Betty and David Hasiuk’s trip to Alaska was “not for the fainthearted,” he says. “The planes kept getting smaller and smaller.”
As they rode through the clouds in a small airplane delivering mail to a remote Alaskan wilderness, the couple realized the adventure was one of their most unusual.
The plane was the only way to reach Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which had been among the few national parks that the retired couple had not yet visited. When the plane landed, they saw a handful of local residents waiting on the tiny runway for letters and packages.
The journey to Wrangell-St. Elias, a 13-million-acre park bigger than Switzerland, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity even for the Hasiuks, who have spent the last decade exploring all 58 of the country’s national parks. With their visit to Alaska, they crossed off the final three on the list.
“People collect different things. This is what we chose to do,” said Betty Hasiuk, 68. “You see America, and you see who we are as Americans. A lot of people are not even aware that these parks are out there. To us, it’s an opportunity to learn about who we are as a country.”
Hasiuk, a retired schoolteacher, and her husband, a former stockbroker, have been married for 46 years. But they did not come up with the idea for their National Parks project until 2003, when they were in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and happened to see a passport book in which visitors could collect stamps from different national parks.
They pledged to get to each of the country’s national parks before David Hasiuk turned 70 – a goal they accomplished with almost a year to spare.
The journeys have involved meticulous planning, particularly when it came to the parks in far-flung areas. They visited some in clusters, most notably in 2010, when a six-week cross-country road trip took them more than 900 miles between the Grand Canyon, the Tetons, Oregon’s Crater Lake, and parks in Utah. Their adult daughter has joined them on several trips as well.
Pressed to pick a favorite, the couple offer their top four: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite in California, and the Kenai Fjords in Alaska, where, in addition to glaciers and wilderness, they saw whales, seals, puffins, and more wildlife.
They have collected a menagerie of wooden animals as mementos, as well as T-shirts, artwork, and books that tell the local histories of the parks.
The Hasiuks know they are not the only two people who have traveled to each park, but they have never met anyone else who has done it. That’s partly because, as Betty Hasiuk said, some of the trips may not appeal to the average vacationer. Though they have stayed in nice hotels and primitive ones, many of the places they have visited have no televisions or cellphone reception. In most areas, there is no nightlife.
They have never added up the cost of their travels, but the trips have ranged from car rides with picnic lunches to, in the case of the last Alaska trip, 12 flights (purchased with help from their many frequent-flier miles).
The last Alaska trip also took place at a time when the sun is in the sky almost round the clock. Over the course of their entire two-week trip, they never saw it set or rise, and had to draw thick curtains over the windows as they slept.
With 58 items crossed off the list, the Hasiuks are still deciding on their next travel goal. But they have already identified a few national parks where they need to return because, they said, they never got their book stamped.
“We have to go back to Hawaii,” Betty Hasiuk said, laughing. “Also, the Virgin Islands. We didn’t plan it that way, but that’s where we have to go.”
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