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What’s there to do in Alaska?

posted at 3:11 am
on Jun. 15, 2009

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Lots of you have asked me, what’s there to do in Alaska?

Maybe the question is: What *isn’t* there to do in Alaska!

Because there are a LOT of answers to that question!  You can’t find foreign food, you can’t safely go out without a sweater, you can’t be a happy vegetarian, you can’t drive a convertible, you can’t be from Alaska, you can’t tell time by the sun without also knowing the month, you can’t be ignorant of nature—or for that matter, even be un-awed by it.

You can, however, kill a significant amount of what becomes your diet.  You can travel several hundred miles to buy a new pair of pants.  You can know your neighbours, and you can know that you don’t have neighbours.  You can see a moose in your underwear.

You can live in a state that is three times bigger than Texas, that has the same population as Vancouver and Burnaby put together.  You can live in Hoonah,  on an island that has more bears than people.

You can own your own private gold mine.  You can go to Skagway, the gateway to the Yukon gold rush, a cruise ship destination, where half the stores in town are now jewelry stores for tourist—the tourists being the gold that the locals are now “mining.”

But most of all, you can see nature, in its power and glory, in living things that crawl and fly and munch their way across the forests. You can touch twisted, stunted plants that endure in windy cold passes, plants that witnessed the first explorers and prospectors to pass that way, and are still today the same sad size.

Alaska is a place you go to be alone, to see a place where history is still being written from raw materials by mavericks, iconoclasts, wood trolls and dreamers.

* * *

My trip to Alaska was split into two parts: First was Anchorage and the trip to Denali National Park.  Second was the cruise down the Alaskan panhandle coast.  The cruise will be a separate blog post, so if you’re just interested in that, you can stop reading here and go make yourself some nachos, and catch up with us in the next post.

The plane ride to Alaska was long and dreadful.  My sickness made the awful process of modern air travel even more awful-ish.  I had caught mono several weeks earlier, and while I was able to travel, I was not able to travel with my brain engaged, so Susie was in charge of such things as gate numbers and where my passport was.

Anyway, from Anchorage, we took a train ride to Denali, riding in the Gold Coach which had a glass ceiling.  We saw moose, black bear, swan and duck on our trip, and also had a fantabulous view of Mt. McKinley, now called Mt. Denali, the tallest mountain in North America.  It stood out so much higher than the mountains around, it reminded me of Fist of God from Larry Niven’s Ringworld.

The tiny stretch of civilization on the edge of the road on the edge of Denali consists of two large competing lodge campuses, and across the highway a collection of tourist shops: t-shirts, ulu blades, yarn, ice cream, scarves, socks, and various camping things.

At the lodge, you could each day go off and do an excursion.  I did only one: Husky Homestead, which was a visit to the Alaska husky training and breeding compound of Jeff King, five-time winner of the famous dog race, the Iditarod.

The Husky Homestead was amazing: As you get off the tour bus, each visitor is handed a weeks old puppy, eyes not even open, which you can coo over, pet, swap with others, and eventually hand back to the handlers.  So CUTE!  We got a great picture of the five of us all holding puppies: Susie, sister Debbie, mom Jan, dad Phil, and me.

King’s presentation and the whole training facility was damn impressive, and very well done.  I learned a lot about dog racing and the absolutely horrific conditions of endurance that you have to go through to even just finish, let alone win.

The other Gardners also went on a river rafting trip, wearing full dry suits because of the ice-temperature water of the glacier-fed river, and on a wilderness tour of Denali Park itself.

The lodge itself was very n.s.g. (not so good)—very low quality rooms and the mattress was one of the worst I’ve ever slept on, which was a shame, because I was sleeping a majority of the time.

We then took the bus back to Alaska, driving by a bus driver named Mike who talked NON-STOP for five hours to narrate the trip.  A quick day of touristing in Anchorage, where I discovered I really like Irish grandfather shirts and I ate a reindeer hot dog from a street vendor.

The next day, we caught the bus to Seward, which is a totally funky looking tiny little town that exists mainly to be a cruise (and other) ship docking spot.  I wish we could have spend a day there.

Getting on the boat required just a quick display of a passport (little confusion there, quickly resolved) and a free chocolate chip cookie and health questionnaire that I answered truthfully but still felt bad about getting on board with mono.

The ship set sail at 9 p.m. and bam, we were afloat!

To be continued.



Previous entry:
A Musical Metaphor

Next entry:
A Grand Voyage


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