So this year, was filled with more firsts for me as far as my travels go. Its true that originally I was wanting to be even more adventurous and thinking of places along the lines of New Zealand and Iceland, but those will have to wait for now as I need more funds and time. This year however, wanting to take on the far North, Alaska caught my attention with its diverse landscapes and geographical locations and sure it was on my bucket list. Then I thought while I am up that way, I would hit Washington state and the Pacific Northwest and make it two weeks of an unforgettable journey.
My first flight ever was last year at the age of 30. You see I enjoy driving my trips because I feel that the trips are not only made at your destinations, but on the back roads and side stops along the way. With that being said, and the time that I was given, there was no way I was driving to Alaska. I have found an enjoyment with airports and the atmosphere that they bring to me. The hustle of the traffic, the layovers in random cities, even if its only for 30 min. While I am waiting, I love to watch people and see what destinations that they are headed to. I mean what else is there to do when I am waiting to board, oh, and did I mention that I am running solo. As a photographer, I feel at ease when I am out in the field and its just me and the view through the lens, but ok enough about the preface, onto the trip.
As I left a balmy St.Louis headed for a brief stop in Minneapolis, there was excitement building within me about the red eye through the night to Anchorage. I arrived at MSP and was amazed when I got off the plane to see all these Ipads at every turn. I guess its their way of having a cyber cafe and it looks pretty cool. Anyways after I asked the airport attendant where my next gate was located, I headed to grab a bite and waited for boarding. I remember this moment especially because I thought for sure that a red eye to Alaska would muster just a handful of passengers, but to my surprise, it was a full flight. It was a definite lure to tourists from all over the world and I found this out as I heard languages from many nationalities and chatted with several. Now one thing I have always wanted to see is the Aurora Borealis and at this time I have it in my mind that I will see them at some point on this trip. Well who knew that my only glimpse would be overnight on a plane. As I was dosing off the captain comes over the intercom and says there is a pretty amazing display out our right side. Well of course I am on the left and sitting on a wing. So all I really got to see was a faint green glow around the wing and that was it. Sigh… After 5 hours or so we started our descent. Rain was flying in and was visible only by the blinking lights from the wing, so It left me wondering how the weather would cooperate during my stay. After we landed, I got my bags, called the car rental shuttle, and was taken to pick up my kind of new Chevy Malibu. I’ll be honest, as I was riding to the office, I was beginning to wonder what part of the city I was in. Not that I could really tell if I was in a bad part of town at 2am. Maybe it also had to do with the fact that this would be the furthest trip taken away from home. After grabbing breakfast, I headed South towards Homer for my first stop. I was undoubtedly excited, but also, with little sleep on the flight, I was getting tired. So I chose one of the pull offs outside of town and watched the back of my eyelids for a few hours before continuing. I was already amazed as I laid there falling asleep, how starry the skies were with the absence of street lights. I thought to myself, I must be closer to the stars since I am so far North haha!
Once on the road again, I noticed the foggy hills turning into mountains and that there was so much remoteness between towns. I mean there were a handful of them along the way, but if you needed something, you had better stop at that point because it seemed like hours before I was entering the next town. My first little side trail came while traveling Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm. I couldn’t help but notice the pristine blue water of the arm. The trail was no more than about 30 yards or so, but as I came out of the trees to the water’s edge, wow! It was a flat calm as if it were glass. It was still overcast which gave it a eerie feeling as well, not to mention quiet as could be. Other than the passing cars, you could hear a pin drop. Anyways, I grabbed my shots, and kept moving. I was still in the early daylight hours, but needed to keep a good pace to make it to Homer for lunch and make it to the marina to catch my boat. Moving along, I began riding right along side Kachemak Bay and followed that all the way into Homer. After lunch at Maura’s cafe, I loaded up and headed to meet Tom and Tammy for a shuttle across the bay to Sadie Cove and Grace Ridge. What a great couple and they made every minute of it enjoyable. http://www.redmountainmarine.com/
I would say the most enjoyable part though was the other traveler that was with us. Her name escapes me at the moment, but she had some stories for sure. She was from Alaska but was currently living in the South West. The amazing stories were those of her younger years spent working as a cook at one of the scientific research facilities in Antarctica. We got on the topic of wanting to see the Northern Lights, and she told me about the night sky displays that she witnessed in Antarctica. Talk about color enveloping the horizon and overhead. A detail that will stay with me is when she talked about how the snow was blowing all around and as the color of the Southern lights hit the flakes, it was like sparkling glitter all around them. That for sure makes me desire a journey there one day to try and see at least a portion of what she saw.
So as we finished our shuttle ride across the bay, where we witnessed breathtaking views of the mountains, glaciers, and a playful sea otter floating on his back, we finally reach Kayak Beach. I grabbed my gear and climbed down the ladder to shore and found the trail ahead. I instantly knew that I was in bear country so I headed up the mountain with knife and bear spray within immediate reach. I would be taking on about 5 miles uphill and for this time of year, to me, it was still rather humid. I guess I just felt that being in Alaska would mean cooler temps. So here I was singing church songs, talking out loud, and occasionally making travel videos along the way, anything to be making noise because the last thing that I want is to surprise a bear. Everything was fine until I started noticing bear droppings otherwise known as scat. It began appearing every 50 to 100 yards or so and that quickly got the idea out of my mind that this would be easy. In other words, I was fine with thinking that I had nothing to worry about except where I stepped, daylight, and a place to set up camp. But now that I knew bears were in the area, alertness had set in. Just a little foreshadow though, I never saw a bear in the area. So with each switchback I took, I climbed higher and higher. Throughout the trees I could see the bay and thought to myself that as soon as I clear the tree line, this view is going to be amazing. I followed the sound of rushing water to a beautiful cascade right off the trail. I used this opportunity to grab some waterfall shots, fill up some h2o, and grab some trail mix. After my break, I put my pack on and carried on up the mountain. Finally reaching the clearing, the view was all that I hoped it would be. I could see Homer off in the distance and the sun gleaming down over the horizon line of Kachemak Bay was awesome. At the moment I figured I was pretty close to finding my spot for the night. I was told most people set up camp on the beach, but of course I want to be different and why wouldn’t I want to have my room with a view of this overlook. After a few valley crossings, I reached a plateau to where I could pitch the tent. By then I was actually sweating and I would say it was around 70 degrees or so. I had to actually take off my shirt and cool down. I grabbed some dinner and set up the camera for the shot of this soon to be gorgeous sunset. The sunset did not disappoint and the colors and reflections were awesome, right down to the last ray of light. By this time the temps had dropped considerably and it was now time to bundle up for a night under the Alaskan sky. It was so quiet with the exception of the wind hitting the side of my tent which was rather peaceful. It was indeed until I heard something off in the distance which sounded like a moose. I’m talking like 5 miles or so out. I slowly realized as I studied it more that it sounded more like barks and a howl and understood that this was no moose. Wolves no doubt, and needless to say, I kept quiet and remained listening to them from inside my tent. I figured they can’t know that I’m here and all will be fine. I’ll just sleep lightly because if there’s one thing about wolves, they rarely travel alone. Eventually it would come to an end and I fell asleep reliving my first day in Alaska.