Sunday, June 30, 2013

AK to CA: Day 10

Portland, OR

We spent an extra day in Portland, mainly because The Nana loves Oregon wines.  She arranged a tour for herself and Mike to visit their favorite wineries, and the kid and I planned to go to the zoo.  But it was just too hot for our Alaskan blood.  Luckily, the Portland Children's Museum is right next to the zoo, so we opted for indoor entertainment instead.  The kids had a blast spending the morning exploring.

Not big enough to incubate dinosaur eggs...

The water room...the highlight of the day

We need to get a retro Lite Brite!

Next we had to make a trip to Target for cooler clothing.  Little Man only had one pair of shorts.  It's near 90 degrees again today.  The kids were especially excited to get their first pair of flip flops.  Yes, their first!  Not safe or practical in Alaska, and they were too young to wear them before that.

Here's a bit from The Nana about the winery adventure:

Mike and Nana had an incredible day in wine country. We  ventured out with NW wine tours at 10am and were very impressed. We toured Priva, a small private vineyard....Sinnean, Bergstrom and Domaine Druhin..all personal favorites. Also Tristeatum, a wine/art gallery. It was educational and so much fun. We were so lucky to meet some of the wine makers who create the wines we love. As one of the wine makers stated," making wine and sharing wine is a very Happy thing. You won't find any grumpy people around here!" Very well was awesome!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

AK to CA: Day 9

Bellingham, WA to Portland, OR via Seattle

After disembarking the ferry and re-packing the car, we were happy to be on dry land and our own travel terms again.  Our plan was to head into Seattle for the morning and explore Pike's Place Market before continuing south to the Portland area.

We have quite a bit to get used to now that we are back in the Lower 48.  Traffic.  People everywhere. And heat.  The heat wave seems to have followed us again, and it was over 90 degrees.  In hindsight, throwing the family directly into such a place as downtown Seattle may not have been the best plan.  But it did give us a crash course in all that we need to teach the kids about life outside of Alaska.  Watching out for wild animals is very different than not getting separated from your family in a crowded place.  I have a feeling that acclimating to city life could take us awhile.

Pike's Place Market was not at all what we expected.  But it was awesome.  Wall-to-wall people flowing through the stands with every fresh vegetable imaginable, specialty foods, and the flowers.  The flowers were amazing.  For $5 you can buy a bouquet that would cost $40 anywhere else.

The dog even joined us as we pushed through the crowds.  He was given many compliments on his behavior and made a few new friends.  In fact, he was the best behaved of our bunch.  Hmmm...maybe I should leash my children, too.  I'm beginning to see the purpose of those kiddie backpack leashes...but I think they are probably a bit too old.  This is the first time they have been in a place like this without the use of a stroller to keep them contained and safe.

Next we strolled around the city for a bit, and stopped at some food trucks for lunch.  Gourmet grilled cheese with blueberry dipping sauce?  Yes, please.

We'd definitely like to return to Seattle when we have a little more time, but we needed to continue south to reach our stop for the night.  A 3-hour drive quickly turned into 5 hours thanks to the unbelievable traffic that stretched for well over 50 miles south of Seattle.  By the time we were approaching Portland, the traffic returned.  I don't know why, but we weren't expecting the Portland area to have so much congestion.  We are staying a few miles out of town, and we quickly decided not to head back into the city for dinner as we had planned because it could have easily taken a couple of hours.  It reminded me of the stretch of I-95 north of New York City.  Even at noon on Saturday, the lanes leading into Portland were backed up.

We are here for another night so that The Nana and Mike can enjoy a tour of some favorite Oregon wineries.

AK to CA Trip: The Ferry Adventure

Haines, AK to Bellingham, WA...nearly 1000 miles over 3.5 days

The only other time that we have traveled on the Alaska Marine Highway System was between Homer and Kodiak, so we were really looking forward to seeing Southeast Alaska while not having to do any driving.  We were also happy to be avoiding Canada as much as possible.  I just checked my credit card statement from the one gas stop we had in Haines Junction, and it was almost $100 for about 12 gallons of gas!

We boarded the ferry Monday evening and left after midnight. The ship pulled into Juneau around 5am, and our very good friends (the same friends who we visited for Thanksgiving) delivered breakfast to us.  It was so great to see them, and we love having friends all over thanks to the Coast Guard.

Leaving Auke Bay (Juneau)
After about 4 hours sleep, we all took a nice afternoon nap in our stateroom before the ship pulled into Sitka.  We had nearly three hours to explore, but the town is not near the ferry terminal (this seems to be the theme of AK ferry port calls).  So instead, we got the dog out of the car- where he has to remain the entire time the ship is underway- and headed to the Starrigavan trail system right up the road and went for a hike.  The forest was beautiful, and the trail was very well maintained.

On the above section of boardwalk, the surrounding terrain was very muddy.  We had our bear spray and kept up our noise level, but we were still a bit uneasy after seeing this.

 Back on the ship, we settled in for the night.  The next stop was Petersburg, but it was at 3:30 am.  Knowing that the kids would still be getting up before 7, no matter how tired they seemed, the adults decided that we'll just see Petersburg the next time around.  In the morning, it was back down to the car deck for the pup when we pulled into Wrangell.

Dining among the vehicles...the ferry was not full at this point, but it was by the end of the journey!

Not the best pic, but it was beautiful.  I used my iPhone camera quite a bit.  Oops

Later that afternoon, we pulled into our last port, Ketchikan.  I don't know what I was expecting, but what I saw wasn't it!  Ketchikan is the definition of "bustling."  The float planes buzz overhead and land right in the channel with the ships, and the jets land on an airport on an island in the middle, reachable only by ferry.  There was more traffic than I've seen in any other small Alaskan town.

From the ferry deck

 We had plenty of time, but with only a city bus to rely on us to get to downtown and back before the ship sailed again, we opted to visit the grocery store for snacks and reading material (we majorly misjudged how much downtime we would have on the ferry, especially with the US Forest Service rangers no longer onboard due to sequestration and budget cuts).  We also spent time at the restaurant in the Best Western across the street from the ferry terminal before settling back in for the longest leg of the journey.

From Ketchikan to Bellingham, it's a 36-hour ride.  We passed the time with movies for the kids, books for the adults, and watching out the windows and playing Bananagrams for everyone.  Most of the ride was smooth sailing, except for a few open-water crossings with the waves at our beam.  I even had to leave the warm confines of our room for a bit of fresh air when crossing the Dixon Entrance.  But I found an awesome view.

On our last evening, we entered a narrow channel called Ripple Point.  The fog and stillness gave a very eerie feeling.  It was amazing that large ships pass through here regularly.  In fact, two huge cruise ships were leading the way.

Although we enjoyed our adventure at sea, we were very excited to hear the purser announce, "30 minutes to Bellingham" this morning.  Little Man even declared, "Yes.  Get me off of this ship."  Scenery isn't very exciting when you're 5.  And eating microwavable meals to avoid the expense of the ferry dining room gets old after 3 days.  On to the final leg of the adventure!

AK to CA Trip: Haines (Day 5 again...with pics)

Haines, AK while waiting until the midnight ferry to Bellingham

Whew.  That was a long several days on the ferry.  We had only some spotty cell coverage while in a few ports, so the updates are a little late.  Here's more on Haines:

It was HOT!  Alaska seems to be having a heat wave that is following us as we head south. 

So our original plan to wander around Haines was cut very short by most of us being very unaccustomed to temperatures over 65 degrees.  We did manage to find the playground, which was very Alaskan-themed and looked similar to the one that we built last summer in Homer.

The kids also had some fun posing with some new friends they made around town.

When we got too hot, we piled back into the car (Aah, air conditioning!  Glad it still runs after two years with no use) and drove around.  We happened upon the m/v Columbia, our ride south, pulling into the pier.

Then we ventured out to Chilkoot Lake, at the end of the road.  There were lots of signs warning of bears, plus killer swarms of mosquitoes, so we observed from the car.

For lunch, we tried out the Chilkat Restaurant and Bakery.  It was sooo delicious.  We were surprised to find that they served Thai and American food, as well as breakfast all day.  The kids took full advantage of pancakes for lunch, and the adults cooled down with iced tea.

 We made our obligatory stop at the local brewery, the Haines Brewing Company.  Thank goodness for smart phones or we would have never found it hidden inside the fairgrounds, occupying a storefront in Dalton City.  That's where White Fang  was filmed.

After a dinner of milkshakes (yes, it was still hot, even though it had cooled down to about 75 degrees), we went back out to Chilkoot River hoping to see a bear.  We were in luck!  We spotted a brown bear fishing in the river and stopped to watch.  Upon talking with other bear fans, we learned that the bear's name is Hazel, and she fishes every evening.  The photos aren't the best, but you get the idea.

 Then it was back to the ferry terminal, where we still had nearly three hours to wait before we could board.  As soon as we pulled into our lane to park and wait, a huge thunderstorm rolled in.

We never get thunderstorms in Homer, so it was quite a treat. There were several waves of the storm, and in the middle of one downpour our friend Erin from AK on the GO appeared, running through the sheets of rain front of our car to bid us farewell.  She was in Haines after an awesome UnCruise adventure.  The final, longest wave of the storm set in right as it was time for us to board the ferry.  The kids, The Nana, and I all raced through the rain to get on the ship so we could check into our stateroom and get settled.  It was nearing 11pm.  Mike and Midas enjoyed the safety of the dry car as they drove it onboard.  The ship's crew witnessed lightning strike a tree on the hillside above the terminal on their way into port, and even the Haines Highway was closed down due to a rock slide.  Never a dull moment!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

AK to CA: Day 5

Haines, AK

I'll make this short and photo-free as my phone and Haines don't seem to get along when it comes to an Internet connection. I'll post more about our day when I get a better connection, but I have a feeling that will mean a marathon writing session when we get to the Lower  48 on Friday. 

We are in line to board the yet-to-arrive ferry in a huge thunderstorm. We haven't heard thunder in ages! It doesn't happen in Homer. Today involved a 4-hour block of time at 90 degrees, followed by a rapid 15-degree cool down. We walked, played, ate Thai food at a bakery, and even watched Hazel the grizzly fishing in the Chilkoot River. More on all of that, with photos, later.

We have a long night ahead of us, as the ferry departs after midnight. It pulls in to Juneau around 5am tomorrow, and we are looking forward to breakfast delivery by some awesome friends before we pull back out around 7am. My goal is to see each port, even if it is in the middle of the night. We are looking forward to continuing our journey without having to drive anywhere. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

AK to CA: Day 4

Tok, AK to Haines, AK...via Canada?!

Wildlife: 1 brown bear, 1 mama black bear with her cub, lots of swans, and two swimming moose 

Today was the longest day of driving that we have planned for this trip.  To get to Haines, where the ferry will take us and our car down to Bellingham, it was about 440 miles from Tok.  About half of that road was filled with frost heaves (basically making it like a roller coaster ride!).  It was slow going for part of the day, but we had beautiful weather and mostly cooperative passengers.

The view out my window for most of the day
At the first border crossing, we made the obligatory stop at the "Welcome to Alaska" and "Welcome to Yukon" signs.  But we couldn't bring ourselves to pose with both.

Ava contemplated making a run for the (right) border.

We spent a good portion of our morning and early afternoon traveling around Kluane Lake, the largest lake in the Yukon Territory.

After a early afternoon stop in Haines Junction for leftover Moose's Tooth pizza and a treat at the VIllage Bake Shop, we were finally on to new-to-us territory.  After having driven the Alaska Highway three times, it's nice to not know what's coming next.  And the road to Haines was full of fabulous surprises.  The first of which being this stop, which occurred because a certain girl has a knack for needing to use the facilities when there are none actually available.

Most of the road between Haines Junction and the Alaskan border runs through enormous mountains, at tundra level.  Even though it was 65 degrees, there were still plenty of patches of snow.  There weren't many places to pull off to take photos, so we finally just pulled to the shoulder to capture this view.  We were the only vehicle for miles, anyway.  Note the white ribbon of road.  The mountains were just enormous.

After our second border crossing of the day, which was as simple as the first, we were happy to be on Alaskan soil for the last day, for now at least.  We pulled into Haines around 4:30, and are staying at another peaceful cabin in the woods at the Beach Roadhouse, with a peek-a-boo view of the mountains and bay.

After dinner at The Bamboo Room, which was quick classic diner food, we are enjoying our front porch...this time without so many killer mosquitoes.

Tomorrow: a run for the grown-ups, wandering around Haines, and relaxing before our midnight ferry journey.  While on the ferry, we will probably be incommunicado unless we get a signal while in port.  Our stops include Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, and Ketchikan before over a day at sea to Bellingham.  We'll check in when we can!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

AK to CA: Day 3

Anchorage to Tok, AK

Today's drive was just over 300 miles, so we planned to spend the morning enjoying a couple of favorite spots in Anchorage before heading out. First up was Snow City Cafe for the most delicious breakfast. I'm not a hash brown eater, but theirs are divine. Especially paired with a raspberry dream mocha. 

Next up was the Saturday Market, on 3rd between C and E. We wandered the booths of Alaskan-made goods and stocked up on some last-minute favorites from Alaska Love Clothing. Even better, the dog was allowed to wander with us and greet other furry friends. 

The kids even found a place to paint. 

On the way back to the car, we happened upon this fun processional. We think it was a Samoan d├ębutante-type thing. 

By 11:30, we were finally on our way. I drive the first shift, because we know from experience that it is better to let me poke along the steep, windy cliffs outside of Palmer than to have me riding shotgun, gripping the door and telling Mike to slow down for two hours. The scenery was amazing. 

We were making great time. And then this happened. Where we sat for 30 minutes. 

The road from Glenallen to Tok was like a roller coaster, full of frost heaves and gravel patches. But the sunny, clear day have us great views of the Wrangell Mountains. 

We made it to Tok around 5:30, with only one extra stop to use the bushes. We are the only guests at our favorite Tok lodging, the Caribou Cabins. 

After a quick dinner at Fast Eddy's, it was back to the cabin, where the kids are enjoying their beds and the adults are trying to enjoy the front porch. But in reality we are waging a losing battle with the mosquitoes. At least the dog is happy. 

Tomorrow: through Canada to get back to Haines, Alaska