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Culture, North America

Goldilocks I am not!

August 28, 2017 • By

Hiking Shenanigans near Hope, Alaska

There are places I read about in travel magazines that I file away in the ole’ noggin of must-see sites.  In most cases, the description matches my expectation and I am glad I made the time.

This trip, I decide to visit Hope, Alaska, a small former gold mining town located on the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet.  It’s a two-hour drive from Seward to Hope, and I’m immediately annoyed I made the trip because there is nothing here but RVs and a couple of closed shops.  Upon first glance, Hope reminds me of a modern day ghost town and I wonder if someone named this place Hope because it’s Hopeless.

Fantasy Aisle

Hope Alaska, a former gold mining town and a weekend getaway spot for Anchorage residents

It’s mid-morning; quiet fills the air and calmness coats the glassy water.  I slowly understand the appeal of Hope.  It’s quaint but I prefer activity to sleepy towns. If searching for a respite from city life, Hope would be the place to go. Its simplified beauty and serenity make it a place where people are one with nature.

I am not sure what do with myself and I drive around to make sure I haven’t missed anything.  I visit Tito’s, the only restaurant open (in fact, the only place to eat) and contemplate my next move.  I pore over my map and decide I will go hiking on the Resurrection Pass Trail.  I could use a little resurrection.  I get to the trail, park the car, sign away my life–name and time of entry with the National Park Service–and hit the trail with little to no knowledge about where I am going or what the trail entails.

Fantasy Aisle on the Resurrection Pass Trail near Hope, Alaska

From Hope to Coopers Landing in Alaska

There is something incredibly appealing about Alaska.  It’s pristine, untouched, beckoning and terrifying. I am on the trail and I’m talking to myself. I notice footprints below and I assume they belong to a moose or bear. I start yelling, “Hey Bear!” Half the time I think my voice sounds like I am calling the bear to greet me, not to scare it away.  I’m staring down as I walk because I am a klutz and prone to tripping…but how am I going to spot bears?  It’s a conundrum, and as I mull it over, I start to daydream. These prints are definitely those of a wild animal and, from what I learned on my safari years ago, they are fresh.

“I will be ready,”  I say to myself.

Fantasy Aisle Kelly smiling near the Resurrection Creek on the trail near Hope, Alaska

Along the Resurrection Creek on the Resurrection Pass Trail

I’m overdressed and the flies and mosquitoes are attacking me. Since I am dripping sweat, the monsters consider me more attractive meat.  I layer down and continue listening to the sounds of the rushing Resurrection Creek.  The spruce and aspen forests and some flowers cover the terrain, but I am mostly focused on why the hell I am torturing myself on this hike.

My mind wanders all over the place:

”I am miserable.”

“I am going to have to pee soon.”

“How long have I been walking?”

“Is it time to turn around?”

“Follow your passion.”

“Is this my passion?”

“You cannot love someone else if you don’t love yourself.”

Fantasy Aisle

A flower that juices contain a phototoxin reacting with skin when exposed to ultraviolet light

And then I think about the fairy tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and my internal dialogue continues.  “That’s a bunch of bullshit.  Some mother who lived in a forest made that story up so her kids wouldn’t be afraid to go outside.”

“Oh my god.”

It hits me. I am in a place that feeds on my deepest fears.  I am a self-proclaimed hypochondriac and I am in a state–in a land– where I am surrounded by everyday threats of tsunamis, avalanches, moose, bear, caribou and wolf attacks, and hypothermia.

How am I on this trail alone, with bear spray I am not entirely sure I know how to use when I couldn’t even leave my job to try something new? When I dated someone on and off for 10 years with no future and I was afraid to be alone.  This is madness.

I hear rustling and wake up from my fog.  It’s two hikers.  We exchange greetings and ask if the other has seen any bears. (I’ve learned by now that this is a normal line of questioning in Alaska.)  The couple tells me I should be in good shape because three hikers and a dog are about a mile ahead of me.  I giggle.

“Ok, thanks.”

Fantasy Aisle

My scary “bear” dog print

Those big bad prints belonged to a dog. I cannot stop laughing.  I take the time to pee, squatting as the mosquitoes bite into me and then I turn back. The return walk seems longer than I remember but I am strong and confident.  I can take on the bears.  I shoot a video for my friend who urged me to visit Alaska, still laughing about the bear “claws” I discovered.

After a four-hour-hike, I arrive back to the car and initial my safe return with the ranger’s log. Now, where should I stay tonight?


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 solo and drove along Seward Highway, a 125-mile stretch connecting Anchorage to Seward, Alaska.

Fantasy Aisle, traveling to Seward, Alaska

Along Seward Highway, Chugach Mountains, Alaska

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

Traveling through Alaska’s vast landscape is overwhelming and leaves me breathless.  I am nothing; 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.

Fantasy Aisle, traveling to Seward, Alaska

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 against blackened and grayish volcanic rock of the land. Snow and glacier-capped peaks streak like rivers down the sloping 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 sheets 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. One storm or force of nature could overwhelm the road with little warning. 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, yet the force and strength of nature cautioned my every move.

Fantasy Aisle, traveling to Seward, Alaska

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 for me 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.

Fantasy Aisle, traveling to Seward, Alaska

Port of Seward, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

“I have a friend,” he says.  I roll my eyes, mentally 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 serene wooded area, and makes for a perfect two-day stay.  My lack of planning proves worthwhile yet again. And I made a new friend.

Fantasy Aisle, traveling to Seward, Alaska

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 in 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 became receptive to the kindness of strangers because I wanted to be. I opened my mind to trusting people, which I take for granted anywhere else normally.

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.

–- Seward, Alaska