AISES, Alaska, Anchorage, Case Western, Denali, earthquake, Flat Top Mountain, La Cabana, moose, Mt. McKinley, Native American, park, Salmon Berry Tours, solo travel, student, tour, volcano, wind energy
I woke up in the morning feeling like I hadn’t slept at all. Oh, wait… I’d slept 2 hours. Hmm, that’s why. I packed my things up as quickly as I could and ran outside to where the Salmon Berry Tours van was waiting.
This morning was the Anchorage City Tour! I had wanted to do today’s schedule the first day, but, at the time I had scheduled, the Glacier Tour only had enough people for the day I went. It probably changed since I reserved, considering I booked months in advance. Nonetheless, I was eager to see the city by vehicle rather than foot.
We stopped off at a variety of locations. My tour guide was extremely peppy, which made my eyes droop even heavier. We stopped off at Earthquake Park. Walking down a paved train through some trees, we were instructed on how to run from a moose. Run from moose, stop from bears. The guide explained that moose can kill. An old man had walked out of a building in Anchorage days before when a moose turned the corner and barreled over him. Yes, moose also roam the streets of Anchorage. It’s a reoccurring problem as they search for food in the winter. She told us to expect to see a moose and kept checking our backs. “If you see a moose,” she instructed, “Run away from it. If it follows you, hide yourself in some trees. Moose are awkward and will have difficulty seeing how to get to you through the trees. Moose also have a short attention span. If they’re looking through the trees, they’ll likely see the lichen on the trunks and start eating. You can then walk away and they’ll have forgotten about you.” But we never saw any moose.
The park had diagrams showing the effects of the 1964 earthquake that sunk sections of earth along a fault line. The earthquake is the largest yet recorded in North America at 9.2 on the Richter scale, second just to the earthquake in Chile. Photos from the event look incredible; sections of roads just drop off into huge voids, icy ground and trees are heaved into the air in every direction, and objects are lodged into unnatural places, projectiles at the hands of the tsunami triggered by the quake. I had been wondering what had left so many pine trees dead and needless. I thought a recent disease had swept through. No, these trees have been pickled as such since 1964 when the earth drastically sunk and the salty water table reached the roots of many trees for miles along the coast. It was a bit eerie.
Looking over the sea, we could see a line of wind turbines as well as Mt. McKinley and several volcanoes in the distance. It was a good day for viewing. We got back in the van and passed through the local airport, where an incredible number of people pay exuberant amounts of money to keep their personal propeller planes. Then we ascended Flat Top Mountain. It was much less intimidating in the day. The guide couldn’t believe me when I told her we had tried to tackle it in the dark.
From Flat Top in the day, we could see all of Anchorage and beyond. I stood and took pictures and looked as long as I could, then I slowly crept back to the van and found the snacks. The only other few on the trip were mostly piled inside already, too cold to stay outside. I had no idea how I was going to survive my day, knowing I planned to do a second tour and pick up a rental to drive north. Maybe I just needed coffee. I told the guide about my plans and she said she was allowed to drop me off wherever I wanted, so she could take me to the airport to get my truck rather than have me hail a cab. I was relieved. She dropped me off last and I rushed off to Enterprise.
I texted Kelsey. They were at a store, about to come to the airport. I wanted to stay and say another goodbye, but I needed to get moving. At the rental counter, I asked the guy if the car had 4-wheel drive. I was remember Albert’s struggles in a big SUV. “No, but our trucks do,” he said. “It would be an extra $10.” I liked the idea of a car, but I knew that could be dangerous if I got stuck alone on the tundra. “I’ll take a truck then, I guess,” I said, and he made the arrangement. I was given a Dodge. It was nice, new, and grey. Spacious for one, but a lot of options for sleeping and carrying my luggage. I drove it out of a tightly woven spiral ramp, aware of the car behind me and nervous I was about to hit the wall. I wasn’t familiar with this car at all and here I was already in a tight place. I managed just fine and was suddenly thankful for having driven our own GMC and Chevy around plenty during high school. I’ve even towed our 5th-wheel with those things.
I rushed off to my hostel to park, quickly learning to drive like an aggressive Alaskan so as to live up to the expectations of my bright yellow tags. I parked the truck on the street and my stomach grumbled intensely. 40 minutes. Enough time to eat, if I rush fast. I remembered seeing a Mexican restaurant called La Cabana close to the hostel and knew I had to quench my thirst for Mexican food.
I’m always in need of Mexican. I walked quickly, found it, and was seated immediately. I ordered a cheese enchilada and was overwhelmed by the temptation of a banana margarita. It wasn’t fantastic, but it worked. I gnawed on my chips and salsa, then devoured my food when it came. The chair was unusually C-shaped, so I was slightly uncomfortable sitting in it. Two little kids in the booth beside me climbed over and kept slipping looks at me, jumping away and giggling when I looked back over and teased them. Chewing the after-meal mints, I was appalled to see that answering “Would you like guacamole too?” with a “Sure” meant I paid an extra $2 for guacamole that I didn’t even like! Imagine, guacamole in Alaska… it probably was worth a fortune to get there. I paid and raced back to my hostel just as the tour guide was calling me.