Don't worry, the tone of this page is tongue-in-cheek. I didn't really go to Alaska just to find Super Big Gulps. We had a really great time, and unfortunately we only had 4 days. But in that short time, we got to see a lot of neato things, like bald eagles, dall sheep, moose, glaciers, and a couple other things we wouldn't see in L.A.

Jon's trip to Alaska!

Alaska, the home of glaciers and icebergs.
(click there, it's really cool)
Yes, I know, there's more to it than that. In fact, it didn't snow a single day while we were there. The temperature got up to the mid-70s a couple of days, so it was really nice. It did sprinkle one morning, but we were on the train, so we didn't have to walk or drive in it. No problem. In summer, it's light almost 24 hours a day there. It never really got dark while we were there. It was more like dawn. Actually, it might've gotten dark at 3 am or something, but the latest we were up was about 1:30.

Linda was there on business, but we still had time for fun and sightseeing. Of course, Linda, the consummate businesswoman (actually, she's an engineer), knows how to mix business with pleasure! We noticed that there seemed to be a lot of espresso places all over Alaska. There was even one in the visitor's center/boat landing at Portage Glacier, for cryin' out loud, which is quite a few miles from civilization. Crazy. I guess it makes sense, though, since with 9 months of winter, you'd probably want something to warm you up, and often. In the city of Palmer (just north of Alaska), where Linda's field trip took her, she noticed this little Dean's-Photomat-turned-espresso-stand, which she said was frequented by "construction types."
palmer espresso

But don't worry, folks, Alaska isn't just full of espresso stands. While this trip was work-related for my wife, it also served as an info-gathering trip for me. I worked hard to capture a small taste of Alaska for you, the concerned c-store public. According to the 7-Eleven ad in the tourist guide magazine, there are 39 7-Elevens in all of Alaska! Considering the size of the state, though, that makes for a pretty small ratio of stores per square mile. I'm sure a good portion of them (more than half, I believe) are in the Anchorage area. Coincidentally, that's where we happened to be staying (really, I had no say in the matter!). Anchorage has about 250,000 people living in it, which is roughly half the population of Alaska, so I guess it makes sense that they'd have half the c-stores.
Why, here I am. This sign indicates that Anchorage is the air crossroads of the world. Because of its place on the globe, it's a natural halfway point between lots of places because you can fly over the north pole, you know. I wondered, though, where might a thirsty young man find himself a frosty beverage in this town....?
crossroads sign

Wisconsin and International Airport Drive
This 7-Eleven was just down the street from our hotel which was quite convenient. It's right next door to a Subway and a pizza place, which makes it even nicer for the traveler (or local) who wants a quick lunch without having to worry what kind of fresh fish to get (how much salmon can one person eat, anyway?). The prices are a tad bit higher at both the Subway and the 7-Eleven. Not too surprising, I suppose, since they probably have to get most of their stuff from Seattle, which isn't really that close. The Big Gulps (32 oz) were on sale for 99c. Normally they're $1.09. Sheesh. The Super Big Gulp was $1.29, and the Double Gulp was something like $1.59. A 64 oz refill was $1.19. Golly. But really, you don't go to Alaska to drink large frosty beverages, do you? Funny how gas was about the same price as you can get it in Mira Mesa (which is actually a little more expensive than surrounding areas for some reason).
As for drink selection, it was fairly standard. They didn't have stuff like a lot of flavored iced teas, but they had enough variety. The cookie situation was interesting. They didn't have any of those "independent" type large cookies I like to take now and then, but they had more varieties of Mother's Cookies than I've ever seen. They had a whole row of 'em. It was something. Anyway, here's the picture for ya:

Seward Highway in Girdwood
The other 7-Eleven we went to was in the small town of Girdwood. As far as we can tell, Girdwood exists only because of the Alyeska ski resort just up the hill. It's somewhere between Anchorage and the Portage Glacier area (where we were going), and not completely remote though it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. They seem to do pretty good business, though, because I guess people figure it's one of those "last gas/food for 3,000 miles" situations (it's only about 30 miles south of Anchorage, though). And gas here is a little more expensive than in Anchorage. Along with the 7-Eleven, there is a place called Taco's, an Italian place, and a couple other stores I don't remember. We ate at Taco's, and, to be fair, I'll just say that if you're from Southern California, you shouldn't expect to find anything too spectacular in Mexican cuisine by heading north....
But, this 7-Eleven, if anything, was one of the more picturesque 7-Elevens I've ever been too... girdwood
(if you look real close, you can see me... I'm next to the trash can that's under the ATM sign)

Just up the road in Girdwood is Alaska's only candle factory. We had time to kill, so we thought we'd visit the candle place. It's just a little house that a married couple has been using to make candles since the late '60s. They have someone carve a figurine, then they put some kind of epoxy stuff on it to make a mold, and then they pour wax into the mold with a wick. Not complicated, but I guess they're the only ones who thought to do it. They use a combo of seal oil, crude oil, and paraffin, and it's guaranteed to be drip free and smoke free (though I think most people use them as decorations rather than light them up).

Notes on transportation

Not surprisingly, tourism in Alaska peaks during the short time they have where the weather isn't (by SoCal standards) horrible. Since glaciers are semi-permanent fixtures (till the ice age ends), there's no reason to go look at them in a blizzard when you can see them during summer. We underestimated this, I guess, and forgot to book a rental car till it was too late. Oops. We had to wait till we got there to find a local place who could help us. Fortunately, the rental place just down the street (towards the 7-Eleven) from our hotel had just received a new shipment of Jeep Grand Cherokees the day before. Now, normally, I would say these type of vehicles (the so-called LUV, luxury utility vehicles) are a horrible waste of gas and everything. I see them here in Southern California, and it's stupid. You don't need a 4x4 to drive on the 405 during rush hour. And if you do need a 4x4, why would you want a really nice interior, since you'll probably get it all dirty and stuff after taking it off road and tracking all the dirt and stuff inside. However.. In Alaska, having one of those made perfect sense. Not all the roads there are paved, and there are lots of opportunities to get off the road to stop and look at wildlife and stuff, so the 4-wheel drive is nice. But it also had all the amenities inside, like 12-way power seats, a CD player (not that we brought any CDs along), an extra cigarette lighter plug for electronic devices (my wife had to use her cell phone a couple times, so it came in handy), plus a cool thing that shows temperature, heading (N, NW, W, etc.), average MPG, current MPG, miles till the gas tank's empty, and duration of current trip (plus the same with metric units). Plus, to top it all off, this thing had the biggest cup holders I've ever seen. My Super Big Gulp fit in it with room to spare! Wow! So, all in all, it was a nice car to have during our stay. I wouldn't ever get one, though. We had almost only freeway driving, and we averaged a measley 15 MPG, which is only okay as long as the company pays for the gas. If you live in LA, I think anything that gets under 30 should be a crime. But what do I know, damn oil lobbyists..
Other means of transportation.. We took the famous Alaska railroad (no pictures for you yet; maybe later) down to the city of Whittier. About 650 people live there during summer, and about 300 during winter. Everyone lives in either one of two residential buildings. The town can be reached by small plane, by train, or by boat. There's a big controversy about building a road between Whittier and Anchorage, but I'll leave that up to the local press to discuss. After we disembarked the train, we took a ratty old school bus over to the dock (a couple hundred feet.. but it was raining), and got on the boat. The rain stopped fairly soon after we got on the boat, so the rest of the trip was spectacular. We saw some really cool glaciers and wildlife. It was a little windy at times, so it was helpful that I had on my windbreaker. This brings us to our last photo of the journey (till I scan more, of course):
hoodlum jon
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