Their plan was to split the journey into two legs: First, they would fly from their home city of Seattle to Alaska for the summer. Then, in the winter, they would load their plane up again, takeoff, and fly across hemispheres all the way down to the southern tip of Patagonia.

But they never made it out of Alaska.

There’s no limit to the amount of mishaps that can disrupt one’s travel plans. Flights can be delayed. Luggage can get lost. Or, as Mark Reed and his wife discovered when they flew Mark’s plane to The Last Frontier, a destination can so totally enthrall you that its wonder and allure completely exceed your motivation to leave.

Ten years later, they continue to return to Alaska every summer to explore the seemingly endless landscape from above.

Having spent a lot of his early years navigating the ocean by sailboat, Mark has always been fascinated by wind, weather, and aerodynamics. It wasn’t until the late 90s, when his friend bought an old, cloth-on-steel frame plane, that Mark delved into the world of aviation. After they restored the plane together, Mark’s friend helped him learn to fly and earn his pilot’s license.

From his first moment soaring across the sky, Mark knew that he belonged in a cockpit.

He’d been on commercial flights before, but cruising at 36,000 feet doesn’t compare to controlling a bush plane hovering just 5,000 feet above the ground. At that altitude, you feel more immersed in the flight. You experience every emotion — from exhilarating fear to joy and elation. Flight offers a world of new perspectives: Mark had heard of astronauts describing the experience of viewing the world from space, recognizing that there are no borders — no nations — and he’d always been taken by that — but in the air, he understood it.

From the sky, Mark began to view the Earth differently. The altitude allowed him to notice patterns repeated throughout nature at different scales, from tiny rivulets on the ground to major paths of erosion in the mountains. There seemed to be a grand mathematical organization to everything, and Mark was entranced by all of it.

But no region, no set of patterns, could captivate him like Alaska. It’s what keeps him coming back every summer. From the snow-capped peaks of the Wrangell Mountains to the frigid tundra of the northwest arctic to the sprawling forests and glaciers of Denali National Park — it’s all so rugged, so untouched.

He has yet to tire of it, and probably never will.

While flying a bush plane certainly comes with its own set of risks, Mark has reason to trust his vehicle, since he built it with his own hands.

No stranger to  tools and construction, Mark was always interested by the idea of building his own airplane, so, before their original trip to Alaska, he devoted himself to the project. The construction schedule dominated his calendar, forcing him to suspend everything else in his life for years as he spent weekend after weekend, night after night, in his warehouse.

All told, he logged over 2,000 hours on the plane. Now he flies with a confidence that only comes with knowing the condition of his plane, knowing who built it, and who maintains it. He knows every rivet, and can embark on each journey knowing that if something needs to be fixed, he’ll be able to address the issue.

That peace of mind allows him to focus on the adventure and absorb the pristine landscape stretching out before him as the hum of his engine cuts through the crisp alpine air.

Alaska isn’t Mark’s only destination. Throughout his years in the cockpit, he’s flown through all of the lower 48 states, and he makes a coast-to-coast journey almost every year.

But no location will ever seem as immaculate as Alaska, with its spirit of solitude, its simple, yet wild panoramic backdrops. Alaska regularly provides Mark with places where he can gaze from horizon to horizon and see no sign of civilization.

The view from above will never fail to fascinate him.

Mark Reed lives in Seattle, Washington, with his wife and daughter. During the 11 months of the year he’s not flying over Alaska, he still finds time to explore the skies by running his company, Prism Kites.

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Devon Shuman
Devon Shuman is a creator, a storyteller, and a traveler from Boston, Massachusetts. He caught the travel bug at a young age when his family would take camping trips in southern Maine and New York’s Adirondack region. Since then, his adventures have taken him all across the globe. His favorite journeys include island hopping in the Galápagos, thru-hiking Vermont’s Long Trail, and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. He currently works as an editorial consultant for Passion Passport, helping explorers from around the world tell their stories.

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