Traveling Back East.. Pulling Out Hair!

Post from July 26, 2013

For anyone that doesn’t live in Alaska (and before my east coast friends and family say it: Yes! I moved here, and I love it, but it doesn’t make traveling to the lower 48 any less difficult!), let me let you in on something. Traveling to the lower 48, is a pain in the buuuutt. I LOVE it though. It’s like traveling to another country. Sometimes, I forget what civilization is like, and I live in Fairbanks, not a village. I remember the first time I left Alaska to go back to the lower 48. I was headed to Colorado for some much needed Cramer family time and snowboarding. I had to change planes in Seattle. I was walking through SEA-TAC and suddenly realized how busy it was. Lines were long to get food, the airport was at least 8x bigger than Fairbanks and 4x bigger than Anchorage (that could totally be an underestimate) and there were cute men. Well-dressed men. Everywhere. I thought to myself – this is where they are hiding them?? The point is, leaving on vacation is always an adjustment back into civilization and that first time, was a little bit of a shock for me. I hadn’t realized how much I had settled into my Alaska style of living – Fairbanks style of living at that.
 
But moving on from the culture shock and re-entering society from Alaska, there is the stress of planning a trip to go back East, see friends and family, buying tickets – for planes, trains, buses, games, amusement parks, etc. etc. Figuring out rental cars. I am pretty sure I am balding in one spot where I keep pulling my hair out and graying in others. There is all the excitement of the things I plan on doing, but sometimes I think people forget how stressful it really is for the person traveling.
 
When I went home for the first time after moving to Alaska, it was for the holidays. I planned a 9 day trip home and it wasn’t enough. Some people I doubled up or tripled up. When you have a group of friends. it works out great because you can all hang out together. Right? Wrong. Not when everyone wants their “own time with you.” Come on people. Really? Was traveling 5000 miles not enough for you? But thus, the shuffling from one end of Virginia, to another, and back… it’s alot of work.
 
So here I am, on the cusp of another trip back East. As simple as I THINK I am going to make things for myself, I don’t make it simple. This trip I’ll end up flying to Cleveland for a long overdue trip to see friends. Then fly to Virginia because believe it or not, that’s cheaper and easier than renting a car from one state to another. The one way fees on rental cars are OUTRAGEOUS. That’s been my newest dilemma. Then I’ll venture around southern VA, NC, SC. Then I’ll take a bus up to see my family in VA because again, the one way fees on rental cars are OUTRAGEOUS. I’ll likely rent a car to get around while I am seeing family and friends there. By the end of my trip, I will have traveled through 6 states and will fly back to the Last Frontier out of Washington, DC. SIX STATES!
 
From experience, I know that 9 days is just not enough time. Another thing that people don’t realize is moving here means my glorious days of weekend trips is only possible within Alaska (well, I could actually venture over to Canada). Going back East is a minimal week long trip because no matter what, you have to include the 2 days of travel in the trip. So I’m taking nearly 3 weeks off to enjoy my home, my family and my friends during the summer. Oh blessed be the hot, humid month of August on the East Coast (what was I thinking there, btw?). But I do this. I shuffle all around. I venture across states. I take scary buses. I literally plan out my schedule to the morning and afternoon and nearly every day I am there to make sure I can see everyone and do everything I want to do The beach, kayaking, running (yes, crazy me is planning to run a 20k while I’m home), amusement parks (because Alaska doesn’t know what one of those is), hiking, baseball games, drag racing, and the drive-in movies. I do it because I love it and it’s worth it. But let me tell you, its not easy and my hair is taking the brunt of it.

 
Potomac River, 2011

Travel Alaska: Seward

 

Seward is by far at the top of my places to go in Alaska. The first time I went there, I had halibut caught that day grilled over a bonfire on the rocky beach with a group of most interesting people we had met. All who were like many summer-ites in Alaska… they come there every tourist season to work on fishing and tour boats, in hotels & restaurants, and on tour buses. They were all young, enegetic and from around the world. Not to mention, traveling Alaska, you always meet the different Alaskans because let me tell you, Alaskans are different all over the state. Driving into Seward, I knew at first glace, it would be one of my most favorite places to be. I’ve made two road trips there since I’ve been here, and still have a full list of things to do there (like fishing, seriously, haven’t been halibut fishing yet!). I’m also a person who loves to travel on a budget, so that’s good news for you readers!

Preparing for your trip.

  1. Its Alaska. If you live here, you already know to prepare for anything, and any type of weather. Plan for rain, because in Seward, it’s likely to happen. You can still hike, fish, kayak, and do all things Seward while it’s raining. Its the Seward way! So prepare for it to be rainy or sunny. Temps can be anywhere from mid 50’s to 80 in the summertime in Seward, but it’s likely to be in the mid 60’s – upper 70’s.
  2. Planning your dates. August if rainy season in general in Alaska, just an FYI. Although it’s not peak season anymore, so you may find more deals. Oh and don’t go near Seward July 4th unless you understand that you are going there for one or two of the following reasons: Its the Mt. Marathon race, and that it’s one big party in Seward. There is no where to park, camp, eat, sleep, stand, breathe… you get it. There’s your disclaimer. It’s not my cup of tea, but maybe you just decided, hey! I am totally planning for that now!
  3. Remember Alaska peak seasons, and you can get deals on stuff pre and post peak season, and if you’re an AK resident. So do a little research to save a little mula!

Heading there from Anchorage…

Take in the view! The Seward Highway is a most amazing drive! For years, the Seward Hwy drive from Anchorage to Seward has be rated one of the top drives in the Nation (National Geographic 2010 “Drives of a Lifetime”, GORP Top 10 Scenic Drives in the US 2002 – 2012, Traveler magazine “Best Drives; Iconic American Road Trips Worth the Money” … need I go on?), But it is also one of the most dangerous so be careful. It is a windey, windy, tourist filled drive. Everyone wants to take in the beauty of mountains, waterfalls, and the ocean!

  • As you drive along from Anchorage, you’ll see Potter’s Marsh. Just south of ANC past the Rabbits Creek exit there is a turn for the Potters Marsh parking lot on the left. There’s bathrooms here and a long boardwalk to observe wildlife (aka the biiirds). Not your thing? You can look at it from the road. That’s nice too.
  • You’ll be driving the Seward Hwy alongside the Alaska Railroad. Time it right, and you’ll see a train coming or going. I love taking train pictures for my friend’s son, so this is one of my favorites.
  • The Turnagain Arm shoreline part of your drive is beautiful and Beluga Point is an ideal area to stop for pictures – I have some there in every season. There are pull-offs often (for this reason and for RVs to get out of the way – remember that, too. If there are 5 or more vehicles behind you – you are holding up the line! Find a place to allow the rest to pass).
  • As you come through Whittier, take a left at MP 79 onto Portage Glacier Rd and drive a few miles to take in the view of Portage Glacier. Its far receeded, but you can still see plenty of it and you’re close to it.
  • When you are back on the Seward Hwy, take a left at MP 90 in Girdwood and eat at Chair 5. You can see Alyeska Ski Resort here, which is open for mountain biking in the summer. Chair 5 is so yummy, I recommend a burger or a pizza. I don’t, however, recommend the halibut. There are much better places in AK for fish sandwiches and fish & chips (like Seward and Homer).

Now that you’re in Seward…

Places to stay:

  • Outdoors style: The Exit Glacier campground is tent only and is free (yay! who doesn’t love free?!). All the camp areas are private, numbered, and super nice! I really love this campground! It is on the way to the Exit Glacier, so its not downtown, but its near the river, has bathroom and food storage facilities, and is great if you like to just have tent camping (no RV’s or travel trailors allowed; in fact, your car doesn’t even sit at your camp). There are only 12 spots and no reservations, so get your spot early. This campground is SUPER uber nice! There are showers in town near the boat docks and at the campground on the Bay. I used neither, but the ones by the docks look much nicer (and safer) IMO.
  • Hostel style: Moby Dick Hostel & Lodging. You can do a bed or private room and it starts at $25 a person. It’s close to downtown, the owner is a great host, knowledgable and accomodating. Great place to stay! Plus it’s a hostel, so you’re always sure to meet interesting people.
  • Almost B&B style: Seward Sea Treasures Inn is an unhosted inn that is really nice. It has 4 rooms, 2 of them upstairs have views of the Bay. I stayed here once and will likely stay here again. It’s much cheaper than the hotels in Seward and has great accomodations. It’s a block from the water and everything is within walking distance, plus there is free parking. I loved this place!

Things to Do & See:

  • Kayak Resurrection Bay. There are a few guides to go with (and its sea kayaking, not river, so I would recommend one), but I would recommend Kayak Adventures Worldwide. They have excellent reviews, including my own. I did a half day (around $70 – and don’t forget to tip), but would recommend a full day or overnight. If you search around, you might be able to find a coupon deal. If you check out groupon.com, you might be able to score a half price deal with a guide company. The downside to going out with a guide is having to do tandem kayaks, which I don’t prefer. But, getting to go out in the bay with a fun, knowledgeable guide (btw, they bring supplies and snacks!) makes it worth it. No matter who you go with, at least venture out on a half day kayak tour in the Bay!!
  • Hiking. Well, how much time do you have and how far do you want to go? I would recommend doing at least part of Lost Lake Trail. It’s in the Chugach National Forest. It begins at MP 5 on the Seward Hwy. You can day hike it or backpack it. There are plenty of places to camp. This trail takes you through all the different terrains of the Fjords. It’s (so far) my favorite hike in Seward, and I’ve only done half of it. At the top, there is a view of the lake (if you don’t start at the lake end) and you can see out into the Bay. The views are amazing on this hike, and its a fairly easy hike. PS – you can fish at Lost Lake, too!

seward

  • Another great hike to at least check off of your list is the Harding Icefield Trail. It’s in the Kenai Fjords National Park. It is 8.2 miles RT and it is strenuous! Believe me, it is!! You hike along the Exit Glacier, and you get your first amazing view of the Glacier at around 2 miles. It’s worth even that much of the hike. At the top, you get an amazing view of the Pass and the Icefield which seems to go on forever and ever. If that’s too much for you, there is a 3 mile Exit Glacier overlook and hike as well.
  • Running & Walking & Biking: There is a bike trail that runs along the Seward Hwy and along the Bay. Its a perfect view for an evening stroll, a morning run, or if you like to bike. Seward is also home to Mount Marathon, the incredibley difficult 4th of July 5k that climbs Mt Marathon and back down. You can try it out yourself (although I urge you to be cautious & prepared) or you can hike it leaisurely as well.
  • Marine Tours. They aren’t too expensive, and its worth doing this very touristie (as I call it) adventure. It takes up a good chunk of your day, and you can either pack your lunch or pay a little extra and get a gourmet meal and free drinks aboard. Me and my friend last year were lucky enough to score free tickets aboard a boat on Major Marine Tours, but regular prices are anywhere from $79 – $170, depending on if you take a half day or whole day tour. You take a huge loop out, get to see the Aialik Glacier (picture below) caving, sea lions, really lazy seals, dall porpoise (yes, we have those), birds nesting, otters, and more whales than you can handle.

seward2

  • Fishing! This is still on my to-do list, so I don’t have any recommendations. But, charter a boat (I would recommend halibut) through a company with good reviews and get yourself some fishies to eat. Alaska also has the best salmon in the world. You can do salmon charters, too. Groupon always has fishing charter deals for places in AK. There are also plenty of lakes to do some fishing at, just be sure to get your license!
  • Seward Sealife Center. Great for a rainy day on your trip, or just to fit in. Honestly, they were not rehabing any otters while I was there, so I was completely disappointed. But this place is awesome for kids, and there were sea lions. Plus, if you’re an AK resident, you get a discount but if not, you can find 2 for 1 coupons in one of the AK coupon books.

Places to Eat:

*An edit to this post since last summer, when I was not eating clean and healthy! I do not currently (yet) have any specific GF or DF recommendations in Seward, but once I visit again this year, I find some favorites I can eat and post them for travelers!

  • Safeway. If you’re like me  and need to have access to making your own food, even for snacking and/or you have the option of cooking for yourself, there is a Safeway grocery store as you are entering town.
  • Ranting Raven Bakery & Gifts. Grab your morning espresso or tea here, delicious quiche, and did I mention CHOCOLATE CROISSANT? Because it may be the only place in Alaska that has them. I buy all of them everyday I go there when I’m in Seward. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. They have great soup, too… and the last time I was there, I had a artichoke and jalepeno croisssant that was delicious. How do you even make that taste good?
  • Seward Brewing Company. A new addition to Seward as of 2012! They have a small menu, but decent fish & chips and root beer floats (Its a brewery, so their root beer is fresh!). Also, they have some pretty good beer (their stout is the smoothest I’ve ever had).
  • Apollos. Probably the best Italian food in Alaska. I would recommend the Greek Spaghetti, but I would not recommend the Eggplant Parmesan. They have excellent seafood and pasta (duh) dishes. You can’t come to Seward and not eat here. The pizza also looks good, but I’ve yet to try it. Oh, and you have to try the baklava. wowzers.

Places to Shop:

You can walk along the small downtown area and pop in and out of shops and there are some near the docks, but honestly, I don’t spend any time there. There are plently of places to find yourself some postcards, t-shirts, etc. My preference is always to find Made in Alaska (things that have small stickers/stamps with a polar bear that say Made in Alaska) and locally made finds.

  • Ak Starfish has awesome Alaska t-shirts & hoodies.
  • Ranting Raven Bakery & Gifts (hence the gift part) is also a gift shop, with tons of locally & AK made goodies. A friend of a friend named Sue sells her beautiful artwork and cards in here. It was So neat to see her stuff there!
  • Cover to Cover bookstore is a great local bookstore. If you catch them during the right time, they’ll be getting rid of books and you’ll get killer deals (last time I was there, I got 8 books for $10!) They also have lots of great AK books.

Have some more Seward suggestions? Leave a comment! Share your favorite guides, places to shop, eat, things to see & do!

 

Summertime 2013 in Fairbanks

Yay! It’s like, the best time of the year! Right? Right? We’ve waited forever for this! What’s the best way to describe summer in Fairbanks, Alaska? Well, I guess it would be like crack, but then again, I don’t know what crack is like. But that’s my guess. It’s the most amazing thing IN THE WORLD, you run around like crazy trying to enjoy it, you don’t want it end, and then when it does, you go crazy trying to get it back. Well…now it’s mid-July. Which means we’re already like, oh crap, summer is almost over. CRAP. CRAP. CRAP! Fairbanks has its ups and downs, all year long.

Fairbanks summertime… THE GOOD

  • Running outside!
  • Biking outside!
  • Kayaking the rivers & lakes (this week, I saw a moose swimming in the lake while I was kayaking)
  • The Farmers Market
  • The Pita Place
  • Gardening (I planted my 1st one this year!)
  • Summer Solstice Street Fair
  • 24 hour sunlight (duh!)
  • Foodstock (if you don’t know, you won’t know)
  • Summer Solstice Festival
  • Did I mention the Midnight Sun?? I love it.
  • Being able to travel Alaska highways without the worry of snowstorms
  • Tourists… they bring business and you meet a lot of cool people

Fairbanks summertime… THE BAD

  • Wildfires… because then I can’t run
  • Wildfires…because then I can’t bike
  • Wildfires…because then I can’t breathe outside
  • Wildfires…because my friends are evacuated from their homes
  • Wildfires…because sometimes, the highway is closed
  • The line at River City Cafe at lunchtime…when you don’t quite beat the tour bus rush.
  • Tourists (yes, they are the good & the bad)

Fairbankspic