When you have no job and 20 hours of sunlight a day, time ceases to exist in any way you’ve known before. Each long-lit day bleeds into the next like water-splattered ink drops, and often the events within a 24 hour period are enough to actually make up two days, or perhaps even three. Life takes on a dream-like quality–though that could be the lack of sleep–and it becomes normal to start an adventure at 10 pm, to finish an adventure at 1 or 2 am when the sky is just a darker shade of blue.

Such was the case when we visited the hamlet of McCarthy, a village of creatives and unconventional folks nestled at the foot of the Wrangell Mountains. According to the 2010 census, only 28 people live in McCarthy year round. That number swells in summer when tourists flock to McCarthy and its sister town, Kennecott, an old mining town that is a gateway to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. When we arrived in McCarthy days before the solstice, summer season was in full swing.

In order to get to town, we first drove 60 miles to the end of unpaved McCarthy Road, which has a reputation for blowing tires and busting wheel bearings. Once a mile from town, we parked in a designated lot and walked across a series of foot bridges to get to downtown: a handful of frontier-fashioned buildings planted along the dirt main street. All electricity in town is provided by one large generator and most buildings don’t have running water. Showers are an anomaly.

The Kennecott Mine

The Kennecott Mine

We were seeking a solstice celebration but first we had a date with the Root Glacier, a mile-wide, mild-sloped ice field that crawls out of Mt. Regal’s Stairway Icefall. We hit the trail out of Kennecott at 6 pm, strapped on cramp-ons at 7, wandered off route, lost our way among compression cracks and crevasses, and finally reached camp as sunlight was softening around 11:30 pm. We were greeted by bear scat and a pair of kissing porcupines. We posted up on a lush island between the Root and Kennicott Glaciers. For two days we lingered among the moraines, watched endless sunsets crown the ice waves gold.

The Root Glacier

The Root Glacier

When we returned to McCarthy on June 21, solstice eve, the entire place was buzzing. We stopped into The Potato, home to the only espresso machine in town. “Are you going to bluegrass?” Jeff, an acquaintance we’d made a few days earlier asked. “Of course!” We chorused. We stopped into the general store for AfterBite. “You gals heading to the bar tonight?” the friendly cashier inquired. We nodded enthusiastically. “You girls know about the bluegrass band tonight?” the parking attendent asked when we dropped our backpacks at the car. “There’s a tequila party too!”

The Golden Saloon is the social epicenter of McCarthy and Kennecott. Naturally, it’s the only bar within 60 miles. When we entered its double doors around 9:30 pm, we were hit with a blast of hot, humid air and big upright base notes. The bar was two bodies deep, dining room tables full, dance floor not yet hopping but would be soon. Where did all of these people come from?! I wondered. And they kept coming.

The night raged on, so did the light. People spilled out of the Saloon’s deck, beer cans, pints, martini glasses in hand. There are no cops in McCarthy, and no open container laws. I met a collection of fascinating people–a poet from Montana, hydro engineer from Anchorage, natural resource professor from Berkeley, a native cultures anthropologist, a pilot, a glacier guide from Minnesota, a 60 year old woman from Taos who was cycling solo around Alaska. The polished wooden dance floor pulsed with writhing bodies, stomping feet.

Around 1am I stumbled outside to check the light. It was dim like that you’d find in an early dusk. The monster moon glowed ivory, hovered above the historic building fronts. Sometime around 3am I swayed my way to the parking lot. I stopped on the footbridge, watched the waters of the Kennicott River snarl and curl under my feet, gazed out to the Root Glacier still illuminated in the now early morning light.

Tomorrow was already today, the transition from one day to the next seamless, almost as though there was no transition between them at all.

It's 3am, I think it's getting lighter...

It’s 3am, I think it’s getting lighter…