Exploring Alaska: Sled Dogs, Salmon Trails and Kayaking

Exploring Alaska: Sled Dogs, Salmon Trails and Kayaking

The Alaskan wilderness is a magnet for the dreamers. Come with your heart open for adventures – you'll leave thoroughly satisfied.

Image credit: Paxson Woelber

If Texas is the Wild, Wild West, Alaska is its frosty, northern equivalent. It is a place where rolling hills stretch to touch the sky; where scores of salmon are being wrangled between competing trawlers; where historic sled dog rallies take place, and where the fibreglass hull of your kayak touches the icy cold water.

Pack light, but leave room in your beating heart for the pounding of your life.

Exploring Alaska is no stroll in the park; it is the United States’ largest state — twice as big as Texas, and only beaten in size by 18 countries. You feel so tiny, knowing that both its ends may well be beyond your reach. But what fun is a playground when you know its boundaries? You have read about the sheer mountain density in Alaska, numbering in the hundreds; you take note of Denali, the highest of them all, at 6190m, but today is its lucky day. You choose not to conquer it, your heart set on level ground.

Image credit: The U.S. Army

You hear excited barks in the distance and find a sled team — dogs and musher covering distances at a rate previously unseen. They make it look so easy, and at that moment, that is all you want to do. You have watched video footages of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, a gruelling 9 to 15-day sled rally that pushes both man and dog to the very limit across some 1,600km, accompanied by freezing temperatures as low as -73°C. You begin to wonder if your insurance covers dog sled-related accidents, but more importantly, you understandably question your skills.

Still, you get a shot of learning the ropes from Iditarod’s greatest champions: the Seaveys — Father Mitch and son Dallas have won 6 titles between them, with the latter also winning the equally punishing Yukon Quest. The Seavey family runs a sled dog tour company, and apart from getting a taste of the thrill of racing, you also peer behind the scenes at the level of tender loving care shown towards these furry friends. “Take care of your dogs, and they will take care of you,” as their motto goes.

Image credit: FairbanksMike

Alaska is not only known for its vast landscape, but also for its teeming waters. All year round, various schools of fish flock there to feed on protein-rich supplements like krill and shrimp. With such a rich diet, you can therefore expect the finest tasting king salmons around.

However, rather than sitting in a restaurant and being served one on a platter, seize the opportunity to get out in the open sea with experienced skippers who know where to cast their nets and rods, and feel the immense satisfaction when you (barely) hold onto your prized catch, resolve split between admiring your king salmon and feasting on it back on shore above an old-fashioned flaming grill, with the aroma of the Pacific complementing your hearty meal.

Image credit: Matt Zimmerman

Morning breaks, and it is time to head back into the water with neither motor nor skipper; this time, it is with your own two hands, a steely determination, and your trusty paddle and kayak. The crashing of water upon blocks of icebergs is like music to your ears, even from the pontoon; imagine the rhythm of the waves closer up, right next to you.

Experienced paddlers mostly go in pairs, while new hands follow the lead of a guide. Either way, it all leads to the few moments both hair-raising and surreal — performing an Eskimo roll to bring your kayak back to surface after capsizing; disembarking onto a quiet bank and watching nature run its course before your very eyes; spending the night in a warm tent observing the aurora borealis you have waited your entire life to witness. To add to the adrenalin, throw in a Grade V rapid rafting run into your itinerary.

Image credit: Paxson Woelber

With the way Alaska is set up, you would be hard-pressed to find a tourist there who is decked in comfortable, expensive clothes, expecting a luxuriously relaxing time. Most who travel there have read the memo — nerves ready and hearts prepared.

Away from the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas and Hollywood, and the car-filled streets of New York, Alaska puts adventure on the American map, and though your muscles ache and your body smells fishy at the end of the day, you will feel more pampered here than at a spa in a five-star hotel.

Just kidding — prepare to return home sore. Thoroughly thrilled, but sore.

Also Read: 12 National Parks in the United States You Need to Visit

About Author

Benjamin Tan
Benjamin Tan

As a nomad, Benjamin believes his place in the world is not determined by the borders of one country, but by wherever the sweet nectar of exploration tickles his nose. He continually hones his writing in the hopes that his documentation of his journeys can do the beauty of what he witnesses some justice.


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