Sunday, February 13, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Ice Museum near Fairbanks

We made it! It feels good to be back in the "lower 48" (that's what Alaskans call it).  We had a great trip and took advantage of every winter activity Alaska had to offer.  Here's a recap:

The 3-leg flight was annoyingly long, but luckily we were able to get a great view of the Northern Lights just before we landed in Fairbanks. Fairbanks was very cold, but also very dry.  The lack of moisture and constant below 0 temps leaves them with ice and perma-frost, but very little snow.  As we expected, this town did not have too much to offer aside from, interesting (i.e. odd, unattractive) local folk, the hot springs (which, thankfully, the locals were not in) and the ice museum.  Luckily, our train departed on Sunday, shortly after we arrived.  I was pleased to be on our way, but sad to give up the killer free breakfast at The Hampton Inn. 

Mount McKinley (on the right) - Tallest Mountain in U.S.
The train ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage took all day and was amazing! I would recommend it to anyone visiting Alaska.  We passed through small towns, the Denali National Park and saw hitchhikers (they can flag the train to stop in the winter), ice climbers, moose, caribou (reindeer are domesticated caribou), and Dall sheep.  It was hard to catch some sleep or read my book because I never wanted to stop looking out the window.

Me, not reading
We arranged for a car to pick us up from the train station and take us to our next hotel, about an hour south.  The driver apologized when he picked us up in a black stretch limousine, since we had requested a town car. Jeff laughed, I blushed, then we hopped right in and made our way in style to Girdwood.

Girdwood is a quaint, cool ski town where everyone knows one another and unlike Fairbanks, there's tons of white fluffy snow and everyone is good looking (especially our snowmobile guide, Matt, holla!).  The first day there we met Dario, a dog trainer, kennel owner and nine-time Iditarod veteran.  He showed what dog mushing is all about.....basically a lot of time, money, hard work and love for the dogs.

Expensive Hand Warmers
When we visited with the dogs at their kennels, old oil barrels outside, I was curious to know how the dogs don't freeze to death during the night.  But, as soon I picked up one of the puppies (the little guys sleep indoors) my fears were put to rest.  Holding the puppy was like holding a furnace. Finally, I was warm!  The ideal temperature for them to mush in is 20 below.  When we took a break from mushing, they immediately ate snow and laid their bellies in the snow to cool off.  Alaskan Huskies are bred for cold weather and trainers have more to worry about in the summer, which is when they train in their dog teams in pools and on glaciers.

The dogs love to pull the sled.  They howl, bark, fight, and jump until you let them mush.  And, then, they go silent.  They don't make a peep until you stop the sled.  Alaskan huskies go about 20 miles per hour, can make super sharp turns, can run on ice, are mutts, both male and female, are relatively small, averaging about 35-40 lbs. As you can see, I learned and retained a lot of information about dog sledding. It's such an interesting sport. I even kept a copy of the local newspaper that covered last week's big race, The Yukon Quest.

The next day we hit the slopes.  This time of the year, sun doesn't rise until about 8:30AM and doesn't peek over the mountain until 10:30AM, which is when the lifts open.  The steep mountain was quite intimidating but the fresh powder and sheer emptiness of it made it quite amazing.  There were no chair lift lines and no ice, which is basically unheard of for east coast skiers.  Jeff, whom only started skiing a few years ago, put me to shame, BIG TIME.  He tackled the black diamonds and white out conditions at the very top with pure style.  I was just happy not to take him down every time I stepped off the chair lift.
On our final day in Girdwood, we went snowmobiling, which neither of us have done before and but would definitely do again.  We each had our own snowmobile (Alaskans call them snow machines), which is a good thing because I took each turn slowly and safely, while Jeff basically did donuts and wheelies in the tracks of our experienced guide. For lunch, we roasted reindeer hot dogs, drank tea, and had Snickers toasted on a stick for dessert.  Yum!  While we ate we learned about how to fight off bears and escape an avalanche (both common in this neck of the woods).  I felt very bad-ass!  
Lunch time!

For the last leg of the trip, we made our way back to Anchorage.  We visited their art museum and learned about the gold rush, Eskimos, Alaska's wildlife and natural resources.

Following that and and a tasty King Crab leg lunch, we couldn't really find too much of interest, as you can see by the last two pictures.  But, we didn't mind.  We played scrabble at our hotel, packed for our early morning flight and I congratulated Jeff on completing a great challenge.


1 comment:

  1. Sounds like an amazing trip! Dave and I are enjoying your blog - keep the posts coming!