Monday, June 13, 2022

Packing for Alaska

Some of my references for planning my Alaska trip

I’m writing this on June 5, but with luck when you read or hear it, I’ll be in Nome, Alaska. (I'm actually posting this 15 minutes before Russ and I leave for the airport, which is why there are virtually no photos.)  

When I have an opportunity to travel, the joy lasts way longer than the trip, starting well before I leave. For the past several weeks, I’ve been making lists of all the things I need to bring and where to pack it all. I’m bringing one large bag to check, a carry-on, and my backpack. My camera, sound recorder, and binoculars go in my carry-on along with memory cards, batteries, and other accessories and my medications, a change of clothing, and a raincoat, in case there’s a delay getting my checked bag. The camera batteries have to be accessible in case I have to gate-check the bag—then they’ll have to go in my backpack along with my laptop, trip checklist, headphones in case there’s an inflight movie, neck pillow, and anything else I might want on the plane. My small purse goes on top. 

I’ve been going on birding trips now and then since I started birding in 1975, but this is the first time I’ve had to pack face masks. On the other hand, I used to always pack at least one field guide and often a birder’s guide to the location I was visiting. Now all that information and more is on my tiny smart phone, which is also how I keep records of all the birds I’ve seen using eBird, so I no longer pack a field notebook. For many years I brought a spotting scope and tripod, but that’s too much to lug with my camera. This is an organized tour so the leaders will have scopes to share anyway. And I don’t have to pack stamps to send postcards or notes to anyone. An app called “Track My Tour” will keep track of exactly where we go as I post photos and little notes on mapped “waypoints.” I don’t need internet access to update these on my phone, but whenever we do have access to wifi, they’ll be added to my Track My Tour online page so my family and friends can see how things are going. 

It’s hard to predict the weather we’ll be encountering. An all-day boat trip to Kenai Fjords National Park is pretty much guaranteed to be cold, and one rugged and potentially very long hike through tundra tussocks in a remote spot on the Seward Peninsula near Nome in hopes of finding a Bristle-thighed Curlew is guaranteed to be buggy with temps anywhere from the 40s to the 80s. Last week it was warmer in both Nome and Anchorage than it was here in Duluth, so although I’ll need to be prepared for cold, I’ll obviously be dressing in layers. I’ll need my thick La Crosse rubber boots for the tundra hike, but the rest of the time my good hiking shoes should be enough. 

Most of the places I go have lots of mosquitoes or ticks. That grows increasingly worrisome as far as disease transmission goes. I don’t like putting bug spray on my skin, so I always keep a mosquito net handy and wear treated gloves, neck gaiter, and leg gaiters when hiking. 

I used to treat my clothes with permethrin ahead of time. It’s not safe to spray that indoors, but there’s nowhere safe to use it ouside, either, as far as avoiding collateral damage to innocent insects. I have a few pre-treated clothing items that were supposedly good for 70 washes—they have lived up to that just fine, but were quite expensive. 

In 2016, I found a solution. I sent a box of my favorite long johns, socks, shirts, and pants to the Insect Shield company. They treated everything with permethrin and sent it all back. It’s way cheaper than buying pre-treated clothing, and the treatment lasts much longer than spraying the clothes myself. It’s been 6 years now, and everything has held up well on trips to Peru, Cuba, Uganda, Costa Rica, Panama, and a few visits with our son in Florida. I only wear the treated items in very buggy situations, so I think the most any one item has been washed has been 25 or 30 times. At some point I’ll have to get them re-treated, but I’d say I’ve given Insect Shield a pretty good test run and based on my experience, it lives up to the hype.

One of my favorite things about packing is savoring memories attached to my birding garments—the socks stained on a hike through volcanic rock in Guatemala to see a Horned Guan, the rain pants I wore in Panama to see a soaking wet Harpy Eagle, the shirt that got pooped on by a Blue-gray Tanager in Costa Rica. And thinking through my electronics makes me think of what I hope to photograph and record. I’ll be taking thousands of photos and will make sound recordings whenever the situation warrants—imagining the possibilities reminds me of the best photos and recordings I’ve made in other places, too. And those memories affirm that the joys and pleasures of this two-week trip will last way into the future. Travel really is a gift that keeps on giving.