Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Remember that time I went to Alaska all by myself and it was really awesome? (Part I)

First of all, I don't know how to express this but I'll give it a try: going to Alaska was like coming home.

The light and the air.
The quietude. The serenity.
The soft rustling of birch leaves in the morning breeze.
The feeling of openness—weightlessness, almost.

A lingering sensation of coming really close to something important, something fundamental.

Okay, please stop me before I go all hippie-yoga-yin-yang-flower-child on you. What I'm saying is this: I liked Alaska. Alaska and I are friends. I will most likely need to go back and visit Alaska again sometime.

There, you have it.

Now let's get on with the more chronological description of my journey. I was away for nine days in total, starting in Anchorage and driving north to Talkeetna and Healy/Denali. From there I made a U-turn and headed south to the Kenai peninsula to visit Sterling, Homer, and Seward, before returning to Anchorage and (reluctantly) reality.

Throughout the trip I continuously consulted my copy of the excellent 55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska (5th ed) for general info and hiking inspiration along the road. I knew roughly where I was going and when, but apart from that framework my activities were not planned in detail. Instead, weather (lovely, in general), mood (stellar, overall), and strangers (friendly, mostly) inspired the day-to-day decision-making.

First hike: Thunderbird Falls (2 miles roundtrip). An easy stroll through a delightful forest of birch trees to a pretty waterfall, and then back the same way. Realization: Washington state sure has a lot of trees, but evergreens aren't quite the same as deciduous forests; I've missed these babies. (Yes, I got a wee bit teary-eyed.)

Next: Bodenberg Butte (south trailhead; 3 miles roundtrip). Up, up, up on a dusty switchback path to the top. Great views. Lots of sweat. Then down, down, down. More sweat.

Next, on to adorable Talkeetna—probably my favorite community of those I visited on this trip. Touristy? Sure, definitely—but in a comforting, low-key kind of way.

My sightseeing started with a walk down to the Susitna River where I got my first real glimpse of the massive Denali (a.k.a. Mount McKinley) on the horizon. I then visited the town's cute little museum, where I was recommended also stopping by at the Ranger Station. There, I watched a film about climbing the intimidating mountain peak, which holds the title North America's highest with its 20,237 feet (6,168 m) above sea level. I was impressed, but not inspired. (Not one bit, actually.)

The night was spent in the bunk house at the homey House of Seven Trees, where I met an eclectic group of guys who had come to Alaska from all sorts of places to get their private pilot licences. A fun crowd and an enjoyable evening.

Wait, hold on—I almost forgot—I got an earthquake for dinner! No, that's not a witty name for some ridiculously spicy Alaskan fireweed chili, but an actual whoa-my-spinach-bread-is-shaking-off-the-table kind of rumble from down below. A mere 4.3 on the Richter scale, but I was beyond excited.

The morning after started with breakfast at the Roadhouse before continuing on towards Healy—my base camp for entering Denali National Park.

I kind of enjoyed traveling that road. It was kind of pretty.

Stay tuned for Part II, featuring bears, blueberries, a monumental mountain, and wet feet. I'm expecting to upload it sometime before Halloween (possibly Thanksgiving).

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