“This could turn into a Lord of the Flies situation,” I say jokingly.
“Just don’t call me Piggy,” the guy across the table from me replies and we all laugh.
“Maybe people will get banished to the island in the lagoon,” another person chimes in and laughter erupts again – a little too uncomfortably. I stare out the window wistfully at the little island and my gaze travels to Pedersen Glacier that lies beyond it; I sort of feel like I should be sizing people up about now.
“When does the bar open,” another person asks the young lodge manager, Jason, who’s holding a clipboard and looking rather apologetic and sheepish.
This is going to be a long few days for everyone.
There are about 30 of us stuck in the wilderness at Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, a luxury lodge overlooking Pedersen Glacier surrounded on all sides by Kenai Fjords National Park. We are off the grid, in the middle of nowhere, completely unplugged. But we have a stocked bar. Let me just recap – I’m stuck in nature’s paradise with booze – not a horrible situation.
A freak storm with hurricane-force winds has hit the Kenai Fjords area in Alaska and has stranded us here in a remote area typically only accessible by a 90-minute boat journey from Seward. But today, it’s not accessible by boat. And it’s not supposed to be accessible tomorrow either. I look around at the long communal table full of the other 30 guests stranded with me and realize, now I’m going to have to get to know everyone’s names.
I was only supposed to be here for a night, so I hadn’t really bothered to try to really get to know people. When the turn is so quick on a trip like this I get lazy and would rather just keep to myself, and assume the role of loner. In my life of constant motion, it’s tiring to meet new people all the time. But now we are stranded together for possibly 2 more days until a boat can get through.
“Is there any way we can use the Wi-Fi network?” one stranded guest asks. Jason looks a bit confused and slowly answers “We have no internet out here at all, I’m sorry sir.”
I look at the group of 4 MIT computer science graduates vacationing together and realize I should stop referring to them in my head as the brainiacs and actually learn their names and about their lives now. After all, they may just be able to science their way out of this situation. I challenged them to build an Internet for us…and I was actually serious about this request. I figured if anyone could do it they could…right?
Table of Contents
Solving a Travel Crisis
The lodge quickly springs into crisis mode; they have 30 slightly unhappy guests. The guests aren’t unhappy because they are stuck in a wilderness paradise, they are unhappy because, for many of them, this stay at the Glacier Lodge was part of a much longer and more complex itinerary throughout Alaska. Some were at the beginning of that itinerary and some were at the end. Most everyone had to look at canceling and rearranging airfare, tours, lodging, train tickets, and more.
I looked around and wondered who had travel insurance – this is the perfect occasion for it. Travel insurance isn’t just about ensuring that you get to the trip; it’s also great for when the trip goes awry in the middle. Any time you are heading off the beaten path, you have a chance of the unexpected happening. Travel insurance is more than just protecting your airfare and luggage, it’s assistance throughout the journey – and can even help you rearrange your plans like in this situation.
As I surveyed people I was surprised to find out that almost everyone did have it except one couple who is now wishing they did. We all one-by-one got our turn on the satellite phone; guests spoke to their travel agents and travel insurance companies rearranging their plans and canceling others. It’s important to have a support team to call in a situation like this. Since my support team was the Alaska Tourism Department, I talked to them.
Even though I’m also one of the unhappy guests whose schedule has now been thrown up in the air, twisted, and mangled like a piece of sheet metal in a tornado, I’m torn – I don’t know if I’m upset or if I’m happy. We are stranded in a remote luxury destination that few people ever get to; an all-inclusive destination that normally costs $700 a night. We are surrounded by Kenai Fjords National Park on all sides. There are stunning views, bears, otters, whales, our own personal log cabins, a stocked bar, and food galore – and yet we are all feeling upset. It’s a weird tug-of-war going on in my mind and body.
A one-day delay might not be that big of a deal – however, tomorrow’s weather forecast is worse than today’s and the likelihood of us getting off the peninsula tomorrow is extremely low.
You Can Look But You Can’t Touch
Since the lodge is surrounded by water, Aialik Bay, and Petersen Lagoon, its draw is kayak and canoe wilderness adventures. Plus, there are plenty of hikes and things to see (such as the glacier), but you normally need to cross the water to get to them. However, in a windstorm like this, no one is crossing the water except the Sea Otters. So strangely we are sort of stuck inside the lodge – albeit a beautiful lodge with every creature comfort and an attentive staff.
It’s like you’re a kid looking through the window of a candy store at a pile of brightly wrapped candy. You long for that sweet sticky goodness, but have no money to buy it. I’m that kid with my nose pressed against the beautiful big windows of the lodge. I’m looking at crystal blue skies, with little puffs of clouds, a glistening blue glacier, a lagoon, and nearby canoes – yet the wind is whipping so violently across the water that it has left the whole lagoon in white caps. Even though it looks lovely from the inside looking out, those canoes are off limits and the glacier is unreachable.
Upon the 2nd day, guests are still joking and getting to know each other and each conversation seems to end with, “Oh, if we could only look that up on the internet…” People read and played card games. Teenagers listened to their iPods non-stop, and despite the Gilliland’s Island feel, everyone was really calm and accepting of the setback. Sure, pancakes, sausage, and unlimited coffee in the morning certainly help the overall mood of being stranded.
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The staff does a great job of trying to keep small activities going and little events for the guests to do; scavenger hunts, short forest walks protected from the wind, a behind-the-scenes tour of the impressive ecosystems at the lodge, movies, music, and a knot tying class.
Yes, a knot-tying class.
This is what it’s come to; I’m attending the knot-tying class. I figure this may come in handy in the Lord of the Flies scenario if the wind doesn’t stop howling. Dave, who is teaching the little class, is actually making knots pretty interesting. It works, I’m entertained, and I now know how to tie down a kayak to a car securely next time I’m in that situation. Never mind that I don’t own a car or a kayak.
Testing the Winds
It’s the 2nd day of being stranded, the sun is shining brightly, and it looks divine outside. The little devil on my shoulder starts to play games with me. “It’s such a nice day, why are they keeping us here,” he asks deviously. I decided I should go out for a walk and check out this weather situation myself. I go out with other curious guests, Carol and Chris, to walk out to the beach where we were dropped off the first day. We sign out on the hike board that we are going out without a guide and decline the offer of bear spray since it is probably useless on a windy day. The walk through the temperate rainforest is lovely; the devil is poking me. However, when we step out of the forested area and continue towards the beach we are taken aback. I stumble and try to get my footing against the wall of wind that has hit us. Ok…I get it…I see why we are stuck now. And the devil blows away off my shoulder to never be seen again.
Our remaining time is filled with short hikes in the woods, berry gathering, reading, more presentations by the guides and our final event is watching the movie Into the Wild. It was probably a good choice to show us that movie the last night.
The next morning the wind was still blowing, but not quite at the force it had been over the last two days. Jason gave us word that a boat was on the way and everyone let out a little cautious cheer. I popped a Dramamine, and we all gathered our bags and prepared for a boat pickup without getting our expectations too high – we had done this dance once before and it was called off – we were all a little pessimistic.
As we left the sheltered lodge area and started out on the 30-minute walk to the beach landing, I looked at the canoes and kayaks tied up near the lagoon shore. I had been here 3 days/nights and I didn’t set foot in any of them, it was kind of sad. But when you are looking for real wilderness experiences, you can’t predict and control everything – especially the weather. As a person who loves to travel to remote places and unique destinations – this is what you sign up for – unpredictability. Just because it’s a luxury lodge doesn’t mean that it can control the weather. After years of travel, I’ve learned to go with the flow and appreciate all the twists and turns that a plan can take.
The lodge did a super job of dealing with a tough situation; it appeared that everyone enjoyed their time there, even if it was unplanned. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again, it was a unique and beautiful way to experience the wilds of the Kenai Fjords National Park and remote Alaska – one that very few people get to have. I left the Glacier Lodge well rested, appreciative, with a handful of new friendships, and knowledgeable about how to tie 3 different knots…isn’t that what a true vacation is all about?
And of course, the best part is that we all walked away with a fun story to tell…
…That time in Alaska when I was stranded for 3 days next to a glacier surrounded by howling winds, whitecaps, whales, and bears…
Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge
The lodge is a 5-star wilderness experience run by some of the most enthusiastic, educated, wildlife and ecotourism people I’ve ever met. The lodge is part of a 3-lodge group called Alaska Wildland Adventures. Each lodge offers a different experience that takes you deep into the wilds of Alaska but in a small way. Small groups, small boats, small buses – their motto is smaller is better. You can get a package to experience all 3 and see a side of backcountry Alaska that many people don’t get to see or you can choose just one that you want to experience.
Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge Website
Package with Kenai Riverside Fishing Lodge and Kenai Backcountry Lodge