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Alaska in Winter

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Twenty below in Alaska, enjoying my vacation at the top of the world. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Travel)

In case you didn’t notice, I’ve been on vacation.

Last year offered some incredible adventures, but I am glad for this time at home to recharge my batteries and prepare for upcoming travel thrills.  Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to sit still for too long, and so I embarked on a little vacation journey to Alaska—in winter.

The forecast in Fairbanks was clear with a chance of flurries, with temperatures zigzagging from the upper twenties to the low teens—below zero.

Just how cold is that? Cold enough to freeze your nostrils shut when you step off the plane—and cold enough to make you remember to plug in your car to keep the engine warm so that it will start in the morning.

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February in Fairbanks, Alaska

We arrived after midnight, with family and friends, refugees of the inconvenient winter storms in the Lower 48, all of us dead set on exploring the Alaska interior in the dead of February.

The glowing moon shone on frosted white roads, and we traveled through whole frozen forests of spruce and birch, past the rows of ice-coated mailboxes that resemble wagon trains buried beneath snowdrifts.

Fairbanks lies well below the Arctic Circle, but close enough to offer prime viewing of the Aurora Borealis in the clear night skies, from October to April. I’m not sure how the these unpredictable phenomenon worked its way into our minds, but it did, months ago, so that we had chased across the continent in hopes of catching a glimpse of the unpredictable pink and green lights at the top of the world.

Alaska is the Big America—bigger than Texas and so very white—a sparkling white that turns into a soft wintry blue and then, like a big surprise—pink! Like grapefruit and flamingos and Valentine’s cards, my first Alaska sunrise was slow and deliberate and pink—a bright and refreshing pink that showed us the promise of day and warmth and light.

The new dawn brought me face to face with a new state—the last of the fifty states to see with my own eyes. I watched the opening act of this northern day from the warmth of a log cabin that smelled like blueberry pancakes and coffee, and when it was time to go outside, I pulled socks over socks, and gloves over gloves.

Alaska is much more peaceful than I imagined. The geography of the Last Frontier is custom-made for introverts and isolationists, and in winter, it’s a million miles of white adventure—the last blank corner on the map of America, a trackless land of snow just begging to be crossed.

Which is why, after breakfast, I hiked down the hill, towards the barking dogs with their cloudy breath in the icy air, preparing for my next big adventure . . . in Alaska.

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Sunrise near Fairbanks, Alaska (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Travel)

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