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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Spring Update – Hiking, Yurt Camping, a New Puppy, and a Wedding

It’s been a while since I last posted here so I figured it was time to give an update as to what I’ve been up to.

Maligne Canyon Hike

Julie and I took a trip up to Jasper at the end of January to hike along the bottom of Maligne Canyon. This has been a bucket list item for me for many year, and I’m glad that I finally got to do it. The hike is only 15 minutes outside of Jasper and starts at the parking lot that you access the “Fifth Bridge”. From there you cross the bridge, follow the trail east, until you see a gate in the fence beside “Bridal Veil” waterfall. The waterfall is stunning to view, and a fun fact is that it never freezes, even in the middle of winter, as the temperature of the water never drops below 0°C. After viewing the beautiful waterfall you have two choices; you can either walk along the riverbed, and go up the little rock slide, or you can continue on the path and enter 200 metres further along the path. We chose to enter the difficult way, up the slide. From there you continue walking along the frozen riverbed and take in the amazing views.

During that weekend we also drove up to Pyramid Lake during the evenings in hope of trying to view the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights were unfortunately not active, however I was able to take some beautiful long-exposure pictures.

On the way back we also stopped at Abraham Lake, a place we visited for the first time last year. This year was much better, as there were even more trapped methane bubbles!

Work

In February and March I had to take two trips up to Red Deer for work to do some photography, which was fun. Our company was involved in the detailed design of a pharmaceutical grade ethanol production facility, and I went up to take pictures and video of the installation of the large distillation towers.

A New Puppy

In February we picked up a new dog named Ruby. She’s the same breed as our previous dog Grady; a wheaten terrier / poodle cross. She’s been an incredible delight to have in my life, despite being a terrorist at times. She recently just turned 6 months old.

Inner City Walks

In the spring we ended up going on quite a few inner-city walks with my dad, and occasionally Julie on the weekends.

Radius Yurts – Radium, British Columbia

At the end of March we drove out to Radium and stayed at the Radius Yurts for the weekend. That was incredibly fun, and I’d definitely do it again. I’ve always wanted to stay in a yurt, and this was a lot more convenient that going all the way to Mongolia to stay in one. One thing we learned was to travel substantially light than we did, because it was quite the walk to our yurt. While we were there we went on a nice long hike around the property, which lasted about 3 hours. There was some incredible views of the Bugaboo’s at the top of the property.

Hiking – Tunnel Mountain Hoodoo’s Trail, Chester Lake, Blackshale Suspension Bridge

At the end of April my father and I did a father-son trip out to Canmore for the weekend. We completed three hikes during the weekend; Tunnel Mountain Hoodoo’s Trail, Chester Lake, and Blackshale Suspension Bridge.

Tunnel Mountain Hoodoo’s Trail is a 7.7 kilometer trail located just outside of Banff, which provides beautiful views of the mountains, and a waterfall, however dad nor I saw the waterfall.

Chester Lake in the winter is simply stunning! This is my third time completing Chester Lake in the last 12 months, and it is significantly different in winter than in the spring, summer, or fall. The trail used in winter is quite a bit steeper than the one used during the other three seasons and is in a more forested area.

Blackshale Suspension Bridge is located high above Blackshale Creek, located along the Smith-Dorrien Trail. The hike takes just over 15 minutes to reach the bridge.

Sara & Tom’s Wedding

On May 1st I got to see my close friend Sara get married to her partner Tom. It was such an incredible experience to be able to photograph their wedding, which was held at Brentview Baptist Church.

Following the wedding we drove out to Banff to take photos at the Banff View Point located on the windy Mt. Norquay Scenic Road. We lucked out with our arrival, as the weather on the drive was extremely rainy, however when we arrived we had a 5-10 minute window of beautiful weather, before it started to snow again. After taking some pictures at the view point we drove down to Cascade Ponds, and again lucked out with the weather, before it started raining.

After taking photos we checked into our hotel, Canalta Lodge, which was graciously provided to us by Sara. The hotel was absolutely stunning, and I really appreciated the rustic feel of the lodging. The beds were super comfortable, the room was spacious, and the decor was cute. For dinner we picked up some burgers from Eddie Burger, and we watched a movie called Without Remorse on Amazon Prime.

The next day we went on a small hike on Canmore’s Hoodoo Trail, before heading home.

Baby Robin’s

At the beginning of May we also had the pleasant surprise of baby Robin’s being born on our balcony.

What’s Next?

What’s in store for me next? Besides a quick trip to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan this weekend I’m not entirely sure as COVID-19’s third wave is here. I’ll still be out hiking, but I don’t see any significant travel plans in the horizon at this point in time.

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Vietnam – Day 8 – Ninh Binh

Today I woke up at 5:30am. I’m still struggling with this persistent jet lag, a whole 8 days later. I packed my bags and got ready, before heading down for breakfast at the buffet. After breakfast I walked about 10 minutes to the Hanoi central train station.

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There’s a few ways of obtaining train tickets; you can buy right at the station, or you can buy online from a third party which charges a small booking fee on top. Unfortuneately foreigners can’t book online through the REAL Vietnam Rail website unless you happen to have a Vietnam bank card, which I presume almost everyone won’t. Also one thing to note is that there are a lot of fake websites in Vietnam, and other parts of SE Asia for things like trains, airlines, museums, etc. You need to be extra diligent and do your research as they mostly all look the same. I read multiple travel blogs to ensure that I was picking the appropriate websites. Anyways, I chose to use the third party website called Balou, as it came the highest recommended. I only paid about $2 CDN more to book it online through them than just showing up, but it was a nice piece of mind knowing everything was taken care of beforehand.

The train departed Hanoi station at 7:30am and slowly crawled its way through the city before picking up speed. About 15 minutes into the train ride I realized that I had made a bad mistake… I forgot my passport and US cash in the safe back at the hotel. I called the hotel and explained the situation, gave them the passcode for my safe, and told them that I’ll be back tomorrow evening to pick it up. Phew, disaster averted.

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The train arrived at Ninh Binh station at around 10:00am. While exiting the station I booked a GRAB, which happened to be waiting right out front. It took about 15 minutes to drive from Ninh Binh train station to my accommodation in Tam Coc, called Tuan Ngoc Hotel. The fare was 76000 Dong ($4.35 CDN). After arriving at the hotel I dropped off my bags I decided to rent a motorcycle from the hotel for two days for a cost of 110000 Dong/day ($6.25/day). The motorcycle didn’t include gasoline so I had to find a gas station before I ran out of gas, as they had drained all the fuel out minus a few drops.

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First stop was Hang Mua viewpoint, about a 6km ride away. Something to note here is that you don’t take the first parking spot that people try to flag you down to because you’ll end up paying way more, and have to walk a fair distance. If you can drive past all the people standing in the middle of the road you’ll find yourself with parking right at the entrance for only 10000 Dong ($0.55 CDN). Unfortuneately despite reading this there was an extremely persistent group of very angry sounding Vietnamese women that wouldn’t get out of the road and pretty much forced me to park in their parking spot for 25000 Dong ($1.35 CDN). Obviously we’re not talking about much money here, but the fact they were so pushy left a sour taste in my mouth. Picture down below of where NOT to park.

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After a 15 minute walk from the very end of the road I came to the entrance of the Hang Mua Viewpoint, which had a nominal entry fee of 100000 Dong ($5.50 CDN). There is a small cave at the start of the steps up to the viewpoint with a tiger statue and some offerings from the locals.

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After viewing inside the cave it was time to start the hot and strenuous journey up to the vietpoint. 500 steps and about 20 minutes later I was dripping in sweat, but looking at an absolutely fantastic view of the karst sceneries of Tam Coc, as well as the Lying Dragon ontop of the mountain. I spent some considerable time up here getting the photos that I wanted to get, before heading back down so that I could get some lunch.

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After walking back to the bike I rode back into town to get some lunch from a restaurant, which I unfortunately forget the name of. I had some beef pho soup, but it wasn’t very good and the service was quite slow.

After having some lunch I rode a short distance away to Bich Dong Pagoda. The parking attendent wanted to charge me 30000 Dong ($1.65 CDN) but I ended up negotiating down to 20000 Dong ($1.10 CDN). I crossed over a bridge through some temple gates, walked a short while to the Lower Pagoda, before ascending 100 steps to the Middle Pagoda, which is built half inside of a cave. There are roughly 20-25 steep steps to the Upper Pagoda, which is fully inside the cave, which is also filled with bats. Bich Dong Pagoda was built by the two monks Tri Kien and Tri The in the early 18th century.

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It was starting to get extremely hot as it was mid afternoon, so I rode back to the hotel and hung out in the pool for a few hours.

For dinner I rode to the Bia Minh Beer Garden, which was just down the street. I probably could have walked but I was feeling lazy from my hike up all those stairs earlier today. For dinner I had a Hawaiian pizza, and a pork Banh Mi sandwich, along with a mini keg of fresh beer. I’ve never seen anything like it before; it’s a combination between a growler and a keg. This was some of the freshest beer I’ve had in SE Asia so far. During dinner it started to pour rain. After dinner I rode back to the hotel in the pouring rain and ended up going to bed at around 9:00pm.

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Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ninh Binh before heading back to Hanoi.

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