In 2006, I went solo to Monterrey, California and Big Sur. It was amazing, but the day I returned I had a computer glitch and lost all my pictures of this trip. It really was this trip though that started the solo travel spark. I felt so free being by myself. I decided on that drive home that Alaska was to be the next place I would go.
Eight months later, my sister was hit by a car while jogging and subsequently died. In April 2007, on a Sunday evening at my house we were sitting down to dinner and I mentioned that I was still going to Alaska, and that I had decided to drive the whole way. I thought my Dad was going to stroke out, as he was not too pleased with me going solo.
At the time, the last thing I wanted to do was upset him, as things were about as hard as they could be for both parents. My two younger brothers and sister-in-law offered to go with me. That seemed to appease the parents, and so the trip was set. I was going to fly to Seattle, drive to Anchorage, meet my brothers and sis-in-law in Anchorage ( they flew a week after I left), and then we would all take the Alaskan Ferry back to Bellingham Washington, riding the train back to Seattle, and fly home.
I needed this trip.As I landed in Seattle and made my way to the rental counter to pick up my car, thoughts were swirling around my head. Do you know what you are doing? Did you forget anything? What if something serious happens to you?
like you just disappear?
Those thoughts quickly dissipated though as the guy at the rental counter looks at me with a questioning stare, and asks me,
“Where are you going to?”
“Homer, Alaska.” I reply.
“I’ve never heard of it. I don’t think we have a drop off place there. I need to call my supervisor…”
It was at this point that my nerves got the best of me, and I was sure that my whole trip would be cancelled. He turns his back to me as if I’m a criminal trying to heist a rental. He is silent for a few moments, then turns to me and says,
“Ok. My supervisor says that you are good to go. Be safe man…..”
I might have been a tad anxious.
Two hours later I was passing through the border crossing into Canada, with nothing but a map and my instincts.
From Watson Lake, to Teslin, and finally into Whitehorse, it was the most serene land I’ve seen to date ( the Rift Valley in Kenya is also right up there). I would go for hours driving without seeing another car. My only companions on the road were the bison, rocky mountain sheep, and caribou. I would stop and just watch them play, for minutes or for hours I could not say, as time seemed relevant, but unimportant.
|Rocky Mountain Sheep grazing|
As I arrived in Whitehorse, I had my first experience with the true hospitality of Canadians. I had no prior hotel reservation, and everything seemed to be sold out. I was road weary, stressed, and tired, and just about gave up and decided to spend the night in the car. As I went into the last hotel to see if my luck would change, the front desk girl could tell I was in dire need of assistance, and called every place in and around Whitehorse for me until she found me a room. This was an added bonus, as quite a few people in Whitehorse speak French ( including the people that ran the hotel I got a room in) and without her hospitality, I could have been a wreck. I love Canada.
The next morning, I took a few moments to check out the beauty of Whitehorse in the early light of dawn before continuing along the Great Alaskan highway.
When I arrived in Seward, I first walked the small seaside town, checked out the Aquatic Center they have, and enjoyed a great lunch at the harbor.
The next day, I thought I would try and drive to Denali. Good intentions I suppose, but the park was much further than I thought it was. I did make it to a little town that the TV show ‘Northern Exposure’ was created after ( I forget the town name), and walked the river trails and found a great view of Mount McKinley.
The rest of the clan finally arrived. Janae’s Aunt and Uncle live in Anchorage, and so we were lucky enough to stay with them for a night, and they took us out to a great little haunt by Aleyska ski resort for dinner. The next day we headed down to Homer to drop off the car, and start our next adventure on the Alaska Ferry.
For me, the ferry is the way to travel to see Alaska from the water. You can see all the towns that only have access via the ferry. It’s not a cruise ship, so you don’t have all the fancy bells and whistles that you see on Cruises (i.e. I’ve never been on a cruise, so my opinion is definitely one sided) and can thus relax at your own pace and leisure. A simple cafeteria, plenty of open space to read, listen to music, watch movies, or just stare out into the open space. You also get to meet all kinds of interesting local folk. Cabins aren’t that expensive.
Our adventure on the Ferry started off kind of rocky though. There was a carnival that was going from town to town in Alaska. They were using the ferry to transport their gear. The ferry was supposed to leave Homer around 11 pm. We were allowed onto the ferry around 1AM since they were still loading the circus gear onto the boat. We had decided to sleep in our sleeping bags out on the open deck for the first leg of our ferry cruise, ( another great feature of the Ferry is you can “tent camp” on the deck and they have public one person showers to use) and being tired, we all slept fairly well. As I woke up in the morning, wondering where we were, I discovered that the Ferry hadn’t even left Homer yet due to all the delays in loading the Circus equipment.
We left that morning to Kodiak Island, and from there spent the next seven days going to places such as Whittier, Juneau, Ketchikan, and other small towns I can’t recall the names of currently. Seven days to reflect on life, and what one considers important to them. It was a journey that I’ll never forget.