Four Down Two Across: The Alaska Table Tennis Club And Mendenhall Glacier

It’s almost midnight in Anchorage as I write this, and the sun is just setting. Dawn is only a few hours away. The sheer length of a June day here takes some getting used to.

Robert and I started the day with a 9 a.m. meet-and-greet at KTOO, the public radio station in Juneau. About 60-70 listeners showed up. The station manager interviewed me on a small stage, and I ended by presenting some quick oral word puzzles – which the audience answered amazingly quickly.

On our way to the airport afterward, two ladies from the station graciously took us to see the Mendenhall Glacier just north of Juneau. They said the glacier has receded hundreds of yards in recent years, but it’s still an awesome sight.

Tonight in Anchorage, Robert and I joined the Alaska Table Tennis Club, which has a lot of solid players, including the reigning Alaska state champion. Karl Augestad runs the group. About 75 people turned out. As part of an exhibition, Robert performed some trick shots, including hitting the ball behind his back, around the net and with his shoe. We also played lots of matches. I won some and lost some in singles, but Robert and I were undefeated in doubles. A reporter/cameraman from KTUU, the local NBC affiliate, filmed part of the evening for a story to air on Friday night’s 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts.
Regarding my word teaser yesterday, the answers were Juneau-Augusta-Tallahassee and Juneau-Austin-Indianapolis.

Here’s a new one: take the name ANCHORAGE and change three letters in it – without changing the order or positions of the six remaining letters – to spell a new word. At least one vowel has to change to a consonant or vice versa. Can you do it?

I don’t know if my answer is unique or not, but see what you can find.

Follow Will and Robert’s Trip across Alaska through next week at “Four Down Two Across.”

Tourist Killed In Flightseeing Accident In Alaska

CambridgeBayWeather, Wikimedia Commons

One tourist is dead and two others seriously injured after a plane operated by flightseeing company Pacific Wings crashed into a mountain lake in southeast Alaska on Tuesday, USA Today reports.

According to the news outlet, six cruisers visiting Alaska on Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Sea Bird were off on a shore excursion when the tiny, single-engine floatplane similar to the one pictured above went down in a remote area near the town of Petersburg. Alaska state troopers identified the dead passenger as 66-year-old Thomas Rising, whose wife had remained on board the ship while he took the flight alone. The other five tourists, all of whom survived along with the pilot, were members of the same family. One passenger suffered a broken back and another a broken leg, with the others reporting minor injuries.

Alaska Daily News writes there are no early indications as to what caused the crash, but a spokesperson from Lindblad tells the news outlet the company “clearly [has] concerns after an accident like this.” Currently, Pacific Wings is the only airline offering this type of service for Lindblad out of Petersburg.

Video Of The Day: Modern Day ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’

Before beginning his doctorate in biomedical sciences, “Alex the Adventure Biker” took a break to realize his lifelong dream: to ride a motorcycle through the Americas. Over the course of nearly a year and a half, he rode his bike through 22 countries as he made his way from El Paso, Texas, to Argentina and then back up through Brazil and all the way to Alaska – a journey of more than 82,000 miles.

“In short I drove solo half way around the world, through interstates, highways, dirt roads, no roads, mud, rivers, through hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, rain, hail, sun shine, snow, ice roads you name it and I made it back,” the adventurous biker wrote on his website. Ride along and check out the varied landscape as he saw it (and some disco dancing, too) in the video above, which was created from more than 600 hours of footage.

Nat Geo Television Stars Offer Alaska Travel Tips

Alaska Travel Tips - Don't Miss Denali!There is no question that Alaska is one of the top adventure travel destinations in North America, if not the entire world. The brief Alaskan summer brings incredible opportunities for climbing, backpacking, camping and fishing, giving visitors a chance to explore everything the state has to offer in relatively warm conditions. During the winter, Alaska becomes the ultimate outdoor playground for those who enjoy cold weather escapes. From dogsledding and snowshoeing to cross country and heli-skiing, it is paradise for the adrenaline junkie and explorer alike.

Covering an area more than twice the size of Texas, Alaska is by far the largest state in the Union. That makes it a daunting place for travelers, who often struggle to determine what it is that they want to see and do in the limited time that they have there. Fortunately we were able to call in some local experts to provide Gadling readers with some great travel tips for visiting the 49th state. These experts all happen to be residents of Alaska and they also happen to be featured on two new television shows that are debuting soon on the National Geographic Channel. They have been kind enough to share their thoughts on the best experiences that Alaska has to offer.

Our first two experts are Dallas Seavey of Willow and Marty Raney of Wasilla, both of whom appear in the new Nat Geo show “Ultimate Survival Alaska,” which debuts tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The show drops eight survival experts into the Alaskan backcountry, where they must cross 3000 miles of remote wilderness with nothing but the gear on their back. Dallas is best known as the youngest winner in the history of the infamous Iditarod sled dog race, while his co-star Marty is a mountain guide who has led 17 successful expeditions to the summit of Denali – also known as Mt. McKinley.Dallas recommends that visitors to his state take a scenic drive to really get immersed in the Alaskan landscapes and culture. He says:

Alaska Travel Tips - Dallas Seavey“It’s hard to see all of Alaska in one trip. But if I only had a week to go to Alaska I would travel between the coastal town of Seward, where I grew up, and Willow (4.5 hours north) where I live now. This would give you a good sampling of what Alaska has to offer. Between these two locations is one of America’s top ten most scenic highways and many of the “must see” sights. While the summer months are by far the most popular for guests, I would also consider seeing Alaska in the winter when the state boasts it’s most unique and extreme side.”

On the other hand, Marty says if you have just one day to kill, under no circumstances should you miss his favorite mountain:

Alaska Travel Tips - Marty Raney“Here in Alaska there are a million things to do. To choose just one, I would recommend a drive or a train ride from Anchorage International Airport to Talkeetna. There you would take a flightseeing tour of Mt. McKinley. It’s the most impressive thing in one day any average Joe could do. There is nothing like it on planet earth. Landing at base camp, you will stand on glaciers one mile thick, while one of the tallest mountains in the world looms above. Dwarfed by mile high granite spires cloaked with thousands of deep blue hanging glaciers, you quite possibly will be scared s—less. This breathtaking, beautiful landscape-and also foreboding and eerie landscape-will be up close and personal. It is a masterpiece of God’s handiwork. You will realize your insignificance like never before. It’s surreal. It’s spiritual. It’s meditative. It’s contemplative. Whether atheist or believer, it will be the loudest sermon you’ve ever heard.”

Our other two Alaskan experts are Andy Bassich from the town of Eagle and Sue Aikens of Kavik. They’ll both appear on the show “Life Below Zero” when it debuts next Sunday, May 19 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. That program follows the lives of six Alaskans who live off the land, scraping out a life in one of the harshest environments imaginable. Andy and his wife Kate live along the beautiful, but remote, Yukon River, which freezes solid each winter, completely cutting them off from civilization for months at a time. They may have it easy compared to Sue, however, as she is actually the sole inhabitant of the Kavik River Camp, which is located 197 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Andy tells visitors that they shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to explore the river on which he lives. He says:

Alaska Travel Tips - Andy Bassich“An experience you will never forget is a three day to two week float down the Yukon River. It is a very peaceful way to experience the true wilderness via a canoe, which was the traditional way of travel in the early years. You could float up to 50 miles a day, and in addition to amazing scenery you’ll see moose, bears, eagles and many other types of birds and wildlife. I recommend camping along the shores of Island, and fishing the feeder streams for grayling pike and shee fish. You also may get lucky enough to meet the hardy people who have carved out a quality life along the Yukon River. You’ll experience true quiet and solitude at a relaxed safe pace. It’s also a great trip for novice.”

Meanwhile, Sue tells us we shouldn’t overlook a visit to the remote high Arctic:

Alaska Travel Tips - Sue Aikens“My home (Kavik) in the high Arctic puts me in the center of the great caribou migration, the migratory bird path and nesting grounds as well as having the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge out my door. In some ways even I will never have enough time to see all that my own area has to offer, but with careful planning and homework done, you could easily chip away at seeing and experiencing some of this state’s s most beautiful and challenging experiences. Fly fishing, rafting, hiking in untouched areas, and watching 500,000 Caribou thunder past on their migration route. I can raft down wild rivers and see rare and wonderful sights, and you can too!”

There you have it, great travel advice from four Alaskans who have intimate knowledge on what their state has to offer. You might not be able to take advantage of all of their suggestions on your visit to the state, but they’ll certainly provide a nice starting point.

[Photo Credits: National Park Service, National Geographic]

Alaska Volcano Erupts, Air Travel Disruption Possible

Alaska Volcano It’s been nearly two years since scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) warned that Alaska’s Cleveland volcano could erupt at any time, issuing a code yellow eruption advisory. Saturday, those scientists were proven more than right.

“We haven’t seen a phase like this where we’ve had multiple explosions,” Rick Wessels, a geophysicist at the US Geological Survey‘s Alaska Volcano Observatory, told Reuters in a Christian Science Monitor report.

Over the weekend, the Cleveland volcano erupted, spewing gas, steam and low levels of ash 15,000 feet into the atmosphere, directly into the commercial airline flight path between Asia and North America. While disruption in the atmosphere at 15,000 feet is well below the normal 35,000 feet cruising altitude of commercial aircraft, the concern is that further eruptions could disrupt air traffic, much like Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano (pictured) did in 2010.Then, nearly 20 European countries closed their airspace after a secondary eruption ejected an ash plume that rose to a height of 30,000 feet. For now, scientists wait and watch.

[Image credit - Flickr user finnur.malmquist]