Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
When the plane landed in Seattle, I enjoyed an unobstructed view of Mount Rainier – it almost makes being pinned in the window seat where you have to wake up two big dudes if you want to get up and pee not so bad.
It also reminded me it’s been a while since I’ve traveled somewhere new.
I’m on my way to Alaska for a press trip to the Prince William Sound area. No, there’s no heli-skiing involved – I asked. According to a childhood friend of mine who is a heli-ski guide/avalanche forecaster/fire fighter in Valdez, the helicopters have been put away for the season and they’re in a spring-corn cycle. He offered to guide me up on some runs just off the highway on Thompson Pass, but I declined.
I’m actually up for a good old-fashioned sight-seeing trip. I gotta be honest – it’s kind of a relief. When it comes to heart-thumping, adrenaline surging, extreme stuff, I’m out of shape. I’m way out of shape, like physically and mentally.
Apparently I’m also out of shape when it comes to the ease of travel. There was a time I lived out of a suitcase. I might’ve had a post office box and a storage unit and a cell phone but I was constantly in motion. I didn’t have a home. I wasn’t settled. I had a way of trying on addresses the way most people try new hair cuts. I’d visit a place and decide that day I wanted to move there. I was extremely adept at it. I could make things happen fast. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t.
I lived in a lot of beautiful places and met and lived with a lot of people, often people I’d only just met. I lived with crazy Marines who would get drunk and throw all the furniture in the front yard just to blow off steam. I lived with a bulimic professional beach volleyball player who once said, “You eat dinner, like, every single night,” as if that was the true cause of all my problems. I lived with an anal-retentive Jewish girl from Long Island who started every sentence with “Just so you know …” followed by some insane request like, “please don’t put the pepper shaker to left of the salt shaker” or “if you’re going to use vinegar in your salad, please open the window because the whole kitchen smells after you make your dressing.”
I moved a lot but I also traveled a lot. I was pretty much a bona fide travel journalist. It just so happened I wrote about travel in the context of action sports, primarily surfing, snowboarding and skiing. I had a pretty blessed career, but I was lonely and miserable a lot of the time and constantly getting my heart broken by men who I loved with all my heart who really wanted nothing to do with me beyond whatever wild adventure we’d just embarked on.
But I was super used to it. I went to all kinds of places, from Fiji to Italy and even Alaska. It’s true I’ve been to Alaska once, but it was just over the border from British Columbia in a town called Hyder where I’d gone with a bunch of crazy pro skiers to “get Hyderized.” Basically it entails drinking a shot of Everclear in this tiny bar in this tiny town and listening to bearded men talk about their many encounters with grizzly bears.
I’ve had a taste of Alaska, the Coastal Mountain Range in the southernmost part of the state, but I’ve never been to the Chugach, or to Valdez, or Cordova or Whittier, all of which are on this itinerary the PR people sent me. I’ll be doing things I wouldn’t normally do, like seeing bush pilots do stunts at the Valdez Fly In airshow. I’ll be taking a flight with said pilots, a prospect that frankly makes me nervous, but that’s all part of what makes it fun. I’ll be going to a Shorebird Festival, where over 130 species of birds are flocking or flying or gathering and landing in the water or whatever it is that shorebirds do. I’ll be visiting museums and riding on ferry boats and sea kayaking and there was even something about snow shoeing and sledding – that I can handle.
But what I couldn’t handle was the anticipation. I was up all night, thinking about what I’d packed in my bag and thinking it was too much and thinking the bag I’d packed was too big. Then I started thinking about how I wasn’t sleeping, and how I was going to be exhausted the next day and how I was probably going to feel like crap because of it and probably look like crap too. I worried about these other writers I’d be traveling with who I’d never met before, writers who actually write for real publications, for real money. I thought about what I’d say when they ask me who I write for.
I got out of bed at 6 a.m. when it was obvious I wasn’t going to get any sleep and unpacked my bag and repacked everything into an entirely different suitcase. I packed my new rubber boots and my rain gear and my Gore-Tex shell and all the stuff they told me to bring.
It wasn’t until I woke up from my nap on the flight to Seattle that it all came back to me. The Cascades, an ocean of peaks as far as the eye could see, took me by surprise. And the water surrounding the city and all the green and I realized I was back on the road again, and ready to explore the Last Frontier.
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