Day 15: Anchorage

June 11, 2011

We woke up on our last day in Alaska to a beautiful blue-skied morning. Matt’s parents went to visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which provides an introduction to Alaska’s native people through interpretive displays, artifacts, photos, demonstrations, dances, storytelling, and films. Matt and I opted instead to bike along Anchorage’s Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, running 11 miles along the coast of Cook Inlet. After another delicious breakfast, we walked over to Pablo’s Bike Rental to pick up mountain bikes and a map.

Pablo (in the background) is not responsible if we get stomped by a moose on the trail


22 miles in three hours - can we do it?

The path was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday morning; there were a few other bikers and joggers around, but overall, we had the trail to ourselves. Keeping our eyes open for wildlife, we referred to the map for descriptions of various landmarks along the way. We stopped at Earthquake Park to read about the 1964 Good Friday earthquake; the biggest ever in North America at a magnitude of 9.2, it killed 131 people and flattened much of the region. The park is the site where the quake caused huge tracts of land to slide into Cook Inlet, destroying many homes; the majority of the deaths occurred due to the resulting tsunami that devastated Valdez and nearby coastal towns of Seward, Kodiak, and Chenega.

Ears back? You've angered the moose.


Commemorative sculptures and interactive displays explain the earthquake and its aftermath

The coastal trail runs past Anchorage’s Ted Stevens International Airport; at one point a jumbo jet flew so low over us that I actually ducked. 🙂

Part of the runway alignment system


Neat bench design

The Anchorage Lightspeed Planet Walk runs from downtown to Kincaid Park at the end of the coastal trail; a scale model of the solar system, each station has a 3-D representation and information on the unique features of each planet. It is designed so a leisurely walking pace mimics the speed of light, i.e. the eight minutes it takes you to walk from the Sun station to the Earth station equals the eight minutes it takes for a light beam to travel from the sun to Earth. Similarly, it takes you and a light beam 5-1/2 hours to reach Pluto at Kincaid Park. When we passed Neptune we figured the trail end was near, but when the last half-mile of the trail turned out to be totally uphill, I gave up and let Matt ride ahead in search of Pluto. I rested in the grass until he returned, exhausted and disappointed in the lack of a Pluto station. Perhaps the project designers subscribe to the theory that Pluto is not a real planet after all.

They may have deep-sixed Pluto because Matt couldn't find it on the trail


Biking back toward downtown Anchorage

It took us just over 90 minutes of our three-hour rental time to make it to the end of the trail; the return trip was a little faster and we arrived back downtown about ten minutes early. We chatted for a while with Pablo and his brother about how they ended up in Alaska and how Pablo quit his job in the dull office building across the street and now greets his old coworkers when they look out the windows. Thankfully, they also convinced us to try their mother’s-secret-recipe smoked salmon quesadilla.

Returning the bikes


This was so delicious we went back later and had another one for dinner. YUM.

Posing with Pablo - Alaska's state flag painted on side of his trailer

On summer weekends, Anchorage has an enormous open-air market featuring over 300 vendors offering Alaskan-made crafts, ethnic imports, clothing, jewelry, music, and all sorts of food. Walking through downtown toward the market, we stopped to watch a live music performance and check out a few gift shops.

I did not see any live bears in Alaska, but this one was happy to pose with me.


We saw several excellent hula-hoopers around town

At the market, we wandered through the booths, admiring the beautiful art pieces and other crafts. It was crowded; occasionally an announcement came over a loudspeaker welcoming the arrival of another tour bus. We bought some locally-made tea and delicious kettle corn before meeting back up with Matt’s parents.

Anchorage's popular summer market


Took me a minute, but I was highly amused by this t-shirt


Live music and goofy shop names

After a quick stop back at the bike rental place for another smoked salmon quesadilla, we headed back to the guesthouse to get packed up. Matt and I walked to the nearby park for a few more holes of disc golf, then we said our goodbyes to Carly and left for the airport to catch our 11:30 PM red-eye back to Chicago. Matt’s parents leave tomorrow for a week in Denali National Park – here’s hoping for some clear views of Mount McKinley!

Alaska Airlines = good airline!

My Alaska highlights: sea kayaking and delicious halibut in Homer, disc golf and a beautiful bike ride in Anchorage, stunning glaciers and darling otters in Whittier, the moose who was kind enough to make an appearance even though all the bears stayed hidden, and spending so much lovely time with Matt’s parents, who I don’t see nearly enough. Rick and Mary, thanks for letting us tag along on your trip – it was fantastic. 🙂

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