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Alaska – a paradise of another kind

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

When one thinks of a vacation paradise, the mind tends to conjure up images of a beach in Aruba or a sunset in Hawaii.  A real paradise is something that doesn’t exist in the tangible world; rather it is a meaning that humans give to something that brings peace, tranquility, serenity and beauty to their lives.  Alaska is, by that definition, the quintessential paradise of the highest extremes. By winter, the cold and ice and landscape combine to create images that can’t be described in words alone.  By summer, the adventures, wildlife and seasonal brevity lure people in for 3 months to catch a glimpse of its majesty.

Alaska as a destination is an adventure of the mind, body and soul.  Each season in Alaska is an unusual, profound, memorable and unpredictable experience in its own right.  There is no wrong time to visit Alaska.  Just ask a native.  Just ask yours truly who has been there in the summer, spring and yes, even the winter.  Just ask anyone with a true sense of adventure who has chosen to go where so few have gone…when so few have gone.

Alaska is a blessed place and one where you need go…..and go again, if you’ve already been.  If you haven’t been, go. Go this summer! (Come with Amazing Journeys!! If you have been, you really do need to go again; you’ve only seen “the tip of the iceberg” and there’s SO much more to see and do.  There are many many bucket list experiences that you can indulge in – white water rafting down a glacial river, bear watching along a fishing stream, hiking on a glacier via helicopter, biking an a national forest….and so much more.  And that’s in the summer!   In the winter you can go snowshoeing in a national park, dogsledding in the wilderness, Auroroa Borealis (Northern Lights) gazing in all its glory, party with the locals during the Iditarod festivities….and you get to meet some of the most interesting people in all the world.

Above all else, the experiences and memories that an Alaskan journey leaves behind is a place on the planet that touches your soul.  Between the bucket list checklist and the unpredictable wildlife and deeply rooted culture and the vast uncharted landscape… know that you have been in a paradise of unparallelled proportions.  Alaska is Mother Nature’s Showcase.   Come! or…Come back again!


The Iditarod and a Winter Wonderland in Alaska

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Cameras flash and crowds cheer as the divas strut the runway clad in mini-jackets and hot-pink booties. Yet this is no walk on the red carpet. These are working sled dogs parading down Fourth Avenue in Anchorage, Alaska, for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

The jackets are for show, but the booties are functional, protecting the paws of dog teams in this grueling 1,049-mile race, which begins March 5 this year and continues for the next two weeks across the snowy Alaskan wilderness to Nome.

Though heading for a vacation in Alaska at this frosty time of year seems counterintuitive, the Iditarod is an awesome spectacle as a modern-day re-creation of the ancient alliance between human and dog against fierce elements.

Highlighting our Amazing Journeys Winter Wonderland tour of Alaska (a vacation for Jewish singles 30s-50s), we will be in Anchorage for the ceremonial start and a  lineup of festivities including The Musher’s Ball and the outdoor festival known as The Fur Rondy. Our days leading up to this true extravaganza will be chock full of outdoor adventure including snowmobiling, hiking, Aurora Borealis (AKA The Northern Lights) gazing, and dogsledding ourselves. We’ll be in Fairbanks and Chena Hot Springs in the days leading up to the festivals in Anchorage (did I mention the hot springs?  Imagine…an oasis of natural hot mineral pools amongst the frozen tundra in the wilderness. Yup – that’ll be us!). Once in Anchorage beginning March 3rd, we’ll partake in all the glamour and pomp surrounding this remarkable event.  Its like Super Bowl week…only its in Alaska, and its to celebrate the sport of mushing, not football.

But I digress.

The official restart of the Iditarod is on March 6th in Willow; just a stone’s throw away from Sarah Palin’s house in Wasilla (AJ’s been there!).  Spectators can get close to the chute on frozen Willow Lake, or for those wanting an authentic checkpoint experience, one can hire an air taxi day flight or stay at a lodge along the race route.

For those with deep pockets and advance planners, the Idita-Rider program offers the best seat possible for the first 11 miles of Iditarod. Minimum bids start at $500, while $7,500 guarantees a ride in the basket in the sled of your choice.

Though it’s vital transportation for some, visitors will find the sled-dog experience sheer joy. Our Amazing Journeys tour includes several authentic mushing experiences including a visit with Mary Shields–the first woman ever to have finished the Iditarod—and her team of mushing dogs.  We’ll also hop aboard a sled and “Hike up!” the call for the dogs as we launched into the winter wonderland (using the word “mush” to a dogsled team is a misnomer. There are actual cadences used for each command of “go”, “stop”, “left” etc)

To those who think dog mushing is cruel, it is not.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  These dogs live to run. They are happiest and healthiest when they run.  They are run.  You just have to meet a mushing dog to see for yourself, but trust me because I have an affinity of love for dogs and I would be the first to share feelings otherwise.  These are special dogs, well cared for and some of the happiest breeds in all the planet.

Four time defending Iditarod champion Lance Mackey of Fairbanks will be searching for his unprecedented fifth consecutive first place finish.

Not just the Iditarod: The Iditarod is the granddaddy, but you can catch a race just about any weekend through winter in Anchorage or Fairbanks.

It’s what Alaskans do.

Its what Amazing Journeys is about to do!

For those who yearn for real snowy fun – Alaska’s Famed “Fur Rondy”

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

In Alaska it’s about surviving winter—a long, long winter. Fortunately, people in Anchorage have not only a frontier spirit but a sense of humor. And so there is Fur Rendezvous, affectionately called the “Fur Rondy” by locals, now in its 75th year and serving up 10 days of crazy winter fun from Feb. 26 – Mar. 6. The festival leads up to the start of the more serious Iditarod dog sled race, which kicks off March 7 (and runs a 1,200-mile course to Nome).

Racing is part of the action during Fur Rondy too, in the form of the World Championship Sled Dog Races, with 30 mushers and their teams competing for an $80,000 purse, on a 25-mile course. But that’s about as competitive as Fur Rondy gets.

And yes, Amazing Journeys is headed there! With over 30 true adventure-seekers, we are headed to Alaska from February 26th through March 6th for a true winter experience. Festivals, dogsledding, snowmobiling, the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) and even a “reverse oasis” of sorts as we warm up at the incredbile Chena Hotsprings are all part of this awesome tour.  Even in this frozen tundra, the volcanic activity actually creates an awesome collection of steaming mineral hotsprings right in the middle of the blustery Alaskan winter.

The festival events range from the sublime to the ridiculous, including whacky snowshoe softball (competitors fall a lot), a Frostbite Footrace (costumes optional) and the World’s Largest Outhouse Race (yup, teams competing pushing outhouses).  Part of the experience will be to watch exhibitions of the Native American blanket toss, where people lifted into the air on a skin blanket–an ancient form of scouting an area for hunting. This event is actually held near the carnival—even though it will be sub zero at times, the festival includes a Ferris wheel and other outdoor rides.

Fur Rondy’s popular Reindeer Run is an Alaskan version of Pamplona, and draws crowds. Thousands will be out for the 6:45 p.m. night-time fireworks. Much of the action takes place on main downtown Anchorage streets, where there are a couple of 20-story skyscrapers and offerings like a Nordstrom’s and Starbucks. Some of those streets were purposely left unplowed in a half-foot snowfall, so, for instance, mushers could race through on their trek.

Try that in New York.