road trip

Alaska: The Last Frontier by Michael Durr

This has been a very special year. The places I have been and the things I have seen has made this one of the best years of my life. A trip to the state of Alaska was the cherry on top.

Max

My best friend, Jim, and I flew into Fairbanks on September 8, 2015. We were beyond fortunate to have Hajnalka, our close friend, who not only helped us plan our route, but also accompanied us on the first half of our trip. Hajnalka was key in turning this crazy idea into a reality. Her hospitality and sense of adventure not only made our trip exciting, but also pushed us out of our comfort zones. We were also lucky have to have John, Manoach and Max (the dog) with us on our two day float down the Tanana River. Luckily, we all managed to survive the trip. 

In addition to floating the Tanana, I can also say that I have seen the Aurora Borealis, taken a selfie with Santa in the North Pole, camped on a gravel bar, climbed a random river-side rock face, ate moose and, of course, rented a movie from one of the eleven remaining Blockbusters in the country.

Prepped for Denali

Cliff

Another crucial piece to this puzzle was Hajnalka let us use her brand new truck to travel from Fairbanks all the way south to Seward and back. We called the truck Clifford, The Big Red Dog. The photo above should explain where we got the name.

This road trip was unlike any I have been on. We were immersed in nature for the entire trip. The only place that even resembled home was Anchorage - a place that we were told was a half hour from Alaska in every direction. We mainly camped and only paid to sleep two of the nine nights we were there.

We drove for hours surrounded by fall colors, varying weather conditions and beautiful snow capped mountains. Once we reached our southern most point, the town of Seward, we took a five hour boat trip with Major Marine Tours. The tour, despite the cold and misty conditions, proved to give us quite a marine-life showcase. We saw seals, humpback whales, otters, and the amazing orca whales. We even witnessed an extremely rare double breach. The cold, wind and mist made for an ominous and erie environment, especially when we arrived at the Holgate Glacier, a huge glacier that is slowly receding into the mountains above Resurrection Bay.

We documented ever nook and cranny of our adventure and the photos truly do not recreate the feeling of being in the moment. The climax of our trip was the Kenai Fjords National Park. Against our better judgement we decided to get up at 6am so we could hike to the Exit Glacier. The hike was 8 miles round trip. We gained 1000 feet of elevation for the first four miles of the hike. At mile two, we were engulfed in a dense fog and we were faced with a decision to either press on or head back down. Needless to say, we pressed on and over the course of the next two miles we saw views that few have ever seen. The clouds opened up and revealed the massive Exit Glacier in all it's glory. We felt like we were at the end of the Earth. It was truly one of the most breathtaking sites I have ever seen.

Overall, this trip was an experience of a lifetime. It was a journey not only shared with a friend, but a brother.

Onward and Upward



Favorite Meals


The route starting from Fairbanks, heading through North Pole, stopping in Denali National Park, heading to Glennallen, over to Anchorage, around to Hope, south to Seward, back up to Talkeetna and ending back in Fairbanks.

 

The Beginning

The End

A very special thanks to all our new friends we met along the way.

If you would like to see more photos or are interested in purchasing prints please visit the link below or feel free to contact me directly.

2015_09_AlaskaTheLastFrontier

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The Trip Part I by Michael Durr

This year my friend Jim and I took yet another road trip. We embarked on "The Trip" on Saturday morning with no plan, no official destination, and no idea what we would see or do Our first stop put us in Jeffersonville, IN, where we stayed for two nights. Being that it was just the two of us, we were able to take our bikes, Batman and Orange Crush. After driving that first night, we were tired. We ate dinner in the hotel and stumbled upon Zombiestock 2012, where Grindstone was playing live in front of about 8 people dressed as zombies (ask me for the full story). The next day were were up early, had breakfast and drove to Bardstown where we biked around and had lunch at The Old Talbott Tavern. It was nice stop on the way to the Maker's Mark distillery. After Maker's, we biked over the bridge to Louisville, KY and stopped at a local place called The Garage - a great restaurant converted from an old car shop. We had some awesome pizza and delicious beer. I also had a taste of there jalepaño infused beer and was happy I did not get a full glass. Afterward, we hustled over to the local movie theater and caught a showing of Flight starring Denzel Washington. It was a great movie but not quite as action packed as we were hoping for. We stopped for one more beer near the hotel, after the rather dangerous ride back across the bridge, and we discussed our plan for the next day.  

In the morning, after a very serious discussion about driving to the Florida Keys, we began the drive to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We drove the better part of that day with a quick stop off in Corbin, KY - home of the very first KFC. We had a late lunch there and checked out the run down museum dedicated to the life and times of Colonel Sanders. He actually seemed like a cool dude. Of course, on the way we saw a sign for Woodford Reserve Distillery and we had to make the stop there. Those side trips took longer than expected and we ended up having to camp outside of The Smokeys at Cove Lake State Park. It was actually a great spot despite the very loud mechanical plant that we could hear all night. We made a fire, and I took some photos over the water, then we cuddled up in the tent and watched The Walking Dead on the iPad. The next morning it was the Smokeys or bust, luckily we were only about an hour away.

 

View all the photos 2012_11-10_TheTrip

The Trip Part II by Michael Durr

We arrived in the Smokeys, after driving through the ridiculous towns of Pigeon Forge and Gaitlinburg, and spoke with a ranger about where we should go. The park is enormous, but we found a great spot called Cades Cove. If offered everything we were looking for, bike trails, hiking trails, and access to the Appalachian Trail. We followed the winding roads up north to Cades Cove and found a great campsite buried in the woods. After setting up camp, we grabbed the bikes and went on a 13 mile scenic loop. We saw lots of wild life, and old structures that had been placed along the loop. Unfortunately, it began to drizzle and the roads got slick. Jim ended up wiping out on his bike and realized after about a mile that his glasses were missing. We detoured back and ended up finding them. The ride was amazing but much more challenging than we though. It was cold and rainy, plus roads in the Smokeys aren't like roads in Chicago. They have steep hills! We got back exhausted but did a quick little hike in the back of our campsite. It was actually pretty cool with a river running and a bit of mist in the air, of course I fell in the river and soaked my right shoe. When we got back to the campsite, since it was raining we drove down to a pavilion to cook our dinner and I spent some time in the bathroom drying my shoe with the hand dryers. After dinner it had stopped raining and we attempted to build a fire, the wood was damp and hard to work with but Jim pulled off a fire large enough for us to roast a few marshmallows and warm up.  

The next morning was the serious hike day. We discovered an 8 mile hike that seemed challenging, but not so challenging that we would end up not making it back before dark. Of course, I woke up to my right shoe completely soaked through. It had rained that whole night and my shoe was just on the edge of the tents vestibule and took on water all night. So, we had breakfast in the same location as dinner and I spent 30 minutes with the hand dryers again. We also came across an employee cleaning the grounds that asked us in his thick Tennessee accent if we were down from the AT. It made us feel good that he asked us that because we must have looked the part. With our shoes dry again, we began the hike. Eight miles, at least four of which we were hiking vertically, of treacherous wet leaves, loose rocks, mud and mist. It was difficult and we both cursed the weather a number of times, but it was worth it. We got to the top of a mountain surrounded by mist not knowing where the closest human was. We actually only saw two other people that day and they hiked past us like a couple of amateurs. We hiked with a Jet Boil and cooked up one of our backpacking meals at the summit of the mountain. Delicious. We could only imagine when we came to a break in the trees near the top what the view would have looked like, because for us it was like staring into a white wall. We did not let it get us down though, it was still an awesome experience. The hike down was faster then the hike up, but just as brutal. When we got back to the campsite we were soaked, smelly, and sore and had to make the decision to stay another night or drive to Nashville.

 

We knew that staying would not have benefitted us in anyway, so we began the five hour drive to Nashville. The drive was actually nice. We warmed up talked about the hike and got into Nashville around 9pm, keep in mind we left for the hike around 7am that morning. After having trouble finding out where to park, Jim found a place and I waited in the car while he checked us in. He texted me a few minutes later that there was 20 people ahead of him and it was going to take awhile. Then my phone died. We finally got into the room after a quick dinner in the lobby with a rather interesting waiter and we fell asleep immediately.

The next day, no driving, only biking. We woke up an watched another Walking Dead. From there, we had breakfast at the Pancake Pantry, and had lunch at Savarino's Cucina. We biked around the city seeing the sights and them came up with the Bike and Brew Experience. 4 breweries, 4 flights, in 4 hours... all on bikes. The journey began at Blackstone, where we chatted with our waitress about what places to visit and we got the low down on times and locations. The next place was Yazzoo they had a great beer called Hop Project and we met some cool people there. Jim ended up chatting with an EMT and I ended up chatting with a couple in from Kansas. We actually convinced them to have dinner at Blackstone and we ended up walking to the next loaction and meeting up with our new EMT buddy. The next place was Jackalope, they had some great beers and I ended up purchasing a growler to take Lindsay's dad in Indianapolis. After Jackaolope it was back to the bikes and on to Fat Bottom, we had our fourth flight and were feeling good. We ended up having an amazing burger there and them biked back to the Ramada across the street from the football stadium. It was time for a bit of drunken swimming in the guitar shaped pool. All of the rooms looked out over this pool. Of course we had to get the frisbee so I ran out to the car dripping wet in my suit and grabbed the bee. We played for about an hour chucking it around the pool. Someone may or may not have called the police because we ended up being told by an officer that the pool was closed. Then it was bed time.

The next morning, feeling refreshed, we began the 5 hour drive to Indianapolis. We stopped for lunch at Smokey Pigs in Bowling Green, KY and had some delicious BBQ. That place was hilarious! We pulled into Indy around 6pm and met up with Lindsay's dad. After some growler beer from Jackalope, we decided it was a good idea to eat dinner as quickly as possible and go see James Bond: Skyfall, it was awesome. Then it was back to the house for some r&r.

The next morning Lindsay's mom made us some amazing breakfast and we saddled up and headed home. Of course we pulled into Chicago minutes after a huge storm had just passed, but it ended up being a nice day in the city.

That was The Trip.

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