For the last year or two, Jim and I have had a master plan. School is intense, and pretty crazy, and we didn't get the typical newlywed time with no children so we tend to try and get away now and again by ourselves. He's often the one who orchestrates this, and he's been planning something big to celebrate once he finishes his comprehensive exams. The goal was initially to do them this year, right before Christmas break. That meant that our celebration could take place in January on the beaches of Hawaii.
I've been pretty excited for that trip. I'm sure he doesn't know how much because I didn't really talk about it, I just kept it in the back of my mind and used it as a determining factor in things that I would do - like how I'd cut my hair - based on where I wanted it to be when we got to traipse around the islands. A little extreme? Perhaps.
And.... then we found out about our little man entering the picture in January. Reality hit. There is no way I'm flying to Hawaii a week before my due date or with a week old baby. The trip was cancelled. Even though I'm very excited to meet this little guy, I was a little disappointed that the trip wasn't an option any more. Jim however felt that meant we should do something before he shows up.
We decided on a long weekend and picked one that seemed reasonable, then picked a destination that would be practical. Between Alaska and San Francisco, Alaska won. I wasn't truly convinced when I gave the go-ahead to get the tickets, and was both excited to go and worried that it wasn't the best choice, especially when Aeryn's school FINALLY posted this year's calendar and I realized we would be leaving on the second day of school. Jim found friends for Aeryn to stay with and we were off. I was excited, but had really low expectations. My only goal was to be fully present and be someone who was fun to be with. I literally said silent prayers for at least an hour on the plane that I would be able to relax and enjoy the time with my husband. It was remarkable to me that the anxiousness I felt when we took off in OR was completely gone when we landed in AK. I didn't worry at all after that and was able to be fully in the moment. It was fantastic.
Our first main stop was Denali National Park.
We had some hopes of what to see and Jim really hoped for a moose. I did too, as I felt short changed to not see one last time I was in Alaska (1995!). Driving in we saw this she-moose, as we affectionately called her, and had to snap a pic to prove it happened.
The next morning we took the park service shuttle out to Eielson Visitor Center and it was lovely. So incredibly lovely. Driving into the park we saw the leaves changing from completely green to mostly golden. The farther we went into the park the golden leaves turned to brown and most had fallen already. The red leaves were blueberry bushes putting on a show.
As if a moose wasn't exciting enough, we saw bears. Eight bears to be exact. My favorite sighting was a golden sow and her dark furred cub right next to her. It was incredible how hard the golden grizzly was to see amidst the sparse foliage.
These were taken at the Toklat River visitor's center. It was really bright and beautiful, but also very windy.
It's a horrible picture, and my hair is completely in my face, but I got to be a caribou for a moment.
Jim got to be a moose. I have to say those antlers are all much bigger than I ever realized. They are heavy too! How do the animals avoid continual headaches???
One of the best things about our trip into Denali is the fact that we are now official members of the 30% club! Apparently only about 30% of the park visitors ever get to see a clear view of the mountain. We were lucky and had a remarkably gorgeous day. Jim loves the horizontal line that shows a clear division what altitude the snow fell. It was really gorgeous to see the last bits of fall in the valley and the first bits of winter on the mountains.
This was the first and last stop our bus made. It was cloudy in the morning when we stopped, but by our return trip in the afternoon the valley was much more visible.
After finishing the shuttle trip we stopped by the kennels to see the sled dogs housed at Denali. They were smaller than expected, but very energetic. Jim was a good sport, since he's not so much a dog person, and pet every one that would let him.
I loved this girl. Her name was Sylvie and she was a big fan of the ol' belly rub. Quite a sweetheart. I was really excited to text Aeryn pictures of the pups because I knew she would love them. She maintains at this moment that Huskies are her favorite dogs. That may change by the morning, but for today that is what she thinks.
Leaving the National Park we drove through Denali State Park on our way to stop #2. These sights were so breathtaking. Jim stopped on the side of the road so I could snap this picture.
This one was taken at the same stop, just looking another direction. The golden leaves were so vivid!
Needless to say, by this point in the trip I was convinced it was a good choice. We were already mesmerized and having such a good time together. That hubs of mine is an awesome travel companion.