I've written about a few things in my posts that I didn't complete the stories on. I want to remember what happened, so I'm going to complete the "rest of the stories" in this post. It's going to be a long one!
Backpacking, Not For the Poor of Pocketbook or Faint of Heart
We didn't end up going on the Crow Pass trip from Girdwood to the Eagle River Nature Center. Nicholas was in karate camp, and we couldn't find anyone to get him to the all day camp on Saturday and Sunday. We are, however, more determined than ever to make the hike next year. Our fitness levels will definitely have to improve, however. Our friends that went did enjoy themselves, but they ran into very high water levels, a snow field, steep climbs and got lost more than once. Since we can do parts of the hike by doing individual day hikes of the trail, we've decided to do a few day trips on the trail from each end and judge our fitness levels beginning next May. That means, a winter full of working out at the gym, XC skiing, snowshoeing and many, MANY more other hiking adventures before we try Crow Pass. Hiking the past couple of times we've gone, I've realized I'm definitely in no physical position to do any two day hiking trips. Crow Pass would have kicked my hiney!
Touring with the Tourists
Julie and the kids arrived at the Anchorage airport in the early morning hours of the 27th. After 3 separate plane rides, a four hour time difference, several hours of delayed flights, and enduring a crying baby for most of the last leg of their trip, they arrived ahead of their luggage (which had been sent on another plane behind their plane). Welcome to Alaska!
WEDNESDAY: We headed to the house, the kids amazed that it was still light outside at 2:30 am. The sun began to rise just 45 minutes later. We got a late start to Talkeetna to see Denali, but what a beautiful day we awoke to! I told Julie that I sold my soul to the devil for good weather for her trip. She said she'd prayed for good weather anyway, so selling my soul wasn't necessary. Wish she would have let me know that sooner! The skies were totally clear, the weather was warm and inviting, there was a slight breeze. We may have started late, but we still managed to get a hike in at Thunderbird Falls outside of Eklutna. We hiked to the falls, then hiked down to the valley floor to the creek. The mosquitoes were relentless and HUGE! The most memorable part of that hike (outside of seeing the falls, that is) was Julie's daughter screeching "There's a CAN in there," when she realized the "bathroom" at the trail head was just a fancy outhouse. She'd never been camping, or used an outhouse. She was mortified that there was no running water, and no flushing of the toilet, and that the CAN she saw was what she was going to have to sit on to use the restroom. It was the funniest thing I heard that day. After experiencing the wrath of the mosquitoes at Thunderbird Falls, there was no way they were going to get out of the car at the Eklutna cemetery, so I toured the grounds and took pictures for them while they sat in the truck. I enjoyed walking through the cemetery. The Spirit Houses each have stories of their own, and seem to me to be like a pop-up picture book. The houses are colorful, happy in a place of grief, and intricately detailed. After I finished touring the churches on the cemetery grounds and snapping pictures of the Spirit Houses, we headed to Talkeetna. The drive took about 2 hours, with everyone but me and Julie's son falling asleep on the drive. When we got to the viewing point on the road to Talkeetna, I woke everyone up. I had to explain to her son that the mountain wasn't the dark hills only, but the area above the hills that looked like clouds. The mountain is so tall, it's still covered in snow, and it looks like clouds. We headed into Talkeetna, ate at Mountain High Pizza, walked around the town for a while, and headed down to the river. The water was beautiful. The kids built rock sculptures, Julie lounged on a log, and I watched the rafters. After about an hour and a half, we headed back to Eagle River, stopping along the way to take a few pictures of float planes and the scenery.
THURSDAY: Another late start. We headed south to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Julie was truly taken aback by the views along the Turnagain Arm. I can understand her amazement at the beauty, as I feel the same way every time I make the drive. We hiked at McHugh Creek for a bit. The kids had a blast removing their shoes and walking in the water. The water was freezing, but they didn't seem to care. Kids will be kids! When we pulled into the parking lot at McHugh, they got to see their first Alaskan wild animal. There was a moose near the restrooms, munching on a tree. The kids were amazed that it just stood there and didn't take off running. After hanging out at McHugh for a while, we went to the AWCC. I walked the AWCC myself while the rest of the group enjoyed a leisurely day and lunch. I took lots of pictures, including some of musk ox, brown bears, Sitka white tailed deer, elk, black bear, caribou, moose, buffalo and fox. Because of the late start, we didn't get to do the hikes we had wanted to do at Winner Creek or Virgin Creek Falls, but I did take them up to Alyeska and show them the mountain Kaylee snowboards down. We headed home, after another long day.
FRIDAY: The day dawned early for us and we headed south to Seward at about 8 a.m. to catch the Fjord tour by 11:30. We left early enough to stop for a little while at a beautiful pull out just beyond the Homer turnoff. Parking in Seward was hard to find! I've never seen so many people in Seward. Tourism season is definitely in full swing. There were two cruise ships moored. I'm so used to just seeing the small fishing boats that seeing two cruise ships there was a total shock to my senses. I was in the Navy, I've seen aircraft carriers, I've been on large ships, but seeing those ginormous cruise ships next to the small fishing boats slightly unnerved me. They seemed so out of place. They seemed like a violation of the landscape and the scenery surrounding them. I can't imagine what it was like there during the July 4th celebrations. We found the tour boat and got on just before it pulled out and headed for Fox Island. On the island, we enjoyed a meal of salmon, chicken, salad, rolls, drinks, rice and desert. The rest of the group ate inside (the bugs, again, were very irritating), but I couldn't resist eating outside. The kids skipped rocks from the shore for a while, and then it was time to re board the boat and head into the open waters. What a great, inexpensive tour! We saw sea lions, gray whales, glaciers, and birds galore. The tour was 5 hours long, which was just long enough to see what we wanted to see, and short enough to not have the kids going nuts and losing interest. After the tour, Julie's boy managed to ask just about everyone in the tour office if they liked Puffins. On the way back to Eagle River, we stopped at Exit Glacier. We hiked up as close to the face of the glacier as we could get. I was amazed how much it's receded. All along the trail are signs with dates on them, indicating where the glacier had been at those different dates. I'm going to go back some time this summer and do the longer hike to the Harding ice fields above Exit Glacier. It was another gorgeous day!
SATURDAY: Yet another late start (it seemed to be a theme for most of their trip). We headed to Mirror Lake for the MEETin bbq and a bit of relaxation after the go, go, go pace we'd been keeping for the first three days of their trip. Julie walked around and took pics for most of the day. Mirror Lake is a beautiful spot. The kids swam in the water, played on the lawn, and made new friends. Julie even ate a Reindeer dog, much to her chagrin when she realized what it was. She actually turned green. After the bbq, the kids and Julie kayaked on the lake. We went out with friends that night to Humpy's and Platinum Jaxx. We (Alex and I) aren't the partying types, but BOY, can Julie dance. We didn't see her for most of the night, she was a dancin' fool!
SUNDAY: We didn't hike the Matanuska glacier, partially because of the weather, and partially because it was ANOTHER late start day. With a 3 hour drive to the glacier, we weren't about to drive all that way in the rain. Slippery glacier covered with water... not a wise hiking choice. Instead, we took Julie and the kids to Anchorage to eat at the Snow City Cafe. I love the Snow City Cafe. I guess I'm truly in the Alaskan frame of mind now. I've become accustomed to, and actually enjoy, the slower pace in restaurants. I don't care that my food isn't brought to me 5 minutes after I order it. I enjoy the people watching at the Cafe. Still in the east coast frame of mind and speed, Julie and the kids weren't impressed by the service or the speed in which their meals were delivered to the table. I did get Julie to try Reindeer sausage though, and she didn't even get ill! After lunch, I drove Julie and the kids up Arctic Valley, one of my favorite spots in Anchorage. We hiked a little, then took the kids home and Julie and I headed up Hiland Drive on our own. Sunday didn't dawn clear and warm as the rest of the days on her trip had. It was cloudy and misty, but I actually think Julie enjoyed it more. She loved walking in the clouds on our hike up the trail at the end of Hiland. The path we hiked was indicated by a very small, inconspicuous sign written on poster board, between two private property plots. I'd never seen the path before, in all my drives up Hiland. The area is covered with berry plants, so I know where I'll be berry picking in the fall! On our way down the trail towards the truck, we saw a very large black bear on the hillside beside ours. We hustled down the mountain to the truck, making lots of noise.
MONDAY, LAST DAY: Monday, the last day of Julie's trip. We had breakfast at North Slope Restaurant in Eagle River after getting her pictures put on disk at Fred Meyer's. Then, we headed into Anchorage. Because of the late start and the amount of time it took at Fred Meyer's, and the leisurely breakfast (or, should I say Alaskan speed service at breakfast) they didn't have much time to tour Anchorage. Most of their time was spent at a tourist shop on 4th Avenue. We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare for them to check in and we chatted until the went upstairs to wait to board the plane at 9 pm. I wish we'd made more time on Monday for them to see Anchorage, but I'll show them around next time.
We didn't get to do a lot that we'd wanted to while she was here, but we packed the days she was here with activity. There is so much to see and do in Alaska, but starting early is a must. Just about everything to see and do is quite a drive away from Anchorage, not a lot of visitors realize that viewing requires extensive driving. A week really wasn't enough time to see and do everything, but I think she got a small taste of Alaska, and realizes why I love this place so much and how I could uproot my life to start over in what they were all convinced was a frozen wasteland. We enjoyed having them here, and she mentioned coming up again later with her boyfriend to catch the northern lights. Having her here made me miss my friends in Virginia, but I love my life here and can't imagine going back to the hustle and bustle of east coast living.
BIRD TO GIRD... HAVE WINE AND CHEESE, WILL BIKE
I kind of knew that this was not going to be as enjoyable for me as I'd hoped when the first turn of my foot on the wheels of my bike to head up the trail, my chain fell off of my bike. Not a good sign! Things got a little better, but not much better, to the half way point of the trip. I couldn't figure out how to use the gears, and rode uphill for the first section of the ride in entirely too difficult a gear. I got left way behind, with Angie (kind hearted soul) keeping me company as I suffered along. I did get off and walk a few times up the hill at the first section of the trail, I'll admit it. The scenery was beautiful, but I was too busy trying not to pass out to enjoy it! Ok, maybe not pass out, but it was tough. I realized how much more physically active I need to be to. I was using muscles I didn't know I had. Thank goodness for padded biking shorts though. If I were ever to meet whomever created those wonderful things, I'd kiss them full on the mouth! Half way to Girdwood, we stopped at a pull out at a picnic area and enjoyed a picnic of wine, port, delicious smoked salmon, sweet peppers, olives, crackers and jam, cheese, chocolate and wonderful conversation. The little picnic we had snapped me out my pain, and I was finally able to enjoy the scenery. The cottonwoods showered the area with cotton. It was so thick there, and the sun was shining just right. It looked like snow in the light. It was beautiful. The rest of the bike ride was very enjoyable (it was all downhill, for the most part). Girdwood was having the first night of the Forest Fair, so we biked to the fair, walked around for a while, enjoyed some music and watched some hula-hooping (a city sport in Girdwood, it seemed). Angie and I headed over to Chair 5 for some late night sodas, and Alex came to pick us up later in the truck (no way in Hades was I going to bike back to the truck uphill for the 8 mile ride back). I'm going to bike a few times a week to build up my endurance, and bike on the stationary bikes at the gym, and then try that trail again with Alex, but from Indian to Girdwood next time. We've got grandiose aspirations to take the train to Seward and take two days to bike back to Eagle River some time next year, so I've GOT to be prepared. If 8 miles wiped me out, there's no way I'd be able to bike from Seward to Eagle River and live!
All caught up on the posts now. Time to take a breather. My fingers are tired! Writing all this was almost as exhausting as the bike ride. And yet, I'm still loving every minute in Alaska! I'm so lucky to live here!