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August 18, 2010

Thoughts on Alaska

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I’d been meaning to writeup some of my thoughts about Alaska about now so I’m going to tie it into the final few cities I visited as well.  Fortunately for both of us I won’t use as many words to do this as miles I drove there.  Know why that’s good?  Because the place is HUGE!  I ended up with a fairly bare bones route through the state and still rode about 2,500 miles there and that’s after taking 2 days to go the first 93 miles!  It’s fewer miles than from San Diego to Jacksonville Florida.

Not only do you drive a lot of miles, but gas is expensive too, inspite the big pipe full of oil going all the way down the state.  Anchorage is cheapest at $3.35/gallon, every station in Fairbanks was $3.50.  Outside of those two places it was $3.65-$4.00/gallon.  The upper end is about the same as what I paid in Canada.

Yummy - I Went With the Reindeer SausageYummy – I Went With the Reindeer Sausage

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Yummy – I Went With the Reindeer Sausage

 

After moving around then you need to eat which is expensive too – $10+ for a burger and fries, $15+ for fish (even though it was just caught there).  Groceries stores were the same 150%-200% higher than the lower 48 in most cases.  The other place they try to get you (or at least your money) is in the activities.

I totally agree that much of what they are offering can only be done in a few places in the world and they need to buy their expensive gas and food so there are going to be premiums.   But are you really supposed to take the flight to Mount McKinely for $600 one day, fish from Homer the next for a few hundred, take a glacier cruise on day 3 for another $200?  Yikes, there goes $1,000/person in 3 days.

I really would have liked to have seen more while I was there.  Cost was a minor factor in parts of this as there are usually ways to get part of the experience for much lower prices if you have time.  My shortcomings were more a function of showing up with a motorcycle needing repairs, wetter than normal weather, and leaving a week earlier than planned (more on that next post).

New Tires Finally!New Tires Finally!

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New Tires Finally!

 

Things I missed are going further north than Livengood on the Dalton Highway.  It wasn’t a priority of mine to go to Prudoe Bay, but the option would have been nice.  Similarly I couldn’t go to Dawson City in the Yukon because the road washed out (twice) while I was there.  The route south, Highway 37, from the Yukon was closed due to smoke on the way out too.  Couldn’t go north or south. Good thing I was headed east anyway.  Last was getting down to Valdez and the Elias-Wrangle mountains.

No matter where you go in the state or what you pay to do you’ll find things that blow you away.  For me this was coming over a hill at the Exit Glacier in Seward and seeing the icefield behind it.  Years and years of snow and ice were stacked up behind the glacier.  I couldn’t even tell where the ice ended and the clouds began.  Eventually the clouds cleared slightly and a few lonely peaks began visible.  These are mountains where only the very tops are visible and ice has built up in all the valleys leaving random tops sticking up here and there in a field of ice.

An area I thought would bother me and I ended up enjoying is the 24 hours per day of light.  I stayed up later than normal, usually going to bed around 11 then would sleep fine till around 8am.  Never seeing stars was weird, though the clouds would have blocked them anyway.  The really nice part about this is that I could stick around where I woke up all day, start leave at 5pm and not worry about riding in the dark at all.

Reasonable camp sites could be found, not surprising for a such a big place.  I only paid for camping a few places; Denali NP of course, 2 nights at a hostel in the middle of Fairbanks, a night in Homer right on the beach, and a city park in Seward.  Aside from that it was just pulling off the road or a normal free undeveloped site in a recreation area, and a few (wet) days hanging out with a friend in Anchorage.

All in all, I’m still glad that I went and satisfied with the overview I got.  There’s plenty left for me on another trip and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I end up back there another time down the road.

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