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Commentary: Feeling smaller than life in Alaska

September 06, 2013|By Liana Aghajanian

For the first time in 10 years, I got on a bicycle yesterday. It took a good 10 minutes to retrain myself how to ride without falling over, but when I took off, it felt like absolute freedom.

The wind hit my face and I stopped pedaling as my downhill speed increased. There were no cars, no distractions, not a sound in the distance except the wheels of my bicycle. It was a moment of peace I wish I could have held onto forever.

Of course, it probably helped that I did this in Alaska. Not only had I waited a decade to ride a bike, but I had done it in a place often referred to as The Last Frontier.

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I came here on a whim, mostly to lay a foundation for returning for reporting trips. The inexpensive plane ticket I managed to wrangle didn't hurt either.

I found myself driving a neon-orange rental car among black, white and gray vehicles on a scenic byway offering the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. I made my way from Anchorage to Seward, one of the busiest fishing ports in the United States, where I had a sandwich in a cafe that doubled as a laundromat.

Suddenly, grabbing a coffee while waiting for your laundry didn't seem like a far-fetched idea.

I visited a musk ox farm in Palmer, the agricultural heart and center of Alaska, where long hours of sunlight produce gargantuan vegetables.

I stopped in Wasilla, the home of former Gov. Sarah Palin, to see where the woman who once was a candidate to become vice president of the United States lived.

In downtown Anchorage, I watched the sunset from a roof-top restaurant while mulling over how much this city was, and also was not, like any other I have visited.

I ate Siberian dumplings in a hole-in-the-wall while listening to country music and the distinctively familiar chatter of a group of Russian Americans.

I hiked up trails and near river beds until my shoes were no longer visible under the mud and debris they had collected. I rode a tram to the top of a mountain that was surrounded by seven glaciers, and I toasted the journey with an Alaskan ale.

During my visit, I met a woman around my age who had driven to Alaska from "the Lower 48" and decided to work here at a farm for a few months before heading off somewhere else in search of something else.

We talked for a while about living in Alaska, about what had compelled her to come, about what she was doing next.

"I don't know what I'm doing with my life," she said. I know that feeling well, as I imagine most people from my generation do.

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