Waking up in Seward felt like I was truly in Alaska. I could hear birds outside and rain falling, with misty mountains and gravel streets. We grabbed some breakfast and walked up to the water’s edge to take it all in before leaving town. The mountains behind Resurrection Bay were so beautiful that it scared me. Seagulls circled around us and low-lying fog drifted nearby. We felt so small standing on a pile of rocks, surrounded by all of it. Before taking off, we caught sight of a whale out of the corner of our eye, just in time to see its tail dive back into the bay.
We had to retrace our steps a bit to get to Sterling Highway, which wasn’t a problem because the drive was pretty great the first time around. Still, we managed to find new viewpoints and pull-offs to snap some photos. When Seward Highway met Sterling Highway (the only route to Homer), the turnoff was a little spit of land in between two streams, which shimmered underneath the mountain range and sunshine.
The Sterling Highway later became more suburban than our winding roads to the East. Trees replaced mountains and dirt replaced curving riverbeds. Dirt-drenched ATV paths snaked alongside the highway. We felt less compelled to stop at pull-offs, and so we started to make better time. After a pizza stop at Roscoe’s in the little town of Ninilchik along the Kenai Peninsula for a surprisingly tasty pie, we plowed forward into Homer.
Our first stop was the Bear Creek Winery—a surprising change of pace from the massive overload of breweries we’d seen from town to town. It was tucked up inside a quiet hilly part of Homer, a little outside of downtown. We chatted with the girls behind the wooden counter and sipped through some berry-infused wines while discussing local color.
“Homer is basically a big group of hippies”
This proved to be true. I’d noticed an influx of miniature log cabins sprinkled along the roadside as we approached town, and delicately adorned “tiny houses” were mixed between average sized homes all throughout downtown. We went to dinner at AJ’s Old Town Steakhouse, lingering in our denial that it was our last night here. I remembered looking on Google maps for our location and relishing in the fact that we were so physically far from home. It gives me such a strange comfort to be somewhere so far away and different.
We decided to have one drink at Salty Dog Saloon so that we would have a chance to check out the famous Homer Spit. The sun was setting and it was raining lightly, which, combined with the pre-season time of year, meant that most of the little shops on the Spit were closed. We drove along campsites and shuttered restaurant doors to the Salty Dog—the lone operational business. Inside was small, rustic, and homey, with bartenders chatting alongside locals like everybody was sitting on a friend’s living room couch. Behind the bar they offered a combination of hot coffee, strips of beef jerky and “Salty Dog Saloon” koozies to go along with your Bud Lights. It was a memorable sight.
Downtown Homer is more spread out than you would expect, and the streets were generally quiet. After parking the truck back at our hotel and continuing on foot, we wandered up to a divey-looking bar called Kharacters with a band playing in the corner. We sipped our beer while clove-scented cigarette smoke swirled the air and seeped into the wooden seams of the bar—in true dive bar fashion.
The next morning we grabbed a “sludge cup” of coffee, an Alaska style take on an Americana that replaces the hot water with hot coffee. It perks you right up like a kid at Christmas. We drove up the Skyline Drive before leaving town—a steep hill that overlooks all of Homer and the water beside it.
After soaking in the beautiful quiet and sweeping view, we reluctantly began the 4-hour drive to the airport for our evening flight. We were retracing almost every step we took to get to Homer, but as we’d come to expect, the beauty never grew tiring. I’d come to be addicted to mountain ranges within my touch, flying down the highway in our massive pickup truck (now lovingly named “Dakota”). We spent the better part of our return trip looking for dirt roads to peel through.Rolling into the airport and returning the truck was pretty grueling. I nearly cried when they took the keys. I’m not sure I can ever rent a regular car again…I now understand what all those country songs are about.
Inside the airport we were too early to check our luggage—a rare occurrence. We grabbed a beer and started talking to a guy awaiting his flight back down to Homer (ironically). He was from Colorado originally, where he still lives for 5 months out of the year. When we asked him how he managed to jump between places so much, he replied:
“The work is always here waiting for you”
I’d come to see that difference in mindset throughout Alaska. Lifestyles are not so structured, and there is less emphasis on being tied to one spot. I actually met three people on our trip who live in two different places during the year. It felt like moving around was manageable, not “unstable”, like it can be viewed back home. I wonder if it’s related to the self-sustainability of Alaska—where people take care of their own and create a place that is secure. It’s an intriguing mindset for my gypsy brain. It’s definitely the kind of place that swallows you up and leaves you wanting more.
3,000 miles between here and home, and I’ll be dreaming of mountains and truck tires on dirt roads for every last one.