After San Francisco, it was off to ALASKA! Earlier, I talked about why I took this trip - and having this strong desire to stretch my comfort zone. Alaska did just that (and so much more). It was pretty ballsy (for me) to travel there solo, but it was truly a life changing experience.
(click any image below to enlarge)
I got to the Anchorage airport sometime in the afternoon - starving - and grabbed lunch there before taxi-ing to my cousin's house. (Uber doesn't exist in Alaska, lol). I sat down at one of the airport restaurants and ordered a salmon burger and ate the whole damn thing. Even though it was only airport food, it was some of the freshest salmon I've ever tasted. (Fishing / hunting is a huge part of Alaska culture - which makes the majority of the fish / meat local.)
That evening, we took a quick trip to the Glen Alps Trailhead. I was so sleep deprived and jet-lagged (and also had to keep pinching myself that I was actually there in freakin' ALASKA) - and stupidly left my DSLR behind at the house. I wanted to cry when I saw the views - as I had never seen anything like it before. Surrounded completely by mountains from every angle - and a great overlook point. I also encountered a moose (!!!), which I totally was not expecting to happen this early in my trip. Apparently, you aren't supposed to get too close to them / aren't supposed to pet them - or they can charge you. I couldn't believe how big of an animal it was, and it was kinda terrifying (but also wonderful). Luckily, I had my phone and my polaroid camera to capture what I could.
For dinner, we ordered Moose's Tooth Pizza. I wasn't expecting Alaska pizza to be anything phenomenal, but it was actually really good! They have a bunch of "specialty" pizzas with unique topping combos, too - which is kinda what they're known for.
The next day, I walked around the neighborhood of Anchorage. It's pretty much the biggest / most populated city in Alaska. The rest of the state is primarily vast wilderness. Much to my surprise - Anchorage didn't feel THAT different from suburban NJ - but there definitely were some distinct differences. There were a lot of fast food joints, a standard local grocery store, wide sidewalks for walking / biking, etc - and they even had a BLOCKBUSTER (that was still open for business, haha). As ordinary as it sounds, I enjoyed looking at all the houses in the area - I noticed many had trailer homes / campers / boats. I also was entertained by just walking around parking lots (lots of pickup trucks / motorcycles) and reading the license plates, LOL. Apparently, Alaska is really into their customized license plates - which I had no idea until I saw for myself.
I stopped into a place called the Family Flea Market - which was actually more like a thrift store than it was a true "flea market" - but it was awesome. Anywhere I go, I love popping into thrift / antiques stores. I think it's such a great way to see the "locals' stuff" - and you can really get a good feel for the type of people who live there and the lives those people lead. I snagged a little hand-carved wooden whale to take back home to NJ with me.
In the lot next to the Family Flea Market, there were a ton of old run down trucks. I had opted to forego my DSLR while walking around that day, actually - because I felt super out of place walking around with it around town in such a residential area, lol. This lot was literally made for polaroids, so I was super excited about stumbling upon it. I was half-expecting someone to come out and yell at me for trespassing or something, but to my pleasant surprise - this guy came out and said "cool truck, huh?" It wasn't in a dick-ish way, either, haha - he was genuinely asking me if I thought it was a cool truck (and it was). In general, everyone I encountered in Alaska was super nice / friendly / down to earth. They all seem to lead a super simple life up there - and it was a breath of fresh air to be around that.
That evening, we drove up to Seward to the trailhead that would lead us to our cabin for the weekend: Dale Clemens. It was about 2-3 hours from Anchorage, but it was the most beautiful drive up the coast. Hours of nothing but mountains and water and trees - I was completely in awe. The hike into the cabin was also a couple hours, and easily the most "hardcore" hike I've ever done (I had never hiked with a bear bell or bear spray before, lol), but it also wasn't as bad as I was expecting either. The trail was well marked and well maintained. I guess a part of me was prepared for the worst - because I had no idea what I was walking into. It was SUPER foggy with dense clouds - so we had really limited visibility - unable to see much more than a few feet in front of us. I didn't mind though - because the fog had it's own magical and eerie quality to it. I felt like I was in a dream.
It rained pretty much the entire weekend up there (and I actually opted to forego bringing my DSLR)... and instantly regretted that decision when I woke up the next morning and saw the view (it was like seeing that moose at Glen Alps all over again, LOL). To be fair, it would have been extra weight to carry in an already jam-packed backpack -- and I was genuinely afraid of the rain damaging it. I didn't want to have to worry about it. But looking back, I probably could have put it in a plastic bag and it would have been 100% fine and doable - damn.
With that said, it was refreshing to disconnect from my normal dose of technology. I did still have my phone (and there was surprisingly cell service up there) - and I also had my polaroid camera ... but I definitely felt like a fish out of water without my laptop and DSLR. It did force me to embrace "living in the moment" and focus less on capturing it all on my best camera, though. As painful as that was for me, it was a healthy break.
Despite the rain, I still had a great time. It was my first time camping in a cabin -- eating meals from a camp stove, functioning without electricity / wifi for multiple days, filtering drinking water from a stream, and mastering the art of holding my nose while peeing in the outhouse.
Speaking of the outhouse - without being too graphic - it weirdly became my pride and joy to get up every morning to pee, LOL. The views were the clearest in the morning, and that was motivation my motivation to get out of bed early. Never in my entire life before had I gotten so excited to get out of bed in the morning before.
There was a short moment where the blue sky made an appearance, and the rain stopped. I took that moment to go on a short hike, and couldn't believe my eyes.. because I saw mountains that I didn't even know were there -- we couldn't see any of it on the hike up due to the fog. I was also fascinated by all the different shrubbery, moss, and wildflowers. Once the snow melts, everything comes to life - and I couldn't believe how green it all was.
On Sunday, we all hiked out. It was a messy and muddy downhill climb (from all the rain), and my $30 pair of clearance rack sneakers was not cut out for it to say the least.. lol.
We headed into town (Seward) for our first "real meal" in days at Ray's Waterfront. I got cod fish tacos, and nothing had ever tasted so good before.
When we got back to the house - I couldn't be more happy to take a shower, brush my teeth at a sink, and pee in a real toilet again. Running water is certainly something I'll never take for granted again. ;)
Monday was my last day in Alaska, and I was determined to take my DSLR out (at last). Ironically, my last day in Alaska was the first and only one where I had my DSLR with me.. and going into the trip, I expected to use it a lot more than that.
I went on a mini road trip with one of my cousin's friends who had off from work that day. I didn't have much on my agenda other than wanting to explore downtown for a bit on foot - and ended up covering more ground on this last day than I ever could have imagined (because of having access to a car).
First, we made a brief stop at an overlook point along the Coastal Trail.
We also stopped at a popular fishing spot called Ship Creek, where thousands of salmon return every year to spawn their eggs. But weirdly enough, there wasn't a single salmon swimming that day - lol.
We made the spontaneous decision to go to Matanuska Glacier next. It was my first time ever seeing a glacier, and I was amazed by the contrast of the greenery against the stark blue / white ice. Unfortunately, we couldn't drive up close to it because the road was closed (it clearly just wasn't my day in Alaska, haha).. but it was still breathtaking from a distance.
On the drive back towards Anchorage, we stopped at the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer - which houses the largest captive herd of musk oxen in the world. Listening to the tour guide tell us stories about each of the musk ox was pretty entertaining, and I had never been on a farm surrounded by such gorgeous mountain views before.
We also pulled off at a place called Bill's Country Antiques that caught my eye while we were driving, but it was sadly closed that day (Monday). We stopped anyways so I could quickly shoot off some polaroids (probably some of my favorite of the entire trip). There were a few houses in the area too - one with a dog on the porch - and I was paranoid someone was going to come out and yell at me for trespassing (just like in the truck yard), but luckily no one did.
We quickly also stopped off at a random bridge (not sure what it was called), which had some incredible views, too. Good thing we aren't playing a drinking game every time I mention the "views" or "mountains" - because ya'll would be completely wasted at this point. ;)
After all that, I spent some time exploring downtown Anchorage. I checked out the Anchorage Museum, which was really great for learning about Alaska's history. There also was a designated section that featured native local artists - which I really enjoyed. It was so fascinating for me - to be surrounded by all this Alaska inspired art.. it's nothing like what I'd find in NYC.
I stayed at the museum until it closed, then walked around a bit outside. I popped into Sevigny Studio Art Gallery, which had a great selection of things. I bought quite a few gifts for friends here - as it wasn't your typical souvenir shop. It had the vibe of a place straight out of Brooklyn.
Next door to Sevigny is a sweets shop called Cake Studio - where I treated myself to a chocolate madagascar vanilla mousse ball which tasted like straight up heaven. I bought a few things from other shops in the area too, and then was off to catch a red-eye flight out of Anchorage!
A huge thank you to Jess, Kris, Cheryl, and Brandon for making my time here so memorable and stress-free! I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten to experience Alaska in the way that I did, and it wouldn't have been possible without you guys.