Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Alaska Trip: The Third Preview of Many

(Click here for a preview of the first seven days of this summer's Alaska trip. This post covers the remainder of the trip, and picks up where I left off in rather abrupt fashion. Who needs segways or proper introductions?)

Day 8 - Thursday, July 1st: Happy Canada Day! We're going to celebrate Canada Day by...leaving the country and going to Alaska.

We're skipping Anchorage for now and going all the way down to Seward (734 miles), where we will actually spend two nights. Wow! Two nights in the same hotel!
Your typical Chris and Amber road trip usually involves a different hotel every night, with an occasional two-night stay mixed in. This is one of two two-night stays during our trip; the second will be near Denali National Park. Conveniently, these two places also happen to be the most expensive places we're staying on the entire trip. Oh well.

Google Maps thinks the Haines Junction to Seward drive will take over 17 hours, but I seriously doubt that. In my opinion, 14 to 15 hours, which would correspond to an average speed of 50 mph, is probably more realistic. (Question to people who have driven the Alaska Highway before: am I out of my mind in thinking that we can average 50 mph on this road?)

Day 9 - Friday, July 2nd: No long-distance driving today. Instead, we'll be spending the full day hiking in Kenai Fjords National Park.

If we're feeling ambitious, we'll do the Harding Icefield Trail. From the trail description: "Hikers gain approximately 1,000 feet of elevation with every mile and there are several rocky sections in the first mile that may require a bit of scrambling. The upper portion of the trail is often covered with snow through early July and there may be avalanche danger. Be prepared for storms, high winds, intense sunlight and sudden temperature changes." Sounds like fun!

Day 10 - Saturday, July 3rd: Seeing Kenai Fjords National Park by foot is one thing, but it's another thing altogether to do it by sea - you know, considering that they're "fjords" and all. So, we're going on a three-hour sea kayaking tour Saturday morning. This could be one of the highlights of the trip.

Then, after our sea kayaking excursion, we'll drive north to Anchorage (128 miles), and probably stop at Portage Glacier along the way. Or, maybe we'll go through the tunnel to Whittier just for the heck of it. Why not? I can't say I've ever gone through a car/train combo tunnel. Could be fun! And, of course, if we stumble across anything else interesting between Seward and Anchorage, we'll have time.

Day 11 - Sunday, July 4th: Alright, so, we have the morning in Anchorage. Great! Let's go...do something.

We haven't done quite as much planning with the second half of our trip as we have the first half of our trip. There are still a few holes to fill. For example, what is there to do on a Sunday morning in Anchorage? We'll figure something out. When planning this trip, we've made sure to take care of anything requiring reservations first. The two most pressing issues remaining on our itinerary are "What do we do on our half-day in Anchorage?" and "What do we do on our two-thirds day in Fairbanks?" We'll do a little more research in the coming days to see what our options are.

After we're finished visiting [To Be Determined], we'll head north towards Denali National Park (240 miles), where we'll spend the night in preparation for a full day of Denali-ing tomorrow.

Day 12 - Monday, July 5th: Denali National Park time! Denali is #1 on my list of National Parks I'd Like To Visit But Haven't Yet. Kenai Fjords, which we'll visit three days prior, is #3, and after thinking about it some more, I think we might end up seeing more neat stuff in Kenai Fjords than we will in Denali, and we planned accordingly (1½ days in Kenai Fjords, compared to just one in Denali). Why? For one, I don't actually plan on seeing the top of Mount McKinley. I'm going in fully expecting it to be engulfed in a thick cloudbase. Denali will also likely be far more crowded than Kenai Fjords, especially consdering that we're going to Denali on a federal holiday. But that's okay. The one thing I've learned when planning this trip and talking to others is that when it comes to Alaska, you can't really go wrong. Denali will be outstanding either way. Just being in the Alaska wilderness for a few hours is good enough for us. For Amber's sake, I really hope we get to see at least one moose.

Denali National Park works like this. There is exactly one road in the park. Private vehicles are allowed into the park, but only for the first 15 miles or so; if you want to go deeper into the park (which, if you're going to come in the first place, you might as well), you have to take a bus. You can either take a shuttle bus or a tour bus. Shuttle buses just go from point A to point B, and you can load and unload as you wish; tour buses are structured tours with guides, narration, and everything. We're doing the shuttle bus, because we want to do a little bit of hiking while we're up there. We've already made shuttle bus reservations.

Here's one thing we've heard from multiple sources: bring the best damn bug spray you can find. I always thought Florida's mosquitoes were bad, but from what I've heard, mid-summer mosquitoes in Alaska are much, much, much worse. On a related note, we don't plan on doing any camping during this trip. We're staying in a "cute little cabin" of sorts near Denali, but there will be no tent camping. At least that way, we won't have to bring the tent, air mattress, sleeping bags, and lawn chairs with us everywhere. That will give us a lot more room in the car, which given that we'll be doing approximately 10,000 miles of driving during this trip, is kind of important.

Day 13 - Tuesday, July 6th: Speaking of which, here's one thing I'll have to take care of at some point during the trip: an oil change. Going 10,000 miles between oil changes is probably a bad idea, so I'll need an oil change at some point during the vacation. But where? And when?

Well, I've already worked out the plan. First, I'll get an oil change the week before we leave. According to my car's "oil life" meter, my car can go between 7,000 and 7,500 miles between oil changes. That's more than enough to get us to Alaska, and will allow us to wait all the way until Fairbanks (5,500 to 6,000 miles from the start) before we need to get the mid-vacation oil change. The morning drive from Denali to Fairbanks is only 120 miles, and we haven't made any plans whatsoever as to what we're actually going to do there, so we'll have plenty of time to work an oil change in there. (My first choice was actually to do the oil change Sunday in Anchorage, except that pretty much every car care place in Anchorage - except Jiffy Lube - is closed on Sunday. D'oh! This will work out just fine, though.)

So, if we can find something fun to do in Fairbanks...great! If we end up having to devote the entire day to car repair - which, given our vacation history, wouldn't surprise me in the least - that's okay, too. To be perfectly honest, I'm really not all that excited about Fairbanks. And given how much driving we'll do during these three weeks, I'll be surprised if we don't hit a deer, moose, or bear at some point during the trip.

On the bright side (no pun intended), at least we'll get 20 hours of sunlight while we're up here. July 6th sunset in Fairbanks is 12:24 AM, the latest sunset of the entire trip. And given that sunrise will be just three hours later, I bet it never really gets dark there. It'll be a little weird.

You know...if we can't find anything good to do in Fairbanks, and don't have to devote the entire day to car repair, maybe we'll just head north on the Dalton Highway and see how far north we feel like going. The north end of the Dalton Highway in Deadhorse is nearly 500 miles from Fairbanks on a mostly non-paved road, so we obviously can't make it all the way and back in half a day. But we can at least try! (By the way, almost the entire road to Deadhorse is now on Google Street View.)

On the other hand, maybe we should keep the amount of driving we do this day to a minimum, since that's pretty much all we'll be doing the rest of the way. The plan is to make it from Fairbanks to Durham in five days.

Day 14 - Wednesday, July 7th: We still have quite a bit of driving to do in Alaska, Yukon, and Western Canada. My hope is that we don't take the scenery for granted by this point in the trip, given that we'll have been up here for over a week.

The first day of our absolutely crazy return trip home is a relatively short drive from Fairbanks to Whitehorse (589 miles). We're keeping it "short" the first day to leave a little bit of time for Whitehorse.

Day 15 - Thursday, July 8th: Today's drive: 827 miles from Whitehorse to Fort St. John, BC. Of those 827 miles, we'll have already driven all but 38 of those on the way up to Alaska. (We're taking different roads on our way to and from Skagway, Alaska, and in doing so will miss 38 miles of the Alaska Highway northbound.) But somehow, I doubt our reaction to this drive will be anything along the lines of, "Ugh, been here, done that. Boring." At least, I hope not. I-40 between Durham and Greensboro, this is not.

Day 16 - Friday, July 9th: Next up, a 937-mile drive from Fort St. John, B.C. to Yorkton, Saskatchewan. Yeah, Saskatchewan!

Saskatchewan is supposed to be very flat, and is probably very boring to most. But that's fine with us. For one, we're the same people who thought Nebraska was scenic. But more importantly, this is still Canada, of course, and I like just about all forms of Canadian driving. That's reason enough to enjoy the drive, even if it is mostly a repeat of the northbound drive. (East of Saskatoon will be new, but the rest will be a repeat.)

Day 17 - Saturday, July 10th: Just in case we didn't think yesterday's drive was long enough...it's time for an even longer one! It's 999 miles from Yorkton to Madison, Wisconsin.

Actually...you know what just dawned on me? We're going to lose four hours on our way back home. I didn't account for that when I put together our itinerary. Crap! Now our demanding return trip will be even more so. Oh well. I guess we can always cancel our Madison hotel ahead of time (we have until 4 PM that day) and do an all-nighter coming home if we need to.

Day 18 - Sunday, July 11th: 936 miles from Madison to Durham for the grand finale. And in case you're wondering, no, we do not plan on going back to work the very next day.

So, there you have it. Only 107 more days until we hit the road!


bubba said...

My undergrad roommate spent six weeks working in the Kenai public defender's office. He also drove up most of the Alaska Hwy. to get there and might have a lot of advice for your trip. Let me know if you want his contact information.

each day an adventure in alaska said...

sounds like an ambitous roadie. you should have a great time and see some spectacular scenery. i'd skip portage glacier and head through the tunnel to whittier. it's an ugly town, but catch the 26 glacier cruise...prince william sound is a must!
to see moose hit the coastal trail in anchorage and if it's a clear day you can see denali from here...just in case. have fun and if you have any questions stop by my blog.