Drive south on the only road out of Anchorage — past Girdwood, Portage and a handful of other could-be Northern Exposure film sets — and eventually you’ll reach Seward, one of the most bustling cities in Alaska.
Home to only 2,600, Seward is not a big town in terms of population. But due to its location on the Pacific coast, each summer it sees waves of tourists stepping off cruise ships and railroad cars and into its many gift shops, tour vans and fishing boats.
As the cash register rings, the sea lion roars, and on and on it goes until, like the ocean tide, everything dries up and the locals are left to their saltless pretzels at Pit Bar and whatever asshole music happens to be playing on the jukebox.
After two ill-fated attempts, Jess and I finally made it to Seward on Saturday. We ate baked salmon and halibut at Exit Glacier Salmon Bake and set forth in search of a campsite. To us, the perfect site is a great view with no trace of human presence. After driving around the city and finding nothing but crowded family campgrounds, we turned up Exit Glacier road and struck gold at mile 6.5. Along the road were a handful of gravel turn-offs leading to private sites along Resurrection River. We grabbed one of the last open sites and set up camp for the night.
The next morning we drove around the corner to Kenai Fjords National Park and embarked on a 8.5 mile round-trip hike up the Harding Icefield Trail.
Two miles into the hike I spotted a black bear about 20 feet up the trail. I quickly readied the bear spray and camera, in that order, but despite a few arm-waves and stern hey bears! the animal appeared utterly indifferent with our presence. Girdwood bears bolt at the first sign of humans, but this bear regarded us in the manner a vegetarian might regard a burger. Whatever. We stood and watched for a spell until eventually it was time to move on. With my thumb on the trigger, we eased our way past the bear, at one point coming to within a hockey stick of touching his nose. Not once did he look up. Once safely on the other side of the trail, we looked back in awe at this beautiful and deadly animal and considered ourselves lucky for witnessing (and surviving) such a close encounter.
Another hour or two of climbing and we reached the Harding Icefield. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen, snow and ice as far as the eye could see. It was a nice setting for lunch and yet another example of the extreme beauty and diversity one might find in Alaska.
After the hike we returned to camp and Jess made dinner while I attempted to start a fire in the rain. (Tip: Find something dry, there’s always something. In the fire pit light the dry material from the bottom and add whatever small, dryish sticks you can find. Twice as much as you’d think. Once the wood begins to burn add a few larger sticks in teepee shape and begin stacking the big pieces squarely around the pit to dry. Once the fire is indefinitely ablaze, crack a beer and whittle a stick to make gummy worm-wrapped s’mores.)
We awoke Monday to sunny skies and drove into town to check out everything in general and the Alaska Sealife Center in particular. Utilizing a BOGO coupon we found in the Tour Saver, we wandered the two floors of seals, birds, fish and info placards until our short term memories were full and it was time to leave one great place destined for another.