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Off and Running


USA | Friday, 28 September 2018 | Views [97]

Some people dream of going to New York, London or Paris. My dream for a long time had been to explore Alaska. I can admit that a huge part of this desire to visit Alaska was from watching the film 'Into the Wild'. A film about Christopher McCandless who ventures into the wild in search of a simplistic life with nature. While I was no Christopher McCandless I planned to get myself amongst nature and see as much of Alaska as I could. 

Arriving in Anchorage was exactly how I imagined. Hunters in camouflage with huge guns, salmon shops, rental cars with moose antlers and ‘Make America Great Again’ hats. My sister and I decided the best way to see Alaska would be by road tripping. Driving a car on the other side of the road for the first time was terrifying to say the least. The first two days mainly consisted of driving. We visited Girdwood, half an hour South of Anchorage and did a boat trip through Portage Glacier. We then headed to Talkeetna, which is the gateway town to Denali National Park. Talkeetna would have to be one of the coolest places I have visited. From 1997-2017 the mayor of the town had been a cat called Stubbs. June through to August is 24-hour sunlight which meant all of the bars were alive till the early hours of the morning. The 49th State Brewery Co is where we spent most of our time, with amazing craft beers and the biggest serve of nachos I’ve ever seen. The best bit was that we got offered the eligible bachelor’s book.  A list of all the single men in the town, most of whom were fisherman, hunters or pilots aged 30+. We declined but I should have however, taken the job in a taco shop for the summer.


The next stop was Denali National Park, home to North America's highest peak 'Denali', formerly known as ‘Mt McKinley’. Denali is so tall it has its own weather patterns, and on a clear day you can see it all the way from Anchorage Airport or Fairbanks. According to park rangers Denali is hidden two out of every three days.  For example, it could be clear for a week and then hidden for the next month. We were luckily enough to see the tip of Denali peering through the clouds. Denali National Park is the largest national park in the United States. Denali strongly encourages backcountry camping. There are no trails, designated routes, or backcountry campsites to guide your wilderness adventure. As it was explained there is nowhere else in North America is it so easy to climb an unclimbed mountain, walk where quite possibly – no human foot has trodden before. Denali is home to grizzly bears, caribou, moose, wolves, mountain goats and foxes.

There is only one route 92-mile park road which runs through Denali, and it is only car accessible until mile 15. We booked to stay at Wonder lake campground, not realising it was a five-hour bus ride to this campground. Five hours is a long time but meeting some super cool Americans and seeing a busload of Armish people made up for it. On the bus ride to the campground the bus driver warned us that if we didn't have mosquito nets we would be giving blood. I didn't think much of it because we are Australian and so used to them. However, seconds after getting off the bus we were swamped. The mosquitos were unbearable (pun intended). The next day we got on a bus to Igloo Creek Campground. We mistakenly got on the tour bus instead of the camper bus, meaning we had two hours with a bus full of American vacationers who were eager to pull over for every animal in sight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many visors and binoculars in my life. We did however, see two grizzly bears, a pack of caribou, moose and mountain goats.

The town of Healy just 10km outside of the park has a duplicate of the famous Into the Wild Bus, held at the 49th State Brewing company. Many tourists attempt to retrace McCandless steps every year to get to the real magic bus. However, after the death of a 22-year-old Swiss tourist the duplicate bus was implemented. The interior of the bus is filled with duplicates of diary entries and items from Chris Mcandless. We were pretty happy to see it, real or not.

Our last stop heading north was Fairbanks and the North Pole. Fairbanks is the second largest city in Alaska. We visited Pioneer Park, The Yukon Quest museum and devoured ourselves in the best homemade ice-cream. We then travelled up to the North Pole, not the legitimate North Pole but a town north of Fairbanks. The main attraction in the town is the Santa Claus house which is known for the world’s largest fiberglass statue of Santa Claus. Street lights are painted as candy canes and streets are Christmas themed such as ‘Snowman Lane, Kris Kringle Drive and Santa Claus Lane’.

We spent our last two days driving back to Anchorage, revisiting Talkeetna and seeing the most magnificent views of Denali. We visited the Anchorage museum which was super interesting especially in terms of how Alaska is trying to sustain native culture. I also discovered the best pizza I have EVER had. It was called Moose’s Tooth Pizza and Pub and I would fly back yearly just to eat it.

Most of the reactions I got when telling people I was going to Alaska were "Why Alaska?", "What's in Alaska?". Now that I am back I can’t stop raving about it, everyday I think of Alaska, a place like many that touches your soul. Alaskan people are simply who they are, and take pride in what they do which is extremely refreshing. I would love to go back and spend a good month or two exploring the national parks but a lack of money and the fact that it could not be further away from South Australia is a bit of an issue. I don’t think it would be fitting if I didn’t finish with a quote by Chris McCandless “Alaska is the place where people can get to where they think they can live out those dreams-or try to”.

Tags: alaska, denali national park

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