There’s little about Alaska that is not dramatic. Mountains. Seasons. Rivers. Even the people.
Like anything, however, when you’re living it the changes seem incremental. It’s looking over the past in photos that makes everything seem so sudden.
Our first year in Alaska was one of milestones paired with the changes of the seasons. Summer, the start of school, suddenly fall, suddenly winter, back to outdoor adventures after our recovery hiatus. In one blink winter had turned to what we call “break-up,” as the thick layers of ice that coat parking lots, sidewalks, driveways and parts of streets start to melt in the increasing sunlight.
A few weeks of gross mush and dirt covering everything and – bam! – spring was summer. Sunlight, temperatures in the 50s and 60s, and green covering all the things.
For Alaskans there is no real off season. Oh sure, there are days in the long and dark winter months where you have more time for things like sipping coffee by a fire with friends or hitting the movie theater — things we most definitely do not have time for when the sun sets for a mere four hours a day but it’s actually light all the time. But Alaskans just put on more layers and do snow things instead of summer things — snow-machining (or “snowmobiling” in the rest of the U.S.), skiing, snowshoeing, tubing, dogsledding, ice fishing.
We did adventure a little in our self-inflicted pre-actual-winter off season. We hiked a glacier, filmed a TV show, did a short hike here and there in Eagle River and the “The Valley,”as the area north of Anchorage is known, visited the local Reindeer farm two times and hit some of our local festivals (and Alaskans *love* festivals).
The days get increasingly shorter and the air increasingly colder through mid-December, until the sun rises at around 10:15 a.m. and sets again around 4 p.m. On a practical level, that means things start to get a little light somewhere around 9 a.m., and darkness has settled by 5 p.m. or so.
And yes, it does make you want to sleep a lot. And, yes, it is a little depressing.
It didn’t take us long to discover, however, that the key to success was getting outside a little bit everyday anyway. Darkness be damned, and all that. So we bundled up and tried new winter things one step at a time.
The Anchorage area had what, I’m told, was usually cold weather this year, getting down to -30º. Yes, that’s 30 degrees BELOW zero. That kind of cold hurts unless you are well dressed against it — lots of layers and appropriate shoes. None of this “I can totally just dash from the car to the store in my Toms” stuff.
But we went out anyway. We shoveled our driveway. We tried cross-country and downhill skiing. We took a Christmas trip to Seward. We went tubing. We snowshoed. And, yes, I went running.
Finally, spring came to Alaska — marked most clearly by melting, slushy, muddy snow and a lot of ice as the wind came through and froze over the melt.
And then, just like that, leaves were out and warmer weather had arrived by early May. And for that we are grateful.