Solo Chick Alaska Adventure

I'm making one of my dreams come true by doing a solo chick adventure to Alaska. I’ll chronicle my trip here.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Final Words About Alaska

As I look back on my photos and still hear from people I met along the way, I can’t stop smiling. Just the idea of going to Alaska was exciting on its own. It’s further from NYC than most of Europe, so it really was like going to another country. But the warmth I felt from my fellow Americans had a Midwest feel to it. I loved getting to know a bunch of great people. Almost everyone has a story about why they live there. Many come because they’re in the military and stay.

Alaska is certainly more diverse than any other country I’ve visited, except for Canada maybe. The weather and seasons change dramatically in different regions. Alaska is a melting pot like NYC, except for different ingredients. There are several Eskimo groups. And many people come over from Russia, which is quite close. There were students from around the world who come for the summer to work. Japan is also not too far so there were many Japanese visiting. Many different types but all with a smile!

The terrain changes throughout the state too. The Juneau and Scagway regions are part of a small strip of land along the side of western Canada. It’s quite isolated from the rest of the state. I’m told the glaciers are there are the most spectacular. The Anchorage area has lots of mountains and also lots of glaciers. It gets flatter as you go further into the interior. And while Anchorage averages in the 20’s in winter, Fairbanks, just a few hundred miles away, can go down to 60 below. But they don’t have tons of snow. There, some, but it’s manageable.

Most of the people I met up north don’t see the winters as bad. They admit that there’s a lot of depression and alcoholism. But the ones I met were upbeat about their lives and passion for Alaska. Jo Scott recently wrote me that fall is already coming to Fairbanks. She’s expecting the first frost within two weeks. I wrote back that she must be sad to see her beautiful flowers die. She replied, “We garden from May through August with a few days into September and we all GARDEN 'HARD' -- working out in the 24 hour daylight, so by fall, I'm READY TO QUIT AND DO SOME WINTER THINGS.” That’s the spirit of Fairbanks!

It gets more barren further north. And even colder. Had I gone a littlel further I’d have reached the Prudhoe and Barrow regions by the Arctic Sea. That’s where the oil comes from. Since Alaska is so big, it was hard to see everything I wanted even in 18 days. If I’d had more time I’d have gone south to Seward and vicinity. It’s another beautiful region with glaciers and other gifts of nature.

If I had to find something negative about the trip, the only thing I can think of is the mosquitoes. I was told that the season was over by mid July. June is the worst month for them. But the few that remained found me very sweet and munched whenever they could. They’re much bigger than the ones in NY. And I had bites that lasted for weeks. Bug spray only works for a short time. I was often seen flailing my arms to shoo them away. And they come with the territory I love – hiking and the outdoors. Fortunately it was fairly cool so I wore long sleeves when I could and long pants. That helped. My hands were hit the hardest.

Another less than perfect aspect of Alaska is the transportation between cities. Juneau is magnificent but there are no roads to drive there so one must fly, take a boat, or ferry with a car. Trains are VERY slow. Outside of the major cities, many of the roads are bumpy. So travel plans must include the time factor for getting from one place to another. You might see that a city looks fairly close by most standards. Heck, I can drive 200 miles in under 3 hours. Not in Alaska! The train might take 8 or more. And there might not be a road. That’s part of why cruise ships are popular.

I think another reason people like cruises is that Alaska is quite pricy so people prefer just sleeping on the boat. I’m glad I just stayed on land. People I spoke to who’d been on ships said they spent a lot of time traveling and didn’t see or do nearly as much as I did. Many of the ships lead their own activities and that limits you more. I’m glad that I flew up the way I did and just found activities as I went. Spontaneity brings many more rewards when you travel.

If you opt for a cruise, I’d recommend spending some extra time on land and make your own arrangements for activities. There’s so much you can’t see from a ship. Many of the great places to visit aren’t by the water. Denali National Park is definitely worth visiting and you’d need several days for that. The people I met who cruised up but spent some time on their own and flew back seemed to get much more out of their trips than those who just stayed with the ship activities.

I’m told that a good time to visit southern Alaska is in May, as spring warms temps up a bit. It’s still cool but there are no mosquitoes and prices are much lower before tourist season begins. Many Alaskans recommended visiting as early as March, when winter begins to leave and the days get longer. They say it’s beautiful then and you can still see the aurora borealis. It’s not visible in summer as it doesn’t get dark enough. I plan to take another trip during the earlier months one day.

One thing I loved in Alaska was there was no tax on many things, like clothes and food. It really did make a difference in my spending. Restaurants were a little pricier than I’m used to but no tax evened the bill out some. I liked shopping too, though I had to be careful not to buy more than the airline would let me check in without a penalty fee. ☺ I do love shopping! A 50-pound limit is tough! My hiking boots alone weigh a lot.

I know I’ll be back to Alaska one day. There’s so much more to see! My biggest issue will be that I’ll want to return to where I’ve been as it was so lovely. But I also want to see new places. I’ll figure it out when I go. I’m told that many people who visit don’t want to go home and some actually relocate to our most remote state. It’s a special place that has many aspects you won’t find all together in another one. I urge everyone to consider a trip to Alaska if you want a unique experience.

I hope my blog and photos convince you to follow in my footsteps. Try some of the activities I did. Explore other places and write your own blog. ☺ If you have no one you’d enjoy going with, go solo, like I did. Only YOU can make things happen for you. Only YOU can make your life better.

I’m so blessed to have been able to go to Alaska with my best friend – ME! It was an experience of a lifetime, but I don’t intend to consider this trip as THE one. I’ll have a lot more adventures in the future. I hope you all have a future of adventures and making dreams come true. If you just want to pass time, you’re wasting your precious life. There’s no time better than NOW to take a step toward really living. You don’t have to get on the next plane or whatever would rock your world. But take the first step by at least thinking about what you’d like and initiating a plan. Now that’s really living! I’m already looking at new horizons to dream about and conquer. I wish you a satisfying journey to making your own dreams come true.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Learning About Dog Sledding

Sunday was my last full day in Alaska. It was raining when I woke, a good excuse to relax after my long, early day on Saturday. That evening I went to Ivory Jack’s for dinner. It’s a little out of the way but it was recommended as a more authentic Alaskan restaurant. Plus, it was on my way to learn about mushing. The restaurant was very down home and friendly with a big bar. The people seemed to be more locals, which was interesting.

From Ivory Jack’s I drove up to Mary Shield’s place, where she gives a Tales of the Trails presentation every night at 7:30 at her home. Mary was the first woman to finish the Iditarod, the world’s most renowned dog sled race – over 1,100 miles long – from Anchorage to Nome in March. Mushers travel from 10 to 17 days in temps way below zero and often enduring blinding winds. There are rules they must follow, especially when it comes to taking care of the dogs.

Mary is now 61 but still going strong. She still takes her dogs out when the snow comes and still loves her trips in the snow. After Mary gave us an introduction talk, we got to go into the pen with her huskies and pet them. You can see the love between Mary and her furry friends. They depend on each other on the trail. It was drizzling but we all wanted to see the dogs so we joined Mary with them. She takes excellent care of them and explained what they need to stay fit.

People are concerned about hurting the dogs by using them to pull the sled. Mary affirmed what I was told all along the way – the dogs LOVE it. As soon as they’re given the signal to run, they’re off. While they wait for the signal, they’re anxious to get going. Being sled dogs is what they’re bred for so it’s in their blood to do it. Mushers take good care of their dogs. During her talk, Mary explained how they do it. We got to see her sled and she explained life on the trail.

After an hour outside, we went into Mary’s log cabin home, which is lovely. We sat around her big table drinking tea and eating homemade cookies while Mary told us more stories about her adventures with her sled and dogs. Her descriptions were vivid and fascinating. She explained how the Iditarod works and about other races she did, including the Yukon Quest and Hope Race from Alaska to Siberia. We were all enthralled as she told what it was like dog sledding to Siberia in Russia and how she made friends with a Siberian musher who she kept in touch with for years, even though neither spoke the same language.

At the end, Mary showed us part of her video that was televised on PBS. It showed her actually out with the dogs in the snow. She sold some that night, as well as her books. She’s written 5. I got a copy of Sled Dog Trails. It’s an interesting read about her experiences on the trails with her dogs. Everything is offered for sale on Mary’s website.

I highly recommend Mary’s Tails of the Trail if you’re in the Fairbanks area. You’ll really get a taste of a special side of Alaska that most tourists never see.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Crossing the Arctic Circle

I’ve been so busy since returning from my trip that I didn’t have time to finish my blog. It took me over a week to recover from all the activities topped by a 15 hour overnight trip home. I left my hotel at 7:30 to return my car and check in. Then a short flight from Fairbanks to Anchorage. From there it was a longer flight to Chicago. I got home after 1PM on Tuesday. Slept for 10-12 hours each night for over a week. Never did that before!

Now to finish telling about my trip. My last Saturday in Fairbanks I took a full day Arctic Circle Fly/Drive Adventure with Northern Alaska Tour Company. They have a variety of tours up north of Fairbanks, including to native villages and the Arctic Ocean, by bus, plane or both. I went on my tour in a van bus. We drove to Coldfoot, north of the Arctic Circle and returned by air.

I had to get up at 3:45 AM in order to get there at 4:45. That was tough!!! There were 5 of us, plus our guide Justin, who was very knowledgeable about the region. We headed north in the interior region of Alaska and then beyond. It was rugged and bumpy, though we were told it’s a lot better than it used to be.

This was the unpopulated Alaska – rugged and stark. We left real toilets in Fairbanks. There were outhouses in other places but these were the toughest. In Denali Park they had dispensers with anti-bacterial Purell hand sanitizer. Here there was a door and stench. In the first one we went to, we laughed at the décor – paintings in each stall. It sure didn’t fit the rest! But one gets used to it if you want to explore this amazing state.

I almost said country, because Alaska is over one fifth the size of what they call the lower forty eights – the states except for Alaska and Hawaii. It’s a very big place – almost like a country on its own. Most people never see more than a fraction of it, even its residents. I feel blessed that I got to go on this adventure, despite the early hour.

The terrain wasn’t as beautiful as down south. But heck! I was going north in Alaska, seeing things I’d only read about and that always had a sort of mystical sense about them. We watched the Alaskan Pipeline wind it’s way up and down the hills bringing it’s black gold down from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean.

And I saw the Yukon River. Wow! It’s in my history books and in movies. But there I was, on its banks! And Hallelujah! They had real bathrooms at that stop, and the nice box lunches we’d ordered in advance. ☺ After enjoying having running water, we continued north and watched the scenery change as we went. Much of Alaska is tundra. I’d heard that word many times but never knew exactly what it meant.

I discovered that much of Alaska has areas called tundra, where soil grows over permafrost, a permanently frozen layer of ground which is often 2000 feet thick. After the ice age, soil was blown over the ice and eventually seeds were able to grow. But only plants with shallow roots can live there, so trees don’t grow too tall. But it does get green. We stopped at a place that had a small hole already dug and people were able to put there hands down into the mud to feel the ice below the surface. You can tell by the growth were the tundra is.

Eventually we reached the Arctic Circle. Justin put out a mat by the sign with a line down the middle and we all crossed it and got certificates showing that we had. It felt wild to actually be there. It really doesn’t change that much but the idea of going beyond the Arctic Circle felt surreal. The Arctic Circle! Yee-haw! I crossed the Arctic Circle and have a certificate to prove it. ☺

It rained/drizzled on and off all day. Justin was concerned that our plane wouldn’t be able to land. But I put my spiritual power to work and the plane arrived. It was a pleasant flight back and I had the evening free to chill and get to bed early.

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Monday, July 31, 2006

Arriving in Fairbanks

Fairbanks is different than Anchorage. It’s a sweet, pretty, more laidback place. There’s a strong community feeling here and pride in its treasures. Thursday I checked into Pike’s Waterfront Lodge, an oasis right near the airport. And I really do mean oasis! It’s located right on Airport Way. But, the back of it is on the water, so it feels like it’s in the country. The rooms are lovely and they have Aveda products instead of brands I've never heard of!

I’ve been in a cabin for 4 nights. It was comfy like home! I love it here! When I arrived, I realized that I’d left my folder with important papers by the phone in the airport office. My car wasn’t ready yet and I asked at the desk whether I could walk over and get it, as it seemed close by. Betty, who was on duty, said that yes, I could walk, but she’d do one better – she handed me her car keys to drive there quickly! I was floored. I hadn’t even checked in yet. What a nice thing to do! I was quickly able to retrieve my folder, which had my tickets, itinerary and travelers’ checks – a big relief! The friendliness here is widespread.

That afternoon I drove over to the University and met Jo Scott, who runs the Fairbanks Arts Festival. Jo founded it 26 years ago. She came to Alaska 53 years ago to teach English until she turned 25, the age required to teach abroad. But she fell in love with Fairbanks, and her husband of 52 years, and never left. Jo says the community spirit and support makes her festival so special. It began as a jazz festival and grew into a multi-dimensional event that includes other areas of music and the arts.

Jo is such an inspiration! At 77, she has the energy of someone less than half her age. She organizes the festival every year. It includes a variety of classes that allow people to learn new skills in music, art, dance, healing arts and more. People come from all over the country to teach the classes, that include well-known musicians and professors from top schools. They arrive for 2 weeks each summer. Jo took me to see her lovely home. There was a profusion of flowers everywhere. People in Alaska sure do make the most of their 3 months of summer by having more flowers than most people have in a year!

Thursday evening I hooked up with some members of The Fairbanks Area Hiking Club. I spoke to their contact person, John Risser, a few weeks before I left. He was very helpful and gave me info on Fairbanks. The club is run by volunteers. They have a hike every Thursday night that’s free to anyone and longer ones on the weekends, including overnights. They were so welcoming that I felt comfortable joining them and enjoyed the hike. There’s a lot less activity going on here in Fairbanks. I found it very serene.

Fairbanks is referred to as being in “the interior” of the state, as opposed to being one of the coastal cities. I found a very strong sense of pride among its residents. The ones I spoke with are here because they love it. The long, dark, freezing winters (sometimes as much as 60 below zero) don’t bother them much. They assure me that Fairbanks doesn’t have a lot of wind, which makes it easier to tolerate the frigid temps. Somehow, I don’t think it would any better than I felt in Phoenix when it was 129 degrees but not humid. Freezing is freezing! But I admire the passion Fairbanks’ residents have for their city.

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Awesome Wilderness Experience @ Denali Wilderness Lodge

Can you imagine being somewhere practically untouched by man? A place with no roads in or out – over 30 miles from the nearest area that a car can reach? That can only be reached by bush plane? Surrounded by mountains, trees, tundra and sky, with a river and lake accenting the area? And a family and staff waiting to make you as happy as possible? I just finished two days in Alaskan heaven!

I came to Alaska for the outdoors. Every experience has been exhilarating. But my two days at the Denali Wilderness Lodge is in a class by itself. On Tuesday morning, Sean Crotty, the owner, loaded my bags and I into his plane. I’d never been in one so small and was a little nervous about what it would be like. No need to worry! I felt great taking off, flying fairly low over gorgeous scenery and then around some mountains to this enchanted place. He let me sit next to him and I wore headphones with a mic so we could communicate. Sean flew planes in the Air Force for 15 years, including being shot at in war zones while bringing our troops supplies, so I knew he’d get me there safely.

Flying over some of Alaska’s most beautiful wilderness was an experience I’ll never forget. I felt like a kid in a toy plane! ☺ There were trees and mountains everywhere I looked. And some moose! And there I was sitting in the cockpit watching it all from above! We landed on the airstrip just next to the lodge and were greeted by Sean’s lovely wife Lucy. I was deep in the heart of the wilderness!

This place is so special! There are cabins and also some rooms in 2 lodges. Each has a unique theme in its décor. I had fun getting the grand tour. Lucy and Sean bought the place this year but each room is furnished with antiques and furniture from the original lodge. One lodge is designed after a brothel and has a piano and lovely old sofa in the common area. It’s adorable. I was in the Sheep cabin. It was recessed into the woods a little so I was really alone. Since daylight lasts so late, I never had to walk back in the dark. I’d worried about their plumbing but the bathrooms were modern and I had a heater that I could control.

Denali Wilderness Lodge is run with love. Many of the people working there are friends/relatives of Sean and Lucy who came up for the summer to help them succeed. Their 3 kids help out too. Aunt Mo seemed to work all the time, with a happy smile and energy to spare. She’d come all the way from upstate NY to be part of the staff. Everyone was out to please. They couldn’t do enough for us. Lucy just kept looking for how she could make someone’s stay better. Guests became part of the family.

Lucy says they bought the lodge because she and Sean had a dream when they first got involved – to open a place in the wilderness and make people happy from the experience. She works almost all the time but wouldn’t trade it for anything. They put everything they had into this lodge – sold their home and burned old working bridges. They’re determined to succeed! The response from the guests indicates they will. A honeymooning couple from NYC said they couldn’t imagine a better place to be. I met a couple who’ll get married there in August. Everyone there seemed as delighted as I was.

And the food is fantabulous! Everything was homemade and yummy. They even had dishes for vegetarians. The desserts at each meal added many calories that I didn't need but didn’t regret. Breakfast was a treat with freshly baked treats and interesting egg dishes. They even had baklava one night! Kudos to those who pitch in to prepare meals! And every late afternoon there are wonderful hot hors d’oeuvres and drinks served by staff members in the cozy sitting room in the main lodge.

I did a long hike into the mountains on both days. Andy took me out when I arrived. Originally from Texas, he joked that the Crotty’s inherited him with the place as he’s worked there for 7 years. Since the lodge is only open from the beginning of June till early September due to the long winter, Andy works on a ranch in Texas with horses when it’s closed. We had such a good time hiking. Andy’s very knowledgeable about the history of the place and also is a naturalist for the lodge so he knows all about the plants and wildlife. We hiked for over 2 hours to above the tree line. At one point, Andy said if I step off the trail –not very far, I’d probably step where no one has stepped before. It felt wonderful.

Andy’s best friend Matt and their girlfriends also work at the lodge and are all lovely people. Matt and I went hiking on day 2. When we got above the tree line, we sat and chatted awhile as we enjoyed the panorama. These hikes are rustic. No well-maintained trails like at parks. The trails are just vaguely visible and we pushed through brush most of the time. We also had to go through water. Andy and Matt hike over the mountains without any trails. The air was so fresh that my sinuses rejoiced! And while I don’t usually celebrate water, I was conscious of how good it was to drink.

My mind and soul have been cleansed and rejuvenated from being at the Denali Wilderness Lodge. When I flew out on Thursday, I was sad to leave my now extended family. I once again enjoyed a ride back with Sean in his plane and hope to return one day!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Exploring Denali State Park

My visit to Denali National Park continued my delight with my Alaska experience. I stayed at the Bluffs hotel in Denali, which is located with a bunch of others just outside the park. It’s part of Denali Park Resorts – typical of a park type of room, though it had a small wooden balcony that I could sit on for a view of trees all around me. I’d sit there and write while breathing in the fresh mountain air, reminding myself how blessed I am to have the opportunity to experience all of this.

Sunday I had to get up at 4 MA as my Tundra Tour of Denali began just after 5 AM!! Tough to make but worth the trip! Since daytime arrives early in Alaska (like 3 hours after it leaves!), it was light when I left. Felt tired at first but woke up fast when someone called “moose on the left!” It was a baby moose but we had a great view of it grazing right there on the side of the road. From then on I stayed alert.

John, our driver, was the best I could imagine. He loves Denali and his passion was strong as he gave us many details about its history and the park itself. One thing that makes the park special is that it’s trail-less. Most parks have well defined trails that hikers and backpackers can follow. Not Denali. They try to keep it as true to its natural state as possible. This includes limiting how many can stay overnight to just a few. Those who run the park don’t want animals to change their habits by following man-made paths. But as John said, for serious hikers, there’s nothing like being in one point, wanting to reach another and having to figure out how to get there on your own.

They do whatever they can to protect the animals from humans. This includes scrupulous methods of keeping any food from reaching them. Backpackers carry special containers for food that bears can’t rip open or smell the food through. Because they don’t get food from people, they leave most alone. Most vehicles can’t go in further than 14 miles. They have many bus tours and shuttle buses for those who want to walk around or hike. But hiking can involve crossing rivers so cold they can kill you and finding your way without trails. So I wouldn’t recommend it for novices. I'm told that there are 4 lodges 96 miles into the park that can be accessed by air taxi or hotel buses.

The views we saw were spectacular. I’d been warned that Mt. McKinley isn’t often visible due to cloud cover. It’s so big that it creates its own weather system. But oh my goodness! My staunch faith continued to reward me as we saw the mountain’s head clearly in the distance, not long after entering the park. It was just a snowy peak, 80 miles away, but John said it’s unusual and warned when we got to the better view point, it might be gone. But it wasn’t! We had such a clear view of the whole mountain that people who work here were coming out to see it. Another blessing manifested by faith in great weather! It felt like the mountain was very close but it was actually 40 miles away.

We saw bears, caribou, and sheep at a distance in their natural setting. And trees and mountains. It was 8 hours, which got a little tough for my back to deal with but John rarely stopped telling us interesting stories as we drove. Since we went back the same way we rode up, I took some catnaps toward the end. I just loved being in the middle of the mountains and seeing all the green.

Monday I just relaxed and walked around until it was time to catch the train to Fairbanks. This time I went Goldstar, which is the first class of trains. We sat in a nice high car with a see-through dome at the top. There was a free beverage bar. The train was far from full so it was a nice spacious ride. I got into Fairbanks after 8PM so I didn’t have time for more than checking into my Extended Stay hotel at the airport and going to sleep. I needed to get up early to have breakfast and meet the bush plane taking me to the Denali Wilderness Lodge on Tuesday.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Alaska Railroad to Denali State Park

Friday was my day for some needed downtime. I’d checked into the Sleeping Lady Bed & Breakfast the night before and was delighted with it. Rick, the owner, is a former music DJ so we had some interesting conversations and shared memories. He’s also a fabulous cook and runs an awesome place. The B & B overlooks the water and I had a fantastic view from my room. They have a deck with a view and I enjoyed sitting out there, writing.

The room was beautifully decorated. I enjoyed paying attention to all the lovely touches. My bed was comfy and breakfast was a treat. Rick bakes fresh coffee cakes. I had to leave early Saturday morning and I got some wrapped for the train. I just relaxed on Friday, wandering around Anchorage and doing some writing. Saturday morning I got on a train for Denali Park, home of Mount McKinley. It’s now called Denali, which means, “Great One.”

The train ride on the Alaska Railroad was long but lovely. Eight hours did a job on my back but at least I had a seat with lots of legroom and no one next to me. The train was very comfortable for a train. We rode through dense trees with all sorts of lovely scenery. Alaska is such a beautiful state. There was a dome car up high that offered even better views. I stayed in The Bluffs, part of Denali Park Resorts. I had a nice room with a small terrace that I enjoyed spending downtime on. The scenery is so green. : ) This city girl really appreciates being surrounded by trees!

Arriving at Denali Park I knew how blessed I was to be there. Clean air and trees and mountains everywhere!

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Sunday, July 23, 2006


Thursday began on a not so upbeat note. I had to check out of my hotel for my last 2 days in Anchorage. I was sad to leave the Historic Anchorage Hotel. The people who work there are delightful so I’d been very comfortable. And the location is right in the heart of downtown so it was convenient. I got in late from my hike the evening before and had to pack so sleep was minimal – I left at 6:30 AM (to me still nighttime!) to go kayaking.

I’ve seen kayaks – those colorful little boats bobbing in the water and wondered what it was like to be in one. They always looked a bit unstable but I was assured they’re safe and decided to have an adventure in one. I’m thrilled that I did! Alaska Sea Kayakers runs a great operation. I was nervous about being out in a kayak for an entire day but it went smoother than I could have imagined thanks to our guides, Misty and Kelly. I signed up for the Blackstone Bay tour.

As I said, I was nervous. Didn’t know how I’d like it. What if it tipped? The water is freezing as it’s got icebergs running into it – kind of like how drinks stay cold when there’s lot of ice cubes. And it’s always a little awkward when you travel solo and join families on these types of activities. But I got into a fun groove quickly. The people were all nice. There were 7 of us – one family of 4 and a father and son, plus Misty and Kelly. Blackstone Bay is a distance from our starting point in Whittier. We took a charter boat for 45 minutes. I was concerned about getting queasy but not at all! We were dropped off on a beach and they unloaded the kayaks and gear.

Misty instructed us on how to get in and out of the kayaks. We were prepared for almost everything. The guides for Alaska Sea Kayakers are certified and considered “on duty,” instead of just being escorts. On duty means they are required to do everything they can to help the health and safety of those in their care. While all guides would most likely do it, these guides are obligated to. They’re trained in CPR and if someone falls in the water, they know how to rescue them and warm them up.

Before we left, we stowed our shoes in the office and put on rubber boots. Life vests too. I got a raincoat for later. They said it’s almost always raining in that area. Sunny days actually create rougher water. Blackstone Bay has several glaciers and they greatly affect the water conditions. Sun on them makes the water rougher. The closer you get to one, the colder you feel. I used my faith to keep the rain that they get most days away. It was a bit overcast but bright.

Kelly rode in a double kayak with me since I was solo. She’s a fun and informative chick so I enjoyed our interactions. The others were also in pairs. Misty was solo and led the way. We paddled around glaciers and boy were they calving. Sadly, that refers to pieces breaking off of the glaciers regularly. It’s a nice tourist attraction but means the glaciers are shrinking, which will lead to them eventually disappearing. Such a shame!

As pieces break off, they create thunder-like sounds. Booms! Scary to first hear it when you’re sitting in a little kayak but I got used to it fast. We sat and watched for it to happen and weren’t disappointed. The glaciers had a bluish tinge and we’d watch them intently, getting excited when a piece came down. Then the boom. Kelly explained that the boom comes after so looking when you hear it is too late. It happens fast but I finally caught some falling in a photo.

Kelly said we’d be very lucky to get through lunch without rain. As Misty’s gourmet spread got set out on a checkered tablecloth on the beach we stopped on, the sun actually peeked out and warmed us up. Misty rocks! We expected peanut butter sandwiches and instead were treated to a feast of smoked salmon, homemade macaroni salad, fresh cheese, yummy spread with crackers, fresh fruit and veggies cut up, and granola bars. AND – Nutella! I’d never had that before and it’s yummy! They even had hot water for tea and hot chocolate. Misty and Kelly served up a lunch beyond our expectations.

After the break, we embarked for more. As we approached another glacier, mist hit us from it. It felt good as I’d been a bit warm from the sun. It was very light. Then the clouds got a bit darker and drizzled lightly for the rest of our trip. I put my rain jacket on and felt warm and dry under it. We took another break under a glacier and hiked up just next to it. We climbed on rocky trails and over boulders, made a little slippery by the drizzle and clunky rubber boots with little traction. But it felt good to stretch and satisfying to actually do it. It was another thing I felt nervous about but conquered it.

As we rode to our final destination, there were flocks of seagulls roosted along the shore. As we got close, they flew away en mass. I wanted a picture but couldn’t get to my camera in time. No problem, Kelly reassured. She explained how the gulls play a game by flying away and then roosting just a little ahead. Then they fly off as we get close, to just a little down the way and it becomes a cycle. I had my camera ready as we got close the next time and caught them in flight. Funny birds!

We got to Willard Island where arranged to meet the charter for our return trip. It was around 5 but he wasn’t due till 5:30 - 5:45. We were early because we had a great group and got in and out of the boats quickly without wasting time. Just as we stepped out of the kayak, the sky opened up. Kelly had just told me how it rains every day there, but rarely more than a drizzle. This was a lot more! But she and Misty were quick to action, getting out a big tarp and using paddles to stand it up as an awning. Good thing, as we didn’t know it yet but the charter boat had a problem earlier and was running late. We waited almost 2 hours, sitting on big rocks laughing as Misty and Kelly broke out some snacks to cheer us up.

It’s hard to get radio transmissions in that area so we were never sure when Josh would arrive to get us. The rain poured down but we stayed dry. The only uncomfortable part was the mosquitoes, often referred to as the bird of Alaska. They’re fine when you’re moving so during kayaking they weren’t a problem. But, they attacked us on shore. Two days later I still have a few bites that itch. We were all relieved when Josh radioed that he was right around the corner. It took some more time to load the kayaks and gear and then a 45-minute ride back.

The big concern was returning in time to go through the tunnel that connects Whittier to the mainland. It’s only one lane and is used by trains too, so you can only go through it out of Whittier once an hour. We were supposed to return between 6 and 6:30. Instead it was close to 8 when we were on our way to the tunnel to make the 8PM time to go through. I was sad to say goodbye to everyone that I’d shared this magical day with, especially Kelly, my kayak buddy and Misty, our leader. Both were skilled and strong. Nothing fazed them. Their good cheer and sense of fun was contagious.

Kayaking was definitely an adventure that was both fun and taught me how to get past my fears to enjoy the fun. I’d challenged myself when I signed up for it. I could have done a short trip but pushed for the all day one. It was worth it for an amazing day and a shot of confidence for having overcome fears!

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