Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Alaska 2012 

 Every time I sit down and start a new post I realize how much fun it is to keep track of our journeys and lives. I really need to get back into this so here goes. Jason and I have been talking about going to Alaska since we got married thirteen years ago. This year we decided to make it happen. We used sky miles, hotel points and advanced RV rental payment to make the trip affordable. So, here is a collection of my thoughts and experiences. Saturday, Sept 1st - Left our house at 3pm to catch a 6pm flight out of Philadelphia and landed in Anchorage on Sept 2nd at 12:30am local time. There's a four hour time difference between the Eastern and Alaska Daylight Time zones, so total travel time was a little over 13 hours. Boy was I tired. We caught a ride to the Hilton Garden Inn (I'm a Hilton snob) and slept for a few hours before our adventure began. Sunday, Sept 2nd - After picking up bear pepper spray and camping fuel at REI we set out for ABC Motorhomes to pick up our 30-foot Coachmen RV. The folks at the agency were very nice, their prices were affordable, and they rented nice, well-maintained RV's. Our first destination was Seward - a nice little harbor town on the Kenai Peninsula. We walked around the shops, took photos, and had dinner at Ray's Waterfront Diner. I figured since I was in Alaska I needed to develop a taste for seafood so I ordered Halibut fish and chips. Didn't really care for it so I ate a few and had Jason finish it off. I told him that if I tried to order seafood again he needed to stop me. After dinner we headed to the fish cleaning station. Several people were cleaning out all sorts of different types of fish. It was super cool to watch them clean and gut them. We then headed to Miller's Landing campground for the night. We found it to be crowded and a little neglected. They also forgot to write down our reservation. Regardless, they let us have an ocean view and were very nice about the ordeal.

Monday, Sept 3rd - Woke up early to start our journey to Portage. Along the way we decided to stop by Exit Glacier. When we arrived the glacier was covered in fog but as the day progressed the fog lifted and the ice was exposed. So cool to see. Later that night after we arrived at our campground I spoke to Jim, our kayak guide from the Alaska Kayak Academy (http://kayakcenterak.com), who advised us that a big storm was headed for the PWS so our kayaking trip was cancelled. :-( He offered us a chance to go packrafting though so we took him up on his offer. It was something I have always wanted to try anyway. We camped that night at Williwaw campground at a very nice site next to a salmon stream. It was so weird seeing salmon carcasses everywhere and bear poo too. We remained very "bear aware" as we walked around the grounds and close to the stream and armed ourselves with bear mace, RAR!

 Tuesday, Sept 4th - We met up with Jim in the morning and headed for the Kenai River in Cooper Landing. It is a beautiful river with amazing blue water. This was our first time in packrafts and it was truly a experience. To those who do not know anything about packrafts they are small 5lb inflatable personal rafts that you blow up using what looks like a giant pastry bag. You screw one end into the raft and use the big end to catch wind and squeeze the air into boat. Someone skilled could have the boat blown up in a matter of minutes, it took me a while. HA HA! Jim gave us some great instruction on catching eddy's and doing ferry's. It was so awesome going through rapids with salmon swimming beside our boats. If I wanted to I could reach out and touch them. Saw a bald eagle as well, which was cool. It never gets old seeing them in the wild. After paddling we took Jim out to dinner. Jim nicknamed me Tigger since I am always bouncing around. That made me laugh.

Wednesday, Sept 5th - Headed to Homer for the day and we mainly just visited Homer Spit. We left a dollar hanging at the Salty Dawg Saloon and walked up and down the boardwalk and the beach. Nice town.

Thursday, Sept 6th - We chartered a wildlife tour with Epic Charters out of Whittier (http://www.epicchartersalaska.com/). Our captain, Brooke, was very knowledgeable in marine wildlife since his major was in marine biology. It was so interesting hearing him explain things about the different animals. We saw a humpback whale, stellar sea lions, oystercatchers (bird), bears, bald eagles, sea otters and seals. We saw several glaciers but mainly visited the Surprise Glacier. It was so blue and beautiful. So cool to see up close. Brooke also dropped us off at a few islands to hike around and enjoy the varied geology of Prince William Sound. On the ride back to Whittier we saw several waterfalls and even a huge rainbow. So beautiful. That night we headed toward the Matanuska Glacier outside of Sutton.

Friday, Sept 7th - Visited the Matanuska glacier. The Mat is 27 miles long and 4 miles wide. The photos just do not do it justice. Stopped for lunch in Glenallen and Jay bought a nice Alaska-made hunting knife. We then headed toward the Denali Highway which is 138 miles long and mostly gravel. Only 20 something miles of the highway is paved but we took it slow in the RV to avoid damage and soak up the amazing scenery. It was hunting season so it was very cool to see all the different hunting vehicles Alaskans use to get out in the tundra. One guy actually had 2 tanks. Crazy. We drove 27 miles of the highway today and we had an amazing campsite right next to a a nice lake and some small mountains.

 Saturday, Sept 8th - We drove another sixty or seventy miles of the highway and stopped at a little hunting lodge and camp for lunch. Inside we met some really nice guys who loaned us two of their four-wheelers to use for about an hour while they took an afternoon nap before they set out for a hunt. Alaskans are so friendly! On the second night we stayed by a smaller lake with mountain views again. Jason and I was able to packraft on the lake which was nice.  Late that night I looked out onto the lake and saw a tree branch floating across the lake. This may seem normal but the current was flowing north to south and the tree was floating east to west. WEIRD! So I got my video camera out and spotted that it was actually a beaver moving a tree to it's house. HA HA! I spent the rest of the night and the next morning watching it cut down trees and move trees/branches, etc across the lake. Too funny!

Sunday, Sept 9th - We finished the rest of the Denali Highway and then headed toward Chena Hot Springs, which is an hour northeast of Fairbanks. Chena was a very cool place. Not only does it have a hot spring but it also has a ice museum and a hydroponic greenhouse. We toured all three. HA HA! The following day we headed into Fairbanks to meet up with some friends at the Army base. They are very close friends to my little sister so I had to meet them. Very sweet sweet couple and I'm so happy that my sister has such awesome friends.

 Monday, Sept 10th - We rented a car and drove from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway, so it was cool to drive the same route that the Ice Road Truckers use. When you drive down the highway you really appreciate the truckers who risk their lives in the winter and drive when they are covered in a sheet of ice. Very hilly and it's amazing those trucks even make it up some of those hills. It was so cool to see the landscape change from heavily wooded to barren and rocky. We stopped at the Yukon River camp for lunch after our visit to the Arctic Circle. Very cool camp.

Tuesday, Sept 11th - Headed back to Chena for a second try at catching a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis. That night the Aurora forecast was moderate so it was supposed to be awesome. We stayed up until 3am with no aurora sighting as the clouds moved in. Stupid clouds.

Wednesday, Sept 12th - Went to the North Pole, or rather, North Pole, Alaska. I laugh every time I mention visiting North Pole. We even visited Santa Clause's house. The town has to get annoyed with the Christmas decorations being up year round. I feel so sorry for them. There was even Christmas decor up in the Wendy's we stopped at.

 Thursday, Sept 13th - We headed toward Denali National Park. Passenger vehicles are only allowed into the park for the first 15 miles so we figured we would give it a go. Very beautiful landscape and I hope to visit again and actually do some hiking/packrafting or whatever!

Friday, Sept 13th - Finally we began our journey back toward Anchorage. It was a sad, sad day when we had to turn in our RV.

Saturday, Sept 14th - Reluctantly got out of bet at 4:15am and took the bittersweet ride to the airport for the return flight. Normally we are ready to get back home after a vacation, but this time was different. We were actually homesick for the people and places we met and and experienced there. Jason and I would absolutely love to live in Alaska someday; we loved it that much. Until then, we've already begun talking about a return visit June or July of next year. So excited!

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