Before checking out of my Airbnb, I took advantage of the washer and dryer. After finishing my laundry, I drove to Costco to get new tires. While I waited, I shopped around and ate at their food court. I noticed they had chili on the menu. It made me laugh. Portland had kale and quinoa salads.
I searched for a place to stay that night somewhere between Anchorage and Tok, but couldn’t find one that seemed right. By the time I left Anchorage, it was around 4:00 pm and I didn’t know how far I’d make it that day.
It was 65℉, clear, and sunny. I drove northeast through the mountains and the views were incredible! I felt the drive was prettier than the drive directly south from Fairbanks.
Around 6:00 pm, I saw a sign on the side of the road that read “Glacier” with an arrow pointing down a gravel road. Intrigued, I drove down the windy road for a couple of miles until I arrived at a gate and a small shop. I went inside and was told it cost $30 to drive to Matanuska glacier, the world’s largest drive-up glacier, which was just about two miles away.
Two cars paid the admission and drove through the gate. I talked with a guy in his early 20s. Keenan told me that people park their car in the dirt lot and walk on the glacier. They offer tours to go further into the glacier, which includes ice caves. They closed in a couple of hours so I would have to hike it fairly quickly and still find a place to sleep.
Keenan told me that they offer camping spots, which “are basically just a flat part of the dirt and you can use the porta-potty nearby.” It would cost $55 to camp and hike the glacier. I debated my options out loud, explaining I wasn’t prepared to camp that night, but I did have all of my gear in my car. My tent is only three-season, however, and they told me it would drop to freezing that night. My sleeping bag is rated for 10℉ and Keenan said, “You can survive with that, but you’ll basically just be surviving.”
The owner, Bill, sat at the next register, looking serious and occasionally chiming in. He said he had a basic cabin that he’d let me use. He asked, “Do you have your sleeping pad?” I told him that I did. He said, “I can let you stay in my cabin. It’s just four walls and a box spring, but it’ll keep you warmer than your tent.”
There was nobody else camping there that night. They had been very busy during Labor Day weekend, but now the people who were there were just there for the day. I wasn’t sure about the cabin because it was about a mile from the glacier, while the tent spaces were right at the glacier. I asked Keenan which I should choose and he said, “Definitely the cabin.” The owner offered to show me the cabin and the tent spots so I could decide.
I paid $55 and followed the owner in my car to the cabin. Sure enough, it was just four walls and a box spring. The front porch didn’t have stairs, so I had to take a giant step to climb up it. There was no electricity, no water, and no heat. There was a sliding glass door on the porch with a view to die for.
We drove to the tent spaces and they were basically in the gravel dirt parking lot and looked very unappealing, so I elected to stay in the cabin. The owner said, “We close up at 8:30 pm and aren’t back until 9:00 am so you’re on your own.” Then he drove away. I’ve survived worse. I backpacked three weeks in the Sierra mountains on my own.
I unloaded my car with my backpacking equipment and put on pants and a coat as the sun set and the temperature started to drop. I was so thrilled to be staying there! It was completely secluded and I had a million-dollar view all to myself.
I was very happy to find a freeze-dried dinner that I had leftover from a backpacking trip in Washington. I ate my food on the porch overlooking the small river of glacier water and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains. The clouds started to roll in, so I probably wouldn’t be able to see any Northern Lights.
I went to the bathroom behind a tree and got ready for bed at 9:30 pm. I put on my thermals because it was already very cold. At 10:30 pm, I had to get up and go the bathroom again. I grabbed my headlight and went towards the trees. I could see my breath.
The sliding glass door on the cabin didn’t close all the way and there was a small gap letting freezing air inside. I got snug inside my sleeping bag and then heard some noises. It sounded like a large animal scratching something. I tried to convince myself that the cabin would keep me protected, even though the sliding glass door wouldn’t close all the way. Keenan told me it was unlikely I’d see a bear so tried to ignore the sounds. Eventually, all became quiet.
I started to warm up a little inside my sleeping bag and was very pleased with my decision not to book a place and to just drive. If I had booked a place, I wouldn’t have turned down the road to see the glacier. Or maybe I would have, but I wouldn’t have been able to stay the night there, and there wasn’t really anywhere to stay that was very close. This felt like an adventure. This is why I came to Alaska.
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