took a hike, took a camera: North Face Trail, Girdwood

It was our fourth and final day in Alaska. I woke up still full from last night’s massive attempt at eating my weight in fajitas. After a quick shower I walked downstairs to find a sweet note on the counter from Kate. She treated us to a train ride to Girdwood, left her car keys, gave directions to the train station, jotted down a few key words and instructed us to have a good day. She’s awesome like that. We boarded the Alaskan Railroad(!) and for about an hour we took in gorgeous views while sipping our morning coffee to the hum of the train. Girdwood was the first stop and I had to laugh when I saw the small wooden “train station” sitting in the middle of nowhere. I reached in my back pocket for the note Kate had left that morning and some of her notes started to make sense: “take Alyeska Hwy to The Bake Shop and get on shuttle to Alyeska Resort.” From the train stop, we walked up a hill, through some trees where we found a pedestrian trail that followed Alyeska Highway, the main road. It was a beautiful three mile stroll to the heart of Girdwood. The skies were beaming blue and the roads were lined with giant wildflowers and a good sampling of Alaskan-style housing: angles, decks, steep roofs, great windows. Since we forgot to pack water (doofus move) we stopped at the first roadside business we came to (about a mile and a half in) called Chugash Adventures. They had some really cute local items and since it was our last day, I let myself be a tourist and left with a small piece of pottery and a trucker hat that features the work of a local photographer. (Support the arts y’all!) Our walk continued and soon we arrived at the end of the highway. We located The Bake Shop and took the shuttle to Alyeska Resort. Just behind the resort is a slew of trails to choose from. We chose the North Face Trail. This 2.2 mile hike sounds meek…but don’t be fooled. In that 2.2 miles we climbed 2,000 vertical feet. And I didn’t take many breaks for photos because I was certain, as I usually am, that a wild beast was just around the next turn. Even though most of the hike was spent huffing it up steep inclines and making lots of loud noises to alert the animals of my presence, there were a few moments that stand out. Like this one section of the hike where a foot-wide walkway made of boards and plywood lead you through a lush meadow. And this other section that is so steep, there was a big chain to hoist yourself up the rocks. And then this other part near the top where you’re out of the tall bush, switchbacking through a more gradual incline and you can see everything! Gosh, I really couldn’t think of a more perfect time to visit this town. It was absolutely breathtaking. At the top we exchanged exhausted high fives and walked to a spot on the ground were we could sit and catch our breath. The last two days of hiking ended with trembling legs so when I felt my legs trembling, paired with the rumble of the tram coming and going, I didn’t think anything of it until I overheard one of the guides explaining that we just experienced an earthquake. (!) All the way up there on top of that mountain…those trembling legs and tram rumbles I thought I heard was actually an earthquake. Talk about an epic day. Ben and I ordered a beer from the deli and sat on the deck in disbelief of the sites around us.  FullSizeRender-49FullSizeRender-51 IMG_0547 IMG_0548 FullSizeRender-50FullSizeRender-52 IMG_0555IMG_0562IMG_0565IMG_0567FullSizeRender-53FullSizeRender-54IMG_0646IMG_0582IMG_0647IMG_0611IMG_0608FullSizeRender-55

After a sufficient rest, we hiked a little further up the mountain to a footbridge hovering over fast-moving glacier water. I had to touch it – it was cold. Ben had to taste it – his nose went numb.  Then we hopped on the tram and watched the North Face Trail zoom right by us. Kate drove out on her motorcycle to meet us for dinner at Jack Sprat and one of her friends joined. Everything brought to our table was delicious and beautiful. After dinner we got a ride to the train station and headed back to Anchorage for the night.

Farewell Alaska, you have a beautiful soul. I hope to return to explore more of you one day. ❤FullSizeRender-57IMG_0631IMG_0634IMG_0633IMG_0636IMG_0642IMG_0670FullSizeRender-58

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took a hike, took a camera: Flattop Mountain, Anchorage

In my brief experience, Alaska breeds badasses. “A short walk” translates to ~3 miles. “A moderate hike” translates to post-hike leg trembles. “I’m a little out of shape” translates to “I think I’ll do some push-ups while I wait for you pansies to catch up.” <–All of these things actually occurred.

After the day in Denali and Talkeetna, we returned to Kate’s home in Anchorage and crashed. I was up early because the sun was peaking through the blinds. I showered and enjoyed part of a danish that Kate bought in Talkeetna the evening before. Jessie picked us up and we all grabbed a breakfast burrito and latte from the City Market where we met up with her friend Holly. Jessie and Holly were taking us on a short, moderate morning hike to Flattop Mountain located in the Chuggash State Park. And while the name “Flattop” does in fact describe the appearance of the top of the mountain, there was nothing else flat about it. The hike is just over 3 miles and it starts out easy. The terrain was similar to that of the trail the day before in Denali National Park, except this time we had spectacular views of a whole different set of incredible mountains, the city of Anchorage and the coastline. We reached a series of plateaus on the way to the top, each followed by another climb and all with wonderful views. About half way up, there was a class of preschoolers following close behind me. They shouted question after question to their teacher and she patiently answered each one as we all huffed our way up. Surely there was a superhero cape tucked away in her backpack. When I reached the rocky mountain face right before the top, the climb got harder…in a mind-over-matter kind of way. Loose gravel on steep inclines proved challenging. On the way back down, Holly darted through the crowd and the next time I saw her, she was doing pushups on a log. She’s hardcore. We ended the hike successfully covered in dust and sweat.

I remembered my camera (and battery) on this hike but I also shot with my iPhone. There is a mix of both below.IMG_0425bsomeIMG_5440bsomeIMG_5446bsomeIMG_5453bsomeIMG_5455bsomeIMG_5450bsomeIMG_5462bsomeIMG_5464bsomeIMG_5471bsomeIMG_5472bsomeIMG_5478bsomeIMG_5479 IMG_0450IMG_0447bsomeIMG_5484IMG_0435IMG_0432FullSizeRender-40

Later that day we grabbed some fuel at Spanard Roadhouse where Jessie drew us a map and highlighted all her favorite spots. We set out on foot to explore downtown Anchorage. Later that evening Jessie and Kate had a kickball game. We watched and cheered them on and then headed to dinner. Sleep followed soon after…one more day and one more mountain to hike before flying back home.
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took a hike, took a camera: Denali National Park

Alaska, Day 1 | fly, drive, camp | Baltimore to Anchorage to Healy

June 21, 2015 : to-date, my Life Solstice. It was literally the longest day of daylight of my life. We left Arlington, VA for BWI at 4am on June 21 and 24 hours later, on that same day, we were pitching tents in Healy, Alaska under dusk or dawn skies, I’m not sure which.

Our flight landed in Anchorage around 1pm. Kate picked us up, put an Alaskan beer in our hand, drove us to her place to load up camping supplies and then we ate a meal at Snow City Cafe where her sister Jessie works. When Jessie finished up, we all hit the road for Healy, Alaska. Healy is about four hours north of Anchorage but with wild fires lining parts of the road, seasonal road reconstruction and two eager, snap-happy tourists – the drive took us six hours. Kate pointed out that billboards weren’t allowed there and because of this, we were able to see the beauty from the car, without obstruction. Our destination for the day was 49th State Brewing Company where we caught the tail-end of their Solstice BrewFest. It was around 10pm when we arrived but the party was going strong. Live music played while we deliriously ordered a cold beer and way too much food. Neighboring the brewery is an extremely convenient campground where we set up for the night. There was intention of hanging out and playing card games but….zzzzzzz, I was out when my face hit the pillow. I was so tired I mistook a moose for a horse as it trotted by our campsite. Everyone laughed but, in my defense, well, whatever – I was tired.

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…from wild fires to lush landscapes…
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Road work was sprinkled along the trip. We met one worker who reminded me so much of my aunt Debbie. She was fun and welcoming and had a cigarette hanging from her mouth during most of our conversation. She had the right idea though, the mosquitos were fierce.
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The bus from the movie “Into the Wild” was at 49th State Brewing.
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Above: a short time-lapse video of us setting up our tents in a sleepy stupor. Below: a shot from our campsite in Healy taken at midnight. The sun dipped below the horizon but it never actually got dark!FullSizeRender-26Alaska, Day 2 | hike, drive, sleeeeeeeep | Healy to Talkeetna to Anchorage

Woke up in a tent around 6am. The whole no-darkness thing it pure tomfoolery. You just get up and go until you slam into a wall and then you sleep until you can’t. Kate and Jessie were still sleeping so Ben and I went on a serious search for coffee. Our search led us to a gas station where the Russian man behind the counter assured me they had “whole wheat” milk to use in my latte. My uncaffeinated brain laughed a little too much. Kate made us breakfast at the campsite and we all packed up and stopped for more coffee at a cute little spot along the road. Under the sleepless sun, we sat and enjoyed the morning. Ben ordered a triple Americano and didn’t realize “triple” meant three shots of espresso. Half way through our game of Cards Against Humanity, he kind of tweaked out…we’re talking giggles and shakes. He later said “I didn’t know if I was going to be alright.” (lol) After coffee and cards we drove into Denali National Park. I never saw the name of the trail we hiked that day but it’s right off the parking lot at the Savage River stop. It wastes no time heading straight up. Before we knew it we were already at the first of many impressive overlooks. The trail consisted of rocky switchback after rocky switchback, some rock scrambling and hoisting, then later there was loose soil with a gradual climb and wide open views. As my first hike in Alaska, I appreciated being able to see across the terrain…in other words: I was happy to know I could spot a grizzly from afar. And while we didn’t spot any grizzlies, we did see some Dall Sheep, caribou and some cool birds. I also learned that there aren’t any harmful snakes in Alaska. And they don’t have poison ivy/oak. I asked these questions because I realized I was on the lookout for those things…like I would be if I were hiking here at home, in Virginia. We hiked in one direction for about 90 minutes then turned and hiked back to the car. We devoured leftover brewery sandwiches by the Savage River before doing some abbreviated yoga to loosen up and then we hit the road again. A little more than half way back to Anchorage is a town called Talkeetna. Kate has spent a lot time there and wanted us to see it. Our timing was perfect for dinner so we stopped at Denali Brewing Company for food and, of course, a unique local brew. My favorite beer that day was their Louisville Sour. I was very sad to hear they didn’t sell bottles or cans to bring home to share. After dinner we walked around the quaint little town of Talkeetna. I bought some souvenirs for my kids, who I was missing already, Kate grabbed some pastries for the next day breakfast and Ben met Stubbs, the town mayor, aka the cat.

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These photos are all shot with my iPhone. I did not forget my camera on this excursion to Denali…I just forgot my battery. Doh!