Alaska

Above photo: Postcard views from Kachemak Bay

May 2017

Snapshot

  • Total cost for a 5-day excursion to Alaska: $1,800
  • Towns: Anchorage, Cooper Landing, Homer, Kachemak Bay
  • Weather: high 30s in the mornings and evenings
  • Sunset: ~ 11:30pm

This is one of my meatier blog posts, simply because Alaska has such deep meaning for me. I’ve had a love affair with Alaska way before I even visited. My fondness grew after watching animal shows, documentaries, movies, even reality shows (“Alaska Last Frontier” is the best).

I‘m captivated by Alaska’s vastness, untouched beauty, and low population. It was on my bucket list, and although I only saw the areas south of Anchorage, I was grateful for the chance to experience it. Next time, I’m seeing Denali.

Beluga Point, in Anchorage.

When I stepped off the plane in Anchorage, there was a giant floor-to-ceiling glass wall that faced the mountains and I literally gasped. The airport was completely empty. Welcome to Alaska! I knew it was going to be an awesome trip and I was excited.

I rented a car, a rugged Subaru 4×4, during my time in Alaska and realized pretty quickly that my cell service did not work there. I really was off the grid. There are no Sprint towers in Alaska. I called and some customer service agent in the Philippines confirmed. No cell towers. Also, WiFi isn’t the best in Alaska. I barely received any signal at my cabin. Guess it’s time to truly enjoy nature at it’s best, without technology getting in the way.

When I was in Cooper Landing, I went to the local grocery store/coffee shop/laundromat/wine shop/diner that had free WiFi. I’m not kidding. Those things were all rolled into ONE store.

And the guys who occupied the diner section wore overalls, flannel shirts, drove trucks and had massive beards. Oh the Alaskan stereotypes come to life!

Luckily, roads in Alaska aren’t complicated and traffic is non-existent. I found out that I could Google map my destination while I was within WiFi range, and then jump in my car and drive there. The maps still work but if you veer off course, it doesn’t redirect you.

It was a good heads up in case I ever experienced the same thing on a future trip.

Homer Alaska

So I proceeded to go two hours south for my first few nights in Cooper Landing, where I would try to catch some king salmon. It was the start of the king salmon fishing season, which, I was told was not the most promising, but hey, you never know.

This was on my drive back to Anchorage.

Cooper Landing

As I drove the two hours down to Cooper Landing, the ocean was on my right, with huge snow capped mountains on its perimeter. I took a few photos on my phone as I drove (there are no cars in Alaska so I deemed it safe), and listened to my audiobook. It was about productivity. (Gotta learn how to be productive while I travel!)

Heavenly Lodge, Cooper Landing Alaska

It was chilly, ok it was cold, much colder than I had anticipated, especially in Cooper Landing. It was barely 38 degrees when I arrived. The cabin I rented was on a larger property that was absolutely stunning.

There were three other cabins nearby, but I wouldn’t call them rugged cabins, I was basically “glamping.” There was a hot tub sitting on the back deck. Doesn’t get more glamporicious than that.

The first day I drove around town, down the only main road and ate at a restaurant that had just opened for the season. They served wild salmon, so, hoping it might get some king salmon mojo-good-vibes going for my fishing trip the following day, I ordered it. I imagined it to taste much better than it did, and I was slightly disappointed because it tasted just like the salmon in the lower 48.

Wild salmon with ginger, grilled veggies and some kind of potato thing.

The restaurant was made of wood and had a cabin-like, lodge feel to it. It sat right on the Kenai River, which, in the summer, I’d imagine the sun-filled patio would be filled with jolly, beer-drinking lumberjacks.

Kenai River, Alaska

I enjoyed my meal, had a glass of wine, and drove back to my lovely cabin. It was late May, so the sun was setting at around 11-11:30pm.

Hell yes.

I decided to check out the hot tub — which sat out on an awesome Alaskan deck, looking over a lovely forest of trees. Going for a dip when it’s freezing out, both uncomfortable (I didn’t want to come out) and exhilarating.

King Salmon Fishing

I think Gary saw that I was freezing, so after shivering for the first four hours, he handed me this wind-proof fishing outfit. Underneath, I was wearing a winter coat, with at least three layers of clothing and I was still freezing.
  • I went with Alaska River Adventures.
  • Cost for a 7-hour fishing excursion on the Kenai river: $295
  • In late May, it was in the low 40s on the river. Don’t even ask me about the wind!
  • Fishing superstition: Never bring bananas on the boat, and never, ever talk about the wind or rain while you’re on the boat.

The next day, I woke up and got ready for my salmon fishing excursion. I had no idea what to expect, but I didn’t think it would be a blistering 38 degrees when I stepped outside.

The fishing company was just down the street, and I was greeted by a most rugged-looking Alaska man with a white beard named Gary.

Gary told me that under no circumstances was I allowed to bring my two bananas on the boat. He said it was bad luck. I had never heard of such a thing, but maybe he was right, since we sat on that damn river for almost seven hours and caught nothing. OK, I caught this little bottom feeder…

My bottom feeder fish was the highlight of my day. I made Gary hold on to it for a second while I snapped a photo. You’re probably wondering why that bucket in the photo has hot pink water in it. We used salmon roe as bait, and it was all clumpy and gooey and weird looking. We used the water in the bucket to wash off the gooey mess from our hands.

The boat was literally just a row boat with a motor on the back. I was surprised, scared and excited all at once. But mostly surprised. At one point, after pestering Gary because I was a bit bored, he let me row. I could not get the two oars to line up properly so I kept veering off to one side, or going in circles. I mostly got laughed at by Gary and Zack.

We saw some young bald eagles perched along the river. So cool.

Our humble little boat being maneuvered into the Kasilof River. Salmon here we come!

If I had one way to explain this day, it would be that I forced myself to get out of my comfort zone and do something that I normally would have avoided — being cold all day (I hate being cold), not catching a damn thing, being surrounded by gooey, dirty things on the boat… and on top of that, I had to pee at least five times, so we had to keep pulling ashore.

But I’m glad I did it and I can say I actually went salmon fishing in Alaska.

Horseback riding on a 2,000 pound giant

I stayed in Cooper Landing for one more night and headed to Homer the next day. I decided on Homer because it was near Kachemak Bay, which is where Jewel’s family on the reality show “Alaska Last Frontier” live. (Yes, Jewel, the singer Jewel.)

Don’t judge me, I love that show, and it was one of the main inspirations for my Alaskan adventure.

Just me n’ Liberty. No, that’s not a sword coming out of my back (I wish it was). Ron gave me the most disgusting, dirty, weather-stained coat to wear, in case it rained. It was like wearing a cardboard jacket. But it makes me look like kind of a badass in the photo…

I had booked plans to go horseback riding on a 2,000-pound Percheron draft horse through the forest. Well, it used to be a forest, but there was a big fire a few years ago, so much of the vegetation was burnt to a crisp.

The horseback meeting point was literally off the grid. My Google maps stopped working at some point. The blue dot just stayed in one spot on the app while the display of the map became blank.

There was also no more road, it was all rocks and dirt. I drove in about a good five miles before seeing Ron, which seemed endless when you’re fearing the worst for your tires.

I had an interesting conversation with Ron during our ride, and he shared his personal story about how he ended up in Alaska.

I rode a gentle and thunder of a horse called Liberty. It’s the horse Ron uses to go hunting, so I felt like this adventure was a treat, since I’ve only really been on raggedy-looking trail horses that don’t listen and eat incessantly on the trails. It’s pretty sad.

Ron’s horses were not sad. They were Alaskan horses!

Liberty gets saddled up.

After signing some waiver paperwork and putting on my horseman’s raincoat, we were off.

Liberty was so massive, she just trampled over small trees and large bushes. At times, I had to lift my legs into the saddle so my jeans wouldn’t get torn from the sharp branches. I imagined Liberty to get a stabbed, or at the least, suffer a bad cut as she bulldozed through, but surprisingly, she was just fine.

We rode through the dry Alaskan valley. It drizzled slightly, and I noticed there were no trails. We just rode wherever Ron led us. The air was cold, and my hands were frozen, even though I came somewhat prepared with my thin Isotoner gloves.

Getting to know Ron

While we rode, I couldn’t take my eyes off the vast Alaskan valley, and in the distance, Ron pointed out his house to me. He built it himself, and I learned that Ron was quite the entrepreneur. He had a dozen or so apple orchards, and also grew tomatoes and other fresh fruits and veggies that he’d sell at the farmer’s market every weekend.

He said he would use the farmer’s market as a way to get tourists to ride his horses. He told me a really fat, short southern woman rode Justice and fell off. Twice. He chuckled, “Do you know how hard it is to get a round 200-pound woman on a horse that tall?!”

Big. Burly. Beard. That’s Ron. He grew up in Washington state and has lived in Alaska since the ’90s.

When I asked Ron why he decided to move to Alaska, he said he had always been some what of an outsider, and wanted the freedom to do as he pleased, especially with his land. According to Ron, living this way meant the greedy hand of Uncle Sam stayed out of his pockets.

I asked if he ever felt lonely, being so far from civilization, and he scoffed. He told me that he’s quite the social guy. Being isolated is a relative term.

He went on to say he’s very involved in his town, teaches kids at the local community center, sells his fruits and veggies on weekends at the farmer’s market, and has many close friends that he visits often. When he goes hunting for moose, he always shares it with his peeps.

Speaking of moose, I was utterly disappointed when I discovered that you can’t actually sit down at a restaurant and order up some moose. You need to know a guy who hunts. He told me he literally just ran out of moose, but if he had some, he would’ve been happy to share it with me. Damn.

As we rode back to the stable, Ron told me other ideas he had for his horse-riding business, one of which involved drones that would take photos of patrons while they rode Liberty or Justice.

I liked Ron. He was definitely a character, and I learned a lot from our two hours together on our relaxing ride.

When we finished, he removed the saddles from the horses and to my surprise, they rolled around in the grass, like dogs! Except, unlike dogs, when they got back on their feet, you could hear a deep thud from the giant hooves making contact with the ground. So cool.

I got to see these gentle giants grazing without their saddles on. So cute!

Ron took out a ziplock bag of frosted mini wheats and called the horses over for a treat… because, what else do 2,000-pound draft horses like to snack on? He handed some over to me and they ate (and slobbered) all over my hands, and all over the front of my vest too.

I thanked him and ran to the cleanest, most serene outhouse ever (Ron built it for his wife), and jumped in my Subaru.

Off to my next adventure!

A zen-like outhouse that even had a skylight. I thought the plants were a nice touch.

Homer, here I come

The town in Homer, with a few restaurants and shops.

With my audiobook playing, I headed south to Homer. I planned on checking the Homer Spit, which is a skinny strip of land with shops, restaurants, and bars.

It’s a gathering place for locals and tourists from other parts of Alaska. I talked to a couple from Juno who were on their honeymoon.

It was the most populated place I had been since arriving to Alaska. Even Anchorage wasn’t this crowded.

This is a cute dive bar right on the Spit.

I parked the car and walked around the strip. There were plenty of souvenir shops, restaurants, guided tours you could sign up for, and bars.

Homer Spit

I decided to buy some local coffee — a giant bag of beans for $20. I usually buy up some of the local coffee or tea when I travel.

Juneberry Lodge

In Homer, stayed at a place called Juneberry Lodge. The owners were a lovely couple from Seattle who purchased the home from an old woman in her 90s named June.

They turned it into a bed and breakfast.

My room was comfortable and the windows faced a hill with trees. The next morning in the kitchen, I met the other guests in the house, and we ate pancakes drizzled in wild blueberry syrup (Alaskan made), drank coffee and exchanged our “what we’re doing in Alaska” stories.

Fritz Creek, Alaska on my way to see Voznesenka.

Many of the guests were off to go kayaking or to see the glaciers. One guest from Chicago was with his elderly father, who flew in from Sicily. It was an epic, 20-hour journey, or something crazy! They said they had tried to go fishing, but it was too windy, and everyone on the boat became massively sea sick.

Another woman said she lost her cell phone while she was hiking. It just fell out of her pocket and fell between some rocks, lost forever.

The owner of the lodge told me about a secluded Russian village called Voznesenka 15 miles “at the end of the road” near Kachemak Selo. Little did he know he was talking to the girl who is fascinated by all things isolated. (North Korea, anyone?)

I had to see it. So I drove down, and I happened to see a young moose on the road, the second one I saw since driving through Alaska.

I slowly followed the moose as far as I could go, and kind of felt like I was doing some version of a drive-by, but without any guns or violence.

Homer moose, walking along the side of the road.

The drive there and the surrounding views were hands down, THE most monumental thing I’d ever encountered. It was simply breathtaking. It was so expansive. It had just rained too, so the heavy skies added drama to the beautiful landscape below.

I had to stop periodically to take pictures.

On my way to the Russian village. Can you imagine if you lived in that village below and woke up to that kind of scenery every day? Yeah. Me neither.

I made it to the end, and drove through the secluded town. There were small homes alongside dirt roads, with giant trucks parked outside.

I felt like people driving by were giving me weird looks, but maybe I was just paranoid because the owner of the lodge told me the residents in the village don’t like outsiders. Since then, I heard this was absolutely not true.

Anchorage, the place I wanted to like

This is the only Apple Store in the world that has more employees than customers. And the only Apple Store in the world without a wait at the Genius Bar.

After Homer, I stayed in Anchorage for a night before my flight back home. Staying in the city was interesting because it’s not really a city… but it is.

I decided to walk around, since my hotel was in the middle of downtown, and close to the mall.

Oh. They have an Apple Store here.

Nordstrom’s half yearly sale was like a ghost town.

It was like the zombies had passed through town and killed everyone, except there were no bodies, and no zombies.

I used points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve and stayed at the Sheraton, I think? Either way it was a nice room.

Anchorage wasn’t my favorite, but staying there was a sweet culmination to a short, action-packed five days in Alaska.

This was the view of Anchorage. When I snapped the photo, it was well past 10pm.

Here’s where I went in Alaska:

4 thoughts on “Alaska

  1. I really like the story about the banana superstitions, but last the great photos. I’ve been blogging about Alaska, but only in a humorous, fantasy way. Now I’ll have more facts to play around with. A really nice read all in all.

    Like

    1. Hey, thanks for reading! Alaska was definitely the highlight of my year, and it was such a nice change of pace from city life. When you say you write about it in a “fantasy way” does that mean you have yet to visit?

      Like

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