Archive for October, 2012


What follows the best day so far on the tour? The worst, at least up until this point. We all got up early, to make the tunnel and then the ferry and it was pouring rain as predicted. No one was in any mood to do anything and I was in no mood to trek to the bathroom or make lunch, so I just packed up my stuff as well as I could and grabbed some granola bars and crackers and hoped for the best. We just threw everything in the trailer, in the worst order imaginable and it barely fit, but we got it closed and got on the road. As we were backtracking towards Anchorage, the guide got a call on his phone that the ferry was canceled. Apparently, this like never happens and of course, it happened to us. Most of us were really looking forward to it, it’s why we didn’t go on the nature cruise or in my case, just an excuse to not be in the van. When the guide got the call, we backtracked AGAIN to a tiny town, so he could get better cell reception and reroute our plans, since we didn’t need to make the tunnel or the ferry.

The road back to Anchorage

I bought a candy bar so I could use the bathroom, which is normally against my religion, but since I didn’t go in the morning, I sucked it up and paid. Whatever, I got some candy out of it too! We piled back in the van and headed back towards Anchorage. Our next stop, was the old and faithful Fred Meyer (with chimes from the peanut gallery, “Haven’t we been here before?”) to stock up on more food. We were finally getting into the habit of what we all liked to eat and what meals were coming up (fish that evening, so a fellow tour mate and I stocked up on chicken) and we knew where everything was in the supermarket, so we were in and out pretty fast. We unloaded the entire van and repacked way better because the rain had stopped and we had more room on the cement of the parking lot to deal with everything. They didn’t have the lunch bag that I bought the previous time, so I and then the rest of the group followed me over to Wendy’s, as they don’t really have them overseas for lunch.

After the morning of backtracking, it was on to some new road! We drove quickly through Wasilla and Palmer, home of the state fair, which we were all enamored with earlier in the week. You would be too, if you had seem some of the events taking place! And there really isn’t anything more American then a state fair. Just based on the crap that is for sale and the food you can eat, it’s everything you picture about America and more, all in one place. But after a week of meeting people and seeing some of the state, we were kind of over it, which was a good thing. We did stop at the Musk Ox Farm, which was super touristy, but I still paid the $11 for the 30 minute tour. I am definitely interested in weird animals! We got the feed them, but unfortunately, they weren’t super active when we were there, but their whole reason for being is really interesting, so it wasn’t a total waste. We then hit some just fantastic scenery and not a car in sight for miles and miles, which was amazing before our stop in Sutton at the Sheep Mountain Lodge for the night.

Musk Ox

Musk Ox at the farm, Palmer, Alaska

Cute Musk Ox, eating at the farm, Palmer, Alaska

Me and the Musk Ox, Palmer, Alaska

Since we had such a terrible night sleeping in the rain, we all voted to cough up $20 each and sleep in the bunk house at Sheep Mountain Lodge, though we did all throw up our tents to air them out of the rain for a while on the lawn. The place was pretty cute. Bathhouse with a sauna for a couple of bucks and a shower for $5 (I think we all skipped that night) and two rooms of bunks, which we split into snores and non-snorers, which sucked for me because I snore, but am a light sleepers, so I had a pretty miserable sleep. Though the non-snorers had it worse, because something was lost in translation and the Russian girl ended up in the non-snore room and apparently she was the worse snorer of them all! The guide thought it was hilarious that we all wanted tents for the rest of the trip, even though we had one more night in a bunk house in a few days, we were all, can we do tents instead? Too funny that we all preferred tents over sleeping indoors. The lodge also had a full service restaurant, with my favorite coffee which of course I got in the morning. They also had a really cool green house with a dead moose inside. The green house was really really warm (of course) and since I was having such a miserable night, I was tempted beyond belief to pull my sleeping bag and sleep there, but the ground was covered in rocks and I didn’t have a blow up mattress. AGH! Hindsight. But the green house was really awesome.

Me and the moose in the green house. The closest I got to a moose in Alaska. Sutton, Alaska

The guide made a fish stew for dinner but I ate chicken and it was delicious! We ate outside with no fire and while it was a bit cold, but ohmigod, so freakin’ beautiful! After dinner, I gossiped with some of my tour mates (it was getting to be that time in the tour were we all talk about each other behind our backs, so elementary school, I know) before the rest of the group crawled into bed and I went into the green house to write for a while before slipping into my bunk and took out my dvd plaver for the first time to watch some tv shows. I got into such a habit this night, that I ended up doing it the rest of the trip. My boss had loaned me a portable dvd player for the trip and the battery life on this this was out of the world, it only died on me once, on the last day. Perfect timing! I am sure I looked a little shady to my tentmate, no porn, I swear!

Woke up to one of the, if not my favorite day on this entire trip. Woke up to absolutely gorgeous weather. No rain, clear blue skies and best of all, a casual day! The guide had to make a run back to Anchorage for sleeping mats and because of that, we had a totally chill day, which after only 3 days of constant living with the same people, we all needed it. The guide was doing a run into town for the people that wanted to go on a nature cruise at 9am, but otherwise, the rest of us were on our own all day. And I loved it. TM and I woke up late and lounged around and made breakfast, took showers and just sat on the porch of the shower house to charge our cameras and phones and read with some of the other tour mates.

View from the campsite in the morning. Seward, Alaska

Some randomness about the campsite:

-Lots of showers, but they take tokens, which you have to buy before hand and there are no refunds. $1 for 2 minutes of shower. Apparently you can toss all your tokens in at the start and just guess how long you have left, but I tossed my tokens in one at a time, so I knew my time and I was under by like a minute. Better then being over! I wish I had known the shower situation before hand because I would have washed my hair at the other place, but it ended up being okay, because the shower situation at the next two places was even worse. So it all worked out for the best!
-Right on the water!
-A bit of a walk into town, took me over an hour.
-Shop is a little disorganized, so don’t count on them for much.
-Tree canopy for most of the grounds, which is good and bad.
-A bit muddy when it rains.

Walking into town, alone the road and the water. Seward, Alaska

So, after taking a few hours and enjoying the sun and charging my phone, I waited for a few of my tour mates to leave for town and I followed them about 45 minutes later. I just needed a nice walk to myself! I ran into one of the girls who went into town with the “shuttle” at 9am (it was like 1pm when I ran into her walking back to camp) and we chatted on the side of the road for a while. She didn’t do much but have a wonder around Seward for the day. I was walking into town to meet up with the group at 4pm to go Heli-Dogging! The walk was a flat 2.3 mile (now according to Google Maps) walk into town and it was the perfect day for it!

View while enjoying my coffee. Seward, Alaska

I stopped at Resurrect Art Coffee as recommended to us by the guide and it was okay. No Kalandi Bros! But it was a pleasant place to stop for a drink and the fantastic view and call my parents. I continued into town and since I didn’t have lunch and I thought we were going to have more fish for dinner, I wanted to eat a big lunch. I ran into another tour mate at a restaurant and stopped in and said hello and she invited me to eat with her, but I passed, said we all need some alone time today, which I think she was happy I said. Like I said, it was a good group, we all gave each other space when needed. I found a pizza place [great pizza, friendly owner (from LA!) which ended up being awesome. The owner who took my order said I looked familer, but of course, where from? Turns out, he was from LA too and had been living up in Seward for over 15 years! But how funny is that. I got a calzone to go, as it was beautiful outside and I wanted to eat it near the water. It was huge, kind of expensive, but really really good. Perfect for the day. I had a wonder around town and into the national parks visitor center for a while. I sat on the dock and read my book until I heard the rest of my group, being the loud people we were on the other side of the building.

Wood carvings are all over the state. I just love them! Seward, Alaska

We all met up with the cruisers and the guide drove us to the airport for our helicopter ride up to the glacier! After signing our lives away and investing our 401K’s (expensive!!!!!) I claimed the middle group and really wanted to sit in the front, as I had never been on the helicopter before, but the back was really good too. We saw a bear in the forest on our way up, which was so so so cool, exactly how I wanted to see a bear before we landed about 10 minutes later on the ice. The first group was just finishing their run and we got some great pictures from the air of them.

View from the helicopter on the ride up. Seward, Alaska

My first helicopter ride! Seward, Alaska

The Glacier. Seward, Alaska

The first group, from above. Seward, Alaska

Then it was our turn. I claimed the front of the sled and we went about half way around the track before we stopped and swapped places and I went to the back, which was so awesome too. Then one of the mushers took a bunch of pictures of all of us on the sled with the dogs before we got to go to one of the kennels to see puppies. I got to hold one of the older dogs and thankgod, I had a little experience holding dogs, because I got a crazy one! But they were so cute! Then, when the third group arrived, the pilot took us over to the really tiny puppies who were less then a month old and we got to hold them for a really long time. Fresh puppy!

My view from the front of the sled. Seward, Alaska

The sled dogs on the glacier. Seward, Alaska

Me and my group, the dogs on a freakin’ glacier! Seward, Alaska

I think Poppy would be jealous! Seward, Alaska

Holding fresh puppy! Seward, Alaska

We then went back over to the older dogs who were chained up to their houses and some where going crazy with barking and some where just sleeping. I took tons of pictures of the dogs and tried “my angle” to get some of me with the dogs but a lot of them would not sit still! They just want to run, is what I think, which is why they are so crazy when chained up, but who knows. I had a really good time and it was totally a highlight for me. Expensive, but well worth it.

Angel (my bosses dog) twin! Seward, Alaska

After about an hour, we took the helicopter back a different way and landed. I plugged my phone into the wall while we waited for the last group to come back and I said to myself, yes, I know I am going to leave it. And we pile back into the van and of course! We are right in town, halfway back to camp when I yell FUUUUUCK. Of course! I feel so horrible about this, but no one else seems to mind too much. Thankfully, we turn around to go back and we run into more tour mates who were about to walk back from town, so it ended up being a good thing that we u-turned it in town to get my phone. Even better, when I get my phone back, there is an adapter plug attached, which of course isn’t mine but it ended up being another one of my tour mates! How funny! He had plugged in his camera before we went up but forgot the adapter! So going back saved a lot of people and I didn’t feel bad any more.

Wind picking up on the glacier. Seward, Alaska

We got back to camp and unfortunately, had spaghetti and hot dogs for dinner. I was so NOT hungry after the large and late lunch I had, but I still scarfed food down. Rain was predicted the next day and we had a long day in the van ahead of us and certain times we had to meet to catch the ferry on time, so we all got as much together at night as we could before bed.

Silence on the glacier. Seward, Alaska

Another day in the van. After a quick stop in Homer proper for bank and supermarket, we were on the road, backtracking most of our route from the other day, back to Anchorage, but turned off at the Seward Highway. Not sure on the stops we made that day, but I am sure there was plenty, as it was a beautiful, clear, sunny and WARM day. Because it was on the warmer side, this is when the fights for having the window open vs. closed started. I was in the back, where it was boiling hot and I sat most of the day in just jeans and a t-shirt, throwing on my sweatshirt for various picture stops.

One of the millions (?) of really tall, ice covered mountains.

Free lifejacket! There were piles of them at the info board at every lake we went to.

The big stop of the day was at the Exit glacier, near Seward. It was pretty impressive and I always love the signs along the way that tell you how far the glacier was back in the day. How fast it’s receding is insane! We dropped some people off at the glacier to do a short hike, while the rest of us continued on to camp at Millers Landing , so we could arrive in time to join a kayak tour out on Resurrection Bay.

Me and Exit Glacier, Seward, Alaska

We threw up our tents and then went to the office to pay and start the kayak tour. There were good and bad things about this tour.

Bad:

-The place seemed a little disorganized. People kept getting added to the tour and therefore instruction was very basic.
-They gave us no instruction on “driving” the kayaks. They told us about the foot pedals and in talking with some of my tour mates later, they thought both of them were driving the kayak. Thankfully I had used these kayaks before and claimed the back so I could drive and when I told my mates that, they looked at each other, thought about it and then realized I was right. The guides never told us that only the back drives the boat.
-I shared a kayak with the Russian in our group who spoke little English. When we were out on the water, the guide asked her some questions, but when he realized that her English was minimal, neither guide spoke a word to either of us for the rest of the tour. I think they thought I was Russian also.
-Once we were out on the water, one of the guides lit up a cigarette. Talk about unprofessional!

Good:

-Ohmigod, some of the smoothest water I have ever kayaked on in my life! I know this was an extremely rare day, but it was amazing and totally worth it. I would drive the boat one direction and within two strokes, we were headed that way. Usually it takes 5-10 strokes to change direction. I can’t get over how amazing that was!
-Scenery, amazing.
-Guide explanations were okay. We paddled about an hour and then stopped and hiked to Bridal Falls in the rainforest and it was a really nice break! And then we pedaled back.
-I just can’t get over how smooth the water was.

First look over Seward, Alaska

A short hike into the rainforest after kayaking. Seward, Alaska

Waterfall at the end of the short trail while kayaking. Seward, Alaska

Got back to camp and dinner was being made, though I can’t remember what it was. We just hung around the campfire and chatted about activities for the following day.

View from our campsite in Seward, Alaska.

The first day of activities! We woke up to rain and the two activities on offer were either fishing in the afternoon or heading out early on the water to take a water taxi across the bay to Kachemak Bay State Park and go for a hike to a glacier. Fishing was really expensive and didn’t really appeal to me much anyway, so I went with the other half of our group on the hike. The water taxi didn’t end up being much cheaper at $80 RT (compared to $175 for fishing, I know that looks like a lot, but when it comes down to it, I essentially paid $80 for a 4 hour hike, meh).

Typical dock in Alaska (haha!)

Okay, okay, I’ll stop being bitter now. But when we set off, it was raining and we were wet and sort of miserable, not the best way to start off a vacation, but there was little we could do except make the best of it. So we did! We were let off on the shore in what looked like the start of the Hunger Games or some other murder mystery movie setting. The water taxi captain pointed us to the start of the trail and we were off. After a decent hike down the rock covered beach, we finally found the trail head and I stopped to sign the guest book and take a quick look through who had been here lately. There were bear sightings just the day before which already scared the shit out of me. I was probably one of the only ones in our group that had no urge to see a bear, especially when we were out in the wilderness with no safety net. Color me shitless!

Into the woods we go.

Anyway, I chatted with some of the group as we walked along in what looked like rain forest, in an effort to keep the bears away. We saw our first bear scat (poo) and thankfully it looked somewhat petrified, which made me feel better. We stopped once to take a break and have a snack under the canopy of trees which helped keep the rain out. We hiked on somewhat flat terrain until we finally got to Grewingk Glacier. I love glaciers and it was beautiful! The wind coming off the glacier and lake was freezing though and it didn’t help that we were wet. We found a sheltered place to eat lunch and leave our packs to have a wonder around the lake. We didn’t see a soul all day on the trail or at the lake, so we felt safe leaving our stuff unattended. Unfortunately, due to the rain, I was freezing and went back to the shelter and chatted until we decided to leave as we didn’t know how long it would take us to continue on and make it to the end of the trail in time for the taxi to pick us up.

Glaciers in Lake, Homer, Alaska

Glacier into Lake! My favorite!

The Saddle trail was a bit harder, but thankfully the rain pretty much stopped at this point but the downside is the bear scat started looking more and more fresh, until part of the group up ahead started shrieking that they saw a bear cub. I freaked the fuck out and ran as fast as I could past the group, not caring at all if they got eaten (my motto for the trip when people were acting stupid around bears, “I don’t care if you get eaten, that means more room in the van”) because if they saw a cub, that means the mother isn’t far behind. The next thing I knew, we were at the trail head, way ahead of schedule. I had one bar of service and a nearly dead phone but I called the water taxi to let them know we were at the end and to pick us up when they had a chance.

End of the trail.

We then crawled over a bunch of rocks to get to the beach where they told us they would pick us up in the morning. It was a good thing I called from the trail head because by the time we got to the beach, I checked my phone and I didn’t have any service. We waited for about 45 minutes and in that time, the tide started coming up really fast. I never really understood that saying before until then, but ohmigod, did the tide come up fast. Thankfully the taxi came before we were swallowed up and even though they were only allowed to take 5 people (there were 6 of us, so we took two going out), since the tide was coming up fast and it’s not like we were going to tell, the driver took us all back in one trip. My first experience with Alaska not caring about safety, another theme of this trip that I had never experienced in the US before.

Otter spotting on the trip back!

Of course, on our trip back, the sun came out, which was nice for sitting on the deck and we saw otters! I love otters! The taxi slowed down when we got near and it was so awesome. We got back to town and the fishing group wasn’t back yet, so the 6 of us just relaxed. I invested in a $1 shower (and stupidly didn’t wash my hair, will I ever learn my lesson when it comes to not knowing what is ahead?) and charged my phone in the shop and just sat at a table and enjoyed the view and wrote in my journal.

Now that we are done for the day, the sun comes out.

For dinner that night we had fish. Not my idea of the best time, but I talked the guide into making rice and dumped a whole ton of soy sauce on everything, mixed it together and scarfed it down. Not my most favorite meal. I didn’t realize until later that the fish didn’t sit well with me (didn’t go #2 for a few days and it really fucking hurt, sorry for the image) and in chatting with another tour mate and not going into details, we realized that the fish didn’t sit well with her either so a few days later when we were going to eat the rest, the two of us invested in one of those fully cooked chickens and that was delicious! But that was later. After dinner, some of the group went to the Salty Dog, the local bar. I went too, but when I was never served and was really tired anyway, I just went back to camp and sat around the fire for a bit before heading to bed. The hike wasn’t hard, but doing most of it in the rain, wore me out!

Note: The subject line is only a slight exaggeration.

After a not so bright and early wake up call, I packed up the majority of my bag before heading down to the lobby for a free breakfast. It was pretty decent! Any place with a make your own waffle bar is a-ok with me. We all stocked up on more goodies for the road later, including muffins and bagels. Hey, we had no idea when the next meal was. We ate when we could!

The group gathered in the lobby at the requested time and the last person to show up was the guide. Not sure how I felt that would bode for the rest of the trip, but at least everyone else was there! I hate waiting for people. We loaded up the trailer and settled into the van. I am really picky about where I sit and at first chose the seat next to the window, 2nd row from the back. I thought that might be good. We had some stops to make around town first, the first being one of our many visits to the Fred Meyer on Northern Lights Blvd. to get our first batch of groceries. I grabbed the other American in the group and claimed we would shop for lunch food, meaning sandwich stuff and snacks. No one knows a good American lunch like the people who live it! It was tons of fun to throw in whatever we wanted to eat with really no disregard for content or price. My favorite type of shopping! Bagels and loafs of bread, tons of meats and cheeses, some cheap peanut butter (which our guide took back and picked out his own brand, as we soon learned that was something he was really picky about) and crackers. And peanuts. And trail mix. And more crackers. We bought a “gallon” box of goldfish and a few boxes of cheese-itz. No one does cheese crackers like Americans. This was also the place to grab lunch for the day and my fellow American found these awesome lunch bags and the kids one was perfect (and $2 cheaper!) so I took that one. After reorganizing the food in the trailer, we were off to REI for last minute gear.

Random shot driving around town.

I knew I wasn’t going to be in the best shape for this trip. I own no waterproof stuff and I wasn’t about to spend money on something I would never use again. The trip notes said there would be laundry at least once a week, but it’s really not in my nature when traveling for only 2 weeks to think about doing it, so I packed enough for 2 weeks. Unlike my tent-mate, I don’t really care how I look in pictures, I don’t mind wearing the same sweater every day. Now underwear, socks and t-shirts are another thing so I brought enough for 2 weeks and just rotated amongst my 2 sweatshirts and only down (but not waterproof) jacket. My bag was one of the bigger ones, but I didn’t care. At our REI stop, I noted three things I wanted to buy, that were somewhat suggested by the guide the night before. And all three things were super helpful and I am actually really glad I bought them! First up was a $17 pair of socks that were all wool, which pretty much means they are sort of waterproof. This is the thing I probably could have lived without, as I only wear socks once before washing and since I didn’t plan on doing any washing, I had to think about when was the best time to use them when they would make the most sense. Story coming later on the day I made the decision to wear them and why I choose correctly! Will I ever wear them again? They were super comfy and maybe I’ll bring them to SF and wear them there, as my current sneakers aren’t waterproof by any means. Something I didn’t really need, but my tent-mate had one and it was so cool was a collapsible water-bottle. It was a pouch that gets smaller the less liquid you have! So perfect for me who drinks tons and tons of water and had to deal with the empty big bottle. Now it gets smaller the more I use it! I got the “grape” (purple) color. I love marketing term,s they just crack me up. And finally, the item I used the most, a waterproof rain jacket. I grabbed the cheapest one and used it the most. It was perfect for throwing over my sweatshirt in a freak rainstorm when I didn’t want to carry around my huge down or when it wasn’t that cold (on those rare days). This I’ll probably wear again, at some point, on those rare rainy days in LA when I don’t want to deal with my down, now I have a great alternative! All of these items came to less then $80, which made me happy. Since I knew want I wanted and grabbed it all and left, I found a coffee house that served my new favorite coffee so I had to grab a cup before meeting up with the rest of the group outside REI.

YUM!!!!

And then we were finally off to Homer! We made a bunch of stops both at lookout points and roadhouses along the way for food and bathroom and to stretch our legs before we finally arrived at the Homer Spit campground. The beach was full of rocks and that was where we were going to pop our tents to sleep. After a quick lesson on how to put them up, TM (tentmate from here on out) and I got ours up, but we couldn’t agree on which side was higher, so we ended up sleeping head to toe, which I actually liked better! We each used different entrances and I think that helped up get along much better in the long run. After the tent and air mattresses set up (we were 5 short so the guide had to trek back to Anchorage a few days later to get more but luckily, there was another tour with another company who had some spares in the meantime, yay Alaska hospitality!) we pitched in for dinner and had a delicious chicken dinner by the beach. I proved my true Californianess by decking out in wool hat, sweatshirt, down jacket, mittens, jeans and FLIPFLOPS! I was a bit worried about my sock situation as my shoes were not water proof and neither were my socks, so I made the resolution to not wear my shoes and socks unless I had to. And since the first day we spent it in the van, I wore my sandals all day, no need to waste a pair of socks on that! And I was okay. This proved to be my typical camp outfit for the trip.

Lookout near Girdwood.

The campsite was fine. A bit far to the bathroom for me, and stumbling over rocks to get there wasn’t the best. But loads of stalls, tons of sinks, plenty of paper and outlets to charge up. Showers were in a different house and you had to pay the front desk $1 and she’ll buzz you in and you got a stall and unlimited time. Each stall had a bench too! I didn’t want to leave my phone in the bathroom (even though Alaska is one the safest places I have ever been, you’ll hear more about that later) so I asked the office if I could charge it there and she directed me to an outlet under the shelf where I left my phone for a few hours for a quick charge.

Our view the first night camping.

The activities begin tomorrow!