This was all around an amazing and ridiculous trip, half work, and half fun. When my manager suggested that I go to KDD a few months ago, I had no idea what that meant. I had never heard of the conference, but the fact that it was in Alaska was a big selling point, so even though I wasn’t fully aware of what I had signed up for beyond “it’s about data mining and analytics”, I said yes. Of course, if I was going, I knew I’d have to take advantage of the nature, so I decided to stay the weekend after, and Hannah tagged along.

If you’re interested in the more technical stuff, you can check out this other blog post. Below, there’s mostly nature:

There was a little park between the two convention centers, and conference attendees took advantage of the sun almost every afternoon for lunch.

After the first full conference day, I decided spontaneously to go on a hike. Since the sun would set past 11pm, this meant I had many hours to walk around, so I took a Lyft to Kincaid Park, and proceeded to walk back to the city along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.

I had never heard of frisbee golf but apparently it is popular in Alaska. As I lost myself in the park’s trails again and again I kept finding myself in front of these baskets.

Oddly, the Coastal Trail loops right around the airport, and I ended up on a trail behind the main runway.

Someone got irresponsibly close to the moose. This is a 35mm lens, if that means anything to you.

Luckily, they peacefully walked away.

Casually hanging out in the park.

Anchorage is relatively small, so I tried to explore outside of the main downtown strip. I expected that the city would have more of its own character, but there wasn’t much to see, and honestly it felt very much like a mediocre Midwestern suburb. In fact, I kept thinking that its aesthetic must be informed by the fact that it’s a city that caters to many premium mediocre tourists.

Every once in a while, I’d run into an interesting structure.

Clearly, people in Anchorage care about landscaping during the summer. The whole downtown area was covered in flowers, and I saw people taking care of them daily. Most houses I walked past had nice gardens outside, too. I guess that’s what happens when you live half the year cold and covered in snow - Chicago wasn’t too different.

After the second day of the conference ended, I went to the Anchorage Museum. The Seed Lab had a strong protest art installation right outside. “We are the asteroid” was my favorite of these signs.

The Alaska exhibit and the Living Our Cultures exhibits were fascinating for very different reasons. Both kept me thinking about identity formation, culture preservation, and belonging all day. A lot of the narratives in the museum revolve around the loss of language, the loss of shared traditions, and the tension between the Alaskan identity and the US identity of the people who live and lived there.

At the exhibit on native cultures, a recurring theme was how each of those tribes would refer to themselves as variations “the people,” or “the real people,” etc. The fact that Alaskans use “inside/outside” language to refer to the rest of the world as opposed to themselves was striking after reading so much about the colonization and alienation of the local peoples. It was a bit too literal.

The whole third floor was an Alaskan art and photography exhibit. There were a lot of beautiful pieces, and many of them dealt with identity and the self-perception of people in Alaska, such as the I am Inuit photo series or Erica Lord’s haunting Blood Quantum. Others were much lighter, like the room devoted to the role salmon plays in Alaska’s daily life, or this one where there was nothing but a few benches.

The view out of the third floor window. Unless you’re facing the ocean, in Anchorage there’s always mountains in the background.

Narrator: these stairs didn’t go to the heart of the city.

I tried coffee at four or five different shops. My favorite ended up being Steamdot, but my experience at Side Street Espresso was very memorable. The place is run by an old couple, and the sheer number of kitsch artifacts crammed together in the oddly laid out space made their store feel very homey, real, in a way that no hipster coffee shop in SF has ever made me feel.

In my walks around the city I ended up in neighborhoods that felt in disarray. Homelessness and poverty are very much in your face.

Polarizers do funky stuff some times.

Hannah arrived on Thursday night, and on Friday we went on our first hike. Flat Top was supposed to be a must-do, and it did not disappoint.

Luckily, I was there to supervise Hannah.

At some point, there was no trail, and we just had to figure out which rocks provided the best path up.

I missed my chance of taking a good shot, as I was talking to Hannah when I noticed this guy started running. This looked like a lot of fun, though.

Then, we drove for four hours north, to Denali.

Denali is big (larger than Massachussetts!), so once you drive to the park’s only entrance you have to take these buses to go further in. Going to the main attractions near Wonder Lake takes another 4 hours (each way!) on the bus, so we decided against it. On a future trip, we’ll surely do it and try to camp in the deeper wilderness.

We arrived late, and tired, so our first hike was a short one, Horshoe Lake.

Hannah could not have been more excited about seeing the beavers swim.

There were lots of opportunities for reflection shots.

And mushrooms! There were also mushrooms.

We started day two early, and that was our crazy hike day. We ended up doing ~25 miles. We started with Mount Healy Overlook, continued to Triple Lakes, and stretched ourselves at Savage River.

The fog caught up to us when we were at the top of the Triple Lakes trail, but luckily it cleared out later in the day

Nature is strange.

And then, there was the series “Avy Holding Nature”

"Is this an ad for these boots?"

Seeing old infrastructure is always thought provoking - who used those rails? What kind of cargo went through them?

After regretting not having signed up for the bus, and figuring out that there was no way we’d be able to make the timing work out anyway, we decided to drive up to Savage River. That ended up being a great decision.

Even the parking lots were beautiful.

Getting ready to freak out about our imminent fall down the mountainside.

A face that says “why are you up there? you’re going to die? No, wait, we’re going to die!”

Post freak out.

There’s a little Hannah hidden in this picture.

Savage River Alpine Trail was probably the most rewarding hike I’ve ever done. Doing it in the evening as the sun began to set was serendipitous timing.

As we were walking back to the car, Hannah was upset that while we’d seen a bunch of wildlife (beavers! a lynx! a porcupine!) she was jealous of all the moose I had seen at Kincaid Park earlier in the week. As we were driving out, we saw this guy’s shadow in the distance as he decided to cross the street. It was the perfect way to close out the trip.

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