Alaska – Part 2 of 2

Friday October 1st 2021

Today I woke up at around 830am, made some coffee and oatmeal, and hit the road. I drove into Denali National Park, however could only make it in about 14-15 miles before being confronted by a gate. I had read that I should have been able to go about double that distance, however the weather had turned so they had closed more of it off. That’s okay because I had ran into a guy who said that he spotted a few moose around the 10 mile marker. I spent about 2 hours here taking photos and videos of the moose. It was a very enjoyable experience!

After watching the moose I drove North towards Healy where I ate a meat lovers pizza at the Totem Inn. There was a snowfall warning in effect and the weather was starting to turn, so I decided to end my cabin adventures a day early and drive back to Anchorage.

On the drive back to Alaska I came across an abandoned building called Igloo City. The building was originally constructed in the late 1970’s by Leon Smith. He envisioned it as a hotel, however it was never completed because of code violations, and lack of funds. The windows were undersized, and there were not enough emergency exits. The building exterior is constructed of nearly 900 sheets of plywood with a urethane coating. There’s also a gas station here, that closed down many years ago. The building was recently up for sale for only $300,000 USD, however there are no takers.

When I arrived in Anchorage I drove to a popular lookout point of the entire city, which was absolutely beautiful. You could see airplanes taking off from both Anchorage Ted Stevens International Airport, and Merrill Field. I even caught a glimpse of an old FedEx MD-11 Freighter.

After enjoying the viewpoint I drove into downtown Anchorage and took some pictures of a few signature architectural gems including the Gaslight Bar, Holy Family Cathedral, Fourth Avenue Theatre, Federal Building, and Wendler Building.

The Holy Family Cathedral is an Art Deco style church built between 1946 and 1948. A fun fact about the church is that Pope John Paul II visited the church in 1981, and attracted a crowd of over 80,000 people.

The Fourth Avenue Theatre, also known as the Lathrop Building, is an Art Deco style building that was built between 1941 and 1947. It took so long to complete because World War 2 put a halt to it. The building has served as a 960 seat theatre until the 1980’s, as well as a television station, restaurant, a penthouse apartment, banquet facility, and now sadly lies in disrepair.

The Federal Building is an Art Deco style government building built between 1939 and 1940. The most distinctive features of the concrete building are the tall, vertical window units that visually add height to the low mass of the structure. Numerous exterior changes have occurring including the original steel window systems being replaced with aluminum-clad wood systems with wider muntins and mullions than originally designed. The original entrance doors have been replaced with dark bronze aluminum doors that do not match the original design. The original bronze stair handrails have been replaced with painted steel handrails of a modern utilitarian design.

The Wendler Building was built in 1915 by Tony and Florence Wendler, and is the oldest commercial building in Anchorage. The building was originally built elsewhere, but moved to its present location in 1985. It was used by the Wendlers as a store until 1925, then converted to a boarding house, then a club, and now a store front.

After exploring downtown Anchorage I checked-in to my accommodation for the night; Aptel Studio, which was a large kitchenette style apartment. After checking in I drove to the nearby Resolution Brewing Company, and had some of their beers. They had Belgian style beers, however I thought they were quite mediocre. After having the beers I had some Vietnamese soup, and picked up some bear spray from Bass Pro Shop for some hikes in the coming days, before heading back to the hotel for the evening to write my blog and edit my photos.

Saturday October 2nd 2021

Today I had to get a covid test for my return flight home, so I drove to the hospital parking lot, where I was told I could get a free test. Turns out they were only the rapid tests, so I had to drive to the airport to get the test. At the airport I was notified that they only issued TMA tests, because there was a shortage on PCR tests. This was fine with me, as I cross referenced with the Canadian Government website, and they said it was okay.

After getting my covid test I picked up a breakfast burrito from a delicious burrito from Burrito Factory, which is oddly positioned in the middle of a Chevron gas station. Next, I drove towards Seward, with a few stops including Potter Section House, and Exit Glacier. Potter Section House is a historic site featuring a restored house and buildings that were a part of a railroad section camp that maintained a section of the Anchorage-Seward railway. There’s a large train snow blower at the site as well.

I continued the 1.5 hour drive to Exit Glacier, stopping numerous times to take photos of the beautiful scenery.

Exit Glacier is located in Kenair Fjords National Park, and is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska. It is rapidly retreating, having retreated approximately 187 feet (57 metres) in just one year (2013 to 2014). It received its name for serving as the exit for the first recorded crossing of the Harding Icefield in 1968.

After visiting Exit Glacier it was time to grab some lunch, so I stopped at Chartermark Seward. The fish and chips were excellent, however there could be some improvements made including letting people seat themselves, rather than wait 20-30 minutes to be seated when there was plenty of available tables. The staff were super friendly, however were overworked.

After lunch I drove south towards Tonsina Creek, where I completed a 1.5 hour hike to where Salmon were trying to swim up stream. It was neat to see, however the optimal time was about 2 weeks ago. There was a lot of dead Salmon there from failing their journey.

After completing the hike I drove around town looking at all the murals, before checking into my accommodation at Trailhead Lodging. I had about 3 hours of work I needed to do, so I spent the rest of the evening working.

Sunday October 3rd 2021

Today was my last full day in Alaska. I woke up around 7am, drove to Safeway to pickup a sandwich for lunch, and pickup my breakfast and coffee from the Starbucks inside. I drove about an hour towards the Portage Pass trailhead. To get to the glacier you need to pay a $13 USD toll to travel through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which passes under Maynard Mountain.

The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is very unique as it allows cars and trains to pass through it, but only single file (also known as bimodal). The tunnel is 13,300 feet (4100 metres) long, and is the longest highway tunnel, and longest bimodal tunnel in North America. The tunnel was originally excavated between 1941-1942, and was only originally used as rail, however was upgraded for bimodal use between 1998 and 2000. Traffic direction alternates every half hour.

Upon arriving at the Portage Pass trailhead I had to do some pretty severe off-roading for about half a mile, as the road was washed out. The hike took me about 1.75 hours, however I have to admit I only completed about 80 percent of the hike as I was having to bushwhack a lot towards the end due to a storm the previous day. I’m convinced the best view was at the top anyways.

After completing the hike I ate my sandwich in the truck, while waiting 20 minutes at the tunnel to drive back through it. Next stop was the Alaska Aviation Museum, where I nerded out quite a bit. On display was a rich history on how aviation came to be in Alaska, including history on how some of the airlines came and went. There was also an old Alaskan Airlines Boeing 737-200 on display.

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After exploring the museum I quickly stopped at Anchorage Depot to snap a photo. Anchorage Depot, is an Art Deco style building that was built in 1942. It was enlarged in 1948.

It was dinner time at this point in time, so I stopped at a Vietnamese place for some Pho, before trying to check-in to my hotel; the Merrill Field Inn. Unfortunately the hotel was completely not as advertised. When I pulled into the parking lot at the Merrill Field Inn I know that I wasn’t going to be staying there because it looked really gross, and there was a bunch of people leaning over balconies smoking and drinking. It looked like a trailer trash place, and nothing similar to the photos online. Regardless, I obtained a key, and when I opened the door of the room it smelled quite badly of cheap air freshener, and there was a cigarette on the floor. I went back downstairs and asked for a refund, and booked myself in at the Clarion Suites, which was much better.

Again I had quite a bit of work to do this evening so I worked for a few hours, and was getting hungry again so I ordered a Hawaiian pizza from Flattop Pizza. I continued working, and went to bed at around 10pm, as I had an early day ahead of me.

Monday October 4th 2021

Today it was time to fly home. I had to wake up at 3am, as my first flight was around 6am. I dropped off the truck, and went to check-in at a counter, since I was unable to online because they want to do document checks to ensure I had my negative covid test. When I went to check-in the agent had an issue with my paperwork because I had gotten a TMA test, which was still an accepted form of test. The reason I had gotten a TMA test is that Anchorage had a shortage of PCR tests. After politely negotiating with her, and two other supervisors they let me have my tickets. It’s frustrating that the Delta system says something completely different than the Government of Canada website.

After obtaining my tickets I went and purchased an Egg McMuffin and coffee from McDonald’s to eat while I was waiting to board my flight. First flight was a Delta Airlines Boeing 757-200 from Anchorage to Minneapolis. In Minneapolis there was a 4 hour layover, where I thought I could stay in a lounge for a bit, however the lounges that I was eligible for were all closed. I decided to eat a Rueben sandwich, fries, salad, and a beer at Twins Grill. The food was excellent. I ended up passing the time by chatting with a few people on the phone, and watching a movie named Percy, which is about the Saskatchewan farmer who went up against Monsanto in a lawsuit against seed patents.

The next flight was on a Delta Airlines Embraer E175, one of my favorite commute jets to fly on since the seating arrangement is only 2×2. I arrived around 9pm in Calgary, and my Dad picked me up from the airport. This time I had no issues at Canadian customs, like I did when I came back from Iceland about a month ago.

Be sure to check back soon, as I have a few more hiking related posts, and then I’m off to Europe for a few weeks to explore Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Estonia, and Finland.

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Alaska – Part 1 of 2

This week I had the privilege of being able to travel to the wonderful state of Alaska. It’s currently off-season so prices were fairly reasonable. Before I dive into my trip lets explore a brief history of Alaska.

Alaska was occupied by various indigenous people for thousands of years before the Russians arrived in the 18th century, eventually establishing the Russian America. In 1867 the United States purchased the land for $7.2 million. It was officially admitted as the 49th U.S. State in 1959. Over two dozen native languages are spoken in Alaska. Another fun fact is that Alaska’s per capita income is one of the highest in the entirety of the United States, due to its diversified economy, which includes fishing, natural gas, oil, and tourism.

Tuesday September 28th 2021

My trip started out in Calgary on Tuesday September 28th 2021 at 2pm. I flew with Delta Airlines on an Airbus A319 to Minneapolis, had a 40 minute layover, and then flew on a Boeing 757-200 to Anchorage.

After arriving at Anchorage airport I went and picked up my rental vehicle from Budget Rental Cars. I was given a 2021 Dodge Ram Bighorn. When I was exiting the parking lot I noticed a sign that said “No Liability for Damage Incurred Beyond This Point”, which I have not noticed before at a rental car facilities, although I may just not have been that observant in the past. Within 10 seconds I realized why that sign was there, as the exit was 3 floors below a very tight curved ramp, that I had to make multiple 3 point turns on just to get around the bend due to the long turning radius of the truck. You could see scrapes all up and down the walls of the ramp from others; hence the need for the sign.

The drive to my hotel, the Best Western Lake Lucille Inn, was about an hours drive away. On my way I stopped at Walmart to try to find Bear Spray, however they were out. While I was at the Walmart I picked up some cheese, pepperoni, and crackers for lunch for the following day.

Upon arriving at the hotel there was nobody there to give me a keycard. I searched all around the hotel, however couldn’t find a staff member. About 15 minutes later she emerged from a hotel room, all hot and bothered, so god knows what was going on in there. She gave me the keys to my room, and I went and quickly showered before heading to bed, as it was quite late.

Wednesday September 29th 2021

The next day I woke up around 7am, got dressed, and went downstairs for a hot complimentary breakfast, which included sausages, potatoe wedges, and an omelet. It was acceptable for a hotel breakfast.

After having breakfast I had an hour phone call with a customer before checking out. After checking out I walked out on the dock and took a view across the lake. The lake was very calm, and the sky was beautiful. You could see the mountains in the background. What a peaceful place to stay; it’s too bad I didn’t have more time to enjoy it.

I hopped in the truck and headed towards my first stop; Hatcher Pass. It’s a long windy steep road to the top. At the top it was blocked off for the season already, as it had already snowed a fair amount just a few miles ahead. I stopped the truck and took a few photos. What a neat area!

Next stop was Matanuska Glacier View, although I made a few stops along the way to take pictures of the scenery along the Matanuska River.

Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier in the United States that is accessible by car; spanning 27 miles (43 kilometres) long and 4 miles (6.4 kilometres) wide. The glacier moves over 1 foot per day, and feeds the Matanuska River.

I continued to drive east towards Glennallen, where I filled up with fuel, and purchased a coffee, before turning North towards Castner Glacier Ice Cave. On the drive North I took a couple of really pretty shots of the Wrangell Mountains to the east.

After a couple hours driving North I arrived at the Castner Glacier Ice Cave trailhead. The last 10 minutes of the drive was quite slippery, so I had to slow my pace a fair amount.

The hike to the cave was about 25 minutes. The trail had about 4 inchs of snow off to the side, but the trail itself was quick packed. It was mostly flat, with a few hills, one which I accidentally slipped and fell on my back, which caused me to wind myself for a bit. I heard a crack when I feel, but I felt okay besides being winded.

The cave was certainly stunning. I would say the cave is atleast 200 metres deep. Inside you’re surrounded by 360 degree views of turquoise blue ice with rocks and air bubbles embedded inside.

After enjoying some time at the cave taking pictures I head back towards the truck, and was much more careful on the hilly sections, as I didn’t want to fall again.

Next stop was my cabin located near Cantwell, about a 3 hour drive away. This involved a very unique journey along the Old Denali Highway (Highway 8). The highway was first opened in 1957, and was teh first road to offer access to Denali National Park. The Denali Highway is 135 miles (217 kilometres) in length, and is mostly unpaved, and has a lot of washboarded. The recommended speed limit is only 30 mph (48 km/h), however I was honestly able to do about 45 mph (72 kp/h) because a foot of snow had recently fell along the majority of the highway, which helped fill in the washboarding. The first 21 miles (34km) are paved, and I was able to maintain 65 mph (105 kph), however when I started running into the snow I slowed down to 45 mph (72 kp/h). The views along the road were simply stunning, and I had it all to myself. There was only one other person I ran into along the highway. I’m extremely glad that I had my truck for this trip, as I don’t even think an SUV would have been able to make it through with the wintery conditions. During the summer I think a mid-size SUV could make it, however I would be hesitant to take a car on it, although I know of someone with a 1967 Mustang who completed the journey, albeit at less than 20 mph (30 kp/h). Winter travel is severly discouraged, and many people have lost their lives on this road in winter.

Before checking into my cabin I stopped at a nearby truck stop to fuel up, and have a quick shower. I was quite impressed with the quality of the facilities, and the shower was only $5!

My cabin was a cozy 8 foot by 10 foot wood structure that featured a small kitchen, propane stove, wood stove, and a shower. There was an outhouse outside. I should have had access to the shower and electricity, however the previous tenant made a mistake and had left early, as well as shut off the propane stove, so the water pipes burst, which also took out the power supply. It was okay, as my host offered me a 10% refund of what I paid, and I survived just fine. While at the cabin I had quite a bit of work to catch up on, so I tethered my phone to my laptop and worked for a few hours, before calling it a night.

Thursday September 30th 2021

I slept very well, and found the bed quite comfortable. Today I had a lazy start to my day, as it was a much more relaxed day, with less driving. I woke up around 830am, made some coffee and oatmeal, which were both provided at the cabin. I left the cabin at around 9am.

First stop was Hurricane Gulch Bridge, a steel arch bridge spanning nearly 500 feet long, and 254 feet anove Hurricane Creek. There’s also an identically named railroad bridge that is more than 900 feet long, and 296 feet above Hurricane Creek. That particular bridge is the longest and tallest on the entire Alaska Railroad, and for 8 years was the largest bridge in the United States, before being surpassed.

Next stop was the North Denali Overlook, where I took a few pictures, and had a 1 hour work meeting over MS Teams.

After my meeting I drove to South Denali Overlook. All I can say is WOW! This spot offers spectacular views of the three tallest peaks in Denali, and today was such a stunningly clear day.

After taking in the views of South Denali Overlook I drove to West Rib Pub & Grill in Talkeetna. I had a delicious caribou burger and battered fried, as well as a few beers. During my lunch I chatted with a young couple named Kim and Sean, both of whom are pilots and had just moved here from Maine. They were a really kind couple and we chatted for probably over an hour.

Next up was the primary reason why i came to Alaska; a flight over Denali National Park. I chose to fly with K2 Aviation on a DHC-3T Turbo Otter, that was retrofitted with a PT6 gas-turbine. Our plane was built in 1961 and had 18913 flight hours. These planes are the workhorses of the North!

The flight lasted 2 hours, flying over the Talkeetna River, around the Denali’s, and featured a landing on Ruth Glacier.

Following the amazing scenic flight I grabbed a bite to eat from Denali Brewpub. My server Matty recommended that i have a pretzel ribeye sandwich with provelone. Oh my gosh was it amazing. I chased it with a really nice sour beer, which I’m becoming more of a fan of these days.

Following dinner it was time to start the 2.5 hour trip back to the cabin. During my drive I chatted on the phone with a few people, which helped make the trip go by faster. I arrived back at the cabin around 830pm.

Tonight was forecasted to have an Aurora, and Lady Aurora certainly didn’t disappoint. She showed herself in her full glory, peaking at a KP5. I watched her for a few hours before heading to bed at around midnight.

Be sure to check soon, as part 2 of this series will release soon!

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2018-03-20 – Heading Home!

Today I woke up naturally at about 8:30am. I took the complimentary shuttle back to the airport. It was time to scope out some breakfast as I hadn’t eaten yet. After some McDonald’s and Starbucks (only choices available) I explored Charles De Gaulle Terminal 1. Terminal 1, an avant-garde style building, was designed by Paul Andreu, and was built in the image of an octopus. It has a circular terminal building which contains the check-in counters, baggage claim conveyors, and a few restaurants. There are also passages between the third, fourth and fifth floors with a tangled web of escalators arrange through the center of the building. The escalators are suspended over the central courtyard and each one is covered with a transparent tube. It has seven satellites (tentacles) with boarding gates that are connected to the central building by underground walkways. I did not take the overhead photo. Credits for the overhead photo go to (www.adp-i.com).
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On my first flight I had an empty seat next to me, but there was a very nice gentleman I believe was named Joshua situated next to the window. He’s from the Minneapolis area in the United States and had previously served in the United States Military. We talked the entire flight which helped make the flight go by faster.

There was a quick layover in Reykjavik before my second flight to Vancouver. The second flight went by pretty quickly too despite it being 7.5 hours long; perhaps Top Gear episodes, a comfortable business class seat, and free Wi-Fi helped!

There was a two hour layover before boarding my final flight home to Calgary. My friend Myriam, who works for Air Canada as a flight attendant happened to also be in Vancouver so we visited during my layover. The flight home was a bit delayed because the ground handling staff accidentally pulled the ground power which shut down the entire plane because the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) wasn’t running. I was exhausted by the time I got home so I went straight to bed.

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2018-03-09 – Paris Bound!!!

This blog post is going to be a bit of a nerdout session for my fellow aviation enthusiasts. I’m on my way to Paris and chose to fly Icelandair this time, namely because they had a smoking hot deal on flights ($602 including taxes, roundtrip in Business Class ($1 upgrade)), and secondly because this will probably be the last time I fly on a Boeing 757 (they’re nearing extinction), my second favorite airplane behind the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

I’m actually cruising right now at 35000 feet over the middle of the ocean on my way from Vancouver to Reykjavík. I just finished a fantastic steak dinner with some delicious Icelandic beer! Icelandair prides themselves with quality service, gate to gate wifi, and friendly staff. They charge a fraction of what the big guys charge for flights to Europe, allow up to a 7 day pitstop in Iceland free of charge, and their seats are just as comfortable in Economy Class, and almost as comfortable in Business Class.

Why is the Boeing 757 my favorite aircraft? A few things; one being that it is quite stunning of an aircraft to look at, the interior is spacious, and the cabin is very comfortable. It has that big aircraft feel, without actually being a widebody aircraft. I also absolutely love the sound of the Rolls Royce RB211 engines, especially when they’re spooled up for takeoff. They sound powerful and agressive.

The Boeing 757 dates all the way back to 1981, before I was even born. It was designed and produced alongside Boeing’s larger sister plane, the Boeing 767. The two airplanes were jointly designed to reduce costs, and both were Boeing’s first two-crew memeber class cockpit airplane. Having two crew-member’s instead of three would shave running costs down significantly. The Boeing 767 was an immediate success with airlines because it had the passenger carrying capabilities, the size, and the range that airlines needed. It could fly short haul and long haul routes. The Boeing 757’s potential wasn’t realized until much later on. Sales were fairly slow until the early 1990’s and then all dried up by 2005. Boeing stopped production this year, with 1049 being built. Overall though it was considered a successful project.

So why wasn’t it’s potential realized until later on? It was a narrow body airliner with two engines and impressive range (nearly 4000 nautical miles), so on paper it seemed great, but there was one catch. When the airplane was first concieved the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) didn’t allow for anything less than three engines to be more than 120 minutes away from land, forcing airlines to take the long way round when hoping the ocean, and this wasn’t good for their bottom line. In fact most Boeing 757’s ended up being run on only domestic runs for the first eight years of their life, with few ever making Transatlantic or Transpacific flights.

That all changed in 1988 when the FAA allowed 180 minute ETOPS (Extended Operations) for twin-engined airplanes. The Boeing 757 sales started picking up, but the potential of this airliner was still not recognized. It wasn’t until the late 2000’s that airlines started to realize the potential of this airline on long and thin routes. All the other airliners were either too big, or didn’t have the range required to do long Transatlantic and Transpacific flights, but the Boeing 757 was perfect to produce a profit on these routes.

The problem now is that many of these airframes are over 30 years old and many airframes are at the age where they have to be retired. There is no direct replacement for the Boeing 757 at the moment. The Airbus A321LR and the Boeing 737 MAX 10 barely have the same range and the same capacity, but they’re missing a few key components; engine power, cargo capacity, large cargo container handling, comfort, etc. This is leaving many airlines pushing the life of these Boeing 757’s even further, with some airlines saying they’re going to run them for atleast another 10 years. This will make some nearly 40 years old when they retire.

Boeing or Airbus need to get the ball rolling on a replacement for the Boeing 757, and fast. It’s estimated another 4000 airframes will be required in the next 20 years to fill the gap the Boeing 757 will be leaving, and the ever growing market is requiring. My heart is with Boeing aircraft, so I hope Boeing comes up with a solution that’s better than Airbus’s solution, and quicker!

Stay tuned for my next blog post, which I’ll be writing about my first days experiences in Paris.

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