As we drove our final travel stretch from Anchorage to Girdwood, a local mountain town, all five of us were ready to “be there yet”. Years of longing, an astrocartographer’s nudging, months of planning, two long flights and the snack hero (me) all brought us safely to this moment.
Birch pollen filled the air like summer snow and covered the corners of streets and side-walks in fluffy white. Our first greetings from Alaska.
We dropped ourselves off at the Airbnb and I wondered to myself, what have we done? Was this a terrible idea bringing three young kids to Alaska? My weary mind and wasted nervous system collapsed into bed.
Thank God for new days.
We walked along Winner Creek Trail, across logs and through ice cold streams. We panned for gold at Crow Creek Mine (scam) and dunked our feet and heads like ice cream cones into the glacier water (worth it). We ate at Jack Sprat twice. We took a boat tour of the spectacular Portage Glacier and later backed the truck up to a nearby river for the girls to splash around, while Ryan and I laid back in the bed, lost in reverie. Three days flew by.
Just before our drive from Girdwood down the Kenai Peninsula to the seaside town of Homer, we stopped for breakfast at a local cafe. We met a kind woman named Mary whose story was like many others. “I came here on vacation and that was 53 years ago!” she laughed.
Mary hand-drew us a map of our upcoming road trip and shared her favorite recommendations along the way. I kept the note safely in my bag, reminding me of all the times my dad would draw us maps back in the day when giving directions. We would roll our eyes, Thomas Guide in tote, and ask him to just tell us where to go!
The scenery on the so-called Sterling Highway is something to be felt rather than read about. A gentle mix of rugged terrain and delicate wildlife – Sound of Music meets The Hatchet. Greenery grows straight from the edge of the road to the top of the trees, no dirt seen in between. Purple lupine flowers line the highway, while bright blue rivers and waterfalls fall from every crevice in the mountains.
The epic sights followed us all the way to Homer, ending with a panoramic view of the cerulean Kachemak Bay. Homer is known for its peonies, halibut, artistry and sea otters – I don’t think that’s official, but at least that’s what I gathered.
We spent much of our time on Homer Spit (a 4.5 mile piece of land jutting out into Kachemak Bay), looking under the harbor docks for sea stars and anemones. The food scene in Homer was surprisingly delicious and noteworthy – we ate at the casual Swell Taco, had delicious fish at Fresh Catch and our favorite, Finn’s Pizza, a little sunroom serving maybe the best pie ever.
We went on a seasick wildlife tour with puffins, otters and seals. We hiked down Diamond Creek Trail – with our bear spray – and ended up on a beach full of tide pools. I held my first sea star in the palm of my hand and it felt like a hug from the ocean. Maisley and Coura took cucumbers from our snack-bag and made a “relaxation” center near a creek. (Not a single complaint from kids during this intense two-mile hike, but ask them to walk down the street and hell hath no fury!).
Outside of exploring, relaxing in the Adirondack chairs at the Airbnb was enough to keep us occupied. We saw eagles soaring overhead at all times and two nesting cranes flew in for a rambunctious visit every evening. The trees rustled gently in the wind and a particularly beautiful bird-song lulled us to sleep at night and brought us to life every morning. The natural world still knew their daily rhythms, even when a hazy midnight sun never quite let the darkness in.
Smokey skies stole our views for a day. Cranky kids, our sanity.
In honor of making the most of our time in Alaska, we laughed more easily than usual at the “bad” moments we knew would become funny memories – our misfortunate stop in a town called Soldotna and how Ryan sprayed cheap wine all over the kitchen one night trying to open the bottle in haste without an opener. Also on the list; Mara screaming all the way from Seattle to Anchorage and all of the almost spiritual moments we had.
And now, an anti-climatic wildlife update. Our eyes were peeled every second of every day for moose and bears. The girls were promised a muffin if we saw a moose. We imagined them on every corner.
We went to moose meadow. We drove down the Kenai peninsula where you can’t not see a moose (didn’t see a moose). No moose when the signs said “look out for moose” in Anchorage. Little did we know, the only moose we would see was the stuffed one at the airport on the way home. I wonder, maybe a moose saw us. Scared off by the pitch in Mara’s voice or the prance in Maisley’s fancy feet. We will never know!
Just as the birch pollen had greeted us, the fragrant scent of wild roses on our last walk in Anchorage was our souvenir for the way home.
Make me like you, Alaska. Draw out my wild. Strengthen my shoulders to be immovable like your mountains, unruffled by the impermanence of nature. Remind me of your freshest breaths of air and depths of wisdom. Fill me with the confidence of your teeming rivers. Please brush me with the abundant aliveness that radiates from your roots to your wings.
I am so thankful and in awe of the native people for tending to and protecting this land. I am so thankful that this much primitive nature exists in the world, too vast for the human touch.
As for the girls, the best part of Alaska was, of course, the ice cream.
R.I.P. to Bubba a.k.a Bubbs, Coura’s favorite baby doll, who is now on his own permanent vacation in Alaska.