It seems like nearly every vacation I’ve been on, I’ve mostly known what to expect. While I’ve been on too many trips to count, they’ve all been to seemingly familiar places. I’d never really branched out past conventional beach stays or numerous theme park trips, never ventured off the beaten path so to speak. Our travels were always to relax, and never to branch out and explore.
I sat on the plane to Anchorage, not knowing what to expect. Thinking back on everything I thought I knew of Alaska, I expected to be landing in a small, tree-covered city near the coast. Instead, after an interesting eight hours of flying, we landed in a hazy, industrial town that thrived off tourism. The commercialized town was little of what I expected and did little to impress us. We reluctantly left and headed north towards Denali National Park. The drive gradually progressed from a dull, grey skyline to a clear, mountainous landscape the further north we traveled. Mesmerized by the grandeur of country, we pressed on, winding on through the mountains and finally arriving at our destination for the night. Unfortunately, this lackluster resort only built upon the example set by Anchorage and resembled a cross between Pigeon Forge and a retirement home. The next day, while unimpressed and unable to bear much more, we made our way out of town and back down the highway.
In hopes of finding something worthwhile, we went against our better judgement and started running our rental car down 20 miles of gravel highway. The first mile or so resembled that of the average woods, but the deeper we drove, the more impressive the scenery became. Well into the heart of the road, a lifeless gravel hill gave way to a massive valley enclosed with snow-peaked mountains. We had accidentally found ourselves drifting into the very scenery we had been admiring from a distance the day before. The moment we had to stop for a moose to cross the road in front of us, I knew we had found what we were looking for. The iconic Alaska we had originally envisioned was gradually revealing itself before us. The ever changing horizon constantly revealed something more amazing, compelling us forward down the never-ending roadway. Unfortunately, we had to turn our focus towards not running out of gas and head back the way we came.
As the trip wore on, the gravel roads grew more and more abundant, each leading through an entirely different, yet equally amazing location. We soon found ourselves embarking on gravel roads with little hesitation. Some progressed from low tundras to rolling, green hills; while others, from salmon filled rivers to clam filled beaches. Regardless of our destination, we were constantly amazed by these hidden treasures that seemed virtually unknown to most. No matter where we were, there was always some awe-inspiring place just a short drive away. Beneath the surface of nearly every commercialized attraction, lied what was at the heart of Alaska. Lost in the impressiveness of the landscapes, the trip flew by and we soon found ourselves on a long flight home.
While sitting there reflecting, I began to wonder whether the unmistakeable appeal of Alaska existed elsewhere. Whether the kinds of places we had inadvertently stumbled upon were hidden in every corner of the globe behind unappealing exteriors. Seeing what can lie at the end of a rough looking gravel road, I won’t let my uneasiness about the path ahead stand in the way, no matter where it may lead.
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