The 50 States Project: The Last Frontier

By Editorial Team on August 16, 2021
Anchorage, 10:58 pm


From Kate Fleming and Tom Woodruff of the 50 States Project:

“We touched down in Anchorage at 9:18 pm, light drizzle falling and not yet dusk. A lyft whisked us away to a house on a mountainside overlooking Anchorage, the city lights only beginning to flicker on as the sun set around 11:00 pm. It felt like we had taken a six-hour plane ride to another world. By the time I fell asleep around midnight, the sky was still bright.

The next morning (had it ever been night?), we hauled ourselves back to the airport, onto another plane, ate another tiny packet of pretzels, and landed in Juneau.

Our friend Marlena met us at the airport with a handmade sign welcoming us to her hometown. We wrapped her up in a big hug and looked at each other incredulously — we had talked about this moment way back in 2018 when Tom and Marlena were in grad school together at Ohio University. To be standing there together in Alaska, the 32nd state of our journey, in 2021, was absolutely surreal.

We scarfed down lunch (our first real meal in 24 hours) and headed to the Tongass National Forest. Awestruck, we walked through old-growth rainforest dripping in moss, across meadows of lupine and fireweed, and along pebbly beaches with stunning views of snow-capped mountains. Bald eagles topped every sitka spruce and western hemlock within view — we counted fifteen on that first day.

Spotting an eagle perched in a meadow 100 yards ahead of us, Marlena waded out into the ocean of knee-high grass. We hesitated. Marlena laughed and assured us that there are no ticks, chiggers, poison ivy, or snakes in Alaska. We followed tentatively, defying our instincts.

Marlena’s parents, Jeff and Sue, cooked us dinner that night. Jeff grilled sockeye salmon fillets so vibrantly and deliciously orange they almost looked fake. Nearly everything about Alaska was unbelievable and spectacular.

Marlena welcoming us to Juneau!


Lunch at the Slosses’


Learning to be okay with tall grass


Counting bald eagles on Boyscout Beach in Juneau

Marlena started on an intimidating packing list for our next adventure: base layers, fleece pants, rain paints, hats, fleece jackets, down jackets, rain jackets, gloves, extra socks, micro-spikes, and trekking poles. We were headed to the Mendenhall glacier.

We felt a little over-packed as we parked at the trailhead on a sunny, 65-degree day. The trail began as a wide, gravelly path, but soon became difficult to follow as we pushed uphill through thick alders and across rocky streams. We rounded a bend and the trail suddenly opened to a wide vista of the glacier. A cold breeze blew in across the ancient river of ice, and we were all quietly glad for the many layers we’d packed (even Tom, who hates pants).

We stumbled down, down, down through the rocky rubble, the air growing colder with each step. At the base of the moraine, we put on our final layers and strapped our micro-spikes onto the soles of our shoes.

We walked tentatively onto the ice — grey and silty at first, then white, and then the most brilliant blue. The crevasses were sublime and terrifying — deep gashes in the glacier that could end a life. Tom stuck his trekking pole into a melt hole the size of a softball and couldn’t find the bottom. Looking down, the ice was the purest blue, almost luminescent — like standing on the sky. I couldn’t stop grinning and staring at my feet.

Sid, Marlena, and Tom pre-Mendenhall Glacier hike


Layering up after lunch overlooking the Mendenhall Glacier

Photo by Marlena Sloss


Hanging out in an ice cave at the base of the Mendenhall Glacier (we had to wade through ice cold water to get into the cave!). Photo by Marlena Sloss.

It was already a spectacularly sunny day as we headed to the Juneau airport at 6:00 am for a 7:30 flight back to Anchorage. We squinted against the brightness as we said our sad and sleepy goodbyes to Marlena, donned our masks, and hauled our things through the tiny security checkpoint and to our gate.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. And then our flight got canceled.

And so, that evening we found ourselves paddling out into an endless Alaskan summer sunset reflected in the waters off Juneau. A group of porpoises broke the glassy surface of the water nearby. We all grew silent, watching them surface and dive, close enough to hear each exhale and inhale of those wild creatures.

We brought the kayaks into shore in the long, late twilight, and I felt so grateful. We are so lucky to get to see and document all 50 states — and to live alongside true wilderness, if only for a week or two.”

Kayaking in Favorite Channel off Juneau (photo by Marlena Sloss)


Kayaking in Favorite Channel off Juneau (photo by Marlena Sloss)

Photo by Marlena Sloss

For more information about the 50 States Project visit:

To view the online gallery go to:

To support “The 50 States Project”, visit:

(Source: Reposted from a 50 States Project email)