Columns 2006

Touring Alaska

My sister travels at about 948 mph.  And that’s while she’s on vacation. I travel at about 4 mph on a good day. That we are able to travel together at all is a tribute to the strong bond we have.

She came back to Alaska again this year for some more exploration of the state bringing her friend Janet, which has helped in two ways. One, I had someone to pass the baton to when I collapsed from exhaustion trying to keep up with her and two, Janet is a shopper like Judy and they both did their best to make up for any oil tax revenue short falls we may experience this year.

Living here in Alaska for over thirty years has made me somewhat blas� about the beauty that surrounds me daily.  Even living in Anchorage, as close to Alaska as you can get without really being there, you are surrounded by mountains and moose, bears and woods, salmon and eagles. After a while, you think of this as your birthright.  Then people come to visit and suddenly you see the state anew and are once again amazed at your luck in living here.

This year we discovered the Alaska Marine Highway System. We drove to Valdez and took the ferry from there to Cordova and then back to Whittier.  What a great way to travel.  And what great people run that system.  The only thing that spoiled the experience was a two-hour wait in Valdez during which time no one thought it would be polite to make any announcement about the delay. We just sat there in our cars waiting to board the ferry while a surprise Coast Guard drill was occurring.

I know, if it was a surprise, how could they announce it. Well, apparently the staff had been notified the day before about the “surprise”. It was rainy and miserable and people in the waiting cars were very unhappy. But, this being the era of Homeland Security and shoeless searches at airports, no one was inclined to say anything for fear they’d be hustled away as a terrorist.

The wait was made somewhat more pleasant by the fact that we were slowly and happily digesting the best salmon we’d had yet in Alaska from the Alaska Halibut House in Valdez.

In Cordova we stayed at the converted cannery now called the Orca Adventure Lodge.  It was one of those out of body Alaskan experiences.  We had no phones in our rooms and no cell phone service for those with cell phones but had fast speed Internet access in the lobby.

By the time we left Cordova, my company was almost blas� about eagle sightings.  We’d driven to the original bride to nowhere and seen a glacier up close.  We saw bear scat and had the Alaskan shopping experience of a store that was an espresso stand/liquor store/grocery store that also seemed to have some connection to a nearby generic Asian restaurant.

Following the long drive to Valdez with a drive to Homer was not exactly my idea of heaven but my sister fell in love with Homer years ago and a trip to Alaska for her is not the same without at least one night at Land’s End.  The view is nice but what really gets her juices going is the spa there.  What a hidden gem. It provides one of the best massages in the best ambience to be found anywhere this side of heaven. And it’s all offered at a reasonable price. 

The massage was so good we almost didn’t mind the constant rain on our trip to Seldovia.  I think it was there that both Judy and Janet realized just how isolated Alaskan communities are.  I believe my sister’s comment was, “What if you just want to run to a CVS for some makeup?” I tried to explain to her that we live in such remote locations exactly because we don’t want to be able to do that.  She didn’t understand.

And so I sit here today taking a much needed break from the running while Judy and Janet spend their last dollars on things Alaskan to bring back East.  A large amount of smoked salmon will go with them to satisfy the craving of a young cousin who got hooked on the stuff while visiting here a few years ago.  After they leave, I’ll go back to my daily routine, hardly noticing the beauty around me until my next visitors cause me to again view my state with new and appreciative eyes. And they’ll go back to America with a new appreciation for how many latte stands you can cram into a very limited state highway system.