Finding Home
Backpacker|May - June 2021
Our writer reconciles her family and her future on the path to Harding Icefield.
SAHRA ALI

At mile three of the trail to Harding Icefield in Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park, I found myself scrambling up bare rock, the glacier nowhere in sight. The summer sun beat down on my shoulders, wavering into a heat-haze above the forest below. Still, I didn’t slow my pace, drawn by the lure of ice far above.

This was to be my last big hike before I went back to the Lower 48. Leading the way was Pang, my boss at a Seward accounting firm, who over the preceding months had become my partner in adventure. She moved to Seward when she was young and we bonded over our shared immigrant experience—her from Thailand, me from Somalia. We’d both had to figure out how to assimilate into a place while holding onto pieces of our own culture. The resilience built from that experience yielded the toughness needed for long and difficult backcountry trips. I had taken the seasonal job in Seward the same week my family left the States for Somalia for what they had planned to be a year but had now stretched months beyond. For years, I was the leaver. This time, I stayed.

Back on the trail, I paused for a moment to take in the bright green valleys opening below me, framed by sheer gray cliffs topped with snow. After two months as a riverboat deckhand and four more hiking around the Kenai Peninsula, I was confident in my stamina and agility when climbing these peaks, but this trail—scattered with the rocky detritus of a few hundred years of glacial advance and retreat—was still rough enough to present a challenge. Despite the scene, though, my mind was 7,500 miles away in my home village of Badhan in Somalia, where my family now was. In all my nomadic life, I had never been as far from my family as I was at this moment.

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