Before Pete and I headed to Alaska a couple of weeks ago, my boss and I had a short chat about my upcoming vacation. He called it “the trip of a lifetime,” which I hadn’t thought about until that moment. But he was right; it’s not every day you get to go to the complete opposite side of the country just for fun.
We left Thursday night, July 10, and came back Sunday night, July 20. Altogether, it was about 10 hours of flying time one way with one stop on the way there and two stops coming back. Alaska is FAR away.
We landed in Anchorage, where Pete’s aunt and uncle live. Their house is smaller than ours, but it didn’t feel like it, probably because it’s two stories. I could see big mountains from their driveway and Turnagain Arm inlet from across the street. I really want to live near water.
The first full day we were there, we went for a run outside their neighborhood. The air there is so clear. That run ended up being only one of two while we were there because 1- to save space in our luggage, we didn’t bring our running shoes (our regular shoes are terrible for running), and 2- wildlife.
Let me explain the second one.
We went on our second run a couple of days after the first at Campbell Tract, a wooded area with trails. That’s where I came across this sign. I hope you can read it. Let me narrate bits and pieces. THIS, ladies and gentleman was my biggest fear visiting The Last Frontier. …
Point 3, what to do if you encounter a bear:
Let the bear know you are human. Talk to the bear in a normal voice.
- “Hi, bear. My name is Tiffany. What’s yours? It’s lovely out today. Dontcha think?”
A bear needs to gather information to identify you and may stand on its hind legs or move closer to you. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.
- Usually, not always.
You may try to back away slowly diagonally, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground.
- Perfect. I’ll just stand here while you take a closer look. Ignore the sound of my heart beating out of my chest.
Don’t run—You can’t outrun a bear.
- Thanks for the vote of confidence. You haven’t seen me try.
If the bear gets closer, raise your voice and be more aggressive. Use noisemakers.
- I knew I forgot to pack something! Shouldn’t that be on a separate sign for “things to bring on your innocent run in the woods”?
If attacked …
- Well, that’s enough to make me want to turn around right there, but I digress.
If attacked—If a bear actually makes contact with you, surrender! Fall to the ground and play dead. Lie on your stomach, or curl in a ball with your hands behind your neck. Most bears will stop attacking once they feel the threat (you) has been eliminated.
- Most bears, not all.
In rare instances, … an attacking bear may perceive you as food. If the bear continues to bite you long after you have assumed a defensive posture, it is likely a predatory attack.
- No way, really? Thanks, Sherlock.
Fight back vigorously.
- With what? The noisemaker I left in the car? The headphones I can’t wear according to point 5?
Point 4, be alert
Pay attention to everything around you, including wind direction, the amount of vegetation, the level of noise you’re making, how many birds are chirping, the color of your shoes, what’s lurking in the shadows, how many breaths you’re taking per minute and whether you smell like food instead of a human.
- OK, that’s not what it says, but it might as well.
Point 5, bearanoia
Follow these precautions but enjoy yourself.
- … I don’t think I can.
Given the great amount of human outdoor activity and the low frequency of bear attacks, the statistical risk of being killed or even injured by a bear is very remote.
- So basically, if you’re mauled on this trail, you’re an idiot. You’re that guy.
So you see, friends, THIS is why I didn’t go on more runs in Alaska. And I haven’t even mentioned the fear of moose. I’ve never been so paranoid of the outdoors in my life.
And yet, despite my fears of mean wild animals, I have to admit that Alaska is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It’s so much more than any of the Alaska reality shows, which I’ve now been told multiple times are often inaccurate anyway.
The first Sunday we were there, we drove to Sterling to stay with some friends. Pete rode with his aunt, and I rode with his uncle in a big truck towing a small camper behind it. Pete’s uncle is a character. We said a blessing before every meal while we were there, but he’s not afraid of colorful words. He’s a Vietnam veteran and former judge and highway patrolman who’s now semi-retired and sells life insurance. He kept a black and silver holstered pistol on the center console of the truck, next to a can of honey roasted peanuts during our drive. A handful of woodworking magazines, tools and knickknacks cluttered the dash, and I took on the job of making sure nothing fell on the floor during the turns. A black fishing pole rested between our seats as we talked about family, work, life and high tide.
The friends we were visiting live right by Kenai River. Here’s a map that gives you an idea of where we were. The middle red dot to the left side is the friends’ place. Actually, it was friends of Pete’s aunt and uncle, plus their grown son and his friend and their children. So they had a full house. Pete and I slept in the camper.
*Side note on what I learned from living out of a camper for a few days: 1-I enjoy being neat, even in small spaces. 2-I also like running water, although brushing my teeth with bottled water isn’t terrible. 3-camper toilets aren’t fun. You also can’t be too tall or too large to get in one. And 4- Going three days without a shower is my max.*
OK, where were we? Ah yes, Monday.
Monday was the day we took a glacier cruise around Prince William Sound. (See the red dot to the far right.)
The cruise left out of Whittier, which is a tiny town of just over 200 residents, most who live in this one big condo building. You have to take a 2.5-mile tunnel to get to the town (the longest tunnel in North America), and you can only go through it at certain times since the tunnel is also used for trains.
The cruise was amazing. We saw 26 glaciers, as well as otters, seals, eagles and the fins of some whales. We had awesome seats on the boat, right up front, but Pete and I spent a lot of time out on deck to get pictures. I wore three layers and still wished I had a hat.
Oh, and we ate cod on the boat. The cruise was Pete’s favorite part, but mine was yet to come.
The rest of the week, we did several things, most notably fishing. We thought there would be more salmon in the river while we were there, but they ended up coming in later than expected. Pete did catch one, though, and got a halibut a few days later from his uncle’s boat adequately named The Judge. That was in Homer, near the bottom red dot on the map. I caught a good-sized rock and a tiny something-or-other fish that Dad said looked like bait. I pray a lot for patience, and fishing definitely requires a lot of it. I also got a little sunburn on my face from being in the sun by the water and not putting on my sunscreen earlier. Leave it to me to go to Alaska and get sunburn.
One thing I noticed during our time in Alaska is all the espresso shops around. There were a ton of them, most of them teeny tiny drive-up places. Another thing I discovered is Fred Meyer, sort of like Walmart but nicer. Since it was fishing season, the Fred Meyer we went to had a parking lot full of campers and RVs that park there overnight to sleep.
I see why people want to live in Alaska. As I talked to people who live there, I asked what made them want to move to Alaska. I always got the same response—they came for a temporary visit and soon after decided to stay.
I told one friend that being there made me want to sing praise songs. Everything is big and beautiful. I was truly in awe of how magnificent the scenery is there—gigantic green mountains stretching into the clouds, the turquoise water, how large the sky seems, the deep green pine trees and the icy blue streaks in the glaciers. It was so clean and crisp, and we had great weather, usually in the mid-60s to 70s. In fact, the place we stayed in Sterling got only about a foot of snow last winter since they’re near the water. (The mosquitoes there were bad, though.)
Other highlights of our trip included:
- Seeing a shop that sells camo wedding dresses.
- All the great food Pete’s aunt made. (Pete and I made stir fry for them one night, and I tried to make zucchini bread, but the latter was horrendous. I’ve made it before and it was absolutely delicious, but apparently powdered sugar doesn’t bake things like flour does. I got his aunt’s canisters mixed up and ended up with a brown gooey mess that looked like something you would find at the bottom of a sewer. I was upset for half an hour. His uncle thought it was funny.)
- The showers we got to take after three days of no showers. Since we were staying in a showerless camper, we went to the laundromat/shower place to take them and paid almost $6 per shower. It took about an hour until my turn (we were on a waiting list), but oh, it was glorious.
- And the two moose calves we saw grazing on the side of the road. We later saw two female moose (cows) on our drive. (Pete and I watched a low-budget video while we were there about moose hunting and it seems like that takes even more patience than fishing. Plus, female moose make this horrible noise that you have to try to replicate.)
But my absolute favorite part was taking ATVs from Pete’s aunt and uncle’s cabin in Happy Valley to the beach nearby to dump fish guts. (Obviously it was my favorite because of the ATVs and the beach, not the fish guts.) I LOVE the beach, and we only saw a couple more people there on our ride. I did see one house with a “King of Kings” sign out front and wondered if Jesus vacations there.
Well, I guess that about sums it up. Coming back to Charlotte, the first thing I noticed was the humid air, so I definitely didn’t miss that.
With two trips to Alaska under my belt now (the first was an Alaska cruise with my grandmother about 5 years ago), there’s still so much more to explore. I hope we can go back again!