By all accounts, Sunday should not have been interesting. The plan was to run in the morning and then drive up to Denali National Park, which is about 5 hours north of Anchorage. Amanda and I had no planned activities until an ATV ride beginning at 11 pm, so we certainly were not in a rush. The morning miles were nice and cool as we ran through Anchorage along the water, although there were bugs everywhere. Pretty much once you leave the Kenai peninsula in Alaska in the summer, bugs surround you constantly. It is sometimes hard to tell if they are mosquitos or other non-threatening flying insects, but if you’re me, you’re not willing to take the chance, so you just violently thrash at anything that comes near you.
The drive to Denali wasn’t quite as picturesque as the drive south, but we did still get to see some important sites. First, we got to drive through the home town of the immortal/infamous/generally awful but unfailingly quotable Sarah Palin, who hails from Wasilla, Alaska. Now, I have been told that there is a “historic” section of Wasilla that features older buildings that don’t look like shit. However, I did not see that section, so I cannot comment on it. All I have to offer is this: 1) You cannot see Russia from Wasilla and 2) I’ve never seen so many strip malls in my life. That said, I’m sure everyone there is very nice and pretty. The other scenic view of note was the Denali mountain range, which may or may not be its actual name. I’m on the red-eye back from Portland as I write this, so I am incapable of checking. Anyway, this was an incredible view of the mountains of Denali National Park.
By the time Amanda and I arrived at our hotel, we were…underwhelmed. Let’s just say that we actually drove right by it the first time because it actually looked like a bunch of trailers. I guess that’s why it was about ¼ of the price of all the other hotels in the area, so lesson learned. Anyway, when we checked in, I asked the cashier if our room had wireless internet. She said, “Well, sometimes. But whenever it doesn’t, you’re welcome to come down to our office and sit outside and feed the mosquitos.” I didn’t really know what she meant. It took us about 30 seconds to figure it out.
As we parked our car outside the hotel room, it was immediately swarmed by mosquitos. We’re talking before we even stepped foot outside the car, it was covered. Not a good design, especially if you have horrible reactions to mosquito bites, as I do. I can’t think of another way to say it other than mosquitos literally given me panic attacks. If I get bitten, I freak out, because mosquitos hunt me down and attack me. Friends and family marvel at the phenomenon. Anyway, there’s pretty much no amount of bug spray that can protect me, and I really freak out. Probably should have considered this before coming to Alaska. So anyway, we pull our stuff out of the car as quickly as possible, fumble with the hotel door key (it was an actual key) and finally get inside, only to find the horrors within.
In addition to the 400 mosquitos we had let into the room simply by entering, we were greeted with an existing population. I am not exaggerating when I tell you there was blood on the walls of the hotel room. ACTUAL BLOOD. Mosquito carcasses were splattered onto the walls where trapped guests preceding us had tried desperately to annihilate the flying terrors. I can’t even fault the hotel cleaning staff (I’m assuming there was one, but this is questionable) because there was honestly no point in trying to clean it up. The stupid things were everywhere.
It wasn’t long before Amanda and I decided that we would be better off heading into town to do some shopping and wait for JC, Peter, and their wives to finish their excursion so we could all meet for dinner. Being in the hotel room was stressing us out, and we figured at least if we were out in public, there would be other people for the mosquitos to attack. We actually did have a nice time shopping in Denali once we aggressively coated ourselves in bug spray. Although we should have been used to it by this point, the little stores had no air conditioning, and it was hot. The sun was still high in the sky, even at around 7:30 pm, and between the heat and the mosquitos, I honestly don’t know how people were working in those stores.
We headed to a great local pizzeria with 49 beers on tap for dinner, and it was great to reunite with everyone again. The restaurant offered toppings like reindeer sausage and elk meatballs, which was pretty fun. I think Amanda and I ate more pizza on this trip than I generally eat in an entire month, and that’s saying something, because I eat a lot of pizza. As the hours counted down and we were coming closer to the ATV ride, we were both nervous, but especially me. I really didn’t want to go out with the mosquitos.
My worst fears were confirmed when we got to the ATV place. Again, the mosquitos swarmed the car before we even got out. It was like a cloud covering the window! I literally refused to get out of the car until the last possible second. Amanda doesn’t get eaten up like me, so she ran out to talk to the guides while I tried to make myself invisible. Finally, I was forced to exit the vehicle. After coating myself with bug spray for the 5th time that day, I stood there frantically swatting at mosquitos until we were told to go into a little shed and watch a video on ATV safety. It was still just Amanda and I at this point, but I promise you that the shed situation was not as sketchy as it sounds. IT WAS WORSE. We were locked in there with a cloud of mosquitos (I am not exaggerating) and just an ATV safety video produced by some lame insurance company. Truly the 7th circle of hell, am I right? Well, maybe I should have listened to the video, but instead I was so panicked that I started stomping and smacking the crap out of every mosquito I could possibly find. Amanda was laughing so hard at my frenzy that she was actually crying. I thought she was going to pee her pants. Clearly, she did not appreciate the gravity of the situation. Finally the shed was clear of mosquitos, and I was able to stand around somewhat comfortably knowing that I was safe.
Obviously, as soon as I was safe, they opened the door and let a million more mosquitos back in. I am 100% certain that the guides did this on purpose. We were then instructed to go outside, where one of the guides took pity on me and gave me a highly coveted mosquito net with which to cover my face. All of the other participants were starting to arrive, and they gave me looks that were simultaneously bemused and jealous as they attempted to swat away the clouds. By this point, I had accumulated a full body suit, down to gloves, tall boots, and a mosquito net, so I was relatively safe as we set off on our ride. It’s important to note that I had never ridden an ATV up until this point and was now given the unfortunate task of trying to pilot one by myself while dealing with the mosquito apocalypse.
The ATV ride was pretty fun when we were driving, but miserable every time we stopped. The guides would let us stop for about 15 minutes at a time to take pictures and “relax” and enjoy the views, but all anyone was doing was trying to save whatever blood hadn’t already been drained by the mosquitos. I will say, the views of the pseudo-sunset were lovely, but the swarms made it hard to enjoy. It was honestly one of the most insane things I’ve ever seen. Amanda and I stood there talking to one of the guides about possible hiking routes for the next day, and his face was covered in mosquitos. He wasn’t even flinching! I honestly had to put every ounce of energy I had into restraining myself so I would not slap him all over the face to kill the mosquitos. We asked him how he was able to handle the mosquitos, and he replied quite nonchalantly, “Oh, you just get used to it.” REALLY, SIR? REALLY? He then informed us that there are 56 native mosquito species in Alaska, but no snakes. Um, I’ll take the snakes, for future reference.
By the end of the ride, the mosquitos were basically insufferable. Somehow, they had penetrated my mosquito proof fortress of clothing and were now down my pants. Yes, I know exactly what that last sentence just said. I was losing my mind and almost in tears. Making it back to the hotel room that had previously been miserable finally felt like a safe haven. As we arrived and looked at the blood-stained walls, Amanda looked at me and said she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to hike in the morning. I have never been so relieved in my life! I know I am much more panicked about mosquitos than most people, so I didn’t want to ruin her plans by suggesting that we not go. However, she admitted that even she was being bitten by the flying monsters, which rarely happens. The problem was, we were 5 hours away from Anchorage with a hotel reservation up in that area for the following night and a pre-paid kayaking trip set for Tuesday. This trip was already expensive enough without losing money for activities and reservations we had already paid for and then adding more.
Nonetheless, we both agreed that the situation in Denali was not sustainable. I’m sorry, Denali enthusiasts – I’m sure it’s a beautiful place, but we were truly incapable of enjoying it. Amanda was stressed out about the idea of changing plans at the last minute (keep in mind it was 2 am at this point) but she knew that we needed to, so we decided to quickly look into the idea of going back down south to the Kenai Peninsula, where we had gone fishing a few days before and loved the landscape. Peter’s wife, Jing, had mentioned wanting to go to a town called Seward, which I knew was on the peninsula, so I quickly looked it up and found some information about different activities and places to stay there. When it became clear that there were things to do and places to stay, Amanda and I decided to catch a quick few hours of sleep before setting off for Seward the next day. It’s about a 7.5 hour drive from Denali, so we were obviously super excited. Actually, I’m not kidding. I would have sold my left leg to get away from those blood/life/soul sucking mosquitos.