Alaska

As the four of us left anchorage in the pouring rain in route to our cabin just north of the entrance to Denali national park, we all wondered how much extra time would be spent stopping to see the beautiful scenery or wildlife.  We were finally on our own with no other tourists aboard a cruise ship or train, so we had the luxury of being on our own time.  There probably were majestic mountains and wildlife but they could not be seen through the downpour we were driving through.   Turns out there would only be two stops made, one was to use the restroom.  The other was an emergency pit stop.  There we were driving along when a sign appeared on the side of the road that read “49th State Brewery”, so you can imagine the urgency to pull in and explore.  To those of you who know craft beer and know us, we had found the Lagunitas of Alaska, yes we had struck gold!  We enjoyed some of their tasty brew and food, and thought it was probably good that our cabin was not too close to this establishment.  Inside was very cozy, with a fireplace that you could sit around and enjoy.  Outside, there were games and horseshoe pits as well as the bus from the movie “Into The Wild”.  This must be a locals favorite in the winter during a snowstorm. Finally, five hours after we left anchorage, we arrived at the driveway to Ridge Top Cabins where we would continue up the mile or more dirt road that winds up the hill from highway 3 to the top of a beautiful ridge full of aspens, birch, and spruce trees.  Our cabin (number 6) was a nice little two bedroom, surrounded by a lot of trees, many of which were marked up by the resident bull moose who seemed to evade our searching eyes.  This was base camp for the next three nights as we would explore one of the most magnificent pieces of land in the world.

Inside 49th State Brewery

Inside 49th State Brewery

The "Into The Wild " bus

The “Into The Wild ” bus @ the 49th State Brewery

We had all seen Denali National Park in movies and magazines, but as with most things, pictures or video don’t do justice to a place of such grand stature.  On the first day, we went for it and entered the heart of the park on one of the famous green shuttle buses that takes you from the park entrance to as far as ninety plus miles to the end of the only road that runs through the park.  The end of that road would not be seen by our eyes though, as we traveled sixty six miles to the visitors center at Eielson.  On our round trip from the wilderness access center, we encountered three female grizzlies each with a set of cubs, two male grizzlies, a female moose with a calf, a coyote, a golden eagle, a few ground squirrels, several ptarmigan (Alaska’s state bird) pronounced tar-ma-gen, some Dahl sheep dots way up on the mountainside and somewhere around thirty caribou, but we saw enough of those that the bus driver would only stop if they were very close to the road.  In fact after we stopped for one near the road, we had to wait because it had walked up on the road and continued down the middle passed another bus and only after he got off on his exit were we able to continue on.  We would not join the thirty percent of visitors to see  “The Mountain” on this day as clouds would hang low in the valley in front of Denali.

The Denali shuttle bus

The Denali shuttle bus

Female grizzly with cub.  Can you spot the cub?

Female grizzly with cub. Can you spot the cub?

Female moose with baby

Female moose with baby 

We would return  the next day to watch a sled dog demonstration and learn about their history in the park which is quite interesting because to this day they still patrol the park in winter without machines and only raw paw power.  After the demonstration we headed back into the park with hopes of spotting more wildlife, but this time we drove the car in the fourteen miles that cars are permitted.  We were not disappointed as we spotted two bull moose on the way in and one on the way out, all were feeding close to the road as if they were planted there by the park so that visitors would get enticed to enter and see what lie inside the park.

A hard working Denali sled dog

A hard working Denali sled dog 

As we drove south toward Anchorage on our final day, we all were amazed at how people journeyed so far into the unknown on foot to explore this rugged and unforgiving land, knowing there was a chance they may not return.  We however, would return in the luxury of a vehicle traveling much faster than they would have and it still felt like it was taking forever.  It may have been the season we were traveling in that was making the trip longer than it should have.  You see, there are three seasons in Alaska, spring, winter, and construction.  We were in the latter.  But on this day, we would join those thirty percent who come to Alaska and see the mountain known as “Denali”.  We were able to see it from two different vistas along highway 3 thanks to the research Simone had done finding which mile markers you could see it from.  Denali is an amazing mountain with an equally amazing park that lies beneath it’s snow capped peaks.  We are so thankful to those that came before us and took note of this paradise, and fought to preserve it for future generations.  Let’s hope that this fight continues for those that come after us.

Denali

Denali

August 6th we arrived in our next port, Juneau on our Alaskan Cruise.  Juneau the capital of Alaska, which is only accessible by boat or plane, proved to be the perfect place for a float plane adventure.  Before Jay and his dad boarded the plane, the four of us spent the morning exploring the Glacier Gardens.  This amazing fifty acre garden and forest featured upside down trees.  The owner has placed downed trees upside down in the ground and planted amazing flowers up top in the roots.  It was really a sight to see!  We hopped onto a tram and made our way up from sea level to 600 feet, watching the scenery and climate change as we made our way to the top.  From the view-point at the top we saw a bald eagle and learned a little more about the city.  The tram took us back down and our driver explained the area, local plants and the gardens history.  Once we made it down to the bottom we called a taxi to head back into the city.  On our way to the gardens we were told to take the 10 minute city bus, which ended up taking 45 minutes, the taxi ride back ended up being much more direct!

Upside down tree at Glacier Gardens

We grabbed a quick lunch at the Red Dog Saloon, which is one of the oldest running establishments in Juneau, dating back to the early mining days.  The food was nothing to write home about, but they had cold beer and an interesting onslaught of old time decor to look at like funny signs, old guns and animals hanging on the wall.  It didn’t matter if you spilled your drink because the two inches of sawdust that lined the floor would soak up any liquid before it reached the wood.  After lunch, Simone and Jay’s mom walked through town like most other tourists in search of souvenirs they just couldn’t live without, while Jay and his father went on a much anticipated float plane trip.  It couldn’t have been a more perfect day to fly over some of the most majestic landscape either one of them had ever seen.  Like every other part of this trip, words nor pictures can do justice, this is something you have to experience first hand.  If the taking off and landing on the water wasn’t cool enough, flying over five different glaciers and through a mountain range covered in snow as your face is plastered to your own window was.  Jay’s dad said he wanted to do it because he thought Jay would like it.  Jay said he wanted to do it because he thought his dad wanted to do it.  In reality, it was just two boys wanting to play with a new toy.  Now they’re both trying to find one for sale in the classifieds.

Inside the Red Dog Salloon

Inside the Red Dog Saloon

Our float plane

Our float plane

Flying over a glacier

Flying over a glacier

The next stop was Skagway and as we pulled into port looking out from our balconies, we spotted more whales working the shoreline on the far side directly across from the ship. Skagway was a port that if you didn’t have something planned or maybe just wanted to walk around, this was probably not the port for you.  Other than the train going up into the mountains, which we passed on since we were going on one to anchorage, there wasn’t a lot to do or see there.  Correction, there were a ton of Sara Palin signs to see.  We did walk by the stream and watch the salmon swimming up to spawn and walked around the town, which had the same stores as every other port.  The fishing sounded good, but a line was never cast.  If we really wanted a fish we could have reached down and grabbed one in the stream, it was loaded.   We decided to head back on board, eat lunch, play some cards and throw back a couple of drinks.

Fish traps in Skagway so the eggs could be extracted for the hatchery.

Fish traps in Skagway so the eggs could be extracted for the hatchery.

Our next destination was one of great anticipation all across the ship.  Hubbard Glacier was not a destination that we would stop at, but was one that we would cruise by in route to Seward, our final destination.  We were told we may not get too close depending on the ice.  Turns out the ship would get within one mile of the glacier despite a foggy and rain soaked day, the closest they had gotten all season!   A mile might sound like a long way, but not when you’re talking about something the size of a Glacier.  We were able to witness the calving off of ice and see the immense wave it created.  Yet another part of this trip where you felt like you were on a National Geographic show.

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier

The ship would spend the remainder of the day and night cruising to our final port, Seward, where we would catch the Alaskan Railroad to anchorage.  That evening, we enjoyed a final dinner with the staff at Blu and a show in the theatre to end our wonderful time on the ship.  We pulled into a drenched Seward and prepared to disembark, which in cruising terms means get all of your stuff ready and wait, then wait, and finally wait some more.  After being cleared to leave, we headed over to the very small train depot to get our tickets to anchorage.  We needed to get on the internet and would have to eat lunch at some point.  One of the baggage handlers pointed us in the direction of the Breeze Inn Restaurant because we would have most of the day to wait around until the train departed.  At the Breeze Inn we were able to relax for as long as we wanted, use the wi-fi, eat, throw back some fine Alaskan beers and Jay and his dad even got to play some pool, something they hadn’t done in years but used to do all the time.  If you like craft beers and ever get a chance to try some Moose Tooth Raspberry Wheat, don’t pass it up.  With its location so close to the Kenai Peninsula and Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward is a place that we definitely want to come back and explore.

North to Anchorage aboard the Alaskan Railroad

North to Anchorage aboard the Alaskan Railroad

We boarded the train at 5pm for a departure up to Anchorage at 6pm.  We were lucky enough to be seated in a quiet car with just 16 seats!  The other cars appeared to have many more seats and were quite a bit noisier.  The 4 hour journey passed through amazing scenery including waterfalls, lakes, and rivers.  It was a nice way to see more of Alaska and much better than driving ourselves.  Since it didn’t get dark until around 10pm we kept our eyes peeled for wildlife.  Although bears had been spotted just days earlier, we only had the pleasure of seeing a few bald eagles.  Quick tip:  bring your own food onboard!  Other than some good kettle corn there wasn’t much to eat in the meal car.

We boarded the Celebrity Millennium on August 2nd from Vancouver BC at the Canada Place terminal.  We quickly went through customs and security, checked in and got onboard.  The ship was beautiful and the crew friendly from the start.  Our Aqua Class balcony rooms (9062 and 9064) on the 9th floor were the perfect size and had everything we needed!  Since we were in an Aqua Class room we were able to dine in Blu for breakfast and dinner each day.  Blu was a much smaller, intimate dining room and served a healthier fare than the main dining room.  The food in the Blu Aqua class restaurant was top-notch, we all enjoyed every single meal there.  Our room stewards, a married couple, Michael and Sarah from the Philippines were so nice and friendly and our waiters Rajesh and Wasim from India were exceptional.  We were amazed at how they all remembered us by name starting that next morning!  There were over 60 nationalities present in the crew and our restaurant staff joked that it was like the United Nations.

Our room on the Millenium

Our room on the Millennium to Alaska

Inside Blu, our restaurant during the cruise.

Inside Blu, our restaurant during the cruise.

Our first port of call was Ketchikan, Alaska.  Jason and his dad wanted to do a float plane, but everything on board was already sold out.  We (Simone and Jason) ended up going sea kayaking in the Tatoosh Islands.  We boarded a bus and drove 25 minutes outside of town, then boarded a small boat and went another 15 minutes to an island where our kayaks were waiting.  Our guides showed us around the water for an hour and a half before we headed back.  We were amazed at the clear blue water.  We both said it reminded us of the water at Lake Tahoe.  We saw several bald eagles including two immature eagles in a nest and a huge sea lion. Jays parents walked around port and enjoyed some shopping.  That night made for some amazing whale sightings off the ship.  Unfortunately for the biggest sighting we were at dinner, Jays parents caught them though.

Kayaking around the Tatoosh Islands

Kayaking around the Tatoosh Islands

Immature bald eagles in the Tatoosh Islands

Immature bald eagles in the Tatoosh Islands

The next day we arrived at Icy Strait Point.  We took the life boats into land since we were tendered, not docked.  This was a fun place to walk around and watch the zip line come down the mountain.  We really wanted to hop on the zip line but at $140 a person we decided to wait and try to do that in New Zealand.  Jay and his parents explored the Island a bit while Simone enjoyed a massage back onboard.

Icy Straight Point, AK

Icy Strait Point, AK

House

One last look at our house as we drive away.

It’s official, we’re bums!  We are now unemployed, homeless, and happy about it, although I’m sure our parents are a little stressed, but they should be used to it by now.  Several weeks ago, we both put in our last day of work and began preparation for our Around the World Trip  . We put our most prized possessions in storage, sold Jason’s two trucks, had a yard sale to get rid of all the things we thought we needed, handed over the keys to our landlord and drove off with our backpacks to go store Simone’s  car.  As this is being typed, we are sitting in San Francisco International Airport waiting to board our flight to Vancouver where we will meet up with Jay’s parents, do a little sight seeing and board a cruise ship for Alaska!  Stay tuned for more to come from Alaska as we kick off our trip of a lifetime.

We would like thank everyone that had a part in making our moving experience a great one, even those we don’t know  that came to our yard sale and purchased the stuff they couldn’t live without.  We will miss Napa and all of our friends that we have made there.  We love you all and we will be back at some point for a glass of wine, a beer and a block of  cheese to enjoy as tales are told from around the globe.