Justin Savidis greets me (and a handful of other summer mushers) at the Ididaride Sled Dog Tours property in Seward. With his long, light red hair and freckles, he looks more like Opie Taylor than who he is: a rugged, four-time Iditarod competitor working as a guide at the Seavey's kennel. As this issue of the magazine hits newsstands, Justin will be competing against around 80 other mushers, including Mitch and Dallas Seavey (the 2013 and 2014 Iditarod Champions, respectively). But for now, he gives us a tour of the kennel where rows of dogs yip and pull at their chains, attached to their individual houses. The dogs have already run today, and yet the minute the wheeled sled comes into view, the pups leap and cry out like kids in a classroom who want the teacher to call on them.
Make no mistake, the brown bears own Katmai. At best you're a guest on this part of the Alaska Peninsula, at worst you're dinner. Warnings aside, if you're one of those adventurous souls who can't imagine heading to Alaska without seeing one of its most famous residents, Katmai guarantees you won't leave disappointed—as long as you go during the summer salmon run.
It's hard to fathom the scope of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Over 13 million acres, including nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States, are there. That's the size of some countries—six times larger than Yellowstone. In the heart of those extensive icefields, glaciers, and arêtes, you'll find Ultima Thule, an adventure lodge run by a quintessential Alaskan family—three generations committed to a legacy and a home they gladly share with others. I met the Clauses eight
I’m a Caucasian woman of Italian descent, and I’m jealous. Not of the hardships that Alaska Natives have endured, but of their rich culture and understanding of the natural world that is engrained in their heritage—and seems to be—instilled in utero. The Native traditions and spiritual quests we (non-Natives) now revere, put on display, and at times exploit, are the same ones we once tried to strip away. Most of us visit Alaska to be a part of things missing from our ordinary, day-to-day lives. It’s not so farfetched to say that by getting closer to the land and the wildlife inhabiting it, that we are searching for what Alaska Natives possessed long before our missionaries came on the scene: a deeply felt connection to all living things. It can’t be learned or earned through an iPad app, a Starbucks latte or buying a new car. If it could, perhaps we’d all stay at home in the heated comfort of our homes binging on episodes of “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix.