“Sail Away” With Me

In the last blog post, “Who’s Afraid of the Denali Highway?”, I shared our experience crossing the Denali Highway for the first time.  It was quite exciting, but before we crossed we arrived in Paxson and drove to the first pull off to get our bearings and grab a quick bite in the RV.  It was the evening of our 6th wedding anniversary and I began to think about 7 years ago when we witnessed the aurora for the first time.  The “highway” was going to be quite secluded from any city lights.  I ran outside to assess whether or not we had a chance to repeat our luck.  The sky was beautiful, but heavily scattered with wispy clouds.  Normally, I would be tickled pink, but I was hoping for clear skies.  We proceeded to fix dinner and got to sleep a bit earlier than normal … setting the alarm for 11:30 pm.

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When the alarm rang, I got dressed for the cold and the wind, which I could hear howling outside.  Is everything ready?  Camera with proper night shooting settings? Tripod set up? Remote shutter connected?  Fresh memory card?  Fresh battery?  Proper wide angle lens attached?  All systems seemed like … GO.  The stars were brightly lit and that’s when I realized that the skies had indeed cleared.  Yippee!

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In & out of the RV I went, trying to get warm from that wicked wind.  On one particular run outside, we saw it … the aurora, also referred to as the northern lights.  It was stretched out on the vast landscape before us.  At this point it was relatively stagnant … just fabulous light which would intensify and then retreat.

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Composition … I searched my surroundings for something that I incorporate into the frame to make the shot more interesting.  OK, secret be told, this is actually a really nice outhouse in the lot that we were parked in.  LOL.  I know, quite romantic, but who cares, it was a structure and served the purpose I was looking for.  Now the light was beginning to include a hint of purple hue as well.

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It was then that the lights began to float across the night’s dark sky.  I distinctly remember hearing the wind, feeling it against my face, and I became quite thrilled.  Yes, my senses went back to that first night on August 30th, 2007 … Chena Hot Springs – Tom & I snuggled up under multiple blankets, freezing, as we laid down on top of a picnic table and watched the northern lights as they danced across the sky.  Of course, I would run over to my tripod on occasion to try to capture the experience.

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As the aurora intensified and other colors appeared, I no longer felt the cold.  All I felt was the sensory overload that I was experiencing and the endorphins or whatever flowing through my body … touching my soul like only the aurora can.

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In some cultures, witnessing the aurora is considered to be one of the most prized events in their lifetime.  Some say that the experience bestows good relationships and fortune on its lucky observers.  We never expected to see it the first time we did, so it was quite the pleasant surprise.  It totally moved us spiritually, as the lights fell like curtains dancing in the wind.

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At this point, I thought it was dwindling and I figured that I would be satisfied with what I had already witnessed.  I retreated into the RV and put my PJs on for the night.  Before I got under the covers, I took one my shot at the night skies.  This is what I saw … and all bets were off … in my bare feet and PJs (I’m talking single layered), I ran out with my tripod in hand and began shooting in awe again.  In actuality, it was even colder than before, but it didn’t matter.

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Point is, I didn’t even feel it.  Tom stayed inside for a bit, then finally joined me, with proper clothing on, of course.  Oh, and he offered me my jacket.  Always the sherpa.  ❤

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On August 30, 2008, we got married in Chena Hot Springs in honor of our 1st aurora experience.  Seemed appropriate that we would once again see them on August 30th, some 6 years later.  Sort of like renewing our vows.  🙂  Each year, on our anniversary, we go out into nature and present each other with a gift from nature.  I don’t think we could have asked for a better one.

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Reminds me of the David Gray song “Sail Away”.

Lyrics:                                                                                                                                           “Crazy skies all wild above me now
Winter howling at my face
And everything I held so dear
Disappeared without a trace”

I’m sure that wasn’t the actual meaning of the lyrics, but it was to us.  I couldn’t say anything better to describe the experience.  You totally get lost in the experience.  I still get all emotional when I hear that song … ask Tom.  LOL

Coming Up:  A Week in Denali National Park.  Stay tuned.  🙂

© 2014 TNWA Photography

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Afraid of the Denali Highway?

Each year that we travel to Alaska, we always make sure that we experience something NEW … something that we hadn’t tried before … somewhere that we hadn’t been before … or something that we haven’t photographed before.  In 2014, one of our NEWs was traveling across the Denali Highway – from Paxson to Cantwell … all 135 miles of it!

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Though this was already our 8th trip to Alaska, it was of course, our 1st across this infamous stretch of lonely road.  Why?, you might wonder.  A few responses come to mind, such as “the more travelled Glenn Highway is wonderful as well”, “the road is too slow for our pace”, “what if we got a flat(s) along the way?”, and being a relatively un-maintained road, “how bad is the road really?”.  The road had a reputation of being primarily washboard like and extremely dusty.  Caution went to the wind and onward we drove.  Well we began on our journey early one morning and we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by almost 24 miles of paved road right off the bat!  The scenery along the way, on this mostly clear day, was unmatched as well.  Like the Glenn Highway, it was breathtaking views, but it all felt so much closer on the Denali, as it climbed steeply up the foothills of the central Alaskan Range.

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OK, maybe not that close … but you get the idea.  🙂

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Everywhere you looked, there were jaw-dropping views.  We found ourselves experiencing “shock & awe”  Awed by all of the beauty and quite honestly shocked that we had never traveled this way before.  Of particular beauty was the area around Triple Lakes … gosh how I wished I could own that cabin!  LOL

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At precisely MM 21.3, was where the paved road ended and the gravel road began.  We both paused for a moment – yes, to take the image, but also to vow to each other that no matter what happened, we were in it together and wouldn’t place any blame on each other.  LOL.  We were going full steam ahead in our rented 28′ RV (which wasn’t restricted from the “highway”, but rather not encouraged, with warnings to proceed with caution).  Heck, we figured it couldn’t be worse than the year that we drove a slightly larger RV over Hatcher Pass … not a good idea for anyone wondering about that trip.

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Various lakes and kettle ponds dotted the road and the views continued to wow us.

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We even got to shoot some hawks along the way.  The wildlife however was otherwise non-existent … but who could blame them for hiding, since it was an active hunting season.  Sort of bummed about that.

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Views of Mt. Deborah, Mt. Hayes, Mt. Hess, as well as the overall Wrangell Mountains, Chugach Mountains, and the Alaskan Range were offered up along the way.  At the Mcclaren Summit, the road reaches a height of 4086′, which earns it the 2nd highest road in AK.  The area also serves as a drainage for the Cooper River, Tanana/Yukon River, and the Susitna River.

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In the distance, you can see the Maclaren Glacier and the Maclaren River, with the mountains looming even further in the distance.

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We found it really difficult to make our way across the highway on our adventure, as we couldn’t have pictured it nicer and so far, pretty uneventful as far as the road was concerned.

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All that we were missing was the wildlife, but as I mentioned earlier, I was glad that they were all in hiding.  Though there were numerous hunters camped out, we didn’t see any of their successful conquests … thankfully.

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As we neared the 2/3 marker of the highway, the weather began to get dreary and our visibility began to diminish, so we made more of an effort to simply get it done.  Gone were the promised views of Denali, but hey, it was an amazing run while it lasted.

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Would we do it again?  There’s a 3-word response to that question … In A Heartbeat! It just goes to prove the point … “sometimes the road less traveled is the most amazing one”.  On a side, for those with good recall and might have been wondering, Yes, we were still talking when our tires once again hit the pavement for the final 2-3 miles.  In fact, I believe that we were closer than ever … very tired, but exhilarated at the same time.

Stay tuned for our unexpected surprise along the Denali Highway … you don’t want to miss it, I promise.  🙂

© 2015  TNWA Photography