Wanderlust Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Winter’

Here at Amazing Journeys, we’re lucky have the best jobs in the world—and we think our good fortune is worth sharing. So, when your next journey seems like a distant dream, take a few minutes to explore our WANDERLUST blog—it’s chock full of engaging tales and helpful tips from our travels around the world. Check out the most recent entry (at the top) or search by your preferred criteria. Consider it motivation for your next embarkation.

Border

The Iditarod and a Winter Wonderland in Alaska

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Cameras flash and crowds cheer as the divas strut the runway clad in mini-jackets and hot-pink booties. Yet this is no walk on the red carpet. These are working sled dogs parading down Fourth Avenue in Anchorage, Alaska, for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

The jackets are for show, but the booties are functional, protecting the paws of dog teams in this grueling 1,049-mile race, which begins March 5 this year and continues for the next two weeks across the snowy Alaskan wilderness to Nome.

Though heading for a vacation in Alaska at this frosty time of year seems counterintuitive, the Iditarod is an awesome spectacle as a modern-day re-creation of the ancient alliance between human and dog against fierce elements.

Highlighting our Amazing Journeys Winter Wonderland tour of Alaska (a vacation for Jewish singles 30s-50s), we will be in Anchorage for the ceremonial start and a  lineup of festivities including The Musher’s Ball and the outdoor festival known as The Fur Rondy. Our days leading up to this true extravaganza will be chock full of outdoor adventure including snowmobiling, hiking, Aurora Borealis (AKA The Northern Lights) gazing, and dogsledding ourselves. We’ll be in Fairbanks and Chena Hot Springs in the days leading up to the festivals in Anchorage (did I mention the hot springs?  Imagine…an oasis of natural hot mineral pools amongst the frozen tundra in the wilderness. Yup – that’ll be us!). Once in Anchorage beginning March 3rd, we’ll partake in all the glamour and pomp surrounding this remarkable event.  Its like Super Bowl week…only its in Alaska, and its to celebrate the sport of mushing, not football.

But I digress.

The official restart of the Iditarod is on March 6th in Willow; just a stone’s throw away from Sarah Palin’s house in Wasilla (AJ’s been there!).  Spectators can get close to the chute on frozen Willow Lake, or for those wanting an authentic checkpoint experience, one can hire an air taxi day flight or stay at a lodge along the race route.

For those with deep pockets and advance planners, the Idita-Rider program offers the best seat possible for the first 11 miles of Iditarod. Minimum bids start at $500, while $7,500 guarantees a ride in the basket in the sled of your choice.

Though it’s vital transportation for some, visitors will find the sled-dog experience sheer joy. Our Amazing Journeys tour includes several authentic mushing experiences including a visit with Mary Shields–the first woman ever to have finished the Iditarod—and her team of mushing dogs.  We’ll also hop aboard a sled and “Hike up!” the call for the dogs as we launched into the winter wonderland (using the word “mush” to a dogsled team is a misnomer. There are actual cadences used for each command of “go”, “stop”, “left” etc)

To those who think dog mushing is cruel, it is not.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  These dogs live to run. They are happiest and healthiest when they run.  They are born..to run.  You just have to meet a mushing dog to see for yourself, but trust me because I have an affinity of love for dogs and I would be the first to share feelings otherwise.  These are special dogs, well cared for and some of the happiest breeds in all the planet.

Four time defending Iditarod champion Lance Mackey of Fairbanks will be searching for his unprecedented fifth consecutive first place finish.

Not just the Iditarod: The Iditarod is the granddaddy, but you can catch a race just about any weekend through winter in Anchorage or Fairbanks.

It’s what Alaskans do.

Its what Amazing Journeys is about to do!

Brrr..Don’t let cold snap the bite out of your scenic winter photos

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
-a guideline to taking pictures in an outdoor cold setting…compliments of Barry Asman: AJ’s resident paraprofessional photographer-at-large:
Whether you’re joining us on our Winter trip to Alaska or just taking pictures in your neighborhood this winter, cold weather photography can be some of the most exhilirating shots you ever take, but these shots present some challenges.  These revolve mainly around the weather and climate we will be enjoying.  What comes to mind initially is the temperature that we will be experiencing.  Our winter temperatures will be COLD, sometimes well below ZERO!  This extreme cold will produce some interesting camera problems.  Preparing to take pictures in Alaska can be divided into two categories:  1) taking care of your camera and 2) taking care of yourself.
First, most important and most basic, is to take care of yourself.  This means staying warm, especially keeping your hands warm.  As you are anticipating, the key here are gloves.  What we recommend is to bring a pair of regular warm gloves, and also a special pair of “fingerless” gloves so that you have the dexterity to operate a camera in the cold.  There are several types of these “fingerless” gloves to use.  Our best suggestion is to go to a sporting goods store (or on line) and head to the hunting section.  Hunters use these gloves all the time.  Here is an example of some gloves: http://www.rei.com/product/305045
Now, let’s talk photography!  There are two issues that make photography in the cold interesting; power and water.
First there is the issue of power (batteries).  The thing to remember is that in cold temperatures, battery power goes down quickly.  There is an easy solution to this; carry extra batteries.  If your camera uses regular batteries, just pop a couple of extra sets in your coat, close to your body (to keep them warm).  When the set in your camera gets cold and stops working, just change them out for a “body warmed” set (the cold set will come alive when warmed up again.)  If your camera takes only proprietary rechargeable batteries, go to the camera store (or order) a second battery.  Keep one warm while you shoot with the other; then just swap them out.  Easy enough!
Now, let’s talk about water…condensation.  Here’s the problem…  If you’ve been outside for a while in the cold air, then go inside the warm house; what’s the first thing that happens?  Your glasses fog up.  This occurs when your cold glasses hit the warm air.  The same thing will happen to your camera.  If you take your cold camera onto the warm hotel, the camera will instantly form condensation (water droplets) not only on the camera, but also inside the camera.  Remember, water and electronics are not happy together, i.e. your camera’s guts will “fry”.  Believe us, we’ve seen very expensive cameras with puddles of water sloshing around INSIDE the camera from condensation.
Preventing condensation on your camera is very important and not too difficult.  Here’s the solution:  While your camera is still Alaska cold, put it in a sealable plastic bag, and seal it tightly.  Leave it in the sealed bag until, once back inside the hotel, the camera slowly warms back up to room temperature.  Problem solved!  (Going from warm to cold should not be a problem, only cold to warm.)  You can actually throw a couple of those Silica Gel desiccant packs (the kind that comes with your new shoes to keep them dry) in your camera bag and the plastic bag for added protection.  While some of the above advice may be overkill, its going to be cold and you can never be too prepared.
Some people have asked about bringing a tripod.  Granted, to get good pictures of the Aurora Borealis you should use a tripod.  But, that means you have to carry the tripod.  If you want to get a good travel tripod, you can pick one up that folds small and weighs three pounds (and some may cost up to $600).  The typical non-travel tripod from Best Buy weighs 5-7 pounds and is two feet long (folded)…trust me; you will NOT want to be carrying that thing around.  Another option is to get a small, light flexible mount (http://joby.com/gorillapod) and hope there is something convenient to clamp it to.  There are even Bean Bag camera mounts that are fairly light and easy to use; assuming there is some place to rest it.  The decision is yours to make.  Take a look at what is out there and go with it.
My final words of wisdom:
*Take plenty of Memory Cards
*Take plenty of Batteries and appropriately sized sealable baggies (see above)
*If you’re going to get a new camera for the trip, get it now and learn how to use it now (don’t wait to open the box on the plane on the way to Alaska!)  Practice using your camera and all of its settings.  Being familiar with your camera will pay off in improved pictures.
1…2…3…EXCELLENT!
Happy Shooting!

For those who yearn for real snowy fun – Alaska’s Famed “Fur Rondy”

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

In Alaska it’s about surviving winter—a long, long winter. Fortunately, people in Anchorage have not only a frontier spirit but a sense of humor. And so there is Fur Rendezvous, affectionately called the “Fur Rondy” by locals, now in its 75th year and serving up 10 days of crazy winter fun from Feb. 26 – Mar. 6. The festival leads up to the start of the more serious Iditarod dog sled race, which kicks off March 7 (and runs a 1,200-mile course to Nome).

Racing is part of the action during Fur Rondy too, in the form of the World Championship Sled Dog Races, with 30 mushers and their teams competing for an $80,000 purse, on a 25-mile course. But that’s about as competitive as Fur Rondy gets.

And yes, Amazing Journeys is headed there! With over 30 true adventure-seekers, we are headed to Alaska from February 26th through March 6th for a true winter experience. Festivals, dogsledding, snowmobiling, the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) and even a “reverse oasis” of sorts as we warm up at the incredbile Chena Hotsprings are all part of this awesome tour.  Even in this frozen tundra, the volcanic activity actually creates an awesome collection of steaming mineral hotsprings right in the middle of the blustery Alaskan winter.

The festival events range from the sublime to the ridiculous, including whacky snowshoe softball (competitors fall a lot), a Frostbite Footrace (costumes optional) and the World’s Largest Outhouse Race (yup, teams competing pushing outhouses).  Part of the experience will be to watch exhibitions of the Native American blanket toss, where people lifted into the air on a skin blanket–an ancient form of scouting an area for hunting. This event is actually held near the carnival—even though it will be sub zero at times, the festival includes a Ferris wheel and other outdoor rides.

Fur Rondy’s popular Reindeer Run is an Alaskan version of Pamplona, and draws crowds. Thousands will be out for the 6:45 p.m. night-time fireworks. Much of the action takes place on main downtown Anchorage streets, where there are a couple of 20-story skyscrapers and offerings like a Nordstrom’s and Starbucks. Some of those streets were purposely left unplowed in a half-foot snowfall, so, for instance, mushers could race through on their trek.

Try that in New York.