The prospect of a 1,500 mile road, rail and ferry trip around southern Alaska posed a sartorial challenge for someone more used to designing elegant frocks and slick business suits for my clients at Alice & Co in London.
The Lonely Planet guide said ‘no matter what your travel plans are, pack your fleece’. That’s the one thing my overstuffed wardrobe doesn’t have!
This seemed to be an adventure which required ‘gear’ rather than outfits. I was fearing the worst – cold, wet and lots of mosquitoes…
was enjoying an early summer heatwave so sandals and short sleeves might have been more suitable. Better still the mosquitoes had yet to wake up although I believe they can get very nasty.
Downtown Anchorage is a funny old place, much of it was flattened by an earthquake in 1964 and rebuilt without much planning. But it does have the fabulous Anchorage Museum, some great restaurants and a very good microbrewery. Many residents live in the surrounding mountains where it’s not uncommon to find a moose in your backyard. There’s a severe shortage of roads in Alaska but no lack of rivers, sea and lakes so those that can afford it keep a sea plane in the garage.
If there’s a good shoe shop to be discovered I’ll find it and between drinking an Ice Axe Ale at the Glacier Brewhouse microbrewery and the ladies powder room I stumbled across Suzy Q which has an astonishing array of styles and colours – you can even hold your birthday party there.
The Anchorage Museum shop has some elegant jewellery and intricately woven baskets made by Native Alaskans keeping alive their fine craft skills. If you’re a knitter you can also buy qivuit wool from the musk ox which is eight times warmer than sheep wool and softer than cashmere.
These gorgeous embroidered bags could be by Kenzo
Some nifty leatherwork
Glacier Brewhouse – my seafood chowder kept me energised all afternoon.
Sacks – Looks old fashioned but serves great food – try the local halibut which is an Alaskan staple.
Orso – Italian inspired with fresh local fish and seafood. Don’t miss the crabs.
The Snowgoose has a big terrace you where you can sit and watch the sun go down with a cocktail or brewed on site beer – but that might not be until four in the morning.
They’re very big on reality TV in Alaska and if you’ve ever wanted to be in Ice Road Truckers here’s your chance. The cheery team at Salmon Berry Tours will organise it for you.
The brave and skilled drivers at Carlile Haulage have featured in several series and you can visit their HQ and have a go yourself on their $133,000. simulator. It’s uncannily real and quite scary, you really feel you have the weight of the giant truck behind you. Our group all came unstuck on a hairpin bend and jackknifed in the blizzard. Think I’ll stick to my Fiat 500.
My Ice Road Trucking outfit was red jeans and a John Smedley sweater.
I’m a big fan of Derbyshire-based John Smedley,
who make classic, colourful knitwear that is ideal for travelling.
The high-viz vest is courtesy of Carlile Trucking Co.
Anchorage to Seward by train…
Aboard the Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic you can enjoy the landscape and your breakfast from the observation car.
In the 3 hour ride I spotted a black bear, eagles and Dall sheep.
I wore a vintage tartan chenille jacket from Ooh La La Vintage Paris.
Shopping in True Value Seward Harbour
Seward is a popular place for boat trips – I ticked off whales, sea otters and seals from my I-Spy book of Alaskan wildlife.
Then I enjoyed a drink on Fox Island
… while watching some hardy sea kayakers.
Seward to Homer by road…
was a 170 mile drive but we had the road to ourselves except for the odd moose…
was one of my favorite stops.
It has lots to recommend it including horse riding with a cowboy
– a fabulous five-hour trek up the valley, fording rivers and cantering on the beach.
A vintage 60s sweater from Portobello Market, a red corduroy cap from Sicily and my sturdy Dubarry boots kept me warm on the ride.
Mark Mansett lives on his ranch with no mobile and no email but does in true cowboy fashion ride into town to pick up his messages.
So do leave one, you won’t be disappointed.
Or how about…
going on a bear-watching flight
Best paw forward!
When you’re done with your day’s adventures you can treat yourself to a drink at
Drank the champagne and bought the tee shirt…
The Idiot fish (yes, it’s really is called that) at Two Sisters Bakery. Also try their tiny local oysters and leave some room for the delicious home made pastries.
Homer to Whittier by road…
This is a long and lonely drive that takes 4 hours, and as the scenery became more and more bleak so our petrol gauge sank lower and lower…
I began to worry if we’d make it through the Whittier tunnel,
which at 2.6 miles is the longest tunnel in North America. We did it, on the very last drop.
Whittier is straight out of a JG Ballard novel. Most of the population live in one giant tower block linked to the harbour by a spooky tunnel under the railway.
The Prince William Sound museum has some interesting exhibits of military history and lots of reminders of how close it is to Russia.
When you’re done with your Cold War history lesson you can have a reindeer sausage hot dog for lunch.
Whittier to Valdez by ferry
Next stop: jump on a car ferry to Valdez, the voyage is a peaceful seven hours past yet more spectacular mountains and if you’re lucky lots more ticks for your I-Spy book.
The cheerful crew seemed just as excited as us passengers to spot sea otters, seals and porpoises even though they must see them every day.
Valdez is an oil terminal so not a place to linger but just out of town hidden up a hill is Robe Lake Lodge
a cosy log cabin – if you don’t mind stuffed moose heads and bearskin decor.
The young owners built it themselves which has got to be impressive!
Valdez to Anchorage by road…
Another long drive where we stopped at the Wrangell-St Elias National Park, which is the size of Switzerland.
Here I admired the Common Loons, easily the most stylish dressers in Alaska with their black and white tweedy feathers.
They could be the inspiration for a winter outfit.
Our last stop was at friendly Sheep Mountain Lodge
I dressed up for a last delicious dinner of wild Alaskan Salmon in a wool jersey dress from Paris, where my friend Tara has a boutique filled with unique treasures.
In the greenhouse I met Russell the Moose. Russell is left over from a reality show about taxidermy. Well the winters here are very long..
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