Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Day Six and Seven: The One Where We Go Home

Tuesday saw another early start, as we had plans to be at Chena Hot Springs Resort. The reason we had to leave so early is that the road to Chena is 56 miles long, with ice everywhere and moose too. As the shotgun seat resident for the majority of the trip, moose alert was my job. We were all looking forward to this part of the trip, so it was well worth the hair-raising conditions.

We started out at the spring itself, with 17 of us going swimming, while the other three went to the ice museum. The spring is natural, and is fed through a man-made filter before being piped into a natural style pool, with gravel floor and natural rocks all around. The best part about this is that it is outside, so that you are being snowed on (but not really because there is so much steam coming off of the water), while in the water. We took some cute pictures, and some people got icicles and pretended to be wizards! I did not go into the ice museum, but from pictures it seemed to be a pretty neat experience.

After the spring, it was time for lunch. Because our insides had basically been boiled in the spring, it took us quite a while to feel the cold around us. I know at least for me and one other person, a parka and hat were not necessary for the walk in the snow (it was also actively snowing) to the lunch hall. After eating a great meal, we had a few options. The one I chose was to visit the sled dogs for the resort. While we weren’t able to pet them, we did start a howl which was pretty great. There was also a puppy that jumped its fence and came over to see us but don’t tell anyone about that. After getting some hot chocolate since we cooled off walking to the pups, we went on a tour of the geothermal power plant and greenhouse that makes Chena famous. The entire place is run off the grid, with the geothermal power plant providing most of the power during the winter, and pretty much all of it in the summer. They only use backup generators when there is a shortage of power coming from the geothermal plant.

We then got to see the greenhouse where they grow lettuce, tomatoes, and mushrooms for their restaurant. The tomatoes had all just been pulled, but it was cool to see the room. The lettuce and tomatoes are grown with an aquaponics system, with the water being temperature controlled separately from the water that the geothermal system heats.

After getting back from our daytrip, we had some time to get cleaned up and nap before our last nigh in Fairbanks. We had dinner at a great little place called Gambardello’s. If you didn’t think you could get good Italian food in Alaska, you would be mistaken. It was great to get some time to kick back, relax, and just have some time all together. The forecast called for level five auroras, but it was cloudy all around and outside of Fairbanks, so there was no chance to see them. Personally, I’m glad we didn’t go out because 1) after the night before, it would have been very difficult to top the show the lights put on and 2) we had to leave bright and early to drive back to Anchorage to go home. We also had to pack our bags in the manner in which they were when we flew out so that was a Thing.
The next morning, we were all up, dressed, fed, and out the door by 8am, which was the goal. We had a six-and-a-half-hour minimum drive to Anchorage, but that did not include stops for bathroom breaks, the South observation point, snow plows, or just traffic once we got to Anchorage. All told, it took about eight hours to get to the city. Along the way, we listened to everything from epic adventure music from the Star Wars, Episode VII score, to country.

The most impressive thing about the drive was the way the sky cleared and the mountains all around were visible, including Denali! I had seen the mountain while on my mushing adventure, but it was still not very clear and only the very top of the mountain was visible. On this day, the sky was clear and the only thing obscured was the very top, due to the fact that Denali is so tall that it makes its own weather. Lenticular clouds were the name of the game. The lucky part about this spot is that there were tire tracks in the knee deep snow (I am serious about this, it was crazy) so that we could walk without getting too much snow all over us. One thing I have to say about the snow is that it is nice for skiing and snowboarding because it’s like powder, but at the same time if you don’t have any experience with this kind of snow, you could walk on a beach with powdery sand (think Fort Walton Beach or Panama City Beach before Ivan) in boots and get almost the same leg workout.

After our stop for pictures, it was time for the final push to Anchorage, as there is not much between Anchorage and Denali National Park except for moose and a Subway. When we got to Anchorage, we headed downtown as some people still needed to buy gifts for their family and friends. While there, we found a small park that had some Christmas lights in the trees, and decided to take a picture as a car. The Manners Moc Mobile really bonded on this trip, and while I will miss the company, I will not miss being crammed into a Suburban with them all.

With the trip coming to a close, we met some alumni for dinner, and then made our way to the airport. We had about three hours to kill, so we explored the airport, braided each other’s hair (literally), and waited for patiently for our (slightly delayed) boarding call. The flight was quite miserable, in that there wasn’t much turbulence but the plane constantly felt like it was bouncing. Me being me, of course I didn’t feel great when we landed in Denver. None of us were really feeling up to snuff for it to be 7am in Denver, and 9am at home, so we took a good long nap on the floor at our gate while waiting for our (again, delayed) flight. The thing with these flights that are just delayed due to the planes arriving at the gate a few minutes behind schedule is that with the right pilot, you might just make it to your destination early, 15 minutes early to be exact. Getting off the plane, it was weird walking on the jet bridge because it felt like a sauna compared to Anchorage and Denver. When we had gotten our bags and were waiting outside for the buses, we were reveling in the fact that it was not dark outside. However, once on the buses, we all just wanted air conditioning.

Arriving back at campus was bittersweet. While I was excited to see my family, I very much did not want to leave the beauty of Alaska behind so quickly. As I write this, it’s been about 48 hours since we left Anchorage, and it is starting to feel like a beautiful dream. Long story short, Alaska is a 10/10 would recommend experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list, especially seeing the Northern Lights. If you get a random chance like I did, jump on it and don’t let anything stand in the way of it.

That’s all for now; I’m not sure when or where I’ll be traveling next, but you’ll be the first to hear about it. Signing off!

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Day Six and Seven: The One Where We Go Home

Tuesday saw another early start, as we had plans to be at Chena Hot Springs Resort. The reason we had to leave so early is that the road to...