I boarded the small and cramped five-person helicopter, put on the headset and strapped in like a pro. I was fearless. With two feet almost always firmly planted on the ground, I could laugh in the face of fear; most humans without any wings probably could. The blades rotated and the aircraft lifted off the tarmac -- but so did my lunch as I looked outside the hovering bubble. Then I looked at the young kid barely old enough to shave piloting the impossible machine and gripped the sides of my seat for dear life.
By the way, Temsco Heliocopters is the way to go for all your dog sledding, helicopter glacier tours, and other helicopter charters in Juneau and Skagway, Alaska. Nothing to fear, they are professionals.
We soared up and over to the over 13 mile long Mendenhall Glacier and my fear started to subside. I let go of the leather seat as the glacier rose into view where I witnessed a majesty that I only used to see in National Geographic photos. With recent reports of glaciers in the world melting and sea levels starting to rise, I quickly started to grasp the dire situation our planet was in. How could anything like I was seeing right now eventually disappear.
As we started to lower into the glacial valley, a multitude of little huts started to come into focus. Getting closer, I noticed many of these trapezoidal huts were guarded by man's best friends. Once we landed, I was guided over to a sled with ten dogs attached. A couple of the canines stood at attention, a couple of others nipped at each other and another pair couldn’t wait to be petted by me. These dogs were Alaska Huskies, not the fluffy Siberian Huskies that you generally think of watching Disney movies. They were smaller, thinner and more athletic; the same dogs that compete throughout the Iditarod and Yukon Quest.
A brief note about Glacier fashion in June. I was clearly over dressed as the professional dog sledders and caretakers wore shorts and t-shirts on the snow and ice. I looked like I was ready for temperatures below infinity. The snow and ice was cold to the touch but the noonday sun warmed up the extremities and the air around me. I looked like a hipster that took a wrong turn at the Washington/Canadian border.
As soon as I was ready to “mush”, I sped off on the ice trails. Bred for this type of environment, the dogs really moved across the never-ending whiteness. No sign of civilization for miles, just the dogs, a few fellow sledders and the guides traversing the ice. Fresh cool air on the face with the sounds of slushing further placed me in a dreamscape the likes I never could imagine.
My newfound passion for dog sledding soon came to an end; back in Southern California, sledding around Santa Monica with a bunch of dogs would not work -- maybe at Venice Beach? The dogs wished me well by licking my face before boarding the helicopter back down to the real world. The aerial voyage back, I felt no fear but instead a tinge of melancholy as the huts and dogs disappeared behind me and the Alaskan rivers and roads came back into view. The stark contrast between the two environments was an eye opener: the wilds of Alaska versus the constructions of progress. I sensed we could survive with both but not with one aggressively taking over the other. It was something to consider on the long trek home, but I would mostly be thinking about Mushing in June.