Since it wasn’t very practical to fly all the way up to Seattle to see a baseball game, I decided to make it an extended Pacific Northwest trip and include some time in Portland before and Vancouver afterwards. Then I had the idea that it would be great to see Alaska since I’d be so close – and it’s always been on my list. Alaska really wasn’t ‘so close’ though, it was over 3 hours by plane from Vancouver and in a different time zone.
As soon as I got out of the airport in Anchorage, I was struck by this wonderful vibe. The place just seemed kind of ‘otherworldly’. I spent the first day / evening just hanging out in Anchorage which is not the typical destination of someone wanting the ‘Alaska experience’ but is a pretty cool city itself packed with great trails and parks and a nice downtown with brew pubs, shops galore and great restaurants. I had the most amazing king salmon at a restaurant called Orso. There are lots of really nice places to eat/drink/shop in downtown Alaska including 2 great brew houses/restaurants – The Glacier Brewhouse and the 49th State Brewery and a really great breakfast spot – The Snow City Café - that has become a ‘must go’ for tourists. My favorite place in Anchorage may have been Darwin's Theory - a small little 'divey' type bar that was filled with interesting and (mostly) friendly locals that served an Alaska favorite - Denali Brewing Company beer.
I made it a point to get out and do my morning run on what may be the most scenic and enjoyable trail I’ve ever ran on. One of the most abundant flowers in Alaska during the Summer months is Fireweed. It’s so prominent that they tend to make pretty much anything out of it , soaps , lip balm even ice cream.
The next morning I boarded the Alaska railroad for a 2 ½ hour trip south to Kenai. I sprung for upper class tickets which were upper berth with floor to ceiling windows, roomy and comfortable seats , 3 free drinks at the bar and meals included in a full dining car. Along the way we passed by some of the most stunning scenes you could imagine – mountains, plains, lakes, meadows, etc. and lots of really cool and interesting wildlife.
I boarded a boat in Seward for a 6 hour trip out to the Exit Glacier through Resurrection Bay and the Kenai Fjords and then out to the Gulf of Alaska. The view of the fjords were amazing with lots of seals, eagles, otters, puffins and at least a half dozen whales. On the boat I chowed down on a huge turkey wrap and a beer. My stomach was really full – which turned out to be a bad thing.
Once we hit open water of the Gulf, the boat started bouncing like a trampoline. After 15 minutes or so – I started to feel woozy as all hell– before it got too bad we ‘pulled in’ - right up to the enormous and majestic glacier. The engines were cut and the silence was beautiful. When the ice of the glacier cracked, it was as loud as a dynomite explosion.
After 20 minutes we headed back – the same way we came – across the open choppy water of the Gulf of Alaska. Still woozy from the trip in and with a stomach loaded with food and booze – I wasn’t as lucky on the trip back! I headed onto the deck and found an open bathroom and proceeded to vomit up not just what I ate that day, but shit that I ate as far back as 3rd grade. It was some major league, intense, explosive hurling. After about 15 minutes of that, I actually felt better. I feel sorry for the next person who used that bathroom. Once we cleared the gulf, the waters were calm again and I was able to enjoy some more of the magnificent views and wildlife on the bay.
I was fine on the train ride back, in fact I put away a steak dinner and 3 gin and tonics. We got back to Anchorage around 9pm and I found a nice sports bar with pool tables. The west coast games all started at 6pm local time and were done by 9pm or so – still another 2 hours of sunlight left in the day!
The next morning, I headed up north to Talkeetna near the Alaska Range and Denali for a private flight seeing tour. After a quick lesson on how to work controls of the plane in case the pilot croaked during our flight, we took off. The views of the range from the sky were pretty amazing. After about 15-20 minutes we landed the plane on a glacier about 5,600 feet high in the range and got out. It was a really cool and unique experience being in a beautiful, frozen wilderness in the middle of June.
After we landed back on the ground in Talkeetna, I had this amazing Spinach Bread and Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp at a lunch truck on Main Street – Talkeetna is really an idyllic, hippie like town. I was told that the TV series ‘Northern Exposure’ was modeled after it. After lunch I did some rafting on the Talkeetna River. Parts were pretty rough and choppy, others beautifully serene. One of the things you need to be careful of when walking near any shoreline or riverbed in Alaska are the Mudflats which can be dangerous and almost as difficult to get out of as quicksand! I found a YouTube video that (sort of) captures what it’s like.
The side trip to Alaska was a great experience and a great way to wrap up my 2 week Northwest swing.