My First Alaskan Adventure : Quick Time Stamps & The Highlights

10/16/2013 06:41:00 AM

map courtesy - http://www.shipdetective.com/

This colorful piece of land in the map above is called Alaska. The Last frontier, and I am about to take you to a road trip here in a simple run of events. I booked my and my kid bro's flights to Alaska in August, I was going with zero expectations. Oct is off-season in Alaska, Not too cold and Not too hot and No people. Exactly What I would want. But there is a catch. there are hardly any buses. and None of us are experienced drivers. Well I have driven enough in india. and I have good long drive experience up my sleeves too. but that was on Indian roads, and in a Maruti Alto, perhaps the lightest car in the world. The car I can fly in. 
So How its gonna be? I have no idea.

Remote Alaska | My Moment with Mother Nature

I am guessing I'll figure it out as I reach the land unknown. The weather is no good either. But this is the only time. I have to go. Oct 8th already recorded the second best Northern Lights show Across the north pole, first been on Oct 2, Thursday Oct 10 only has a active KP index and then it goes quiet for days. Can I be lucky? I have no idea. 

But I have a reason to believe, I have noticed I am quite lucky when traveling, the weather always turns out good, and I get best of the places. I also get one black mole each trip, i.e. someone who screws up my plans So would the history repeat? I have no idea. But thats the test. and it is about to begin. Below is the map, I tried sorting out a month back. Its only an Introduction to Alaska trip for me. as I am landing at Point A (Anchorage) and fairbanks is mostly the place where Northern lights are seen, I have plans to go to Fairbanks and be back to ANC. I have about 4 days. I am landing on thursday night and leaving on Monday evening. I can do the road trip, explore denali park from air, explore anchorage and stay in fairbanks for 2 nights to try my luck with Aurora. 

Shall we read how it went? Lets do it.


The approximate driving distance from Coldfoot, Alaska to Anchorage, Alaska is: 612 miles / 985 km  Round trip, 1224 miles + driving around ~ 100 miles or so.. - Total trip 1300+ miles ~ 2000kms 
legendary Dalton highway image courtesy - wikipedia
Denali highway image courtesy - explorenorth.com



View Larger Map


1: Started from home at about 2:15 PM on Thursday Oct10th, and Reached NYC JFK post 4PM. 

2: 6:20 PM Flight got delayed for 3 hours, reviewed options, waited at the airport. met a lovely lady from Cleveland, on her way back from Europe, had a nice chat. 

3: So Missed connecting flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage, landed in Crowne Plaza Bloomington, South Minneapolis Minnesota. While My Bro and the friend already landed in Anchorage. Cancelled my 2 nights reservation at Fairbanks. cursed Delta, myself and the God. I had lost a day in Alaska already.

4: Divine Intervention, was it? I realized I promised my friend Archana Srinivas to visit her if I ever be in Minneapolis, So drove 15 miles to Idina to have my cup of tea that was due long.

5: Picked up Sea life Aquarium at Malls of America, as my One thing to do in Minneapolis, explored it One hour sharp. It was beautiful. 

6: Meanwhile, Bro and friend visited Flat top Mountain and they loved it.

7: 5:30PM Thursday Oct 11th, Had my first glass of dark beer and Boarded the flight to Anchorage. I needed to sleep, But I was smiling stupidly and it wasn't because I was witnessing the longest sunset ever of my life. It lasted entire flight time. (5-6 hrs), the sunset i mean. not the hang-over. and I dint sleep.

8: Saw the reflection of almost full moon in the waters of Calgary, BC and Yukon Canada.
Saw some green lights up above in the sky of Anchorage, I thought I was going crazy. 

9: 8:11 PM landed in Anchorage, met my bro Ajay and friend Nandita at the Airport. Anchorage was super Cloudy. i.e. NO chances of seeing the Nordic lights. eventually saw none.

"Caribou Alaska Herd"  in The  Arctic Landscape as seen from Dalton HIghway Wild Life - Coldfoot - Alaska USA
10: Rented Ford Escape at Hertz, the SUV with all the bloody insurance possible, and Alaska special GPS and Satellite phone too. She dint give us the shovel but. ( To be noted - 7 yrs on n off in USA, never drove here before but.

11: Got in to the Loft hotel Anchorage at 1AM Friday Oct 12th. spent the night going through Ford escape videos. 

12: Too tired to take off at 5AM, also Realized  we wont have time to sleep for next two nights, and that I don't have charger plug for my camera battery, changed the plan to start to 8-9 AM

13: 9AM out of the loft, did 3 circles in the parking lot, me, the second driver, and bro the third who also hasn't driven here before. we realized, Driving SUV is no big deal, and driving right hand is no biggy either. 

14 : Figured the Satellite phone is a fake, and its just a radio, so drove to Hertz office, that was closed, headed to Walmart, stocked the car, got the charger, and headed to Palmer city to pick up Adarsh's friend, Priya Venkatesh, who had reached Alaska a day before, and who I promised to have her join us for next 2 days. Nandita was only one driving so far. ( Nah, Me had no confidence with all those crazy signals yet)

15: Did I say Anchorage looked beautiful with all the fall colors. So was Mirror lake outside anchorage and the little City of Palmer. 

16: 4 of us headed to Highway no 3, towards fairbanks ( Point E), ( This goes via Denali National Park) enjoyed the view of lakes, rivers, snow capped mountains, immensely. 

17: Road was smooth so far. Was supposed to take a break at Talkeetna ( Point L) about 100+ miles from Anchorage. But missed the exit. 




Denali map --

18: so Parked the SUV a little ahead, called K2 Flight-seeing tour people just for an enquiry about Monday Morning. They do Mt Mckinley air tours, and I really wanted to do one with a landing on Glacier)

19: It was time to jump in to the driving seat. Flew the SUV all the way to a local Gas station just before Denali Park road. Needed a full tank, the owner told stories about hunting and how our plan to drive on the Dalton Monster highway was scary most and that He never went there and that We were insane. ( He dint know I co-founded a group called trekmaniax 4 years back, He also dint know that I drove 1500miles nonstop for 10 days and nights, in south India. and that was through country roads and state highways at their worst best. - Honestly I was scared too but I had to go. and i missed my trek mate pavan for a close second. ) 

20: Skipped the entrance to Denali as the park was closed anyway due to Federal Shutdown, the view ahead but, was nothing exciting anymore. 

21: Reached a pitch dark,  cloudy and extra silent, fairbanks at around 9 PM. No Chance to see Northern lights tonight either. :(

22: Most of the places were closed in here. no food, no hot cup of tea/coffee, after a long search, found a nice cafe in Downtown Fairbanks. we sat there sipping hot soup, blowing bubbles, doing cheese tricks and listening to live music.

23: Its Cloudy at Coldfoot too, Sadly, The owner called the Weather/Tourism Dept. - snow patches on Dalton - he said. 

24: Between spending the night at Fairbanks w/ no chance of seeing Aurora Borealis, and then roaming around fairbanks in the day before heading back to Anchorage, ( since we have to be back and catch our flights on monday at 5PM ) and Heading out of Dalton highway to as far as can go to be back in Fairbanks by evening so that we can drive for Anchorage at night -  It was my call. and I chose the later. too much time wasted here but.

25: went to walmart at fairbanks picked up two Gas cans, a shovel and some ropes and coffee, and then to Gas station. 

26: 2, 5 Gallons cans full and a tank full of Ford Escape, which apparently fills some 12-13 gallons only, and I was driving us on the Elliott Hwy North to the infamous Dalton highway post midnight at 12:30 AM Oct 13th. if you don't know what this haul road is, here is how lonely planet describes it. -> Introducing Dalton Highway


27: 20+ very miles on the highway, and I couldn't see the road, even with my specs on. I was hallucinated, all I could see was a dark tunnel I was getting in to. There was nothing in the sky, nothing around but darkness. So I stopped. 

28: We parked the vehicle in one pull-over place in the right corner, decided to take rest, weren't able to sleep and were scared too, so to forcefully shut our eyes, we watched "one flew over the cuckoo's nest" I fell asleep, so did Nandita, Bro kept looking around for trouble, and apparently Priya did the honor of watching the classic full.

29: I woke up at 5:00 AM and thought it was time. I touched the wheels, in respect and to feel if those were fine. ( there were no spikes and we couldn't get it done in fairbanks) Started driving real slow, the road condition was worst, due to snow fall and it was a narrow one lane highway, contrary to Adarsh's guess, I wanted to scold him and then myself, on why I dint read milepost or why I even decided to come here. The adrenaline is a bi**h what can one do?

30: And there it was, The first monster truck of all trucks, that came for behind me, that I was really scared of. so I prayed for our lives, stopped in the corner right and let him go. But he was driving slow, and I had to overtake him or I was never going to make it back to anchorage on monday.

31: With all my strength I took the left with an indicator on, I couldn't see the road still, and when I was wondering if I should or not, He switched his top headlights ON for me, and I could see the entire stretch, I could easily drive ahead and so I did. after thanking him for his kindness and There it was - the moment. - Trucks are my friends, I am no longer scared of 'em - I sang happily as I drove ahead on the ice road. ( and oh i'd want to drive one of that truck one day, i wish )drove though snow patches, mud and the stones, it took us about 4 hours to reach the first sight I/we can never forget. The Narnia Land. we wished each other and celebrated Christmas then and right there. 


Alaska State Mammal, A Giant Moose in the wilderness
32: There was some light in the sky now, crossed the Yukon fast, ( aka driving 60-70miles per hr) wherever i could) and then reached Arctic Circle at about 1:30PM, apparently there was only one of us that cared about that F'ing Board, and the achievement. We were here only for the Dalton experience and Northern lights.

33: Why we went so far -> the gas left wasn't enough to go back. and next gas station was at Bettles and or Coldfoot. Nothing at Arctic circle either, I was guessing there might be something except the board. 
Did I mention the America' Lifeline --> The Gas Pipeline? It rode with us yes, but again we are no landmark people nope.

34: Drove ahead to find the icy road to Bettles, which none but only the Diesel Station People know about ( The only civilization in entire stretch so far)  he said, just go another 25-30miles to coldfoot, and so we did. 

35: I tested my guts again, on driving at 80miles/hr and it worked, but tank was just 1 mile short, so we had to refill from the can, that was lot of spill and one adventure and it killed good time too. Reach coldfoot at 2PM Sunday Oct 13th and well, it was smaller a civilization then I ever imagined. But they had coffee and gas both. 

36: 3PM and we headed back, tank full, and in hurry to reach back fairbanks on time. 
The views were much better this time, and I couldn't help but make my bro sit at the front seat and click all the passes. I was no photographer in this trip. 

37: Saw some wildlife on the way to coldfoot and now too, but it was this wildcat that really made me stop about 2.5hrs before fairbanks. I was driving fast when it took a leap on the road 2 meters ahead of me, and just sat in the right corner of the road looking at me or us. I stopped the car just ahead of it. Before I could decide what I could do, there was an argument in the backseat, and I gave up and drove away. 

38: Now I am thinking, I should have looked more, not sure it was around or gone. It looked a lot like a very young mountain lion, and nothing else. yes. I wish could have taken a shot, bummer i know :( its my 2nd regret in this one year. I don't know if I could waste time n energy debating, neither i can report it with out a picture. or can i? if those who reading know, how to report a wildlife sighting, the process i mean, do let me know. since it wasn't park, thats another issue. must be about 6 pm on elliott highway, little ahead after crossing dalton ( AK-11) oct 13th.

39: So anyway, 6 hours sharp it took, and it was through storms, snow falls and heavy rains that danced like fireflies in front of our eyes. the trees turns in to pillars and gateways. The hallucinations were insane, but I knew the road. and I drove the hell of it. 

40: The continuous heavy rain was in the last stretch, and that though so difficult to drive in, made me happy. Why? --> because there wont be clouds after the rain. and even with a low kp index forecast, We may see some aurora, - I thought and announced too.

41: 8:30PM almost reached fairbanks and saw the horizon red. were those northern lights? or was just the sky getting clearer. May be those were the Northern lights. we couldn't clicked it since I was driving and by the time we reached a place where we could park, it was dark again. It was tonight or never. - 1st Miss

42: Another tank full, then some food. There was no time to stay back and too late in the night. I had to skip meeting my local friend Kalee Mockridge. 

Northern Lights Alaska - http://blog.poonamparihar.com/2013/10/my-first-alaskan-adventure-y13octalaska.html43: About 12AM booked the hostel room, dropped off Priya at the hostel and we three headed in search of Car wash, tyre check, some coffee and a Pharmacy. My nose was running, I was sneezing, and had fever.

44: Barely managed McD coffee and no medicine, I took the Nyquil I was carrying with me, and instructed bro and Nandita to drive slow for some stretch while I take a short nap and open my eyes again. not sure if i wanted to. 

45: The thing with Nyquil, it works quickly but Its a drug, a sleeping pill that makes you sleep like a pig for hours. but Do I had any option. meanwhile, Bro played navigator, and Nandita drove. I heard their arguments and that once they had the car drove itself in front of the truck, in my sleep. I layed dead in the backseat. dint care to wake up. If we were to die, we shall, I thought.

46: Only now that Bro started shouting - Hey didi, Get up, there are Auroras all over, and I had to. It was the most amazing circle in front me. a real fat one. But it wasn't green. and I thought it - could that be cloud ? There was no place to park either. we drove a little ahead. - 2nd miss 

47: Couldnt' help the curiosity, and stopped again, just a little further and here I tried really hard to get the camera fixed on the tripod in the dark. I was half asleep. I failed. There were traffic. we had to move. -3rd Miss 


48: Finally we stopped at Fish Creek on the highway, and I managed to get camera stand on the tripod. used the car headlights to take some shots. But I was no photographer there. I was just another human in Awe of the Magic of the world. I lay on the road flat face up and scanned the sky. 

49: They danced in their own way, came and went and came again from all directions. there were constellation to see and the shooting stars. I couldn't' wish for anything. I was too busy enjoying the miraculous show that just happened. About 45 minutes under the sky, I was, and they were still there but were soon to fade off, we had to leave.

50: I was on the backseat, trying to sleep again, but since we had to rush, and we could only trust me drving fast, I was back again on drving seat, just then we realized I lost my specs, perhaps at the creek, search the entire car, felt irritated, I decided to drive anyway, and then they magically appeared, hmm. and I drove crazy to reach talkeetna asap. I need to carry another pair. seriously.

51: I had the vehicle touch 100m/hr at few times, ( Crazy I know, Now I realize if there no animal thank god)  finished about 80 miles in next 45 minutes and there it was. the snow, worst than what It was on the dalton highway. Impossible to drive on.

52: I could keep driving on the broken snow path that the truck ahead has left. but I tried slowing down, and just then the vehicle skid, and I had no idea why it was doing so. I but held the steering wheel tightly. It jumped, went on to the left and the right side of the road and finally stabilized. My bro sleeping on the back seat woke up scared and shouting - Didi, Are you gonna kill us all.-  and I was thinking, - What the hell did I do wrong?

53: Now I am reading the ASS control. well, it was a lesson, but I wonder how We could skip the experience, The breaks were n't sudden, anyways, the heavy snow fall continued, there was no way we could drive for more than 15-20mph and I was dizzy again.

54: For once we thought we'd stop the car and wait for snow storm to stop, but then the logic prevented us, I thought it will be better to drive slow on fresh snow then waiting here, because once it settles, it will be even more difficult and we will be stuck for dont know how long, and we also had left the shovel/rope in fairbanks with Priya. so there was no way we gonna make it to Anchorage and our flights. This was at about 7AM Monday Oct 14th. 

55: So My bro now drives slow though the patches while nandita navigates and I take a quick 20 minutes nap again.

56: Apparently it was the same Broad Pass (on the George Parks Hwy 3, that separates the Chulitna and Nenana River basins and divides the Susitna and Yukon River)  which was smooth just a day back and now was heavily snowed. it took us about 1.5 hrs I am guessing, to cross that stretch of snow, it was that bad. and I was dozed off all that time. 

57: We parked at a high corner to wash our eyes, and view around looked quite like the Dalton, it was still raining, The clouds were still there, So there were no chances of doing a flight-seeing tour and no time either. I was up again and back on the driving seat, and we decided we'll go back to Anchorage now and if at all we have few hours to spare before the first flight, we'll drive towards south a little. 

58: Drove at the speed limit and crazy at no sighting areas, booked the loft and the car wash on the way, reached Anchorage at around 12PM. i.e 5 hours to clean up ourselves, and the car which looked like it's been to a remote indian village. before we left it was bright white an now it was muddy yellow.

59: First stop, Auto Car wash, second at the loft, on third, tried to go to PO ANC to send some postcards but it was too late. 

60: Reached airport sharp at 4:13 PM, I headed to checkin area while Bro and Nandita headed to Hertz to return the car and then sit at the airport. Still 35 miles left in the car and 5 hrs to spare, but there was no point driving around ANC as city traffic was mad. 



update-  Ford Escape under Auroras. "Shot i shared on facebook on Oct 20th. More images added in this post, and more will follow on http://photos.poonamparihar.com/"

61: Me Boarded Alaskan airline, and flew to seattle. they have too many shuttles to go from north to south I felt. flight was alright, I had too little girls fighting for the iPad next to me. the eldest one was upfront. asked me if I was a photographer, or If I worked for a magazine. She wasn't done yet or she asked me if i lived in seattle. Hmm. Her little sister however was mad enough to beat her up for the paid movie. I even tried to quiet her, and offered Sally ( the elder one) to see photographs from my camera, but She refused, just like those well taught english kids I believe. 

62: Few minutes to spare in seattle, I had a choice b/w seattle's famous coffee or the local beer. I picked the glass, gulp it quickly and went onboard. this time just next to exit. thankfully the hostess were nice.

63: 2 movies, Mud and Gatsby in between heavy sleep session, I had no idea when the plane landed in NYC, they put my screen and table back to its place and gave back my baggage. Rest of the trip --> Hmm..still a long walk to the baggage claim, then three trains ( air -train to jamaica, LIRR to penn station, and path to jersey city) and the bus back to the apartment. 
Only Path could have been this eventful, that a stupid Pakistanti aur Indian Man, married twice can walk up to you and start talking nonsense. I am guessing he's looking for his 3rd bride.well goes to say a pig remains a pig no matter where he goes and lives. 

64: Back home at ~10AM Monday Oct 15 and I am checking my mails and doing some silly updates. No meal and I doze off again. Woke up at 7:30PM and did what I could. 

65: Its almost 7AM Wednesday Oct 16th now, and I have just finished this long recap. I am yet to download images to my mac and my iPhone hangs everytime I try to share a pic or two. it has no memory left. So You'll have to wait for this, and also PS to be loaded back in to mac, for pictures to come. 

66: This of course is in no way a try to justify what and how I feel right now. Its just a recap of the events and I hope I find the right words for my experiences soon and share em with you all. 
So the Alaskan Series will continue w/ above and more place specific articles now, What I learned and How-tos etc. keep looking for updates on facebook and twitter.

Next 4 -5 weeks I will be gone again for the new adventures, to the trips I have waited 9 months /3 quarters to work out, and thats exactly why this recap was important before I forget the tiny-winny details from the trip. I would write back about each places and share the experiences with photos, in details when I get time.

For now, I would like to express my gratitude to Santa, whom I wrote a letter last christmas and wished to send me to Alaska and show me the northern lights, He granted my wish ( and its a tradition now, I'll be writing him again). I'd also thank my friend Adarsh, who helped immensely, and was virtually with me on the trip, Guna, Who gave me inputs from his July expedition, Archana Who hosted me in Minneapolis, Kalee in Faibanks, whom I couldn't meet this time, Priya for company, Nandita and my kid Bro for all the support ( couldn't have done with out them, frankly our wavelength matches and they listen to me, just incase you're wondering why there are way too many 'I's here, its a team of loyals).
Thanks to all the lovely people I met in Alaska, including the truck drivers who spared me . I would soon be sending a letter to truckers table in coldfoot. if you guys are reading. Thank you for this once in a lifetime experience. I owe you one, seriously.

Did I Say - thank you God for making me feel so fortunate and special - ( The math here is, one can hardly sees the light just in 1-2 nights in alaska, I read earlier, if you stay for 3 nights in fairbanks you have 80% chances, but those would be in good weather condition too i am guessing. So Thank you Dear God, for the blessings.

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10 comments

  1. Its like a virtual trip to Alaska readin through your experience in micro details. Its more than just a trip unforgiving Alaska will never fails to make one a better person. Am sure you gonna re live this memory for years to come. Glad that you guys made home safe. Congrats on your successful expedition.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Guna. definitely Travel itself is a great teacher no matter where and when. and Alaska indeed. cant forget the experience.

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  2. Great are the ways of the blog sites.. My last one expressing wonder and amazement at the trip.. seem not to want to appear here.
    never ye mind.

    Here it is to say that you have achieved a wonderful milestone in your travels... and I love the part where Santa has become your patron saint and he fulfills your wishes...

    I hope you are wishing for more such journeys.. Iceland perhaps :)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, I am sorry for the mishap you know how I would have loved to read your views, my loss for sure. But Thanks again.
      I just came back from Arizona and Utah. its been a great experience. Iceland letsee when... World is So big I have just started exploring... but good that I have :)

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  3. Replies
    1. Hehehhe.. just about it. Thats all you deserve.

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  4. Amazing! And I thought you did all this alone :-P

    Where to next?

    -Zaqijo

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    Replies
    1. @Zaqijo - hhahah.. did you? I am very good at pretending then.. LOL.
      as for where to.. still thinking.. still time, 11 months write 2014. Not in the hurry at all. :)

      how about you? where are you going.

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