Alaska adventures

Flying into Anchorage, with spectacular views of snowy mountain tops, was a fitting start to three months of adventure.

Basecamp Anchorage seemed like a pretty cool place to stay with an eclectic mix of people. I spent a good it of time in their garden hammock recovering from jet lag. They had a bit of a heat wave but I managed a bike ride along the coast and down to some of their fun bike trails in Kincaid park. An enquiry from a dog walker as to whether I had seen any bears prompted a visit to the REI store to pick up bear bells and bear spray.

Great eggs benedict at the Snow City Cafe, which seems like a bit of an institution in Anchorage and a nice way to chat to some locals and other visitors.

Seeing Neil arrive at the door of the hostel was fantastic and we spent a couple of days helping him return to civilisation after his Denali adventures. Epic amounts of food seemed to help with this process; he was definitely looking a tad gaunt on arrival. We explored the brew pubs and food trucks of Anchorage and also met up with his climbing partner Kyle to hear more stories of their three weeks in the wilds.

Next stop on the trip was Valdez - a port town about 300 miles from Anchorage, where we signed up for a kayak trip to the Valdez glacier. A nice paddle around some floating ice was followed by a walk on the glacier and a play inside one of the caves, slithering down the ice on my belly like pingu then wriggling back up the other side to get out.

 Our guide pointed out some wooden stakes on the glacier, left there by prospectors from the gold rush the late 1800s.  It's really difficult to imagine how anyone survived crossing that glacier and the grade 4 rapids on the other side, way back then. People were pretty hardcore. We made sure to visit some of the museums in Fairbanks later in the trip to find out more about how people survived.

Driving up from Valdez to Fairbanks was full of dramatic scenery- waterfalls, mountains, glaciers. Alaska is so vast, I'm struggling to take in the scale of it. We followed the path of the trans-Alaskan pipeline, catching glimpses of a narrow, unprotected-looking sliver of pipe, sometimes dangling from bridges. Funny that something so small represents 70-90% of Alaska's state revenue. Even with this it's a tough existence- everything was expensive and a lot of people still seem to hunt, fish and collect berries as a way of topping up their food stores. Really different to how we perceive hunting in the UK.

We did a couple of runs around Fairbanks, enjoying the big mountain scenery, way marked trails and bouncy terrain underfoot whilst regurgitating facts we'd picked up in the Fairbanks visitor centre the day before. Our joint favourite was 'These wee trees may look a bit puny but they can be up to 100 years old. It's just the tough life and permafrost which make them look this way.'

On our way back we saw a huge lolloping moose and its gangly baby crossing the road ahead. My first big wildlife.

Each run was rewarded with a long soak in the 42C natural outdoor pool at Chena Hot Springs. Smelling slightly sulphurous, it was still better than we were smelling by then (van life!) so it doubled as a wash! And we treated ourselves to a dinner of halibut and salmon- the fish Alaska is famous for.

As well as the hot springs we were really interested to get a peek round Chena's visionary geothermal heating system, which allows them to grow lettuce and tomatoes most of the year round. The resort is seeking to be self-sustainable, no bad plan given they are 60 miles down a valley from even the nearest town and it was a cool place to spend a bit of time.

Last Alaskan brekkie before the big drive into Canada. Sourdough pancakes and reindeer sausage. Hardened Alaskans are known as 'sourdoughs' so this felt apt and Alaska was full of kooky diners like this one near Tok.

Don't be fooled by the scraggly looking trees. These guys are 100 years old but just look a bit thin due to the tundra and permafrost!

The last stop before the border into Canada was the eccentric frontier town Chicken, population 80, compared with 30 000 during the gold rush era. Besides an active gold mine, they seemed to be doing a rare trade in thirst sating 'I got laid in chicken'. Googling it beforehand, we'd had a good laugh at 'chat to Robin in the post office' being listed as one of the top things to do here. However I needed to send postcards so popped in and spent a good 20 min chatting about our respective experiences of Highland games. I recommended they introduce welly wanging. And she explained that the two man saw competition involved sawing big trees!

The gravel highway to the border was an adventure in itself and we arrived at the tiny ferry crossing to Dawson after nearly a full day of travel, taking in the Top of the World Highway.


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