Trotting about from place to place across the globe can leave you missing the comforts of home. Travel makes those few but beautiful reunions with family members something to be coveted. A week-long road trip with my sister and her boyfriend’s family brought me to Alaska in late June 2015. Five weeks later, I still find myself sniffing this fresh alpine air.
The best and most affordable ways to see and experience Alaska are by bike, foot and car. The Alaska Railroad has scenic views stretching from Fairbanks to Seward, but there’s nothing like quality time in tight quarters on an RV to remind you what family is all about. Biking in Anchorage is a must must must or you’ll be missing out on guaranteed up-close moose encounters on paths like the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Hikes through the mountains on short hour-long, day or overnight camping trips are also required if you’re visiting this land of glaciers and fjords. Trails come in all levels of difficulties, so your grandmother can’t use old age as an excuse for missing out on a visit to Worthington Glacier. Boats and air or float planes are also valued forms of transit in Alaska, but, no surprise, they come at a cost. Limit your guided group tour through the Alaskan wilderness by land or by sea to one splurge and consider yourself content.
On my Alaskan RV trip, I was able to experience many parts of Alaska I would not have visited otherwise. We headed south toward Valdez, camping overnight at an abandoned air strip at 68 mile. It was most unfortunate that dry weather causing unprecedented forest fires had resulted in a burn ban. Camping just isn’t camping without a campfire! Thankfully, the burn ban was lifted a few days into the trip and my sister finally got to roast marshmallows for that s’more she had been holding out for. Our favorite campsite was on the shore of Cooper Lake which feeds into the Russian River, an area known to be teeming with Grizzlies due to an abundance of salmon. A quiet, uninterrupted hike on the Upper Russian Lakes trail (part of Chugach National Forest) took us over small bridges headed toward the Russian River. Though I was itching to see a bear, I was warned repeatedly that you don’t want to see one on a hike as your safety could be at stake. In the end, a lot of bear poop was spotted but we had no encounters. In Tolsona, we enjoyed a midnight hike to a mud volcano (more like a mud pit) fed by glacial springs. The 20 hours of daylight allowed us to traverse the buggy, poorly-marked trail at midnight without lanterns. Watching the sunset at midnight is an odd but thrilling experience, though I am still struggling with falling asleep at night when it remains light outside.
Our travels took us past highway waterfalls to Worthington and Exit Glaciers, where short hikes landed us at the feet of the ice masses. While the rest of the crew was on a charter salmon and halibut fishing trip out of Seward, I opted to follow the Caines Head Trail to its final destination at Fort McGilvray. I went with a family of four–my sister’s boyfriend’s cousin’s wife and kids (say that ten times fast). The directions to this hike are confusing as you can follow the coast the entire way or climb through the forested mountain for the last 2 miles to the abandoned war fortress, but part of the hike—regardless of which path you take—needs to be hiked at low tide. We took a wrong turn at the beginning and ended up wading knee-deep through frigid arctic waters. Despite the water being a temperature so cold it was painful, I found this unexpected, erroneous part of the trip made it that much more adventurous. We jumped over streams, climbed over tree roots and rested on a fallen trunk watching a sea otter play. Luck was on my side that day, too, as a humpback whale swam by, chuffing as it passed. The view from the top of the WWII base offers a panorama of the fjords at Seward. Pausing for a snack after creeping through the dark, foreboding bunkers, we set off for the return of the 15-mile round trip hike. I think you would have to be an Olympian to traverse the entire trail in the same low tide as the terrain is often slippery and pebble-filled. We didn’t mind having to wait out the tide with a 2-hour nap on the shoreline. It took us 12 hours in all and has by far been the highlight of my Alaskan adventure.
Alaska lacks a firework celebration on its Fourth of July because the sun doesn’t go down until 11:45 PM (and even then, it never gets truly dark). But the over-the-top parades and races like Mt. Marathon in Seward make up for the lack of an explosive light display for most people. We opted to beat the traffic and head back to Anchorage for a crawfish and seafood boil. Being vegan, I of course didn’t partake in consuming the fishies, but it was something worth watching. The seafood is thrown into a huge pot with chunks of corn on the cob, onions and other seasonings. Hours later, newspaper is laid out on the table and the pot’s contents poured atop. Everyone stands around the table and picks at the food with their fingers, dipping the pieces in melted butter and other sauces. My neighborhood back in the Keys hosted an annual crawfish boil that was similar to this. I’ve never seen so much food!
After 9 days together, the sister reunion came to a conclusion. It’s never easy saying goodbye to my best friend, but our limited time together is always that much more special when geography keeps us apart. We made many new memories aboard our mobile chalet and look forward to many more!