“I talked to dad – I know what you’re doing,” my sister told me sternly. “Don’t kill mom.”
This warning played in my head as I bounced in a van next to my mother on an unpaved road towards a huge blue glacier in Alaska.
Unbeknownst to me at the start of our action-packed 10-day mother-daughter adventure, the 49th State has a rugged beauty that brings out the bold and the brave in people.
We started our journey in August from Fairbanks, where the sun never seems to set, to Anchorage via seaplanes, the Alaskan Railroad (in GoldStar class) and automobiles.
What seemed to worry my sister, Audrey, who was back in Florida, was that I was going to convince our mother that we had to go alone and who knows what would happen to us, she had already heard that I had arranged a meet…up close and personal hiking experience through Denali National Park, home to roaming grizzly bears and brown bears as well as foxes, otters, eagles and a variety of creatures best seen from afar.
A truck picked us up, then dropped us randomly on the side of the highway in a light drizzle to meet our group of fellow hikers. Out of the forest, a tall, dark-haired woman appeared, holding several hiking poles. She was our guide and her first instructions were, “If you see a bear, wave your arms in the air to look big and shout, ‘Bear, get away!’ ”
Appalled, my mother looked at me and said, “I don’t think it’s for me!”
I replied, “That’s good, mom, now let’s go hiking.”
It wasn’t like there was an easy way back to our lodge, as we were in a remote wilderness area. Unless she wanted to start hitchhiking, hiking seemed our safest option.
Our guide, a cheerful woman, related how a few days earlier a group from New Jersey had been approached by a bear and the husbands had run to hide behind their wives. She hoped our group would be a little braver. We laughed, but nervously.
Then we drove through magical misty rain, climbing hills and crossing valleys, some overgrown with grass and wildlife, others where the path was clear. We watched otters frolic in the lake, while eagles soared above our heads.
The hike was a success: no bears seen, no one ate. Mom breathed a sigh of relief, but she seemed to relax and enjoy her role as a partner in crime.
The next day’s hike took us to an even more isolated area. It was like stepping into a natural history diorama with a silver gray sky, a small fishing cabin, and miles of blue and white water flowing over smooth brown river rocks.
We pulled on a variety of fishing gear, including waders, as we learned to fly fish while standing in a fast-flowing frozen river. Following our guide, we navigated to the sweet spot while stopping to eat wild blueberries that dotted the path.
My mother held her own, catching several fish and feeling at one with the elements. During this time, I struggled to get my footing. The guide had to help me cross the river and after hours of throwing my reel I couldn’t catch a single bite.
Mom, as usual, encouraged me to continue being positive. My fish would come, she said.
Our trip also included a visit to the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks, as well as riverboat cruises. We flew in a seaplane and went to a reindeer farm, and even got close to musk oxen.
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As the journey continued, I realized that I was seeing another side of my mother – not the usual worrier that I had always known firsthand, but the one that I had heard of, a former sergeant of the tank division of the Israeli army, showing courage and tenacity. .
I had always thought my adventurous side came from my dad, but as the days went by, my mom’s willingness to try new escapades made her fun personality shine even brighter.
I got to see her not just as my mother, but as an engaging, spirited woman who was ready to take on any physical challenge not just without complaint, but with more enthusiasm than me.
Near the end of our trip, as my sister’s words echoed in my head, we arrived at Matanuska Glacier, a two-hour drive northeast of Anchorage. As we drove towards the mesmerizing icescape, it grew larger by the minute. Moments later we piled in and headed up a muddy brown trail.
Preparing to walk on the ice, my mother sat down on a pile of rocks and calmly laced her cleats to her boots. At that point, she was approached by a noticeably older woman who asked, “Are you really going to be hiking on the glacier for the next four hours?” »
Mom replied, “Of course I am, otherwise why am I here?” She was definitely not the mother I thought I knew, and I was so grateful to meet her.
Siegel is a freelance writer and photographer.