The Odyssey of [to] Homer

I can think of no better way to celebrate Christmas on my blog than by recapping our travels of another great holiday, Labor Day. The one town in Alaska that we didn’t hit on our summer travels that I’d really wanted to see was Homer, and so this year for Labor Day we made it a priority.

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The best thing about Homer, aside from being the Halibut fishing capital of the world, is that it can be the source of many great puns based on The Odyssey. The English teacher in me was loving it. I believe at one point Derek, exasperated, asked me to stop calling on the Muses and talking about how Odysseus must be sooooo tired from his travels. I’m hilarious!

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Homer is an 11 hour drive from Fairbanks, so it was definitely ambitious of us to try and make it that far just over a three day weekend. I had initially planned a trip to Homer this summer with my friend Stacy, but we had to change it to Talkeetna last minute. I had heard amazing things about this little coastal fishing town.

We hauled everything into our car after work on Friday, and then made the drive from Fairbanks to Anchorage. (About halfway through our drive we looked at each other and said, “we are never doing this drive on a school night again”. To people who are from Alaska 6-7 hours on the Parks Highway might be nothing, but to us, it is terrible.) We stayed overnight in Anchorage and then drove 4.5 hours from Anchorage to Homer.

Once we finally made it to Homer we were immediately in love. We had an amazing little Airbnb that backed up into a moose sanctuary. We also loved loved loved (incorrect grammar just so I can express my deep love!) the Homer Spit! There are a ton of little shops, fishing charters, and restaurants that all jut out on the Spit into the Gulf of Alaska.

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Mac’s first ocean experience!

Initially we had booked a fishing charter, but ended up cancelling it because we brought Mac with us and had to check out of our Airbnb and couldn’t bring him fishing (duh). We ended up being grateful to have a slow day in Homer, walking along the beach and enjoying some local restaurants. We ate at La Ballaine for brunch, which was really good, and we had halibut for dinner one night at a place whose name escapes me. (Okay, if we are going to be honest, Derek had halibut and I had a cheeseburger, because I love cheeseburgers and I will order one 99% of the times we go out to eat. I know, I know. I was in the halibut fishing capital of the world, and ate a cheeseburger. C’est la vie).

The town was beautiful. It was quiet and peaceful and not too touristy. It felt just right for us, a nice little oasis away from Fairbanks before the school year and winter really set in. We loved walking along the beach and along the spit and relaxing. It was perfect.

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View from our little Airbnb
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Brunch – my high school’s football team had just played Homer, and some of my students were on the front page!

 

The only thing I wish is that we had been able to stay longer! We had to leave on Sunday and drove back to Anchorage, but the plus side is we got to eat Moose’s Tooth pizza for dinner. It’s no Lou Malnati’s, but it is quite good. (#deepdish4ever).

We are hoping to make it back and go halibut fishing next summer if our schedule allows, but if not, it was the perfect little town and a great weekend getaway.

Alaska Travels: Sitka

If you have seen the excellent chick flick The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, you may recall that Ryan Reynold’s character was from the town of Sitka, Alaska. Fun fact: the movie was filmed nowhere near Sitka, and the movie’s representation of Sitka is a C- on the accuracy scale. (Still worth watching).

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Sitka Harbor. It was salmon season!
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Mt. Edgecumbe, a volcano, in the distance

When we were planning our Tour de Alaska this spring, I suggested looking into Sitka. A lot of local Alaskans I know through work had suggested Sitka to me, and after finding a good deal on flights we decided to add Sitka in for our travels.

Sitka is a fishing town in Southeastern Alaska, and is also only accessible from Fairbanks/Anchorage via plane or ferry, which is why we flew. (We actually flew out of Anchorage, making the trip to Sitka a 6.5 hour drive AND a 3 hour plane ride. Alaska is huge, guys).

When the Russians came to Alaska they settled in Sitka and also in Kodiak Island. In Sitka there is a Russian Bishop’s home that was restored to be a replica of what it would have looked like in the time the Russians were settling. This was the most interesting thing we did. We took a tour and heard about the relationship that one bishop in particular, Father Innocent, developed with the Tlingit people. (In a pleasant turn of events, unlike most colonization stories, their relationship was mostly positive!) The house was beautiful and we really enjoyed seeing it.

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Russian Bishop’s House
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Russian Bishop’s House

The other highlight was Sitka National Park. They have a totem pole display with a lot of huge totem poles, and also beautiful trails to walk on. The ecosystem is Coastal Temperate Rainforest, which is completely different than Fairbanks. (Read: the winter average temps are in the low 30s. Above zero).

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Beautiful hikes in Sitka National Park

One other thing to note is that we went to the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka. If you know me remotely well, you may have heard about a harrowing experience I had involving an owl the summer before my senior year of college. As a result, the Raptor Center was not my favorite thing, but it was cool/terrifying seeing bald eagles up close and personal.

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Injured bald eagles who cannot live in the wild. They actually take these eagles to the salmon run so that they can get their own fish when the salmon are running!

One thing we considered doing, but decided against, was a whale watching tour. Sitka is known for having beautiful ocean views and the whale watching can be gorgeous. It’s also expensive, and we had already done a whale watching tour in Seward, so we decided not to. But if you ever do go, definitely try one out!

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Cutest little homes
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The incredible foliage is everywhere!

Sitka had a completely different feel than anywhere else I’ve ever been in Alaska. It honestly felt more like a posh Seattle suburb than Alaska to me, which was weird. (For example: everyone manicured their lawns immaculately. What is this, a country club?) I honestly found myself missing the authentic and rustic Alaskan feel while I was there! I am really glad we had the opportunity to go to Southeastern Alaska, especially because it’s not easy to access from where we live. It seems like there is always something new to learn about Alaska. It’s so big and mysterious and wonderful. With every new place we go I fall a little more in love with this state, and Sitka was no exception.

P.S. Take me anywhere, and I will find a bookstore. The bookstore in Sitka was incredible. Take all my money. Take all of it.

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I want it all
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Does this smell like Mr. Darcy?

Seward: Mount Marathon

Derek and I just got back from an absolutely wonderful trip around Alaska. I can’t put into words how grateful and thankful we are to get to have this time and the resources to go on this trip. I will be writing a bit on those travels in the coming days and weeks, but today I wanted to focus on one specific circumstance.

Seward, Alaska is easily our favorite town in this grand state, and so when we planned our summer travel, Seward was one of our first stops. We spent 3 days in Seward and one of those days we were able to observe Seward’s 4th of July festivities, which include a 5k race. It’s not just any race – it is a 5k that has a 3,022 foot elevation gain. The fastest time ever run was 41:26, which is insane. (For some perspective: the current world record for a 5k is 12:37. Which is nuts as well). The runners run up and down a mountain and it is hard. They finish bloody and muddy and exhausted. And it’s awesome. (Read more about it here).

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The Mount Marathon race includes a junior race, a women’s race, and a men’s race. One fun little activity that they hold is also a “mini-marathon”, where they put race bibs on little kids and let them run the first 200 or so meters of the start of the race and the crowd cheers wildly. It’s really adorable. They do the mini marathon about 10 minutes after the women’s race has begun.

The kids got out of the start fast and we cheered and clapped and then the noise died down. People started walking away or turning to each other and chatting as we expectantly waited for the top women to return from the top of Mount Marathon. But then a little flutter of noise began to erupt from the crowd and people started clapping and cheering again. I turned to Derek and asked what they were clapping for. He pointed back to the start line.

A little girl who couldn’t have been more than three or four was still participating in the mini marathon. She was wearing a Belle costume and was assisted in her run by a walker, her mother, and leg braces. Each step was clearly laborious to her. She was trying with all her might to do that mini marathon even though her peers had long finished.

The best part – the crowd went wild. We cheered and clapped and yelled encouragement. People cheered just as hard for her as they did for everyone else, even for the top finishers of the race. As I clapped I felt my throat get tight as I thought about the beauty of it all.

This moment encapsulated what I love about running, and about people. There are no tryouts and you can’t get cut from the team. Everyone can participate. You don’t have to be fast, but you can be, and that’s okay too. Running teaches us that we can do hard things and that when we do, we will have people cheering for us on the sidelines.

The runners really fought in the Mount Marathon race and it was incredibly beautiful to watch. I will write more later about watching the race because it was so much fun to see and to celebrate people running such a difficult race. I love watching the ends of races no matter the distance because I just think it’s a beautiful triumph. They showed immense courage and fortitude and it inspired me to no end.

But I have to say that I think the person who showed the most courage that day was a little girl in a Belle costume who conquered the mini marathon.