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Backpacking in Alaska - Part I - Blueberry Creek

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

This morning was frigid. We woke up to shiny slivers melting in tiny drops off of stems and miniature leaves of blueberry bushes, brushing up against our tent.

I pulled today’s hiking pants and smart-wool socks out of the bottom of my sleeping bag where I’ve been keeping them warm all night. I can see my breath as I quickly pull off my fleece and thermal layers, exposing goose-bumped skin to the crisp air, and swap for the day’s gear.

Tradelle is doing the same, and we both make jokes over chattering teeth to distract our minds from the chill. It’s day 3, and we’ve started to settle into a groove - it’s funny how the mind works that way. It doesn’t take much more than necessity to establish new routines.

We head over to the food tent to gather our personal care products from their bear barrels, where they spent the night 100 yards away from our tents. I walk down to the glacier-fed creek. It flows with an urgency on it’s trek from ice to lake. The water feels like it should still be solid, but it’s refreshing. I fill my water bottle for the morning as I spit foamy biodegradable toothpaste downstream. I splash some of that crystal-clear glacial melt on my face and turn to head back up the almost vertical wall of moss and spongy tundra to the food tent where our guides are heating that glacial water to brew coffee for the group.

I join them and plop down on a bear barrel with a blue strip of tape with Sarah’s name on it, holding my meal cup in both gloved hands - I'm ready for morning brew and powdered milk.

By the time the 10 of us have taken down a vat of oats, dried fruit and nuts - thereby lightening our loads ever so slightly - I’ve warmed up enough to take off the top layer (Tradelle’s puffer, since I’ve already got all mine on), hand it back to him. I take the next layer off to tie around my waist. It’s still quite cold, but bearable under just the normal layers now.

It’s been a few days and I haven’t yet had to grab the bright yellow bag that holds TP, a lighter, a trowel and bear spray and go off alone to do my business. I’m half-glad the dehydrated camp food is finally making moves, but I tell ya...there’s nothing quite like digging a 6-inch hole in the thick tundra to squat over while scanning the horizon for predators. That’ll warm you up.

Today is a layover day. Our camp sits on the side of the creek, and if you look up the valley you can see it winding endlessly like the drips of rain sliding down the side of a car window. Our guides say there’s a glacier we can see if we follow it for about 5 miles.

10+ miles of hiking there and back, a caribou sighting, an almost unbelievable amount of change in terrain - from boulder fields covered in thick, spongy grass and moss to rocky stream crossings, to scaling almost vertical shale ridges - and we'll end in the same spot we started from.

We stopped along the way to admire the views or fill our hands with fresh wild blueberries and munch on the tiny sweet spheres as we walked.

And then, we turned around and came back. There were large stretches on the way back, where all I could think was “what’s the point of this?” Every other day on this trip, we’d hike and sweat. Our muscles would burn and our feet would ache, but we’d have traveled miles. We’d camp in a new spot. We were making progress.

But this day, I struggled. My mindset is usually one of accomplishing. Doing. Improving. Having something to show for hard work.

This layover day taught me more than some of the toughest days of our 9-day backpacking trek. I learned more on this relatively easy day than I did on some of the most physically and mentally demanding days of crossing glaciers and sliding down almost vertical slopes of skree...and let’s not forget each bowel movement could be life or death, if you came face to face with a grizzly.

But this day, I learned it was all part of the process. I preach to my clients regularly about trusting the process, enjoying the workouts and meals because they nourish us and staying the course, even when we hit a plateau.

This layover day was my plateau. I had to work through it and understand it was all part of the journey. It served a purpose. It strengthened my fortitude. It prepped my body for harder days to come. It improved my endurance. It taught me to appreciate the journey. This trip wasn't a race to some finish line - it was about the experiences of each day, hour, minute.

It’s not about rushing through to the next checkpoint, milestone, weight loss goal, promotion, partner, bigger house or faster car.

We walked all day and ended up back where we started. But it was about the breathtaking mountains we saw shooting up from the earth. It was the creek we walked along, humming by us while the sun beat down and warmed our skin from the sting the Alaskan wind.

It was chatting with our new friends, laughing with old friends and snacking on trail mix while watching caribou lay in the tall brush. It was the eagle sighting. It was overcoming challenges. It was the invigorating feeling of a cold wash in the creek after a long day, followed by a hearty meal and nice long sleep.

Part II coming soon is all about those tougher challenges that I didn't know were coming. I can’t say anything could have prepared me for them, but coming out on the other side was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

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