Get Your Grin on in Southeast Alaska
By Jenna Schnuer
Several years back, I interviewed author Gretchen Rubin about her then-upcoming book, The Happiness Project.The Happiness Project. While we were chatting, Rubin—a former editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal and clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (aka, she’s no dummy)—spoke about her concern that it’s become, basically, fashionable, for people to take pride in their sense of “irony and discernment” and often, sadly, just as fashionable to think happiness and joy are signs of naïveté.
One friend, she said, had asked Rubin go along with her for a Barry Manilow concert on her birthday. “I was so impressed by the fact that she could be so wholeheartedly enthusiastic about it. There was no irony. It was not campy. She loved it,” says Rubin. “I got so into it. I thought this is so much better than us all sitting around making snarky comments about Barry Manilow or not even going because we were so busy making fun of it. Let it be fun.”
Well, I say it’s time we all start letting our inner Fanilow emerge, that we get away from the need to make it sound like every single traveling moment meant something and that we, quite simply, let our goofy grins show—no matter what brings them out. Admittedly, it doesn’t take much to get mine going. I’m sort of known for being excitable. But there are, quite simply, two places that rev it up the most: my hometown NYC, and Alaska.
While preparing to spend July and August in Alaska, I’ve been thinking back to the three weeks I spent wandering Southeast AK last summer. Yes, I left with plenty of big story ideas for articles (as well as the desire to own a pair of Southeast sneakers) but, when I think about those days, the moments when I overindulged in overexuberance are among my favorite. Here (and continuing in pieces to come), moments of pure joy served up in Southeast.
Sitka’s Wild Pack
The sound must have been haunting. Fierce. Or, perhaps, just flat-out ridiculous. Chortling and, yes, a few laugh snorts kept busting out and sweeping over the water. The area was socked in, the fog hugging the town of Sitka and its surrounding islands. On the water, a pack of four women paddled kayaks (some more elegantly than others). We were the Pink Ladies but we’d swapped the satin for fleece and Gore-Tex. Though we hadn’t all paddled together before setting off from that day, we’d quickly become a pack. The luckiest man in the world? The no-show who had originally signed up for the eight-hour paddle. We all guessed that, within moments, he would have been horrified, trying to paddle away from the group. Yes, there were moments of quiet—Sitka’s mysterious beauty often demands silence—but it was the silliness and the bad jokes that powered us through the final hour’s rain, and made that day on the water one of the best I’ve ever experienced.
Go: Travel to Sitka by an Alaska Marine Highway ferry or Alaska Airlines flight. Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures operates out of a blue bus at Crescent Harbor in Sitka.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Coming up: Play name that iceberg in Juneau; go for a dive in Ketchikan (wetsuits not optional); get the once-over from sea lions in Petersburg; let out a giant awwww over triplet bear cubs near Wrangell; and light up a cave on Prince of Wales Island.
Jenna Schnuer is a freelance writer and editor. Her essays appeared in the magazine’s April 2011 feature, “New Yorkers’ New York.”