Thursday, April 07, 2016

Chasing the Aurora

“The more you go with the flow of life and surrender the outcome to God,
and the less you seek constant clarity,

the more you will find that fabulous things start to show up in your life.”

- Mandy Hale

All I can say is that I feel very blessed. At the end of the day, this is not about seeing the Aurora Borealis or not, but the moment was made meaningful because of the way everything fell into place. We asked to see the lights, then we felt disappointed when nature wasn't on our side, and when everything seemed hopeless and impossible, we tried our best to just surrender and accept! We thought to ourselves maybe this is just not meant to be. But just as we got to the end of the line, God surprised us and moved mountains! He orchestrated with the universe to make the impossible possible! What an amazing feeling and I feel very grateful for what this moment has taught us. Let this be a great reminder that sometimes, we just need to surrender to God and never lose faith when coping with challenges or impossible situations in our daily lives! If it is meant for us, God will always make a way to give us His blessing. If not, then we just have to trust that it is the best thing for us.

It was a dream of my niece to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) before the solar activity cycle dips low for a decade which means less chance of seeing it for the next 10 years. As we planned this trip, we organized it in such a way to allow multiple opportunities for us to chase/hunt the Aurora. We knew there is no guarantee to see it, so we also planned for other activities and experiences that would make the trip worthwhile even if we don’t get to see the lights. But of course, we were hopeful and excited. Unfortunately, it snowed and rained and the skies got too cloudy day in and day out. Nature was just not on our side! I have to admit that deep inside, it was frustrating and disappointing but we also knew the odds. I also knew how much my niece wanted to see it, and the yearning increases as the days go by. In the meantime, we pushed ourselves to enjoy the other parts of our journey which took us from Interior Alaska up north to the Arctic Circle, and enjoyed every new and exciting adventure we encountered from dog mushing, to snowshoeing in the snowy forest, to riding the old and last Alaska Railroad flagstop train and staying in a small town that had only one main street, to visiting Santa in the North Pole, and to driving far north along the only road to the Arctic. It was really a great adventure.

Then it came almost time to end our trip, and still no sign of the lights! In the midst of enjoying our activities, we couldn't help check the forecast every night. The only possibility now would be to see the lights from the air which was rare. We couldn’t help but to remain hopeful. We even contemplated on extending our trip for a day, if only the probabilities to see the Aurora were higher, but weather predictions still proved otherwise. So we headed our way into the airport to head home!

An hour prior to boarding, we received surprising news that despite the cloudy forecast, the lights were visible, albeit faint! As much as we wanted to abandon ship and get out of the airport at that instant, it was already past midnight, and there is only a tiny window of dark skies left in the night. We may not get to see it anyways as it will be too late by the time we head out to the viewing areas and visibility was unstable.

Then 30 minutes prior to boarding, there was an unexpected turn of events, a previous days volcanic eruption had caused flights to be cancelled the previous nights and thus an overflow of passengers from this small airport caused passenger bump offs on the current flights. The agent called us up to the counter and informed us that they could rebook our flights for the next day and give us a hotel to stay in for the night. I thought to myself that this was a sign. We had a good feeling but everything was hanging on a very fine thread, and we were afraid to shake it. It’s 1 am, only about 2 hours left to see the lights! We “tried” to remain calm and let the course of the situation just flow. Keeping our cool, we waited for the agent to process the airline paperwork and take out our bags (actually more importantly my winter gear and tripod :-)) and it seemed like the longest 15-20 minutes. We then headed to the hotel to get checked in and to drop off our things.

At this time, it was about 1:30am and we had no idea where to go and how. Again, just as everything was already working on our side for us, our hotel found us a taxi/tour guide nearby who happened to be off that night and was willing to bring us out to chase the lights, despite the last minute notice and having to be woken up in the middle of the night. Another couple from Australia who was also bumped off was at the right place and the right time, and they were able to join us on the chase, and we got to meet new friends too in the process. 10 minutes drive out into a dark road, we started to see very faint shapes that looked more like thick cloud formations to the naked eye. We continued on for another 5 minutes then as we stopped, the intensity grew and the green colors came out. I took a shot with my camera and was amazed, apparently the camera is able to see better than the naked eye esp when the lights are faint. I was simply awestruck and speechless! The lights began to form shape and become more visible and when the lights started to dance, I figured I didn’t want to miss this moment and opted to set aside my camera for a few minutes and see them with my own eyes.

First Shot

Barely warming our feet on the ground, we got back on our van and drove a bit to another area and got a wider view, and as we drove, the lights continued to float gracefully through the sky, just like it was following us alongside the road. Or rather, we were chasing it as it dances away. We stopped again in the middle of the road and the lights became more intense, covering more of the sky and a faint purple color also appeared. Now we could hear ourselves utter the ooohs and aahhs. Then again, barely a few minutes after, we had to leave again. As we hopped on the van, we said to each other, "so, this is what it feels like to chase the lights!" It was exciting!

Finally we drove out further on a very dark road towards Denali for about 15 minutes and stopped by a big open snowy area. According to our guide, this is the area where it would normally climax and show more activity. We stayed for almost 20-30 minutes there, and we managed to get some shots, and some selfies too. The lights would weaken a bit, then reappear, then at about 3:00am, it slowly went to sleep.

“Surrender to what is, let go of what was, have faith in what will be!

It was an awesome experience, and that tiny one hour window of opportunity made up for everything, for every wait, for every disappointment, for every hopeless thought, and even the challenges that we encountered later in the journey home. We are grateful and humbled!