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We rose early to drive the two, three hours from Onundarhorn to hike Glymur Falls (3.8 miles, 1,000 ft elevation gain) in the only day forecasted to be sunny on our trip. It meant doubling back the way we came, but fortunately we were booked for two nights in the South.
I was dragging, but optimistic to see the second (?) highest waterfall in Iceland. Even before we got to the trailhead a smaller, charming waterfall demanded a pit stop. This would be a theme on our trip, so lucky! Sweeping swooping green slopes gave way to a waterway on one side.
I drove for part, getting to learn new roundabout conventions first-hand, including a gauntlet of six consecutive one. Nothing like rapid repetition to help you work things out in your brain.
On foot: after some flat, low-brush terrain, past tiny sprawling civilizations of mosi over rock, and Vottahellir cave (full of legends! And a plaque!) we got to an icy stream. The decision to cross at a wider but shallower point turned out well. I was very glad to have bothered to pack hiking poles mid-stream. What was icy cold turned to pins and needles of pain then, and my brain got to tell my legs to keep going, and faster(!) while my legs threatened to stop working from thinking they were on fire, and to give up all function. 
On Reykjavik Roasters
Reykjavik Roasters was in the university area of town. Early on a Sunday, it had a hushed but not unfriendly atmosphere tinged with a hipster coffee shop vibe familiar to Seattlites. My oat pudding breakfast even had chia seeds served in a mason jar.
As we drove out of town, I was at first struck by the prevalence of blocky buildings.
I felt a vague awareness I was supposed to find them ugly, surprised instead to find a quiet calm in the uniformity of seeing so many blocky buildings set side by side. Perhaps they were built by a somewhat boring but practical people.
The sky continued to lighten, and we sped out of the city.
This last installment on Alaskan Adventures is packed with travel tips. Enjoy!
“To know the wilderness is to know a profound humility, to recognize one’s littleness, to sense dependence, and interdependence, indebtedness and responsibility.”
-Howard Zahniser, author of the Wilderness Act of 1964
Downtown Fairbanks was more cosmopolitan than I expected (ok ok, I did not expect tons of urban life). Upon reflection, it warms my heart to say that visiting a place viewed as remote in the lower 48 turned out to involve many warm encounters with quirky, friendly folks. Even in a place with so much amazing, non-human-related nature, the people were a big part of what made the experiences so memorable. Thus, the quote above. Perhaps it is partly the unforgiving environment that forged a culture of down-to-earth friendliness among those who live here.
We witnessed various shenanigans on a Sunday in Fairbanks, some you’ll have to ask me in person for a recounting. Beyond those:
This blog post is one of a multi-part series on Alaskan adventures near Fairbanks.
In 2010 the Alaskan Malamute was named the official state dog of Alaska.
One of many excellent recommendations per our VRBO hosts was to book with Just Short of Magic** for a sled dog ride (a.k.a. mushing), a little drive north of North Pole. After a late-night pickup of our friends J & G who courageously agreed to share in our Alaskan adventures, Jenni found us some excellent (late) breakfast at the Creperie in downtown Fairbanks. Then, off to dog sled ride via a thirty minute drive. As mentioned in the previous post, sled dogs have been a fundamental companion to Alaskan life for centuries, so I was really excited to partake in even a small, touristy way.
Jenna called us as we were a little late showing up at a designated cushion time, to make sure we were safe, and tell us not to worry. So nice of her! Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the staff did some standard checks that we were layered up properly (maybe in case it suddenly turned into below zero weather rather than 30?) Of course, that turned it into a competition for me. Continue reading
As I mentioned in part 0 of Alaska adventures, I flew in to Fairbanks around midnight. I got to sleep in the delightfully welcoming cabin (this one booked via VRBO) by about 3am, and yeah, it was in a city called North Pole. (!)* I loved staying at this cabin, and found the hosts helpful and responsive. This post may have a lot of photos, but consider it obsessively curated for you to get the full experience.
On the Road:
After a healthy breakfast of DIY oatmeal and Starbucks fancy-coffee, K and I headed out for the 2.5+ hour drive south to Denali National Park. Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake, but I hadn’t put the two names together, Mt. McKinley and Denali, until I was packing for this trip and reading my copy of Fodor’s.
Fun fact: President Obama changed what was previously known as Mount McKinley back to Denali, an Athbascan name meaning “the High One”. At 20,310 feet, it is the highest point on the continent, and tallest mountain in the world.
Fodor’s Alaska p.328
On the way, we drove through lots of snow clouds kicked up by passing trucks that would obscure the entire roadway briefly, and whole clusters of buildings boarded up for the winter. This was definitely not high tourist season, and while it was an intermittent exercise in faith (faith that the road was relatively straight in a snow cloud), it was also a very scenic drive. The Athabascans named this northern forest “land of little sticks,” and I couldn’t help but agree as I gazed at the sweeping landscape, laced on road side with countless trees poking up toward the sky together.
To try: we stopped in at the Alaskan Coffee Bean in Healy for some caffeine.
Apparently, a sludge cup is brewed coffee + 2 shots espresso, popular with truckers. I was curious, but abstained since the midnight flight was already messing with my sleep. Let me know if you try it. The folks there were friendly, and plus, the place was open, hooray!
Alaska is often called the Last Frontier, but it’s also home to some of the oldest pieces of our collective human heritage. We crossed this very river mentioned on our drive out of the North Pole! Amazing.
The oldest human remains found in Alaska are 11,500 years old, the second-oldest Ice Age remains to be found in the world. Found in Central Alaska near the Tanana River, the remains of a three-year-old girl are thought to be those of an Athbascan ancestral relative.
Fodor’s Alaska p.20
At Denali National Park:
A video gift for you, hope it brings you some serenity and delight. Click subscribe at the end for more!
Food the Wong Way has involved a healthy dose of outdoor activity this winter, including a fair bit of snowboarding and snowshoeing, which historically has been hard on my knees and back. My friend Katherine recently talked me into going with my local German pub Prost on a ski bus, so despite appearing to have packed for the apocalypse, I tried to pack lighter. That’s when I came up with this light short-term remedy for sore knees. Continue reading
Looking for a dessert you can bring on the road to impress your friends?
Here’s one I made in an AirBnB over a visit to my home state.
It takes very few ingredients, little predictability in equipment, and you can bring it with some fruit for a dinner party: Continue reading
Happy Lunar New Year!
Any additional comments on lunar new year from me will be in some other post. I spent all my energy cleaning the house and hosting hot pot Saturday for it, no more juice left for an obligatory entry here for now. Instead, here’s one that started as a video and grew into some commentary below.****
On Sunday, I helped lead a group of people snowshoe up Paradise Point on Mount Rainier. It was for Cynthia‘s birthday, with some snowshoe newbies, so I wanted to optimized the chances of a good experience: Continue reading
My friend T.J. will hopefully get a kick out of this post. He’s a big fan of oysters. Everybody say, “Hi T.J.!”
Earlier this Fall, K____ and I went on a short road trip up Chuckanut Drive just north of Seattle to celebrate our anniversary. After an acutely alarming night in Burlington spent in the hotel across from an active shooter incident happening live, we were really feeling the gratitude for being alive, and savoring the world at hand. On top of that, I was also feeling reflective given that it was our anniversary, observed.
I even ate a burger with the pickle intact. This, from some one who used to avoid them at all costs. I thank Korean banchan (side dishes which tend to have pickled vegetables) for that shift. A great day for observing my “try eating things you didn’t like about every 10 years,” guideline.
The last stop coming back south from Bellingham was at Taylor Shellfish Farm. I was not fond of seafood as a kid, and growing up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and no saltwater, who could blame me for only eating the fresh sunnies and walleye my parents would catch on a day off?* Given my crustacean allergy, the bivalves have gotten a free pass lately with me, with the exception of seared scallops. Them bivalves just didn’t hold very much appeal for me.
So, at the Farm, we drank in the beautiful view of the Puget Sound, and were about to get back in the car for the long drive home,