All About Alaska, Part 3

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Last month we looked at the Iditarod Trail and some of the rather unusual activities in which you can participate when visiting Alaska — from the $25,000 Iditarod Trail Sweep tour to the Ice Road Trucker simulator.

Alaskans are very inventive with winter activities. One unique thing to do is to wager on the exact time that the ice on the Tenana River will break up. It’s called the Nenana Ice Classic and is run by a nonprofit organization that benefits several Alaskan charities. Tickets can be purchased for $2.50 each throughout Alaska, but unfortunately can’t be mailed to the lower 48. Last year’s payout was $283,723!

The river “went out” on May 1, even though the ice measured 42.7 inches thick eight days earlier on April 23. A tripod is placed in the ice on the river with a line attached to a clock tower. When the tripod moves because of ice breaking up, the clock stops at the exact time, and the lucky person with the closest guess wins the jackpot. This has been going on since 1917, and was originally started by surveyors for the Alaskan Railroad. By the way, Nenana, originally a native Athabascan village, is a small town along the Tenana River between Fairbanks and Denali, mile 412 on the Alaskan Railroad, or about 300 miles north of Anchorage.

Recently the 90-plus years of statistics on the ice break up have come to the notice of climatologists as one of the world’s most scientific indicators of the effects of global warming. You can see the preparation, celebration, and actual ice break up on You Tube.

The Alaska Railroad

While we cannot distribute tickets for the Nenana Ice Classic, we can provide tickets for the Alaska Railroad and any of its 12-, 10-, seven-, six- or five-day adventure packages or day tours. If you want to see Alaska independently, or at a more leisurely pace than the four-day cruise tour add-on, come see us about the Alaska Railroad. Customized packages for pre- or post-cruise land tours can be based from Seward, Whittier or Anchorage, and include glacier and wildlife viewing cruises and overnight Denali tours, including hotel and rail service from Anchorage or Fairbanks. Tours are available for wheelchair travelers or passengers with limited mobility.

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Carol Watts photo

The Alaska Railroad is a way visitors to the state can see more of the inland area at a leisurely pace than is available through tours from cruise ships.

The Alaska Railroad is one of America’s last flag-stop trains. The route from Talkeetna along the Susitna River and through the Indian River Canyon winds through a 55-mile stretch of wilderness that can only be reached by train.

The Hurricane Turn runs Thursday through Sunday round trip from Talkeetna to Hurricane Gulch. You can get off the Hurricane Turn train anywhere along the way and stop the return train with a wave of a flag. Locals have been riding the train to reach their remote cabins or favorite fishing spots this way since 1923. There are three main summer routes: The Denali Star between Fairbanks and Anchorage with stops at Denali and Talkeetna, the Glacier Discovery leaves Anchorage for Whittier, but does not return to Anchorage, and the Coastal Classic which departs Anchorage in the early morning for Seward and returns to Anchorage in late evening that same day. By far this is the most scenic route, and the train of most interest for cruise passengers who would rather experience the slightly over four-hour train ride than a three-hour bus transfer. Trains run daily in summer (mid-May to mid-September). In the winter, the Aurora Train runs only on weekends between Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Additionally, a roundtrip flight from Fairbanks can be arranged through the Alaska Railroad that will take you above the Arctic Circle for views of the Brooks Range, Gates of the Arctic National Park, and a wilderness outpost landing. Or you can take a one-day guided tour on the rugged Dalton Highway above the Arctic Circle to a trading post across the Yukon River. For this trip you receive an official “Arctic Circle Adventure Certificate.”

The 40 Below Club

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Carol Watts photo

The Nenana Ice Classic is a betting game where the contestant tries to guess when the Tenana River ice will begin to break up and when the water will start flowing again. Proceeds benefit numerous charities in Alaska. The Alaska Railroad is a way visitors to the state can see more of the inland area at a leisurely pace than is available through tours from cruise ships.

Alaskans jokingly say that they have four seasons: June, July, August and winter. Last year when we did a Princess cruise tour, we became official members of the 40 Below Club. This attraction, found both in Fairbanks and at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, allows you to experience the extreme cold of the Far North. There are exhibits of how animals adapt and how to winterize homes and vehicles to function above the Arctic Circle. You can see what happens to soap bubbles in this severe cold. 40 degrees below is the same temperature on the Fahrenheit and Celsius scale. Our official certificate attests that we have “survived life-threatening temperatures of 40 degrees below zero in Alaska and are entitled to full bragging rights as a Real Alaskan.” Needless to say, we didn’t stay too long in the “cold room.”

Cruise Port Travel is your local Alaska expert for cruises, tours or independent travel. Visit us at www.travelpayson.com.

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