Alaska: The Outside View Bit

Alaska beckons!

Unbelievable how time flies!  It’s been nearly eight years since I was in a bar in Juneau, Alaska, ordering a particular drink for downing swiftly – and five years before then that I took a tentative sip of that potent concoction for the very first time! 

More specifically, I was in a “saloon” in Juneau.  And the favored drink was what’s known as a Duck Fart – one among many experiences in Alaska that proved a wonderfully pleasing surprise!

Bellying up to Juneau’s Red Dog Saloon!

In 2010, Juneau was one stop on a week-long cruise the folks and I took.  Forbiddingly hemmed in by water on one side and Mount Juneau on the other, Alaska’s capital is effectively an island unto itself – and it reminded me that my very earliest impression of the state had been really wrong!  There was a map on my grade school classroom wall that depicted the US portion of North America while completely (and kinda rudely) excluding the Canadian bit.  It led me briefly to believe Alaska was an island like Hawaii – one with an uncannily straight eastern side…

Okay, so now I know Alaska is not an island.  Yet I heard more than one local refer to leaving its borders as going “outside” – as if the whole state were somehow separate like on that map.  

In the 90’s, I thought I was getting to know Alaska by watching the tv series Northern Exposure.  Turns out the sweetly quirky inhabitants of Cicely were really roaming the lower 48 streets of Roslyn, Washington where the show was actually filmed.  (Read The Location, Location, Location Bit for more of my visit there and to other movie locations!)

Visiting Roslyn’s Cafe from Northern Exposure with Mum!

After being misled by both the media and the map makers, there was only one thing to do!

I got a chance to set the record straight when my recreation ice hockey team, the LA Chill, put the Alaska Fools on Ice Women’s Hockey Tournament in Anchorage on their schedule!  And one April day (hence, the tournament name), teammate Sherry and I flew out a couple days early to do some extra exploring.

From Anchorage, we skirted sparkling Turnagain Arm en route to Seward, taking in some enchantingly snow blanketed scenery on the way, and stopping to say hello to a few animals at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage.  

Alongside Turnagain Arm.

Resident of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

Once settled in Seward, Sherry and I toured the town, finding historic spots like the starting point of the storied Iditarod Trail.

Start of the Iditarod Trail.

When the rest of our team arrived, we all embarked on a brisk and beautiful boat ride!  Even though our ship’s captain explained it wasn’t yet the time of year to see whales, I thought there still could be a humpback or two that got confused and came north early (I mean, Daylight Savings is only an hour but it totally messes with me…).

Harbor at Seward.

So while it would have been more comfortable below, I opted instead to maintain a post on deck for the entire trip.  My fellow defenseman Coeli, ever willing to back me up, stayed out there too, braving the bracing breezes in hopes of being rewarded with the telltale mist from a blowhole or maybe even a breach!

Um…the feeling in our fingers, toes and faces returned later that day – but, alas, no whales did…

The intrepid Coeli – in there somewhere…

Afterwards, we found consolation (and warmth!) in a visit to Seward’s Alaska SeaLife Center where we learned a thing or two and met some cute and curious residents!

A new friend!

The team’s next stop was the Alyeska Resort about 40 miles outside Anchorage.  Here, some took off to roar around the area on snowmobiles while others (like Sherry and me) took a tram up the mountain for a sweeping view!

Above Alyeska Resort.

I’m afraid my impressions of Anchorage outside of the hockey rink will have to wait for another visit as it was all business once our team made it back.  But I didn’t have to wait long to explore other parts of Alaska!  

My cruise with the folks a few years later left from Vancouver, Canada, and included a leisurely voyage through Glacier Bay National Park for some of the most spectacular natural views I’ve ever seen!  There’s a majesty about these age-old, imperceptibly migrating glaciers – and it’s magic when you happen to catch a section’s breaking off and dropping into the water (“calving”)!

Glacier Bay National Park.

Glacier Bay National Park.

And I finally had my chance to spot whales!  This time, right from our stateroom’s balcony, I was able to see orcas prowling the icy waters!

Orcas in Glacier Bay!

Our ship also temporarily (but dramatically) increased the population of the charming city of Ketchikan!  With only a short time there, I just strolled around and took in as much of the atmosphere as I could.  

A cruise ship at Ketchikan.

I was delighted by all the totem poles that provide pops of color and culture throughout the city – reminders of the Native Americans who hunted and fished there thousands of years before the first luxury vessels with bars and buffets glided in.

Totem pole in Ketchikan.

And we cruised right up to Skagway where, in Alaska’s gold rush days, prospectors would begin journeys through the White Pass in search of fortune in the Klondike. 

Downtown Skagway.

The fortunes of the LA Chill on my first visit turned out to be good – perhaps because we found an unlikely inspirational edge!  A Seward bartender had introduced us to that Duck Fart drink which consists of equal parts whiskey, Kahlua and Bailey’s – not all that pleasing to the eye, but very warming to the tummy and an instant team favorite!  During the tournament, just before each period of play when we’d usually put our hands in and yell together something like “team” or “win”, we instead hollered “Duck Farrrt”!  Lo and behold – the Chill won its division!  Coincidence?  Maybe – but, hey, you never know.

Yes, we rose to our hockey challenge that weekend – but there were plenty of other Alaskan challenges!  Like, from that mountaintop at Alyeska, Sherry fearlessly snowboarded down.  I stuck with the more conventional tram ride back to the lodge – where it should be noted I worked on and ultimately fulfilled my personal challenge to dine on Alaskan salmon every day of the trip!  It was also an unforgettable challenge on the cruise to see how many whales I could spot from the breakfast table before I’d even had a second cup of coffee.  And there’s so much wilderness to be explored!

I did think now and again though of the less recreational and more vital challenges Alaska has posed to those who’ve called it home.

I thought of the people who’ve had to seek out whales and fish not for sport but for sustenance, and of those who rebuilt their lives after a devastating earthquake in 1964.  I thought of how in 1925, the sled run along the Iditarod Trail hadn’t been a competition but a race against time to get medicine to the diphtheria stricken residents of Nome.  Talk about challenge!

Reminder of the 1964 earthquake destruction at Portage.

True, Alaska is not the island I once childishly thought – but, to me, so much still sets it apart.  Amazingly rich in natural splendor we can simply enjoy, Alaska also seems refreshingly ready to test our limits as much as we dare.   And would I love to do more daring one day!  (Okay, still not the snowboarding but, you know, other stuff.)

In the meantime, to all the people, places and pleasures that made my two visits so special, I raise a glass in toast – this glass filled with equal parts adventure, beauty and unpredictability!

Cheers, Alaska!  And here’s hoping this “outsider” can come under your spell again!

35 comments

  1. Ha! Fun read – especially the bit about the Red Dog and Duck Fart. Been there, done that! Thanks for the memory. 😊

    1. Excellent! And my pleasure – thanks for reading!

  2. Really enjoyed this travelling tale and accompanying photos. Alaska seems surprisingly lush and I did not expect so much greenery as well as ice and glaciers.

    1. Thank you! And yes – I saw plenty of green in July and ice and snow in April! Just beautiful!

  3. Great story and all the more interesting as I spend Easter holiday in nearby British Columbia, with all its wild beauty. Thank you.

    1. I so agree with and love your comment that that area has a ‘wild beauty’! Thanks for reading!

  4. Terrific story. I have been to Alaska, but the Duck’s Fart passed me by. If I ever return I will make sure I rectify that!

    1. Do! And thanks so much for reading!

  5. Beautiful & breathtaking scenery Amy!
    Jennifer

    1. It is, indeed!

  6. Oh, amazing! I’d love to visit Alaska someday… And thanks to you, I now know what to order at the bar when I do! Super post, Amy! 😀

    1. Thanks very very much! Hope you visit Alaska – and glad to be of assistance on what to drink! 😉

  7. Alaska looks beautiful, and I’d love to visit. I think I’d pass on that Duck Fart though – I’m not much of a drinker and that combination sounds like it would do me in!

    1. Yes, Alaska is gorgeous – hope you can go see it! And fair enough on the Duck Fart – they’re definitely not for everyone (but I like ‘em!). Thanks for reading!

  8. I love that picture of the Red Dog Saloon, the colouful buildings in contrast to the mountain so close behind. I too am disappointed to hear Northern Exposure was not filmed in Alaska!

    1. Aw, sorry to disappoint… I loved that show tho and had fun strolling that ‘Cicely’ Main Street! And I loved the colors in Juneau and Ketchikan especially! Thanks for reading!

  9. I enjoyed reading this post! We took a cruise to Alaska in the summer of 2016, and I also spent some time walking around Ketchikan to see the totem poles. Did you go to the museum? We also cruised Glacier Bay NP and then added a 7-day land tour to Anchorage, Denali NP and Fairbanks.

    I also enjoyed Juneau, especially watching the salmon swimming upstream. We were supposed to see whales, but only saw half a tail!

    I think I may have eaten salmon at least half the days and also my husband caught a salmon which we had sent home. He got sick of salmon! I don’t know about the duck fart though…sounds too strong for me!

    I’d like to go back someday and hope to see whales next time!

    1. Wow, sounds like you went more in depth than I got to! Didn’t go to the museum in Ketchikan as we only had a short time in port there. Your itinerary sure makes me want to go back for more!

  10. Great adventures! Love the photos! Please keep your content coming! 🙂

    1. Thanks very much!

  11. tripmonkey · · Reply

    Great read, thank you for sharing and the stunning photos. I’ve been bit of an Alaska Blog stalker, trying to prepare for my upcoming holiday. So if you have any ‘need to know’ advice for a bunch of Aussies… please tell me haha

    1. Thanks – and glad to hear you’re going! Wish I had fantastic advice for you – what I would recommend is bringing a camera with a gigantic lens and then finding a balance between using it and putting it down just to absorb the magic! Have a wonderful time!

      1. tripmonkey · ·

        Thankyou, gigantic lense it is!

  12. I LOVE Alaska. Thanks for sharing your adventure and helping me to relive the best trip of my life. 🙂

    1. My pleasure – and thanks for reading!

  13. These photos are great – as the experience sounds it was! It’s good to have someone who’s actually been there to get some info from too! Thanks for sharing the story!

    1. It truly was special! Thanks for reading!

  14. How interesting photos in my eyes. Alaska is the place, where I would love to visit someday. Thank You for this lovely post. Have a good day!

    1. Thank you very much – and I hope you take a trip there!

  15. A nice blog about Alaska. A bit more real than my own, but it is nice you follow the adventures of Lola anyway.

    1. Thanks for reading! And Lola’s adventures are most entertaining!

  16. It is spectacular!! I am not that keen on the Duck fart though..lol!

    1. Well, I’M keen on them – but not so much on having to order them by that name…

  17. I couldn’t remember the title of this show but did remember the Doctors name. Fascinating howTV can magic up a location miles away from whet it is set!

    1. Indeed! My mom lives here in Burbank now but doesn’t like me to tell her that favorite films of hers (like ‘Casablanca’) we’re shot nearby – she’d rather enjoy the illusion. Thanks for reading!

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