“Alone in an unknown wilderness hundreds of miles from civilization and high on one of the world’s most imposing mountains, I was deeply moved by the stupendous mass of the great upheaval, the vast extent of the wild areas below, the chaos of the unfinished surfaces still in process of moulding, and by the crash and roar of mighty avalanches.”
– Charles Sheldon in 1906, “The Wilderness of Denali”
High on the list of things I know nothing about you would find mushing. You know, mushing, like dogs pulling sleds through the snow.
So we drive to Seavey’s Kennel to see what this is all about. There are about a hundred dogs and it appears that all they want to do is run. We’re given a brief introduction: sled dogs can be any northern breed of dog, their ideal running temperature is twenty below and they can run a really, really long way. We learn that the Iditarod is a 1,000 mile dog sled race across the state of Alaska. We quickly figure out that the Seaveys are the royal family of dog sled racing (and suddenly we understand the importance of the Seavey sled sitting outside Jack London’s Cabin).
Since there is no snow on the ground, we board a wheeled sled and dogs are selected to pull. As the musher selects dogs, the kennel breaks out into a chorus of barks, each dog yelping and pleading to be chosen. At the musher’s command, we are off and the pups are pulling us along at fifteen miles an hour or so. The musher is soft spoken and his commands are gentle. We get to chatting with him and he tells us that he has completed the Iditarod twice. The folklore around the race is epic: hypothermia and broken bones, sled crashes and improvised repairs, snowstorms and the glory of completing the race, mushers’ unwavering commitment to their dogs. The sled pulls back into the kennel and we disembark. And then: we meet the puppies.
Leaving Le Barn Appetit, we head towards Exit Glacier, about eight miles up the road, for a quick visit. A mile long trail leads from the visitor center to the view point. The majority of the trail is paved and it is well worth the walk. We stare at the ice and look through binoculars at its formation – the frozen bubbles and soot and the little waterfalls formed by dripping snow melt. As I have said before, I am never one to turn down a trip to a waterfall.
If our cruise through the Kenai Fjords served as an introduction the Alaska’s land and sea, our stay at Le Barn Appetite provided us with an introduction the state’s culture.
Janet and Yvon are the proprietors of the establishment. She a retired high school teacher and he a Belgian crepe maker. Their story is quite something: the openness of their home to children in need of one (they’ve had nearly 20 foster children in total over the years), their resourcefulness and ingenuity, their resilience and humor. The B&B is a cobbling together of a diverse assortment of structures: a tree house, a cabin, a barn. The cabin, we are told, was built by the foster children one summer. They had nothing to do and were getting into trouble, so Janet instructed them to build a cabin…and they did. The aesthetic could be described, in a word, as kitsch. There are truck tires and school desks scattered around the property, all waiting for their next incarnation as a garden pot or fireside seat.
We arrive and are given a tour. Janet and Yvon’s home was destroyed in a fire a few years ago and the couple is rebuilding. Their new home is nearly complete and Janet shows us around with a great deal of pride, careful to point out several prized possessions and recent finds from the local Habitat for Humanity store. Everything has a purpose and I get the feeling that this woman has never wasted a single thing in her entire life.
Our tour ends at the “Jack London’s Cabin” where we’ll be spending the night. She gives an incredibly thorough cabin tour in one run-on sentence that goes something like “this is a real log cabin and this is a Seavy sled their family gave us, this is a cabinet I picked up for $8 dollars at Habitat for Humanity (points to price tag on the back as proof), Jack London’s books could’ve gone in here or maybe he could’ve had something like this in his home, don’t you think?, this is the bathroom, this is a curtain to give privacy between the two beds, and this is the bear my husband shot.” The whole tour comes out in one breath and is perfectly matter-of-fact. Ryan and I looked at the bear pelt and then at each other dumbfounded. The accommodations are incredibly comfortable and authentic.
The next morning the sun is shining and we walk over to the barn for breakfast. In the dining room, there are antlers and a taxidermied turtle and snowshoes and model airplanes and a deep sea diving helmet and family pictures and trumpets. Yvon is perched at a bar crafting crepes and holding court. He’s cracking inappropriate jokes and repeatedly asking for diners to call the Pope as the crepes they’ll be eating are so decadent they will almost certainly fall into sin. The crepes really are that good.
We have a morning activity planned and our time at Le Barn Appetit comes to a close, so we say goodbye to the innkeepers. We debrief about the innkeepers in the car and find ourselves in agreement that it was an absolute pleasure to spend a night fully immersed in Janet and Yvon’s reality.
An alternate title for this post could be: sea lions and whales and puffins, oh my.
We arrived in Seward, snacked on halibut tacos then boarded the Nunatak for a day cruise through the Kenai Fjords. The weather was cool and overcast, but the rain held off – apparently a rarity here. We pull out of the harbor and immediately see a pair of otters playing off the port side of the boat. We spend the afternoon cruising around the bay. There are misty whale spouts on the horizon and there are Dall sheep scaling the cliffs that drop into the bay. Seals nap at the water’s edge; sea lions bellow then flop into the water from their perch on the rocks. There are spinner porpoises playing in the wake of the boat. A veritable artic safari unfolds before us in Resurrection Bay.
Glaciers frame in the bay to the west, mountains to the east and the ocean to the south. If one were to construct a set for the play “Alaska,” I think this panorama would do nicely.
We pull into the shore for an all you can eat salmon lunch, then board the boat and continue exploring the Fjords. The air is cold and we are bundled standing, watching, drinking in the land and seascape. I notice that the captain is only wearing a short sleeve t-shirt. He points out a bald eagle in a treetop, then explains the difference between the two species of puffins swimming beside the boat.
We explore nooks and crannies around the fjords. There are uninhabited islands and we look for humpback whales. The captain turns off the boat engine and we listen for their breathy exhalation. All is quiet. We scan the horizon waiting for the next appearance. The whales surface in due course, on their own time. Not necessarily in the places we were looking, but magnificently, nonetheless. We are watchful, expectant, present. Quite a lovely posture, come to think of it.
I flew into Anchorage with zero visibility on our itinerary. I literally had no clue where we’d be going or what we’d be doing. Little did I know that Ryan’s wonderful boss who lives in Alaska had orchestrated the most incredible itinerary for us. I flew in Saturday night, then Sunday morning we hopped in the car and began an incredible little road trip around the state.
Seward was the first stop on our itinerary. Traveling from Anchorage to Seward takes about two and a half hours by car. The route travels along AK-1 which winds between Resurrection Bay and Chugach National Forrest. In short, the drive is spectacular – snowcapped mountains, a bay filled with beluga whales, alpine meadows. We stop at the midway point in Girdwood and eat humongous old fashioned donuts and apple fritters at the aptly named Alpine Café and Bakery. We continue driving until we reach Seward.
One can’t go wrong spending the afternoon wandering around the Musee d’Orsay or the Louvre, but in case you’re interested in exploring a bit further here are a few suggestions:
- The museum with the world’s largest Monet collection.
- Three of the world’s top 20 museums are in Paris.
- The 15 greatest works at the Louvre.
The wisteria blooms have arrived in all of their showy, fragrant glory. Did you know Marco Polo carried wisteria seeds from China in the 13th century? Or that wisteria is a member of the pea family? A wisteria vine grows wildly in our backyard and as I was sitting outside the other evening, I was reminded of wisteria covered buildings of the flea market in Paris.
One afternoon we ventured to Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen Market — the biggest flea market in the world. We followed these ever so helpful instructions on how to get there. The market is only open on Saturdays from 9am to 6pm, Sundays from 10am to 6pm and Mondays from 11am to 5pm. The flea market is sprawling and we walked from market to market rifling through old postcards, admiring artwork and ogling vintage designer luggage. Shopkeepers sat outside enjoying freshly shucked oysters and sipping rosé. We finished shopping, then set out to find our own glass of rosé. We walked to the nearby ma cocotte for lunch with the requisite glass of pink wine.
And, in case you’re interested, tips for treasure hunting here and here.
Just getting settled back into life at home after a week Madagascar. The trip included a layover in Charles De Gaulle and, of course, the requisite croissant. Now, back to a few more posts from my last trip to Paris.
Some photos of Notre Dame on Good Friday. Happy Easter, friends.