Riding rails in search of the Aurora
The Good Life|March 2020
Riding rails in search of the Aurora
She was there for the view; did the young Asian couples had something else in mind?
LISA THERRELL

I must admit I had been feeling a bit sorry for myself.

I flew into slushy Anchorage, Alaska the same week many friends were posting glorious accounts of visiting Hawaii during winter break.

Granted, I travelled to Alaska to be with cousins, one of whom was ailing, but I could have spent the same amount for a ticket to the Big Island. Sigh…

Upon arrival, my cousin was discharged from an Anchorage hospital back to Fairbanks via a medical flight. I needed to find my way to Fairbanks.

I had heard that the train ride from Anchorage to Fairbanks is fabulous, and I love riding trains. Normally the train only departs Anchorage on Saturdays in winter, but by stopping by the railroad depot, I managed to finagle a ticket to board a special Aurora Winter Train on a Tuesday.

Imagine my surprise to arrive at a packed railroad depot, with many excited tourists waiting to board the gleaming blue and yellow train. I found myself chatting with a woman from China, now living in L.A. “Most of these tourists are Japanese,” she whispered in my ear. “In Japan it is very auspicious to conceive a child under the Northern Lights.”

The demographic was mostly young couples. Could this be true?

Our 12-hour journey travelled through the Alaskan outback from the warmth and comfort of the train. Two passenger cars were full of Asian travelers, and my car was full of North American tourists that had also travelled long distances just to see the Aurora Borealis.

This was to be a good week to see the Northern Lights, I learned. Passengers were giddy with excitement. I laid my Hawaii-envy to rest, and got in the spirit for an Alaskan adventure.

The train glided up snowy valleys, sometimes passing through spruce or aspen forest, following partially frozen rivers. Sometimes we viewed expansive peaks and valleys across snowy plains.

The conductor would announce moose to our right or left, mostly running through deep snow to get away from the train. Bald eagles and ravens feasted on occasional kill.

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March 2020