May 1

With clear skies and 41-degree weather, we embarked on the first leg of our road trip at 3:45 a.m. First stop, Beluga Point, then onto Girdwood and finally Seward.

Spirits were high and we couldn’t contain the genuine excitement for what laid ahead.

I made the mistake of not putting my luggage in the RV ahead of time, so Scotty and I got creative with some bungee cords and tie-downs to strap it to the roof of the Mini Cooper. Thankfully nothing flew away.

Tracy drove while Marti prepared for her first live shot at 5 a.m. Somehow it was decided I should go on the air for the 6 a.m. live hit. The jury’s out on whether it would be a good idea after all.

(Via KTUU Instagram: Photographer Scotty Smith finds time to skateboard before setting up a 5 AM live shot.)

We imagined all of the adventures we would share over the next 21 days.

I had to give it to Tracy. She knew how to assemble a team. Marti was our keystone. Her happy, earnest demeanor shined bright through the early-morning darkness. Scotty, too. He and I hadn’t yet worked together, but we’d talked plenty in the newsroom and hung out a little outside of work. Scotty exuded a certain calmness. Like a Zen master, Scotty had a way of conveying quiet confidence without ever having to actually vocalize anything. Adam and Ray held things together on the engineering side. As we pulled up to the RV, our unsung heroes had already set up our mobile satellite unit. Flood lamps and the whir of generators broke through the darkness. No one had slept much the night before we hit the rode, but Ray and Adam may not have slept at all. You wouldn’t have known it, though. They just did what they had to do, and that’s all that mattered to them. And, of course, Tracy, our intrepid leader. Tracy and I had worked in the field before and apparently she must have enjoyed the experience enough to invite me back for more. Tracy embodied excitement. She kept us all inspired, but she also kept us on point.

The sun hadn’t yet cleared the Chugach range when we arrived at Beluga Point; it wouldn’t for at least another hour. The air was cool and a crisp breeze blew across Turnagain Arm. Through the dark haziness, I could still see all the way across the Cook Inlet toward Hope.

It’s a familiar scene to just about anyone who has spent time in Alaska. Yet, somehow looking out across the wide expanse this time, the promise of unknown adventure made us all wonder what exactly we had gotten ourselves into.

The day later brought us to Girdwood, one of my favorite towns in Alaska, if not the favorite. There is something very familiar about Girdwood that immediately makes me feel at home. Maybe it’s the people; maybe it’s the mountain town feel that has always appealed to me.  We met up with John Michael O’Leary, owner of The Grind coffee shop.

Full of Star Wars memorabilia, odd trinkets and unique gizmos, The Grind exudes that quirky appeal I can’t get enough of. Plus the coffee was exactly what we needed after the very early start to the day. O’Leary went head to head with Marti at a game of Ms. Pac-Man. Try as he might to let Marti win, he just still couldn’t do as bad as her.

We left Girdwood feeling reenergized as we made our way to Seward.

By the time we reached Seward, the sun was shining bright in the clear sky. The snowcapped peaks on Mt. Alice blazed white in the sunshine.

I set up shop inside the Sea Bean Café where I met Deanna Depue and Barbara Andersen and her daughter Edmee. They kept me company while I wrote and edited pictures. The café was only about 100 yards from the Alaska SeaLife Center where Marti had scheduled some time with trainers. We were going to get to hang out with harbor seals and stellar sea lions.

I couldn’t say how harbor seals behave in the wild, but the one I meant, Tongas, was a real gentle seal. I was told I could pet Tongas, so I did, and he just looked at me. I know seals are pretty intelligent creatures. It was pretty clear just looking at Tongas he was thinking about what I was doing.

The day kept moving as we came to 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts, and we still had a boat to catch to the Kenai Fjords. It was only day one and it felt like we had managed to fit a weekend’s worth of activities into less than 24 hours.

As we prepared for our boat ride, I had no idea what else laid in wait for us. We still had 20 days and hundreds of miles to travel.