Monday, October 31, 2016

Autumn in Seward: Hike-Running back to Town Along the Seward Highway

Along the Bike Path leading into Seward
Thermostat at Trail Head to Grayling Lake, mile 11

October in Seward has been fantastic, as we settle into our new lives here. My love for hiking and jogging coalesced this past week with my desire to learn a bit more about how Seward is connected together with Bear Creek along the Seward Highway. On a frosty morning, Reed drove me out past mile 11 on the Seward Highway, where I exited the warmth of our old red Rodeo with a shock. I wore my small red and black trail-running backpack full of essential gear, gloves on my hands, a fleece vest and two layers of pants. I didn't look like a runner since my second pair of pants was maroon corduroy and my pace was glacial. The cold and down hill slope exacerbated my shin splint pain, and the cold air was tough on my nostrils. 

That section of the highway is through thick woods, and the sunlight still wasn't touching the pavement after 11am. It became a delightful run after a couple of miles. When my 45 minute timer alarmed, I rewarded myself with ingesting a Capri Sun. The sugar surged me forward to the Bear Creek area, where homes and businesses began to appear, about mile 7 on the highway. From mile 7 all the way into town, there were occasional dwellings and other structures, including the Bear Creek volunteer fire station. I listened to the Fresh Air podcast of Teri Gross interviewing Tom Hanks, learning of his deliberate career move away from playing the role of the washed up baseball coach in "A League of Their Own." I could see his point about not wanting that to be his role for the rest of his career, but I loved him in that film. 

Miles plodded by and I arrived at Spenard Builders Supply, which happens to have an excellent bathroom. Many thanks to them for providing this crucial public service. I rested for a bit while I ordered a stove hood vent for our little house, something that we've been researching for a few weeks. When that transaction was complete, I got back under way and continued jogging into town. My final stop was at Subway, where Reed met me for lunch and we enjoyed their seasonal sandwich, turkey and cranberry. It's just one more mile from Subway to home, and I walked that portion. It was wonderful to find a simple, accessible autumn route for running a decent amount of mileage. I counted my total at 11 miles. 

Settlement near Exit Glacier turnoff

Seward Boat Harbor with Mount Alice in background

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Road Tripping Alaska: Making Our Way Towards Home in Seward, Alaska.

We finished our jobs at the Grande Denali Lodge and Denali Bluffs Hotels almost a week ago, and have been on the Alaska Road system ever since. Fall is a wonderful time to drive and hike around Alaska, especially this year, because the snow has been sparse thus far. We left Denali on Friday, the last day in September, with a vehicle packed chock full of our belongings as well as food stuffs and bottles of water. We were bound for the Denali Highway, and wanted to be prepared in case of getting stuck. The State of Alaska stops plowing the road at the end of September, so in the event of snow, we figured that we might need to be ready to spend a day or two waiting for the snow to melt or get pushed down by other vehicles. As it turned out, the road was in excellent condition and the driving was spectacular. We've driven the highway in its entirety once before, last summer and a few times we've driven big chunks of it. My, the fall tundra was gorgeous! A further bonus was seeing the happy hunters driving out, their ATVs loaded on trailers, caribou antlers sticking out from beneath tarps. We later learned that the caribou had been late in coming down from the high country, and the state had responded by lengthening the caribou season. The close of the season happened the same night that we began our drive, so the exodus of hunters was in full swing.

We spent three peaceful nights at the Maclaren River Lodge, with few fellow guests since the hunters had departed, and the lodge was technically closed for the season. The staff there graciously let us stay a couple more nights, as they began their shut down procedures. We slept late, and went hiking in the afternoons. The tundra was surface-frozen, so walking across it made for a satisfying crunch with each step. One afternoon, we watched a small herd of 8 + 3 caribou run around on the ridge above us, keeping distance between us as we advanced towards Glacier Gap Lake. As we trudged around the tundra and marshlands, we stayed warm by virtue of our labor expenditure. The icy water was kept away from my feet thanks to my xtra tuff boots, except when I hit an especially boggy spot, I sunk in to my knees and I had to fight to extricate myself. After that, I walked faster to regain warmth.

Our journey continued from the Denali Highway south along highway 4, through Glenallen and on to the Wrangell St Elias National Park Visitor Center. There a ranger discouraged us from going on the McCarthy Road, quizzing us on whether we were properly prepared to face the challenges that the road might throw at us. Eventually, we gave up on getting information or encouragement from her, and decided to try our luck. When were we going to have another chance at getting all the way out to the small town of McCarthy! The drive out was incredibly beautiful and the road was very much passable. No flat tires! Even though we were adequately prepared with a good spare tire and an air compressor and plugs for fixing flats. What stupendous beauty! We stayed the night at an off-grid cabin in McCarthy, one among 5 cabins that constitutes the Blackburn Cabins. Mark, the proprieter kindly picked us up at the McCarthy side of the pedestrian bridge. The deal is that one can drive 60 miles from Chitina to McCarthy, but then a river with only a pedestrian bridge blocks ones way. People leave their cars on that west side of the river and walk across the pedestrian bridge.
That night we witnessed the magic of the northern lights dancing white, green, purple and pink acorss the sky, while listening to rock and ice bounce around off the Kennecott Glacier and in the river. We stayed outside watching even as our bodies grew increasingly cold as we really were spell bound by the surprise of dancing colors in the night sky.
The next day we walked up to and around the old mill town of Kennecott. Although it was cool to see, and I can add the area to my wish list of places to work, my energy was low the day that we walked the 3.5 miles to Kennecott, so I am limited in what I can say about the experience. I am grateful that we went, and that even on a low-energy day, my body was able to carry me there and back. We even extended the trip a bit by walking out to the Root Glacier, another 3 miles roundtrip. We stood and walked around on a glacier. Hard to believe that we were looking out on miles of ice.

So much beauty and wonder and we still have a few more days left on our travels. Today we drove from Kenny Lake to Valdez. It was another amazing drive, especially the section through Keystone Canyon. The sun was out and the temperature ideal for fishing. Reed practiced his fly fishing skills at Blueberry Lake, while I cooked in the parking lot on our Svea Stove. I cooked up a batch of cranberry apple sauce, using the cranberries that Reed picked walking around Thompson Pass. I picked some too, but I ate all mine while lazing in the sunshine. And we cooked the fish that Reed had caught the night before, a kokanee salmon! It was luscious flesh, and represented success for Reed in that he caught a land-locked salmon in a lake in Alaska, one of his fishing goals.

Tonight we are in Valdez, staying with a Couchsurfing host, Jeremy, a kind and generous host. We've had a full evening of talking and eating his delicious food, while learning from a local Cordova resident about what we have to look forward to in our travels there. Emily shared with us some of the good things soon to come our way in terms of sighs and experiences. Tomorrow afternoon we will board the Alaska State ferry bound for Cordova, which will meant crossing the Prince William Sound. It's been a while since we've been on salt water, and I can already see Reed's mood further brightening because of our proximity to coast.

We've been fortunate this year. Reed said that it's been one of our best and I think he's right. All the way from San Diego Trans County Trail at the start of the year to exploring around south central Alaska, plus so many other places and wonderful people. Gracias a la vida!

Early Winter on the Denali Highway
Hiking on Frozen Tundra near the Maclaren River, Denali Highway

The red of tundra in fall. 

Marsh walking near Maclaren River. 

Some of the not boggy walking. 

Walking near Kennecott. 

Our Blackburn Cabin at McCarthy. 

Kennicott Glacier in the background on a sunny and cool day. 

The old Mill Town of Kennecott. 

Walking on the ice of Root Glacier. 

The color scheme of a mill town. 

Evening fall fishing at Strehlna Lake. 

Happy Reed, thank you fish.