Kenai Peninsula Whirlwind Tour!

A gloriously sunny, golden day was winding down into a late afternoon glow when Kyle and I left Anchorage in the trusty Subaru.  The ocean stood calm, reflecting the low-angle light.  The changing colors of the trees shone brilliant shades of yellow and red.  Out of town we sped, down the Seward Highway and then towards Homer.

I remember picking up hitchhikers a few years ago, on the way to Ninilchik with Nic.  They were trying to decide between Homer and Seward, and made their final decision based on the following logic:

“If you think about it, Seward is Sewer with a D.  Homer is Home with an R.  And I would rather go home!”

Similarly, to Homer we ventured.  The full moon rose over the scraggly coastline spruce trees, the sun out of sight, emitting a fiery glow from behind a steaming volcano.  Hunger and fatigue set in, and after a few confused minutes of driving around, lost, we finally pulled into the parking lot of Cafe Cups, arguably the best restaurant in Homer.  Oh, dinner.  Onion rings, salad with citrus cilantro vinaigrette, delicious fresh bread…  I had fresh halibut and salmon with some sort of red pepper salsa sauce, squash and baked potato, Kyle had ribs, and we shared a mountain of chocolate, shortbread and cream for dessert.  We left the restaurant ridiculously full, but oh so happy.

That’s when things started getting interesting.  Our waitress had advised us to spend the night in a nearby campground on the hillside, where we would be able to find a secluded campsite sheltered from the wind.  First, though, we decided to check out the Homer Spit, a narrow strip of land extending a few miles out into the ocean.  A few people were camping on the beach, huddled around a bonfire.  Otherwise, the spit was deserted, the rows of touristy shops closed down for the season.  The beam of light from the Salty Dawg Saloon’s lighthouse still swept the area every few seconds, revealing an almost empty parking lot.  We left after a few minutes, driving up to the campground we had been told about.

The campground, however, was sketchy.  Something about it didn’t feel right – the weird location between wilderness and town, the van in the parking lot that turned its lights off whenever we passed, the roped-off camping spots and complete lack of other people camping.  We returned to the Spit, setting up our tent on the beach.  The stakes didn’t hold very firmly in the sand, but we put rocks on them and figured that as long as it didn’t get too windy, we’d be fine.  Freezing, we crawled into our tent and attempted to go to sleep.

Then the wind came up.  And the rain.  The wind howled, blasting sheets of sand into the walls of the tent, making such a racket that it was impossible to sleep.  With each gust, the side of the tent smacked Kyle in the face, shaking the entire structure and leaving us to wonder how long it would be before the whole thing collapsed.  Around 02:30, we decided it was time to evacuate, hurriedly taking down the tent and throwing the whole thing in the back of the car.  We scrambled into the front seats, noticing someone else’s tent blowing almost horizontally in the storm.  To drive back to Anchorage and spend the rest of the weekend at home, or to sleep there in our seats and carry on the next morning?  It was late, we were tired, and the thought of a real bed sounded tempting at that point.  Yet we had already spent over 4 hours driving, so we reclined our seats as far as they would go and spent the remainder of the night in the Subaru, sheltered from the wild weather of the Homer Spit.

Waking up the next morning was not a good feeling.  With aching backs, growling stomachs and that general feeling of being poorly rested, we nevertheless decided to make the most of the day, and began the morning with a brief walk on the beach.  It was bitterly cold.  The sea was choppy and grey, the sky stormy.  Flocks of seagulls huddled on the beach, avoiding the treacherous wind.  The surrounding mountains, however, were newly christened with that magical first layer of snow, their jagged peaks looming epically in the background, and with this sight came new energy.  It was an exciting time of year, officially Almost Winter.

Thanks to the advice of some old family friends, we ended up at the legendary Two Sisters Bakery for breakfast.  As Kyle said, we could not possibly have imagined such a meal the night before.  The bakery was crammed full of locals in their down jackets and raingear, excitedly waiting in line to order every variety of amazing.  Kyle ordered two espresso shots, I had the best soy latte of my life.  We shared a hot, gooey cinnamon roll, two coconut macaroons, and a huge loaf of bread.  We read the newspaper and warmed up in the cozy, bustling atmosphere, amidst incredible aromas and morning chatter.  It was wonderful.

Great spirits restored, we decided to venture to Seward for the day, since it was too windy to be picked up by airplane (to visit family friends, as had originally been the plan) and we were already somewhat nearby.

The further we got from Homer, the more the weather improved, until we were once again cruising down the highway past some of the most vivid fall colors I have ever seen.  Seward was magical that day: calm, nearly deserted, the ocean and sky almost equally blue.  We wandered through the harbor, observing some fascinating jellyfish, feasted on fresh beer-battered halibut, shared an ice cream cone and sat in the sun.  It was lovely, but fatigue was setting in fast, and the drive back to Anchorage seemed more daunting than ever.  Then we got the call:  it was no longer too windy to go to Skilak.  A warm, inviting cabin was waiting for us, just a few hours away.

A fantastic evening ensued.  Huge amounts of pasta and vegetables followed by wine, limoncello and Scrabble made for a great time for everyone.  A baby moose has made its home on the island!

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