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Day 1 - Thursday, 24June2004
Long day. We got up at 04:00 eastern time, took a last look around the house to make sure we had packed everything we needed and that everything was shut off that needed to be. We headed over to Beth's and she was kind enough to drive us down to the MARTA station so that we didn't have to pay for parking. I think we both slept most of the way to Salt Lake City where we had a 1.5 hour layover. We stayed awake for the flight to AK. We flew over Mt Ranier and Mt St Helens and some huge glaciers when we got closer to AK. Great time to have window seats. We landed in Anchorage about 14:30 local time (18:30 eastern) and picked up our Ford Freestar. It was a pretty easy afternoon, we basically drove around Anchorage to see what all was there. We stopped at WalMart to get some final camping and food supplies. The length of the day started hitting us around 19:30 so we pulled over in an abandoned Sam's parking lot (which was nothing more than a huge campground) and started setting up our accommodations. The Freestar has that nifty rear seat which folds down into a compartment to go completely flat. We pulled out the middle seats and set them up on their sides against the back of the front seats and stacked our luggage on them. We then filled our full-size air mattress, which fit perfectly, and laid out our queen-size sleeping bag and pillows. Voila, instant travel-bed. We hung our little fan over our heads and opened the rear vent windows (I guess they spray for mosquitos in the city). Oh, during all this setup, we also affixed our "just married" signs with which Rach decorated our Xterra. We were all set to go and were probably asleep by 20:00. I wrapped my blankie around my head to block the sun from my eyes, but I was surprised by how little the sun bothered me. I guess I was pretty darned tired.
Day 2 - Friday, 25June2004
We woke up a 03:30 to a blazing, bright sun!! We decided to call home in order to share this insanity with our family and friends. Being good and awake, we figured we'd go ahead and get an early start on our journey. It was strange that, although the sun was bright as noontime, no stores were open yet. We headed north out of Anchorage and set our destination for Denali (better known by the name Mt McKinley which stole it's true identity at some point in time, but the locals still refer to it as Denali). Along the way, we stopped at Talkeetna because we had heard so much raving about it. I guess we just didn't get it. It was a very tiny tourist town that seemed to be nothing more than a launch-pad for flights to Denali or fishing cruises. We drove through it and got back on the main road pretty quickly. We got to Denali State Park at around 09:30. The view was spectacular. I should mention that Denali is sometimes referred to as "Ghost Mountain" because it is completely shrouded in clouds about 70% of the time. From the visitor station at the state park, we could see the whole mountain with only a few floating clouds moving around it. We talked with the ranger to find out what the state park had to offer and decided to camp out there for the night. We got to the campground and pulled into our spot around 10:30, which, coincidentally, is about the same time that waking up at 03:30 in the morning caught up with us. We climbed back to our bed and took a great 1.5 hour nap (open-window-luxury was no longer available now that we were outside the big city of Anchorage, but it was shady and we had our fan on). We woke up wonderfully refreshed and set out on a nice little 6.5 mile hike. It was a 4.8 mile loop trail around Byers Lake but we also hiked about 2 miles above the lake to see the waterfall and get a better view of Denali. It was a beautiful hike. Thoroughly enjoyable. While sitting up on the ridge, enjoying the view, we met and talked with a couple of backpackers who had hiked the whole ridge. They were a nice couple and I was very impressed with the size of the pack that the woman was carrying, combined of course with the distance they'd hiked. Here I was getting a stiff neck over my little 2 liter hydration pack and food supplies. I'm such a wimp. I need to build up to being able to do some real backpacking. I digress. The view of Denali was virtually unobstructed while we were up there. It was beautiful. Very impressive. We hiked back down to the lake and finished the trail around it, stopping to observe the swans and cignets and to arm ourselves with mosquito-netting. When we got back to the car, we decided to drive 20 miles to the nearest eating place. I don't remember the name of it, some local place that the park ranger had highly recommended, but we got there to have them slam the door in our face because they closed in 15 minutes. Schmucks. So we drove another few miles to the Princess Lodge where we had a very yummy dinner and a nice wet-wipe/sink bath in the bathrooms. We went back to the state park campground and were asleep by 21:30.
Day 3 - Saturday, 26June2004
We woke up about 04:30 this morning. Tried to lay around a little longer, but that's not very easy to do when it's bright as noon out. We pulled out of the campground and started heading toward Denali again. We stopped for gas about 20 miles south of Denali NP and paid $2.43/gal! Just a few miles before we got to the park, we came upon two large moose cows in a pond on the side of the road. We enjoyed watching them for a little while. When we got to the NP, we briefly wondered the visitor center and scoped out bus/campground availability in order to decide how to plan our time there. We definitely wanted to camp at least one night at Wonder Lake, but it was booked for tonight and the night after tomorrow, so one night is all we're getting. We decided to stay at the Riley Creek Campground at the park entrance tonight and we booked two seats on the first camper bus (06:30) into Wonder Lake for the morning. We went to Riley Creek campground to pick our spot for the night and then drove into the park as far as we could (private vehicles can only go as far as Savage River - 15 miles in - to go further than that, you have to ride one of their old school buses). There is a 2 mile loop trail at Savage River that takes you along one side of the river, has a footbridge to cross and comes back along the other side. Along the way, we saw a family of ptarmigans (the other state bird - after the mosquito, of course) and a happy ground squirrel. When we got to the bridge, we decided to hike on up the mountain a bit. It was beautiful. The further we went, the more we wanted to keep going (yes, even after all the bear tracks we saw in the trail). I'd say we probably went another 2 miles out to a point before we decided to turn back. Of course, we sat out on the point for a good while, relaxing in the cold breeze and soaking in all the beauty around us. It was amazing. On the way back, we saw a big, fluffy marmot, more ptarmigans, and more ground squirrels. It was such a pleasant, refreshing, and relaxing hike. On the way back to the car, there was a large group of people looking over the bridge at a moose, but i think they were seeing things. By the time we got back to the car, it was decided that it was shower time. We went back to Riley Creek campground and bought a couple of $4 showers from the mercantile. That was a great shower. All nice and clean, we decided to go out of the park to grab some dinner and look through some of the shops. We went to bed around 22:30.
Day 4 - Sunday, 27June2004
This morning, we set the alarm for 05:30 so that we would be packed and ready to get on the camper bus at 06:30. We boarded the bus with six serious backpackers who were headed to the back country. Their gear was impressive. We made one other stop at the visitor's center to pick up no more than ten others. Then we were on our way. The original six with whom we boarded at Riley Creek turned out to be a very pleasant and conversive group. One of them has lived in AK for about 9 months, working as a physical therapist. The other five were a group of friends who have a history of wonderful, male-bonding travel adventures together. This was to be their last hurrah since one of them is going to be having a baby in October. About three hours in, we saw our first big animal. It was a pretty blonde grizzly just grazing around the tundra. The bus pulled over and we watched her for a while from above and then the bus drove down the road a bit and pulled over closer to her for us to watch some more. She was probably about 300 pounds. We continued on our way, making occasional stops to either take a short travel break or to let backpackers off in the middle of nowhere. Along the way, the bus driver told us that we could ride with him all the way to the end of the road, past Kantishna, which happens to be the most western-point of the continent that can be driven to. Weíre all for gathering superlatives on our trips, so we had to go. He said that he would drop us off at the Reflection Pond on the way back and we could hike from there back to Wonder Lake. So when we got to Wonder Lake, we hopped off the bus, gathered our gear, walked around and found a campsite that was directly across from McKinley (beautiful view really), set up the tent and such, and headed back to the bus. We were pretty pleased with our decision to ride instead of staying at the campground since all the sites were in the sun and it was pushing 90 and getting kind of miserable. Riding the bus a bit more gave us shade and the breeze of wind coming through all the open windows. On the way back, we came across the end of a wedding and the officiant and witness flagged us down for a ride. The bus driver tried to get the bride and groom on the bus for a picture since he had never had a bride and groom on his bus. No luck. He then dropped us at Reflection Pond, as agreed upon. Reflection Pond is where all the pictures of McKinley with water reflecting it are taken. Unfortunately, it turns out that itís pretty rare to get that picture since the very least amount of wind can ripple the water and destroy all hopes of reflection. So it goes. Not that it would have made any real difference since the smoke from all the wild fires had moved in to obstruct the mountain completely. We started the mile and a half hike back to Wonder Lake in the 90-degree heat with no shade and only the slightest breeze. I think thatís when it really started getting miserable. By the time we got back to our tent, we thought that perhaps a nap would help our moods. We turned on the fan and stripped down to our coolest layers and attempted to nap in the very hot tent. One of us succeeded, but unfortunately it wasn't me. I decided to get out and go sit under the food pavilion for shade and whatever breeze I could get. Iím not sure how long I sat there, fighting away vicious mosquitoes, until Randal came out. We both sat for a little while and snacked on some peanuts and breakfast bars and water. We then decided to walk down to the lake. Luckily, it was only about a quarter-mile, and surprisingly mosquito-free. We spent most of the day there, socializing with other heat- and mosquito-escapees, and even took a brief dip in the water to cool off. About 23:00, when the sun was slightly less bright, we decided it was cool enough to go back to the tent and try to get some rest. it was much cooler in the tent, unfortunately we had gotten some very rowdy neighbors while we were at the lake and i stayed awake for several hours listening to them screaming and running around and making all kinds of noise. finally got some rest though.
Day 5 - Monday, 28June2004
This morning, we got up bright and early, around 05:30, to get our tent and gear all packed up and ready for the 06:30 bus. We had discussed it last night and decided that we just couldn't take another miserable day of heat and mosquitos in there so we'd just go ahead and get out on the first bus. By this morning, the smoke had moved in so heavily that if I didn't know any better, I would call you an outright liar for saying there was a 20,000+ foot mountain right there in front of us. It was insane just how absolutely obscured it was. While waiting for the bus, we were amused that everyone who was waiting for the bus was wearing mosquito nets. Someone took a pic of all of us "netheads". When we all boarded the bus, so did the mosquitoes. On the way back out, we saw several owls, more ptarmigan, more caribou (one blocking the road ahead of us), and a big black bear running (and i mean full speed) up to the top of a mountain. But the highlight was a 350lb grizzly that was in the street ahead of us, we stopped and it walked around the bus a few times - right under the windows where if we would have put our arm out (not that nuts) we could have pet it. It was highly exhilarating. When we got out of the park, we headed north toward Fairbanks. The closer we got, the less we could see or breath. We were heading straight at the fires and the smoke was horrible. We had planned on trying to go to Chena Hot Springs but it was just too smoky (and i think the road was actually closed anyhow). We started back south and stopped in at the North Pole in order to mail out postcards with a North Pole postmark (I was so happy that we spent all that time there breathing in pure smoke just so for all the postcards to end up with Fairbanks postmarks - dangit! I want my money back). We stopped in at Santa's workshop and saw his reindeer. It was all pretty dismal though, I was really expecting more from the North Pole. After breathing a sufficient quantity of smoke, we continued south and ended up camping out at Delta Junction for the night. The road on the way to Delta Junction must have just been moose haven - we had to have seen 15 moose on the side of the road throughout the night. No bulls, but we did see one cow with calfs.
Day 6 - Tuesday, 29June2004
We woke up this morning and continued on our southern course toward Valdez. We stopped in Glennallen for a hearty breakfast at a hotel (slim pickins on restaurants in them thar parts). Back on the road again, we saw signs for Worthington Glacier and decided to stop and see what it was all about. This was very exciting, our first up close glacier. We actually were able to walk right up to/on it. It was beautiful and cold and brilliantly blue. I walked through a tiny stream of the frigid meltwater, which was a neat experience. When we finally arrived in Valdez, we stopped at the visitor's center to see what all there was to do and where we might stay. As we were getting in the car to leave the visitor's center, we were approached by a semi-familiar looking couple. They said that they had apparently been following us because it seemed that everywhere they went, they saw our vehicle (easily identified by all of the Just Married stickers on the windows). It turns out that this was the couple that we had conversed with up on the mountain in Denali State Park 5 days earlier. They said that they had seen our vehicle there (not realizing that it belonged to us, of course), then they saw it in Denali National Park (both at Riley Creek and Savage River), then again in North Pole, Delta Junction, along the side of the road (apparently during one of our scenic overlook naps), and now here. We talked for a little while and they told us that Valdez was their last stop before heading back to Anchorage to fly home to Colorado, so this would be the end of the stalking. We laughed and went our separate ways. We decided to stay in walls tonight so we got a cabin at the Totem Inn (chosen because they had free wi-fi and I could post the pics we've taken so far). When we got to the room, we unloaded the car so that we could clean it back up and organize better. I did a load of sink laundry and we got a nice shower. We then headed to the grocery store to pick up some frozen pizzas to cook in our little oven and some ice cream. I was appalled by the prices at the grocery store. This was the first we had really run into a steep price difference. A gallon of milk was over $5 and a bag of potato chips was nearly $6. It was insane. We went back to the cabin and cooked up our dinner. We took some time to try to plan out some of the rest of our trip and made reservations with Pangaea to go sea kayaking tomorrow morning. I'm very much looking forward to that. It should be a good time. We spent the rest of the night relaxing and watching tv.
Day 7 - Wednesday, 30June2004
We woke up this morning and packed the car back up and prepared to go sea kayaking. We got to the shop and our found out that it was just going to be us and a guide, a nice personalized tour. Our guide, Jared, supplied us with some wet bags for our cameras and lunch and such. As we were changing into our boots and splash-skirts, a car pulled up and out popped our stalkers. They were going on a different kayak trip but we laughed and talked a bit and agreed that we might as well have dinner together. We made plans to meet at Mike's Palace at 19:00 and then went on about our sea kayaking way. It was beautiful out there, but it turns out kayaking is hard work. I was very glad that we were in a two-seater. Not that I just didn't try, I paddled as much as I possibly could, perhaps 85-90%. It was hard work. And it was a five-mile paddle one way. On the way out to Gold Creek, we paddled by several harbor seals, sea otters, and a very large stellar sea lion as well as several bald eagles. It was very neat. When we paddled to our take-out place, we got out and pulled the kayaks all the way up onto the beach and hiked through some very high vegetation to get to Gold Creek. We then crossed a footbridge and started a vertical (and I do mean vertical) hike up to the waterfall that feeds Gold Creek. We stopped at a semi-mosquito-less area and sat down to eat some lunch. Jarrod even had some hot cocoa for us, which I thought was very nice. I, of course, took no more than a sip before promptly dropping my whole cup down the cliff. I have a special talent for stuff like that. Randal and Jarrod had to do some pseudo-rappelling in order to retrieve it. Unfortunately, the bears got to enjoy that cocoa more than I did. After our mini picnic, we continued our uphill trek. It got steeper and steeper as we went along, which my oversized rubber boots did not seem to think was their appropriate use. I felt bad because I slowed the guys down a lot, but I was proud to have made it to the top. And it really was a very difficult hike. It was beautiful though. And if you moved just fast enough, the mosquitoes barely bothered you. It was a very sizeable waterfall. Going down was slower than going up. I'm much better at upward hiking than I am at downward hiking. When we got back down to the bottom and crossed the bridge again, we went down the creek and observed some of the old, abandoned gold mining equipment. We waded through the cold creek a bit (now there's a good use for those rubber boots) and looked for some gold-inhabited quartz. We didn't find any but it was a nice cool down between hiking and paddling. We soon made our way back to where we had pulled our kayaks ashore and launched them to head back. Not long after we got started paddling again, I got up the nerve to bust out the cameras for a little bit of mid-water kayaking photography. Jarrod was kind enough to take the camera, paddle away a little, and take a couple of pictures of Randal and I in our kayak. On the way back, we were followed for quite some time by a curious harbor seal. He never got closer than about 30 feet but it was fun to watch him watching us. All in all it was a great experience, even if a little tiring. When we got back to town, we passed a bit of time exploring the old Valdez town site and such and then headed to Mike's Palace to meet Ken and Alice for dinner. It was a very nice dinner with pleasant conversation. In all of our travels, we've never actually met up with people we've spoken with for the purpose of joining in a social activity of some sort, but this was a really enjoyable experience. At the end of the evening, we parted ways and Randal and I headed north. We camped out in Glennallen.
Day 8 - Thursday, 1July2004
This morning we woke up and decided to attempt to make our way up to Tok and then head south for Haines. By this time, I was getting a pretty good cold from all of the smoke that we had encountered up in the Fairbanks area so I think I actually slept most of the way. When we got to Tok, it was just as smoky, if not smokier, as Fairbanks. This was disheartening. We stopped at the visitor's center to try to find out whether there was any chance that it cleared up south of town. Turned out that it just continued since there were several fires burning in Canada along the way. While we really did want to journey down to Haines and Juneau, we decided that it was not worth it if we couldn't see or breath. It would have been 450+ miles of only being able to see a quarter of a mile or so. We turned straight around and headed back toward Glennallen again, this time turning there to head back toward Anchorage. We stopped in Anchorage in order to fortify our supplies and then started our trip down the Kenai Peninsula. We turned off toward Portage and were pleased to find that we had stumbled onto a field of large glaciers. They were beautiful. So blue and big. We stopped at three or four glaciers before we got to Portage Lake and discovered that you could not see Portage Glacier from this side of the lake. We enjoyed looking at the icebergs that it had created for a while and then headed back to another lake we had seen back up the road just a bit - it had appeared to be a wonderful camping place. We pulled up alongside the lake and went to bed.
Day 9 - Friday, 2July2004
When we woke up this morning and got out of the car to brush our teeth, there was a large cow moose just on the other side of the small lake staring at us. Now that's the way to wake up - surrounded by beautiful mountains and crystal blue glaciers right alongside a perfectly clear blue-green lake with a moose staring at you. It was such an exhilarating way to start the day. After sitting for a while to reflect on the beauty of the morning, we headed back to the Portage Glacier visitor center. There were some new icebergs in Portage Lake that must have calved overnight. They were just spectacular ice sculptures floating out in the clear water. The visitor's center was really a very nice facility. They had several interactive displays, including some live ice worms that Randal tried to murder (clearly, the sign said "do not touch, your body heat will kill") and an informational movie that we watched. Turns out that about 50 years ago, the face of Portage Glacier was directly in front of the visitor's center. They have a huge window behind the movie screen and at the end of the movie, the screen slowly ascends to reveal this once-majestic up-close view of a glacier. Now when it lifts, there is a beautiful iceberg-filled lake and they tell you that if you look real hard, you can see the top corner of Portage Glacier above the mountain at the other side of the lake. I just find it amazing how quickly they recede. It's truly a spectacular feat of nature to create all of that massive moving ice. We were told that there was a trail over on the Whittier side that you can hike and get a pretty close view of the glacier, but it was a 45 minute hike (which means an hour for me) and I was already feeling so crummy and weak from being sick that I asked if we could hold off and do that on the way back out of the peninsula. So instead, we started south toward Seward. When we got there, we secured a campground and bought a couple of showers to get us feeling better. Then we went out for a drive to explore the town. Driving along the edge of the bay, we spotted two orcas swimming together. We pulled over and watched them until they were out of site. It was pretty neat. We relaxed most of the day trying to get me feeling better. We made reservations with Kenai Fjords Tours for a dinner cruise tomorrow afternoon before heading back to our campground for the night.
Day 10 - Saturday, 3July2004
This morning, we did a short hike at Exit Glacier before our 15:00 cruise departure. We got to the cruise shop a little early to find a place to plug up our cameras and get charged a bit. When it was boarding time, we went down to the dock to find a large stellar sea lion frolicking about with some fish dinner right there at the docks. It was fun to watch, but hard to get on camera. When he was done feasting and departed for open waters, we boarded our boat and headed straight for a seat at the front. When we first pulled out from the dock, there were a lot of people sitting out there with us. As we started picking up speed and the wind was getting cold, the people started to disappear. When the cold rain started to join forces with the cold wind, we were the only two out on the front of the boat. It was very pleasant and we were happy that we had invested in some good rain gear. It was so pretty out there in the water with snow-capped mountains all around. We passed by several rookeries of puffins and other birds before spotting some whales. Now let me just say, this was by far the most exciting part of the whole trip. We just happened to run up on a momma and her calf, who was in a very playful mood. As we pulled up near them, they were slapping each other with their flippers. The captain informed us that this calf was making a big wave in the marine biology community around the area because it appeared to be a hybrid between a humpback (momma) and a right whale. It did not have a dorsal fin like it's humpback momma. Anyhow, while we sat and watched, the whales got closer to the boat (a boat can only approach within a certain distance of whales but if the whales get closer to the boat, it doesn't have to back away) and more playful. We saw plenty of tail and were able to snap just a few pictures before the rain got too bad. And that was the shame of it. After the rain had gotten too bad to have the cameras out in, the baby humpright performed three beautiful full breaches. It was the most spectacular sight. A once in a lifetime thing. And we were unable to get pictures or video. What a shame. But we do have it in our memory and it was the most thrilling moments. After all that playfulness, it must have been naptime; there was a synchronized terminal dive and that was all we saw of them. We continued on to Aialik Glacier where we sat a quarter of a mile away from it's 2-mile wide face and watched house sized pebbles of ice calve off of it. The largest piece we saw calve (when glacial pieces break off and become icebergs, it is called calving) was roughly the size of a three story building and created a 20 foot wave. It was pretty spectacular. We were able to get lots of video there. The most remarkable thing about being in front of such a massive glacier is the sounds. It is the eeriest thing, sitting there looking at ice and hearing it move. It is constantly creaking and groaning and when it is getting ready to calve, you hear a distant rumble like thunder and then a splintering sound and then a loud grumble and crash as it detaches and falls into the sea. There's just no explaining it and no video can fully do it justice. The other eerie thing was being in a boat and feeling and listening to it scraping over all of the icebergs hidden below the water. Immediately conjures thoughts of the last moments of the Titanic. We probably watched and listened to that glacier for a good 45 minutes before it was time to start heading back to Seward (we were about 75 miles out). On the way back, dinner was served and we went inside for the first time. OMG. Bad call. Turns out I don't like being inside on a boat. I never actually got sick, but I've never felt so nauseously disquieted in all my life. Unfortunately, dinner was only being served inside at the tables. And I was hungry. It took me forever but I was able to eat most of my cold food. I was fairly okay if I was able to look out the window or door to the water. It was such a horribly strange sensation that I would prefer to never experience again. Next time I go out on any type of boat, I will have Dramamine with me. About halfway through my struggle to eat my decent, though cold, dinner, the captain announced that for anyone who cared, there were some Dall Porpoises off in the distance that were coming at us. He told us they would put on a show for us. Randal was the first one out so he got a lot of great video looking straight down from the bow of the boat. These animals look like tiny orcas, but the fun part is that they enjoy playing in the underwater wave that boats create. They rode that wave fast and fun, weaving back and forth in front of the bow of the boat. They must have frolicked for 15 minutes before getting tired of surfing and heading back out to more peaceful waters. They were so fun to watch. After that, we went back in and I finished what I could of my dinner and then we adjourned back to the non-sickening outside seats. It really was a wonderful cruise. When we got back to Seward, it was after 21:00 so we went to the grocery store and bought a half gallon of ice cream and headed for the beach. We sat in the car for a while watching the water and eating our ice cream. When we had our fill, we got drove to an area closer to town and walked out to the beach to join the myriad of people lining the beach awaiting the Fourth of July fireworks. I think they were supposed to start at midnight, but they waited until closer to 00:30 (I presume with the hope that it might get just a tad bit darker). It was fun waiting out there and talking with people. And seeing fireworks at 00:30 with so much daylight is certainly an experience, but all in all it was a pretty puny display. Everyone there was ooohing and ahhhing, but Randal and I were just looking at each other and asking, "is that all?". But it was a good time and it was a nice celebration of the Fourth. When the "grand finale" was over, we went back to our car, ate a bit more ice cream, and called it a night.
Day 11 - Sunday, 4July2004
We woke up on this fine Fourth of July to hear the sounds of the Mount Marathon race already underway a few blocks away. We got up and headed over to it to check it out. For those of you who have never heard of it, this is a gathering of insane people every Fourth of July racing from the center of town, up a 3,000 foot mountain, and back - the goal being to make it in under an hour. The actual length of the course is probably only about 4 miles, but over 1 mile of it is either straight up or straight down a mountain. And it was raining, which I'm sure makes running straight up a mountain more difficult and dangerous. It was crazy. We watched the end of the junior race (17 and under) and the end of the women's race. It was very impressive. We walked around town for a little bit to soak in the Fourth of July spirit and then we headed to the beach for a nice nap. After recharging, we went back to Exit Glacier for a more intensive hike. We did the majority of the Harding Ice Field trail (it's a 3.9 mile one-way trail straight up, we did about 2.5 miles one-way of it). It was a very strenuous hike. It was a very vertical trail. We talked constantly in order to assure the bears that we would not make quiet, peaceful meals. We were probably close to two miles up when we finally crossed paths with another human. And, of course he told us how he had already crossed paths with a bear today; had been doing this hike several times a year for 20 years and had never not crossed paths with a bear. We talked louder after parting with him. Up around the corner a bit, we did run up on a wolverine. It was hiding in a bush and looked pretty scared. I think it was a young'un. We continued on our way and ran into another person, this one saying that just up the trail she had a baby bear block the trail before letting her go by. When we finally got up to an open plateau (where we could see all around us and not have sneaky bears) I insisted we stop for a break. I was starting to get a bit worn down and didn't want to push myself back into a full-blown cold so while we overlooked the huge glacier below, we decided this was as far as we were going. We could see the top of the trail and I was so tempted to conquer it so that we could look down on the massive ice field that lay beyond it (and, really, so that I could say I conquered it), but I knew I still had to make it back down (down is so much harder than up) and I was done. After sitting there for a while, an older German woman coming down the path informed us that there was a bear family lurking in the trail just 50 feet above us. We got up and could see the cubs playing around in the tree tops. We shouted out to warn some people coming back down the trail. It was fun to see the bears out in the wild like that but I'm glad we didn't get a closer encounter than that. We watched them until they got tired of playing and disappeared into the tree line and then we started our descent. It was slow going (down is so much harder on my knees than up). When we did finally make it down to the bottom again, we decided to make our way up to the face of the glacier. This meant changing from our hiking boots to our sandals and crossing several sizeable streams of meltwater. Now, let me just tell you - the meltwater at Worthington Glacier was cold but it was bearable, the meltwater at Exit Glacier seemed to be a whole different animal. I have never felt such bone-numbing cold in my life. From the time you lifted your foot to make that first step into it, to the time your foot was fully submerged and ready for the next foot to move, your toes are completely numb. By the time you cross five to eight feet of that water to get to a sandbar, you have to walk around on the sandbar for a minute in order to thaw your feet again. And then the process repeats until you cross all the streams. When we finally made it over to the face of the glacier, it probably took 5 minutes to fully feel our feet again. But it was beautiful. We ran into a trio of collegiates who were from Alaska but met in college in Florida. They were, uh, interesting, conversationalists. Then the hard part came. Time to cross back across all of the meltwater streams. I just can't even describe the sensation. All I know is that as fast as my feet were going numb, I am certain that if someone were to fall in (full body submergence) they would have 0 chance of getting themselves back up. They would go into shock instantly. Yes, that is my professional opinion. That last eight foot stream - painful. Oh so painful. By the time we took the nature trail back to the parking lot and turned on the floor heaters of the car full blast, it was a good 45 minutes till our feet were completely unnumbed. It was just insane. But it is an experience I will always remember and one that not too many people will ever have. So I'm not really complaining. While driving out of Seward, we decided that we really needed to go back to Anchorage in order to get some supplies so that's where we went and camped.
Day 12 - Monday, 5July2004
This morning we got up and did our Anchorage shopping before heading back down the Kenai. We were told by several people that Homer was the place to go, and since it's also the end of the road on the peninsula, that's exactly where we went. We stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which we thought was going to be like Custer State Park's wildlife loop (an excellent place to visit in South Dakota), but it was more like a recovery zoo. All of the animals were fenced in and it was a little sad. The humans were allowed to interact with them more than they should, in my opinion, so even when they recover from whatever brought them there, they won't be able to be released into the wild again. It was a bit sad. When we got to Homer, they had a pretty neat educational center called the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. It was a nice center with lots of exhibits. There were also some nice little trails out behind it that took you to the beach. My husband loaded his pockets (literally) with rocks from this beach. When we finished looking around there, we got back in the car and drove down to the end of the spit and decided that Homer was nothing more than a fishing town and really didn't have much to offer non-fishers. We went back to the welcome center and gathered information on cabins in the area. We ended up at HeartHaven Cottage about four miles outside of town. It was a beautiful cabin, wonderful wood all in the inside, and it was pretty cozy once you got past the fact that the owner lives in the shed right out behind it (sure, it's private and secluded, just don't open the door or the back windows). It had a huge picture window across the front of it with a great view of glaciers and mountains and ocean. We paid for two nights so we brought in all of our stuff and got settled in, starting with a nice warm shower. After we rested a bit, and since we really didn't see much in Homer that we cared to do, we went out to the video store and rented some movies and then picked up a bottle of wine. We figured we'd just cozy up in the cabin for a couple of days and honeymoon.
Day 13 - Tuesday, 6July2004
It was a very relaxing night. We slept in this morning and awoke to the sight of glaciers and such out the large window. It was a good, lazy day. We left the cabin only to get something to eat and return the movies and rent new ones. It was a good recharge period for me to finally get over the cold that I've been carrying for a week now.
Day 14 - Wednesday, 7July004
This morning, we slept in a little and then took some pictures of the cabin before checking out of it. We also stopped by the beach so that Randal could take some pictures of it for his grandmother before we left Homer. We turned off the Sterling Highway at Soldotna to visit Kenai. Turned out that there wasn't much to do in Kenai so we decided to go to the movie theatre. It was like a nice little date. After the movie, we drove west to the end of the road, around Nikiski, where we got out and spent a little time on the beach of Cook Inlet, where we collected some very pretty rocks. We camped out along the Sterling Highway.
Day 15 - Thursday, 8July2004
This morning, we woke up looking for a hike. We stopped at a Princess Lodge in Cooper Landing and took a short, mile loop-hike down to the river. It was beautiful clear turquoise. The hike was mostly shaded by trees and it was very quiet and relaxing. We stopped on a dock along the river and took a brief nap on the bench. It was very serene. When we got back up to the lodge, we asked the concierge about hiking and he told us about a 5 mile one-way trail to Juneau Falls. This got Randal all excited. I was a little hesitant about such a long hike in such heat, but we had taken several days off from hiking and I knew that Randal was getting stir crazy, so we went. The first two miles or so was walking on an old logging road with no shade. It got very hot, very quickly. Where the logging road ended, it came to a fork, which wasn't on the little trail map (I use the term loosely) that the concierge had provided for us. Randal decided that we would go right because that path looked better traveled. I know we walked at least half a mile before deciding that was the wrong way. But it did happen to be where all the mosquitoes hung out because we picked them up there and they stayed right on us for the rest of the hike. We got back to the fork again and took the left path and walked another half-mile or so before we finally came across a trailhead marking (crude though it was - spray painted arrow on scrap wood) to let us know that this was, indeed, the correct trail. We walked and talked and talked and walked and talked some more (we were warned that the trail was heavily bear-populated). After the arrow, there were no other trail signs to let us know we were going the right way or what the distance was or anything. We started hearing noise, but couldn't decipher whether it was water or wind. We stopped in one area, trying to listen hard enough to figure it out, and thought about just turning around to go back. It was a good thing we went on ahead. Not too terribly much longer we finally came on a true trail sign that told us to turn the corner and cross the bridge and we were there. Lucky for Randal, it really was a very beautiful, and quite large, waterfall. I'd say that it's the biggest, nicest one that we've ever hiked to. We took pictures and sat and looked at it and snacked a little for probably a half hour. It was a good rest at the end of such a long hike. And, of course, every long hike has an equally long hike back (unless it's a loop but we're not talking loops here). So we walked and talked and talked and walked and talked some more all the way back. I can't tell you how pleased I was to see the road at the end of the logging road that meant that our car was oh-so-close. I was very proud of the fact that I actually hiked 11+ miles. Luckily, it was the least steep trail that we had hiked in Alaska. I know I couldn't have done 11 miles if it were much steeper. All in all it wasn't too bad a hike, just hot, and a little frustrating that it was not a well marked trail. When we got back to the Princess, we had a good meal followed by a good 12 minute ($1.25) shower at the campground. We then decided to drive back to Portage to spend the night by our lake again.
Day 16 - Friday, 9July2004
When we woke up this morning, we decided to take a drive through the longest (2.5 miles) tunnel in North America over to Whittier. The tunnel was fairly impressive, it's a one-way tunnel that switches directions every half hour and it also has a train track running through it (not sure how often that runs). It's a fairly expensive tunnel ride, though - $12 for a car, $300 for a commercial truck/trailer. Which was really upsetting when we drove out the other side of it into Whittier and saw that there was NOTHING in Whittier. It was less than worthwhile. We thought about at least doing the hike over to Portage Glacier while we were there but my stupid knees were acting up pretty badly. So we turned around and waited in line to go back through the tunnel. It was really just an anti-climatic experience. Fortunately, on our northward trek back toward Anchorage, we decided to stop at Girdwood. This was a very cute little town. They have a ski resort there and during the summer, you can ride the lift up to the top of the mountain and eat lunch and hike with seven glaciers surrounding you. It was a wonderful experience that we both thoroughly enjoyed. When we left Girdwood, we headed straight back to Anchorage and started calling around to make hotel reservations for our last two nights. We figured since we would be going straight to work from the airport tuesday morning, and since we were heading home to a flooded house, we should rest up pretty good. We made our reservations, walked around the mall a bit, and then set up camp and went to bed.
Day 17 - Saturday, 10July2004
This morning we got up and drove over to the earthquake park. Before Good Friday of 1964 there was an affluent residential area on the bluffs above Cook Inlet, but the 9.2 earthquake dropped the houses into 30 foot crevasses and destroyed the entire area. It is now a park with all kinds of monuments and interpretive signs telling about the quake and showing where the coast line used to be and such. It was pretty impressive to see the how the landscape changed in one day. Good Friday is not such a good day for Alaska. They had a 9.2 earthquake in 1964, then 25 years to the day later, they have the Exxon-Valdez oil spill on Good Friday of 1989. After spending some time walking around and reading all of the signs, we went to the Aspen Hotel to see if we could check in a little early but they did not have our room ready yet. So we went out to lunch and then grabbed a quick nap before heading back to the hotel for another try. This time they had the room ready and when we got into it, they had upgraded us to a room with a jacuzzi next to the bed and a little fruit/chocolate basket with a note to "Mr. and Mrs. Holloway" congratulating us on our marriage and wishing us a happy honeymoon. It was so nice. We unloaded all of our stuff out of the van and arranged for a shuttle to pick us up at the airport before we took the van back and turned it in. We figured we were just going to rest so we didn't need the van anymore. It was a good call. We had a very relaxing night in our very nice room.
Day 18 - Sunday, 11July2004
We spent most of the day today in our hotel room relaxing. Late in the afternoon, we went out and walked down to the river to see the fish ladder. I was amazed by how HUGE the salmon are. We only saw one actually make it up the ladder while we were there. We also saw a family of beavers and some pigeon-courting. We then walked back up toward the mall to try to find some food but the mall was closed. And most restaurants were closed. You would think that Sunday or no Sunday, when the sun is bright as noon all night there should be food to be gotten after 18:00. We finally found a little pizza shop a couple blocks down that was open. On the way back to the hotel, we stumbled on a mmmMarble Slab-esque ice creamery from which we bought a pint to take back to the room with us. It was another nice relaxing evening, this our last night in Alaska.
Day 19 - Monday, 12July2004
This was a sad morning, knowing that we were going to have to go home in a few hours. It's sad enough when a good vacation comes to an end, but it's even sadder when you know you're going home to check into a hotel since your house is destroyed. And it being our honeymoon... So, when we finally got up and got around to checking out, they let us store our luggage there while we went out to walk town some more before airport time. We went to the mall and walked around it several times (much smaller than it looks from outside). We had gone there thinking that, surely, they must have a movie theatre in such a big (looking) downtown mall. We were mistaken. No movie theatres within walking distance of downtown Anchorage. So it goes. We walked around the mall so many times that we finally found some nice comfy chairs and sat down for a short nap. Finally, we had wasted enough time to slowly make our way back to the hotel to catch our shuttle to the airport. We walked along a sidewalk that was well-flowered and took pictures of the myriad of pretty flowers. You wouldn't think too much of Alaska as being a floral state, but they grow such pretty and HUGE (21 hours of sunlight) flowers. When we got to the airport, there was a long backup at security and when we got to the gate, my very charming husband was able to talk one of the gate attendants into upgrading us to first class since it was our honeymoon. I've gotta say, first class was nice. The seats were big and cushy and had a blanket, pillow, and bottle of water in every seat waiting for us to board. Drinks were free so we each had a glass (actual glass, not plastic cup) of red wine before liftoff and another with dinner. Dinner was grilled chicken with a red sauce, garlic-cheese mashed potatos, steamed vegetables, and a roll. As far as airline food goes, it was by far the nicest meal I've had. And they put table cloths down on your little tray before setting down your plate. After dinner, they started the movie and as the previews were playing, they came out with ice cream and made us sundaes. My only complaint was that the big comfy seats do not have liftable armrests like coach usually does. This meant that I could not lay down across my husband's lap, which meant I was able to get 0 sleep on the long flight home since I'm not good at sleeping upright. By the time we landed in Atlanta at 06:56, I understood why they called it a red-eye flight. When the plane did land, one of the flight attendants gave us a bottle of red wine to take home with us as a happy honeymoon gift, which I thought was a really sweet gesture. I'm thinking that if we drink it on our 25th anniversary, it might have aged enough to be decent wine. Going straight into work, seeing our poor house on our lunch break, and checking into a hotel brought reality crashing back in. The honeymoon was definitely over.