Alaska ~ The Last Frontier

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February 26th 2013
Published: February 27th 2013
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On my mission to eventually go to every State in the USA and every province in Canada (except Nunavut), I eventually decided itwas time to go to Alaska, The Last Frontier.

Coincidentally, and conveniently, Shannan’s family lives in a little town a couple of hours from Anchorage, so we all decided to go visit!

I have mentioned Shannan’s family briefly, off and on, over my blog-times, because they moved to our little town of Eureka, once upon a time, while we were in high school, and stayed about…a year, I think. But they were like a comet coming through – only there for a short time but made a lasting impression!)

I practically lived at their house and Shannan’s parents were my parents and her sisters were my sisters, and when we weren’t living at her house, we lived at mine… I’m not sure if Shannan considers my parents her parents, but I know that we both got grounded and banished to the laundry room to fold clothes for an entire day, so I’m assuming that she did. (She, at least, did the chores they told us to do…well, actually… from what I can remember, we spent the entire day in that room and didn’t fold a single thing – but that’s just because we got distracted with visiting.)

I hadn’t seen Dale & Ruby (Shannan’s parents) or her sister, Stacey, since they moved away from Columbia Falls, so this would be a long over-due reunion!

We decided SUMMER was the smart time to go to Alaska. The coldest day on record, in Alaska, was -80° Fahrenheit (-62° Celsius), January 23, 1971. This was, of course, the record coldest day for any place in the United States. Of course, this is a long, long, long way (20 miles North of the Arctic Circle) from where we would be, but still – we didn’t want to risk it!!

While we are talking about “cold”, to date, the coldest place in “The Lower Mainland” (48 of the United States, excluding Alaska and Hawaii) reported -70° Fahrenheit (-57° Celsius) at the Rogers Pass, Montana, January 20, 1954. In the whole North America, the coldest temperature was in Snag, Yukon Territory, Canada, February 3, 1947 (-81.4° Fahrenheit/-63° Celsius). And, the coldest reported temperature on Earth EVER was in 1983, at the Russian research station in Antarctica (-128.6° Fahrenheit or -89.2° Celsius)…I actually can’t even fathom that. (Even typing this paragraph has me huddled in a fuzzy blanket in front of the fireplace.)

Summer in Alaska seemed like a better idea! And not just because of the weather, but also because of the daylight.

Alaska falls under the “Land of the Midnight Sun” umbrella (which also includes Canada, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Lapland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden), but really only the part that’s north of the Arctic Circle, so the area we were visiting doesn’t have the 24 hours of bright sunshine, but during that time period, it doesn’t get completely dark, either… like twilight is the darkest it gets.

We missed that time period anyway (which is the summer equinox, June 21st), since we didn’t arrive until around July 1. However! It was still the craziest thing!

We were out playing on the ATV’s and down by the river and outside (you can even go golfing at night, for a discounted price), when we suddenly realized! It’s Midnight!

Alberta has nice evenings, where it’s still light out at 11 o’clock at night. But it’s “light” only, because of the angle of the setting sun. But in Willow, Alaska, it’s still light, because the sun hasn’t even set yet! it’s still overhead! I was so shocked, I took pictures of the sun through the trees above!

We were down by the river at midnight in the overhead sun because we were watching the salmon. The salmon were migrating upstream, technically – but were, at that moment, relaxing in a deep pool near Shannan’s parents’ house.

They are so tired and so lazy, and not at all hungry, they are just moseying around the pool.. To catch them, you can’t even use bait because they aren’t hungry. To get them to bite the hook, you have to hit them in the head with the hook, when you cast. (There are fishing restrictions, but I can’t remember what they are – the one thing I know for sure is that WE (Peter and I) were not allowed to fish there.

Since it was our first trip to Alaska, I felt that it was very important to have Alaskan King Crab, so Ruby, Stacey and Shannan surprised us with an all-you-can-eat crab fest for our first evening there! (In all my talk about my quest for Mexican food, I might’ve missed mentioning that Alaskan King Crab is my favorite food EVER!)

I also decided a Klondike Bar was necessary (although I’ve since realized that the Klondike was actually in Yukon Territory (Canada), east of the Alaska border… I found this out when we were in the Yukon, which will a topic for a future blog – we flew up to the Yukon and Richard and Shannan picked us up at the airport and then we went on a roadtrip.)

I did want to see the Aurora Borealis (also called The Northern Lights), which is so much more colorful and amazing the further north you go…However, the best time to witness the Northern Lights is in the winter, partly because…well, as we discussed… it’s dark! Researchers have discovered that the activity of the Aurora Borealis cycles, and, by great coincidence! The winter of 2013 is a peak year for observing it!! (Hopefully, that meansNovember/December 2013, and not January/February 2013, since that’s already passed….)

Since we were in the barely-gets-dark-at-night season, and it wasn’t cold enough, we didn’t get to see the Aurora Borealis, I was forced to buy one. A liquid Aurora Borealis, perfected at The Sea Galley. (That being said, while I was trying to find that website, I found a recipe for another drink ~ Aurora Jungle-Juice ~ that glows in black light and actually does look like a swirling mass of stars!)

Of course, having discovered that there was a Mexican restaurant between Anchorage and Willow, we had to give it a try! I had (see if you can guess!) enchiladas, and Peter had (yes!) chili rellano. Pretty good! Muchas Gracias, Garcia’s Cantina, in Eagle River!

During our very enjoyable week in summertime Alaska, people kept telling us: “If you really want to experience Alaska, you need to come back to watch the Iditarod.”

That’s what they said. What I heard was: “Iditarod” “dog sled racing” “winter.” WINTER!!


However, as our vacation started coming to a close, we got caught up in the hype and impulse, and decided that we would come back the following March!

The Iditarod is (officially) a 1049 mile (1688 km) dogsled race ~ “The Last Great Race on Earth”. (Unofficially, and more accurately, apparently, the actual mileage is 1150 miles (1851 kms).

The ceremonial start is the first Saturday of March, which means that THIS Saturday is the 2013 Official Start! The start is on the mainstreet of Anchorage, and the mushers and teams travel 11 miles to the Campbell Airstrip. It’s a big festival, really. Less stress and pressure on the teams – kiosks for tourists – a ferris wheel. (I’m not sure if that’s every year, but it’s crazy cold and people were still up on the ferris wheel when we were there!!)
Shannan me with one of those cute little fuzzy hats – and I had it all folded up and tied on a bow on top… unTIL, I got out of the car. THAT MOMENT was THE COLDEST I have EVER, EVER been in my ENTIRE LIFE!! (I was colder the next day, but that’ll be for the next blog.)

The dog-teams start out from with 16 dogs on each team, and over the next 10-20 days (depending upon weather conditions and how fast the teams are travelling), they will stop at 22 checkpoints (including their final stop at Nome). The dogs (which are required to wear booties, by the way) are checked out at every checkpoint by certified vets, and they have one mandatory 24 hour lay over and one mandatory 8 hour layover. (I’m practically positive it’s just one 8 hour layover…)

I didn’t know what to expect my first time (oh yes – we have gone more than once!! if you can believe that!!), but it was amazing! there was so much energy in the air! and the dogs were soexcited! and the people are all anxious (but, in a good way, I think.)

People wore fur… (I expected that, but I didn’t expect exactly what I saw – however, it was so cold there, I can see that fur might be the only option for some – I mean, it was COLD!! Also, one man, who was wearing an entire wolf, explained that he had to kill the wolf because it was killing his horses, and he didn’t want to waste the fur…..)

Once you are there, it all makes sense.

Sunday, there is an Official Restart – depending upon the amount of snow, the restart is either at Wasilla or Willow, but the times we’ve gone, the restart is always near Willow (which is VERY convenient, because it was only a few miles from Dale and Ruby’s house.)

See you Sunday!

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