Recently retired and ready to spread their wings, Len and Faith Todd wanted to do more with their time than just wait for the grandkids to stack up. Avid travelers, they purchased a Toy Hauler with the expressed purpose of doing some snowmobiling in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula … but another motivation waited, unspoken. Tour Alaska. Trip of a lifetime. They waited. They researched. They prepared. In late June 2009, the trip of a lifetime began. During the trip, Faith and Len blogged about their adventures and kept a growing audience of friends and family rapt with attention and not a little bit jealous. This chapter covers July 29th & 30th, days 30 & 31 of their adventure.
In 1867, when Secretary of State William H. Seward proposed the purchase of Alaska to President Andrew Johnson, Congress and the press, expressed some, ah, disquiet. When we woke the morning of our fourth day in Alaska, in the city named for that intrepid visionary, we shared some of those misgivings. We had signed up for a glacier and wildlife tour; and, by 10:00 a.m. – the time our boat was scheduled to leave the dock – the weather was nasty and getting worse. Our tour guides warned us that we may not even be able to make it out to the glacier; but, in the spirit of Secretary Seward, we decided to throw caution to the rather frigid wind. Besides, we had come to Alaska for some adventure…not to sit inside the Hauler.
Twenty minutes into the trip, our gamble was rewarded. The captain spotted some orcas in Resurrection Bay. Captivating! When we rounded the peninsula and entered the Gulf of Alaska, the sea really started to act up. We managed to stick it out as folks around us began to get seasick. Eventually we reached calmer waters, and the captain started pointing out wildlife again. Black seals. Sea otters. Puffins. Jellyfish. Sea lions. The male sea lions were every bit as fierce as advertised. These one-ton giants don’t bark like the cute little seals, they roar! Closer to the glacier we were surprised to see mountain goats and black bear. Bald eagles circled overhead. Were we watching them or were they watching us. That’s one of the ever-present questions in the Alaskan wilderness – you just never know – and that freedom and wildness is scintillating.
Forging on, weather or no weather, we made it to the glacier. Aialik Glacier is singularly amazing. The largest tidewater glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, it rises right up out of the water, a wall of ice over 800 feet high. The captain took us within a quarter mile of the glacier – close enough, thanks – so we could witness calving.
Glacier calving is when portions of ice break off and come crashing down into the water. You don’t hear the splash until about a second after the ice hits the water. Strange.
On the way back into Seward, we were visited by the world’s largest mammal, the humpback whale. The humpback’s blow, where they surface and exhale a spout of water high into the sky, can be seen up to a mile away. After “blowing” humpbacks submerge and can stay under for up to eight minutes before resurfacing, sometimes up to a mile away. Amazing!
Oh, can’t forget our cruise’s ultimate fringe benefit. The all-you-can-eat salmon and prime rib dinner on the tour company’s private island, Fox Island. Yes, you read that correctly. All you can eat. Salmon. Prime rib. Private Island. That, friends, is a perk! And, for an additional fifteen bucks, you can add a pound of Alaskan king crab legs to your meal. Of course we did. That cruise was nearly nine hours of incredible…and to think we almost opted out!
Exhausted from the amazing day, we tucked in early. We woke up Thursday morning to a welcome surprise. The fog blanketing Seward since our arrival had lifted…and our jaws dropped! The view was indescribably beautiful, and, sadly, temporary. By the time we pulled out of Seward that afternoon, the rain and fog were back and the world outside our windows looked like the closing scene of Casablanca again.
Leaving Seward, we headed to the other side of the Kenai Peninsula. The highlight of that trip was a gigantic Bull Moose grazing in a marshy area along the highway. Of course, we were not the only folks who stopped to get a closer look. Fortunately for all of us, Bullwinkle stayed put, and we were able to appreciate him from afar.
One onlooker, a gentleman from Ohio, realized he was out of film and appealed to us for a favor. We gladly took down his email and snapped a shot to send to him…even though he admitted to being a diehard Ohio State fan and we bleed maize and blue. Bringing Wolverines and Buckeyes together, at least in the off-season, that’s the RV lifestyle.
Another favorite RVer destination in Alaska, Homer Spit, is about a 45-minute drive south of Ninilchik. Jutting five miles out into Kachemak Bay, Homer is home to the Homer Boat Harbor, a U.S. Coast Guard station and numerous shops. This place is truly an Alaskan shopping Mecca. Two blocks of storefronts chock full of unique, authentic Alaskan merchandise.
Though absolutely breathtaking, the drive across the Kenai Peninsula is not a Sunday Afternoon Cruise. Jutting out into Resurrection Bay on one side and the Gulf of Alaska on the other, the southern and eastern regions of the peninsula are covered by the glacier-topped Kenai Mountains. Much of the southern area of the peninsula is dominated by the Kenai Fjords National Park, making a substantial section of the peninsula a protected wildlife refuge. Emphasis on wild. Rivers and glacial lakes dot the remainder of the peninsula, offering a gorgeous, albeit winding, drive through the pristine wilderness.
Four hours later, enchanted by the ride but ready to be out of the truck, we arrived in Ninilchik. Len, having a change of heart since locking up his rods in Wyoming, arranged for a fishing charter first thing in the morning. That little excursion was scheduled to begin at 5:00 a.m. No one – fish included – should have to get up that early!
Better hit the sack, a lot more Alaskan adventure ahead, and we will be up well before the sun…well…actually, that expression doesn’t really hold much weight in Alaska. Looooong days here in the summertime. Well, daylight aside, 5 a.m. is 5 a.m. Goodnight, Alaska, we can’t wait to meet you all over again tomorrow!