My husband and I pretty much figured that Alaska would be somewhere around the halfway mark of my 50x50 journey. Neither of us have ever traveled to Alaska before, so it was a no-brainer that this would be a family trip. Being Alaska, a summer half marathon was a must, of course, so summer vacation was on!
Looking for an Alaskan half marathon wasn’t difficult, but there also weren’t very many to choose from in our time frame. I saw the Summer Solstice Mayor’s Marathon in June, but I was a little apprehensive about that one since I wasn’t sure how many snow days we might have at school this year. I couldn’t plan a summer vacation that required me to blow off the last week of my job! We also planned to see our family in Seattle as part of the same summer trip, so playing off of their schedule, I found the Her Tern Half Marathon in Anchorage in mid-July. This is a women’s only half marathon (with the exception of one male runner!), and it was billed as a "boutique-y” race. The race is named after a women’s clothing boutique in Anchorage and is co-sponsored by the Skinny Raven running store. My only hesitation with this race was that I had to forego one of my half marathons musts. This race doesn’t give out finishers medals. Instead, in keeping with their boutique persona, they award runners an artisan, hand-crafted finisher’s bracelet. Ok. I guess I can go with that this time around.
My husband, kids and I packed our bags and we were off on July 14th. The flights were easy, and surprisingly, it seemed to take less time to get to Anchorage than I thought it would. We were tired when we arrived at our hotel, as was to be expected, so we pretty much checked in and went to sleep.
|View of Alaska from the plane. Photo credit to Lily Frost.|
The next day, our first full day in Alaska, was truly magnificent. We looked in to taking a boat tour of some glaciers near Anchorage. I managed to find a pretty large glacier cruise that was about 2 hours from our hotel. My husband, wanting to research it more, discovered a smaller, more intimate option only one hour away, and set about booking it. Unfortunately, that cruise was already all booked up, but that company gave my husband the name of another possible small-scale glacier tour.
|Photos along the roadway from Anchorage to Whittier.|
Enter Captain John Earle. My husband made contact with him, and so we were booked on his boat, the Tundra. He departs from a small marina town called Whittier. It is only about a one hour drive from Anchorage. A beautiful, one hour drive. All along the highway we saw gorgeous water and mountain views. We had to make it to a one-way tunnel by 8:30 am to get to Whittier, which we managed pretty easily. The tunnel was a sight to see. It looked like an ancient, underground chiseled subway tunnel. Not like those glitzy tunnels we are accustomed to seeing in the big cities back home. Captain John’s boat was docked at the first marina after the tunnel, so we met him there.
|Entrance to the one-way tunnel.|
|View inside the tunnel to Whittier.|
Captain John, along with his first mate Kayla, were so welcoming and friendly and casual and fun. We were greeted with bagels, croissants, fruit, coffee and Pellegrino sodas. And the sights all around us were just breathtaking. Whittier is a tiny little town surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and water that leads in to the Prince William Sound. We managed to have a sunny, beautiful, clear day for our boat trip. It was just perfect.
|View of Whittier marina from the back of the Tundra.|
|Joining the crew....|
We started our journey with Captain John and Kayla, learning much from them about Alaskan history, flora and fauna, local(ish) travel and activities and a crash course on the science all around us. The views were just incredible, with the sun glinting off of the glaciers creating lightness and highlighting that amazing glacial-blue hue that results from the immense pressure of the ice. Also around us were countless waterfalls cascading from the high mountaintops as the snow melted. Just spectacular!
|One of the many exquisite glaciers we viewed along our boat trip.|
We also learned from Captain John that he was originally from Glastonbury, CT! How funny to come nearly a continent away to meet someone from your own backyard. He told us that his grandfather was the person to establish the Earle land trust in the town. We decided we would have to make a special trip when home to do some hiking there in the protected land preserve.
Captain John drove us around the sound to our first stop, which was to hoist up his shrimp traps. The girls got involved in this activity, helping to pull the line and bring the traps up to the boat. It was so fun to see the traps land on the back deck of the boat and to see all the jumping shrimp flipping around inside them. We marveled at how large they were! It was a terrific catch…four traps and lots of shrimp. We even got to hold them. Of course, we had to tell Captain John and Kayla about how we like to get lobsters at home and let the crawl around on our deck to see what they will do. We even like to pretend that they are our pets. Ha!
After the shrimp catch, it was on to see the glaciers. On our way, we spied a seal and some sea birds called kittiwakes. Captain John told us the story of the Blackstone glacier, named after a man whose last name was Blackstone and who became lost traversing the glacier, never to be seen again. His brother, Willard, looked for him for years, but never found his body, only his pack. A nearby island is named Willard Island in his honor. We hung out at the Blackstone Glacier for a good bit of time, waiting to see chunks that might “calve” or fall off and in to the water. We also saw a sightseeing tour on jet-skis go by. Talk about up close and personal! We saw a few bits fall off of the Blackstone Glacier while we enjoyed some clam chowder prepared by Kayla. What a lovely treat while we braved the cool glacier air.
|View approaching Blackstone Glacier (on the right).|
|Another view of the area.|
|Our panorama while enjoying clam chowder. Talk about lunch and a view!|
Next up, we were off to enjoy the Beloit Glacier. This glacier is located next to the Blackstone Glacier, and as we approached, Captain John could tell that lots of calving occurred that day. There were lots of ice chunks in the water all around us, and he took Ella to fish for some 10.000 year old ice. She hauled it up with his help in a fishing net, and the ice promptly went in to our water pitcher to chill our drinks, and the clearest and prettiest chunk went in a bowl for Ella to show her sister. (Later in the day, Ella actually ate the ice and drank the melted water. She consumed something as old as the dinosaurs. How cool is that??!!). Kayla prepared us some terrific sandwiches for lunch. Talk about dinner and a view!
|Beloit glacier to the left, Blackstone on the right.|
|Hanging out with glaciers. Not too shabby.|
|Capt. John and Ella scooping up ice chunks.|
|Clear, gorgeous 10,000 year old glacial ice.|
We hung around the Beloit Glacier and spied some amazing ice chunks falling off of it. It was so amazing to see and hear. The cracking noises were very loud and the splash and resulting waves were cooler than fireworks! It was incredible to see! We couldn’t believe our amazing luck that we saw so many chunks tumble.
|Gorgeous blue color in the glaciers.|
|Glacier, waterfall and us.|
Captain John told us all kinds of cool stories about how he hikes to the mountaintops in this area and then skis down them, and how he has camped out on the glaciers at night watching the Northern Lights. It must be truly unbelievable. We also had fun looking at his underwater sonar to tell what kind of depths and fish swimming below us.
|Heading back to Whittier and to reset the shrimp traps. Captain Lily at the helm.|
As part of our return trip to the marina in Whittier, we witnessed the resetting of the shrimp traps. It was really so wonderful for our girls to have this experience. We do not get the opportunity to go out on fishing boats or ocean vessels ever, so for them to see were shrimp come from and how they are caught was so very cool. I think it is so important for kids to understand that food just doesn’t “happen” in the grocery store. There is a process for it, and many people are involved in it.
|Kayla's garlic shrimp prepared on the boat. Caught that morning. Yum!|
Now, just as if things couldn’t get any more amazing on our Tundra boat trip, Kayla cooked up the fresh shrimp caught earlier that morning for us to snack on as we returned to the marina. We also got to witness the amazing kittiwakes nesting on the cliffsides and shifting to and fro in wild squawking swells. It made us feel like we were in an episode of a National Geographic special.
As we approached the marina, we were sad to see our unbelievable day end. Captain John and Kayla were such fabulous people, and we wished we could hang out with them again for another boat-touring day. Captain John echoed our sentiments, saying that we’d just have to make it an annual trip. How amazing that would be! And if we could ever do an overnight camp out via the Tundra, that would seriously be life-changing.
|Such a wonderful day for our family on the Tundra.|
|Captain John and the girls.|
We said our last goodbyes before leaving for our return trip through the tunnel. We received some suggestions for activities for the next day from our hosts, and on the return trip to Anchorage, stopped in Girdwood to research some of them. We hit a store called the “Tourist Trap” filled with souvenirs from the area, and as Lily and I were in there browsing, who should walk in but Captain John and Kayla! Our only friends in all of Alaska! Such a small, huge state. John helped us navigate the activities for the next day, but unfortunately, his contacts from the sled dog farm were not working in the store that day, so he just gave us the brochure along with the map of Girdwood that had some other options on it. It was so fun to see them again, and we thanked them again for the wonderful day and suggestions for the next day before we departed for our hotel.I can’t say enough wonderful things about our experience on the Tundra. If you are planning to visit Anchorage, this is the way to do a glacier tour, as the larger boats are all owned by the cruise ships and are loaded down with cruise line passengers. You will absolutely enjoy the personal touch of the Tundra crew over the larger group setting of the cruise ship excursion boats! Definitely check them out!
We ended up having dinner that night at the Glacier Bay Brewing Co. in Anchorage, which was great. I had a delicious meal of rock fish prepared in a somewhat Southwestern style. It was super! After dinner, all tired from our day at sea, we crashed as a family and slept a hearty sleep.