When traveling on Alaska airline jets from Kodiak to Anchorage and Anchorage to Juneau, one may be scheduled to ride in the “combi.” This combination cargo plane and passenger plane brings mail and other small goods to destinations, all while being carried in the section usually reserved for first class. We passengers are deigned to sit in coach and enter through the back door. Due to the backside entry, most boardings take place outside. In the winter, that means dressing like you mean it.
To traverse over the ice on Kodiak’s wind swept runway, one must have yak trax affixed to the bottom of his/her waterproof shoes, with a rainproof shell to ward off the precipitation, in whichever form it may come down at that exact moment. With the boarding door remaining open to the elements as fellow passengers find their seats, be sure to keep your jacket with you; or, in my case, bring a small blanket that can help insulate against the wind that whips down the aisle.
To trudge through the snow drifts in Anchorage, you descend down two (inside) flights of metal stairs, bundled from head to toe, er, snow-appropriate shoe. Upon entering the single digit world of runway-central (sometimes, perhaps with a negative in front of that lone digit), you must gingerly step over small berms of snow and follow little orange cones. At the end of that row of tattered cones is the Alaskan airline employee who lost the recent bet in the employee lounge and resembles the Abominable Snow Person, waving an orange glow stick. Sometimes a jet passes just as you begin the journey down the snow-lined cone-way, which covers the miniscule amount of gravel they placed for traction, causing you to slip, stumble, and then upon regaining your balance and modesty, you glance up and can no longer see the orange glow stick. The wind-blown snow blocks your view of the person who was, just a few second prior, just 35 feet from you. Precariously, you pick your way through the snow, following the orange markers to where you last saw the employee. And like a beacon of hope, s/he reappears. Astounded- and yet remarkably- you feel your right hand go up and wave and smile. Goggles, scarf, and face shield prevent you from recognizing if the smile was returned; but, you turn- as directed by the now-visible glow stick- and are faced with your next challenge: the stairs.
A few words of caution: wind-swept, icy metal stairs whose handle is frosted over have no traction, are incredibly difficult to navigate much less fight gravity in an upward bound motion- even for the in-shape and agile traveler that I am. I dare say that if I struggle, my hat is off to elders and those who legs/hips/whatever are partially made of metal…bravo.
But, once airborne, your struggles seem like a distant memory as you behold the sunlit, snow-capped mountains. The beauty that cannot be described in words and is best left for the lenses of a National Geographic documentary never ceases to astound me. And yet still, as you rub your ankle from the unfortunate near-spill that just transpired, your remember to place your yak trax in the carry-on for the return voyage.