I’ve barely been home for 48 hours, and people are already clamoring for photos! I know I had a whole day off yesterday, but I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped because I slept until almost 1:00 p.m. (I was a little tired from lack of sleep on our red eye flight back from Anchorage.) Yep, I slept through the whole tropical storm, which wasn’t much of a storm — Edouard took a turn and came ashore east of us, so the weather in Clear Lake was nothing more than about 2 inches of rain and some wind. It had stopped raining by mid-afternoon, so I ran for the first time since the day we left for Alaska. Man, the weather was nice! Edouard cooled things off for a day. I ran with Jose, who has decided to give running another try. We both have the goal of losing 10 pounds by Thanksgiving. (Amazingly, I only gained 1 pound in Alaska — a relief given the massive quantities of good fish that I ate and good microbrews that I drank.) We ran 3 minutes and walked 3 minutes, and after a half hour we’d completed just over 2 miles. Nice and easy for me, perhaps too much so, but I do like running with Jose!
There’s so much to share, and I think the best way is going to be doing this in four parts: our first couple days in Anchorage, our day trip to Seward, our three days in Denali National Park, and our final two days in Anchorage. So here we go with part 1!
We took all of Friday the 25th off work, and it was really nice to be able to relax that day and get ready for the trip without feeling like I was in a packing frenzy. I managed to avoid my standard pre-trip anxiety almost entirely, which I think was aided by that relaxing day. We left for Intercontinental at 3:00, which was just early enough to avoid rush hour traffic. Parked, rode the shuttle to the terminal, dropped off our bags, and it was time to go! Our flight made a 1-hour stop on the ground in Seattle, and we had the most amazing view of the Cascades as we flew in. Mt. Rainier was right beneath our wing, and Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood (my best guess at what the other three were) were all visible in the distance to the south. It was a truly amazing view.
The sun set while we were on the ground in Seattle, and the horizon was pink fading slowing into blue as we took off for Anchorage. Here’s the weird part: that twilight remained almost entirely unchanged for the entire 3 hour flight to Anchorage! We were essentially following the sun, and heading far enough north that it couldn’t completely set. It didn’t start to get dark until after we were on the ground — and mind you, we weren’t on the ground until 11:30 pm! It was like we were stuck in a world of endless twilight, and the sensation was very strange.
It was almost 1 am before we finally got to bed, but here’s the even weirder thing — we were strangely not feeling very tired, despite the fact that it was now 4 am Houston time and we basically hadn’t slept at all on the plane. We had to close all the shades to keep the light out (though the sky darkened, it never got to a point I’d call fully dark) but we finally fell asleep and didn’t bother to set an alarm. We woke up around 8:30 the next morning, feeling pretty good. The time difference never got to us too much, and after bumming around our hotel room for a few hours (I even caught the recap of the Iron Girl triathlon on TV!) it was time to head out into Anchorage.
In January, Alaska will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its statehood, and plans for the celebration are obviously underway. There were banners across the main streets, and t-shirts for sale in all the stores. The “We’re In” headline comes from one of the state’s newspapers, which published that headline after the vote passed to make Alaska the 49th state.
Jose’s friend Meryl had recommended a handful of restaurants for us, and most of them were microbrews. I couldn’t help but think of JD each time I sampled a new beer! 🙂 On our first day in Alaska, we had lunch at Moose’s Tooth, a popular pizza place. They were setting up in their parking lot for a big 12th anniversary party that night featuring Wilco — which we could’ve heard from our hotel room if we hadn’t been at the wedding was that night! Jose won the lunch round of eating by ordering the halibut pizza, which sounded strange but was actually quite tasty. I tried the raspberry wheat beer, which was good enough, but not as good as I’d hoped. Jose had their regular hefeweizen, which was also good, but not as good as BJ’s hef. Still, we were big fans of Moose’s Tooth in general. Great pizzas, good beer.
From lunch, we headed downtown. Anchorage has a market on Saturdays and Sundays in the summer that features all sorts of random items from native Alaskan crafts to animal pelts, food to photography. The selection of stuff for sale was a bit disappointing after what we’d read about it, but we still found some gems. As we were leaving the market, the gray skies opened and it began to rain lightly. We wandered around the downtown area, which is filled with a ton of tourist shops, and got some souvenirs. It was a little strange to see a city where the downtown was so dominated by things for visitors — especially when the tourist season is so short. After a while, we found a cafe and settled in for a little while to warm up with some coffee and cake. The day was a little disappointing in a way that’s hard to explain. We knew we were in Alaska, but we saw no signs of that except for all the tourist shops and postcards. It was so gray and overcast that we couldn’t see a single mountain!
We headed back to the hotel to change clothes, and it was off to Meryl and James’s wedding! They had it at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art which was a very cool location. The ceremony was held in a gallery lined with gorgeous huge paintings of Alaskan scenery, and the reception was held in the main lobby of the museum next to a cool fountain and big staircase. The hallways surrounding the lobby were lined with one of the museum’s current exhibits showcasing Bradford Washburn’s awesome photos of Denali and other Alaska wilderness.
Meryl is one of Jose’s best friends from college, and I’d met both her and her fiance (now husband!) James once before when they were in Houston last year. (They met in grad school at Penn State.) The funny thing is that they are actually moving to Houston in a couple weeks. James is a paleontologist who just got a job with one of the oil companies. Meryl is a geologist, but isn’t sure what she’ll do yet. They want to move back to Alaska eventually, but it will be cool to have them in town for a while.
Meryl is Inuit, and grew up in Unalakleet, a town of less than 1000 people on the west coast of Alaska that’s only accessible by airplane or boat. She had a ton of family members in town for the wedding (which was held in Anchorage mainly because she said it would have taken too long to get everyone into Unalakleet). The coolest part of the ceremony was when all of her family sang a hymn in Inupiaq, their native language.
Later during the reception, we noticed a tub of some strange blue substance on the table next to the cake. Everyone was taking some of it, so Jose and I got some too along with our cake. It looked like blueberry whipped something. We tasted it and it was…interesting. Jose said “I think this has fish in it!” but we had no clue what it actually was. A bit later Meryl came over and explained. It was Eskimo ice cream — made with crisco, canola oil, sugar, berries, and — yes — fish! (Traditionally it’s made with lard and seal oil instead of crisco and canola oil.) You can see it on the right side of this photo. It was definitely a new taste, that’s for sure.
The wedding capped off a great first day in Alaska, and we were pooped by the time we got to bed that night. We got up fairly early the next morning to head to Seward for the day, which I’ll write about in the next blog entry. That night, though, when we got back from Seward, we were able to settle in for two nights at the Lake Hood Inn. I found this place in one of the guidebooks and it was indeed a great little bed and breakfast, right on the shore of Lake Hood, which is the world’s busiest seaplane base. The owner is a pilot himself, and the entire inn (which has only 4 rooms) has an airplane theme. It was the most expensive place we stayed, but also by far the best. The room was lovely, and our balcony overlooked the lake so we could watch planes taking off from the lake. There were even speakers and headsets on the deck that allowed us to listen to the Lake Hood control tower! So it was definitely a cool place for a pilot like Jose and his aerospace girlfriend. 🙂
We slept in on Monday morning since we’d gotten back from Seward quite late, and then headed down the road to visit the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum. The museum was pretty cool and featured a lot of historical items and facts about flying in Alaska, from the early bush pilots to the later days of regional airlines and on to today, when Alaska has one of the highest number of pilots per capita in the world. The sad part of the museum is that while they had many great old planes, a lot of them were in absolutely horrible shape. They’re doing the best they can, but they need a lot more money and time to get all of their aircraft restored.
After the museum, we had a late lunch at the Glacier Brewhouse. Jose won again, with a delicious salmon burger. I had the fish and chips, which were great, but I paid for eating such a large amount of heavily fried food later on with a stomachache! And of course, for JD — I had the hefeweizen, while Jose had the amber ale. Both good, again. We never had a bad beer in Alaska, that’s for sure.
After picking up some snacks in preparation for our journey into interior Alaska, we headed back to spend the rest of the evening relaxing at the Lake Hood Inn. The place was just that comfy! And we got a great view of the sunset. For the record, this photo was taken at about 11:00 pm!
Here’s a slideshow of the full set of photos from our first two days in Anchorage. If you’re reading via RSS, you may have to come to the site to see them — or just check Flickr.