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2 1/2 Days in Alaska: Cancelled Flights and the Midnight Sun

a road with trees and a truck on it

So before you think I’m crazy just from reading the title of this post, know that I had originally intended to have 3 ½ days, but a United Airlines cancellation changed all that. They cancelled my 6PM flight that would have landed me in Alaska at midnight, and instead I wound up on a 6AM flight that didn’t get me in til 4PM.

But why, a reasonable person might ask, did you pick Alaska, and why would you only go for 3 ½ days?

Last fall I was doing a mileage run to Anchorage to help make United 1K, and wound up with a 22 hour layover. The instant I walked off the plan and saw the mountains through the terminal windows, I fell in love. And I decided I wanted to see the midnight sun.

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So flash forward to this year when I found great ticket prices <$600 for the end of May. Right at the edge of peak season, so hotel prices weren’t horrible yet and tours weren’t full. But I’d just spent 10 days in South America earlier that month, so I couldn’t afford to take more than a few days off. So I figured out all the things I might want to do and what I could afford, and realized a Thursday afternoon departure returning on a Tuesday morning redeye would achieve both my personal goals and my professional commitments.

So I planned to land late on Thurs night, sleep in, and then mosey my way up to Denali National Park, stopping along the way to do a flightseeing tour of Mt McKinley before checking in to the hotel. Then on Saturday morning I’d catch the first (and non-refundable) Denali Park Tundra Wilderness Tour of the season at 6AM.

Well United wrecked that plan, and I found myself rushing off the plane at 4PM on Friday afternoon to grab a rental car and try to get up to Denali National Park (4-5 hr drive) before I collapsed after only 3 hours of sleep and basically a 20 hour day. And I didn’t want to give up the Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour since it was $85.

So I climbed into the car and started off, stopping along the way to pick up food and lots of water and caffeine.

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The drive out of Anchorage was as breathtaking as I remembered, but an hour and a half in along Highway 3, not so much. Traffic crawled to a halt and after about 20 minutes of inching forward, I saw why. Half the road was missing and under construction. <sigh>

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I got past that area and continued on reveling in the mountains in the background. And then I hit some of the most boring  2 hours of highway ever, except for that stretch of I-85 in the middle of North Carolina. There was nothing but trees as far as the eye could see and none of the amazing mountains were in site. The radio was also not picking up any signals, nor was my phone, and I never think ahead to bring CDs. Not really helping the tiredness.

But about an hour and a half from Denali National Park the trees started thinning and the most glorious views opened up. For the rest of the trip I balanced going as fast as I could possibly get away with (how many troopers can they possible have there) and taking pictures on the sports setting without looking.

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And then…

I saw my first wildlife. Elk! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! And that’s exactly what I texted Jeanne :  EEEEEEEEE. I just saw elk in the wild!!!!â€

And 5 minutes later I was texting: “Ack. I almost hit a moose.â€

My triumphal drive was cut short by a giant angry beast lumbering out onto the road about 50 yds away from me sending me screeching to a halt. It glared in my direction before ambling off the side of the road, which also seemed to be a cliff!? and disappearing.

I arrived at Princess Denali Lodge shortly thereafter and reveled in the fact it still looked like it was 5PM outside. 🙂

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Also noting that even though it was still 60 degrees, I was the only one in a dress — everyone else had jeans, parkas, and hiking boots.

More from this trip:

Denali National Park Tundra Wilderness Tour Bus
Harding Glacier and Whale Watching in Seward
Best Balcony Ever at the Holiday Inn Express Seward
Wildlife Conservation Center Near Portage



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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.

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