Archive for May 2022

Matanuska Glacier & A Yak Burger

May 15, 2022 - 5:07 am No Comments

The jack-ass sitting in front of me decided to fire up Lord of the Rings on his phone’s tinny speakers. Of course, when the flight attendant came by and insisted that he put on headphones, he put them on, fell right asleep, and started obnoxiously snoring. Meanwhile, the woman to my left whose arm was encroaching on my personal space kept unabashedly wide-mouth burping through her mask without a single “excuse me” for 6 hours. Some people are just born to be annoying.

My research had suggested that sitting on the right side of the plane would offer the best views for the trip up. For most of the trip, it didn’t matter, as most of Canada was blanketed by clouds and I couldn’t see much. Every once in a while, through some of the clouds and haze, I could see some lakes partially frozen. As we continued northwest over the top edge of British Columbia, the lakes completely froze over and all vegetation was gone, replaced by scraped, rippled, dark brown wasteland. The rolling hills gradually grew steeper and pointier and whiter with snow. By the time we approached the Alaska border, the mountains ere getting really big. I peered out the window the whole time, loving all the scenery, but most others were not. Most had their shades down and many were sleeping. Leads me to believe that it’s mostly regulars and locals who do this route, not tourists.

Through breaks in the clouds, I could see glimpses of majestic mountains as we flew into Anchorage.

Canadian Rockies

Glided over the gross, mushy tidal flats near the airport and landed under heavy cloud cover at 9:30pm, still with plenty of light in the sky.

Final Approach to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport

It was cloudy, but the sun was still up. Due to some sort of staff shortage, we were forced to wait on the tarmac for about an hour until a gate became available.

When I got to my hotel at 11:30pm, there was still light in the sky. Walked around block looking for a bite to eat without any luck. Even the gas station with a big 24-hour sign across the street was closed. So I resigned to my hotel room, laid down on my lopsided mattress, and passed out.

Woke up early this morning to catch my scheduled tour to Matanuska Glacier. The internet says it’s 4 miles wide and the largest glacier in the US that can be reached by vehicle.

Our van headed eastward on the Glenn Highway, named after Edwin Glenn, a guy who oversaw US Army expeditions in Alaska in 1898. The drive was beautiful, offering us a glimpse of Denali in the distance and the rugged beauty of the Chugash Mountains. Our driver looked like Lori Petty and did not stopped talking or take a breath since leaving Anchorage. Most of what she has to say was not very interesting.

View Over Matanuska River

Snowy Wonderland Near Matanuska Glacier

We got to the glacier, and at first glance, it didn’t compare to the immensity or natural beauty of Franz Josef or Perito Moreno, two other glaciers I had the pleasure of visiting. We started our hike through the gray, rocky, muddy moraine, a colorless and sterile scene which made it feel like we were on another planet.

Matanuska Glacier

Balancing Rock at Matanuska Glacier

When we reached the glacier ice, we stopped to slap on some crampons and continued upward. Our hiking guide dropped glacier facts as we walked, spewing a little bullshit about black ice, but overall it was a good presentation.

Matanuska Glacier Tour

On Matanuska Glacier

When instructed that it was safe to do so, I stopped to kneel down and slurp up a customary sip of glacier water. Most people in the group were not bold enough to take a slurp, preferring to open up their water bottles and fill them up that way. Come on people, live a little.

Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier

The scale of the glacier was a lot more impressive when we were on it and walking through it. It’s often hard to get a sense of scale and distance when all you see is ice. It’s only when you see another tour group in the distance that you get a sense of how massive the glacier really is.

Matanuska Glacier

After a few hours on the glacier, we headed back to the van and stopped at the nearby Long Rifle Lodge for a surprisingly scrumptious lunch of blueberry chipotle salmon tacos and a drink. As we ordered our food, our driver made it clear to is that she wouldn’t eat carbs because they make her fall asleep, and that she always gets a Coke so that the caffeine will prevent her from falling asleep for the ride home.

The highlight of the drive back to Anchorage was either Lori Petty falling asleep at the wheel and hitting the rumble strips (saying “it was the wind” after startling herself awake) or the girl sitting in front of me vomiting her lunch.

Mountains Near Matanuska Glacier

I went back to one of my favorite Anchorage restaurants, 49th State Brewing, for yak burger, a meal I really enjoyed on my last visit to Anchorage.

49th State Brewing Menu

49th State Brewing Yak Burger

It’s Saturday night, so I was hoping for a lively social scene, but downtown Anchorage was mostly dead. Also very bright, with the sun still blazing at 9:30pm. On the way back to my hotel, I found a place called Williwaw and found a Hawaiian reggae band playing bouncy beach songs to a lively crowd. I sat down for a while to soak in the scene.

Willliwaw

H3 at Williwaw

H3 at Williwaw

Walked back to my hotel at 10:30pm with the sun thinking about finally setting and the tops of the snow-capped mountains behind the buildings of Anchorage turning pink and a nearly perfect full moon rising behind them.

A very full and fun first day in Alaska. Tomorrow is a scenic train ride to Seward and a cruise through Kenai Fjords. I befriended a guy named Ali on the glacier hike today, and it turns out he’ll be doing the train ride along with me tomorrow.

Alaska Bound!

May 13, 2022 - 8:30 pm No Comments

Mostly thanks to COVID, it’s been a while since I’ve done any real traveling. So it was with great jubilation when I learned my work would be flying me and our whole department to a fancy resort in Alaska for our off-site team event this year. It’s nice to work for a company that has money. 🙂

Once getting the itinerary from my company, I decided to take full advantage and go up a few days early to have my own little adventure before joining the work team. I booked a little hotel in Anchorage, and I’ve got some fun activities planned, including a Matanuska Glacier hike, a train ride from Anchorage to Seward, and a Kenai Fjords cruise for some whale-watching.

This is my first trip after the federal mask mandates have been lifted in airports and on planes. A few people, including me, are still voluntarily wearing them. I’m seeing about 25% masking in the airport and on the plane. Such a polarizing issue, isn’t it? I will say that I was especially aware of a guy coughing a few rows back from me, and I’m sure a few people sitting nearby are on edge.

A customary northbound take-off from Reagan National Airport took us by the monuments on the National Mall and offered a fleeting glimpse of the White House before we disappeared into a layer of low-hanging clouds. A few moments later, we punched through the clouds and were flying up into brilliant blue sky. So cool.

National Mall After DCA Take-Off

Due to the absence of that goofy American Airlines magazine in the seat back pocket, I was forced to read the even goofier aircraft safety card. After noticing that were were on a “Boeing 737 09/21 Revision”, some quick googling revealed that this name is a sneaky rebrand of the 737 MAX, notorious for a couple of crashes in 2019 that grounded the whole fleet for a couple of years. They seem to have resolved the issues.

Chicago O'Hare International Airport from the Air

Quick layover in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. While sitting and eating a locally sourced but still overpriced burger, a passerby dropped off some pocket-sized biblical literature for me to read.

Now on the plane to Alaska. The flight is scheduled for 7 hours but the captain is saying that favorable winds might get us to Anchorage in only 5 1/2 hours. I’ve been to Alaska once before, but that was on a cruise from Vancouver, so I haven’t flown over this part of North America. We’ve just ascended into the hazy blue skies over Chicago, and we’re heading north. Just north of the city, the undeveloped landscape is rugged but flat and pockmarked with countless irregularly shaped lakes, clear evidence of Ice Age glaciation. I imagine most of Canada will also look this way. The flight path takes us over a whole lot of nothingness before crossing the Canadian Rockies and dropping down to Ted Stevens (former Senator from Alaska) Anchorage International Airport. I hope there’s still some light in the sky when we land, because from the glimpses of the Canadian Rockies I saw on my last flight out of Anchorage from the dreaded middle seat, the scenery looks beautiful.

Time to dodge the large arm of a middle-aged woman that is hanging over an armrest and encroaching on my personal space, sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.