My Favorite Fairbanks Hotel

28 02 2011

Ordinarily I try to seek out and (where warranted) sing the praises of independent, locally-rooted properties when I travel.

It’s not that I necessarily have anything against the big chains — I’ve stayed at many a Super 8 when in need — but, well, I just don’t tend to think that they need my help. And it’s very rare that a chain spot truly stands out, really makes itself memorable.

One major exception to this rule is the Best Western Chena River Lodge, my go-to Fairbanks hotel.

My first stay here was born out of desperation. A friend and I had decided to take a detour up the Parks Highway to Fairbanks from Anchorage, instead of heading straight home to Whitehorse via the Glenn Highway and the Tok Cutoff. (Hey, what’s another few hundred miles, right?)

But we hadn’t made any plans or done any research about hotel options in Fairbanks, the drive had taken hours longer than expected thanks to icy roads, and we arrived in town tired, cranky, hungry and lost. We drove aimlessly around for awhile, selecting highway exits at random until, finally, I spotted the Best Western sign looming ahead of us. A familiar brand-name logo never looked so good.

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Photo Friday: Ice Fog in Carcross

25 02 2011

A pair of locals walks on the frozen beach in Carcross, Yukon

The Northern Lights, At Last

23 02 2011

My time at Slaven’s Roadhouse last week involved a few “firsts” for me — first time outdoors at -45, then -50, -53… — but easily the most exciting was my first proper look at the Northern Lights.

I’ve had two previous sightings. First, as a teenager partying on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon, I spotted a dim green smudge on the horizon. Second, this past August in Fairbanks, I opted in to the aurora wake-up call offered at the River’s Edge Resort and stumbled out on to my patio in the brief darkness of an early, early Alaskan summer morning in time to watch a pale streak of green glowing just above the horizon. I’d have thought it was just an odd reflection of the city’s lights if I hadn’t seen it undulating, just slightly.

Both of those were a thrill, but I’d been waiting through the better part of two Yukon winters for the real show, and I arrived at Slaven’s counting on finally getting an eyeful.

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Whitehorse=Stuff White People Like?

22 02 2011

Remember Stuff White People Like? It’s the blog-turned-bestselling humor book that pokes gentle fun at the all-too-predictable habits of North America’s white yuppie/hipster/hippie sets.

I like an uncomfortable number of items listed in the book, and, well, I like Whitehorse a lot, too. So I thought I’d see how Whitehorse’s offerings fare in a comparison with the master list.

Here are, by my reckoning, the items interested white folks will have no trouble finding in the ‘Horse. Take note:

#1 Coffee; #3 Film Festivals; #5 Farmer’s Markets; #6 Organic Food; #9 Making you feel bad about not going outside; #12 Non-Profit Organizations; #13 Tea; #15 Yoga; #23 Microbreweries; #27 Marathons [Adventure races and trail running count, right?]; #28 Not having a TV; #31 Snowboarding; #32 Vegan/Vegetarianism; #33 Marijuana; #36 Breakfast Places; #42 Sushi; #43 Plays; #44 Public Radio; #45 Asian Fusion Food; #53 Dogs; #59 Natural Medicine; #61 Bicycles; #63 Expensive Sandwiches; #64 Recycling; #65 Co-Ed Sports; #87 Outdoor Performance Clothes [Boy howdy]; #90 Dinner Parties; #94 Free Healthcare; #100 Bumper Stickers [Sample slogan: “EAT MOOSE: 40,000 Wolves Can’t Be Wrong”]; #103 Sweaters; #110 Frisbee Sports; #112 Hummus; #128 Camping; #132 Picking Their Own Fruit.

Northern Noodle Quest: New Oriental Restaurant

21 02 2011

After my first foray into the local Chinese food offerings, I was braced for another unpleasant lemon chicken-esque surprise. But New Oriental didn’t inflict any further trauma on me — in fact, my meal was downright tasty.

A friend and I ordered the vegetarian spring rolls, spicy squid, tofu with black bean sauce and vegetable chow mein. The spring rolls were large and hot, definitely on the greasy side but the veggies inside still retained distinct flavors — a rarity and a major plus. The squid was fried in a light, crispy batter, with a nice, accessible level of spice, a slow-building burn. The tofu with black bean sauce had plenty of flavor, and its veggies remained crisp-ish, not cooked to mush. Finally, the chow mein was bland, but surprisingly non-greasy.

Chinese food purveyors of Whitehorse, you are on notice: The bar has been set. Thanks for reviving my faith in the quest, New Oriental.

A Few Shameless Northern Links

21 02 2011

I’ve had a handful of northern stories appear elsewhere in the last few days.

Here they are:

I wrote a brief introduction to an annual ultra race for Matador Sports:
The Yukon Arctic Ultra: The World’s Toughest Race?

And I documented my recent beer-themed travels in two pieces for Matador Nights: The Beer Frontier: Binge Drinking in Alaska and the accompanying Guide to Beer Drinking in Alaska

Check ’em out!

Photo Friday: So Long, Slaven’s

18 02 2011

Musher Hank DeBruin and his team pull out of Slaven's Roadhouse

The above photo is from Tuesday morning, when the last Yukon Quest musher left Slaven’s en route to Circle. I said my own goodbye just over 24 hours later — the volunteer team manning the dog drop was flown out to Fairbanks Wednesday afternoon — and I arrived home in Whitehorse last night.

I had a fantastic few days at Slaven’s. I’ll post more about the trip and the Quest soon.