Chena Alaska Itinerary- Our Final Day

Path behind Chena Hot Springs

The Chena Hot Spring Review…

    My friend Annette and I  had been up till the wee hours of the morning oooh-ing and aaaaahing at the stunning neon streaks of the Aurora Borealis lighting up the sky.  We had spent the last 5 days in Fairbanks exploring and last night we had stayed at the Chena Hot Springs Resort. We had been fortunate enough to have witnessed the Aurora the last two nights.  Unfortunately though, it was our last day in Alaska and we had a 1 a.m. flight home later.

    We had a dogsled ride scheduled for that afternoon so we had breakfast at the lodge. Chena hot springs resort is 61 miles from Fairbanks at the end of a long road, and it is pretty much the only thing out there. 

Douwe Egberts and Thoughts of a New Career 

     I sipped my coffee and my whole face seemed to marvel at the smooth warmth. 

     “This is really flipping good!” I exclaimed…”Do you guys blend your own coffee?” I inquired of the twenty something red headed girl behind the bar.

     “No, but I can find out what it is if you want.” She responded, wiping the counter.

     “Yes, please!!” I inhaled the steam and sipped.

    Douwe Egberts” she came back.

     “Thank you so much!” I wrote down the name. “Have you always lived around here…in Alaska.” I inquired.

     “No, I’m part of the work program.” She answered. “I’m from Colorado.”

     “Really? How does that work?” I wondered.

     “Well you apply,” she responded, and if you get hired, you basically live here and work.”

     “Nu-uh…”I said in disbelief.

     “Yeah, I’ve been here a few months, it’s pretty cool. I can walk home from work at night looking at the northern lights on most nights. I stay back there in one of the cabins.” She informed us, gesturing. “I also can soak in the hot springs when I’m off work.”

     She told us about doing this type of work in several other places in the world…like a working vacation.

     “Where are you guys from?” She asked.

    “Chicago…”we said in unison.

    “Ooooh brrr…I heard the winter is horrible.” She did a mock shiver.

     “That’s what everybody keeps saying.” I laughed. “You lived in Colorado and Alaska!”

    “I know…” She giggled. “I’ve just heard it’s worse.”

    Annette and I eyeballed each other.  We had heard this sentiment before.

Ready to Ride that Chena Alaska Dogsled…

    It was almost time for our ride, so we paid and headed out and down the road. We trudged out through the snow to the entrance to the Chena dog kennel area. There were several excited Huskies leaping around their little dog houses.

     We lined up with a couple other heavily bundled up people and soon our blond haired musher arrived. She gave us a few safety instructions and we all piled onto the sleigh.

     “Many of our dogs have competed in the Iditarod.” She informed us while checking all the lines and straps on the dogs. “Most of them are rescued from other kennels, sled dog rescue organizations and also from the animal shelter. We no longer breed dogs here in Chena, we prefer to give these rescued dogs a home.” She grabbed the reins, climbed aboard the sleigh and shouted out a command to the dogs.

 

And We’re Off…Riding an Alaskan Dogsled

     The sled shot forward with a surprising jolt. We went from zero to very fast quicker than I had anticipated and I grabbed ahold of the side of the sleigh for support. (I later found it was not as fast as it felt, possibly 6-8 mph.) The dogs pulled us into a wooded area that looked like a Christmas wonderland. The fir trees surrounding the trail were coated in thick white snow. The air was crisp and we could see the puff puff breaths of the dogs as they ran along ahead of us. We glided through thick powder hearing the musher calling out commands.

Getting to Know our Dogsled Dogs

     Our bundled up guide gave us information on the individual dogs in the pack as well as we flew along. One of the grey Huskies had logged over 70,000 miles to date. The sled bounced around the bends in the trail, all of us leaning to the opposite side in an effort to keep us upright. We whizzed past rivers that were still flowing and frosty tipped trees. Cold wind slapped our faces as we came out into a clearing, grey mountains visible in the distance.

 

The Musher and the Dogsled Team

     Our ride was somewhat shortened due to the recent heavy snow and that not all their trails were passable. The fact that it was only 5° out made us ok with that. We came up to the end of the ride and everyone piled out, the dogs panting and wagging, getting love from the musher.

The Enchanted Path at Chena…

     We crunched through the snow, back to the springs area, eager to warm up. Behind the springs were pathways, warm rivers cutting through the snow, and ducks padding through the steamy water. I picked up the pace, my face feeling a bit numb from cold.

The Chena Hot Springs Winter Soaking Experience

     The changing room greeted us with a burst of steam and we quickly transitioned from frozen to overheated as we flung off our winter boots and layers. Trading our outerwear for swimsuits, we headed down the ramp feeling the immediate punch of cold on our bodies.

     “Holy moly…brrr!” I exclaimed, kicking off my flip flops and speed walking towards the hot pool.

     “I can’t believe I’m outside in my swimmy suit in 5°…again. Annette shivered.

     As we quickly submerged into the 105° water, practically diving in, we were surrounded by warm puffs of steam. 

     “Ahhhhhhhh!” I breathed. “Yessss… I need more hot springs in my life.”

     “Meee tooooo!” Annette agreed.

Winter at Chena Hot Springs Resort

     We water walked around the perimeter of the spring through hotter and somewhat cooler areas gazing at the grey sky and snow covered rocks. The steam of the water gathered in my hair, freezing like tiny beads. Annette was sporting icicle hair beads as well. I began to overheat and pulled myself up to a nearby rock to cool off. Steam poured from my body in the frigid air and ice soon starting to prickle my skin. I slipped back into the hot liquid. 

     Knowing we needed to start heading back to Fairbanks, we raced through the cold back into the changing rooms. We bundled on an uncomfortable amount of layers in the warm room,  gathered up our wet items and headed out.

     The drive back took about 2 hours and we went to a sports bar in town to watch NFL playoff games and get pizza and a drink. 

Reminiscing with Cookies and Coffee at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge

     Our flight to Seattle was at 1 a.m.with a connecting flight to Chicago. When the games ended, it was not quite time to go to the airport. Wondering how we could kill some time on a Sunday night in Fairbanks, we found many of the places were closed. We found ourselves back in the lobby of our previous hotel Pike’s, having warm cookies and coffee near the fireplace.

The Airport Security at Fairbanks…

Fairbanks Airport

     We arrived at the airport the recommended 2 hours early to get through security. As we made our way to departures, we noticed the security line had only 2 people waiting.

     “Hello ladies, boarding passes please?” The grey haired pleasant looking woman asked of us.”

     We handed over our IDs and tickets.

     “You girls are really early.” She stated.

     “We came early so we could get through security and get to the plane on time.” I explained.

     “Well sweetie, this is it. She laughed. “You’re through security…this isn’t O’Hare.”

     We shrugged and pushed through the gate. After our wait we were exhausted and finally on the plane. We began taxiing across the snow  toward the runway. I was somewhat alarmed at the amount of snow on the ground where we would soon go really fast. The plane came to a stop at the base of the long lit up runway.

Umm,,,Is This Safe? De-icing the Plane

     “We are going to propel at high speeds across a layer of unplowed snow!?” My brain screamed in warning. I took a few deep breaths, waiting for the plane to propel forward, gripping the seat.

     “What’s that?” Annette pointed to a large vehicle taxiing toward us.

     “I don’t know,” I answered, straining to see out the ice patched window. 

     The vehicle stopped near our window and a white crane with a basket rose from it. A blast of water began spraying the plane and the wings. My heart did some unexpected pounding, my brain yelling that this was probably not so safe, spraying liquid on metal in 1° weather.

    The blasting water continued as the crane raised and lowered and moved slowly forward.

     “This is your captain speaking,” a voice said, “I’m sorry about the delay, we are just waiting to have the plane and the wings de-iced and then we can take off.”

     “What!? We’re still going to take off and the plane is frozen!” My thoughts raced. 

     The vehicle stopped spraying and slowly drove away, and true to his word, the brave pilot launched us safely down the white covered runway and into the night sky.

The Real Deal About Chicago Winter…

     After our layover, we landed at O’Hare in the morning, wiped out from overnight travel. We gathered our luggage and arranged for an uber. 

     As we stepped into the brisk Chicago air, a fierce wind whipped our hair and blew random debris around the street. We screamed and ran, 22° wind gathering in force, blowing our luggage over. I struggled against the wind, fighting with my tipping suitcase and shivering against the bone chilling gales. Our eyes were tearing, faces red and we scrambled into the waiting vehicle, breathless and frozen.

     “That wind is ridiculous! I shouted. “They were right, the winter IS worse in Chicago.”

     “No doubt…I get it now.” Annette laughed.

Chena Hot Spring

    

Click here to read about the Chena Ice Museum

Click here to read about a night time adventure at the Vieques Bio-luminescent bay

Click here for a trip to Santa’s house at the North Pole

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  1. This makes me want to go to Alaska!!! The Northern Lights are definitely on my bucket list!

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