Thursday, June 27, 2013

Under the Shadow of Denali

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It's so wonderful to blog about the trip after you get home because it's kind of like reliving the trip, in a way. You get to reflect on it when all is said and done, and really think about the way it went. 

We left Anchorage and drove to Denali National Park. The sky was so blue, Southwest blue, the color of the turquoise found in bracelets out here, that it was startling and almost oppressive. I hadn't expected it to be so hot or humid.  

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The roads up there have lower speed limits than the roads we have here so it felt like we didn't so much drive to Denali, we ambled. And I think it was a good thing. We stopped wherever we wanted. We took in the view again and again and again, and we watched as Denali loomed closer and closer, finally becoming clear in the distance, floating on that blue sky like a mirage or a dream or a reflection of something bigger than everything.

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"That," JR said to me at one stop where we looked at it "is bigger than anything I've ever seen that's been made by a person." And indeed it was, towering over us, omnipresent in the way that only God's creation can. 

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After we got into the car I thought to myself, "It's good to be awed. It's healthy. We don't do it enough." I thought about what awe was, about awe as a transformative process. To be awed is to allow ourselves to be humbled and that's a tough thing to do. Humility, at it's core, is making ourselves lesser to become greater people and I don't want to be lesser. I struggle with that and it is a continual process I have learned to at least allow myself to be humbled by the experiences I have and the people I love, and yes, even the things I see. 

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

All Aboard!! Train Travel in Alaska

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One of the other things we were able to do in Alaska was take a train. Train travel is de rigueur for tourist travel throughout the state. Even though we had rented a car for a portion of the trip I wanted to see what it was all about - and lets be realistic...I just wanted to ride on a vintage train and experience life at that pace.

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We headed to the station in Anchorage and got there obscenely early which turned out to be a good thing. I got some coffee, wandered around their gift shop, and then settled down on a bench. A sweet grandfatherly man from Montreal was kind enough to have a patient conversation in French with me so I got to practice that for a while. My autodidactic strategy for learning French has been to ask anyone and everyone to speak French with me if I find out they speak it so this was a great bonus. I mostly speak French to people with North African accents so I had to adjust and listen closely to adjust to the accent!

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Our first seats we picked were in the Dome car, which were awesome. You could see everything from up there. Eventually I figured out that the pictures were better from the open air spaces between the cars and there was a bit of a "party crew" out there - rambunctious anniversary celebrators from Texas or some other southern state on their way to an Alaskan cruise. They were awesome and just about the funniest people I've ever met while traveling. I shared my Wasabi peas with them and they almost fell over dead from the taste (him) and spice (her). I guess they're not for everyone!

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We settled in to watch the scenery pass (and it was quite lovely!) after awhile and arrived to our destination on time and in fine style!

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Finding Alaska: Cruising Prince William Sound

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We went looking for Alaska last week, flying into the never ending days, into the alpenglow that never quite settled on the mountains, and the forest so thick you need some major orienteering skills, a map, and a compass just to get through it and not get lost. 

One of JR's and my goals is to visit all fifty states. I think we have about 10 or so left - mostly the Pacific Northwest and New England. We also had Hawaii and Alaska left so when I saw amazingly cheap flights to Alaska I jumped and off we went!

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Alaska is a crazy place to be - the cost of living is exceptionally high with food being outrageously expensive. The beauty is second to none, and the 24 hours of sunlight in summer will start to drive you just a bit crazy if you don't have a good eyeshade or blackout curtains. 

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We did Alaska on a shoestring budget - we chose one "major" outing (a glacier/whale watching cruise that was certainly the highlight of my trip - watching a blue whale breach is unlike anything I've ever seen before!), bought camp fuel and cooked most of our meals over that from the grocery store, camped inexpensively (hotels run between $150 - $300 a night!), only ate out twice (to the tune of $40.00 for an average dinner!) and chose lots of free activities - driving up as close to the arctic circle as we could get, climbing a mountain in Denali, lots of walking and hiking and looking.

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Packing for Alaska was a bit challenging - the weather is pretty unpredictable up there and every single travel source I read said to pack technical hiking clothing, quick dry, waterproof, etc. It's just not my style to look, for lack of a better word, like a superhiker head to toe in Patagonia and I have slowly culled most of that out of my wardrobe and replaced it with more everyday clothing that can double as hiking apparel. 

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The weather forecast was predicting sun for the first half and rain for the second half so I packed accordingly - the Barbour coat with the hood shoved in the pocket, a fair isle wool sweater, some t shirts, a few pairs of jeans, my hiking boots, some random shirts. It turned out to be almost 85 degrees the entire trip...so I only wore about half of what I packed. The sweater and jacket came in handy for an early morning hike and a boat ride but the rest of the time I wore a short sleeved shirt and a lighter chambray shirt over it to try to outsmart the massive mosquitos that own the state. By the end of the trip I was definitely sick of what I had to wear.

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All pictures taken in Whitter, AK. 

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