City Folks Meet the Outdoors

We recently left our new city for an adventure in the north. As we boarded our first flight, we wondered how we would manage, trading in our new urban mindsets for a couple of weeks outdoors.

Our first stop is a city, but a fairly small one by our new terms of reference. One of the northernmost cities on earth, Anchorage supports about 300,000 people. The buildings in the downtown core seem short and utilitarian, dwarfed by the Chugach mountain range towering above, with no skyscrapers anywhere. The Saturday outdoor market is a big draw for both locals and tourists. Artisan wood products, jam made from local blueberries, and fresh-caught salmon (burgers) are some of the most popular purchases. It’s a far cry from the Eaton Centre.

Across from the market, the 12-mile Coastal Trail begins. Walkers, bikers, roller-bladers, love to spend an entire day weaving through forests and meadows, along the coast of the Cook Inlet. For some lucky visitors, the Aurora lights are a brilliant highlight. It’s not hard to spend the 18 hours of daylight outside in this northern gem of a city.

The Alaska Railway takes us south from Anchorage to our next stop. On the way we catch a glimpse of a moose swimming across an inlet. All eyes become fixated on the views from the train windows, searching for another four-legged swimmer. Occasionally someone sees a water spout. This could be an indication that a school of humpback whales is following along beside the train. Calls for breakfast in the dining car go unanswered as we all stare out the windows looking for signs of other wildlife. This is definitely not the GO train on its morning commuter run.

On board our ship for the trip south to Vancouver, we discover the promenade deck just one floor below our cabin. Here we spend every spare moment of the next week, getting our “steps” as we parade around the circumference of the ship, stopping occasionally to watch another humpback’s tail flicking out of the water, or a few sea otters whose close -cropped heads look like bowling balls bobbing along. The mountains continiue to frame our views and, although there is very little snow on the peaks, they are still majestic.

On a couple of excursions we encounter more wildlife. We visit a bald eagle preserve in rubber dinghies, swirling along, following the fast-moving current. It’s hard to take pictures while holding on to the sides, but we manage to photograph a few birds soaring overhead, and one or two sitting on nests and watching over their “juveniles.” At another national park we spy a black mother bear fishing in a stream for salmon. She paddles along slowly and quietly, sneaking up on the salmon while her cubs play in the trees overhead. “Sooo Cute!” we exclaim as we snap away.

A third excursion takes us to the famous Mendenhall Glacier Park. By this point we are really getting into these outdoor experiences and we grab our backpacks with serious intent. We are shocked by what we find at the glacier. I had visited this spot 20 years ago – in 1999 – and taken a photo. Here at the park we search out the same camera angle… and find less than a third of the ice. The glacier seems to be melting before our very eyes! Where there used to be a thick wall of ice, dramatically “calving” huge chunks into the ocean, now there is only water lapping at the shoreline, a beach of pebbles and silt all that is left of this great giant.

On our way home we make a brief stop in Vancouver where we discover a city much like Toronto, but one that definitely lives outdoors more. We spend the first day meandering through beautiful Stanley Park, similar to Toronto’s High Park, but much busier. On the second day we tour part of Vancouver Island and an old growth forest with trees still standing after 800 years. We visit friends whose outdoor patio is home to squirrels, birds and a few deer who come by at breakfast every morning.

Finally we board our plane for home, thinking about how much we have loved being outdoors. But our view of the glacier has shown us first-hand us that climate change is really here. More than ever, we need to treasure our forests, our water bodies, and our wildlife, while they are still around. We promise ourselves that we will start exploring more of the outdoors in our new city, even if we sometimes have to wear parkas.


Mendenlahh glacier today

Mendenhall glacier 1999

3 thoughts on “City Folks Meet the Outdoors

  1. Well that sounds a lot more fun than getting your septic tank unplugged and serviced which is what we are doing now in the rain. Life is still good! Always a new adventure.


  2. What an adventure Sue and Peter…John and I did this trip 5 years ago and loved it. Great photos and yes
    we need to be aware of climate change.


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