Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why a Blog? Why Now?

The real reason I thought of this blog was to document our upcoming Alaska vacation so people back home can keep track of where we are while we are gone—if they care to—and for me to keep a running diary. It is going to be a long, eventful trip.

Before I started planning this trip, I knew Alaska was big. But I guess I didn't realize how big. That size presents a problem. Two problems, actually. There's the issue of time; we're only going to be there for two weeks. There's also the issue of money; nothing in Alaska is cheap. Well, that's not entirely true. The Forest Service rents camping cabins all over the state for $40-$50 a night. Many are on lakes or rivers, very pristine locations where anyone in their right mind would LOVE to stay. Of course, there are no roads to get there. So you have to go by boat or plane. You also have to rent camping gear because it just wouldn't make sense to pack it all in from home.

There are so many things in Alaska I'd love to see. Dutch Harbor, for example, where the fishing fleet featured in the Discovery Channel series Deadliest Catch is based. You can fly there from Anchorage for about $900 round-trip. Or you can take the ferry, which takes FIVE days and costs about $350, one-way. And that doesn't include a cabin. If you'd like a place to sleep for the five-day journey, that another $300 or so. Those rates are per person. Dutch Harbor is out for us. Katmai National Park and Kodiak Island, both spots where you are sure to see bears, especially late in the summer when the salmon are running, are out, too. They are both remote, which also means expensive.

Not only did I have to spend a lot of time planning the trip, I had to start early. Alaska's summer is short. And the tourist destinations can get pretty crowded. Some of those can be avoided, but we can't go to Alaska and not visit Denali. We also can't skip Glacier Bay National Park. An Inside Passage cruise was tempting, but I felt it would be too limiting. We'd spend a lot of time on a boat, and all of our shore excursions would be with the throngs of other folks also cruising. So I decided to get creative and mix it up a bit.

Here's a quick summary of our itinerary... fly from Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC, to Sitka, Alaska, a town on the Pacific Ocean side of Baranof Island, which is on the outskirts of Southeast Alaska's Inside Passage. We'll spend a day there exploring as we recover from our 14-hour journey across the country. Then we'll take a ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway to Juneau, the state capitol. The trip on the “high speed” ferry ONLY takes five hours. But it is supposed to be a beautiful journey, which represents a small dose of cruising the Inside Passage.

From Juneau we'll fly (ON A TINY PROP PLANE ...yikes!) to Gustavus, which is the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park. While there, we'll enjoy another cruise, which is the only way to see the glaciers and marine mammals for which the park is famous. After a couple days there, it is back to Juneau, where we'll have an afternoon and morning to explore before flying to Anchorage. In Anchorage, we'll rent a car and drive south on the Seward Highway to Seward, which will be our base for a few days while we explore the Kenai Peninsula. Another boat trip to Kenai Fjords National Park is a must. From Seward, we'll board a train on the Alaska Railroad back to Anchorage, where we'll spend one night before renting a car for the drive north to Denali National Park. We'll spend a few days in that region then drive back to Anchorage where we'll spend a day and a half before flying home, through Baltimore-Washington International Airport. If you want to know more, you'll have to wait until late-May/early June, which is when we'll be there.

I started planning this trip in January, although by Fall of 2007 I already knew we'd be going. It is now mid-March. Our air transportation is mostly booked, except the puddle-jumper trip to Gustavus. Our rooms are reserved. We have tickets for the shuttle into Denali (cars can't go more than about 15 miles into the park) and for the Sitka to Juneau ferry trip. Our rental cars are reserved. Now we just have to buy more rain gear, keep saving money, and figure out how we can pack as lightly as possible for this two-week trip, which should prove to be the trip of a lifetime for us.

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