We’re just back from 4 nights in Alaska! Our seasonal border between the Yukon and Alaska opened for the first time since 2019 so we took advantage of having a stat holiday today (Aboriginal Day and the summer solstice) and each took a vacation day on Monday to make a nice 4 day weekend.
Our ultimate goal was to get to the REI in Anchorage (we’ve never been to an REI) to buy some backpacking gear, but ultimately our summer is crazy short and we need to take some vacations. This one was just us – Hank went to the boarding kennel for his own vacation!
With the Yukon River so high, the ferry has been experiencing some delays, taking smaller loads, and taking longer to cross and land. We decided to jump the inevitable Friday afternoon line and headed out after 2pm.
We made it across without too much of a delay. Leaving a bit early was a good idea.
The Top of the World Highway is in good shape right now. We didn’t see any wildlife, and there is more snow left in the hills that I’ve seen before at this time of year.
The border crossing was pretty uneventful. It’s cold and snowy still at the border crossing. Sometimes I think the border guards are just grateful for someone new to talk to (this crossing is very remote, off-grid, and open just for a few months a year).
We pre-booked our 4 nights of accommodation. At the time, we thought we’d be leaving several hours later, so I had booked a cabin in Chicken, Alaska for us. In retrospect, we should have booked a place in Tok. We were in Chicken pretty early with little to do. Oh, and on the way, we saw a motorhome from Florida clinging to the edge of the cliff! Everyone was talking about it in Chicken. I heard it was pulling a truck too! (It’s been removed now – I wonder how they got it back up on the road!) It looked like a small push would have pushed it over (there is a cliff right behind those trees!).
Chicken is a special little town. Quirky. Population of less than a dozen year round residents. No electricity or telephone. First flush toilets went into one of the tourist stops a few years back. Bunch of old log cabins and abandoned mining equipment scattered in the bushes.
We got checked into our cabin and then hit the tourist shops. And the outhouse.
I thought of Chicken often during Covid. Wondering how they were doing for a couple of years without the all the tourists and motorhomes passing through.
Turns out everything looks the same, but with a new shipment of fun tourist things to buy!
We booked a little cabin from the Chicken Gold Camp. We’ve stayed with them before. This time we were in the Jack Wade Creek cabin, which was closer to the outhouses, but also much closer to noisy people.
It was just a week after the annual Chickenstock music festival, and the camp we were staying at were still out of beer. There are people (tourists?) who come up gold mining here, and park their camper and sit around panning their gold at night in the camp/parking lot here. There was another campsite with a dozen motorcycles. And in June it was sunny at night so the parties went late into the night.
In retrospect, I’m sure we would have had a more thrilling time if we joined one of the groups for a few hours a couple of beers and conversation, but we chilled by ourselves in our little cabin. Jeff watched some Netflix he downloaded and I read a book about a silver ore heist in Keno, Yukon a few decades ago. The cabin had a king bed (two beds pushed together), another single bed, and some empty shelves. There is a propane heater if needed, plywood floor, and a bunch of windows that open. They give you towels if you want to use the showers in the shower house that run on quarters (and a generator), and the bedding is all in place.
Above the head of the bed there was a window that looked out onto what must be the Chickenstock urinals. Clever! Beer keg urinals!
We took a break from doing nothing and went for a short walk while feeding the mosquitos.
Lots of relics around, and an old gold mining dredge covered with swallow nests, to look at.
Here’s the Chickenstock stage:
It was a nice cool sleep with all the windows open, but the bed had a divot in the middle of my side, and I slept weird, twisting my lower back, which crippled me for days. I shuffled to the outhouse at 5am like an ancient person! One of the bikers was snoring so loud in their tent, it was amazing.
The next morning we got back on the road and headed for Anchorage. The road was gravel from near the border to Chicken, but then it is mostly paved to Tok when you join the Alaskan highway. Here’s the route we took.
The road from Tok to Glennallen is fairly quiet. We saw a pickup truck pulling a closed in cargo trailer that was in the ditch, completely upside down. Eeek! I wonder if they fell asleep.
The traffic picked up from Glennallen to Anchorage. It is scenic though, with views of mountains most of the way. The road narrows and gets curvy for a bit between Glacier View and Palmer, and then it is a split lane modern highway from Palmer to Anchorage.
We checked in at the Springhill Suites hotel in the University and hospital area of the city. Hotel prices are absolutely obscene right now. Likely because it is the solstice time in Alaska, the peak time for tourists. I spent hours a week back trying to find a better deal, then decided to just get a nice place for a couple of nights and enjoy our vacation.
We headed out to shop right away!
First destination, REI! And we liked it so much, we went there three days in a row!
The people working in REI are the most pleasant, friendly, helpful people I’ve ever experienced in a store. When we said we were signing up for a membership, they always got a huge smile. I even asked one if there was a commission and that is why they smiled, but they said no!
They really knew their stuff, and were super helpful, but also didn’t bother you when you were just browsing. They also knew who on staff knew certain things better so they were always consulting each other. What a team!
We have a couple of backpacking trips in mind and while we have plenty of outdoor gear, all of it is big and heavy! It just won’t do for an overnight hike!
We each got a lightweight sleeping bag (mine is a quilt with a leg box), and a sleeping pad. We were measured for backpacks, but they have a real shortage right now. I was narrowing in on one, with so much help from an assistant, then another employee came over and said, “Listen, you and me, bigger girls, need to help each other out. This backpack brand, Gregory, makes a new plus sized pack, with a better waist and wider straps to suit our bodies. We sell out immediately, but you may want to order online.”
So we did! REI was out of stock, but Canada’s MEC has it in stock, so I have one on the way. I’m getting this one. While I’ve lost lots of weight in the last few years, I’m still big enough that I had to let out the buckle for the waist all the way for the packs I was trying on, and the pockets on the hip padding was practically behind me, so that’s cool they are making packs for more people.
That is another nice thing about REI. They have a great wide range of clothing sizes, and they are in the store with everything else. Not a separate plus sized section in the back. Just larger sizes of the same clothes smaller people wear. If only MEC would catch on to this. They seem to think outdoor people only come in small sizes and don’t have larger sizes at all.
After several hours in the store (we tried so many sleeping pads and bags until we each got something that suited us), we worked up a hunger!
Jeff had a couple of restaurants he had learned about for dinner, but they were both downtown and there was an event going on so it was crowded. No where we wanted to squeeze a crew cab F-350 long box truck!
So we found another place, the Spenard Roadhouse, found a parking spot, and only had to wait about 40 minutes for a table. We had a delicious dinner, and the waitress was really fun and friendly. Jeff had halibut supper and I had a caribou sausage pizza, with a couple of locally brewed beers.
Oh and some calamari!
Look at this pizza. The goat cheese and caribou sausage was a perfect combination!
Jeff had a slice too, and I still had half of it for another meal the next day! By the time we returned to the hotel, we were too late to use the pool and hot tub so we crashed. The rooms were really nice in the hotel, with a separate sitting area, fridge, microwave, and a big king sized bed. There was a nice walk in shower in a separate room from the toilet. And good black out curtains on the window.
Anchorage is made fun of by Alaskans, as not really being anything like the entire rest of the state, because it is a city. Which is exactly what we were looking for! Although the Alaskans often looked at us weird when we said we came over to shop. We went to the Walmart, which was so massive, mostly just to be in aww of the crazy junk food in America. There are so many wild things in an American Walmart! We shopped in a Bass Pro too, and a Home Depot. Jeff went to the Sportsman Warehouse while I went to the mall.
You can see mountains from most places in Anchorage. They surround the city.
We tried to go see Top Gun: Maverick, but it was sold out! So I hopped online and secured us a couple seats to a showing later that evening. We went back to the hotel for a few hours. Right out the back door of the hotel is an entry gate to a trail system. There is a 2+ km loop around the University Lake that is considered an off leash dog park! So people were walking, some biking, and their dogs were running around and swimming, and everyone was getting along. What a fabulous idea!
It was a really nice path. I brought my binoculars and did some birdwatching. Mostly duck watching. There were some red-necked Grebe’s sitting on nests in the lake, and a ton of mallards. Also lots of robins, and chickadees, and a tree full of magpies!
It was so nice, we went around the lake on the trail twice before heading over to the theatre.
No wonder the theatre was sold out before! There were only a few rows of seats, and only a 10 seats in a row. Because there were recliners!! Now this is how to watch a movie!
It was a sell out again. And what a movie! I give it a full 5 stars. I want to not like Tom Cruise or make fun of his fear of aging, but I can’t fault him or this movie. It is fabulous! A real thrill, and so much great footage of the planes! or jets I suppose! If you liked the first Top Gun, and who didn’t, this is a perfect sequel.
It was close to midnight by the time we got back to the hotel. We missed the pool hours again!
The hotel had a decent free breakfast every morning. We had breakfast before checking out on Monday morning. Two nights and never made it to the pool once. Oh well, truth be told, the bottoms of my swimsuit are too big and I was a bit worried of losing them in the pool. Ha!
It didn’t seem right to just leave Anchorage without seeing something, anything, other than a store. So I found a park on the map that was on the far west, northwest actually, area of town, along the water, at the end of the international runway. We headed over there to check it out!
We could see all the way to Denali!
And then a jet took off!
And another and another! Here’s where we were. I was using the FlightAware app to identify the jets going over our head.
There was also a big FedEx centre there. We saw at least 10 FedEx delivery trucks in a row roll out of there!
Afterwards, we hit REI for the third time, and then headed out. We had a motel booked in Tok to break up the trip home.
There was some construction in Palmer, and east of it, so we had one place where we were stopped for awhile (the turn off your truck and walk around for awhile if you want to type of delay). After that it got rainy again, but we still got to see a couple of moose along the way.
We stayed at the Three Bears motel in Tok. It is a little place, very dated, but clean and totally adequate. We planned to walk to Fast Eddy‘s for supper to get some exercise, but it was pouring rain, so we drove instead. I had a halibut burger and Jeff had their Mexican burger. I also had a strawberry milkshake! Mmmmmm!
Fast Eddy’s is an iconic pit stop where everyone, including tour buses, stop to eat. There is even a salad bar! And you can even order king crab! It has great fast service and the food is pretty decent.
This morning we were up at 5am after someone started up their big old diesel truck outside and let it idle. The motel has a little continental breakfast where you could pour and make your own fresh waffle, but there was a big group of tourists so I had a quick instant oatmeal and we were on our way. It rained off and on today and the clouds were sitting on the hills and mountains all around us.
After passing through Chicken, there was suddenly a small herd of caribou on the road right in front of us!!
Even a bunch of caribou babies! Awwww!! Sorry I ate your relative on my pizza in Anchorage!
We were home in the early afternoon and went to pick up Hank from the kennel. He is so totally worn out. And we learned he may be half mountain goat! Apparently he jumps up on the pointed peak of a super tall dog house when the other dogs are bugging him!
Back to work tomorrow. Happy Solstice everyone!