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Destinations, North America

On the Road to Seward

August 23, 2017 • By

Alaska is a magical place.  To see its offerings, I recommend picking a combination of travel by car, recreational vehicle (RV), ship or train.  I rented a Ford Focus to explore Alaska solo and drove along Seward Highway, a 125-mile stretch connecting Anchorage to Seward.

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Along Seward Highway, Chugach Mountains, Alaska

As I hit the open road, the Chugach Mountains enormity and the vastness of trees and vegetation overpowers me. I imagine any movement from the ground, and the mountains and ocean will swallow me like a giant crocodile with fang teeth sitting on the river’s edge waiting to devour me. It blinds me with fear. I stop the car and spin myself 360 degrees.  I am small, a dot below from a view atop the Empire State building.

Traveling through Alaska’s vast landscape is overwhelming and leaves me breathless.  I am nothing and the trees and mountains rule the Kingdom.  The spruce, birch, willow and cottonwood occupy the terrain.  They are a rainbow of color but green is the only crayon in the box, dirty green, emerald green, sea green, muted green, lime green.  Layers upon layers of trees and bushes switch back and forth as if planned that way.

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The vegetation on the Kenai Peninsula

The clouds hover over the mountains but they are not obtrusive or dark like storm clouds. They add to the mystique.  The stark white boldness contrasts with a blackened and grayish volcanic rock. The snow and glacier capped peaks streak like rivers down the slopping mountain fronts and the clouds blanket the crown like a woman covering her shoulders with a shawl on a cold night.

Millions of years ago, ice gave way to oceans and mountains creating plants, wildlife, sea life and a world so powerful that the road, Seward Highway, cutting through it all seems inadequate.  It cannot protect me but the tranquility and the quiet is peaceful, welcoming like the Alaskan people. I don’t remember a place in my travels where I felt this free but the force and strength of nature cautioned my every move.

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Enjoying a hike to Exit Glacier near Seward

After a three-hour drive on empty roads and a gorgeous hike through Exit Glacier, I arrive in Seward, an active port town on the Kenai Peninsula where many of the cruises depart and the Alaska Railroad terminates and begins.  It’s a great first taste of the open water and fjord experience.

Now it’s time to find somewhere to stay for the night.  I prefer to leave my accommodations to last minute in case I veer off the beaten path.  This is not always a wise idea during the height of tourism season or at 4:00 PM with intermittent service (no Wi-Fi either) on my Verizon phone.  I ignore my quandary and devour my fresh oysters and grilled halibut sandwich and start chatting with my waiter at Chinooks.

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Port of Seward, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

“I have a friend,” he says.  I roll my eyes conjuring a scene in a Stephen King novel.

“He is on Airbnb.  You can search for him.”

“But I have horrible service and I don’t see the convenient two bedroom post,” I say.

He takes my phone, and calls his friend.  Twenty minutes later the Airbnb listing appears and I am secure for the night rescued like a Damsel in Distress, which I admit happens.

The Airbnb is a big winner.  I am a mile from town and the accommodations immaculate and inviting.  The two-bedroom cottage complete with writing desks is nestled into a wooded area and makes for a perfect two-day stay.  My lack of planning proves worthwhile and I made a new friend.

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Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska

Remember back to a time or maybe an idyllic society crafted in books and movies where neighbors rely on neighbors and people help one another because they need each other to survive.  Think Little House on the Prairie.  I discovered this Alaska.  It exists today. Locals consume themselves with living a happy, simple and enjoyable existence while working a medley of jobs.  They are not materialistic or pretentious.  They live and love life.

If offered a place to stay by a waiter in a restaurant in Chicago or New York City, I would presume he or she intended to trick or hurt me.  In Alaska, my fear factor subsided.  I was receptive to the kindness of strangers because I wanted to be. I opened my mind to trusting people, which I take for granted.

I am in a time warp hypnotized by the beauty of my surroundings and the people.

There is an inexplicable generosity among Alaskans.

I cannot wait to see more.


Culture, General travel, North America, Travel Gear, What to Pack

First Day in Alaska

August 17, 2017 • By

I am a city girl.  I ride the subway, I hail cabs and I complain about garbage and rats.  The sound of heavy traffic, roaring fire engines and honking horns soothes my soul.  Carry-out menus line my kitchen shelves and my refrigerator contains a handful of perishable items.  Breakfast for idiots is my kind of book and I have a chef who cooks for me. I live in a 465 square foot studio and identify my neighbors not by their faces but by the sounds of footsteps or a hair dryer and blender.

Why on earth did I decide to visit Alaska?  This is an easy answer.  It’s the complete opposite of anything in New York City.

An hour after my arrival in Alaska, I found myself on the side of Mt. Alyeska in Girwood hiking the North Face trail.  My friend Brooke Edwards outfitted me with bear spray, binoculars, layers of clothing and the important and necessary day pack and off we went.  At some point while swatting mosquitoes, yelling out, “Hey Bear,” I wondered why I would embark on this journey.

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Mt. Alyeska, Alyeska Resort, Girwood, Alaska

Brooke assured me this was an hour-to-the-top type /kind of hike and I would appreciate the views.  I admired how she didn’t break a sweat and I struggled to maintain my dignity. Brooke may not have understood my current level of experience involved(better word) “hiking” up 20 or so steps from the subway to the street and a few block stroll along a flat and even surfaced Lexington Avenue. (See Life on the 6 Train)

The view at the top exceeded my expectations and I was happy to get a sense of my surroundings and take in the scenery of the Turnagain Arm, a branch of glacial water surrounded by towering mountains that leads to the Gulf of Alaksa.  Turnagain Arm proved not to be the Northwest Passage Captain Cook sought to discover but its natural beauty rivals any landscape I’ve seen in the world.

Catching my breath, I hobbled to the restaurants as I peeled layer after layer exposing my sweaty back and the markings of an out of shape city girl.  I hoped Brooke would be amenable to a “Kelly kind of eating and drinking break” before heading down the mountain.  She did better than that, after a brief exchange we decided to go fancy in our hiking gear and dine at Seven Glaciers Restaurant, where I feasted on my first Alaskan halibut and a Boullabaisse soup, loaded with seafood and a saffron broth.  We topped off my first day with a pleasant tram ride down the mountain and heaps more wine at the Alyeska Resort.

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My expert guide Brooke Edwards at our first toast after hiking Mt. Alyeska, 7 Glaciers Restaurant

With the midnight sun (11:30 PM sunset) toying with my emotions and idea of place, I settled in for a few hours of desperate sleep before jolting awake at 5:30 AM when the sun beckoned me to hit the road.