To start off this trip, we had to fly to Toronto to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Seattle before we made our way to Anchorage. I guess there are more direct flights out of Seattle to Anchorage, Alaska. We arrived around 1030PM where Kenny and Ryan were waiting for us. We walked out to arrivals and found a SUV that had the We the North flag hanging from it (Raptors won the Championship in Game 7!).
We went to the hostel – Arctic Adventure Hostel – to drop off our things and headed to Walmart (open 24hr) to stock up on sustenance for the next few days before finding a late night place to eat and have a drink. We ended up at 49th State Brewing Co. 49th State Brewing sits on a corner of a sloped street that also has 2 levels of outdoor patio with heaters and a beautiful uninterrupted view of the waters. We got a table with a live fire going to keep us warm but also in visible sight of the beautiful sun “setting”. Since Kenny and Ryan had arrived earlier, Merle and myself ate while we all drank some local beer and cheers to arriving to Alaska, the start of our adventure and Kenny reaching his 50th state.
I ordered the Baked Alaska Ale and the Elk Crossing 10” pizza (Elk Meatballs) – roughly $24USD (after tax & tip). We left the bar around 130AM and the sun was pleasantly still up as we drove home. Surprisingly, many people were still out and about. Summer is similar to Iceland where the sun rises at 430AM and “sets” (really just sits on the horizon) at 1130PM.
Since we were all coming from different parts of North America, we decided to sleep in a bit and start our day later. I routinely keep waking up for 7/8AM Toronto time so even though we went to bed around 230AM Alaskan time, I still awoke at 4AM. We ended up leaving around 930-10AM. First stop, Kaladi Brothers – We got reindeer breakfast burritos and they got cold brew coffee. According to many blogs I read, the highway going to Seward is the #1 scenic highway in USA. It definitely had some beautiful spots but I wouldn’t quite say it was the best I’ve seen in my travels. It was a pleasant drive nonetheless.
One of Kenny’s friends mentioned detouring to a small town called Whittier. Whittier has the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America. This tunnel lets to a small inlet town of Prince William Sound. This tunnel is a one-way tunnel that is shared by both cars and trains. It costs $13USD to go through and there are scheduled release times to allow traffic to go through smoothly. There are also restrooms available as you wait for your number to get the go ahead to go through.
One the other side in is Prince William Sound, a small inlet. There are a few waterfalls and also a bunker that use to hold many things. It was an interesting experience but if you have little time, I would suggest skipping it.
After this detour, we finally made it back on the road and enroute to Seward – Kenai Fjords National Park to do the Harding Icefield Trail. Parking is free and the visitor centre was open and restrooms available. The map shows you the trails you can take and also helpful tips if you were to interact with wildlife such as bears or moose. BUG SPRAY IS KEY!
We started our hike of the Harding Icefield Trail at the Exit Glacier. If you want to complete the entire trail to the top, it will be roughly a 6-8 hour hike. We arrived around 3-330PM and decided to hike to Marmot Meadows viewpoint. Reading all the comments of this hike, it was highly recommended to get hiking poles. The 3 of them had hiking poles but I decided to opt out of them. There are parts where it gets a little steep but for the most part, I was ok without them. I have to note as well that I guess I am slightly more athletic than the average person so if in doubt, get poles if you worry. Marmot Meadows viewpoint was a stunner. You get a good look at the glacier and the valley. The next point after Marmot Meadows, we attempted to goto since it would only be about an hour and we had made good time however, it got to the point where the trail was just covered in snow and me without poles, wasn’t the safest of options. Ryan and Kenny continued up while Merle and myself wait at Marmot Meadows for them. The hike down was rather quick (at least for me). I do recommend trying to go further if you can, the view just 10 minutes past Marmot Meadows I think has a better view than what you see at the Marmot Meadows lookout.
By the time we made it to the bottom, we did the smaller viewpoint loop to the bottom of the glacier.
We left the park and decided to look for dinner in town before driving back to Anchorage. We found a cool little place called Thorn’s Showcase Lounge. We all ordered a cup of seafood or clam chowder and shared some halibut butts (bites) and 2lb steamer clams in garlic butter. Delicious!
The good thing about this time of year is that the sun was still up and bright as we drove back and by the time we arrive back around 1230AM, they sun was right on the horizon and calming.
Back in November 2018, I applied for this travel experiment called Yuujou. It was an open call to people from all over the world. I made top 10 out of 30 000 applicants however top 5 were chosen to go on this 100 day adventure. Yuujou is a travel experiment that would push the limits of 6 travellers by making real life connections. Starting out in Berlin, the 6 travellers (split into 2 groups of 3) have 100 days to get to Tokyo but only travelling through friends of friends.
The best thing about going through this whole Yuujou process were the friendships I made. Yes, the connections for the most part are digital but they have expanded into the real world. On my last trip to Turkey, I was able to meet a new friend Jide in Istanbul who is apart of the Yuujou community.
This Alaska trip was an idea that was sparked between myself and 2 other Yuujou friends. Kenny from Wisconsin and Kat from Rhode Island who became my friends early on in the application process and we had supported each other to the very end. Since none of us got chosen for the Yuujou adventure, we all had other plans for the rest of the year. Kenny decided to start his own documentary journey. Kenny embarked on a 5-month road trip through a big portion of the United States. During our exchanges of updates on life, he told us that Alaska would be his 50th state to visit and both Kat and myself jumped at the idea that we join him and do our own Yuujou adventure. This idea became a reality but unfortunately, Kat was unable to join us. We opened up this trip to our network of friends and for this 6-day adventure. We tried very hard to accommodate everyone’s schedules but in the end, had a pretty good mix of 5 people coming together to explore Alaska.
Kenny’s friends Kushaan from San Francisco, Ryan from Toronto and my friend and old Varsity Badminton teammate Merle from Toronto (who I had only seen once or twice in 12 years prior to this trip).
Many people who go to Alaska tend to do Alaskan cruises but we opted to inland. Our original itinerary consisted of meeting in Anchorage (4 of us) and driving south to Seward to hike at Kenai Fjords, then driving North to Fairbanks and spending 2 days exploring and hiking Denali National Park. Obviously plans change so this itinerary reflects the original plans. If I could change the itinerary after going on this trip, I would have taken out visiting Fairbanks and spent more time exploring Seward and that area. We spent way too much time in the car for my liking.
Alaska is the place where retirees go to experience the outdoors outside (aurora borealis, fishing, nature, hiking, glaciers) unlike Florida where people go to retire on a beach.
-Note that for the month of June in Alaska, the sunrises at 430AM and sets at 1130PM which means tons of light but unfortunately no sights of the Aurora Borealis.
-With the extended hours of light, you don’t have to worry about hiking in the dark however, keep note of the timing especially if you have a lot of driving to do or looking for dinner options as many places close at 10PM or earlier on weekends.
-The temperature for the most part was a low of 8-11C with a high of 18-26C.
-When it says it will rain, we found that it would be sporadic and not last too long. Wait 15 minutes and the weather changes. I brought my rain jacket and wore it for a total of 10 minutes before I got too hot while hiking.
-The weather gets more warm the further inland you go.
-Tons of Mosquitoes – DEET UP!
There are tons of drive-through container coffee/espresso stalls all over Alaska – in town and also on the side of the highways.
Alaska is quite the melting pot of cultures that spans decades. Russian, Japanese, African, Chinese,Filipino etc.
– Hiking poles can come in handy – you can buy at Walmart for $20 or check out Goodwill/Salvation Army. They are not accepted as carry-on items.
– Bear Spray – If you are hiking, it is recommended to carry bear spray – $30USD – can be bought at Walmart but also know it cannot be returned. Make sure to cut off the yellow tie on it. We originally decided against it but another customer in the store suggested it. If you don’t use it and it can’t be returned, you can donate it to your hostel or to Park Rangers.
-Another technique we saw was that people would wear bells to make a discreet noise while they hiked.
*Remember – Black bears – try to be loud and talk them down and run.
Brown bears – play dead
-Reindeer is very popular meat being served.
Now onto the itinerary!
This is the itinerary I had going into the trip. As trips go, they never go as planned.
We drove back East towards Vik and the area we drove the day before. The fog got really thick that the car behind was tail gating so close and you just couldn’t see in front of you. We were literally driving through the clouds for a bit.
3-4 hour drive from our place to Skaftafell. We arrived at Skaftafellsjokull at 1245PM as Ricky sped. Good thing the GPS tells you when a speed trap appears as we were going 140KM in a 90KM highway (so lucky we didn’t get caught). We walked Skaftafell – Vatnajökull National Park Iceland – Skaftafell glacier which in total was a 4KM walk. Ricky climbed on a glacier and got to a point where he had turn back or we might not have seen him again. It’s surreal out there. We drove back to Vik and ate at Halldorskaffi again. I had the 9 inch tramp pizza which was Icelandic cheese, ham and pineapple for 1800kr. The dairy here is so fresh and so good. Ricky continued the drive back which seemed a little gruelling. We went for hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu and that is a must for anyone who visits. It’s the cheapest food you could purchase in Iceland and is so good and that is probably because unlike the hot dogs back home, these ones are made of lamb making them more flavourful. It’s only 380kr and you need to try it with everything on it. There is one stall open late by the fish market restaurant in downtown Reykjavik.
I enjoyed going to Skaftafell but would it have been worth it to have done geysir, gullfoss and hekla today instead? It was such a drive and I commend Ricky fit driving the whole thing.
NOTE- Better to book multiple locations for accommodation around the island so you don’t waste time back tracking and driving.
9 degrees celsius out. We booked Blue Lagoon and did the experience premium for 92 Euro that includes visitor entry, blue lagoon entry, slippers, robe, towel, meal at lava restaurant (or other option is a massage) plus a skin care trial pack and algae mask.
We arrived to only two coach buses and a few cars so it actually wasn’t too packed. They give you a wristband that acts as your locker lock, credit and whatnot. It opens and closes your locker with a simple tap. It was raining a bit and was quite windy. The water is heated by the power plant. It’s a milky blue water with steam. We got in and in the far left corner there are bins where you can get the silicone mud masks. You scoop it out and smear it on your face and leave for 10-15 minutes. As part of the package we received, we also grabbed a drink from the water bar and i choose a nice gull lager. We also have as part or package the algae mask which is frozen and you activate in by dunking it in the water then rubbing your face with it. The water is very easy to float in but it’s chilly when you step out. There is also a waterfall as well as a steam and sauna room. They also offered massage service in the water. We stayed in for about two hours before we went for lunch at their restaurant. The restaurant is called Lava and our package included the set menu of two courses or you can opt to add at additional cost. I got the Icelandic menu which had torched salmon with apple, horseradish, smoked onion and watercress. The main, I got was the fried rack of lamb and shoulder with sun artichoke, grapes, almonds, pickled red onion and chives. This meal would have been 5100kr outside of our package deal. This meal was phenomenal.
We showered and drove back to our Airbnb to await our host’s brother again to drop us off at the airport for our flight back home to Toronto.
To end off, Prague was the best city because it was perfect weather, cheap but good quality and quantity for food. I regret not going to La Degustation Boheme for that 6-10 course meal. Zurich was beautiful and I would love to live there. But the best day of the entire trip was probably first full day in Iceland – Driving, waterfall, waterfall, glacier, lamb sandwich and 6 course meal.