I crossed the AlCan border into Alaska a little after midnight on 6-4-14 and took this selfie. The sun was shining brightly, I was exhausted. It had taken me 8 days to drive through Canada from Seattle. I could have driven longer, faster, but I was enjoying every moment of this road trip.
Moments after I crossed into Alaska, I spotted my first brown bear. He was eating dandelions on the side of the road. I pulled up to about 100 feet of the beer, turned off my car, and grabbed my Canon T5i from BorrowLenses. I started to take a ton of pictures of the big guy. He looked at me a few times and kept eating dandelions until he was directly across from my car. I wasn’t scared. I was talking to him like I would to a puppy, honestly. He let me take his picture for about 20 minutes before he meandered into the ditch. Welcome to Alaska, indeed! Seeing that bear minutes after arriving in this state was a huge sign to me!
I slept in my car that night in Tok, Alaska as the little town was sleeping in the wee hours of the night. I woke up about 8am, grabbed some coffee, gassed up as the station had just opened. I started a 7-hr drive to Anchorage… no WiFi, no cell service… just me and Alaska.
In my mind I was going through my itinerary while I was in Alaska. I would be here for six weeks and had planned on interviewing as many of the breweries as I could while there. I knew I couldn’t hit them all because some are only accessible by plane or boat. I still was so naive and had no idea just how large Alaska really was.
I was so tired that I had to pull over a few times and take power naps. Road tripping and traveling in general can really wear you out. I had been stopping every couple of hours and getting out to stretch and read my maps of where I was at. My goal was to make it to Seward that night – 12 hours away.
I was eating the last of the food I had packed. I had thought there would be more towns with restaurants along the AlCan. There were a few… but not many. And to be honest, traveling with a food allergy like mine, I can’t just walk in anywhere and find something to eat. I had stocked up in Seattle, but I thought I would be in Anchorage in just a few days… not 8!
About five hours later, I hit this town called Palmer. It is where all those ginormous vegetables are grown that you see in the Guinness Book of World Records. I did a little happy dance when I saw it – Taco Bell. Yep, Taco Bell. One of the only fast food places that I can eat at. And this Mexican wanted a bean burrito with no onions and a side of red sauce in the worst way. By the way, it was delicious! That was the first fast food I had seen in days and the first one I had eaten at in over a month. I enjoyed every bite.
It took a little over an hour to drive from Palmer to Anchorage. I was surprised that there were people, and buildings, and what appeared to be a regular American city. I’m not sure what I was expecting – igloos? I don’t know, but I wasn’t expecting to see the modern architecture everywhere in Anchorage. Or the Bass Pro Shop as I entered town. I traveled south on the Glenn Highway and then what seemed like the middle of downtown Anchorage the freeway stopped, turned left and meandered through town and then was called the Seward Highway. Kinda confusing to a newcomer.
I broke out my Starbucks app and looked for where I could pull in and grab a coffee and check in with the world. I called my Dad and he said he had been watching me on GPS the whole time and was glad that I had made it safely. After an hour or so at Starbucks, I headed to Costco which was just a mile away.
I was told that Seward only had one grocery store and to stock up in Anchorage before heading down. I grabbed apples, pears, a bag of spinach, peanut butter, mixed nuts, beef jerky, eggs, tortillas (surprised?) and a rotisserie chicken. I was ready for the 2.5 hour drive to Seward, where I planned to be for 7 days before heading to Kenai.
What I didn’t expect on the drive to Seward was to be on the most beautiful drive of my life. Before this day, driving the Oregon coast couldn’t be beat until I drove the Seward Highway alongside Turnagain Arm.
Just 5 minutes to the south of Anchorage, I stopped on the left at Potter’s Marsh. I smiled as I saw hundreds of birds I had never seen before flying around and nesting.
I started driving again and knew from reading The Milepost that Beluga Point would be up on my right just a couple miles down the road.
I stopped at this outcropping of rocks and peered through the telescopes that were there looking for Beluga Whales. I so wanted to see my favorite whale! This girl in her 20s came up to me and said I needed to come back in August as that is when the Belugas are in the bay chasing the salmon into Turnagain Arm. I was sad in that moment as I hadn’t planned on being in Alaska in August, I would be back in San Francisco by then.
As I continued driving I was awestruck by just how large these snow-capped mountains were. The beauty was overwhelming. I pulled over when I realized that tears of joy were streaming down my face. My brain was having a hard time taking it all in. The feeling of exhilaration washed over me, then came relief that I made it here safely, followed by a feeling of love of being here in this place that I will never forget. It was an unforgettable moment for me.
It took me almost four hours to get to Seward because of how often I stopped to take it all in and to snap pictures. I knew the pictures didn’t do Alaska justice.
I pulled into Exit Glacier Guides and saw my friends Brendan Ryan and Ryan Fisher. I had met them at the Travel & Adventure Show, which had solidified my decision to come to Alaska. Thank you guys for taking me in for a couple weeks, but really, thank you for encouraging me to come and see this wonderful place that you call home. I brought them craft beer from a few of the breweries that I had visited on my way up as a small way to say – Thank You!
That night I walked around Seward for a couple hours just taking it all in. I crawled into my bunkbed at the guide house and passed out. I had made it. I was safe. I had just experienced my first day in Alaska. I feel asleep completely and utterly exhausted, but so extremely happy.
Yesterday I wrote an introspective post about this past year in Alaska. Full of feelings, doubt, and love. Would love if you read it and shared by story.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me. Where in Alaska would you like to go? Any ideas on where my next adventure should take me?