In Angie Kenai’s own words, her job as an ATV tour guide and naturalist in Alaska is “freakin’ awesome.”
Working for Alaska X, Angie takes tourists on journeys through Alaska’s stunning wilderness by the Davidson Glacier located south of Haines State Forest. As a naturalist, Angie also provides information about the glacier, wildlife and the land during these tours.
The living conditions for her job are exciting and challenging.
“I live out in the woods in a place called Glacier Point,” Angie says. “We have dry cabins, so no electricity, heat or running water. [You have to] be very careful because there are wolves, bears and moose.
“We go to town once a week to get groceries and try to make it through the week with what we have. We have baby wipes to take showers. You gotta make sure you have everything; otherwise, you’re screwed.”
The land offers a variety of edibles: wild berries, strawberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, highbush cranberries and mushrooms that Angie and her coworkers forage often.
“The owner has about 500 acres of land,” Angie says. “We’re just out here living our life, waiting for cruise ship people to come over so we can teach them about it.”
The inspiration to enter this field of work started with Angie’s childhood.
“Growing up, I was always outdoors,” Angie says. “[I was] fishing at the age of 6 with sticks, wire and hooks — not even a real fishing rod. I would bring home baby deer, snapping turtles, snakes and frogs.
“Growing up, I told my mom I hate working. I just want to go live in the woods, build my own shelter, get my own food. I don’t like money.”
Of the many aspects of her job, Angie loves the solitude from society and her fantastic coworkers the most.
“I love that I’m away from everybody, and everybody I work with loves what they’re doing,” Angie says. “They love being dirty, being out in the woods, fishing, kayaking. Everybody shares the same passion that I do.”
Angie provides tours by canoe and ATV. A typical workday varies depending on which type of tour she is leading.
“Doing the canoe part is pretty cool, but you get to spend some time in 35°F water, which is pretty painful,” Angie says.
Tourists must take a 75-minute boat ride from Skagway to the excursion. The trip includes a hike to the canoes, a canoe ride around the lake to see the glacier up close and sometimes another trek to the lake’s delta to get even closer to the glacier if conditions permit.
The canoes use outboard motors that help Angie and her coworkers move through the constantly changing depths of the river, which is affected by the output from the glacier.
Each canoe tour takes about three and a half hours for Angie and her coworkers, and they lead about three tours each day.
Angie has a favorite spot she loves to show tourists.
“Right in the middle of the lake, right in front of the glacier, I get about three-quarters of the way up the lake,” Angie says. “Then I tell them, ‘Guys, this is my most favorite view in the world. It’s absolutely gorgeous.’ And I turn the canoe sideways instead of left. It’s the Tongass Rainforest with the coastal mountain range overhead, and you can see Mt. Sinclair. It’s beautiful.”
The ATV tours are about the same length with similar responsibilities, except the tour focuses more on wilderness than the glacier.
Angie has always loved the outdoors, but she did not have much opportunity to spend time in nature until she was older. As a member of a military family, Angie moved around a lot growing up. She lived in Fort Knox, Kentucky, for a while, which immensely inspired her outdoor enthusiasm.
“There were trails everywhere — deer, gophers, cicadas and stuff,” Angie says. “Plus, I participated in summer camps at a youth center where I got to go into caves and caverns.”
Angie also experienced living in Puerto Rico, Florida, Oklahoma and many other places.
Her love for nature continues to grow in her current job positions.
“I want to be outdoors,” Angie says. “I want to go outside and do something. I don’t care what it is. I love learning new things, being able to forage for my food or going fishing and hunting — learn how to skin something, live on the land, build a shelter, build a smoker.”
Angie loves enjoying the untouched lands that Alaska offers and viewing the wildlife going about their business daily without human intervention.
When she can, Angie loves to travel and experience various outdoor environments, from the Bahamas to the Crater of Diamonds in Arkansas.
The primary source of inspiration throughout Angie’s life was her lack of support growing up. Angie’s family expected her to get a typical nine-to-five job, settle and start a family. Holding her ground brought Angie to a place where she is truly happy.
“I can do whatever I want,” Angie says. “I can travel. If I want to go on a plane right now, I can go on a plane. I don’t care if they think I’m doing something wrong. I’m happy doing what I do and meeting the people I meet.”
On top of overcoming the lack of support from family, Angie had emotional struggles she had to conquer, including PTSD from growing up in an abusive household. She visited multiple therapists and eventually found one who specializes in EMDR.
“It’s crazy; I couldn’t enjoy a lot back then,” Angie says. “But now that I’ve started processing and dealing with things, I’m able to overcome them. I still have nightmares, and I still struggle but being able to overcome those things, I’m able to enjoy so much more.”
Through all the incredible adventures Angie has had from her careers, travels and love of the outdoors, her most valued experiences are creating memorable experiences for tourists and inspiring other women to live the kind of life she leads.
“People save up so much just to come out here and do this bucket list thing and go to Alaska,” Angie says. “To see them so happy and say that this is their best vacation ever, and to share that with them and make their vacation memorable — that’s what I live for. I love making sure people have the best time they possibly can.”
In the near future, Angie plans to leave Alaska to train as a pediatric EMT and live out another dream: working with children.
Though Angie is heading back to civilization one day, she does not consider this her final farewell to the Alaskan wilderness.
“I’ll probably eventually be back in Alaska,” Angie says. “I’m not done here.”
On a final note, Angie adds this last piece of advice: “My little sister, she’s part of the young generation; she’ll be 20 this year. Many kids her age suffer from depression because they don’t know what they want to do or who they are. And it’s OK not to know, and it’s OK just to go experience things. So, go experience something. If you don’t like it, it’s OK. Just go try it out.”