Healing and feeling after a pandemic (Alaska Edition)
Ok, so we have made it out of the pandemic, somewhat, well at least to be able to fly to just about every state in the USA, at this point, Summer 2021, as many states have backed down from declaring states of emergency. HOWEVER, that might be short lived as the DELTA VARIANT is spreading like wildfire. All I know is we cannot suffer another pandemic like this, so close to the current on. MENTALLY, we cannot afford this. So I wanted to get around to checking out some glaciers and icebergs, which in North America, the best time to do this is in June time-frame, which was right before people were talking about the Delta Variant sweeping through us, keeping the pandemic well and alive. The interesting thing is that when I feel swamped and cramped, I want to travel to release, but I had to weigh going away somewhere and risk getting infected, although I was already vaccinated to try to ensure that the pandemic keep me locked in it. For me, the place to escape, normally, in North America, is Canada, most notably Canadian Rockies or Newfoundland, Canada. They offer LOTS OF SPACE, to get away from PEOPLE. I’d rather take my chances being surrounded by wild animals that kill with their faces, than with animals who act wild, such as PEOPLE. So, I went to plan a trip there and saw that I was REJECTED!!! Apparently, Canada was on its deathbed after the start of the pandemic, and their health care system was stressed to the max, so it closed its borders- even right now it’s still closed WTF??!!! They are not out of the pandemic, despite their attempts to PR to downplay the pandemic! Today, while many countries have already opened up for travel, putting the pandemic behind them- some really shouldn’t be doing that though- Canada, you still cannot get into, as a tourist, despite claiming it had a better vaccination rate than Israel. Come on now, that’s CAP! They’re still in a pandemic!
I travel for work, I travel for stress release, and of all terrible things to be in, I was trapped in NEW YORK CITY during this stupid pandemic. New Yorkers all wanted to escape but we had hate from other states who BANNED use from going to their state, and people would ask where we were from, then run away for fear of getting infects with the coochies. Now, we are in the Summer of 2021, people are being forced to go back to work, physically to offices, and people are not really ready to take off the masks, even outdoors. After thinking “damn, life sucks right now,” (really it doesn’t- 1st world problems) I read news that Alaska was the very first state to officially declare itself “open” entirely, weren’t going to let themselves get buried by the pandemic, and announced that there would be no mandatory checks for Covid at airports, out of all 50 US states, and would give you vaccinations at the airport if you wanted them. Yes, Alaska is a top destination for Vaccine Tourism! That also meant that I had to be VERY CAREFUL because people traveling for that were NOT immune* to Covid yet (BS if you think you’re fully immune). So, I had to ponder that one for a minute, go and die??? Nah, if you can’t trust a rushed vaccine, what can you trust? So I immediately went to go look for activities that would take me out of the major city.
I also figured out that it wouldn’t take long to fly there (7 hours), I could rack up flyer miles again, and also, I could do some dry-runs to test if I was ready once again be packed on a plane with potentially sick people- despite being fully vaccinated myself. Hey, many people have become re-infected even after vaccination, but I couldn’t be held hostage anymore. Yes, you can be vaccinated and get Covid again! We saw that publicly with NY Yankees baseball team, Chris Paul the basketball player, and even comedian Bill Maher. The pandemic isn’t exactly over now is it? Pandemic is still in full blast in Pakistan and India too. But remember that people were coming to Alaska to get shots, on a medical vacation, and if I went, they would be bringing the pandemic to me! I needed SPACE now for sure!
I need to try to get away from people, that was the most important part of the selection for this trip, and to see nature in the process. That’s part of my pandemic escapism. This is the appeal of Canada, so much space and nature that I could go maskless for miles and miles and not see another person, or the other people are so far away it would be highly unlikely to get infected. The problem was, I saw crap for advertisement for Alaska and all most people talked about was Anchorage, which with all due respect, is pretty boring after a few days. So it had the space but was it going to be BORING trip to Anchorage the whole time?? I needed something OUTSIDE of that, get away from where all the people were, which was in Anchorage I found every day. The joke about Alaska is that it’s all Anchorage and nothing but wilderness. It’s even more odd to learn that Alaska is bigger than most of the lower 48 states (every other state but Alaska/Hawaii), including Texas and California. I knew there had to be more out there and that many people who gave me tips, did nothing but go to Anchorage and get drunk, on vacation (my Tech Bros). I had bad intel it seemed.
Regardless, I set out for Anchorage and planned a few activities, immediately, to do while in Alaska, but all over Alaska, because I thought that that would be the best chance/place to go to avoid crowds, hang out all day, see interesting things, and get some fresh air! I landed in Anchorage and I hit the ground running, because I had no choice not to! I landed at what should have been night, but it was SUNNY AS HELL, so I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t believe my brain, it was 10pm Alaska time but it looked like 3pm NY time, with the sun right over my head. I went out into the streets and I saw all kinds of people outside, carrying about like it was 3pm as well. There are 20+ hours of sun in Alaska, in Summer, and on top of that, the weather is not consistent, so you can throw your forecast predictions OUT THE WINDOW!!! Since I couldn’t go to sleep, I went outside to walk around and saw a lot of people, especially a lot of homeless people, everywhere, every corner, every turn and it was also true that people were going there to get vaccinated, from other countries in Latin America. I got outside and people were coughing and sneezing left and right. Why? That weather, it was unpredictable for sure and it was freezing rain, then sunny but cold, so people were going without jackets and in shorts. People in the hotel coughing and sneezing… I cut my walk short.
On the rush back, I went stopped and picked a local beer, found out Alaska was known for that and reminded myself to see if they have beer tours, which I did find, and booked! As I drank my beer, I was badgered by some drunk/high lady screaming at me about how Americans drink too much- side note, apparently she was right. She was funny, but definitely infected with … something. I gave her some spare change and got out of there because she was following me until I gave her money. Yeah, lots of homeless in Anchorage, everywhere. That and really sketchy people all over the place. So that was my eye opening first day, and people on bikes looking to snatch my possessions- not new to me. lol I had to get to sleep though, next day, I had scheduled to bike ride to explore Anchorage a little more, but already paid so now had to do it, but that was in 5 hours from that time. I ended up going all around Anchorage, reading signs and exploring history and trails, which got old in less than 4 hours. I mean that that point, I wanted to be in the open air, but there was really NOBODY around. It was a little strange, like pandemic hit and everyone was wiped out or something kind of scary. I didn’t even see many cars on the road except for the highway. Really weird, but I asked for it. I also saw, the hard way, that a LOT of Anchorage sunk into the ground, throughout the years, the last major one in 2018. The next day, even less people were outside, really really odd, like only me on the streets for miles. I learned that overnight there was yet ANOTHER EARTHQUAKE, except I was too drunk and asleep to feel it, thankfully. BTW, if you go there and notice there are some wild looking hills and silly home design where all the houses have completely uneven yards- that’s due to earthquake activity. Anchorage has had to rebuild MANY times, due to earthquakes and a lot of the town has sunk in in odd ways. You will find literature about this scattered about all over Anchorage and beyond. Anchorage tries to keep you busy with a bunch of free outdoors activities and “quests” like the Lightwalk too, so I did them while on the bike, in between setting up another tour to go to the Animal Wildlife Conservation Center.
You definitely need to hit the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center if you’re out there, you’re failing if not. You can tour it be a drive thru or just get out and walk, which I personally advise you to do, walk! That’s a beautiful display there, foxes, wolves, bears, eagles, ravens, elk, reindeer, Bison, etc. Really cool if you have kids. The bears will scare the hell out of you though, you better watch your kids. Speaking of that, oh lord, the other thing that was wild about Alaska was that just about every place I went to try to get a hike off was heavily populated with BEARS! Everywhere you go, bears bears bears! Yeah, you know those plans to just go roaming through the wood and get out there, be alone and free- HELL NO! Bears were everywhere! If you look at the charts that are shared with you, about where bears are, they’re located in 98 percent of the state! You can drive by the highway and see bears on the mountainside. You can be by the water, and look there is a bear. Even in a tourist area that is for great views, the bears will come down there, especially if it’s a place someone might place trash. You really can’t play around in the woods over there, especially now when the salmon are coming back to spawn and ultimately die. Bears will come down the ground-level where tourist areas are and some were spotted where I was at. So, I had to curb some of my desires to go too deep into woody areas, or at least alone. I took some bear spray with me and kept it ready like a gun! Too dangerous out there. Then there is the consideration of wild moose too, who will knock you 100 feet in the air before trampling you to death and they are very very tall. I was in Matanuska and less than 20 feet away, I heard something and slowly turned my head to track it and RIGHT THERE was a huge moose going by me. Luckily, it ignored me, but they would definitely maul me easily. Then if you look into the surrounding fields, here and there, you’ll see moose just about everywhere too. This one trip, I saw more wildlife than I have seen on any given trip. Every 2 steps, you see a different wildlife, even goats, although hard to see in some places, they’re there! Look up on the rocky cliffs, because they hang there to avoid the bears. That kinda shut me down with some of the free roaming, I had to go find something else to fill the time.
I decided to take things in a different direction and took the famous Alaska Railroad Corporation trains to navigate to the some of the better areas with attractions, such as glacier viewing. The trains are historic and are an activity that many people love experiencing, even if they rented a car. Then found out there was a nationwide shortage of cars to rent! So more people were on these trains that I was expecting. Good for them though. The ride will allow you to really see the great Seward Highway along the way, from a higher perch, which was completely different from seeing the area in a car, closer to sea level. The level changes of the train are really unmatched. If you go driving from place to place, along the Seward Highway you have the advantage of getting out and seeing things from one of the many view points, so that’s not to say do not take a car to go to places, but the train goes THROUGH and around the mountains, around really cool turns with views, weather changes like every 10 minutes for some reason and the scenery was completely different where it was Spring-like views, then Winter-like views, then Summer-like views, then suddenly you are buried in clouds out of nowhere. The scenery can blend from like really green forest area with bare mountains with snow on them and it’s just 1 view with cascading views that look copy/pasted with photoshop. You cannot get those views in a car, you have to get on the train, or go out hiking, but this is what people who told me about Alaska missed- the ALL took cars and missed all of this!
That’s not to take away form the car rides because the car ride hugs the rim of one of the top scenic highways in the country, with some excellent scenery and you can spot wildlife everywhere along that ride to Whittier. You ride alongside the Turnagain Arm, a body of water that you cannot navigate, and neither did Captain Cook, historically, and he had to Turn Again and again because he couldn’t navigate it. The tides are too wild and bare half the time. It looks like just MUD in the tighter places. It’s looks great against the backdrops. Then on the way to Whittier was a former secret WW2 military base that has been abandoned, but repurposed as a living space where the whole town lives in only 1 apartment building. Seriously. So I went to that small down, mostly because I found out that area was GORGEOUS if you get out and go around the area. You can see some wild looking backdrops, smothered in clouds on some days, snow-capped mountains, wildlife running all around and a bit of it was area where there were a roads that it seems cars could go. I got through this area by train, of course, but it was stunning views all around. This is why I suggest you take the train, at least once if you go there. Take it Whittier. Whittier is a boring little town with great stops before this area like Portage Lake and Bear Valley were you can see beautiful water to tree to mountain backdrops. Boring doesn’t mean ugly!
On a separate trip, heading further down to the south, I pulled up in Seward, the place that is the only other known town of Alaska, by most people you ever talk to. This is the place a lot of big cruise ships go. The very interesting thing was that none of the major companies like Princess Cruises were running during the pandemic time. They completely shut their offices and operations due to the pandemic, and how easy it is to infect masses of people on their ships. However, passing through Anchorage, I saw two smaller cruise companies that were not affected by this shutdown, and I took 2 separate tours, out of 2 different locations on different days, to go look at glaciers and wildlife out on the water. They make it so easy for you, just buy the tickets and get on a scheduled train where the boats will be waiting for you. So this was the best way to see the truly beautiful scenic ride on the trains that I mentioned, but also at the end you get the boat cruise and then the return train ride back to Anchorage. I didn’t bother to look up the locations, I just winged it and I probably shouldn’t have done that with the final cruise that took me to Seward. I got on that train, over 2 hours passed and the GPS didn’t show me where I was because GPS is absolutely not reliable anywhere in Alaska. I had to ask a train worker “are we there yet???!!” only to be told, “oh it will be another 2 hours.” No one told me that the it takes you 4 hours to get from Anchorage to Seward by train!!! uhhh but it was an ok ride, was sleeping half the time and taking photos the other times both ways. Cell signal?? Don’t bother! You better have downloaded material to listen to or brought something to read. So yeah, you have been warned about that ride to Seward. If you like marine wild life, these are the two places to see them and it’s well worth the rides!
However, it’s going to be fully worth it if you are an environment and wildlife watcher like me. Still, everyone I talked to, prior to going down there, told me to go to Seward to explore. Just know that when you get there, you see that all the tourists are gathered there- not my thing! They are nowhere else but Whittier, Seward and Anchorage! Whittier has a pretty landscape leading up to it, over all, although less traveled to, and if you ever talk to someone about it, they’ve never heard of it. It’s just too small on the map and is not well advertised. On the other hand, Seward kind of opens up to some more, in terms of seeing more wildlife that includes marine life. The good thing about it being Summer is that you get to see waterfalls everywhere, because the snow is melting, and then you have the wildlife surrounding it or more out in the open consuming natural resources. I was seeing animals left and right when I got to Seward, cool ones can be seen only from a perch on one of the boats you can take out into the waters. I went on a cruise and noticed that people weren’t really paying attention to that, at that point of the tour, but we went by a powerful waterfall that was seemingly coming out of nowhere. If you look up, on top of the mountain, you’d see huge piles of snow and can see what was making some of those waterfalls. You’ll need a good lens too if you’re out there because the lighting is really bad when out on the water where there is a lot of overcast near those glaciers. I think that’s why people were giving up on some of the views, they couldn’t get the pictures that they wanted to under those conditions, but really, they could have just looked with their EYES and still enjoyed it. I damn near forgot to take the pics because I was watching with my eyes and just put my Insta360 on its monopod and left it filming whatever it would catch with the wide angle lens. Really relaxing and very beautiful with the birds flying around by it.
Pictures cannot capture the beauty, it was pure silence out there, the boat was in a resting position temporarily, to not disturb some neighboring sea lions, and all you could hear was the waterfall and the birds chirping- surreal! I guess because the area is overrun by birds, it’s not as spectacular to all of them and really, they wanted to see the Puffins, and you couldn’t really see them because too many Common Murres are there, they produce like rats in the sky. Everything time I tried to get snap of a Puffin, like 300 common murres flew by and messed up my good shots on Puffins. I finally understood why doing those glacier boat tour tickets were moving so fast, it really is an experience to see glaciers but more than just glaciers. If you like glaciers, another thing you can do is you can go out and take a helicopters to land on top of glaciers or you can even go do a hike on glaciers! I mentioned this to someone on the tour and they mentioned that you can go on glaciers, in Alaska. I did that before in the Canadian Rockies’ Columbia Icefields on the Athabasca Glacier, that was FUN! Unfortunately, I couldn’t book the helicopter glacier walk, they were booked fully all week. However, I found that I could get to a location where I could walk on a real glacier. At first, that sounded scary as hell because it’s summer, and I thought, “shouldn’t it be melted by now?” Well NO, apparently. The area around the glacier was melting but the glacier itself is frozen nice and solid so I headed north to Matanuska to do exactly that next! That is truly an experience that people really have to do. I will be back in Winter, because the whole landscape changes dramatically.
One of the best things I ended up doing was getting another workout on, by going glacier hiking at Matanuska Glacier. You get a nice little hike up on the glacier, everything looks dirty in June but if you go in the Winter, the place is a Winter wonderland and you can go through the crevices of the ice. You really had to watch yourself there because it’s easy to slide off of the glacier and to your dead, as well as make 1 bad step and end up in mud that is worse than quicksand. This mud, if you step in it, even 1 inch of it, feels like you cannot pull your feet out of it. In the summer, there is a lot of black-ice right under the surface of what looks like shaved ice and if you step the wrong way, you’re going down hard and fast. There were opportunities there to drink some of that glacier ice too but seeing that I saw people ice climbing up that, and all the soot, pollution or just regular dirt all over the ice/snow, I didn’t want to drink that stuff, initially, but decided, “why not??? I survived a pandemic!! What’s a few more pandemic bacteria more?” It was super cold, hurt my teeth cold! So there, can say I finally drank some glacier water for real, and not the bottled fake stuff that is distilled in a Coca Cola factory.
The other thing I scheduled to do was to go on a beer tour. There were multiple local breweries but I’d have to go more toward midtown and then the only way to get there4 would be to drive. Hmmm so searched and found the beer tour that did it for me! The plan was to get someone to drive me around so I could get super drunk and then stagger back to my hotel after done that day. Booked the tour, stopped at about 3 beer distilleries, had some finger food, drank more and more and more, drank odd artisanal beers, do some walking beer tours to see how the magic is done behind the scenes, I was lifted! The tours are set up to give you full walk through and many samples with the owners of the establishments conducting the tours, if you drink all of the things offered, you’re going to get your fill for sure. I can tell you, if you are not a drinker, you are wasting your time because you get a lot of drinks. Most of the other people doing the tours didn’t finish but 1 cup of beer on the first stop, and then sipped it like baby sitting those drinks, but didn’t take advantage of the all the free beer they actually paid for as part of the tour. SMH. So they wasted money and they wasted a good time. People were offering me their drinks so I took them. LOL Amateurs! So don’t bother to do the tours unless you have people who are strong soldiers in the drink game. I came out of retirement to drink too, I was on a Keto diet and that alcohol sugar cut through me quickly! Oh by the way, you’re going to be famished by the time you finish that tour, you’re drinking for at least 3 to 4 hours. Ok, now that was the other thing… food, where oh where to eat, after being too damn tired to wait in a restaurant and too damn lazy to order and wait, and cell not working so trying to schedule ahead wasn’t working and the locations would let you schedule for a specific time if you used a food app, so you have to order ASAP but you’re 3 hours away from Anchorage… .arrrggghh Food was a problem on the run.
In terms of food, I failed, a lot, which is great since I’m watching the eating anyway. I actually didn’t eat much that whole week. I drank a lot but did not really eat. I was so busy and on the road to these remote places, I would come back so tired I didn’t want to eat. Luckily, where you get dropped off from most of the tours, is where the tourism information center is, and right there is where this well known sausage street vendor cart is set up. It’s called Tia’s and everyone and their mamas talked about this damn cart. They had Reindeer sausage for sale. I didn’t know what the hell that would taste like but I figured that if everyone is talking about it, and even on popular websites they talked about eating these Reindeer dogs. I was famished, really bad and I bought two of them, finished them both by the time I made it to the corner!!! The more I traveled, I started to notice more food carts in places, even the wildlife conservation place, had these things- which was a little… ODD.. THERE!!?! LOL Then I started seeing that almost everywhere I went had reindeer sausage and to be honest, they were REALLY GOOD! So the next day, or 5 hours from there because I had more tours lined up the following day, I scrambled around town looking for breakfast wit these damn reindeer sausage based meals. That’s how I bumped into all of these murals all over the place, that were really cool, I was hungry, roaming the streets looking for these damn reindeer dogs to eat. lol Seriously. I failed there. I did get some fresh Halibut in Whittier though, so I did get that in my favor on a separate trip I took that that area without getting on the boat. I was really that damn busy.
All in all, I was happy with that vacation, albeit very short because I had to get back to work. I didn’t know that Alaska had that many things to offer, and I went looking for oddities too, to get a workout on to balance that beer I was drinking almost all day. I have a lot of things I did, too much to fit in a blog post, but surely, this was packed with events. According to my fitbit, I walked over 100 miles that week and I was in pain riding those damn bikes because my pants weren’t padded enough to protect my butt cheeks from those hard goddamn seats! Still, with an almost broken ankle from hiking, swollen butt cheeks from bike riding, almost zero sleep every day, still working out every day, I still went and see some cool scenery, beautiful nature, some odd-looking things here and there, got to enjoy some street art, only ate reindeer sausages almost every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, ate some pure halibut fresh out of the water 10 minutes after it was caught, got drunk each night, saw glaciers, got so much clear air daily… That was a very DrunkPhotography.com kind of vacation and it reminded me that the pandemic can’t stop you from enjoying life if you’re determined. Just get out, get away from idiots, and you’ll be able to get your mind right.
As always, the finished products can be found on the main site of www.drunkphotography.com.