Planning a trip of this magnitude warrants a pretty hard look at the cost required. We are estimating about 40,000 miles of driving with an average gas price of $4/gal. We are estimating an average gas mileage for the truck to be around 15mpg. Plus, we had to look at how much time it would take to get to the ends of the Americas without ending up in winter! Also, a close peek at the bank balances had us settling on $50/day. Average. Whenever we stop for gas we blow more than a full day’s budget. Same for groceries. Restaurants are the finest of luxuries these days. Our fast-paced run up to the Arctic Ocean had us stopping for gas daily, if not multiple times a day. We had yet to come to terms with eschewing coffee shops. Scott had not yet begun to wean himself off of craft brews and on to the economical lager of the moment. My wine was not yet flowing out of a box. We were more than doubling our daily budget. With the rate we were moving gas alone was eating our entire budget. That is no way to make it to Ushuaia! I have been keeping tabs of every penny we spend. I have a spreadsheet that breaks it down by category of spending. It was no mystery what was needed to fix the leaks in our budget. Stop spending money like we have jobs and SLOW DOWN! What makes it all possible are the days that we sit still and chill out. It was more than our budget that drove us to slow down. Our bodies and minds were getting tired and needed a bit of a recharge. We were blessed with that much-needed opportunity to sit back and soak up the scenery as we explored the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. Slowly.
Our first little hideaway was on the banks of Kenai Lake near Cooper Landing. We rolled in on the tail end of 4thof July weekend so we had slim pickings for campsites. We tucked ourselves into one with a view of the lake and after a half an hour of picking up trash and burying no less than 4 piles of human feces we were ready to relax and enjoy the view. Mind you, there was an outhouse within 100 yards of this campsite. My fellow humans disappoint me at times. We chose to focus not on the wretched state the camp was left by its previous inhabitants but the lovely state to which we restored it. Also, the lake was gorgeous! Milky blue water fringed by a beach entirely comprised of perfect black skipping stones. Waterfalls were pouring off the mountains in the distance and the forest was lush and full of life. We were feeling like we could very well just move in and spend the rest of the summer there. That night we met a friendly Alaskan, Thomas, who also had a Tepui rooftop tent. He invited us to join him down at his campsite on the water but we had already invested so much time in our site we felt like sticking around. We invited Thomas over for dinner and he brought his whole camp with him! An easy task since it is all attached to his truck! We had a great night exchanging camping hacks and tips on things to see around Alaska. He told us that the locals call this camping area Waikiki Beach. The next morning Thomas left to go back to work and it seemed that he started a trend as every other camper left with him! I wandered the now deserted beach while Scott napped and came upon a campsite that was worth moving into. All the way at the other end of the beach where a crystal-clear stream entered the silty lake water. The forest was more open back there and it felt more private. I woke Scott and told him I had found the perfect spot to hunker down and we needed to move before anyone else showed up and snagged it! Sight unseen, Scott agreed. We packed up camp just enough to allow us to move and Scott drove our truck with the tent still fully deployed down to the other end of the beach. We would have been quite a sight if there had been anyone around to see it! We settled into our little Shangri-La and proceeded to chill out. I read an entire book and Scott created stone sculptures. We felt it was time well spent.
After a few days, the siren song of the open road called to us and we headed south to check out the fishing town of Homer. On our way, we stopped in to check out a potential free campground for the night about 20 miles north of Homer. Once we were there we decided that Homer wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Whiskey Gulch was the name of the site and it managed to lull us into staying for a few days. We found a spot tucked away in the trees with hardly any garbage and only one pile of human feces to bury. Again, outhouse less than 100 yards away…
The beach was wide and full of birds! We took a walk along the beach and watched the seagulls try in vain to eat the scraps thrown out by the fishermen. Two dozen seagulls are no match for one bald eagle family! We enjoyed watching the flow of life around our new campsite. When the tide was up fishermen would launch their boats from the beach and then clean their catch in the creek flowing through the campsite. I chatted up a couple fishermen about their catch and fishing in Alaska in general and was gifted with a big bag of freshly caught halibut! It was so delicious! It has been a very long time since I have had the opportunity to eat truly fresh fish. Yum.
After a few days of Alaskan beach life, we pulled our stakes and again headed for Homer. One pitstop! On the way, we had to make a visit to Anchor Point. This is the westernmost drivable point (connected by a highway system) in all of the Americas. It took us a bit to find the sign marking the point but it is about the journey, not the destination, right? Anchor Point is really just a park for fisher people. There are tractor launch operators there who can launch your boat in any tide. No waiting for high tide on Anchor Point! The tractors are huge! I was impressed by the free lifejackets for kids offered at the boat launches. That is right. Kids don’t float.
When we finally made it to Homer we were a bit overwhelmed by the commercial aspect of the town. It felt like Pier 39 down in San Francisco. Lots of tourist souvenir shops and ice cream shops and coffee shops and bars and restaurants and tour operators. Since we are trying really hard not to be parted with our money we mostly just toured on through. Mostly. We did stop at a winery for a tasting. Wine in Alaska? Yup. It was made primarily with tree fruit, berries, and some imported grapes. Sweet stuff. We opted not to purchase a bottle but if your palate is tuned to sweet wine this would be the place for you! We also dropped into the Homer Brewing Company. We shared a flight and followed up with a pint of our favorite from the flight. Also, there was an oyster food truck in the parking lot. I got a small plate of oysters to go with my pint. They were the very best oysters I have ever tasted in my entire life. The best! Raw with a drizzle of lemon and fresh onion in a super light vinegar sauce. Amazing. Scott even tried one. I think his reaction ran somewhere along the lines of, “if you like oysters, those would be good ones.” I’m taking that as wholehearted agreement with my assertion that they were the best. EVER!
After we left Homer we headed north again. We stopped in Soldotna to re-provision and then headed back towards Cooper Landing. By now it was the weekend again and we figured that Waikiki Beach would be crowded so we passed it by to check out Cooper Lake which was about 10 miles up an unmaintained road. It was another one of those roads with the “we told you so” warning signs at the bottom. We like those roads. Anyhow, we forged on up to see what Cooper Lake was all about. At first, we were less than impressed. After being spoiled by the glory of Kenai Lake, Cooper Lake seemed like just another lake. We decided to give it a couple days to grow on us. It did. In the end, it was another place we had a hard time leaving. It was more private and there was less evidence of previous campers if you know what I mean. We went on a walk from our campsite one night in the rain and happened upon a black bear just off the side of the road! It was the first time we had seen a bear when we weren’t safely ensconced inside our truck. Scott introduced us to the bear and it turned around and ran to the forest behind it without even saying hello. The perfect reaction. The weather had been a bit gloomy for a week or two and it was at Cooper Lake, when we returned from our bear walk, that the sun finally came out. Just in time for a glorious sunset.
We felt thankful for the rejuvenation offered by the Kenai Peninsula and ready to head on up to discover what the rest of Alaska has in store for us. Thanks to our snail’s pace through the peninsula we still have room in our budget to keep exploring!