“Heyyyyyyy bear!” The native Alaskan bear call that I am now beyond proficient at. We’ll get to that story in just a moment. Hang tight.
So you might have noticed (thanks to my overly aggressive social media activity as of late) that I just took an incredible trip to Alaska to visit one of my very best friends from high school and college, Dan. When I found out back in April that Dan was moving to Alaska, I knew I’d have to visit! Because I can’t sit still. Like ever. So naturally I booked my flights immediately after he accepted his job offer. YOLO. But seriously.
We had the most fun week ever and did soooo much – I haven’t laughed so hard in a while! Lucky for YOU, Dan + I are geniuses and decided to keep a journal (read: iPhone note) of everything we did during my trip. I’m most likely going to break this up into 2 or 3 parts since I have SO much to share and so many stories and don’t want you to have to read 7-mile long blog posts. So hang on to your (fur) hats, here we goooo…
After a short layover in Seattle, I made it to Anchorage around noon. Woohoooo I cannot believe I’m in ALASKA. What?! Is this real life? We dropped my luggage off at home and immediately drove down along the Seward Highway to check out Beluga Point and hopefully see some beluga whales or mountain sheep! No such luck since the tide was wayyyy out, but we were able to get some pretty stellar views of the Turnagain Arm waterway, the mountains, and even happened to see a train chug along right in front of us. I felt like I was in a movie. Look it!
Then we made our way up to Potters Marsh to check out the amazing houses being built. Could you imagine this view out your living room window?? One day…
We ended the day with some sushi and a new-to-me game of Rack-O!
Sleep glorious sleep! I had been running on only 4 hours the day before, so sleeping in was absolutely necessary and something I NEVER do – YAY for vacations! I made some omelettes for breakfast, we packed up our things, and hit the road for Denali National Park. It’s about a 4 hour drive to the park along literally the only highway in the entire state. It’s so weird. That explains why there are so many pilots in Alaska though! We made a pit stop at Denali South View where, on a clear day, you are usually able to see the entire Denali mountain range. However, cloudy and rainy day = no view. Le sigh. But that’s okay because we had something even better waiting for us at the end of our drive: the Hankinsons and Franzs!!!
I could barely contain my excitement. What are the odds that your favorite people in the whole wide world would be cruising through Alaska at the EXACT same time as you?! Zero. Literally zero. Funny how things always seem to work out, isn’t it? The six of us had an awesome dinner at King Salmon and got to catch up on life, work, and travels and reminisce. It was a blast and a much needed little piece of home.
After dinner we headed back to the village and I found my secret hiding spot for the next few days. A spot righttttttt in front of the wood burning fireplace in the lodge. Heaven I tell ya.
Okay a little backstory here about why I even went to Alaska and to Denali specifically: Dan works for Aramark. Aramark runs hospitality and tourism operations in Denali National Park and Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. Dan oversees both accounts and just so happened to need to be at Denali when Heather was visiting. Heather is a giant spoiled brat and life is awesome. The end!
Resume blog post! Today was THE day. The day that I swear my life should have ended. The day that every fear I ever had about the Alaskan wilderness came true. All because of a nice little hike. Cue obnoxiously dramatic music…
After 2 flight cancellations due to rain (yes we were supposed to take a plane ride that landed us on a glacier I don’t want to talk about it okay), we decided we should get out and explore Denali a little bit. A hike it was! We headed to the Wilderness Access Center (WAC) and talked to some of the employees about trail options. We settled on hiking the Savage River “trail”. Great. This will be a blast. The rain is holding off, we’re going to have a great time. Here’s a map, a timetable for the nice comfortable bus you will take back to your car at the end of the hike, and there’s tons of great scenery you’ll see along the way. Absolutely NO mention of the two bear maulings that occurred within the last month on this very trail. Yes you heard that right. Looking back, we feel as if we may have been set up. We optimistically grabbed our map, put on our rain coats and embarked, 100% naive of what was in store for us.
We drove to the trailhead, talked to the park ranger, and got the last spot in the lot. So optimistic still. The beginning of the trail was so nice. Flat, wide, populated. We crossed this super cool bridge and found a small sign that read “end of maintained trail”. Interesting. Whatever, it’s probably fine. Let’s keep going.
We hiked for about a mile and everything was great. No problems at all. Beautiful views and not a spit of rain. Not really sure what happened next. The trail just completely vanished. Maybe a landslide wiped it away? Let’s go with that. Suddenly we found ourselves trailblazing through 8-foot brush and bushes. For miles. Not a single sign that any other human had walked the path we were walking. Ever.
Dan refuses to believe we are lost. I’m starting to get super worried. It starts pouring rain. Wonderful. Dan realizes we may actually be in bear territory after seeing bear tracks and droppings, but of course doesn’t tell me. “Heyyyy bear” ensues. My stress grows. Why is Dan yelling hey bear? We’re screwed. I start yelling”heyyyy bear”. Once Dan hears the first hey bear come out of my mouth, he knows my anxiety is growing, and quickly. Especially since we kept seeing animal bones. Ummmmmmmmm what. Help.
At this point we were still hoping to pick the trail back up, but the map and my Fitbit suggest that we have gone way too far already. Dan swears we need to just get to the top of the ridge to see the valley and the shuttle will be in the valley. Yeah, no. Not happening. The ridge is a no-go. It doesn’t really exist. The lone bright spot on the way to the ridge was honey crisp apples we packed. They were amazing. At this point I insist on turning back. I’d rather backtrack the exact trail we had already blazed for ourselves than try to keep pushing forward through thicker and thicker brush into the unknown. Dan concedes. Great, thank you.
We make the decision to walk down an entire landslide to get to river level. It will definitely be easier to walk down there, right? Sure. So we basically slide our way down the mountain until we end up at the river. We walk back along the river for maybe a quarter mile max. Then, a GIANT rock bolder. Cool. How are we supposed to get around this? We should probably be able to go up and around this rock. It doesn’t look too bad.
That was optimistic. Now our only options are to jump hundreds of feet into the river or turn around. We need to go higher. We climb higher. Nope. We need to go higher. TRAIL!!!!!!!! We found a trail!!!!! In excitement, I proceed to get on my hands and knees and pet the trail and tell it how much I love it and how I will never lose it again. I promised. Some may say this was very dramatic. I do not agree. But this trail was no ordinary trail. It lasts about a half mile and then disappears again. I have betrayed my promise. Dan thinks he’s hilarious…
I’m super dejected at this point. Dan kept telling me to look at the bright side: once we made it back we could laugh about it all! I refused to believe we would ever make it back and told him that if I had cell phone service I would absolutely call an emergency helicopter and I didn’t care how much money it cost. Again, not dramatic at all. Before we knew it (aka 4 hours later), we finally find the trail again. I have no idea how it happened, I think I blacked out. We celebrated and basically sprinted the remaining 2 miles back to the trailhead. Thank God for long summer days in Alaska. There it was! The bridge! We made it! We took off our sopping hiking boots and got the heck out of that cursed place, never looking back.
Okay I need to stop being Negative Nancy, because on our drive back to the village we saw 5 moose! I had been dying to see some wildlife in Alaska. I just didn’t want that time to come when we were soaking wet and lost in the wild. That’s fair, right? Look how cute this mama and baby are!
We even saw a huge moose with a full rack! It was massive! We snapped a few more photos and headed off so as to leave the wild, well, wild. We then rushed back to the village – we had dinner and a show to make! We made it to Cabin Night just in the nick of time. Cabin Night was a fun, interactive dinner theater performed in an authentic, log-paneled roadhouse. We were served yummy home cooked food by the cast of the show while they sang and danced.
After dinner I had a brilliant idea for how to dry out our sopping hiking boots so we could wear them again within the next 30 years. Einstein over here.
That’s all for now! I apologize for the excessive storytelling, but I find it hilarious and I thought you might too. You better. I’ve been told that I’ve got the writing version of the gift of gab. Sorry not sorry.
Part 2 will be coming soon! And not a year later, I can promise you that. Just like I promised the trail I would never lose it again.
Have you been to Alaska?
Have you ever lost a trail and thought you were going to die? Stories!