By Andrew Hemberger
We arrived in Anchorage around 2:00 AM, exchanging soft California sun for a biting cold. With the airport deserted and snow piled up outside of the clear glass doors of the warm airport sanctuary, we decided to spend the first night of our spring break sleeping at baggage claim. We would have 7 more days to camp and journey into the Artic and blistering cold of northern Alaska, so we would enjoy warmth while we still could.
Curled up in our sleeping bags constant noise blared through loudspeakers “PLEASE DON’T LEAVE BAGGAGE UNATTENDED.” Around 5am, and after a few restless hours of sleep Daniel suggested we start on the road. The Hertz rent-a-car was just opening up as a sleepy attendant dressed in the signature yellow and black vest wiped sleep from his eyes.
As we rode off in a light blue Subaru forester I wondered how our mission northward would go. Up through Anchorage the cold and silent streets whispered stories captured from their snowy past. We drove past dimly lit diners already open and serving the early morning crowd. Sunrise came and we were already well on our way to a small hiker town called “Talkeetna,” where we had rented a plane to get an aerial view of Mount Denali.
There wasn’t much to do in Talkeetna with the town consisting almost entirely of 2 restaurants and a small inn. We parked the car at the homey looking inn and walked over to the only other structure located on the outskirts of town: a small hangar next to an airstrip. A man sporting a full black beard greeted us at the wide rolling doors with a brimming smile. After a 15-minute introduction the man, Daniel, and I were strapped into a small Cessna plane careening full speed off of the icy runway. The awe-inspiring Mount Denali is one of the tallest mountains in the world, and subsequently one of the famed 7 Summits. We rocked and swayed in the small Cessna plane as turbulence rocked us back and forth; spinning and whirling us around cliff faces, seemingly always only a couple of feet from crashing. We wound around for what seemed like an eternity. My knuckles were white as I clenched the seat in front of me.
Despite my worrying we made it safely back to Talkeetna, and decided to stay at the town inn for the night. As we crossed the inviting threshold of the inn, there was already a group of backpackers huddled around a small fire inside of the communal living room. Furs and flags from all over the world adorned the walls, and I was transported back to a simpler time. We joined the group and sat listening to stories of harrowing escapes and death defying feats. The fire in front of me crackled, and my gaze wandered out the quaint inn’s windows towards the green and pink northern lights gleaming across the otherwise pitch-black night sky. Before long it was past midnight, and everybody decided it was time to say goodbyes.
We exchanged contact information with the five people we had met, hoping to see them before they departed for some of the most frigid and unforgiving mountains in the world. While doing this I realized a woman was wearing a USC shirt. She had been a graduate from 2005, and was filming a backpacking documentary centered on the Alaskan wilderness. Even out in the cold ice fields of Alaska the USC family had planted it’s stake. In that moment I had never been more proud to be a Trojan; realizing wherever I traveled in the world I would be a part of a unique and gifted group of people.
Daniel and I went our separate ways from the group, but still felt a lasting connection with them. There were still many places to see and explore, people to meet and adventures to be had…
Andrew is a rising junior majoring in Economics. As a member of USC’s NROTC program, he will graduate as an officer in the US Navy, where he will serve for several years. Andrew thoroughly enjoys traveling, and his favorite aspect is getting to interact with people from all different cultures. Although he most recently lived in Washington D.C, he has lived all over the United States. Andrew’s hobbies include hiking, surfing, and skiing.