Notes from Alaska

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Kicking off day three of our vacation today. Regrettably, our “flightseeing” tour over Mt. McKinley was canceled due to crummy weather. But that gives me some time to write up a few highlights, observations, and random notes from the first couple days:

  • On the flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage, I sat next to a rugged-looking guy. We got to chatting, and I explained I was on vacation, and was looking forward to visiting the art galleries and bohemian shops of Homer, the Kennai Fjords tour, etc. I then asked why he was headed to Alaska. He answered that he would be riding a motorcycle from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay (a 1,000 mile trip), where he’d go out on a boat with his brother to remote islands to hunt caribou a bow and arrow. At which point I thought, “I am not a man.”
  • I liked Anchorage. The guide books were a little down on the town, but there’s definitely some charm to it. We had dinner at a place called Sacks, which would hold its own in a trendy neighborhood in just about any other city in the country. I had salmon tempura rolls for an appetizer, which were crispy, salmony, and delicious. The Agitatrix was quite fond of her tomato-gorgonzola soup. My main dish was a duck breast salad, hers was a grilled calamari salad. Both were terrific. We had breakfast at a pretty good greasy spoon called the Snow Goose Cafe. Reindeer sausage is tasty. We had drinks and dinner with the head of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, and Restaurant Association and his wife, whom I met when I spoke in Kodiak a few years ago.
  • The afternoon of our first day, we went to a sled dog demonstration. Highlight of the day. I didn’t realize that sled dogs are mutts. I always assumed they were Alaskan Huskies. One dog can pull about 1,000 pounds. Plucky little pooches. Pictures forthcoming. Depending on my Internet access, I may try to do some “Sunday Evening Sled Dog Blogging.”
  • Sadly, Anchorage is still serviced by “Ted Stevens International Airport.” And judging by the letters to the editor in the newspapers up here, Alaska is still quite fond of ol’ “Uncle Ted.” I guess if he were constantly sending me expensive gifts at taxpayer expense, I’d be pretty fond my uncle, too. Also, on the subject of Alaskan politics, the state’s MILF-tastic governor is now in some trouble, too. Seems she or someone on her staff intervened to fire a state trooper who was in the midst of a custody battle with the governor’s sister. Thing is, the guy also deserved to be fired. He’d apparently made some death threats, tazed his 11-year-old son, and driven his squad car drunk. Seems like a non-scandal to me. But I’m not all that read up on it.
  • The Alaska Railroad is a lot of fun. We took one of the glass-domed cars from Anchorage to Talkeetna yesterday. Didn’t see much wildlife, but the scenery was spectacular. We’ll be taking it again this afternoon from Talkeetna to Denali National Park.
  • Talkeetna is quaint and touristy, but in a good way. It’s a town of 700 people, inspiration for the TV series Northern Exposure, and consists of three blocks of art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, and adventure outfitters. This is also the best place to book a flight to see Mt. McKinley, so there are about a half-dozen companies that will take you up in a little bi-plane for a couple of hours. Our flight was supposed to include a landing on a glacier, but as I mentioned, the damned weather got in the way. We’re hoping to reschedule one from Denali National Park. The best thing I’ve eaten so far in Alaska is a grilled salmon taco at a little trailer stand just off of Main Street, here. Also, the Roadhouse restaurant serves sourdough pancakes that are bigger than your face. Even if you have a huge face.
  • Yesterday’s activity was a jet-boat tour of the Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna rivers, all three of which converge near here. It’s kinda’ cool because they’re three very distinct rivers. One is packed with sand bars, one with downed trees and large logs, and the other is bright green with glacial silt. All three are hopping with spawning silver salmon. The boat glides over them like an oversized waverunner. We saw about a dozen bald eagles, but not much else in the way of wildlife. But still lots of fun.
  • Rental cars in Alaska are ridiculously expensive. I’m told this is because of one particularly ornery legislator who owns several Avis franchises in Alaska. The guy apparently pissed off enough of his colleagues that they hit rental cars with a eight percent sales tax, an additional 11 percent tax for renting at the airport, and a $5 per day rental fee. There’s also an additional 10 percent tax if you rent the car in Anchorage. Not the most tourist-friendly policy.

I’ll have some photos next week. Earlier if we have the Intertubes in Denali.

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13 Responses to “Notes from Alaska”

  1. #1 |  Judi | 

    Wow..sounds like you guys are having a great adventure and getting some Alaskan edu-vacation too.

    By the way, I heard that if you really didn’t want to pay the high prices on the rental cars, just hitch a ride on one of those GIGANTIC mosquitoes…

    What a ride…now that’ll make a MAN out of you and the Mrs…LOL

    Stay safe and have fun but HURRY BACK!

  2. #2 |  Ira | 

    Actually, the correct term for Sarah Palin is GILF.

    Thank you, thank you very much… Don’t forget the waitresses…

  3. #3 |  Matt Moore | 

    Ira – I assumed you meant Grandmother-ILF, which she could be (but isn’t, yet). Her eldest son is 18 or 19 years old.

    Radley – According to Wikipedia, she’s in trouble for firing the commissioner of public safety because he wouldn’t fire her brother-in-law. Apparently the state trooper brother-in-law is still a state trooper.

  4. #4 |  Bruce | 

    If you get up to North Pole (just south of Fairbanks on the eastern highway) stop in at Harley’s diner. they claim they are trans fat free because they cook their fries in 100% lard. The food is no better than average but the fries were tasty.

    and don’t forget Skinny Dicks Half Way Inn on the western highway also just a few miles south of Fairbanks.

  5. #5 |  perlhaqr | 

    Matt: And yet, that still seems like a reasonable action to take. If only we had more governors firing CLEOs for not disciplining their underlings appropriately. If only it didn’t take personal involvement to get it to happen.

  6. #6 |  Bryan | 

    Matt — I assumed that the G referred to “Governor”

    Radley — I have to speculate that a big part of the rental car price has to do with market forces. Alaska rental car companies can charge more because you are over a barrel. Seems to me that if rental car prices get too high in the continental 48, more people will just start driving to their final destination. Its less likely that anyone visiting Alaska is going to drive up from the lower 48 with their own car. The consumer has less options so prices go up.

    Of course it may be the case that excessive taxation raises that price even further.

  7. #7 |  z | 

    “I am not a man.”

    I would say pretty much every white collar worker living in an urban area should probably just admit as much. So, I am not a man either.

  8. #8 |  wowmir | 

    Don’t blog enjoy your vacation.

  9. #9 |  Matt Moore | 

    wowmir – Screw your rules. Blogging makes vacations more enjoyable.

  10. #10 |  Laughingdog | 

    Honestly, if that guy riding from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay is enough to make you feel unmanly, you probably couldn’t handle some of the better ride reports on Rides from various places in the lower 48 up to Prudhoe Bay aren’t uncommon at all. Hell, I plan to head up there from Virgina with a friend on our bikes in a few years, when he retires.

    Another trip that you’ll see a number of people do every year is to ride their motorcycles from Tierra del Fuego up to Prudhoe Bay. That trip becomes especially impressive when you consider that there are no roads through the Darien Gap in Panama, a 100 mile expanse of jungle. So any trip between those extreme northern and southern points of North/South American typically consists of finding some small boat that will carry you past it, and praying that your bike doesn’t take a swim when they’re loading and unloading it by hand.

    Another interesting trip done recently by a guy in my local BMW motorcycle club was a trip around the world on his motorcycle. He started in Virginia, rode up to Toronto to airfreight his bike to England (since Homeland Security won’t allow you to fly in the same plane with your motorcycle for some unexplainable reason), and rode down to Turkey to meet with a tour group to work as staff on it. From there, they traveled to Xian, China, and had all of the bikes shipped to Seattle. While his bike was shipped, he waited back home in Virginia. Then he flew to Seattle with his wife, and they rode all the way back, never once hitting an interstate the entire way, and even avoided highways when possible.

  11. #11 |  Athena | 

    Rental cars ARE expensive in Alaska. About two months ago, two friends and I took a wildly spontaneous trip up to Juneau (decided we wanted to go and caught a flight up that day). We had our Ford Focus rental for roughly a day and a half, and the bill was $150 (insurance included). I was still thrilled, though – I turned 25 this year, and it was my first rental car experience. Yeah, I’m a dork like that.

    That aside, I had never considered Alaska a vacation destination. Being a Seattle native, I recognized Alaska as “that place our boys go to fish.” Upon arrival, however, I only wished we had more time. Juneau was absolutely stunning, although the town is touristy and a bit kitsch. I can’t to see the rest of Alaska.

    Oh, I almost forgot! I doubt you’ve had much time to watch TV, but have you caught any “be nice to the tourists, they bring us money,” commercials? I just about died of laughter when I saw those. Between those and the anti-alcoholism ads that clearly target the Native population in the area, it appears as though Alaska tries to perform a lot of social programming via TV.

    Glad you’re having a good time!

  12. #12 |  law talking girl | 

    Glad you liked my little town. BTW, I have never and will never fly in or out of “Ted Stevens Int’l.” I only fly ANCHORAGE Int’l Airport. I refuse to call it by its new name. And he sure ain’t MY uncle!!!

  13. #13 |  David Chesler | 

    How prescient of you to not only visit the home of the Republican VP candidate, but even subtly lead Agitated readers to look at her picture, two weeks before McCain picked her.