So, Jill and I have a tradition, we take each other to somewhere they’ve never been. To be fair, sometimes it’s a big trip and is therefore impossible to keep secret, but half the time it’s a secret until boarding the plane. So far, starting with Jill’s bday in April of ’15 the trips have been 4/15 Paris, 9/15 Alaska, 4/16 Grand Canyon, 9/16 Kauai, 4/17 NYC/Florida, 9/17 Victoria BC, and (coming up) 4/18, what Jill likes to call Middle Earth.
Now, I love surprises, and therefore letting Jill plan my bday. Liking surprises, or not being curious i suppose, is absolutely necessary for secret-keeping with one’s live-in partner because any curiosity will kill the cat. There were many times over the three months leading up to Alaska where Jill left some paperwork out, left her plans open on a shared computer (close browsers and search in incognito mode (to remove search terms) then save links in a buried tab called “secret”), or got close to giving clues by asking questions about clothes I wanted to take.
The trip started out with a drive from Portland to Seattle and a hotel stay close to SeaTac. Flying out of Seattle pretty much only ruled out Portland and California so I was still completely in the dark. I was hoping to stay unaware until we landed somewhere, so I kept headphones on in the airport and didn’t look at any of the gate signs This almost worked until Jill had me take the headphones off for a sec to ask a question and I heard “last call for Anchorage.” Yay!!! I’d never been to Alaska. Alaska means three things to me: 1) Aurora Borialis (northern lights), 2) Denali (Mt McKinley), and 3) mooses!!!
The flight out of SeaTac was at 5am and we landed in Anchorage around 8. I walked up to the visitor station and asked the lady what the odds were of seeing the Northern Lights and she said “you never know when she’ll reveal herself to you, probably not in Anchorage though; you better head for Fairbanks.” We picked up our rental car, had Santa’s helper sausages (no not elves, weirdo) and pancakes at Gwennies and planned our day. Jill had a surprise for me in Anchorage in 24 hours, and Fairbanks was only 7 hours away, that left 10 hours to see Denali, the auroras, and sleep – perfect. Off we went (“like a herd of turtles” my dad often said).
We took AK3 north and it wasn’t long until we were into the wild (no pun intended). The drive is beautiful, especially when you start getting close to Denali. There are so many peaks, and with the clouds and snow were were like, is that it, no, how bout that… no? Where’s the top?!?! We never did see the top on the way there, but on the way back we couldn’t see the bottom, but the top was exposed, so I guess you could say we saw Mt McKinley, just not all at the same time :).
When we were about half way to Fairbanks, we came around another corner and there was another big brown butt, two actually, mamma and baby, and they weren’t going anywhere. Two mooses were just hanging out by the side of the road. They let us drive right up to them and seemed not at all concerned. We stayed at least 4 feet away at all times though to make sure we and they were safe.
The drive into Denali National Park was easy, and the Denali National Park Kennels where the Sled dogs hang out was fun too. The dogs all out in the open, some on long leashes, but most not tied up at all. There were also sled dogs in training fenced in with holes big enough in the fence to be petted through. The dogs couldn’t bother – we could barely get them to look at us; I believe Jill’s chimpanzee call was the closest we got to even being noticed.
Once we got to Fairbanks, we went to the quaint Pioneer Park and then dinner and pool at Soapy Smiths. It was then that we had to re-evaluate our plan: because we went in September, it wasn’t going to be getting dark until pretty late, and there hadn’t been any huge solar flares recently, so we’d really need to stick around and stay up until after midnight to really see anything, PLUS the Aurora Weather was saying that night was going to be a bad night because of the complete cloud cover. We decided to drive straight back to Anchorage. Along the way we stopped to see the top of Denali and made a few extra stops to see if we could see any lights. No lights, which made me kind of sad because that was one of the reasons I’d wanted to visit Alaska so bad. Oh well, maybe on another trip.
We got back to Anchorage around 6 in the morning and crashed for a few hours. We had reservations somewhere at 1 and lunch before that so we were up by 10 and headed downtown for a burger. Oh, and it was now September 19th, my birthday. When we got to lunch there was a lot of commotion and so we asked our server
what they were getting ready for. “The Anchorage Pirate Pub Crawl,” she said. It’s fun you should come out.” Well, that was a no-brainer: A pirate festival for my birthday… duh; thanks Anchorage. We had lunch at Flattop and then hit the local Walmart for some pirate gear. Turns out one does not need to start with any pirate gear – as one “collects” pirate gear when there are hundreds of drunk pirates walking the streets.
Now, for my birthday surprise: a float plane tour of the glaciers around Anchorage. Because it was my birthday I got to sit in the front and that was one of the best travel experiences of my life. Thanks Jill!!
We flew around for an hour and even landed at the base of one of the glaciers. The pilot said it was the pretties time of year because the hills were still blooming and Anchorage had just received their first snowfall of the season. He was right; it was gorgeous. Glaciers, Mtn. Goats (errr sheep? anyway, white fuzzy critters on hillsides), rivers, mountains, the sun was out… amazing.
Okay, back to the hotel for a couple hour nap to prepare for Travis’ Birthday Pirate Pub Crawl.
There’s a reason it’s called a crawl, and I swear there were people crawling at the beginning. We signed up for our maps and the idea was to go to 20 pubs and get a stamp, maybe pillage a little, steel a goblet or sword or beard, and move on to the next stamp. Well, here’s the problem with going to 20 pubs: 20 beers is a lot of beer, and people weren’t having just one beer at each place. I’m pretty sure only non-drinkers finished the crawl. Jill and I sure didn’t. I think we made it to 15 and then heading back to the hotel. Halfway through the crawl though, we were between pubs and everyone started getting pirate-excited and pouring out into the streets looking up, and sure enough there it was The Northern Lights. Travis’ Birthday Pirate Pub Crawl and Northern Lights. They went on for ten or fifteen minutes and then stopped and everyone went back to pub crawling, but i feel the mood turned a little more optimistic.
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