Author Topic: The Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips  (Read 22121 times)

Offline Something Fishy

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The Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« on: January 31, 2021, 12:26:31 PM »
4 trips, 48 flights, 34,521 miles of flying, and 2,678 miles of driving. Traveled by jet, prop plane, ski plane, floatplane, helicopter, coach bus, school bus, truck, minibus, van, rental car, taxi, snowmobile, sled, ATV, raft, kayak, skiff, catamaran, pontoon boat, train, aerial tram, and dog sled. Almost got to ride in a police car too, but turned that down.

From -40 to +75 degrees F, from the tallest mountain in North America to the northernmost point in the United States, from rainforest to tundra, and from thousand-pound bears to thousands of mosquitos.


All flights - 48 legs and 34,521 miles flown:




Alaska close up - 31 legs:




Close up of south-central Alaska:





Trip 1, February: Homer, Deadhorse, Barrow, Fairbanks


Arctic fox in the sea ice, Point Barrow


Trip 2, July: Matanuska Glacier, King Salmon, Katmai National Park, Whittier


Leap of faith, Brooks Falls


Trip 3, August: Girdwood, Matanuska Glacier, Denali National Park, Whittier, Chugach National Forest, Punchbowl Glacier, Lake Clark National Park, Spencer Glacier


Helicopter dog sledding, Punchbowl Glacier


Trip 4, August: Spencer Glacier, Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park, Colony Glacier, Lake Clark National Park


Glacier Kayaking, Chugach National Forest
« Last Edit: April 10, 2021, 09:38:21 PM by Something Fishy »
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Offline m65

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2021, 12:47:14 PM »
waiting anxiously for details

Offline YitzyS

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2021, 12:51:13 PM »
Monkeys don't fly unless you put them on airplanes

Offline Yehoshua

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2021, 12:58:37 PM »
Wow, looking forward. Hopefully you had better weather after 4 trips than the constant rain we had in August (years ago).

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2021, 09:57:54 PM »
I envy you very much. All I can remember is quarantine and self-isolation...

Offline Something Fishy

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2021, 03:09:20 AM »
Trip 1, February



Part 1

The goal of this trip was to stuff in as many weird and off the beaten track experiences as possible, ideally in the nastiest weather imaginable (use those clues to figure out which batty DDfers came along). It involved plenty of running around, bouncing up and down Alaska, and a whole lot of adventure.

The final trip routing was, fittingly enough, just a tad north of crazy: LGA-MSP-ANC-FAI-SCC-BRW-ANC-FAI-ANC-JNU-PSG-WRG-KTN-SEA-BOS-JFK.



Sunday: Fly LGA-MSP-ANC, drive 5 hours to Homer through a snowstorm, and overnight.
Monday: Homer
Tuesday: Drive back to Anchorage, and fly ANC-FAI-SCC. A couple of hours in Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay, and then continue SCC-BRW. Overnight Barrow.
Wednesday: Full day in Barrow, then fly BRW-ANC-FAI. Fairbanks aurora hunt all night.
Thursday: Long way home via the ultra-scenic Alaska Milk Run hopper - ANC-JNU-PSG-WRG-KTN-SEA-JFK Longer way home via the supposedly ultra-scenic Alaska Milk Run hopper - ANC-JNU-PSG-WRG-KTN-SEA-BOS-JFK

Landed at around 8:30pm, and right away stopped for a photo shoot of an endangered species:



After picking up our Tahoe and a quick Walmart run,we hit the road to Homer. The drive is stunning, but we didn't see much, it being nighttime and all. We did see a couple of moose on the way, but they disappeared into the trees before I could take a picture.

Stay weird, Alaska:



Our Airbnb in Homer was at the top of a hill and had a great view to the bay below, the famous Homer Spit, and the mountains beyond.

Early morning shot from our balcony:



Homer Spit is basically a long, thin ribbon of land sticking some five miles out into the bay, which makes for great bald eagle habitat. And so this was our goal today: bald eagle photography.

It's pretty common for there to be large flocks of 50-odd eagles hanging around the beaches and peirs, but it was slim pickings today - during the first half of the day we saw no more than four eagles, three of which were pretty distant.

But the one that we saw up close - man did he put up a show. As is often the case with wildlife photography, you don't need huge numbers - just one cooperating animal can be all you need. This guy let us come to within 15 feet before flying off and literally posing for us:







We spent some time following him around the place, and shot a variety of other bird life as well - there were plenty of cormorants, scoters, buffleheads, and goldeneyes around.

The spit is a strange place - it's a confusing mixture of open beaches and grassland, industrial shipping and fishing yards, rows and rows of tourist traps, and a single cluster of apartments - all in a ribbon of land only a few hundred feet wide in places:



While the spit has a massive tourist scene in the summer, pretty much everything was closed this time of the year. The Salty Dawg Saloon was the only open place, and was a perfectly weird place to grab a drink and warm up a bit:



I banged my head into the ceiling about 14 times - which is a given - but all that cash somewhat softened the blow.

Anyways, once our eagle took off over the water, we left the spit and stopped at the very beginning. There were a bunch of eagles out here on the ice floes, and the juveniles actually let us approach to within 8 feet or so:


Not a golden eagle, sorry Yoely.

Check out these talons:



Off to our next destination, one of the most scenic in all of Alaska: the Homer town dump!

This guy seems pretty happy here though:



While this one, on the other hand, is clearly rethinking his life's choices:



That's it, I'm outta here:





Back to the spit, let's see what else we can find.

Hey look, it's grandpa otter...



...just in time for the shmorg! First up, sea urchin:



Next we have some choice clams:



The otter was deep into his second clam when this scoundrelous, good-for-nothing, son-of-a-gun miscreant literally landed on his stomach, stole a clam, and promptly absconded to safer climes:



But not all is bad in this world, because for desert, we have... starfish!



Nom nom nom:



This dude showed up too late and missed the smorgasbord, but he's still happy since the chuppa never starts on time anyway:



After that show we were all good and tired, so back to the house it was.

Passing the Homer airport, and of course there's an aircraft crossing warning on the road, because apparently airplanes on the road are a thing here:



Took a short hike on the way home, and bumped into this little fella:





After a good night's sleep it was another early morning for us, with a beautiful 5-hour drive back to Anchorage:



Continuing the time-honored tradition of wearing crocs in the snow on my trips:



Getting brighter:



Most people come to an airport in weather like this to fly somewhere warm:



Amateurs.

Us idiots - we're heading straight up to the arctic!

Feels like minus 53? That should be cool enough, I think:



So you'd think Alaska Airlines would have a direct flight to Barrow (aka Utqiaġvik, for the politically-inclined), would you not? Well wrrrrrong you are!

For starters, winter flights to Barrow stop in Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay for a couple of hours. Now that was actually a fantastic piece of news, because as a lover of the arctic and of crazy places, having a chance to visit here in the dead of the winter was amazing. However, the northbound flight to Barrow only leaves from Fairbanks, not Anchorage. The return, on the other hand, goes directly Barrow-Anchorage.

Now our plan for the trip was to do Anchorage/Homer, Barrow, and finally Fairbanks. Now as we have just seen (you're taking notes, right? There will be a quiz afterwards), flight-wise, it would have been a lot more convenient to do Fairbanks first and Anchorage/Homer after. But that didn't work for a bunch of other reasons, and so we found ourselves flying Anchorage-Fairbanks-Deadhorse-Barrow-Anchorage-Fairbanks over the next two days.

Spray tan time:



It was snowing pretty hard at this point, and the pilot announced that he'll "need to test the engines at the beginning of the runway". No idea what that was about, never heard of such a thing.

Anyway, flight to Fairbanks was nice and fast, the layover was nice and short, and before we knew it we were crossing over the Brooks Range heading to the far north:



So, Deadhorse. Basically a company town, built to service the immense Prudhoe Bay oilfields out in the Arctic Ocean. It's basically a couple of blocks of prefab buildings, truck yards, collections of massive industrial equipment, and the howling, screaming wind.

The only people here are oil workers, ice road truckers (the town is the northern terminus of the famous Dalton Highway haul road), and a few odd service workers. Women are practically non-existent.

The trans-Alaska pipeline begins here, carrying the oil all the way down to Valdez to be loaded onto tankers and taken to the lower 48 for refinement.



Our plane was fully loaded with big, burly, loud men on the way to their shifts on the oil rigs. As we were all crowding down the jet bridge, someone in the back sings out, "there's a lady here y'all! A LADY!" He sounded so surprised that everyone instantly moved to the side to let her straight through. She would be one of only three women we saw in the entire town.

The entire airport is pretty one big, smelly room, but we found an empty bench and sat down to get into our arctic gear. There was nowhere to store our carry-ons in the airport, so we ended up shlepping it around during our entire visit. A bit annoying, but not the end of the world.

Only minus 31, meh!



My eyes actually froze shut a couple of times:



Our plan was to basically wander around and explore, with nothing specific in mind.

Um, what?



Carlile!!! It's actually real:



I had made sure that the only "hotel" in town was open, so we'd have a warm place to duck into if needed. The hotel was basically a bunch of trailers all connected to a central hallway, but it was warm and they had drinks and souvenir magnets so all was good in the world:



We ended up spending an hour or so in there, chatting with the employees and a bunch of oilfield workers. They looked at us like we're crazy, apparently we were the first tourists to visit in four months. We had some interesting conversations, ate dinner, and headed back out.

It's a pretty desolate place:





Every now and then a truck would pass us, and invariably we'd be offered a ride "to wherever the hell you're going". I guess we made a pretty strange sight, 4 random dudes marching down the road in Deadhorse dragging suitcases in the middle of the winter.

We politely declined all offers, even the one from this guy:



He told us we're crazy, we told him that we're unfortunately well aware, and he drove off - presumably looking for people driving 7-and-three-quarter miles per hour.

Stopped at the Carlile yard again (there aren't exactly 400 tourist attractions to choose from up there), but this time we were spotted and unceremoniously kicked out. To be fair, the guy was quite nice about it - he even let us take more pictures before escorting us out - but it's an active truck yard and he said he can't just have random people traipsing about.



Another interesting thing about this place is that alcohol of any sort is not allowed. This applies to the entire North Slope of Alaska, including Barrow. Here in Deadhorse it's due to the safety of the oilfields, and in Barrow it's because of the high alcoholism rates among the native Inuit (that's one way to deal with the problem, I suppose?).

Anyway, at this point one of the guys pulls out a can of beer he stored away from the Anchorage to Fairbanks flight. Personally I can't stand beer of any kind, but c'mon, I had to take a sip this time:



(And yes, it still tasted like puke. I don't know how anyone could drink that stuff.

/soapbox)

Anyone going to Lakewood and has room for one man?



Make it three actually:



Seriously:



Time for mincha:



Back at the airport:



Kinda cold - but the next stop is just gonna be colder:



Flying over the oilfields:



Next stop: the northernmost spot in the United States.


To be continued...
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Offline m65

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2021, 04:02:24 AM »
wow!
אין מילים

Offline YitzyS

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2021, 07:36:22 AM »
That photo should win an award
Seeing Part 1, it looks like this trip report may result in something like "27 nominations, 11 Pulitzers"
Monkeys don't fly unless you put them on airplanes

Offline Mordyk

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2021, 08:11:30 AM »
Wow.   That's all I can say.

Every time you post a TR I think to myself that I better start traveling.  ;)

Offline Dawie

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #9 on: February 04, 2021, 10:01:50 AM »
Trip 1, February



Part 1

The goal of this trip was to stuff in as many weird and off the beaten track experiences as possible, ideally in the nastiest weather imaginable (use those clues to figure out which batty DDfers came along). It involved plenty of running around, bouncing up and down Alaska, and a whole lot of adventure.

The final trip routing was, fittingly enough, just a tad north of crazy: LGA-MSP-ANC-FAI-SCC-BRW-ANC-FAI-ANC-JNU-PSG-WRG-KTN-SEA-BOS-JFK.

bli guzma


Offline Joe4007

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #10 on: February 04, 2021, 02:30:44 PM »
Awesome!

Thanks for taking the time. A pleasure to read!

Offline Something Fishy

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #11 on: February 04, 2021, 02:31:28 PM »
Awesome!

Thanks for taking the time. A pleasure to read!

Just you wait for trip 2 :P
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Offline Joe4007

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #12 on: February 04, 2021, 02:33:03 PM »
Just you wait for trip 2 :P
Emphasis on wait...

Offline Something Fishy

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Offline Yehoshua

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #14 on: February 04, 2021, 03:15:43 PM »
Wow, so cool! It looks like a really cool place to visit, especially when you chose to go. I mean going in the summer when it's 30F isn't nearly as exciting. Looking forward to the next installment.

Offline Something Fishy

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #15 on: February 04, 2021, 03:17:36 PM »
Wow, so cool! It looks like a really cool place to visit, especially when you chose to go. I mean going in the summer when it's 30F isn't nearly as exciting. Looking forward to the next installment.

Summer does have certain advantages, such as oilfield and Arctic Ocean tours, but overall winter is definitely a lot more unique and interesting IMO.
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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #16 on: February 04, 2021, 05:58:12 PM »

Offline Something Fishy

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #17 on: February 04, 2021, 05:59:36 PM »


We should do some sort of tzedaka raffle, the winner gets to see that video. $10000 buy in.
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Offline Something Fishy

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #18 on: February 05, 2021, 03:22:40 AM »

Trip 1, February



Part 2

After a long day of traveling, we finally made it: Barrow airport. The northernmost airport in the U.S., in the northernmost town.



There are no road connections to Barrow (recently officially renamed to its Inuit name of Utqiaġvik), and so everything gets in by plane. Cars, pre-fab building modules, food, you name it. In the summer they sometimes have barge service, but that's just a tiny percentage of it all. The airport regularly serves giant cargo planes, but the passenger terminal is a chaotic one-room affair.

Here's their high-tech baggage belt:



And this is the entirety of the terminal, just sitting there on the side of the main road:





There are two hotels in Barrow, both quite similar. The King Eider Inn however was right across the street of the airport, so that won out:



Accommodations here are... basic. Nothing fancy, but perfectly serviceable for one night:



Not something you'd see in a hotel in the Maldives:



...and not something you'd want to see in any hotel:



I make sure to check every hotel room for signs of bed bugs right when I get in, and thankfully so far it's all worked out - including here. I actually only noticed this can the next morning, which I suppose was a good thing.

After dinner and a bit of relaxing, we took a short walk to the other end of town to check out what is commonly termed the most expensive grocery in the country. Since everything has to be flown in, bulky or heavy things like diapers and potato chips cost a fortune here.

The main street - it was coooold:



Local transport:



$6.29 for a bag of potato chips - honestly not as expensive as I thought it would be, but still quite high:



All cereal is sold in bags here, as it takes up less space during shipping:



And yet the strawberries were cheaper than my local supermarket:



Things take a while to get up here... At a time when fidget spinners in the lower 48 had been collecting dust for months, they were the hottest new trend in town. The cashier told me they can barely keep them in stock:



Had a good night's sleep, and woke up for an early sunrise - at 11am:



We walked around town, schmoozed with some school children, stalked a distant arctic fox, and in general had a good time while freezing our noses off:



Our goal today was to visit Point Barrow, the very northernmost point of land in the United States. The points is essentially the end of a miles-long sandbar sticking into the Arctic Ocean:





There's only one problem: it's pretty much impossible to get to. For starters, only native Inuit ("Eskimo" is no longer politically correct) are allowed on that land. And secondly, you kinda need transport. There are no roads or markiers out here: all you have is endless white desert as far as the eye can see. Hiking for miles in minus 40 is a surefire way to, well, not come back. And as an added feature, you got polar bears looking for food here too.

Anyways, in the summer you can take a Hummer tour out to the point, but in the winter nobody is crazy enough to visit. Except us, of course.

So I found a crazy Inuit whaler who had a rusty old rifle, a snowmobile, a rickety wooden sled, and a frayed bit of rope, and off we zipped into the wilderness.

If you think I'm exaggerating, well... have a look at this video:



Lay-flat seating!



After about 20 minutes of craziness, we arrived near the point:



The landscape here was essentially a huge, flat white plain, bordered all around by gigantic pressure ridges. Basically, with the Arctic Ocean frozen over, massive winds break up the ice into floes and then pile them against the shoreline. Throughout the season these wind-driven floes pile up into miles-long ice ridges:



Climbing to the top - this was a lot more difficult than it seems, as snowdrifts covered up many spaces between the ice floes. It was basically two steps forward, one step back:



Let's see if there's any wildlife around...



Looking through my lens, I thought I saw something move off in the distance - a smudge slightly yellower than the ice, all the way at the end of the ridge. It could have been a polar bear, a fox, or maybe just my eyelash. But off we went to investigate.

Getting closer - can you spot it?



Bingo - a pair of arctic foxes:



Over the next half hour or so, we veeeeery slowly made our way closer and closer. They had clearly seen us, but were mostly going about their business and ignoring us - so far. They were playing, chasing each other, disappearing under this bit of ice and popping out from behind that one.

Doing the shuffle, getting closer...



Boom.



Right after this the foxes decided they'd had enough and disappeared onto the frozen ocean.

Another view from the top of a pressure ridge - here the wind had scoured a bit of ground clear and you could make out the shoreline:



This area was littered with massive whale bones, left where subsistence whalers like our guide cut them up during the summer season. This one is a bowhead whale jaw that was bigger than me:



Whale spine:



Mincha:



Caribou skull:



My boy Herman:



Time to head back - I claimed the back snowmobile seat this time:



We headed back to town and switched to Herman's truck, where he gave us a tour of the town in near-whiteout conditions. Seriously, check out this road we were driving on:



A pair of caribou, way out in the distance:



Snowy owl on an antenna:





Herman then took us to his house to show us his whaling gear. He's one of just a handful of whaling captains still around, who go out every summer on subsistence bowhead whale hunts.

This is his boat, made out of sealskin and hand sewn by the local Inuit women:



A small flotilla of these boats would head out every day, and when a whale was sighted the hunt would begin. They use a combination of old-fashioned harpoons and modern rifles, and then the whole town gathers to beach the whale and cut it up. The bones are left on the beach, but everything else is divvied up equally between whoever helped and they eat it raw throughout the winter. Herman was going to fetch us a plate but we politely declined.

The underground bunker where the whale meat is stored and kept frozen:





Herman in his living room, demonstrating how the "whale bombs" (foreground) are loaded into the harpoons behind him. The harpoon is triggered like a gun, the bomb shoots out the front attached to a rope, and then enters the whale and explodes inside:



He ended up enjoying this too much, and it was difficult to convince him to drive us back to the hotel and our return flight. He kept on saying that we still had time, but we were getting antsy. We had forgotten however that we were in a tiny little town, and so in the end we went from hotel room to plane seat in under 17 minutes.

As we're going through TSA, the agent looks up at me and says "Boro Park?" Turns out he had grown up on 48 St. and New Utrecht.... In all the airports in all the towns in the country, he ended up here. Go figure!



Aaaand that was the end of Barrow for us. We had been there for exactly 24 hours, and it was just enough time to see everything there is to see, and have some crazy adventures to boot.

Next up: Fairbanks aurora chase!

Off we went, with a stop in Anchorage. Picked up our car, grabbed some snacks at Walmart (you guys know the drill by now...), and headed north out of town. Conditions were looking favorable; all we needed now were dark places and clear skies.

It wasn't long before we frantically pulled off the side of the road:



Let's see if we can find a slightly more scenic spot before it fades:



And then it faded. But no worries, the night is but young! Further north we go....









One final celebratory group picture, before it's time to head to the airport and home:



Made it to the airport with plenty of time, only to find a Whatsapp from Dan asking if I wanted to be interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

Say what? But sure!

Had a fun conversation with their reporter while doing a final sorting of winter gear, food, and suitcases, which you can read about here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/translating-harry-potter-into-yiddish-isnt-totally-meshugge-11582649480

So there are two ways of getting back home: the normal way, and the Something Fishy way. Why fly something like Fairbanks-Seattle-New York when you can fly Fairbanks-Anchorage-Juneau-Petersburg-Wrangell-Ketchikan-Seattle-New York?

This of course is the famous Alaska Milk Run hopper, and is how these tiny remote communities get their stuff. It's an incredibly scenic trip, and the 31-mile hop from Petersburg to Wrangell is considered one of the most beautiful in the country.

So we settled in for the long haul, expediting spectacular views all along. Takeoff from Anchorage did not disappoint:





......and that was the last we saw of anything. Nasty weather moved in and would stick around for the rest of the day. All we saw from here on out was gray, gray, and more gray, with a quick glimpse of a runway as we landed every now and then. In short, it was a total bust - which means we'd just have to do it again one day!

The one exciting part of the trip was a missed approach in Petersburg - we were 40 feet above the runway when the pilot aborted the landing and headed right back out. Apparently the issue was winds, and so he was going to try again.

We ended up flying nearly to our next stop - Wrangell - before hooking a 180 and trying again at Petersburg:



The best part of all this was that we were delayed enough to miss our Jetblue Seattle to NY flight, which they quickly rebooked us as Seattle-Boston-NY. We made a mad dash for it - the plane was already boarding, and it was at the complete opposite end of the airport, which meant we had to take three (THREE!) different airport trains. We were the last on the plane, and they insisted we check our carry ons. I said no way that's happening with 5 digits worth of camera gear, so I basically sat on my backpack the entire night.

And did I mention that there were only middle seats remaining...? In the end nothing mattered, as I fell asleep the instant I sat down and didn't stir until Boston.

It was Friday morning when we arrive in Boston, which means that the plane is contractually obligated to go mechanical. A series of rolling delays followed, so we made up a time at which we'd rent a car and drive if we weren't on the plane yet. In the end they moved us onto a later-but-now-earlier flight, והכל יבוא על מקומו בשלום.

The end.
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Offline Yehoshua

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Re: Call of the Wild: Something Fishy's Four Alaskan 2020 Trips
« Reply #19 on: February 05, 2021, 09:57:41 AM »
Wow! How close to the northern most point in the US did you actually get?