Hot and cold in the Alaskan mountains
by Lauren Malara
One perk of being a comic is that I sometimes travel for work. This past summer, I found myself in Anchorage, Alaska, which is extraordinary. Comedy usually only takes me to dingy dive bars in and around my hometown of New Orleans.
I’ve always been tenacious. Once my mind is set to something, it happens. I’m the first woman in my family to get a driver’s license. I know. Nothing phenomenal, just determination.
Before even booking a flight to Alaska, I decided that I wanted to visit Alyeska Resort. This gorgeous ski lodge is in the Chugach Mountains. It has a Nordic Spa with hot tubs, cold pools, steam rooms, and saunas. Even though it was an hour drive from Anchorage, this was on the top of my list. There's so much to do in Alaska during the summer. The sun shines 16 hours a day. Businesses are open and people are out. I put the pedal to the metal. In just one day, I touched a glacier, rode a fancy train, and visited The Anchorage Museum.
The next day, I was ready to head up to the spa and pump the breaks. A scenic road runs from Anchorage to Alyeska. This highway has ocean on one side and mountains on the other - nature’s majesty in every direction. The speed limit is only 30 mph. I set out for a leisurely drive to this luxury spa.
Pretty quickly, fear set in. The scenic road is two thin lanes of traffic that travel in opposite directions. I was on the outside lane, or the ocean side. I drive the speed limit, and there are no passing lanes. Cars honked the entire time. I wasn’t going to speed on these winding roads only to be flung into the ocean. Jesus take the wheel!
One hour later, I pulled up, shaky legged, but in one piece. The air smelled pure and there was a slight chill. Clouds floated past snowy mountain tops. Lush gardens lined every single path. Even just standing outside this resort was worth the drive. Busloads of tourists lined up to ride the resort's ski lift. Tenacious as ever, I headed to the spa deciding: first a good steam, then a trip to the mountaintop.
Alyeska Spa smelled like mint or eucalyptus or lavender; I couldn’t place it, but it was delicious. A smiling greeter handed me a plush flannel robe stating, “I’d recommend the following hydrotherapy technique: hot, cold, rest, and repeat. Any questions?”
“Yes. Is there a regular road back to Anchorage? Like a non-scenic option?”
“There is not.”
The spa is outdoors. There are fire pits everywhere. Pools are surrounded by thick cedars and tall pines. Some tubs are hot, some are cold. Some are saltwater, some are not. Some small tubs are tucked off in secluded corners. The rainforest steam room was my favorite. As I opened the door, thick clouds poured out. This was the source of the delicious smell that floated around the entrance. Rich green tiles shined despite the heavy mist.
In the middle of the room, a bucket hung from the ceiling. Ice cold water dripped into it until it filled to the brim. Then, it tipped over. Cold droplets splashing green tiles. Next to the bucket was a rope. Over and over, the bucket emptied and refilled. People talked about pulling the rope. No one did. Beads of sweat sat on my skin. Tenacious as ever, I went to the rope. With a big breath, I pulled it. Cold water poured all over me. A chill ran down my spine and filled me with a burst of energy. Invigorating!
The next few hours were bliss. Hot, cold, relaxing, and repeating. With breathtaking views in every direction, Alyeska is very romantic. I fell a bit more in love with myself, lost in the company of a good book and a hibiscus iced tea.
A woman came up to me at the cafe. She said, and I quote, “I’m sorry to bother you on a day as lovely as this.”
I looked around. It was a lovely day.
“I saw you - and thought - you’re a fancy woman.”
She looked down at herself, “I was - this tee shirt - over my swimsuit…. do you think that’s ok?”
At Alyeska, I had metamorphosed from a comic into a fancy lady. Time to head back to Anchorage as a beautiful butterfly. But first, a quick trip on that ski lift to the mountaintop. In a blissful state, I glided onto the tram with other passengers. A slow ascent of 2000 feet. We swayed. A chill creeped down my spine. The other passengers shrieked with glee.
When we arrived on the mountaintop, a young couple ran off the tram hand in hand. They climbed onto a jutting rock. They posed for several standing selfies. These were complete strangers but I considered calling their parents.
“You have to get off ma’am,” said the tram operator. “Next trip down is in 15 minutes. There is a gift shop down that path.”
The path: a thin trail with a railing. The gift shop: a place with proof of just how far I’d come.
Grabbing the rail, I stepped off the tram. Slowly, I walked down the path. Ahead, a man kissed a woman’s cheek. He looked around excitedly. Finding my eye, he called out, “Will you take our picture? We just got engaged! Why are you walking so slowly?”
By the time I made it to the gift shop, it was closed. I took a big breath and looked around. There is so much damn beauty in this world.
Down on the ground, 2,000 feet didn’t seem so far. Ready to face the scenic road, I buckled up. I’d been to a mountaintop. Anything is possible. I am phenomenal.
Back on the scenic road, I drove on the inside lane. The mountainside cradled me. Until I saw a sign reading: DANGER - FALLING ROCKS.
Hands on the wheel, I decided to enjoy the ride.
Lauren Malara is a comedian and show producer based in New Orleans, Louisiana.