Alaska feels isolated and estranged from the continental United States in any normal year, but being compounded with Covid and the global pandemic only heightens that feeling one thousand fold. You can only imagine how packed with people this place normally is each summer as you see empty cabin after cabin, the few cars in the dirt parking lot, the abundance of open tables in the pub.
For those of us enough hearty and brave enough to travel here in 2020, we find that the lack of visitors lets us truly appreciate the vast wilderness of the area. Some might find the intense quiet to be suffocating, but I welcome it as one would a warm blanket on a chilly night.
I imbibe on a couple of adult beverages and a hearty meal before retiring for the evening. Before bed I ready my gear for the ride into Denali the following day. The bus is to pick me up at 12:30 p.m. so I’ll have all morning to myself. I sleep well.
After breakfast, I head on over to Denali village, a makeshift town built specifically for tourists, complete with hotels, shops and restaurants, as well as activities to entertain.
At least, that would be in a normal year. Covid has the entire place shut down and empty. It’s an eerie feeling as I wander around. The river rushing by is the loudest sound around, and you can hear animals rustling in the forest, even if you can’t see what type of animal is making the sound. I walk quietly and cautiously in case I surprise a moose or bear…..
A guy in a van sees me, and I find out he is the local security. I guess I’m trespassing, but once he finds out that I’m just killing time until my bus arrives, he relaxes.
I get a quick bit to eat, then hunker down in front of the Denali cabin check in office, sitting in a makeshift bus stop. The bus should be here soon….
Holding my backpack tightly as one would a lover in an emphatic embrace. Partly to keep me warm, mostly though because it helps me contain my excitement. There is only one other couple at the bus stop with me.
As the bus pulls in, the connection to Christopher Johnson McCandless and the book Into the Wild floods my senses.
I help load my gear, then get onto the bus. Our driver is a Sam Elliott look-alike, both in appearance and in mannerisms. Besides myself and the couple, there is only one other girl, plus a couple of people that work at the lodge riding with us.
We start our long journey into Denali……