Our morning ritual was becoming familiar: we woke at the crack of dawn, and while still dark, fumbled to take down camp, pack our things, and set off to a new location. We skipped breakfast as we planned on eating once we arrived in Gustavus from Juneau. The flight was only 30 minutes, after all.
Unfortunately, our flight was delayed nearly four hours due to weather, leaving us three and a half hours too long to spend exploring the Juneau airport. We scavenged for breakfast, but as there was only one restaurant in the entire airport (not recommended by the flight crew), we ate a gas station type meal of string cheese and coffee.
The only flights to Gustavus left from Juneau on puddle jumper 1960s era Cessna-like airplanes that wibble-wobbled with each and every light gust of wind. The interiors were so tiny, that for safety reasons everything had to be checked in, even things like water bottles and camera bags. I’m mentioning this because had I known we would spend 4 hours in that airport, I would have at least not packed my cell phone or Kindle or food…
I usually love airports, but after memorizing every square inch of that airport (something that could be easily accomplished in 30 minutes), I became extremely restless. There were only so many cups of coffee one could drink, tabloids one can read, and stuffed bears one can photograph.
I cannot tell you how much I love this photo. It’s so tragically weird.
Finally, we were given the go-ahead to load our kidney-red shell of a plane. Our pilot was a girl who looked about 22 years old, and even she was about 5 years older than most of the pilots we saw. I didn’t have much confidence in this combination of old, busted plane and young whippersnapper, but then I didn’t have much of a choice.
Flights like these by small, independent flight companies were really common in Alaska, and for all I know they were safer than flying on a jet. In flight, it certainly didn’t feel that way. It felt as if the plane had been launched by a sling shot mechanism, and was essentially free floating along its trajectory for exactly 30 minutes, at which point it just happened to land in Gustavus. I also had an inkling that the ‘electronics’ on board the plane wss really just a dummy logistics screen/prop displaying some previously recorded video of a flight simulator (running a VHS tape attached below the dashboard, I’m sure) that ran on a loop.
Needless to say, I was really happy when we landed.
Once in Gustavus, we packed in a shuttle with a bunch of Euros wearing massive amounts of cologne and headed to Glacier Bay Lodge.
Glacier Bay National Park, our destination for the next couple of days, was located seven miles from the tiny town of Gustavus. To give an idea of the size of this town, there are 200 people that live there in the winter, and 400 in the summer. The one school in town graduated three students last year – they were all brothers (a bit Little House on the Prairie unless they were triplets…?) It’s a sleepy town set amid pristine wilderness and is easily navigable by bike or on foot.
We splurged on hamburgers at the lodge and then hiked the Bartlett Cove Trail to the Bartlett River estuary.
After all that waiting around in airports and airplanes, it was so amazing to finally be outside, stretching our legs, and hiking through such a lush landscape. We saw so many countless varieties of mushrooms and plants and birds in such plenitude, that it would have taken a lifetime to identify them all. We were completely alone on the trail. And although moose and bear were frequently spotted on that trail, we never ran into any.
Gustavus and Glacier Bay were carved out zillions of years ago by moving glaciers, creating a fertile, almost jurassic park-like landscape. Except for all the mud we had to wade through, the trail was, for the most part, flat and easy going.
Most of the trail meandered through light-dappled Sitka Spruce trees. And then, as if by magic, the forest parted and opened up onto a stunning meadow. Once again, we had the place to ourselves.
At the end of our trip in Alaska, I asked Sly what was his favorite place he visited/thing he saw. He said Bartlett Cove, and I agreed. This place was beyond beautiful; it was magical. Immersed in such a pristine natural setting, watching all kinds of animals living as they have always lived, we felt like mere observers of something greater than us; something greater than we could even fathom.
Our day started shaky with bad weather and flight delays, but in some weird way, it felt like it all happened as it should – so that we could sit on a rock on the Bartlett River at that exact moment, and watch the sun sink low in the horizon. We could have stayed on that rock forever. Neither of us wanted to leave.
Back at the lodge, we stuffed ourselves with loadednachos, watched the sunset, and said goodbye to a beautiful day.