendships, shared adventures, and the excited anticipation of who you’d cross paths with next.
Each May, returning tour directors started trickling back up to Anchorage to start the season. Every day felt exciting as a new group of old friends came back into town.
Before tours began, we all attended a two-day “refresher training” given by our Seattle-based bosses. There, we learned what had changed between seasons and what to expect in the coming summer, in addition to brushing up on our customer service skills and Alaska knowledge.
After business was over, though, the fun began. It was the last time we would all be together until the following May, and we took advantage of it. We spent time exploring Girdwood, a funky town south of Anchorage, and stayed in the luxurious Hotel Alyeska. One year, we even traveled to the quirky town of Whittier to go sea kayaking.
For the past nine years since I left Alaska, I’ve always felt a little twinge of nostalgia and jealousy at the beginning of May. With the tourist season about to begin, my social media feeds were always full of excited chatter about getting back up north. Photos of happy reunions abounded, and there were lots of posts about the fun being had without me. Regardless of how happy I am in my current life, it’s hard not to miss Alaska and my friends from those summers very deeply at this time of year.
May 2020 has been sad for another reason. In mid-April, it was announced that Princess and Holland America cruise lines would be canceling the majority of their Alaska seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was not only a devastating blow to Alaskans and their economy, but also to many of my friends who still rely upon that industry for work. It was a revelation that drove home just how precious that place and the years I spent there were, and how grateful I am to have shared them with so many incredible people.
Happily, that disappointment and nostalgia resulted in something wonderful: a Zoom video chat with some of my favorite people from my very first season in Alaska. Sixteen of us met up virtually and talked for hours. We shared life updates, reminisced about good times, laughed until our sides ached, and reaffirmed just how special a bond was created by what might otherwise look like just a cool summer job. It was 2:00 AM before I finally logged off, but my heart couldn’t have been happier.
While I lament the negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the Alaskan economy and the lives of my friends who live and/or work there, I have a lot of hope that good will come out of all of this in the end. It will be nice for heavily touristed wilderness areas to have a bit of a breather, and places like Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan will have a summer without some of the downsides that come along with the cruise industry.
People aren’t going to stop wanting to experience the beauty and majesty of the 49th state. The summer of 2021 will be here before we know it, and with it the chance to head back up north.
And when May comes around again, I know I’ll be dreaming about Alaska.
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This post about returning to Alaska was originally published on May 15, 2020, and last updated on May 15, 2021.
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