It’s been roughly two months since I returned from my trip to the Alaskan Arctic Circle, and I am surprised at how strong an effect the journey continues to have on me. As someone who grew up in rural Quebec, where cold temperatures and pleasant scenery were an everyday occurrence, I somehow thought I would be prepared for the desolate majesty that is the Alaskan interior, as well as the sub-zero climate. How wrong I was on both counts.
I’ve documented my experiences in Alaskan with Mercedes-Benz and their fleet of Sprinter vans in a number of articles for both Guide de l’auto and Autobytel, and I’ve done my best to capture just how different – alien, even – the far northern landscape truly is. Interspersed with moments of staggering beauty, as miles-ahead visibility revealed distance mountain ranges, were long periods of being surrounded by nothing but scrub trees beaten down by the weight of the bitter, -51 degree weather and the biting winds.
The sense of being alone is so powerful in Alaska that I was thankful at all times for my convoy of friends and colleagues who accompanied me at every turn. That being said, I cannot shake the scenes of isolation, the white-out mountain sides, and the brutality of the cold from my mind. It was the first time in my life where I truly understood how someone could die of exposure – potentially within minutes.
With each passing day, it’s become clear that I have yet to fully return from Alaska – a sensation that has been documented by other travelers in what few books I have been able to find addressing the territory’s intense winters. It is rare that I am given the opportunity to travel to a place that is so radically different from my day-to-day reality, and it would seem that the disconnect between my experiences in Alaska and my home in Montreal will continue to inform my perspective for quite some time.