Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Alaskan Clips

I went to Alaska with my dear friend Dana, who was lucky enough to have a nice little Go Pro camera with her and took a number of pretty sweet clips along our adventures. She made an awesome video of our trip and added some lovely music, and this was the result! Enjoy!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cheap Alaska?


I know, I know, I haven't blogged in forever. Mostly because I got overwhelmed with how much blogging there was to do that I just kept putting it off.


I just came back from an amazing trip in Alaska and it got me thinking about some travel tips that I feel like might have been very useful for me in the planning stages. This started with me thinking about how expensive Alaska is and how much more money we ended up spending, but then reflecting on it all and realizing that we did it the cheapest way possible.

I'll break expenses/necessities down to four categories: Food, Lodgings, Travel, & Tourism. To give you an idea of our itinerary, we landed in Anchorage and traveled up to Denali National Park for three nights and then down to Seward/Kenai National Park for three nights.

Exit Glacier from the Harding Icefield at Kenai Fjords National Park

FOOD We saved a decent amount of money by having a lot of our food with us before we left. I packed it all in my bag and brought with me instant oatmeal, instant coffee, trail mix, cliff bars, and a variety of just-add-water backpacking meals. This ended up not being enough. With all of the walking, hiking, and general burning of calories, we were snacking hardcore every day. We ended up buying a variety of chips and stuff on the go as well as treating ourselves to two or three meals out, bringing our food costs to probably around $75 per person (not including alcohol). 

When I think about that, I balk at the fact that we probably spent around that much (considering that for *two* people, my grocery budget is around $100/week), but I could easily see how someone might easily spend two or three times that amount. Preparing in advance and having a lot of our meals already planned helped a lot

We ended up also spending a fair amount of money on beer, but being as I was celebrating Dana's birthday, I didn't want to give that up. Plus, the beer in Alaska were pretty good! 

On top of Mount Healy in Denali National Park

LODGINGS We camped almost the entire time. Aside from one night in a hostel that probably could have even been avoided, we spent every night in the tent. I can't stress enough how imperative this was to our trip and how it added to our experience of Alaska. I am an outdoors lover and camping is enjoyable to me in general, so I couldn't be more excited to sleep on the floor snuggled in my sleeping bag. Because we chose this method, I believe we only spent around $100 for the both of us for accommodations our entire stay. 

I also understand that camping just simply would not be a feasible option for someone else. I can speak to the readily available hostels that were in the vicinity of the places we were in, all of them decently priced. The one we stayed at in Seward was clean and in a good location, with discounts on tours and the like. We ended up staying here because we were stubborn and refused to camp at the tent camp site by the water with a hideous view of RV's. While it was only $10/night, the disdain of staring at a bunch of campers blocking the beautiful view of the teal green water and mountains fueled us to spend and extra $15 to have a bed and a shower for the night. We ended up staying at that RV parking lot camp ground the following night with no other options, and it wasn't as bad as we anticipated. 

We stayed at Riley Creek campground at Denali, and while we were assuming to move on to another campground after the first night, we were pleasantly surprised by the privacy and general beauty of the campground that we decided to spend our entire stay there. It's a family-friendly campground with tons of space for RV's and drive-on sites, but the walk-on sites are nicely secluded from the hustle and bustle, and everyone was quite quiet and respectful. We scored a site by the creek and listened to the sound of rushing water as we went to sleep for only $14/night.

The last camp ground was by far my favorite. It was about a 15 minute walk from Exit Glacier visitor center and has beautiful, secluded sites for free. That's right-- free. There were I think 15 walk-on sites that were first come first serve and we snagged one of the spots right by the glacier run-off river. Heaven!

Harding Icefield at Kenai Fjords National Park

TRAVEL We spent the most money on getting from place to place, but we did it, I believe, in the cheapest manner possible. After finding out it was going to cost us close to $2000 to rent the car for the week (not including insurance!) we decided to take busses and shuttles everywhere. While at times it was semi-stressful, it was WORTH it. 

While we didn't get a chance to just stop by a certain spot if we thought it was pretty or pull over to a section of the road and set up camp right there (as you can), we were gifted with a wealth of information from the bus drivers. We learned so much about the wildlife, wilderness, and Alaskan culture that our solo drives would have never had taught us. We took The Park Connection the entire way-- from Anchorage to Denali, from Denali to Seward, and then from Seward back to Anchorage. All said and done, we spent around $300 per person on travel. The coach was super reliable and comfortable with bathrooms, and the drivers were even kind enough to veer off a little bit to drop us off at spots that were helpful and convenient for us. 

Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park

TOURISM Alaska flourishes off of tourism, and for good reason. The land has so much to offer its visitors that sometimes it's difficult, if not impossible to explore it without the guidance of an expert. You can do kayaking tours, ice climbing glacier tours, wildlife tours, walks with park rangers, etc. 

We took two tours and they were some of the highlights of our trip. The first one was partially a necessity. At Denali National Park, private cars can only drive up to about 15 miles into the park. The next 75 plus miles are restricted, with access only allowed by the rangers, specially granted permission of some campers and wild life photographers, and tour busses. You *could* walk or bike out without needing special permission, but we didn't have the time or equipment luxury. We chose the tour that took us to Eielson Visitor Center (mile 66) and back, which lasted about 6 hours on the bus. Our guide was excellent, informative, and generous with his stops to allow us time to view wild life. If you go to Denali and you don't take one of these tours, I feel like you might be missing half of the park. 

The second tour we took was with Kenai Fjords Tours and it was simply incredible. Not only did we view spectacular marine wildlife (including 19 humpback whales!), we got to see a unique perspective of the fjords and saw many glaciers, including an intimate visit with the Aialik glacier. We took the 6 hour tour which included lunch (they even accommodated our vegetarian needs!) and topped off the day with warm, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. Our captain was brilliant, and her narration made me feel like I was in a nature documentary.

Including the 10% discount we received for the fjords cruise, we spent about $180 on tourism.

Humpback whale tale in the Kenai Fjords National Park

When it was all said and done, I spent around $100/day in Alaska. For the all of the experiences, views, laughs, hikes, knowledge, and fun that I had, I feel like that's pretty good. If I were to do it again, I'd probably drink less beer and try and catch the Seward Bus Line to save a few bucks, but I really can't complain. I had a trip of a life time with one of my dearest friends, and I couldn't be happier for biting the bullet and doing it.

Now... to apply for jobs and start packing for our upcoming move to Seattle(!!!)!

Dana and me by Exit glacier along the Harding Icefield trail

Saturday, January 31, 2015

2015 Itinerary

Yes, I should be doing a post about my sister Kate's visit, but I'm still recuperating from my bout of sadness after she left. I'll post about her and pics from the trip soon, I promise!

To keep me in higher spirits, I've been daydreaming a lot about where I'd like to go this year and next year. A lot of it is wishful thinking, but I hope some of these trips actually pan out. Among many others, there are three trips this year that I'm sincerely hoping to initiate-- all in preparation for a larger trip for next year! And here they are:

Image via USA Today

Image via Fragments

1) A northern Californian road trip! I have many friends who have recently (or not so recently) moved to the Bay area, and I hope that Jon and I can scoot our way down that lovely coast again. I'd like to do San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Monterey and then make our way over to Pinnacles National Park (and hopefully drag a friend or six!). My ideal time frame for this trip would be May for an extended birthday celebration but we shall see! 

2) Joffre Lakes Provincial Park on the mainland in BC. My friend and I had two planned and failed trips out there (which thankfully lead to our wonderful Portland trip!), and I now have a burning motivation to see those teal lakes and snowy mountains this year. I believe it's a two night back packing trip where you hit up the two glacier run-off lakes each day. I've never seen such pristine water in my life, and am excited at the possibility! I'd like to do this soon, after the snow melts. Thinking mid-summer.

3) Mt. Albert Edward in Strathcona Provincial Park. While I've hiked several mountains, this, I believe, would be my first ascent on a *real* mountain. You know, one with snow and glaciers at the top and is part of a real mountain range. The views from the top are supposed to be lovely, and while the hike won't be easy, I hear it's a great first ascent for backpackers. So stoked! Thinking late summer.

Am I being overly ambitious for choosing all three? Maybe. Do I care? Nope. Joffre Lakes and Mt. Albert Edward could be done during long weekends, and the Californian trip would be a 7 - 10 day adventure. I feel like this is do-able. Woot!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy New Year!

Canon beach, OR

So much has happened since I last did a proper post. Halloween, two Thanksgivings, a small road trip to Portland, small hikes, big hikes, Christmas, visitors, New Years, family, friends...

One thing that has been pervasive throughout all of this is of how settled I feel here. I've been seeing a lot of friends the last few days, and trying to make new ones with some coworkers of mine, and I feel so much at peace here. I told Jon that I wanted to go somewhere new this year as my New Year resolution, but really I'm happy doing anything as long as I'm with him. 

On top of Mt Work on Christmas Day

Jack, looking sharp!

One of the biggest highlights last year was being able to host Jack, Jon's father, for Christmas. He came last year with Jon's little sister but flew solo this year. I had to work every day but Christmas and while I was initially upset at that fact, I grew to appreciate that Jon and his dad got to have daily one-on-one time. It was so nice to see family again after four months, and I'm highly anticipating my twin sister's visit in three weeks!

Ennis & Lawrence, skipping in the Japanese garden at Butchart

Sitting Lady Falls

Jon feeding bunnies on the highway median.

Peter Pan, Frida Kahlo, & Monster

October was pretty low-key. Jon and I went on a few mini-adventures to Sitting Lady Falls in Metchosin where a waterfall empties out into a lagoon (quite nice!) and there were a number of good walks around the area. We then visited the infamous bunnies on Route 17 to go feed them, only to find out that the little guys are already well taken care of! There must have been close to 50 of them (that we could see), all hopping around and looking adorable. I almost got close enough to pet one before it scampered off. 

At the end of the month I got to meet Lawrence's good friend Ennis, who I'd been in high anticipation to meet! It was great getting to know them, especially since they're moving to Victoria soon! Halloween was fun and sort of last minute. The party we went to reminded me of the ones I used to go to in Boston, but on a much smaller scale. I had missed those parties where there was a surplus of food, crazy decorations in place, and a living room cleared of furniture to give space for dancing to the loud, fun music. 

One of the many mushrooms we found-- DO NOT EAT. 

Jemma taking field notes

This sign welcomes us as we drove in the first night!

Natalie & I woke up extra early for these suckers. No regrets!

Kite flying on Canon Beach.

Lovely friends, delicious food, & good times for American Thanksgiving!

November was just lovely. It started off with a mushroom hunting expedition with a co-worker of mine and a number of her friends to find chanterelles. While we didn't find any of the famed fungus, what I did gain from that experience was knowledge and appreciation for these amazing women. While the youngest of them was still close to 30 years my senior (the oldest being in her 70's!), I was so inspired by their active lifestyles, resilient natures, and their flexibility to adjust whatever roadblocks came their way. I can only hope to vaguely resemble them in my later years.

I then got the opportunity to learn a bit about what my friend Jemma was up to during her time away in the summer up island. I knew she was studying and encouraging Western blue bird habitat and assisting in their nesting and hopefully fending off predators, but it was great to see her in action. I helped her move, document, and inspect various bird boxes around East Sooke Park, learning a lot about the ecosystem and various bird species that fluttered past us along the way. I love hiking with her-- it's always an eye-opening experience! 

The biggest trip I took during this blogging hiatus was a weekend road trip to Portland, OR! I went with my friend Natalie and it was great having that experience with someone as relaxed, curious, and adventurous as she is. I had been to Portland before when Jon and I had gotten married, but knew I wanted to see more of the city. It was great to re-experience some things with her lens, but also to see and experience other things that I hadn't had the chance to before. The best part of the trip, for me, was stopping by Canon Beach on the way back. I had been aching to go for years now, and it lived up to every expectation I had for it. We stopped by Mt St Helens for a bit afterwards (and seeing it steam from a distance!!), and then experienced some of the worst luck I've had to date with the ferries. It doesn't bear repeating now, but let's just summarize the whole thing and say that we ended up on the mainland for an unexpected extra 12 hours.

After celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving back in October, I decided that Jon and I would throw our own American Thanksgiving for all of our dear Canucks at the end of November! It ended up being a perfect storm of great food, even greater friends, and lots to be thankful for. 

Well, there you have it. The last three months of my life. I'll try not to do this again, but I say that every time, and every time the space between posts gets longer and longer...

Mt St Helens: the blown-off volcano!