Solo travel summer 2014, Solo trip to Alaska
Solo travel summer 2014, Solo trip to Alaska
Watching the massive East Coast snowstorm, my previous trip to Alaska immediately came to mind. Right there I expected to see a steady snowfall with no escape from the cold. Surprisingly, even in early June, along with the icy landscapes, there were many sunny days reaching sixty degrees.
America’s fiftieth state, admitted only in 1959, Alaska is full of wilderness, rugged terrain and an independent spirit. Whatever the temperature, Alaskans still find a way to be hearty outdoorsmen. The famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race started in 1973 with an Alaskan woman, Susan Butcher, the most famous contender, winning four times. More than twice the size of Texas, its population is under 1 million. From the state’s largest city, Anchorage, with about 300,000 residents, the population quickly drops to about 30,000 in Fairbanks and the state capital of Juneau.
Alaska has a colorful history. In the 1800s, a wide and colorful stream of fortune hunters swept the state during the Gold Rush. Another kind of “gold rush” happened again in the 1960s with the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay. Alaska still has the pioneer flavor of the Old West.
With its rugged terrain, many areas can only be reached by air or sea. If you’re planning to drive to the capital in Juneau, you’ll quickly find that you may need to catch the ferry, as there are no direct routes from points like Anchorage. With a limited highway system and long distances to cover, many Alaskans choose to fly in their own planes. Having only flown small planes under clear African skies, I wasn’t very confident about how they would fare in a sudden blizzard in Alaska.
Planning to see as much of Alaska as possible, I ruled out driving or flying and the possibility of weather delays. Although I usually prefer small ship river cruises, I opted for an ocean cruise on the well-traveled Inside Passage of Alaska. This solved the problems of navigating in difficult climates and trying to access remote regions. This route provides daily stops and is known for its smooth seas. I decided to balance the one week cruise with an active first week in the national parks as there were many options from hiking to canoeing, rafting, kayaking and fishing.
Flying from the east coast of the US to Seattle, my final destination was Fairbanks. I was pleasantly surprised upon arrival to find bright sunshine and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the first things I noticed was the long daylight. Around 4-5am I lifted the blackout shade in my hotel room to find sunlight as bright as a Miami Beach day. At this early hour I made my way to what I assumed would be an empty hotel lobby. To my surprise it was already bustling with fellow travelers having breakfast. After getting an early start, I got my first taste of Alaskan wildlife observed from a steering wheel. Caribou with velvet antlers like candelabra graze along the river bank.
The rest of the week was up to Denali National Park and views of Mt McKinley. Again I was surprised by the long succession of daylight. I was determined to photograph the sun setting behind “The Mountain”. The only problem? Even then it still wasn’t a true sunset, so I only have a dusk photo. A local addition I recommend is a day trip to the small town of Talkeetna. With only a few hundred residents, it is about 10 miles from Denali. His local highlights included bracken featured on Talkeetna menus, which we thoroughly sampled. It also provides additional opportunities for cycling, hiking, fishing or rafting.
Although roads were scarce, the local railways were a great way to make the next leg of the journey, eventually connecting with a bus to get to the ship heading up the Inside Passage. Sailing south to Vancouver, one of the most memorable first stops was Glacier Bay. During the hours of approach, visibility was almost non-existent. As the fog lifted, I saw small but many icebergs floating by. Having apparently seen the movie Titanic one too many times, I had some concerns but was soon distracted by the glaciers themselves. They had a blue-green hue and could easily be seen calving, partially dissolving into the sea. In this coldest part of the trip, I couldn’t resist going up to the open top deck and jumping into a heated pool. With the only other two occupants we had a lively conversation. The bad news was that I found the only way to get out wet was to cross a very cold open deck. At the time, it really seemed like a real milestone.
As we went south, from a tourist’s point of view, the best day was spent in Skagway. The high streets looked like the Old West with colorful stories to boot: a tour of a local cemetery revealed 19th-century heroes, including some laid to rest there after taking part in local skirmishes. However, it was impossible to tell who the real villains were. A very special remnant of the Skagway visit was catching the White Pass. Suspended over a deep gorge, this famous railway connects Skagway with Whitehorse and the Canadian Yukon (remember your passport!)
The cruise again provided the opportunity for many whale sightings. After sleeping with one eye open as we made our way through the scattered icebergs, I left this sight behind as the ship reached Juneau’s southern slopes. There was no government building with a golden dome in sight. The biggest draw was the nearby Mendenhall Glacier, accessible once by car or bus. Juneau itself is also a hub for day trips or extended trips to destinations like Sitka that can only be reached by boat.
The last but very intriguing stop before Vancouver was Ketchikan. Although totem poles could be seen all over southern Alaska, Ketchikan relocated some of the most to local parks with tours explaining their history and significance. Not to be limited to just one draw, Ketchikan is also the self-proclaimed “Salmon Capital of the World.” Before leaving Alaska, hardy travelers still looking for wilderness can hike in the nearby Tongass National Forest.
Surprises I found in Alaska:
• The huge size of the flowers: The reason? Long daylight in summer creates extra hours for growth.
• The temperature: Although typical pictures of Alaska show the glaciers/snow-capped mountains, it wasn’t actually much, if any, colder than a summer trip to Maine!
• The lack of roads: How can there be such limited access to the capital!
• Length of sunny days: Instead of a dim dusk in the middle of the night, sunlight rivaled afternoons on the beach.
Alaska offers the chance to find adventure while sea kayaking, canoeing, navigating Class III/IV whitewater, or flying to glaciers in small planes. For a more relaxed option, you can see wildlife ranging from humpback whales to bald eagles, sea lions, grizzly bears, wolves, foxes and the numerous caribou.
The only drawback is that the weather limits tourist trips largely to the three summer months. On the plus side, accommodation is reasonably priced and the locals are very hospitable despite the onslaught of incoming tourists. Alaska will provide a contrasting view to the “Lower 48”, so make your plans now and start packing!
#Solo #travel #summer #Solo #trip #Alaska