After spending a full year living in Alaska, I went into my third summer at the Kenai Riverside Lodge not knowing what to expect for the months to come. I met Kellie that summer, working her first season at the lodge. Her sweetness blossomed as she spoke of her life back in Virginia. As the summer went on and our friendship grew stronger, I asked her to join me when I decided to drive back to Tennessee. To my good fortune, she said yes!
After the cold summer ended and we made our last dime for the season, we headed back into Anchorage. Kellie’s Aunt Joanie lived there and took us in while we prepared for the road. I customized my 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a bed and the essentials to live off the road.
We left Anchorage late in the afternoon on a rainy Thursday. We headed north towards Palmer and Hatchers Pass. I’d always been curious about this spot as we’d heard great things and seen amazing photos, but had never gone. So it was a must before leaving the State.
We made our way up close to Independence Mine before finding a pull off on the side of the road to settle in. It was still socked in and rainy so we got tucked into the back of the jeep and fell asleep.
To our chagrin, the next morning was more of the same. We both wanted to go for a long hike and see the autumn colors. Kellie suggested we drive up to the summit of the pass and walk around Summit Lake. Even with the cold wind whistling through, it was fun trekking around the streams up to the lake.
With our adventures in Alaska coming to an end, it was bittersweet to be in such a beautiful place knowing we had to leave.
We hopped on the Glenn Highway and headed toward Wrangle St. Elias National Park. Lucky for us, it was in the right direction – we were driving into the clear skies and bright sun.
The fall colors were vibrant and electric. The trees made a golden highway that filled our hearts with joy. With Matanuska Glacier off in the distance it made leaving Alaska that much harder.
After a long day of driving, we made it to the north entrance of the park. Down a dirt road, we found a nice spot with a perfect view of the mountains. We cooked our first meal; pasta with leftover calamari and artichoke hearts, crab dip with garlic bread – we were in heaven.
We couldn’t believe this wonderful life and the incredible journey we were heading towards. Once our dishes were clean and put away, we turned up the music and danced the night away in honor of our final Alaskan sunset.
All images © 2010 – 2017 John Mason Harbison