It’s strange what you remember about a vacation, especially if it’s in the once-in-a-lifetime category, as our recent trip to Alaska was. My husband and I each took loads of glacier photos, but they appear flat and insignificant compared with the magnificence of the real things. The scale of the Alaskan landscape is unlike anything I’ve ever tried to appreciate; it is as massive, bold and untamed as it was in the gold-rush days. It just doesn’t fit into an iPhone.

What I am recalling most are the moments we experienced by happenstance. Many of the best things in life are not scheduled—they just occur, and we are privileged to occupy a particular space and time to enjoy them.

On our first day on the cruise, we wandered about and found a narrow staircase leading to an upper deck. We decided to go up, and joined a line of people waiting for someone who appeared to be a Maître d’. We began chatting with the woman in front of us, and learned it was a special observation deck on which you could reserve a lounge chair for the days spent sailing in Glacier Bay and College Fjord. By the time we finally got to the front of the line, the three of us were speaking so familiarly that the attendant naturally assumed we were together. At first, we corrected him, but then we looked at each other and said, “Well, we are good enough friends from fifteen minutes in line!” We ended up reserving lounges next to each other, and now have a new Canadian friend and email pal. We also met a lovely woman who grew up in Georgetown but now lives in Virginia, which I frankly think is the reverse of how you should do it. Nonetheless, she is going to look me up when she comes home for a visit, and we will have a chance to compare our insipid glacier photos over lunch.

On another afternoon, my husband and I were scheduled to embark on a helicopter ride for an authentic sled-dog experience. When we got to the tour operator’s kiosk, we were told our excursion was cancelled due to high winds. We figured we’d just walk around Juneau, when a young girl operating a pedicab pedaled by. She stopped and asked if she could help us—I guess we were still unknowingly wearing masks of disappointment. We ended up having a fascinating bicycle tour of Juneau, and she shared a personal story of how her family settled in Alaska that was better than any of the canned tours we’d heard. I didn’t have my reporter pad with me, but to the best of my recollection, her ancestors arrived during the gold rush. While her great-great grandfather did not strike it rich panning gold, her great-great grandmother made the family fortune by taking in miners’ laundry and renting them the use of a hot bath. Which just goes to show you—there was a time you could really clean up in Alaska!

On one of our final days, there was a widespread power outage that hit right after we were seated for dinner. We ended up dining on cold dip and chips, and used our phones’ built-in flashlights to get back into our room, where we had no heat and no running water. This felt somehow more Alaskan than anything we had experienced yet, and we look back on that night as one of our most interesting adventures.

I guess we didn’t really need to go thousands of miles north to make some new friends, hear a cool story or two and rough it for a night. No one would buy the Planet Janet travel brochure on Alaska, that’s for darn sure. But these are my memories, and you can’t put a price on them. For ten bucks, however, I won’t bore you with my glacier photos.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Her column is published regularly in the Georgetown Times and the South Strand News. Contact her at