Category Archives: Travels

Winter Trip to McCarthy | Good Idea, Bad Idea

~ by Maria Benner

Log Cabin in Alaska in winter

Did you watch the Animaniacs in the 1990s?  One of my favorite segments was Good Idea, Bad Idea.  On our recent trip to our cabin in McCarthy I kept recalling the comical cartoon as we stumbled through our winter adventure in a remote section of Alaska.

Good Idea: Driving over 300 miles to our cabin in McCarthy in a 4×4 Chevy truck. We had chains, a snow shovel, winter gear, and plenty of food and beer in case we got stuck.

Bad Idea: Not checking the weather report before departure.  Minutes after leaving our condo in Anchorage we were driving through a snow storm that lasted for half the drive.  Once we got to the McCarthy road we had sunny weather, and the first part of the road was not bad, but then the snow got deeper and we ended up getting stuck, and had to put on tire chains.  The drive was super slow after that point.

Good Idea: Buying a snow machine last fall so we could take all our stuff from the truck to the cabin quickly in the winter.  We parked it by our cabin up on blocks so it wouldn’t freeze to the ground, and covered it with a tarp.

Bad Idea: Buying a 1993 machine and neglecting to get it tuned up in Anchorage before bringing it to McCarthy.  In the winter we can’t drive all the way to the cabin, so we park about 3 miles away, and ski up to it.  Once we got there we uncovered the snow machine, dug it out, and tried starting it.  We were really close a couple times, but it just wouldn’t start.  So we had to ski back down to the truck, and haul everything that couldn’t freeze on sleds up to the cabin.  We arrived after midnight!  That was a really long day!  In the morning we got the snowmachine to start, and got the rest of our stuff up to the cabin with minimal effort!

Skiing up to the cabin with a few supplies.

snow machine snow mobile in Alaska

Scott hauling supplies with our snow machine across the frozen Kennicott River.

Good Idea: Picking a week to go to the cabin when we don’t have any major projects going on, or looming deadlines for about a week after our scheduled return date.

Bad Idea: Assuming that we can drive out of McCarthy on the scheduled day, and get back to Anchorage to complete projects before deadlines.  While we were in McCarthy there was a big snow storm that lasted for two days.  It was a gorgeous day, and we went for a long ski in the snow, but we were really nervous about how much snow was accumulating on the McCarthy Road, our only way out of McCarthy with our truck.  We have a big deadline at the end of the month, and if we got stuck in McCarthy for a few extra days, we would have missed out on a big opportunity.  The road only gets plowed when the airstrip in McCarthy has over 18″ of snow and a plow needs to get to the runway.

Snow storm in Alaska

Heavy snow storm.

Good Idea: Making a meal plan and bringing enough food for a week.  There are no stores or restaurants open in the winter in McCarthy.

Bad Idea: Forgetting to leave extra food at the cabin just in case we got stuck for a few extra days.  We followed our food plan, and ended up having a bit of extra food that could last for about two days, but we decided to stock the cabin with dried goods for future trips.

Good Idea: Going skiing on the glacier, visiting friends, and relaxing around the wood stove in the cabin.

Bad Idea: Planning to do a little bit of work during our week long vacation.  We brought our laptops and Scott packed his oil painting kit, and we did manage to work, but we were really tempted to play hooky the whole time.

glacier ice in Alaska glacier ice cave iceberg

Checking out an iceberg on the Kennicott Glacier.

Overall I have more fond memories of the trip, and am starting to forget all the inconveniences and challenges.  I can say we learned many lessons from our experience, and hopefully our future winter trips will go much more smoothly!

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Our 5 Favorite Experiences in Oregon

~ by Maria Benner

We recently returned from a two-week trip to Washington, Oregon and Arizona.  In Washington and Arizona we visited family, but the reasons for going to Oregon were purely to have fun and to visit good friends from our college years.  Downhill skiing, long walks on the beach, visiting breweries, and eating donuts are all things that make us happy, so that’s what we did in Oregon.  Here are our 5 favorite experiences in the Beaver State.

5. Tillamook Cheese Factory. The last time we were in Tillamook more than 15 years ago, we forgot to bring our wallets to the cheese factory tour, so we couldn’t buy any ice cream at the end of the tour. I did not make the same mistake this time, and got to enjoy a delicious waffle cone with rocky road ice cream fresh from the factory. The new visitors center is under construction, but is scheduled to open sometime in 2018.

4. A donut shop on every corner in Portland.  We had been meaning to try a VooDoo donut for years, but didn’t want to stand in a long line. This time there was no line around 2pm. I ordered the Portland Cream (raised yeast shell filled with Bavarian cream topped with chocolate and two eyeballs, representing the vision of the great city of Portland), and Scott had a traditional cake donut.  Delicious!  Then we found out about the new donut place in town called Blue Star Donuts, so of course we had to test them as well. I ordered the Raspberry Rosemary Buttermilk cake donut, and got a bonus Blueberry Bourbon Basil donut for free, because the donuts were not very fresh that late in the afternoon.  I thought they were a bit dense, but Scott liked them more than his VooDoo donut.

Blue Star Donuts things to do in oregon

Blue Star Donuts

3. Craft Breweries. Oregon is a destination for world-class craft breweries that are creating avant-garde recipes, and reinventing the craft brew scene. We visited the new Pelican Brewing facility in Tillamook and Block 15 Brewing in Corvallis.  Block 15 really impressed us with its spot-on hazy IPAs and decadent imperial stouts. In Bend we went to Crux Fermentation Project, Boneyard Beer and Deschutes Brewing. We showed up to Crux during Sundown Hour when all beers are $1 off, and everyone watches the sunset while warming up around the fire pit, or playing lawn games. In Portland we sampled brews at Culmination Brewing, Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Great Notion Brewing, Fat Head’s Brewery, Back Pedal Brewing, and Hair of the Dog Brewing.  Scott painted live at Cascade (click here to read about that).  Every brewery had something unique to offer, and we couldn’t get enough of the fruity, hazy, hoppy IPAs and the barrel-aged sours.

Best breweries in Portland Great Notion Brewing

Tasters at Great Notion Brewing in Portland.

2. Skiing at Mt. Bachelor. We rented ski equipment, and hit the slopes of Mt. Bachelor for the fist time. The resort is only a half-hour drive from Bend. Unfortunately we didn’t have good luck on snow.  There wasn’t much of it, and the groomed runs were icy.  The Summit was closed, so we missed out on skiing a large percentage of the terrain.  The views were incredible though, and we had a great day outside in the sunshine.  We’ll have to come back when conditions are better.

Mt Bachelor ski area

View of Three Sisters from the top of Mt. Bachelor

1. Oregon Coast. We couldn’t go to Oregon without visiting the Oregon Coast, so we booked a hotel room with an ocean view in Rockaway Beach for one night.  We got really lucky on the weather, and enjoyed a five-mile walk on the beach during sunset.  The next day we experienced typical winter weather, but we left it behind as we drove over the mountain pass to Portland.

Oregon Coast sunset rockaway beach

Sunset on the Oregon Coast.

People ask us why we would ever want to leave beautiful Alaska.  Well, we try to only go to remarkable places, and Oregon is definitely one of them.

 

15 Highlights from Our Trip to Iceland, Russia and Germany

~ by Maria Benner

We just returned from an epic trip to Iceland, Russia and Germany.  The trip was my mom’s idea — she wanted to show us the real Russia.  On the way there, we had a layover in Iceland, so we decided to extend it for two days, and on the way back we extended our layover in Germany for a week.  In Iceland we stayed two nights in Reykjavik.  In Russia we flew into Moscow, took a train to a small village called Izmaylovo, then cruised from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  In Germany we flew into Frankfurt, and took the train to Bacharach, then went on a boat ride up the Rhein River to Koblenz, and took trains to Baden Baden, Munich, and Rothenburg.

So, here are 15 highlights from this month-long journey.

  1. The sights on the Golden Circle route in Iceland, which are Þingvellir National Park with a rift valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates, the Geysir that shoots water 70 meters in the air, and the incredibly gorgeous Gullfoss Waterfalls.

2. Red Square in Moscow.  This was my third time visiting Red Square, and each time I can’t believe I’m standing there, because it’s such a famous and powerful place.  I was hoping Putin’s motorcade would drive out the Kremlin gates, but no luck.

3. Going on a hay ride on a little buggy in a small village called Izmaylovo in Russia with our new friend we called Uncle Bob.  We also cut birch branches for the banya.

Hay ride

4. Taking a real Russian banya, which is a Russian sauna heated by a big brick stove.  We made brooms out of birch branches and whacked each other with them.  Supposedly that’s good for blood circulation.

Russian Banya

5. Going for a walk in a pristine Russian pine forest.

Russian pine forest.

6. Once we got on the river cruise, our ship had to go through many locks, which are devices used for raising and lowering boats between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways. Here’s a time-lapse video of the last lock we went through.

7. The Pogost in Kizhi, a church built without a single nail.  It has 30,000 wooden shingles on the onion domes.  The church was being restored, so this is the best picture I got of it, without showing the construction work.  Restoration should be complete in 2020.

The Pogost in Kizhi.

 

8. The Vodka Museum.

Vodka Museum in Russia.

9. St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, which took 40 years to build.  Those green columns are solid malachite.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

10. Peterhof Palace, the Versailles of Russia.

Peterhof Palace

11.  Staying in a castle hostel in Bacharach Germany.  The castle was on top of a hill, and there were 400 steps up to our room.

Burg Stahleck Castle

12.  Seeing the Lorelei on the Rhein River, which is a rock headland.  Legends say that a maiden named the Lorelei lives on the rock and lures fishermen to their death with her song.  In high school we had to memorize a very long poem in German for Frau Fischer’s class, and everyone had to recite it in front of the whole class.

Lorelei

13. Bathing in the mineral waters of Roman baths called Friedrichsbad in Baden Baden.  The Romans were the first to construct bathing facilities there in order to benefit from the special water.  Men and women all bathe naked here.  Sorry, no pictures.

14. Drinking beer at the famous Hofbräuhaus in München.

15. Last, but not least, is the tour with the Night Watchman of Rothenburg.  This man came up with a genius idea to dress up as the night watchman from several centuries ago, and do a one-hour tour every night in English.

The Night Watchman of Rothenburg

This was definitely one of the best trips of my life!  Thank you Mom for making it happen!!!