Monday, November 30, 2015

Throwback: 2013 Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon

A lot of people running marathons in all 50 states choose to finish in either Alaska or Hawaii. These are "bucket list" states that are expensive to travel to and are a once-in-a-lifetime trip for most people. For Scot and I, travel to Anchorage, Alaska was just another long marathon weekend, albeit an amazing one. We redeemed frequent flyer miles to travel to Alaska, so that made the trip affordable. We made all our travel plans in secret and didn't tell any of our running buddies that we were going. You see, the 2013 Mayor's Marathon was to be the 50th state finish for our friends Eddie and Jc. We thought it would be fun to surprise them in Alaska. This blog is as much about our entire Alaska trip as it is about the marathon, and it's got lots of photos.

View from the air as we approached Anchorage
Welcome to Anchorage!

This was a long weekend trip, but because of red-eye flights, we had most of 4 days in Alaska, even though we are only staying for 3 nights. All of our nights were spent in Anchorage. We left DC on a Thursday night and changed planes in Phoenix, then arrived in Anchorage early Friday morning after midnight. We picked up our rental car and then we were off. We wouldn't be able to check into our hotel room for hours. I can't remember exactly how we worked the details, but I think we did some driving around in town and then parked the car to get a little nap. Later, we must have gotten some food and been first in line at the packet pick-up.

At the expo

When we finally got settled in our hotel room, we decided to let people know we were in town. Scot did this by calling both Eddie and Jc, separately, under the pretext of wishing them a good race the next day, and congratulating them on 50 states. And then it came out that yes, we were in town, and we would be running with them the next day. Eddie and Jc were going to separate pre-race dinners, Eddie with his family and Jc with some other Marathon Maniacs. Scot and I crashed both dinners. We ate at the first one with the Maniacs, and just had a drink at the second one with Eddie, Nilda and family.

Dinner with some Maniacs, featuring Jc, who was about to run a marathon in his 50th state

Saturday morning was race day and the weather was nice. We drove to the finish line and caught the bus to the starting line. There, we found many other Maniacs and 50 States Marathon Club members. We took several pre-race photos as people arrived at different times on different buses. And then we are off!

A bunch of us Marathon Maniacs at the start

The first part of the race was on a bike trail, and then we ran for several miles on a gravel road. There were some nice views, but I did get tired of the gravel after a while. I ran at different times alone or with some other Maniacs. Later in the race, we were on the road and then on more bike trails.

Early in the race, some running water

On the gravel road with mountains in the background
Even when the foreground wasn't scenic, the mountains in the background did not disappoint
And we ran trails that looked like this

The last stretch of the race was through a neighborhood, and then we finished in a park in town. I hoped to see moose on the course, because apparently they are a common sight, but I didn't see any. I saw mosquitoes. Oh boy.

Nearing the finish with Nilda

What is Scot up to behind me?

The race was well-supported, as I recall. One of the aid stations near the end of the course had popsicles. But there were few spectators, even in town. It was kind of as if Anchorage residents had no idea there was a marathon in town that day. Nilda and I finished near each other. Scot and Eddie came back from the finish to meet us. Eddie and Jc had changed into their 50 States Finisher shirts and we congratulated them. After collecting our medals and t-shirts, we were part of quite a few photos with fellow runners. There were a lot of people we knew at this race, so it was fun to catch up with them.

And a bunch of us at the finish
With Nilda at the finish
Front and back of the medal

After getting cleaned up and rested, we met up with a bunch of folks for a post-race dinner at Humpy's Ale House. Humpy's couldn't accommodate us, so we walked over to a random Mexican restaurant that was near our hotel. It wasn't the best place, but they were able to seat most of our group on the patio, with a smaller table inside. It worked.

At dinner after the marathon; can you guess what color the race shirt was?

On Sunday Scot and I took a day trip south to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and then as far as Whittier. The conservation center was nice because it was the only place we actually saw Alaskan wildlife. There were elk, moose and caribou. There were bears, porcupines and bison. And there was a bald eagle that could no longer live in the wild because someone had shot at him and he lost one of his wings. His name was Adonis and he still looked majestic.

A real porcupine! 
Do these elk know how good they have it?
Do these caribou know?
A friendly moose?
This moose gets to live here, and I hope he appreciates it
This bison calf with its mama was the cutest thing
View from the conservation center
Those animals get to see this view every day 
Adonis the eagle

The drive south of Anchorage was beautiful. Scot kept wanting to stop at every Scenic Overlook pull-off. The problem was that there were so many, and all of the views were amazing. We would never have gotten anywhere if we stopped at them all.

View on the drive to Whittier, with a chunk of glacier ice 

To get to Whittier we had to drive through a tunnel. Then we drove around town and explored a little. We found a park with a stream of glacier water that was  clean, crisp and ice cold.

Queueing to enter the tunnel to Whittier
Whittier view 
Glacier run-off
Beautiful and cold water

We wanted to drive farther south, but just didn't have the time to really enjoy it, so we headed back to Anchorage. There, we had dinner at the famous Moose's Tooth restaurant. They had excellent pizza and brewed their own beer. I was happy. We left Moose's Tooth close to 11 PM, and the sun was not fully set.

Breadsticks from Moose's Tooth. Our pizza looked equally yummy
Loved their posters, and their beer
Moose's Tooth plate and whatever dark beer I was loving at the time

Monday was our last day in Alaska, and we packed it full of sightseeing before our red-eye flight that night. We took a 6-seater float plane trip from Anchorage airport and got to fly above some glaciers. That was really amazing! The plane landed once on our trip, so we got to experience taking off and landing in the water twice each. I was so glad we splurged on this little excursion.

We had the back seat, there were two other passengers in the middle row, and the pilot and his friend in front
View from the plane
The blue ice is very old and very cold 
Scot deplaning on a glacier
View of Anchorage on our return to the airport

After the plane ride, we had lunch at Humpy's in town then decided to drive north. There was no way we had enough time to visit Denali National Park, but we wanted to see how close we could get, and see if we could view the famous Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley. Our first stop was in Wasilla at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters. We learned all about the famed Iditarod race and even got to ride in a sled (with wheels for the summertime) pulled by some of the dogs. There was a litter of Alaskan Malamute puppies that were adorable and I got to hold one or two of them.

Entrance to the Iditarod HQ
Monument to the dog Balto 
On our "sled"
One of our dogs

Next, we kept driving north and reached the quaint town of Talkeetna. This was as far as we'd be able to go and still drive back and catch our flight. I really like Talkeetna. It is a major base for hikers, one of the last civilized stops before Denali. The vibe was very low-key. We spend time walking around the town and taking in the local sights. And then we had to leave.

Before we left Talkeetna, we asked some locals if there was a good spot near town where we could see Denali. We got directions to an overlook and pulled in. We got out of the car and looked in the direction where the enormous mountain should have been, but saw nothing. We saw a few clouds, the rest of the sky clear, but no mountain. And then it hit us: Denali was there. It was higher in the sky that we had looked. The white-capped peak was peeking out above the clouds, indicating that it was still VERY far away. That perspective gave us an idea of the mass of the mountain. It was amazing. But it only barely showed up in our photographs. We will have to come back!

The drive back to Anchorage and to the airport was kind of sad. We no longer had time to stop at sights along the way. We had used up all our free time and needed to make haste to catch our flight. Our travels in Alaska only scratched the surface. We were never very far from Anchorage, but there is so much more of the state to explore. Gotta go back!

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