One of the most interesting parts of our work at SHD is learning about the amazing places our passengers are traveling. Whether you’re on the move for business or a dream vacation, we’re happy to be part of your journey and connect you with the world. We recently connected Nick and Nicky Swayne to Alaska, where they took in the gorgeous sights of Fairbanks, Denali National Park, Whittier, and more! The Swaynes were gracious enough to be guest writers for our blog and share their epic trip with us. Keep reading to be transported to Alaska!
From Nick and Nicky Swayne
Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport: The Valley’s Gateway to the World
Yes! Our first vacation in almost two years, and it all started at SHD. We were pleasantly surprised by SHD’s new [to us] expanded departure gate.
Our destination was Alaska, my 50th state, but getting there isn’t easy, so our first stop was Seattle. We spent the night near Sea-Tac airport and took an early Uber into the city center. COVID still had a grip on the community, but things were beginning to open. We got into the Chihuly Glass Museum, where we were amazed by the other-worldly glass sculptures and a quick lunch at one of the nearby food vendors.
A quick trip back to the hotel, and we were on our way to Ketchikan, Alaska. The Ketchikan airport is on an island – a 15-minute ferry ride from the town of Ketchikan. That narrow straight serves a seemingly endless buzz of seaplanes, cargo ships, and charter fishing boats. One of the most unique airports we have ever been to – this was our first airport departure that required a ferry boat ride.
Ketchikan is normally a major port call for cruise ships, but for the summer of ’21 they remained out of action, so we had a pretty good run on the town. No waiting at restaurants was a plus, and the town is a major southeast Alaskan hub, so there were plenty of tourists, and the charter fishing boats, seaplanes, and other frontier activities keep the town busy. We spent the night at a local hotel that hadn’t weathered COVID or the last 20 years too well, but it’s a frontier town, so dry beds and hot showers may be just good enough.
After stocking up with supplies, we took the afternoon ferry to Prince of Wales Island and rode by car towards its northern tip to the quaint community of Whale Pass. Located on a beautiful inlet teeming with the sea’s bounty, this town of 28 square miles has about 75 permanent residents and almost no telephones. It does have a small general store and a last-chance gas station which delivers exactly what its name implies. One unique feature was a “Cell Phone Tree” where on a good day, enough of a signal sometimes leaks in that you can get 1-2 bars. It’s well-marked and just off the main road (gravel). While we were visiting my sister, the Secretary of Defense decided to take a vacation at one of the resort lodges nearby. It was a running secret since he had an entourage of around 50 people, an advance team, and a fleet of rental vehicles. Pretty exciting times, and the DoD jet parked at the Ketchikan airport was still creating a local buzz when we got back to Ketchikan.
Getting back to Ketchikan was its own adventure. The ferry had broken down, and we had been notified of it in time. We had a plane to catch – else our entire travel ‘leg’ was going to come apart. We needed to catch a flight back to Seattle, have a 4-hour layover, and fly north to Fairbanks, all in order to arrive in time for the beginning of an Alaska tour (and reservations on an AVT tour)! In desperation, we ‘chartered’ my brother-in-law’s 25-foot fishing boat to haul us down the coast of POW (that’s what the locals call Prince of Wales) and make the short (3 hours, one way) sprint across the open waters of the sound to the Ketchikan airport. I already mentioned that the airport was on an island, but it got better. It actually has its own boat dock and seaplane parking docks, so you can drive right up and get on a commercial flight. For what it’s worth, it was raining during the boat ride, but we were dry in a cabin, and it was July. We can only imagine the impossibility of this trip in the winter.
Our quick detour back to Seattle in order to get north to Fairbanks went off without a hitch. We joined our tour in Fairbanks and had a great time with Merrin, our guide from Collette Tours. We rode the Alaskan Railway’s glass-topped cars several times, including from Fairbanks south to Denali National Park. The mountain has a reputation for being elusive, and it lived up to that reputation. Clouds obscured the peaks except for a short glimpse on our foray into the park. The scale of the mountain is beyond imagination. When we finally caught our peek of the peak, we were around 80 miles away. The summit is close to 30,000 feet, so to catch a glimpse, you look up into the sky as if you were looking for commercial jets.
There were so many sites, wildlife, side trips, and beautiful vistas – too many to share in this blog. The one last unique experience was driving through the tunnel to the town of Whittier. It’s just over two miles long through solid granite. Google it – it’s the only tunnel in North America that is one-lane and shared with a rail line. When you get the green light, you go – straight through the narrow tunnel on top of the train tracks. The train follows the line of cars. When the tunnel clears, it opens in the other direction. And the town of Whittier is well worth the visit – glaciers calving into the bay, sea otters playing, fish jumping. The waters and vistas are unbelievable.
We got back to SHD at sunset in early August with our luggage – and our car was safely parked (for free) in the lot. (What better welcome than a Shenandoah Valley sunset!) It was an adventure of a lifetime – and even though we were exhausted, we only had to drive 20 minutes to get home. Shenandoah Valley Regional truly is our gateway to the world.
Thank you again to the Swaynes for choosing SHD to connect them with Alaska! When it’s time to plan your next trip, please feel free to contact us with any travel questions and visit flyshd.com to book your flight. We can’t wait to see where you go next!