At least my death will probably make the papers: maybe not CNN, but definitely my hometown’s Libertyville Review ‘cause I’m tragically adorable enough. These were the thoughts running through my head as the small-enough-to-see-the-cockpit, rickety “plane” jerked and dipped its way through the roaring polar winds towards our destination somewhere north of the Arctic Circle. Peering fearfully downwards through the biting sheets of icy flakes, I gulped at the jagged, white peaks pointed threateningly up towards us like the teeth of a terrifying snow monster; being eaten by a creature of ice was not exactly how I envisioned this trip going.
Perhaps I should backtrack a little. It all began first semester of my last year of high school when I took a momentary break from college applications to Skype the platonic love of my life, Avery. After exchanging a healthy amount of colorful language directed at those stupidly exclusive Ivy Leagues, the topic of winter break came up to save us from simultaneously jumping out our respective windows. Inspired by each college’s suggestion to be more than average, we decided to be adventurous travellers who would turn our backs on normal, sunny destinations and venture instead to the cold, frozen terrain of Alaska. After somehow managing to convince my parents that this was a spectacularly fool-proof idea, I was on a plane heading to Fairbanks, armed with plenty of thermal clothing and a sneaking suspicion that this was about to be the best week of my life.
Upon landing, we had a Love Actually-esque airport reunion, grabbed our bags, and ventured outside to wait for transport to our hotel. Mid-sentence, we both sucked in a gulp of frozen Alaskan air and started coughing, the chilling air tickling our throats and burning our airways. Eyes-wide, we tried to regain our composure as I felt the hairs in my nose freeze; I didn’t know nose-hairs could freeze, but apparently they can and it’s hilarious to natives when stupid tourists can’t handle the weather. We scurried back inside the airport for refuge, gingerly poking at each other’s eyelashes as they now sported a thin layer of frost. Mischievous, excited grins were exchanged as we planned to freeze everything from a stuffed animal (totally not mine) to potentially each other, if the week got to us. During the journey to our hotel, a perfect winter wonderland stretched out before us, our driver informing us that the dry, freezing air caused the snow to cake onto everything it fell upon. Every branch and streetlight seemed straight out of a painted, Christmas card, pristinely white like everything was doused in a layer of glistening frosting. Eager to explore, we layered up and became puffy, marshmallow people, sinking waist-deep into the looming snow banks and making snow angels on the frozen river. Always immature, a snowball fight ensued before hunger called an uneasy truce.
The next morning, we ventured out towards Chena Hot Springs to float lazily about in its healing, mineral waters, try our hands at dog sledding, and sip apple martinis from the ice glasses at the ice bar in its ice museum. Pretty cool, huh? Quite exhausted, we spent the next day touring the museum at the University of Fairbanks and petting reindeer at Santa’s Village, which also featured an impressive array of ice sculptures from international carvers. Sadly, Santa himself was nowhere to be found. Refreshed once more and quite annoyed that after all this time, we had yet to witness the Northern Lights, we booked a trip to Coldfoot, a small town north of the Article Circle. The tour company would fly us up to Coldfoot and then drive us back to Fairbanks, hoping that somewhere along the daylong drive we would see the Northern Lights.
So it was this misbegotten plan that landed us in a tiny plane in the wee hours of the Arctic day. It was in darkness we took off and it seemed that it was all to end in darkness as well; the pilot shouted over the scream of the wind that this was normal. Always a skeptic, I closed my eyes, squeezed Avery’s hand, and hoped that I had annoyed enough people in my life to be remembered for at least another five years. As I am writing this article now, the pilot was right and we did make it safely to Coldfoot. A small “town” consisting of a rustic café and a few tiny cabins for overnight truckers, Avery and I spent most our time in it playing with the huskies running around in their straw-lined play area. The sun apparently rose but we were so far north that the sky merely turned a brilliant tequila sunrise mix of bold oranges, blazing pinks, and searing yellows. As the day lengthened and we piled into the bus for a long drive back to Fairbanks, the flaming sky melted into an ethereal purple hue, a storybook backdrop for the stately mountains of snow looming around us. As darkness descended and a canopy of the brightest stars I had ever seen scattered up above us, I snuggled up against my travel buddy and waited for the Northern Lights to appear. Sadly for us, they never did and so it was with heavy hearts that we returned home, determined to chase the lights again next winter.
Images sourced from Pinterest.