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Published: July 11th 2009
Thursday, June 18th 2009
This trip to Alaska was born at Red Rock Cafe in Mountain View, when I was talking to my friends K and S one evening not longer than 2 months ago.
For the longest time I wanted to visit the northernmost United State and... here I am! I have a lot of hope in this trip and I know this is not going to disappoint me. The difference between this travelblog and all the past ones is that I'm writing this one live and right now, at 9.49pm, I am on an airplane to Anchorage.
For the very first time in my life we were able to get a deal from the air company (Alaska airlines); we were supposed to fly to Seattle and then Anchorage and instead we got a direct flight (San Francisco to Anchorage), leaving one hour later and arriving one hour earlier and we even got a $100 discount on our next flight! That's the very first time I fly with Alaska airlines but I like it already!
There are four of us in a 6-person RV; my friends (except S) don't mind to pick up hitch-hikers and I
totally up for it, even though you risk to run into some weirdos... but who cares! This is the first real vacation I have been taking for a while (meaning I use actual days off to go somewhere...).
This better be worth it, because I canceled my Argentina trip (planned for December) to go to this amazing state, which was always on my to-go list.
Today I was able to get out of work early (not much going on, really) and... this is going to be a blast!
For this very special occasion I did something I never did in my life: I rented a $3000 worth digital camera; just to make sure the pictures will be fine... I have a Nikon D80 with 2 lenses. One is a super wide angle, ideal for Alaska's view, while the other has a super zoom, which I will hopefully use to photograph Alaska's wildlife...
I must confess I am a bit scared of bears (grizzly...), but I am confident nothing bad is going to happen... I've read on the Lonely Planet guide that - since Denali became a National Park - there has not been one single casualty
because of grizzly bears and most of them are because of stream crossing, which is very typical in all Denali's hikes.
My gear includes the usual GPS, which I'll use to geo-tag the pictures and try to get back from the back-country hikes. Tonight we'll sleep in the RV and tomorrow morning, after doing all the paperworks, we'll be out for Denali National Park. All the shopping for groceries will be done in Anchorage; what I need is: salmon (a lot of it), beer, oatmeal, honey, bagel and creem cheese. All the rest is optional!
So, let's dance! I'll try to update this journal every day, let'ss see if I can keep up with it.
Friday, June 19th 2009
Today I'm typing from Denali Nation Park, a dream that has come true.
Yesterday we got to the the RV rental location little after midnight, catching a cab at the airport with a rather "strange" driver (a city girl, escaped from New York state because of the hectic life and that has a quite "original" point of view of life...).
What really strikes your attention when you get to Anchorage is the amount of light
you find, which - at least for me - was totally unexpected. At 12.00 am there was still sunlight outside and the cab driver told us that the winter is simply too tough because of the extended darkness.
The was is much better than I was expecting; we have any sort of amenity on board, including a TV with DVD player, a barbeque and extra camping chairs. All of us signed up as drivers and I guess it's going to be an experience, since it doesn't happen every day that you drive a 32-foot RV!
I was perfectly aware that Anchorage is just another big american city with all the chains that I'm accustomed to see in the Bay Area, but seeing all the businesses you already know in such a distant location is kind of strange. I often think about the effects of globalization and what will happen in the long run; shopping in Hawaii and Alaska is literally like shopping in San Jose; we went to Carrs, the local name for Safeway (I never understood why, but businesses often change name in different locations); the goods and the isle layout is identical! Maybe that's because it's
Anyway, after loading the RV with food-and-beer (enough for a 10-person expedition to Mount Everest) we hit the road at about 12.00 pm.
We had to be here in Denali, by 7.00 pm because we thought the visitor center was going to close at that time (turns out it closes at 9.00 pm during the summer).
The drive, which is marked as scenic route on the map, is really pretty indeed. Three of us drove the monster RV for nearly 300 miles and we got at the park entrance before 7.
The idea was to visit Talkeetna, a town highly recommended by a friend who came back from a trip to Alaska last week, but unfortunately we missed the turn and we realized it more than 30 miles later, so we opted for cutting it out of the trip for lack of time.
While M. was driving, he pulled out saying "viewpoint for Mount Mc Kinley". I initially thought he was completely wrong, but we were in a spot where, with some luck, one can see the tallest mountain in America from the South-East side. For a second I thought we would be lucky
and actually sight the summit, but thick clouds were covering the monster and we went back to the RV with the same delusion as tons of other turists. When at the end of the small trail that takes to the vista point, we spoke to a guy that said in the last 4 days he could never find a clear day to see the summit, so I guess it was a bit too optimistic for us to believe we could get it at the first attempt.
Cantwell is the only town you can find before the national park entrance, but there was really not much there and we just filled up the RV; we instead had dinner a few miles later, in a pretty nice pizza place that served good beer.
Interesting that almost everybody that was working there for the season is from a different place; our server was from England and I spoke to a girl from the san Francisco Bay Area, who told me they all found the job on Facebook (!!) and they started only a few months ago.
The park really looks beautiful; right now we are the the Teklanika campground and we
In theare not allowed to move our RV for the next two days.
What really cought my attention is how low the tree-line is; the road was at less than 2500 feet (merely 800 meters) and we were just at the limit above which there is no vegetation. Above us, only "bold" mountains. Now I understand why in Denali there are no trails; you simply hike in the open tundra, which does not seem to be a big problem (I hope I didn' speak too early).
This is the first time in years that I use the word "tundra" in a proper way; sometimes for fun, we often misuse this word to refer to completely different types of vegetation. I remember when I was in mid school and the teacher was telling us about the different flora, but I never thought I would experience it any time soon; I proved to be wrong yet another time.
After taking a few shots on the road and parking the RV, we went for a short hike (little more than a mile) and - right now - it's about midnight and it's still light outside. We extensively talked about the
possible hikes for tomorrow and... it's going to be fun!
Saturday, June 20th 2009
Today it's been a hiking day in Denali. We are at the Teklanika campground, which is at mile 30 of the National Park Highway (there is only one road in the entire park).
We thought about exploring the eastern side of the park, which is supposedly less crowded and offers equally nice views. As we were well aware of, no campers are allowed to drive in and out of the park except the arrival and departure date and the efficient bus system will take care of moving people around.
Unfortunately we discovered that brain-dead people make decisions in Alaska, just as well as the rest of the world; our bus, the "camper bus", for some obscure reason is not supposed to take you east from the campground and, even if they erroneausly did, we had no legal way to hitch a ride back. This happened realively late in the morning, since we thought that - because of the long day - we could start hiking in the second half of the morning.
We ended up starting our hike at around 11.00
am, after getting off the bus at Savage River (about 1 hour ride).
The initial elevation was just 2500 feet and our undefinied destination (a ridge called Primm Ridge) was a little above 5000 feet. Hiking in the tundra is pretty pleasant above about 3500 feet, because below that there was some bushwacking to do (nothing difficult at all).
Gaining the ridge was somehow longer than I expected (probably a few hours), but once up there the view of the north part of the park was absolutely amazing. For the very first time since I started hiking I was able to see some mountain sheep (similar to bighorns) and I took quite a few nice shots at them.
My GPS pointed out that "Margaret Mountain", one of the many peaks in Denali National Park, was just a couple of miles away, so we decided to go to the top. Once got there we even found the USGS mark, I was really not expecting that. This is officially the first summit I reached in Alaska! Not a tall one... but a good beginning.
The temperature on the ridge was way lower than at the "trailhead" (the initial
part was a use-trail, but nothing official, since that's policy of the park not to have trails and it's even forbidden to blaze any) and we were not at a big elevation at all; I cannot imagine what kind of weather conditions one may find on top of Mc Kinley.
The way back was easy, but a quite long approach. At one point we had to cross a stream and I removed my shoes; the water was so cold that my feet were hurting after a few seconds, but after I dried them up and wore my socks again I felt much better.
From the road, I hiked all the way back to the campground, making it a mere 12-mile day hike (way shorter compared to what I do back in California), but that was a very good experience.
Dinner was also very sweet: grilled salmon, pasta and ice-cream, accompanied with quite a lot of Alaskan beer (and another weird one that tastes like berry...).
Sunday, June 21st 2009
Today it's been a chilly day for us, involving no phisical activity whatsoever.
The only trouble has been to wake up remarkably early (6.00 am) after
going to bed... not so early.
Simple plan: take a bus that would bring us westbound to Wonder Lake, the official end of the National Park unpaved road. The road is about 80 miles long and we were already at mile 30, but the ride is really long (more than 5 hours one way from where we were).
Initially we were debating why the bus would be so slow, then we understood: the tourist bus stops at every animal sight and - in general - anywhere there is anything worth mentioning. The driver seemed pretty experienced and I was amazed by how he could spot wildlife where I would never in a million years see anything. The guy had a very "scary" voice (he sounded like Batman), but he's been a good guide alltogether.
The first animal we saw was a grizzly bear! He was in a river, walking slowly (then he started running). He may have been 200 meters away, but I was still able to capture a decent picture with the 200mm lens we rented.
Shortly after we the road became more winding and we had a marvelous view of Mount Mc Kinley; I
could not believe my eyes! There was not a single cloud surrounding the highest mountain in America, well known for the thick clouds that wrap its summit almost every day.
I always thought about Mc Kinley as a mountain within a gigantic mountain range, so I never expected it to be so prominent. Actually this candid white summit really distinguishes itself from all the other surrounding mountains (some of them very tall as well).
Later in the bus trip, at a visitor center, there was a model showing the climbing routes; the biggest summit is the South one (there is also a North summit) and... I do not want to know what kind of temperatures one may find up there. When I try to relate climbing Mc Kinley with the "easy" hikes we do in the Sierras I really feel like a little creature in this world.
Continuing the trip we saw a bunch of bold eagles, a beautiful bird typical in the Alaskan sky; then quite a few caribous. Not bad, considering that in Sierra Nevada we hardly see wildlife (even though I was less than 50 feet away from a black bear last year).
Today, the 21st, is the Summer Solstice and we wanted badly to be in Fairbanks, because there is a sort of festival (which we didn't see...) going on. So we decided to "escape" from Denali (we were supposed to stay there one extra day and - in theory - we were not authorized to drive out of the park one day early).
Everything went smooth and we got to Fairbanks for dinner, after picking up some hitch-hikers (one of them lives nearby and works in a farm, so he was telling us how life is in the rigid arctic winter).
An excellent dinner of blackened salmon started our night out, which finished in a local dive bar where we found some crazy people from San Francisco who rode a motorcycle up here (and I hope to join them for some adventures in the future).
As of this writing, we are in a campground near downtown, it's 1.55am and... it's still light outside!
I am not still clear what's coming up for the next days, but it will certainly be worth it!
Monday, June 22nd 2009
This morning we definitely slept till late in Fairbanks and I
totally needed it. For the longest time I thought that sleeping during a vacation was kind of wasted time, but maybe I'm getting old... and I really needed to get some of the energies back.
We had brunch in a nice place where we had flat bread (pizza) and some pastries; for the occasion, my friend's old friend and her husband - who live in Fairbanks - joined us and we started talking about "Alaska facts". I discovered that the temperature in winter in Fairbanks gets at -40 (interesting that -40F=-40C, FYI). I also discovered that most cars have a plug in the front to pre-heat the vehicle before driving and that there is a place in Fairbanks that for few bucks let you experience -40 degrees (they give you the proper clothing...).
In these 4 days I had several chances to speak to the locals and every time I had a conversation with them I stated I could not survive the Alaskan winter (one of them said that when winter comes, Fairbanks becomes Alaska and not anymore United States). Quite incredibly, all of them claimed it's not nearly as bad as I was saying and they loved
winter as much as summer!
There are many cross-country skiers and snowshoers that take advantage of the fresh powder which arrives punctual every year (even though Fairbanks, compared to other places in Alaska, has little precipitations) and, due to the snow reflectivity, despite the very few daylight hours (less than three) outdoors activities are possible (full moon helps a lot).
Once again, we changed completely our program for the day and headed to Chena Hot Springs, which was not supposed to happen until evening.
We took a 15-mile hike, apparently pretty popular, to a place called Granite Tors. I also learned a new word: a "tor" is a rock formation (I had no clue about it).
The approach was rather long and the elevation gain about 3000 feet; I must confess it was nothing spectacular and part of the trail (which was well marked and maintained) was muddy and wet.
I kind of have this impression: if a place is nice, but not great, it becomes a state park; if it is spectacular, it becomes a national park. I guess the same rule-of-thumb applies in California, too.
Once we gained the plateau where the tors
were I just had fun shooting a few pictures; having time and people that appreciate rock climbing, it would be a nice boulder to get on top of some of the tors (even though they are rather tall for regular bouldering).
Mosquitos were worse than usual; one woman from Fairbanks that we found on the trail and finished the hike with us said that was a "moderate" amount of mosquitos, but for me it was really hell (on a side, that woman has been in Barrow and she was telling me a bit about it... I will go there one day!).
The great reward has been to go to the hot springs (the resort is only half hour from the trailhead) and soak in the super-hot water for about one hour; it seems all the mosquito bites went away after my pores opened because of the hot water (few minutes after going to the RV, I got new bites and all the good effects of the surfure water have been nullified...).
We are still in Chena Hot Springs and we parked just a couple of hours ago in an RV park/campground. We spent quite some time talking
about the program for the next days and... there may be some changes compared to the original schedule.
Tuesday, June 23rd 2009
After waking up in Chena Hot Springs this morning, I headed out the RV and shot a few pictures of the little resort.
The take-away from Chena Hot Springs is that they produce geothermal energy (they use the heat source - the water - to get the power) and they are completely self-sufficient. Also, they were pioneers here in Alaska and I like the idea of promoting alternative energy.
The drive to Fairbanks was simple and boring and once we got there we started laundry and headed to a coffee shop - one of the most famous things in Fairbanks.
The University of Alaska has a pretty nice museum which we decided to visit and 2 hours, the time we dedicated to it, were certainly not enough. The first exhibit was about general life in Alaska: you could read about animals, oil pipes, permafrost, Alaskan Highway, etc. while the second floor had more artworks.
We also watched a 30-minute movie called "winter", about the cold Alaskan winter. It was funny to see that all the
interviews to the locals conveyed the same message: winter in Alaska is pretty and you should come here in winter if you do not to be the regular tourist but an adventurer. And I'm seriously thinking about doing it!
The last exhibit at the museum was largely dedicated to polar bears and I must admit those creatures are really nice. I discovered about an American photographer that has been living for years in the arctic taking pictures of the white-furred mammals and my friend told me that a famous Japanese photographer (we were looking at a photo book of his) died a few years back because of a black bear attack (very rare).
Once in Fairbanks it started raining and this kind of changed our program for the next couple of days; driving to Talkeetna, though, has not been a problem at all.
I really missed most of the trip down here, because I slept for nearly 4 hours. I just woke up to give wrong directions to the driver (FYI there is NOT a bridge to go to Talkeetna from the "obvious" route, you have to drive all the way south and then head north).
Talkeetna is part of our ininerary because our friend H. said it's totally worthwhile and I cannot say he's wrong; this little town has definitely a soul and you can tell that miles away. We hanged out at a local bar the whole evening and - even though getting food was not easy at all (we still managed to get sandwiches) - saw pretty interesting people.
I was told that one of the common things that characterizes most of the Mc Kinley climbers is that they are sunburned in the face except for the eyes, because they wear goggles. Talkeetna is well known to be the hang-out place for the
Mc Kinley climbers who approach the South Peak (the taller one) and tonight, at the bar, we saw somebody who may have tried the ascend, but didn't have a chance to talk to him (now I really think I should have gone to him and ask questions... too late).
Beside that, this has just been a long, long day in the RV with a bunch of rain. But... tomorrow will be better!
Wednesday, June 24th 2009
Today I'm writing from Seward, Alaska. This morning we woke up
in Talkeetna and all of us were hangover to some extent. Early in the morning I jumped down the bunk bed where I'm sleeping and hurt my foot on the a sharp step (anyway there are no stairs to get up, I have no clue how you are supposed to get up there...).
So, wake-up time was much later than we were hoping for. We had breakfast to a rather good place, which was not in the downtown area, and I had enough gas for the rest of the day. After breakfast we visited the small downtown of Talkeetna: totally worth it!
There were a bunch of people in the tiny roads and the town really looked like a small village in the Alps; as far as I have traveled, I never found a place like that in California. But I must say I was biased, since I knew that some of the people there are the mountaineers who climb Mc Kinley.
While walking through souvenir shops and restaurants, I was trying to spot the adventurers ready to conquer the big one; of course I was not expecting to find them the night before at the bar,
since I guess you must be a serious athlete to attempt the tough route that brings you to the south peak. I am pretty sure I identified two of them, having lunch at a small restaurant: the difference between a serious mountaineer and and amatour is so obvious!
During the whole time in Talkeetna I was on top of Mc Kinley with my mind; several airplane tours leave from Talkeetna and the most expensive ones leave you at the base camp; one of the brochures says "you'll land at the base camp and have the opportunity to see the climbers that are attempting to reach the top of the tallest mountain in America". I don't want to see them, I want to be one of them! But I also know that Mc Kinley counts more casualties than Mount Everest, since the weather can be really inclement.
Later in the day we drove back to Anchorage, where my friend had to buy some poles for the upcoming glacier hikes. Just few hours in Anchorage confirmed that it is nothing but another big american city; being in the crowded expressways in Anchorage or Phonenix makes really little difference (except 100F
of difference in this case...).
Final destination for the day: Seward. The Seward highway is a fantastic road with stunning views of mountains and glaciers in every direction. I am still trying to understand why the snow line in the Kenai peninsula is at about 4000 feet, while in Denali - several hundred miles north - is higher than 5000.
We were warned about traffic and unfortunately we ended up in line for at least one hour because of road works; nonetheless we stopped a few times, taking pictures of the dramatic mountain ranges that were surrounding us.
Seward is not a big town, way smaller than we thought. We got here late, so we didn't have time to explore much. We just walked to a nearby viewpoint, then checked out the local dive bar, which was offering karaoke for the night. There were many more people than I expected there! In Alaska, smoking is still allowed in bars and I find it really annoying. But, thinking again, the entire state has 600,000 inhabitants and I don't think it would make a big difference (beside, I don't see any non-smoking rule pass any time soon here...)
Thursday, June 25th 2009
We woke up in Seward this morning after very few hours of sleep and headed to the "exit glacier". I initially thought the word "exit" referred to the highway, but I later discovered that is instead an adjective for "glacier".
The Kenai Fjords national park - the first US national park with no admission fee I've been (well, except Point Reyes) - hosts the biggest ice field in North America: the Harding ice field. All the coastal glaciers head to this immense and spectacular plateau covered with snow 365 days a year; the exit glacier is so called because it provided an escape route from the Harding ice field.
We hiked all the way to the top; it's a 4 mile strenuous hike (one way) with an elevation gain of roughly 3000 feet, making the trail very steep. The weather in the Kenai peninsula (and in general in Alaska) is really unpredictable and layering is a necessity; today I stopped several times to adjust to the temperature. As a rule of thumb, above 3000 feet (in Kenai, I'd say 4000 feet in Denali national park) I am comfortable with gloves, a long-sleeve t-shirt and
a windstopper. But if you stop for several minutes you really feel the cold getting to your bones. Big plus of this particular area is the absence of mosquitos; it's such a relief I could not believe it! (I am still trying to recall how I managed mosquitos in Venice, since we have tons over there...).
Pictures from the hike were truly spectacular; in terms of glaciers, I was amazed more than today only when witnessed Perito Moreno, Argentina, considered the most stunning glacier in the world.
The round trip took us from 10 am to 3.45 pm, not letting us enough time to take a boat tour around Seward; in fact, it's very common to join these organized tours and enjoy the coastal glaciers from a warm cabin rather than hiking for miles. I guess I would have liked to do it, but the last excursion is normally at 3.00 pm and we were in real need of a shower once back at the RV.
So we decided to spend the rest of the day in Seward; dinner was at a good seafood restaurant, "Ray's waterfront". As the name suggests, a beautiful view of the harbor
and the background mountains accompanied us while I was enjoying fresh salmon and king crab (I finally tried the lager Alaskan beer and I prefer that to the amber, which I consistently drunk since we arrived).
Tonight everybody's pretty tired and we didn't find the strengh to drive north (we wanted to reach some other town and go for a beer), therefore we crashed here in Seward for the second day.
For the first time since we arrived, we used the DVD player onboard and watched the first part of a nice documentary: "pole to pole", where a british chap travels all the way from the North Pole to the South Pole. That is perfect for this vacation: they showed images of northern Norway and it reminded me that I must visit that place. Better, I must ride my motorcycle to that place (even though I know it's going to be super expensive). There are several roads that cross the arctic circle in Scandinavia (as opposed to two in western North America) and they seem to be well maintained, absolutely ideal for a motorcycle excursion...
But that's another story; tomorrow we have the entire day to reach
Homer, 160 miles from here.
Friday, June 26th 2009
The three friends of mine are telling me to get to bed and not even think of writing this blog, but (as every other night) I decided to ignore their suggestion and stay up late to write these few lines about... today.
We woke up in Seward rather late, maybe at 9.00 am (I was very surprised they didn't wake up earlier that that). A nice coffee shop in the downtown area was the place where we had breakfast (well, I had some food bofore: I am really overeating here in Alaska).
We had the entire day to drive to Homer, about 160 miles away from Seward. 160 miles is probably the least we have been driving during this vacation! (nothing for me, since I normally drive 400 miles/day on a motorcycle...).
Anyway, after hitting the road, we stopped a few times just to take pictures. When there is no real program, the vacation becomes very enjoyable; for the most part of the trip I was not driving, making the ride very pleasant.
We got back to highway 1 rather quicly and shortly after the intersection
decided to take the more deamanding detour to Skilak lake; if I have to recommend anybody a place where to camp, that would be it. There are three campgrounds (upper, middle and lower lake) and the views are fantastic. We stopped at the middle campground and got excellent views of the lakes and surrounding mountains.
The only problem is that the road is unpaved and the RV was literally falling apart (the knobs of the stove came off because of the vibrations). Beside, it's forbidden to drive the RV to unpaved road, and I really see why (if it was my RV, there would be no way I'd drive it where we went...).
Once merged back to Hwy 1, we stopped to a river, hoping to sight salmons; we saw a bunch of fishermen, but not the faintest trace of salmons...
After continuing little more that 1 hour on the highway, we got to the little town of Nikolaevsk, where we visited the most unique russian restaurant ever.
My friends are kind of obsessed with reading the tourbook (lonely planet, btw: if you ever have to go to Alaska, do not buy that book) and, nonetheless, this
was one of the few good information we good out of it.
The woman running the restaurant, an electrical engineer back in Russia, is the most eccentric business owner I've seen in my life. One of my friend, russian as well, said her behaviour was "very much russian". She would say "You will enjoy my food"; when she gave us the tray with the hot tea, she said "give me the tray back in two minutes". When we took a picture together she said "quick, you have 30 seconds". I was really laughing a lot!
We finally got to Homer; we were imagining a huge city with a lot of attractions... the truth is that the part of Homer where we are (the Homer Spit) does not have much to offer in terms of entertainment. We parked the RV in one of the RV parkings in the area and headed out to a bar; we sadly discovered there is only one bar in this area, but luckily enough it was a pretty good place.
I ended up driking beer and playing pool (I didn't play pool in quite a while...).
Now, as usual, it's late and I'm tired;
tomorrow the plan is to go spot... bears! I am scared of bears, so I really hope we won't see any... If anything happens... you know I didn't want to be there!
Saturday, June 27th 2009
Today (technically, yesterday) has been the last exploring day here in Alaska. The alarm clock was set early, as usual. We had to be at the dock by 10.00 am in order to take a boat taxi to the peninsula in front of Homer, AK.
I don't remember the name of the State Park we went to, but it's a very common destination for all the visitor of the Kenai peninsula (from Homer). We got to the small office by 10.00 am sharp and then got a (fantastic) lunch box at a nearby store; the homer "spit", where our campground and the harbor was, does not lack restaurants, delis and souvenir shops.
The boat ride was faster than I expected; I was born and raised in Venice and am totally accustomed to travel by boat, but back home you cannot even think about going as fast as these guys go; it's largely due to overpopulation, I guess, but I totally agree
with the current regulations in my home country. To tell the truth, on the way back I noticed that the driver reduced the speed drastically (3 knots/hour) in the dock, so I guess there are strict rules for speed also here in Homer.
20 minutes were enough to get to the state park; my friends wanted badly to see a bear, but that unfortunately (or fortuntaly?) did not happen. I must say that the peninsula we visited was probably not worth the $80 we paid for the water taxi and I would not recommend it to somebody who is just spending a few days in Alaska (Seward seems much more attractive). On the taxi, we found a couple from New York with whom we had a rather long conversation.
The highlight of our staying at the State Park was the nearby lake (only a little more than 1 hour to get there from the trailhead). Despite being June, icebergs were still covering the lake; during our nap at the shore (we were early on the schedule) we heard loud noises of ice breaking into the icy water (I guess it's typical for Alaskan).
We were really bored
and got back at 5.00 pm sharp to the pickup location they told us (different from the drop-off one); the boat was a few minutes late, but by 5.30 we were in Homer again.
When I touched the ground I knew the last excursion of the vacation was over and I felt bad for the first time since we arrived.
After little shopping in the spit, we headed to the downtown to grab some dinner. We passed in front of a place called Alibi: this may seem like a minor detail, but my usual hang-out place in Mountain View is called Alibi, so we decided to go and get a drink. Guess what: this Alibi is much better! After we told the bartender about the other bar back in California, he gave us some stickers, business cards and one t-shirt (which I have, even though it's an XL).
The wasabi restaurant (sushi) offered us the best dinner of the entire staying, but we paid pretty penny for it (totally worth it). After heading back to the Alibi, which was kind of empty (remembering me the one I know...), we decided to hop to another bar and we took
a cab (the second one in Alaska, counting the one from the airport to the RV campground in Anchorage) that brought us in a small place with an excellent band.
Taxis in Homer do not seem to have a meter! The first one charged us $10 (absolutely arbitrary and very little money compared to the distance he drove). From the last bar to the RV campground it was only $5 and the guy drove us all the way in front of our RV! Treated literally like kings!
I imbibed several drinks during the night and I am incredibly sleepy now, at 4.00am (precisely), writing this blog; meybe it's time to go to bed...
Sunday, June 28th 2009
It's technically the 29th and in a few hours I am going to be in the office, in Santa Clara. I am writing from the airplane and my eyes are about to shut.
This morning we left from Homer later than we thought; waking up has been a problem, as usual, and I napped the first couple of hours of driving. Homer, on Sunday morning, is really dead and we could not even find a coffee shop for some
breakfast; we then decided to hit the road and head back to Anchorage.
We stopped a few times for pictures; my friends wanted badly to see salmons (don't quite get it) and we explicitely looked for places where fishermen go. We found a really polular one and I was shocked to see how many of them there were. It seems fishing is much bigger than I thought; since I moved to the US, I noticed that fishing is a common hobby, but I would never imagine to see a river with hundreds (literally) of people in line just to catch a few salmons.
I debated with my friends about what triggers people to go fishing; I personally would not spend a second of my life fishing, but many people would not spent a second watching a snooker game, so I guess I cannot judge.
I was not able to photograph any salmon swimming upstream in the Kenai peninsula, nor I was able to photograph a bear (except the one in Denali, very far away).
Everything related to fishing seems rather expensive to me; crossing the river with a ferry (aka a very beat up boat at least
20 years old) was $13; tourists in Venice cannot complain about prices of the boats if compared to the Alaska ones!
Traffic was much lighter than what we thought and we got to Anchorage by 5.00 pm (the RV had to be returned by 6.30 pm); the dreaded road works, in the early afternoon, were completely stopped and there were no delays at all.
Packing everything was long, but not particularly painful. Looking at how many items I brought and did not use, I felt really stupid. I had a down jacket, several layers of synthetic fabric and wool, winter gloves, glove protections, liners for the pants, winter hat. With such gear I could have gone to the North Pole! (no kidding!). Most of the times I was wearing only two layers. At checkin time my bag was over 50 pounds and I really needed only 20 to be comfortable these 10 days.
We just caught the flight at 1.45 am, leaving us almost 6 hours for exploring downtown Anchorage. The city turns out to be better than I thought; we visited few bars (the last one had free pool and we played a number of games)
and I ate the last salmon fillet of this vacation.
While the cab was taking us back to the airport, I was thinking about everything I saw and learned from this experience: rivers, mount Mc Kinley, the mountaineers, wildlife, flowers (which I typically don't consider). I still dream of going to Barrow and I still have in program to ride my motorcycle to Prudhoe Bay, despite a fella in Homer told me it's not worth it.
Going back to real life will be tough; even seeing dark, after 10 days of continuous daylight, will be a different experience. The echo of "40 below" will make me think about those remote places, where people still decided to spend their lives. I will definitely go back to Alaska and - if I'll ever have the guts to do it - I'll try to do it in winter, to experience "the real thing".
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