Shining the Turd: AK Adventure Part 1

Proof that you don't take a trip—the trip takes you

Photo: Ian Fohrman
Photo: Ian Fohrman

By Ian Fohrman

"This is the worst year in Alaska ever."
"There's no snow up here."
"Don't come."

I already had my plane ticket and a deposit on an RV when the news started trickling in. It didn't take long before my entire crew had bailed and the event I was going to cover was rumored canceled. Just like that, I was on a solo mission to Valdez in the worst snow year in recorded history with a 29-foot RV and nothing to do.

The trip would be my first time to Alaska; I was hoping it would fill a huge piece of life as a skier that I've long felt was missing. Plus it was an opportunity for exploration and adventure—and now more than ever.

After a late night of packing and a hurried morning of travel, I found myself on the final approach into Anchorage, struck by vivid rawness of landscape. From the moment we burst below the cloud layer and began descending over windswept peaks and ice-littered estuaries we didn’t fly over a single man-made structure until the wheels hit the tarmac.

A quick phone call confirmed that there was no rush in making the drive to Valdez so I parked the RV and commenced in what seemed to be the favored local pastime. I started with a scotch on the rocks at a local dive and, after a night of single-serving friendships and confused conversations about what I was doing in Alaska (a surprisingly large contingent of the people of Alaska I met were not skiers or snowboarders), I ended sleeping comfortably less than 100 paces from where I placed my first drink order.

Photo: Ian Fohrman
Photo: Ian Fohrman

I awoke with blurry vision and a sharp pain buried somewhere in the muddled synapses of my grey tissue, but I was full of energy and ready to head into the wall of mountains that now revealed themselves flanking the city in the distance. After a drawn out trip to Fred Meyer (I was not operating at full capacity yet) to stock up on rations and supplies, and a quick trip to the army surplus for new sweat pants and an extra flannel, I hit the gas and headed toward the white citadel of peaks to the east.

I spent the day meandering rather than charging through the glaciers, foothills and valleys. The next storm was pinned against the far end of the forecast and it was time to savor traveling through new lands. The day on the road passed quickly and was punctuated by frequent stops to gawk like a tourist, dump cash into the RV's gas tank, and nap off the scotch.

After three pots of coffee and seven hours of staring at mountains on the horizon I began heading up Thompson Pass. The distant peaks—craggy ridge lines for most of the drive—morphed into a tower of alpine monoliths. I had to duck my head and strain my neck low on the window-line to view the summits.

Photo: Ian Fohrman
Photo: Ian Fohrman

I pulled over at the summit to check out the famed Tailgate Alaska scene and the first person I saw was a friend of a friend I had met the previous month in Jackson Hole. Within five minutes of arriving I was swapping ski stories and drinking cocktails made with freshly harvested glacial ice from the friend of a friend’s afternoon mission.

Stay tuned to for Shining the Turd: AK Adventure Part 2.