Glaciers, R&R & Errands in Anchorage

Thursday, September 05, 2013
Anchorage, Alaska, United States
With our first day in Anchorage being Labor Day, we knew we wouldn't get ahold of anyone to take care of a service for Maggie. That left us with the day to plan a bit what we wanted to do and run some errands. Our first stop was to get a rental car so we could drive out to Maggie, install Big Bertha, clean up the plane a bit, and get our excess luggage packed up in order to hopefully give to one of the other planes on the flight. Every pound lighter would count for the Pacific crossing.

Our plan for the following days also started to unfold . We decided to drive out to Seward the following morning in order to see a glacier and do some kayaking. Johannes also decided on a seaplane flight to do some bear at hinge on the day after we were to get back from Seward. This would all work perfectly as long as we could get Maggie squared away. Fortunately, it turned out we parked right next to Pratt Aviation and they came recommended to us to get our regular service work done. Indeed, John Pratt agreed to meet us early Tuesday before our drive to Seward to go over the work necessary on Maggie.

John made a great impression. With an enviably long and waxed handlebar mustache and thick beard, he fit the role of Alaskan mechanic and aviator. He asked all the right questions and I felt very comfortable leaving Maggie in his hands for an oil change and regular service. From there it was time for some serious relaxation.

Our drive out to Seward would take a bit more than 2 hours, but since it's listed in National Geographic as one of the best and scenic road trips in the US, we knew we'd stop often for pictures . I'm not sure what was more impressive, the wind or the views. We had a low overcast with us for the first hour and such an impressively cold wind we had to lean forward to stay upright. The road was in great shape, the traffic minimal, and we started to feel like we were in stereotypical Alaska with the great scenery. What became the norm on the road anywhere else would have served as national park highlights. It was really an incredibly beautiful road trip.

In Seward we were given advice to go to Exit Glacier, about 20 minutes off the main road. As our first glacier up close it was an impressive sight. After a few picture stops from afar we parked and hiked to get even more up close and personal. Caroline and I went all the way to the foot of the glacier and were astounded by the cold chill, the various blue hues, and the mass of it all. A sign that we read and at first found cheesy, stating that you can sense the glacier even with your eyes closed, proved to be true . With the cool breeze blowing off the glacier you could really sense it still there. The hike made us excited for our kayaking trip tomorrow.

As soon as we drove in to Seward the skies opened up. It was great to not have rain on the hike, but it didn't exactly set the stage for a relaxing afternoon. Chowder helped warm us up for lunch, but after that Johannes made the call to go ahead and head back to Anchorage. He dropped me and Caroline off at our bed & breakfast in pouring rain. Honestly, I thought what are we getting ourselves in to being 7-8 blocks removed from the town and isolated at a bed & breakfast, but "Soo's" ended up being a nicely comfortable place.

Dinner was at the local Seward brew pub. Checking out the local beers was becoming quite the norm on this trip. Along the way I had to grab a sweatshirt as well as packing so light for the trip didn't allow for smart Alaskan weather preparation. It was an early night for us since the next day our kayaking started early . We hoped for no rain or at least decent conditions. The kayaking trip the same company had planned for today had been cancelled because of choppy seas. They were even closing up for the season at the end of this week. Fingers crossed.

While it rained consistently throughout the night, the morning was at least dry-ish. Soo was kind enough at drive us to the kayaking outfit, Kayaking Adventures Worldwide, and they made a really nice impression. It was the first time I'd come in contact with a tourist-oriented service company like Fat Tire so it was fun to be in my comfort zone. We were going to be a small group of just 4 folks and our guide was a lifer & vagabond and made for a good conversationalist. They assured us the weather was going to be alright, and they were right. While it wasn't summery, we couldn't complain given we were going kayaking in early September in Alaska.

The first portion of the trip was on a water taxi to where the kayaks were stored . A couple other kayaking companies used the same water taxi, and the water taxi was also taking folks to a remote lodge, so there were easily 15 of us aboard. The captain was young lady probably about 30 years old and she sure loved her job. She pointed out some wildlife and definitely enjoyed tackling the waves, of which there were some big ones. Still, once we arrived in the bay where we'd be kayaking the water was surprisingly calm. So far, so good on the weather.

All three of us kayaking groups were dropped off at the same place. Our guide gave us the basics and then we were off. Well, first I broke the pegs off one of the kayaks and we had to switch kayaks, but then, yeah, we were off. And: so much fun! It's was a perfect mix of activity, tranquility, and adventure. The pace was relaxed and our destination, a giant glacier, kept getting bigger and bigger. Also getting bigger and bigger, and more prevalent, were the small chunks of ice in the water. This was totally new for me . Inside these chunks were grains of earth chewed up by the glacier who knows how many hundreds or thousands of years ago and here they were floating right by our kayak. As the glacier neared so grew our awe. It was massive. What started out as just a destination in the distance more than a few kilometers away became something covering most of our view. In the kayaks we couldn't get closer than a half mile away but that was still close enough to make such a lasting impression. There were bus-sized mini icebergs around us and then the massive glacier in front of us. Our guide fortunately gave us plenty of time on our own to let us soak it in and try to process it. When he whipped out sandwiches and we had lunch as that as our backdrop, that took the cake.

On the ride back it started to gently rain. We were well equipped with the rental gear and actually the rain added to the ambience. I'm glad the weather held most of the day and that we had a clear . Dry view of the glacier, but for the way back the rain was a great touch. After dropping off the kayaks the water taxi picked us back up. About half way back, Caroline and I happened to be out on the bow when the energetic captain spotted three porpoises. Ha! They followed us, we followed them, and we tried in vane to take pictures good enough to capture memorable moment. It was a perfect end to a great outing.

After arriving we were dropped off at the train station for our 4-hour trip back to Anchorage. This was the opposite of speed and just getting from A to B. Right from the start, when the conductor came over the mic to point out a bald eagle off our left, it became apparent that this was more of a scenic ride with commentary than just a convenient way to get to Anchorage. Dinner in the meal car was spectacular with world-class views on both sides. Waterfalls, a bald eagle couple with baby, numerous glaciers, an amazying sunset, and then some whales made for a truly spectacular journey . What a great day!

The train station was directly opposite our hotel, so we walked back so Caroline could get in a shower before her flight. This was the only downer to the day, to be honest.

The following day Johannes was out early for his bear fish-eating adventure flight so I had the day to catch up on errands. I checked out Maggie, dealt with a few issues John had found, did some more shopping, and made up the flight plan for the following day's flight to Cold Bay. In the evening, once Johannes got back from his great but cold trip, we had a group dinner with the other pilots on the trip. I was very excited to meet up with the other folks on our around-the-world adventure to catch up and trade stories. It turned out all 9 other planes had made it! Unfortunately the only other avgas plane, a Columbia, was going to turn back after Alaska because of fuel and ferry tank issues. From Alaska onwards then it as just going to be us flying avgas and having to deal with the hurdles of the lack of availability of that fuel. Regardless, it s great to catch up, get questions answered, and trade stories. I can see already I'll be a crusty old man hanging out at hangars trying to talk shop to anyone foolish enough to stop and listen.

One of the best ideas to come out of the night was how we could solve our dilemma of wanting to fly to Japan from Alaska during daylight hours. Let's camp on the uninhabited island of Attu! The plot thickens...
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