Tuesday, November 26, 2013


The only bear I saw


Host house in Anchorage 

Russian churches and influence abound.

Middleway Cafe

Getting the lay of the land from a local.

Oh hello.

Sweetners playing their CD release party

Pack Rat Antiques 

Tiny coffee drive throughs all over the place.
By the end of the week I was wearing shorts


Hiking Flattop and Couchsurfing in Anchorage

Couchsurfing in Alaska was easier than I could have ever expected. Invitations to stay poured in and I had to sift through requests to meet up for coffee or hike. For my time in Anchorage I settled on a group house with a girl named Roz. Here are some excerpts from my journal.

I woke to the sound of Montana shuffling around in her bag. Montana wasn't really her name of course but she answered to it readily, her big blue eyes looking softly amused each time the nickname was used. I pulled my eye mask down to confront the startling contrast of broad daylight.
I had arrive in Anchorage the night before, weary and a little concerned about what I would do if my hosts were asleep. In a text previous to my departure I had warned Roz of my post midnight touchdown and got a "yep that's normal" as a response. 
We pulled up to the given address. "So these are strangers?" the driver asked again with concern. I had explained couch surfing to him but he still seemed to doubt its reality. Perhaps the slight lilt of anxiety came through in my voice. I had never arrived so late to a host house. What if they didn't answer? Where would I go next? The taxi driver waited until I waved him off and I had stepped into the warm yellow glow of the living room to gratefully sink into one of the offered couches. 
Roz and Ryan were still awake to greet me as well as Daisy, the basset that was to claim the side of my leg for the rest of the evening. Roz is the bright-eyed spitting image of Lauren Ambrose in Six Feet Under. In moments after meeting me she was calling me "girl" and offering all the vegetables and beer her fridge had to offer. Ryan is the familiar stoner type. Laid back if a bit reserved, but welcoming. 
My long day of layovers and taxis in New York had not been lost on arrival and I soon bowed out to claim my spot in the basement next to another sleeping couchsurfer. 
I rolled up my sleeping bag the next morning, carefully repacking my backpack. At nine in the morning the light was already pouring in the windows as if it were mid-day. I reached the landing up from the basement and heard a swift paw at the side door that lead out to a cement porch and a backyard dotted with winter-locked grass.
I opened the door to let Daisy in and was almost thrown back down the stairs when the door swung open and a dog the size of a small pony barged in. Enter Max the St. Bernard, soon to be followed by Rebecca, his "momma."
She offered her name and an easy smile. Rebecca is that special type of person who makes you feel warm inside. There was something markedly maternal about her despite her cursing and often silly demeanor. 
"I was not expecting that," I said, pointing to Max as I explained that I had opened the door for Daisy. 
"Oh Daisy is gone for the week. Roz is camping in Washington. She said you can have her room while she's gone actually."

One of the things that amazes me most about couch surfing, which is the same thing that provokes panic and doubt in all my non-surfing friends and family, is the inherent trust that has to go along with the process.
Alaska took that trust even further though. Throughout my stay in Alaska I was given leave to come and go as I pleased. No doors were locked and no warning was need to preview my hosts as to my daily plans. 
In turn I was lead to trust as well. Trust that my belongings would be safe in my given room while I roamed and trust that the door would in fact be unlocked when I returned. 

I stayed with Ryan, Rebecca and Roz when I first came to Anchorage and then again when I got back from Homer. 

Where I stayed the first night

On my return to Anchorage from Homer, Ryan and I decided to hike Flattop Mountain. Flattop is the most hiked mountain in Alaska because it distance, at a stone throw from Anchorage, opens it up to tourists as well as locals. It's 3,510 feet in elevation and about 1.5 mile hike up. 
The mountain was still mostly covered in snow and I was quickly reminded that I do not care for snow hiking. Dogs sprinted past us and tired hikers at the top chose to slide down on their coats rather than risk the slipper crawl down. 

But eventually we made it and just in time to see a paraglider take off from the top. Flattop a really stellar view of Anchorage and the coast and despite the hassle of the snow it was totally worth the hike. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Where to Eat Vegan: Moose's Tooth - Anchorage, Alaska

Pizza is a no brainer for vegan travelers. Aside from "fancy" pizza places who like to add cheese or egg to their crust - a good baked dough spread thick with tomato and basil and piled high with veggies hits the spot without much fuss.  Moose's tooth doesn't offer vegan cheese unfortunately but they do offer a bevy of veggies for toppings, a gluten free crust and their own beers from Broken Tooth Brewing. 

Crimini Mushrooms, Artichoke Hearts, Kalamata Olives, Broccoli, Roasted Garlic, Green Peppers, Romas, and Marinara grace the Veggie Delight - sans cheese of course. 

Not feeling pizza? Go to their sister restaurant Bear Tooth Theatre for a vegan burrito and a movie. Either way you'll leave with a warm, full tummy. Service was fast and the food was flavorful. 

3300 Old Seward Highway
907- 258-2537

Monday- Thursday 10:30 AM to 11 PM
Friday 10:30 AM to Midnight
Saturday 11:00 AM to Midnight
Sunday 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Somewhere New: Seward, Alaska

Spring in Alaska is a magical time. The sunlight returns and the buds start to grow and everyone is in a jubilant mood. My first few days in Alaska felt like an east coast winter. Naked trees, wind and a general overcast funk lay over the land. Everyone I met lamented that spring was weeks behind schedule. Perhaps one of the coolest parts of my trip was that by the end of my week spring had fully arrived. I've never before been so present in the change of a season as I was this week watching the trees and plants burst in only a few short days. 

I joined some friend of my boyfriend for an overnight camping trip on the Kenai Peninsula. Lauren, Eric, Joe and Amy and a whole team of dogs set up camp at Ptarmigan Creek

Camping in Alaska 101: It always rains - bring a tarp and some Crazy Creeks.

I have to say the Alaskan mentality impressed me. The weather can often be harsh and sometimes downright miserable I imagine but that doesn't stop people from spending time outside or being active. 
In no time at all, well actually in like half an hours time, the boys had our tarp up and we were unwrapping food and passing around Fireball.

The campground was full of other happy campers but each campsite had a protective barrier of pines around it obscuring our view. Nestled in our makeshift fort we dined on jiccama potato salad and several raw vegan treats that Joe and Amy made. The dogs came to attention and stared off into the pines to our right. Over a stump a giant jowled head peeked into our campsite at us. He stomped through the trees towards us, giant pendulum of a tail swinging back and forth as he approached us to the furry of our dogs.
The voice bellowed from the protected pocket of the neighboring campsite. The lumbering monster stopped momentarily and half turned back towards his site before continuing towards us. More crashing through the pines and next to pop over the stump was what we presumed to be Zeus's human companion. Rotund and red headed he made his way towards us still shouting at his mythologically sized dog. 
"He's harmless he's just big," he promised us. After introductions he jabbered on about having a dog that you don't have to bend down to pet before traipsing back through the woods to his campsite. "You all should come over," he offered, though we were already quite content where we were.

A while later we heard loud laughing from his campsite and one of the dogs wandered over to their site. He called through the trees to tell us he had our dog and that we should all come over. Holding her hostage? We walked over and joined there group and then began our awkward interactions full of his drunk misremembering of our names and that eventually ended with each of us slipping away under pretenses never to return. 

The morning brought sunshine and after breakfast and breaking camp we headed for Seward. 

Seward is the home of the Mount Marathon Race in which 800 men and women run up the mountain on the 4th of July. The race has been run since 1915 and is actually kind of hard to get into with people all over sending in their application with hopes of being able to run.

Still packed down with snow in May we made it a tiny way up the mountain - enough to see back out to the bay - and then headed back in search of hot drinks and food. 

Us girls took a walk down to the piers and checked out boats while the boys headed down to the water with fishing poles. The clouds rolled back and the mountains came out behind the harbor and it was beautiful!

Seward is a tiny little town that looks like it survives mostly on tourism and luxury cruising boat enthusiasts but as always there's more to a town than meets the eyes and we were only in Seward for an afternoon. 

The local collector - there's one of these odd people in every town I feel like. 

Something we didn't have time to do was visit the Alaska Sealife Center. Maybe next time!

We headed back to Anchorage and low and behold, all the buds from a few days before were already unfolding.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Where to Eat Vegan: Two Sisters Bakery - Homer, Alaska

Whenever I travel I always make sure to peek into the local bakery. Multiple people in Homer recommended Two Sisters Bakery as more than just a bakery but as a place to take in the local community. 

Not only can you get delicious bread here but you can also get treats for your dog - Homer Hounds - or treats for your skin - Alpenglow Skincare - or treats to nurture your morning beverage addiction
 - Jars of Clay Pottery, all made in Homer. 

My travels have shown me the impressive will of small communities to provide for themselves. I find that nationally there is a push to "buy local" that often doesn't translate into real businesses being created or real purchases being made in a person's own town. Homer, perhaps because of it's end of the road setting and its absence of big box stores seems to live the slogan in a way that puts large cities with more resources to shame. The local community here though is surprisingly vibrant and welcoming and proud of their neighborhood offerings. 

Perhaps large cities aren't ideal for producing and buying locally? Any ideas on this?

On this morning, as I ducked into the bakery from the cold, a simple bagel with jam and an almond milk chai latte were enough to hit the spot but most days you'll find a vegan muffin, sandwich and dessert option. The fresh breads change daily and if you are lucky enough to be visiting on a Thursday do not pass up the Rosemary Garlic Ciabatta.

233 E Bunnell Ave

907 - 235 - 2280

Monday - Friday 7am to 6pm
Saturday 7am to 4pm
Sunday 9am to 2 pm

Monday, November 18, 2013

Palmer - Birthplace of Foundroot Seeds

Leah was one of the first people I contacted on couchsurfing before coming to Alaska. Her profile started with this:
 "I own a small vegetable seed company in Palmer, AK and spend most of my time exploring, collecting, and enjoying Alaska's bounty."

That was all I needed to read. We met at the Spenard Farmers Market. Her tent was full of buzzing gardeners asking questions about the heartiness of her seeds and a charming daughter father pair - the father being obstinately skeptical and the daughter desperately trying to convince her dad that starting seeds and then saving them is the way to grow an Alaska-proof garden.  I stood by silently and marveled at Leah's pointed, educated responses to all of the fretful man's questions. 

Leah and her partner Nick started Foundroot less than two years ago. When I complimented Leah on her beautiful display stands and well designed logo and fonts she shyly accepted the compliments with a "well it's come a long way in only a year." 

Foundroot is one of those stories you hear about a duo who sees something that need to happen in the world and decides, hey I can do that, and sets to it. When I asked Leah how she felt confident starting a company she said at first she didn't. She did a lot of research and started the company as a side job. Little by little she spent more and more time working on Foundroot and as her legs grew her need to work outside jobs shrank. Eventually Nick hopes to join her full time in the company and they are looking for land to purchase to start a farm where they can really start growing some seeds. 

The whole premise behind Foundroot is to source seeds into Alaska that will stand up to the specific conditions of Alaska. From there, Foundroots goal is to be put out of business, as they say on their website. But not by another company, by the people of Alaska. Eventually Leah and Nick hope to foster a closed loop seed saving system in Alaska. How cool!

As we pulled into Palmer past stock piles of broken down vehicles, a mini ferris wheel and all the scrap metal a welder could ask for, Leah cringed and apologized for the rustic surroundings. But really, that scene could have been anywhere in the US in my mind. We talked about the Alaskan mentality and the desire to move somewhere where you can really just do what you want - and if collecting old tires is your thing - then they do it! In all the strangeness of Alaska I almost found this setting to be most like home and most comforting - so far away from the Dan Ryan neighborhoods of the lower 48. 

On the way home to Palmer we stopped to get some coconut ice cream and blood orange Italian soda. We lounged in their woodsy yard eating our treats and getting to know each other. 

After treats it was down to business. Like any seasoned gardener Leah started with a map - leek here, carrots there. She even had a companion planting guide

All of Leah's seed that she plants and sells are non-GMO, 100% open pollinated seed - yay!

Nick decided to try his hand at a permaculture garden. Not only do permaculture gardens take companion planting into account but they also commingle different crops and the gardener must think about the growth rates of the different crops in his bed as well as their height and spread to ensure ideal growing conditions and continuous harvest opportunities. 

Nick and Leah's place was so warm and inviting and full of plants!

The aftermath of our floats

After planting some seeds and having dinner in town we drove over to Chugach State Park to take in some mountains. Despite being well into the night at this point the mountains were still golden and magnificent under the Midnight Sun of Alaska. 

My time with Nick and Leah was too short but the next morning I was off on another adventure to meet some new friends.