Driving to Alaska Day 18: An epic ending

Welcome to the last post in our Driving to Alaska series! We hope you’ve enjoyed the stories from this unforgettable 4,000 mile road trip.

While our sleeping quarters proved to be more comfortable than I’d predicted, it felt good to be climbing out from the bed of a truck for the last time.  I was delighted that I managed to get in and out for 18 straight days without breaking a hip.  After grabbing a quick breakfast at the Flying Squirrel, we made our way to Cade’s workplace, Talkeetna Air Taxi.  For the entirety of this trip, the prospect of a flight-seeing tour around Denali was on the table.  But I kept pushing it to the back of my mind, not wanting to get my hopes up.  Sure enough, Cade got us booked on a flight and the weather was actually looking pretty good.  We hadn’t even gotten in the air yet and I was overcome with gratitude for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  

At 11am we met our pilot, Andy, and boarded a 10 passenger turbine Otter along with 8 other folks.  While conditions were looking good from the ground (the sun was actually out) we were told the conditions around Denali were promising but not ideal.  I continued to temper my hopes. 

After a short 20 minutes in the air we were looking down on the mighty Ruth glacier, a spectacular sight in its own right spanning ten miles long and one mile across.  Andy told us that next we would climb through the cloud layer and that Denali *might* come into view on the other side.  When we rose above the clouds, North America’s tallest mountain revealed itself.  Andy flew us right up alongside the face of it, and the fierceness of the behemoth could be felt inside the cockpit.  1200 fearless mountaineers attempt to summit Denali every year and only 600 are successful. The mission takes three weeks.  One of the tallest peaks in the world, Denali is a force to be reckoned with.    

Mt. Denali, 20,310′

Believe it or not, seeing Denali in all its glory wasn’t even the pinnacle of the trip.  Landing on a glacier was part of the deal, conditions permitting.  Hours earlier, upon checking in for our flight, they tempered our expectations informing us that a glacier landing may not be possible due to the weather.  I sat in the back of the plane with my fingers crossed while listening to the pilots discuss options over the radio.  “Pika is looking good” I heard.  The cap on my contained hopes was about to burst.  Within minutes Andy descended the Otter, that was equipped with skis, and landed softly on Pika glacier.  He told us we’d have 20 minutes to enjoy our surroundings and to not stray too far from the plane, the snow was soft.  I stepped out the door, looked up at the mountains that seemed more majestic than any I’d ever seen, and set foot on a mass of ice that has existed for thousands of years.  My eyes welled with tears.  It was overwhelming in the best way.  I snapped a few photos and breathed in the freshest air to ever enter my lungs.  Just as I’d expected, our twenty minutes evaporated in what felt like seconds and we were ushered back onto the plane.  Those twenty minutes were likely to stick with me for the rest of my life.  Cade greeted us upon our return to the Talkeetna airport.  While we chatted I looked at him in disbelief for the fact that he’d be spending his summer doing what we just did….several times a day, five days a week.  

Later that afternoon a friend and co-worker of Cade’s was about to arrive in Talkeetna.  He too was making the move from Idaho.  He’d already driven a car up from the lower 48 and was now on the last leg of the 4 day journey of flying his plane to Alaska, a plane that we happened to know quite well.  Dan had bought his plane from us in 2020 before we moved back onto the road.  Seeing that blue Kitfox on the tarmac in Talkeetna, Alaska brought a wave of emotions.  It represented many core memories for us.  We couldn’t help but flashback through the last four years and ponder all the choices that led us away from aviation.  After the day we’d had, seeing the very best of what Cade’s job had to offer, and imagining the life that our airplane would have in Alaska, we imagined what it would be like if that had been us.  We even felt a tinge of envy. If Mark had chosen, he could have been on the same aviation career path as Cade.  It’s easy to see the highlights of one’s life and get jealous.  What we’d not seen were the 4 years of commitment that Cade had put into climbing the aviation ladder via various jobs, the four Alaska winters he’d spent in some of the harshest environments on earth, and the two weeks every month that him and Becca spent apart while he traveled back and forth from Alaska to Idaho.  Our flashback came full circle when we realized we still stand by every choice we’ve made and remembered how incredible these last four years have been for us.  Flying is really the only thing that’s been missing and while it doesn’t make sense for us right now, that doesn’t mean it won’t ever be a part of our lives again.

It was midnight when we arrived at a parking lot in Anchorage where we would leave the Dodge Ram behind and Uber to the airport for our 2am flight back to Boise.  The Dodge had gotten us and all of Cade & Becca’s things to Alaska, its job was done and it would soon be passed on to a new owner.  We heaved two heavy suitcases and two bulging carry-ons into the back of an Uber and drove away feeling exhausted, elated, and forever grateful.  Our Alaska adventure was complete.  18 days and 4,000 miles that we would never forget.

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We’re Mark & Michele, modern-day nomads perfecting the art of slow, full-time travel.  Our tiny home on wheels and slow-paced travel style allows us to minimize our expenses while maximizing our freedom.  May our unconventional way of life inspire you to design a life that you love.


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