Another piece of the journey

I made my way to the airport in Anchorage for the seventh time this summer (it’s been a busy season of visitors!) to pick up my friend Casey. She generously donated a bit of her September to getting away from Yosemite to roadtrip with me through Alaska, across Canada, and into Montana.

It was amazing to have the company and the time with such a good friend. We spent several days in the Kenai Peninsula as I wrapped up my last days at work. To bring new and established friends together is a beautiful thing and was the crowning touch on an unbelievable summer. Everything considered, Alaska wouldn’t mean nearly as much to me if it weren’t for the people that I’ve shared it with.


We hit the road on a classic stormy Portage morning and drove out of the rain and up to Fairbanks. Not for anything specific, but just to see the Interior portion of the state, to soak in the rather odd Chena hot springs, and stop off for a quick photoshoot at Santa’s house in North Pole.


Then we headed south and picked up the Alaska Highway, driving straight through from the end in Delta Junction, into Canada, to the beginning in Dawson Creek. It’s a long trek, even with good company and lots of catching up to day. Also, cold this time of year. We dubbed it “chasing fall.” We were a bit overdue as we headed north into Fairbanks- the leaves had mostly long since abandoned the trees and fresh snow was dusted across the peaks. As we moved further south into Canada, we were stunned by the bright yellow landscapes. And by the time we got into Montana, it felt like late summer.


We were together on the road for 7 days. Lots of time to accumulate too many highlights to remember. The biggest treat (beyond the mere being together) was the wildlife. Wood bison, mountain goats, moose, Sitka deer, caribou, elk, porcupine, black bear. And glaciers in Jasper and Banff National Parks! And taking Casey to Liard hot springs – the best stop off in all of Canada, by far. And the poutine; how can I describe the wonderfulness that is poutine? The cold nights camping under so very many stars. The Nat King Cole sing-a-longs. The weariness of miles that further solidify a kindred bond.


And then there was the big change of itinerary that took us on a detour into southwestern Montana. Casey’s grandparents live only a couple of hours off the route I’d planned. A hot shower, a warm bed, and friendly faces? Yes, please. Such an incredible – though very short – time with caring people. They welcomed us in and shared a glimpse into their rural Montana life before sending us on the last bit of our journey together. 


After an early morning of foggy sunrise, a quick jump into Idaho, and dodging a few cattle, I left Casey at the airport to head back home to the Sierra. It was oh so tempting to carry her east with me or to want to turn west to familiar paths. But that’s for another time to another destination. My road leads to DC, with a few exciting stops on the way and a different way of life to reacclimate to. 

Another piece of the journey

Portage Cruising


I work by a lake. A very young lake – a hundred years ago it didn’t exist. Instead, there was a glacier. The glacier is still there, but, as it’s melted and retreated over the past century, it left behind a deep valley that filled in with its liquid remains. Such is the nature of time and the effects of climate change.


Because of the extent to which the glacier has retreated, it can no longer be seen from the shore. The hike up to Portage Pass that gets you a view requires a jaunt through a timed-entry toll tunnel (which makes me disinclined for those two obvious reasons). The other option is to purchase a ticket and go out on the cruise boat that runs hour-long tours to the face of the glacier.


It’s taken me four months of living and working on the edge of this lake to get out on the boat (factor in that I get to go for free and I really have no good excuses). It was well worth it and a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon in Portage Valley.


That was a big item on my Alaska summer checklist. With only one more weekend left before I migrate south, good thing I got it in when I did!

 

Portage Cruising

Alaskan Sunsets

The days are getting shorter.

Leaves are turning shades of yellow.

The third of my four visitors this summer will be here soon. And the fourth shortly after that to accompany me on my drive home.

Fall plans are starting to take solid shapes.

It’s a bittersweet experience watch the seasons change.

But the sunsets are spectacular and early enough to stay awake for.

And there’s a hope for northern lights. 

And a few more memorable adventures. 

Alaskan Sunsets

sun and rain and books

Yesterday was a rare sunny day. In August so far we’ve had two of those. Every other day we’ve been inundated with rain. And it’s been pretty chilly (on the sunny days we got up to 60*F), by my August standards, at least. The grey skies and cool humidity are wreaking havoc on my hair, various joints, and my opportunities to absorb vitamin D. I’ve been going a little stir crazy.

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another storm rolling up turnagain arm.

Gratefully, the good folks of the Anchorage Borough saw fit to bestow me with this literary gem:

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i ❤ libraries! and i love that the cards don’t expire!

 

I’ll refrain from disclosing how many books I’ve read over the past two weeks and how many are currently stockpiled up on my desk. Let’s just say that I’m prepared for the long haul that the next six weeks might be.

Even though long-timers are consistently saying this weather is more typical of September and the fireweed has gone to seed several weeks too early, I’m not convinced. What should August look like? (Please don’t torture me with thoughts of sun and warmth we should be getting.) It’s definitely autumn on the Kenai Peninsula. Will September look like October or will we get a reprieve some time or other? I hesitate to turn my thoughts toward why my cross-continent drive might look like should winter settle in hard and early…

Also, interestingly, all the rain has brought up the lake level here to a max (so far) of 7 feet above normal and the water is lapping up against the building and spilling in. Good thing the building was designed for it. Our basement floods and drains efficiently (with all of the storage shelves build to keep everything at least 6″ off the ground – more than sufficient). There’s so much water here.

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there’s a sidewalk way down under there somewhere…

 

sun and rain and books

Glaciolacustrine Life

Glaciers are my favorite thing about living in Alaska.

portage glacier


Which makes today one of my most favorite days of living here so far.

a gathering of icebergs


Huge chunks of ice have been calving off of Portage Glacier in recent days. A few of these icebergs have made their way across the lake to just outside the Visitor Center (thanks to the williwaw winds that also bring us that cold, sideways rain).

Portage Glacier is a lacustrine glacier, meaning that it acts like a tidewater glacier but instead of dropping into the ocean it’s dropping into a lake (the USFS might explain it better). This type of glacier is a bit rare from what I understand. It’s pretty cool that I get to live next door to one…

largest lacustrine icebergs I’ve ever seen


There’s no better way to start your day than happening upon an unexpected iceberg. If you don’t know this from personal experience, just trust me that it’s true.

 

Glaciolacustrine Life

Alaska Mileposts

Funny to realize how far we are into the summer. The days have learned how to fly.

Looking over the season, at the things I’ve done and yet to do, at the visitors that have come and are coming, at the noticeable way the weather is changing here, I took a moment to closely examine my calendar. And I realized I’m more than halfway through my time in Alaska. In 58 days, I’ll be settling down into a (hopefully not too) packed car for the long cross continent drive home.


My Alaska experience has been different that I thought it would be. Not necessarily in a bad way, but also not in the best of ways. It’s been more beautiful than I imagined it could be. It’s been scarier than I imagined it could be. It’s been more intense than I imagined it could be.


Honestly, maybe secretly, I was hoping I’d find a place that felt like home here. That hasn’t happened yet. I’ve found much to love here (namely, the glaciers) and much to temper it with (namely, the deadly wildlife). I’m still enjoying the experience of being here; soaking up the culture and scenery; embracing all the varying opportunities that I can. But… home still beckons and I’m watching closely for approaching autumn.

Alaska Mileposts

alaska’s flattop

So, what does one do when deposited back at the trailhead at 8:30 in the morning? When, by 8:30 in the morning, the day has already included the thwarting of an all-day hike by a too-close encounter (thankfully injury-free) with two grizzly bears and then with a moose and calves?

If you’re me, even thus traumatized, a day set aside for hiking can’t be that that easily diverted, especially when the weather is even vaguely amiable. If you’re me, you take a car nap (because exhaustion follows quickly on the heels of intense stress), you make another round of coffee in the trailhead parking lot (because you’re always prepared for that sort of thing when you’re a dirtbag car camper), and you find somewhere else – more popular – to go hike (because weekends are made for hiking). On this day, already being at the Glen Alps trailhead outside of Anchorage, Flattop Mountain was the obvious choice.

3 miles roundtrip. Steep. And one of the most popular trails in the region.


I’m normally a fan of less-traveled trails and less-visited scenes. Not so in Alaska; not so in grizzly country. Not right now, at least. I’m now a fan of busy trailheads and lots of faces on the trail. I see little potential for solitude in the Alaskan landscape. But I do see lots of challenge and beauty. And, as long as I’m an Alaskan (read: for the rest of the summer) I’ll be out in it.


Flattop Mountain is a great trail. That perfect balance of hard and visually rewarding. I was surprised at the number of people (including smallish children) that scaled the rock scramble at the top to find their way to the summit. And, true to name, it is a wide and flat top. A bit too windy and drizzly for lingering long, but the clouds were moving in and out such that I got to enjoy some great views of, alternately, cloud-shrouded mountains and long swatches of Cook Inlet beyond Anchorage.


There’s certainly a reason this is such a popular trail.


And being so close to an urban area allows for recovery and contemplation with all the modern comforts one could hope for to round out an eventful weekend.

alaska’s flattop