After my first winter as a college freshman in Alaska, I nearly left the state, never to return. But after a summer spent climbing mountains, working at canneries and hitching the empty highways, I realized I had to stay. That was over 30 years ago. Through the late 1970s, ‘80s and most of the ‘90s, I pursued a near obsession with the Alaska wilderness, while simultaneously nurturing an academic intrigue with ecology. I scaled rock and ice, skied glaciers and paddled rivers. I studied for four degrees, two in mathematics (bachelor’s and master’s degrees) and two in biology (a bachelor’s and a doctorate). I learned to packraft, "hellbike" and glacier skate. I learned to integrate, analyze and communicate. Magazines and newspapers ran my hyperbole and exploits; peer-reviewed journals published my theory and data. For me, the wild side feeds emotion and spirit; the analytic side feeds intellect and family.
1.) Sack's Café
Recommended by Frommer's Travel Guides as the most fashionable and one of the best restaurants in town, Sack's Café (328 G St, 907-276-3546) is a great place to grab a quick bite in the bar or have a full dinner in the brightly decorated dining room. The ambiance is inviting and the food is spectacular. The menu changes daily, but a few favorites reappear. For lunch, the filet-tip sliders are a tasty treat - caramelized onions, cambozola and mascarpone spread and crispy fried bacon on fresh ciabatta. For dinner, the halibut is always fresh and combined with exciting flavors. Vegetarians will have much to choose from as well. Try the baked penne: fresh Roma tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh spinach, zucchini and yellow squash, garlic, gorgonzola, parmesan and mozzarella cream sauce. The beer and wine list is extensive and reasonably priced.
2.) Bear Tooth TheatrePub
Bear Tooth TheatrePub (1230 W. 27th Ave., 907-276-4200) is the perfect place to grab a quick brew, meet with friends and catch a flick. The name comes from Bear Tooth Peak in the Alaska Range near Denali. The pub features a wide variety of microbrews; my favorite is the Fairweather IPA. The concession counter is a full-service kitchen featuring gourmet pizza, burritos, tacos, salads and desserts. Food is made to order and delivered to your table in the theater. Depending on your mood, view a second-run contemporary, independent, foreign or classic film for only $3. (The menu is reasonably priced too.)
The sport of packrafting is similar to other forms of rafting, but it uses a portable "packraft": small and light enough (five pounds or so) that you can personally carry it. A quick and relatively safe route for beginners in the Anchorage area is a run on the Eagle River aptly named "Bridge-to-Bridge." Only a short drive from Anchorage, this 45-minute float takes you through the silt-laden waters of the Eagle River with picturesque views of the rugged peaks of the Chugach Range. To get to the put-in, take the Glenn Highway north, and exit at Eagle River Loop Road. Drive approximately two miles, and take a right just before the bridge. The take-out is at the Eagle River Campground. At mile 8.8 on the river, there is a warning sign and portage trail to the campground. A note of caution: While this section of the river is classified as Class I-II "splashy" whitewater, there is one Class III section known as "Campground Rapids" below the warning signs. Adventurers are encouraged to be familiar with swift-water rescue or travel with someone who knows the route. Packrafts can be rented from Packraft Alaska (16646 Ransom Ridge Rd., 907-727-4238) for $45 per day, which includes your raft, four-part paddle and a personal flotation device.
4.) Arctic Valley
In the summer, Alpenglow Ski Resort and Recreation Area becomes a great place for hiking. Just 10 miles from downtown Anchorage in Chugach State Park, Arctic Valley Alpenglow (Arctic Valley Road, 907-269-8400) offers a network of trails with varying degrees of difficulty and views of Anchorage and nearby Eagle River. The entire valley is filled with ripe berry bushes in the late summer and early fall. Pick wild blueberries, blackberries and crowberries along the trails. Hikers should be on the lookout for bears though. Carry bear spray and make noise along the trail.
5.) Ship Creek
Ship Creek is one of the few places you can fish for king salmon in the middle of a metropolis. It's very well known and very accessible. It's also one of the few non-glacial salmon streams in the area. The half-mile stretch, from the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet to the demarcation cable just below the dam at the Chugach Power Plant, makes the creek very easy to learn. You can also walk and bike along the creek on a 2.6-mile paved path that starts near the Alaska Railroad depot and winds with the creek to Tyson Elementary School in Mountain View. You can walk to Ship Creek from downtown or park near First Avenue.