Travel writer Liz Beatty connects with the sound of silence in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park.
My biggest fear pushing off on a backcountry river trip through southwest Yukon to Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park is not grizzlies, it’s surviving device-free — a cold turkey digital detox. The depth of my dependency surprises even me. I mean, I am not that young. Still, I cannot remember the last time I've gone 48 hours entirely unwired, much less 11 days. Night one, my brain races inside my tiny orange-and-white expedition tent, with only the relentless shhhhhh of glacial headwaters outside. I realize now this weaning is not just from time actually on devices, it’s more the constant promise of connection — to anyone, any idea, anyplace, any time. Who knew it was so hard to be so present?
My first hurdle: Denying my inner worrywart — texting to remind my two sons to feed the dog, to check that stove burners are turned off; circling back for feedback on a filed draft. It takes days for these involuntary impulses to fade. But as they do, I’m clearer about how much stress goes with being reachable 24/7/365, indulging my illusion of control over what can and should be happening in almost any facet of life, all of the time. Somewhere, coursing through the torrent of the Upper Tat’s long narrow canyon, this gnawing hyper-vigilance begins washing away.
Eventually, the physical rhythms and rituals of river life take over. As I load and unload gear from our rafts, as tent poles and flysheets are put up and taken down, my mind wanders, working through strife, pondering the next big idea. There’s infinite mental breathing room, no opportunity for digital distraction. This is nature’s therapy couch.
By day eight, I’m sipping 100-year-old scotch from a plastic camp mug, chilled by 10,000-year-old ice chiselled that day from a newborn iceberg. The crack and boom of ancient calving glaciers provides pre-dinner music, and far up and away, our view — the ice-draped peaks of the world’s largest non-polar ice cap. I realize it has been three days since I’ve even thought of my husband and two boys. No one is grabbing a phone or selfie stick to grin, snap, and tweet. There is no instant share value here. Our entire network of family, colleagues, followers and obligations is far from a share or speed dial away. Instead, this moment is deeply private, but weirdly bigger and all consuming.
Our journey ends just short of the Pacific. By now, instead of missing my devices, I’m sappy and nostalgic. I’m old enough to remember when backpacking 101 meant lugging around a three-pound dog-eared Let’s Go guide and promising to call my parents every 10 days from an American Express office. Without the extraordinary resources of our glorious wired world, so many things about wanderlust then were harder, more limited. Except this: the liberation of feeling utterly, entirely away — like one anonymous untethered speck in a vast awe-inspiring world.
Thank you US National Parks Service and happy 100th — still protecting some of America’s most staggering natural treasures, and of late, some of the world’s last best places to truly unplug.
G Adventures runs a number of departures encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.