Monthly Archives: August 2018

Alaska Vacation: Denali National Park [Part 3]

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In today’s installment of “So you want to take an Alaskan vacation”, we’re going to talk about Denali National Park and Preserve. And if you need a refresher of how we got here, don’t forget to read Part 1 and Part 2.

When I left off last time, we’d just finished running the Anchorage Marathon and were getting ready to take RVs to camp in Denali.

This part of the trip is going to be the most difficult to write about. Why? Because SO MUCH happened. Plus, the magnificence of Denali National Park and Preserve is almost impossible to explain. But, I’ll do my best.

We rented the RVs from Great Alaskan Holiday and they came with everything we needed except food, a camp stove, and wash basins. Thankfully, part of our group went shopping for ALL THE FOOD the day before and our group leader could borrow some other items from Sierra Club friends.

All of our meals while camping were planned out so there was never any scrambling or wondering what to make. I promise, that made life so much easier.

Anyway, the morning after the race we loaded up the three RVs and started the 6+ hour drive from Anchorage to Denali. The drive went pretty quickly and before we knew it we were at the Denali Visitor’s Center.

We didn’t hang around for too long, though, because several of us wanted to hike the trail from the Visitor’s Center to the Sled Dog Kennels!

Yes, Denali park rangers still use sled dogs to get around in the winter. Why? Because there’s only one road in all of Denali! Yes, six million acres with one road.

While we were visiting the sled dog kennels, suddenly all of the dogs jumped up on their houses and started howling and barking. Turns out there was a mama moose about 100 yards away!

Also, the dogs got SO EXCITED when it was time for the demonstration. They all wanted to participate!

After visiting the kennels, we hopped on a park bus for a ride to our campground for the night: Savage River.

Savage River is the last campground in what it called “front country.” Meaning you don’t need a special permit to drive your RV to Savage River and it’s the trail head for one of the last “groomed” trails: Savage Alpine.

There are not very many marked trails in Denali, and most of the trails are short (less than 2 miles) and near the park entrance. One of the reasons Denali exists is to provide people with a place to explore a trail-less wilderness, and a result of this is a limited trail network. – Denail website

We set up our RVs for the night. Again, don’t forget it doesn’t get dark! We all went to bed fairly early, though. We had a busy next day planned!

One thing to note: even though we were sleeping in RVs, they weren’t hooked up to power or water. We were rationing the onboard propane and water and, as such, weren’t cooking, using the bathroom, or showering in them. Thankfully the campsites had nice outhouses and outdoor running water spigots. But, it did mean no showers!

In the morning, we layered up (it was chilly in the mornings but got warmer throughout the day), ate breakfast, and then headed out to hike the Savage Alpine trail. Our group leader had helped build this trail!

This was really when I started to see what people mean about not being able to describe Alaska. It’s so….expansive. And beautiful. And in less than 4 miles of trail you can experience almost every kind of terrain possible. I just couldn’t stop marveling at the views.

A little over four miles and several hours later, we arrived at the Savage River, reconvened with our RVs, and then it was time to head into back country!

What does that mean? I promise to explain in Part 4!

Alaska Vacation: Anchorage [Part 2]

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I’m back with the second installment in my “So you want to vacation in Alaska” series. Missed the full itinerary? Find it here. Today’s post is going to be about our two full days in Anchorage, including where we stayed and what we did.

First thing to note, the flight to Anchorage is long (6.5+ hours) and I chose to do non-stop. I HATE flying with layovers if I can avoid it. However, I don’t mind settling in to watch a movie or read a book and I did both on the flight out.

Turned out that another person from my group was on my flight so after we landed we took a Lyft from the airport to our hotel: the Bent Prop Inn – Midtown.  Our group guide recommended this place and the two of us splitting a room with two other group members was perfect. We each had our own bed and we had a little kitchen and living room. It’s walking distance to Walmart so we headed over there to get some breakfast items for the next few days.

View from our hotel

Alaska is three hours behind Chicago and, guess what? When you go at the end of June you’re visiting at the solstice so it basically doesn’t get dark! At all. This meant that I basically had to force myself to go to bed. I slept fine, though. I just pretended I was taking an afternoon nap.

Friday

On our first full day in Anchorage  we took the bus (so cheap and you can buy your tickets using their People Mover app) to University of Alaska – Anchorage to pick up our race packets. We did a little bit of shopping and I won a carabiner for doing pull-ups. When I packed I didn’t have room in my duffel bag or backpack for sandals so I bought some Oofos.

From the University we took the bus to downtown Anchorage. We had lunch at Glacier Brewhouse and then took a tour of Anchorage with Anchorage Trolley Tours. It’s $20 and definitely worth it! It was the perfect way to get an overview of the city and learn some history. Much of Anchorage is walkable or bikeable (and there are tons of bike rental places), but I enjoyed seeing it on the trolley first. You also get coupons if you want to do some souvenir shopping. Which we definitely did.

We’d planned to go to Moose’s Tooth for dinner (walking distance from our hotel) but they had a three hour wait! Instead we ended up at an Italian restaurant nearby. Nothing special, but perfect for the night before a race.

Saturday

Saturday was race day! And, yes, if I was going to fly all the way to Alaska I wanted to see 26.2 miles of it on foot. The Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon is a point-to-point race so they bus you out to the start line and you run 26.2 miles back to the finish. Also, the half marathon course is almost completely different so it really is just you and your other marathon friends out there. And bears. Yes, you do have to look out for bears. I didn’t see any, but my friend Stephanie saw one!

Seriously, though, bears aren’t that big of a deal. As our Sierra Club guide/friend kept saying, “bears just want to do a bear thing” which, 99.9% of the time means avoiding you.

The Anchorage Marathon is HILLY, especially compared to Chicago. But, I ran my second fastest marathon time and only struggled in the last few miles. It’s a mix of paved road, sidewalk, gravel road, dirt path, and paved paths. You run through a military base. You run through some woods. You run through parks. It’s really very pretty.

Oh, also? I WON THIRD PLACE IN MY AGE GROUP! I placed at a marathon, people! That’s huge for me. Actually, most people in our group either had a good race time or just a good time in general. Post-marathon food at the race left something to be desired, though, so we ended up back at Glacier Brewhouse.

Post-race we relaxed, ate dinner at the Anchorage Alehouse  and got ready for the next day’s adventure: RV camping in Denali National Park! And that’s where we’ll start Part 3…soon.

So you want to vacation in Alaska? Here’s how. [Part 1]

About Me

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know I went on vacation to Alaska at the end of June. And if you’ve talked to me in person since then you know that I think it was the trip of a lifetime.

I know there are lots of ways to take an Alaskan vacation, but the trip I went on was perfect for me, my interests, and my comfort level. In fact, it made me learn things about myself that I didn’t even know before!

So, I thought I would revive this here blog to tell you about my trip, my recommendations, and what I learned. Plus, then you get to see pictures of Alaska!

First things first, what did we do? I took this trip with members from my running club and the entire trip was planned mostly by a club member who has been leading trips to Alaska via the Sierra Club for years. And, yes, since we’re runners, many of us started our trip off with a race.

But we did so much more than run. In fact, here’s our agenda:

  • Thursday, June 21st – Arrive in Anchorage, AK
  • Friday, June 22nd – Explore Anchorage and pick up race packets
  • Saturday, June 23rd – Run the Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage!
  • Sunday, June 24th – Drive RVs to Denali National Park and camp in Savage River Campground
  • Monday, June 25th – Hike the Savage Alpine Trail. Drive RVs to Teklanika Campground.
  • Tuesday, June 26th –  Take the park bus to Wonder Lake. Hike at Eielson Visitor’s Center.
  • Wednesday, June 27th – Back country hiking
  • Thursday, June 28th – Return RVs to Anchorage. Take charter bus to Seward, AK.
  • Friday, June 29th – Ice climb at Exit Glacier
  • Saturday, June 30th – Kayak in Resurrection Bay
  • Sunday, July 1st – Boat trip around Resurrection Bay. Take bus back to Anchorage
  • Monday, July 2nd – Explore Anchorage & fly home

I could write one GIANT post about my trip, but I thought it would be more fun to break it up into pieces. So, come along with me as I take you on a trip through Alaska!

Grocery delivery saved my sanity [not sponsored!]

About Me

Hi there. I know, I know, I haven’t blogged in forever and you probably thought I was gone for good. Well, I had an idea for a post about grocery delivery and when I asked about it on Twitter the response was, yes! Write it!

So, here I am! I had some bad luck with cars earlier this year and one of those instances left us with just Jason’s low slung sports car, an alley filled with snow, and no way to get to the grocery store. And while, yes, I could have just ordered pizza or sushi or a million other things you can get delivered in Chicago, I decided to use the opportunity to try out the Jewel-Osco grocery delivery I’d been hearing about.

And now, more recently, I’ve been trying the Mariano’s delivery.

 

Jewel-Osco

When I first used this, I was AMAZED. You create an account, you shop for food just like you would any other thing online, you pick a delivery time, and VOILA, your groceries show up! The delivery guy will even bring them into your kitchen for you and they don’t accept tips.

You can also tell them if it’s okay to substitute an item with something of the same brand but different size or same size but different brand and you can put comments on each item if you want.

Delivery is super cheap (usually under $7) and it’s free if you order over $30 and choose a four hour delivery window.

When they deliver your groceries they bring an itemized receipt and go over any substitutions or out of stock items with you. And, yes, you can purchase alcohol this way. You just have to show your ID to the delivery driver.

For most deliveries Jewel uses their own shopping and delivery staff. However, I’ve found that this lead to some inconsistencies, especially when it came to produce.

For example, I ordered a pound of brussels sprouts but the shopper filled up the bag and delivered almost 5 pounds! Another time I ordered 4 tomatoes and got 4 pounds! Allegedly they will refund you the difference if you call them, but my friends and I have had differing experiences with this.

Jewel brings your groceries in the disposal plastic bags that are allegedly banned in Chicago. I don’t know how they get around that. I find this annoying and wish they would bring them in paper.

Also, you don’t know if something is out of stock until the delivery comes and they don’t carry the type of ice cream sandwiches or steak that my husband likes. Mostly for this second reason I decided to try Mariano’s.

Mariano’s 

Mariano’s delivery is powered by Instacart. I know that Jewel has a two hour or less delivery option also powered by Instacart but I haven’t tried it. Mariano’s only has Instacart.

The main differences? Mariano’s has a mobile app in addition to their website that you can use to make your grocery list. You can also create favorites and save lists in the app. With Jewel you can see your past orders, but you can’t create shortcuts like that.

Another difference is that Instacart allows you to enter a tip for the driver. They auto-calculate it based on your order but you can override it if you want.

Mariano’s offers one hour delivery windows and delivery is always $9.95. The first time I saw that I was shocked since Jewel’s delivery fees are so low comparatively. However, I logged into Jewel, filled my cart with the same or equivalent items, and found out that even with the higher delivery cost Mariano’s was cheaper. Crazy, right?

You get a text when the shopper begins shopping and they also text you if something is out of stock and they make a substitution. Apparently you can decline a substitution but I’ve never done it so I don’t know what happens then. I prefer that they let you know in advance. And so far I haven’t had anything be so out of stock that they couldn’t find something to sub it with.

They also text you when they are on their way for the delivery. I like this feature.

If only they came in this cute little truck! 

However, when they drop off the groceries they just hand them to you and leave. I assume this is because they’ve already texted you about what they substituted or what was out of stock. They don’t go over the receipt, though. And because they may substitute items that are slightly different in price or may not be able to the exact poundage of produce or meat that you ordered your receipt might not match the online estimate exactly.

Jason dislikes that they don’t go over the receipt with you. I don’t mind. Honestly, grocery delivery is a sanity saver for me so having to review an email after the fact is better than trying to find the time to actually go to the grocery store some weeks.

Oh, also, Mariano’s brings the groceries in paper bags which is perfect for us! We can use them to take recycling out to the bin in our alley.

Some downsides

So far I love grocery delivery no matter who I get it from. However, there are some downsides. The biggest one is that you can’t use coupons. If the item is on sale at the store, great! But otherwise you’re stuck with the regular price.

Also, if you’re a fan of Ibotta you can’t currently use this with grocery delivery, either.

Finally, it’s not always clear on either site how much of something you’re ordering when it comes to produce or meat. Am I ordering one shallot or one pound of shallots? I’ve started putting in comments and so far that helps with Mariano’s, at least.

Overall conclusion

Although Jason prefers the itemized receipt from Jewel, I prefer the prices, options and, so far, the better shoppers at Mariano’s. The Mariano’s/Instacart interface is a little easier to use, too.

In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter which one I use. I LOVE grocery delivery. I love being able to build my list throughout the week and have it delivered when I need it. It saves me from dreading a post-weekend trip grocery run. It saves me time if I need to get groceries during the week. And it keeps both of us from impulse shopping!

If you have grocery delivery in your area and haven’t tried it, what are you waiting for?