Until next time, Alaska

The Anchorage airport tests their fire alarm system at 2 am. How do I know this fact, you ask? I decided it was a good idea to arrive at the airport at 11 pm and stay until boarding at 4:20 am. It seemed like a better idea than sleeping in a bed and waking every hour for fear of missing my flight. This way, I could at least sleep in the gate area. I learned I can still sleep sitting upright (skills!) and lying on a few seats makes you feel self conscious even if no one is around at 3 am. 
Back in SF, ready for the fall semester on Monday. 

 

Grizzly bears

I awoke to 39 degrees, and this is summer in Alaska. The park rangers are wearing winter coats. I am dressed for 50 degrees, wearing all the layers I brought with me. I had not anticipated the chill at 3,900 ft., nor the rain or cold. The forecast for today called for a 20% of rain. And, I lost my warm hat two days ago.  

Today I boarded a shuttle school bus to bring me to the interior the park. All visitors must take buses if they wish to visit the interior and there are different prices based on distance. Interesting method to control people, pollution, congestion and protect wildlife. I took a bus that traveled 66 miles and saw all kinds of animals.  
The roads in the park are closed during winter (October-May) and the only way to travel in, is with the dog sled team or snowshoe. It takes 10 weeks to melt the snow to open Denali. There is an average of 80 inches of snow a year. 
On the bus ride we saw: a moose girl and boy, mama bear and cubs, grizzly bears, porcupine, fox, squirrels, herd of caribou, tarmangan (Alaskan state bird – resembles fat chicken but they have fur on their legs to keep them warm in -60 temperatures), and dall sheep.  

Porcupines are fat, slow moving creatures. Their quills detach if something attacks them. Pretty good defense against predators. Caribou look like a cross between deer and moose, they are slim but with big antlers and a fuzzy white bottom. Girl moose do not have antlers and they are huge animals. Boy moose have antlers, which shed every fall. Grizzly bears are very cute from a far. Their fur is fluffy in the center but thicker and more coarse in other areas. (I was able to pet the fur display.)
I would have liked to hike a few interior trails today but some of them were closed because of the bear sightings. Here, in Denali National Park, bears win.   

    
 

The last frontier

I arrived late and left early and did not get a chance to experience the town of Talkeenta, worth a exploration another time. The town is only one block long but it is a very charming, and reminds me of Bar Harbor, Maine. Someone I met yesterday loved the town so much, he is staying 5 days. He encouraged me to stay to visit but I am not here to visit small town USA, another time, the mountains are calling.

I drove another two hours to Denali National Park and the mountain views were unlike anything I have ever witnessed. The beauty and magnitude made me feel small. I drove single lane highways, passing lush forests and snow covered peaks. Denali is a beautiful place and I love listening to the rushing water around and hearing it whisper to me.  

I hiked in the front country today, on maintained trails as my warm up for tomorrow. Tomorrow, taking a shuttle bus to backcountry where you get dropped off and practically roam around the wilderness.  Today, photos: views from Mount Healy Overlook Trail, 2.7 miles, 1,700 feet of elevation, 25% grade, and Savage Alpine Trail, 4.0 miles, 1,500 ft elevation, 25% grade.  

   
   

Talkeenta, Alaska… Like Northern Exposure

Me: do you have availability tomorrow night for one person, traveling solo, staying one night?Her: yes. 

Me: ok, my name is…, I will be driving from Anchorage, arriving at midnight. Is that ok?

Her: yes, see you in the morning.

Me: wait, is there a lock or keycode to get in?

Her: no, just walk right in and take a bunk.

Me: great, see you in the morning.

She didn’t need my phone number, a reservation and there are no locks on the house. My kind of place. The hostel is friendly, towels or fluffy and the town is a charming. It was voted one of the nicest towns in Alaska. It has a bluegrass festival and has a very young, hip scene. The TV series Northern Exposure was based on this town. I might explore some tomorrow or drive straight to Denali. I’ve seen a lot of wildlife but no bears, moose or caribou yet.  

Photos: urban fishing in Anchorage, last view of Seward, a cruise ship leaving. 

   

Flying whales

The sun burns brightly until 10 pm. I wonder if people work longer hours due to the longer days. Are 8 hour days, more like 12 hour days? Are there multiple work shifts?  

I couldn’t live in Alaska because very little fruit is grown here. The cost of shipping and oil is very high. A mini watermelon from Mexico costs $6.50. I saw other fruit imported from Thailand, Ecuador, Canada and California. We did see some giant sized cucumber, kale and chard at the Anchorage farmer’s market. Alaska’s cold temperatures reaches -30F. The state’s income derives from only 3 months of a tourist season.  

What is this wet feeling? Oh, it’s rain. It’s been almost a year since I’ve seen rain because of the drought in California. The cool mist on your face, wearing waterproof boots, a jacket with a hood pulled over your head, splashing in puddles… I love the sensations of rain. I stood on the deck of the boat for most of the 6 hour tour in the rain watching glaciers, bald eagles, humpback whales, puffin, sea lions, murre, cormorant, orca whales, jellyfish and sea otters. We saw humpback whales jump and fly in the water. Watching a whale fly through the air is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Video will follow, have to wait for a German friend to send video.

Photos: device for transporting coal, giant cruise ship, Aialik glacier, bald eagles. 

   

   
   

Glacier Blue

On the breakfast menu in Anchorage, Alaska, at Bear Tooth Grill was reindeer sausage. I thought reindeer was a mythical creature, along with Santa Claus. I didn’t know people ate reindeer. I looked it up and reindeer looks like caribou, probably tastes the same.  

Kenai Fjords National Park, Exit Glacier looks like New York city after a snow storm. It’s nice for about a New York minute then looks dirty and polluted. True glacier blue though is beautiful. Here is what I read about glacier blue: “Ice and water molecules, because of their structure, absorb the colors of the light spectrum except for blue. The intensity of the blue depends on the amount of ice or water. Before snow compresses into glacial ice, it holds air that scatters light making it look white. When light penetrates into a large mass of glacial ice, the blue is deep.”  
Other fun facts: 

1867, secretary of state William Seward, town’s namesake, arranged the purchase of Alaska from Russia. Russia is actually not that far away.  
Moose antlers fall off seasonally. Photo, I asked a child (Skylar) to stand next to the moose antlers for sizing perspective. The antlers are really heavy and I can’t imagine that weight on my head.

  
Other photos: drive from Anchorage to Seward, flight to Anchorage, Exit Glacier

   
   

SFO-PDX-ANC

I sent a text message to my friend in the late afternoon, “I have a week off in August, do you have time to take off from work? I’m thinking Alaska.” She replied, “I can meet you there for a weekend.” By the evening, I had booked my ticket to Anchorage, Alaska from Portland, and although I will not attempt to summit Mt. Denali, I hope to be in the grace of it’s presence.

I sent her a reply in the evening, “See you in ANC on August 7.” How many of your friends do you speak with in airport codes?

I sent another friend a message, on the return flight thru SEA (Seattle). I have a layover and hope that she has the morning available to hang out with me at the airport.

After booking flights, I proceeded to post a message online looking for a person to sublet my room for 2 weeks to help offset my expenses. Instantly this evening, I received an email with a perfect match, someone looking to sublet an apartment for the same time I will be away. She needs 2 weeks before she can move into her new apartment. She sounds like a great girl, from Maine/Seattle, Master’s degree from NYU and loves the neighborhood, living by the park. I am continually grateful for all the stars aligning with my wishes and I continue to find creative ways to net zero.