Our Great Alaskan Adventure

Last fall I was able to take one more thing off my bucket list, Alaska. I have done a cruise to Alaska but in my book the cruise was great but you haven’t seen Alaska when you take a cruise. Below is the blog posts I made during a trip with five friends doin Denali and the Kenai Peninsula.

We all headed out of Greensboro, Larry and I following Mike, Jeff and Brad by about 4 hours. An hour into our flight the pilot comes on and asks if there is a doctor on board, not a good sign. Soon afterwards the pilot comes back and says that we are going to have to land in St. Louis to take a passenger off the plane, an ordeal that sets us back 2 hours.

 So we land with the three stooges getting the RV’s and provisions. As Larry and I land we call the guys who have just finished all the shopping. We pick up our checked luggage and walk out of the airport as two RV’s pull up and we jump in and the Great Alaskan adventure begins.

Now Brad, Mike and Jeff have been up for over 24 hours so they are running on empty. As we pull into Wasilla, Sarah’s (Palin) home, we start looking for a place to eat. After we have a good Italian meal we decide to go out in the wilderness for our first night of camping, the Walmart parking lot. So here we sit roughing it in the concrete jungle, drinking VT’s and planning to take Alaska by storm. Did we really fly over 4000 miles to camp at Walmart?

 Sun – August 31

Larry got us up early, and the morning begins. Brad and I walked over to a local coffee shop and Brad is chatting with the coffee girl. We are talking to her about Sarah,, joking having a good time. We walk out of the coffee shop and I look at Brad and he has a big bugger hanging under his nose. We have now impressed the locals!

 Our merry little caravan headed towards Denali. Mike had a brilliant moment when he suggested that we purchase some walki talki’s so we could communicate between the RV’s. About an hour and a half into the trek to Denali we stopped at a local dive for some breakfast. With full bellies we continued the Denali quest. Pretty soon you could see the majestic Mt. McKinley. The vegetation was beautiful, brilliant reds and yellow thicket among evergreens with the ever present mountains guarding the landscape.

 After pulling out of one of the overlooks Jeff and I caught the sight of our first grizzly bear. He was a mere 20 yards from us concerned about his next meal, foraging for food posing for a few pics as Mike and the rest of the guys motored on and missed the first grizzly.

 Once we got into the park and got the RV’s set up we set out in the rain for our first fishing trip. It wasn’t long before we realized that no self respecting fish was going to bite today but it didn’t matter. Our enthusiasm was high, the surroundings beautiful and I am in Alaska soaking up this incredible place.

 It’s late afternoon and  after two days of exhausting travel everybody decided to catch a cat nap. Ranger Andy came by to let us all know that he was doing a talk on the history of  Denali. Mike, Larry and Brad decided to check out the presentation, I decided to catch a few more winks. Ranger Andy is not a motivational speaker so they all checked out early. On the way back the got the opportunity to see a Lynx crossing the road chasing a rabbit, so they got their first taste of the incredible wildlife of Denali. Shortly after they got back with their sighting, we all set out for a walk.

Nothing was happening and so they cut out because it was getting dark. Jeff and I decided to continue our walk. After about 20 minutes of walking we came across a Snow Hare, as I was taking pictures of the hare I hear Jeff trying to summon me to check out something else. I turn around and see one of the largest moose that I have ever seen right behind us. We try to follow the moose but he is having none of that and is gone. Now we are trying to figure out where we are as dark sets in.

It is easy to get disoriented quickly in the Alaskan wilderness. Jeff and I start back towards the camp and we are not sure about our direction. We are close to getting worried when I see the corner of a vehicle in our camp ground. All is good when we come back into the campsite and the other guys have almost finished a steak dinner. After dinner we decide to play cards.

 Monday August 31st

Jeff and I headed out early to take a morning walk, then we all headed out on the Denali shuttle towards Katishna, the furthest point that you can go in the park. To preserve the park, no vehicles other then the shuttle buses are allowed past mile marker 30. Within 30 minutes we had spotted 8 grizzly bears. The closest was a mother with two half grown cubs.

The landscape is beautiful here, Alaska is in full fall. Like North Carolina the foliage is full of yellow, red, orange, purple and brown, the big difference is that it is only 2 to 3 feet tall. As you look along the landscape it looks like a kaleidoscope carpet full of vibrant colors with a backdrop of snow capped peaks. Boys and girls this is THE time to go to Alaska, great color, brisk cool mornings, fewer people, and no mosquitoes. Before the day was out we had seen 11 grizzlies, 3 foxes, caribou, moose, and countless Dall sheep.   

When we got back we stoked up a good campfire and grilled a couple pork loins and some corn. Then it was time to get down to business, the great Alaskan poker game. Having no poker chips we had to devise a way to keep track of the bets, which we did. As the night wore on and the glasses emptied, the game got funnier and funnier. If we could have bottled the laughter and fun we could have become millionaires. Then again who needs money when you sit right in the middle of God’s country in the company of 4 of your best friends.

Tuesday September 1st –

We headed back to Anchorage for our last night then it would be off to the Kenai. Our first choice of RV parks turned out to be a dump so quickly we scrambled to find another spot. We had an RV guide with us so this was a fairly easy problem to solve and within minutes we had found another park, set up and headed out to experience night life in Alaska.

Some of the details of our crazy night in Anchorage is not for all ears, let’s just say that being in the Alaskan Bush can be a fun and challenging experience. The next morning was a scramble to drop off the RV’s and pick up rental cars on time before we headed out for the second portion of our trip, Angler’s Lodge.

Wednesday September 2nd

We pulled the switch off and headed south. About 3 hours later we pulled up to the Angler’s Lodge www.anglerslodge.com. The lodge is owned by Roger and Marlene Byerly. They were very welcoming and we were quickly indoctrinated with Marlene’s home cooking.

We all grabbed some fishing poles and tried our luck from the banks of the Kenai River with no luck. Not long after we had a wonderful meal, home-style with all the other guests and guides eating together. A great way to meet new people.

After dinner we got our first indication that it was the end of the season and people were checking out as our guide Aaron sat down and played video poker for the rest of the night. We went out and started a big bonfire in the pit and enjoyed the Alaskan night. After a few drinks everybody was ready for bed but me, I had to try the hot tub before turning in. What a great hour of solitude as I sat by myself in a hot tub, enjoying the Alaskan night, stars and sounds of the Kenai River. Wow!

Thursday September 3rd

This morning we split up into two boats and did our first float trip. During this trip we got our second indication that Aaron needed a vacation. As novice fisherman our lures got caught multiple times on the bottom of the river. Aaron got more and more frustrated until the point that he broke off the tip of a rod and then decide to break the whole rod across his knee. Aaron was my only disappointment with Anglers and I really feel that it had to do with putting up with bad fisherman for a full season and now everybody was ready for a vacation but it still was disappointing after all we paid for our vacation and his behavior was unacceptable.

Friday September 4th

Today we went on our fly-in fishing trip and a good break from Aaron since we had a new guide. After a short flight on an old De Havilland float plane we landed on a lake, loaded up in a boat and headed out. At first I was a bit skeptical about how many fish we would catch because there were times the guide had to jump out of the boat and push because the water was too shallow but once we got on the fishing hole it was obvious that fishing would be no problem here. You could see thousands of fish swimming all around the boat. I have never seen so many fish, all of us caught our limit of 3 fish within a couple of hours.

Then the guide took us on a tour of the lake. We came right up on a stream with salmon attempting to make their way upstream. It was amazing how difficult these poor salmon have it, a small stream that I thought no way could a big salmon get up that stream but they did. At the same time there were salmon carcasses all over the place. We were hoping to see a bear but we just saw the remnants of their fall feast. We continued around the lake and saw a couple of bald eagles and eventually made it back to the dock for the pickup and back to Anglers for another one of Marlene’s incredible meals, another bonfire and more lies.

Saturday September 5th

Today went halibut fishing, a really neat experience. Aaron was in a much better mood, the day off did him good. We trailered the boat down to the banks of Cook Inlet. Since there is such a great fluctuation of tide there are no docks on the Inlet,  a tractor hooks up each boat as they line up and it pulls them down to the surf.

After about a 40 minute boat ride with beautiful snow capped mountains all around the inlet we anchored and dropped our lines for our first halibut. Now halibut fishing is a whole different fishing experience. Depending whether the tide is coming in or out determines the weight you put on your line to fish. At times we were using a 4lb weight. You let out about 150 feet of line because of the depth that halibut are found, halibut are in the flounder family and are bottom dwellers.

Reeling a 4olb halibut with a 4lb weight 150 feet can take 5 minutes and when you finally see the fish your arms are worn out. We found ourselves catching a fish almost every time we dropped our line. The question was not whether we would reach our limit but more how big of fish could you get to fulfill the 4 fish limit. So you would hold a medium size fish in water until you caught a bigger one and then release the smaller one.

Once we all got our limit and some good size fish we headed back to shore. Each time we came in with fish we would fill out a tag with how we wanted the fish prepared and our name. We would bag it all up in a plastic bag and they sent it to the packing plant. The packing plant would filet our fish to our specifications and when we left we picked it up, flash frozen and vacuum packed.

After our halibut fishing we all headed down to Homer to check out a quaint little fishing town. Homer sits on a very long and narrow peninsula. We all had to check out the Salty Dog Saloon for a beer, to place an autographed dollar bill right below Sarah and Todd Palin’s and to see the Time Bandit (from the reality show The Deadliest Catch) which happened to be in dock. I would have loved to spend a little more time in Homer but it was getting dark and none of us wanted to miss another home cooked meal so it was back to Anglers.

September 6th

The next day it was time to head back to Anchorage our last night in Alaska. We stayed in the Millennium for several reasons, the rate were reasonable and a nice hotel, right on the bay, it is very close to the airport and most of the guys had very early flights and they have a huge fish freezer which allowed us to bring our fish with us and check it on the airline as our second bag. 

Larry and my flight did not leave until the next evening so we continued on, doing some hiking in a local park and I convinced Larry to rent bike so we could ride along the coastal trail. We rented the bikes for half a day (4 hours) and we set out. It was only about an hour into our trek when it came apparent to me that Larry was not much on bike riding. My idea of a bike ride is to go about 20 miles, Larry’s idea of a bike ride is about 20 minutes. After some prodding and cajoling and about 5 miles of riding I realized that the bike riding thing wasn’t working for Larry so I gave him a break and we headed back for the hotel. The rental guy was a little surprised that we rented bikes for 4 hours and we were back in an hour but that was okay, I got to do almost everything I set out to do in Alaska. I spent 10 incredible days with some of my best friends laughing so hard my side hurt at times and enjoying America’s last frontier.