The inland wilds of Alaska

August 25, 2012

After waiting over an hour in the drizzling rain, Jeff finally got the keys for our rented little Subaru. He asked for directions to the Whittier tunnel.
“Go that way.” The proprietor pointed with a grin. That’s a huge convenience in lots of the small Alaskan towns. There’s only one road so it’s very hard to get lost.

The Whittier tunnel is no ordinary structure. The walls are solid, ragged granite, and it’s not lined or well lit…kinda spooky.  It’s the only tunnel of its kind in North America. It’s shared by train traffic and car traffic. Being only one lane wide, traffic flows in each direction on a schedule and since we had such a long wait at the rental office, we had about twenty minutes to wait outside. We waited in the sorting lanes and soon realized that it isn’t even first come, first served. The tour busses took top priority and were released to drive through at about one minute intervals.

We birthed from the mountain into the splendor of the Kenai Peninsula. Mountains soar thousands of feet and streams and waterways meander (‘rush’ or ‘crash’ might be better for some stretches) like veins of life blood. The vivid greens offset the white capped mountain tops, and many are streaked with mini glaciers or snow fields year round.

The weather that Saturday morning continued drizzly all the way to Seward where Jeff had reservations for us to go sea kayaking. When we arrived at “Sunny Cove Kayaking Adventures” the wind was clipping, the clouds spitting and the sea on Resurrection Bay looked much too choppy for novice or nearly novice adventurers. I had a stomach ache and was chilled through, too. Waaa, waaaa, waaaa!The guide said they weren’t sure about the weather and called a manager to come scope out the sea chop. Tricia and I admitted that we each hoped they would cancel our excursion. I have WAY too much pride to admit that I was too afraid to go if the guide was willing to take us.

The manager shrugged off the chop as “very do-able” so the guide proceeded with a safety lecture on what to do if our kayak overturns, how to wait for rescue, etc. She urged us to be layered up, so we donned every layer we owned from our luggage, including the freebie hats we got in Ketchikan. We snugged the life vest over that and the kayak skirt, (the device that goes over the shoulders like overalls and then fastens like a Tupperware lid to the rim of the kayak’s cockpit. We also pulled their rubber boots over our stocking feet.

There were a dozen tandem kayaks on the rainwashed beach. These kayaks were like nothing I’d ever paddled. They had rudders!  The person riding in the back controlled the rudder by pushing right or left on foot pedals. The instructions on how to release our skirt from the kayak in case of a capsize, how to paddle properly, and what to expect from the rudder controls seemed like a lot to absorb all at once. But Thomas and I grabbed a boat and launched onto the bay.

I took this picture by holding up my camera over my own head. Unfortunately, I got my head in the picture and that’s what the camera auto-focused on. But you get the idea.
The guide explained that the bay got it’s name when a Russian ship was caught in a storm many years ago. The storm was so violent that expected to die and just as all hope was lost, they found the mouth to a deep, landlocked bay. They sailed from death into flat water on Russian Orthodox Easter morning, and so named the bay, “Resurrection.”

Sea Kayaking is FUN!  What looked like too much chop was just enough to make it fun. In the pictures, it looks almost glassy, but there REALLY WAS about a three foot chop. The kayaks were not only super stable but wonderfully maneuverable. The paddling instructions, (twist at your waist so your core does the work instead of your arms,) were so effective that my arms never did get tired.

We saw jumping Salmon, bald eagles, other little silver that shot out of the water and flew several feet before they dropped back into the water, and a friendly sea otter who floated along on his back with his picnic spread on his chest.

By the time our three hour tour ended, I was wishing we’d signed up for an all-night kayak camping trip. . .except that the next day was Sunday, and that wouldn’t be appropriate.

Having just come from visiting Brian and Kelsi in Juneau, we tipped our cute little guide, (who looked remarkably like Kelsi,) very well. (above) We drove from Seward to Anchorage, which drive is so scenic you need eyes on all sides of your head.

Anchorage seems to be a clean, inviting city. Some friends here in OK told us to go to “Mooses Tooth” Pizza so we put it into the GPS and found that it was only three miles from our scruffy little motel. There was a crowd waiting outside, but we took a number and went grocery shopping during the 1 hour promised wait. Groceries were astonishingly high. We wanted to buy enough food to carry for picnics later in the week and since the next day was Thomas’s birthday, we also bought a birthday cake. I paid about $80 for what would have cost about half that in OK.

We still had to wait at outside the Mooses Tooth. It was 8:00 on a Saturday evening and the place was PACKED. We waited another half an hour for our Pizza and by then were so famished, they could have served us Totino’s, but that Pizza was unbelievably yummy. So next time you happen to be in AK, stop by the Moose’s Tooth.

We attended a local ward and enjoyed all three hours. The ward seemed healthy, without too may nuts or kooks!  We took a walk in a pretty strip park with a bike path that followed a stream. Later, we drove over to the Anchorage temple. TEENY. But very pretty.

Monday, we drove up to Denali, making some stops along the way. We took a nice hike to a waterfall, (Which Thomas almost refused to do, since it was an easy path and he thought that it would be mosquito infested. (He hates mosquitoes but they LOVE him.) We sprayed the repellant and he finally came along.

Thomas, on the left won’t unfrown when he came agaisnt his will, but he took the next picture for me. I was reluctant to navigate the muddy bank to get a shot of the bottom thirty feet of the waterfall.

 We also had to stop in Talkeetna. Talkeetna AK is famous for its annual event of Moose Dropping.  They shellac moose poop and drop it from airplanes at targets.  I didn’t ask what the winner gets for a prize. . . We wanted to see it, (it’s not often you meet people so comfortable in their own skin that they admit to being excited about a poop-flinging festival.) This is a moose turd I found up in Denali. It is in its pure, organic state. (completely dry and odorless.)

 I showed it to the kids, which disgusted them. They decided to hike to a crag that Jeff and I didn’t care about, and as soon as they left, I found 11 dollars in a wad by the stream. Nobody else was around, so I pocketed it. When the kids came down, I said “If you open your mouth and close your eyes, I’ll give you a big surprise.” But neither of them would. . . So I said that if they’d close their eyes and hold out their hand, I’d let them keep what I’d found. They still wouldn’t. So I had no choice but to keep my treasure. (the money, not the turd.)

By the time we got to Denali, (the TRUE name for Mt. McKinley) it was busily making its own weather and wore its wizard cape of fog. Thomas did indeed refuse to take the short hike to a lookout. . .and there were lots of mosquitoes.

Jeff had reserved a room in “White Moose Lodge”, which sounds very chic and upper crust, but was merely clean and adequate. There WERE pictures of the white moose namesake. Jeff snored so vigorously that I didn’t need to wake up special to take the midnight photograph I had planned.

The following day, having had little sleep, (Jeff felt GOOD!) we took our Safari! Yes, the trucks were as fun as they looked and our guide diligently scoured the scenery for wildlife sightings.
Either a bear foot print or a clever ruse!
 We saw some moose, various birds and Caribou. They took us up to another old gold mine where we had lunch, (we supplied,) and then we hiked up to the spongy tundra to get a closer look at the caribou, (no red-nosed species that day) and to look for Grizzly bears. The artic ground squirrels knew the drill and were tame enough that for a bit of cookie, he let me pet him.

The monster truck tour was pricey, but knowing how way leads on to way, I knew I would not pass that way again. . .I was glad we did it. The scenery off the beaten path is so vast and wild and free, it made an imprint on my soul that will not be soon erased. My eyes have traced land that no man has ever trodden. The fish grow mammoth and the bears grow huge because there’s nothing to stunt and confine them. God’s fingerprints have not been scrubbed off by bulldozers.  In fact, we’ve been home about three weeks and every night, I dream I’m in Alaska. It’s not that I need to rush back to it, but it changed me, got into my blood so that I think a little differently than I did before.

The last full day, we drove back down to the Kenai Peninsula and found our lodge on the banks of the turquoise Kenai river at Cooper Landing. Our suite had a full kitchen, two bedrooms and a nice clean bathroom.

Our river rafting excursion with the Kenai River Adventure company was set to start at 6:00 p.m. We had seen Dahl sheep and moose and reindeer and caribou and salmon and bald eagles and even squirrels but spoiled as we were by then, we wanted to see a BROWN Bear. (The species called “Grizzly bear” in the mountainous part of the country is called ‘brown bear’ in the salmon-eating areas. The salmon allow the brown bears to grow several hundred pounds heavier than an average ‘grizzly’.  The tour guide gave us overalls and boots and raincoats and life vests. It was spitting rain again by the time we launched, but we were so bundled that no fingerling of cold could find our bodies.
A trusty teepee always comes in handy. The color of the water was so interesting and lovely.

The salmon were running strong up the Kenai and the red (or sockeye) were jumping a foot or two out of the aquamarine-colored water.  Our guide honored our tour by running us aground on an island, (he claimed it was the first of such mishaps) (I pretty much believed him),  but just after that we saw a Brown bear sow with her cub. The cub looked like about a three hundred pound butter ball. Just a few minutes later, we passed some fishermen, (there were LOTS of fisherman along the way) and saw a black bear about 100 feet down river from the men. Black bears are actually dangerous to humans, even though they are much smaller than the brown bears. They don’t discriminate in their diets as much as a brown bear and will hunt and eat a human. (Rare, but occasionally) (That’s not ‘rare’ as in undercooked, it’s ‘rare’ as in ‘unusual’. Some VERY mild rapids made the rafting ride itself fun. We didn’t have paddles, so we were mere passengers.
This poor fellow agreed to pose for us at the airport. His living counterparts were not so accomodating.

The following day, our flight was to leave Anchorage at 5:00 p.m. so Jeff drove down the Kenai just to see the scenery. On our return trip, we saw a big, big, BIG brown bear swimming in the river.  Since Jeff couldn’t stop where we were, we turned around and pulled off. Happily the critter was still fishing as she swam. The water wasn’t deep so we got a good view of her whole body when she stood up. Jeff recognized the place as the same as where the guide had said a brown bear sow likes to crash into the stream and fish from in the water. 

Weariness began to overtake us as we waited for our flight. We noticed something interesting at the airport. For every one woman, there were about 40 men. And most of the other women were dressed like they’d just come out of the hills. . .wait a minute, so were we! We were out of clean clothes and didn’t much care.

Our flight took us out over Prince William Sound and down to beautiful Seattle. Seattle to Houston and Houston to OKC. It was over a hundred by the time we got to the car the next morning. It was 65 degrees in Anchorage that day.

 The stark, glaring sun reddened our tired eyes. The lawn grass was long but the back yard had dry spots where the 115 record heat had scorched it. The missionaries had half-moved out of our upstairs while we were gone. (They’d left the mission furniture. . .not gonna work!) But the heat felt good. The privacy felt good. The raisin bran tasted good. And even after our high adventure, there’s no place like home.    

This is our back patio sporting the seatcovers I just refinished. It is indeed a lovely place to sit and read.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Anonymous August 27, 2012 at 4:19 am

    Beth,I've enjoyed reading about your Alaskan adventure. Amra is living in Anchorage now with her Air Force husband and baby. If she knew you were there she would have loved to see you. Marie Welch

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