It took us a day longer than we expected getting to Alaska due to an impossible connection in Toronto. So we had a complementary stay in an airport hotel which was kind of nice, but it did cut our time in Fairbanks down a day – which was kind of frustrating.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Fairbanks so I didn’t give it much thought until I arrived. From the air the most notable thing for me was the wide river tributary running through the area, the Tanana River. However it is the Chena River (flows from the Tanana River) which you can see running through town.
As far as the city goes, it has a low skyline and is pretty spread out although there is a downtown area you can walk (with a nice new visitors centre), a university end of town and various commercial and industrial areas. We found it a useful hub to stock up on supplies for the various Alaskan adventures we were looking forward to, but otherwise not somewhere with a lot of attractions. Fairbanks is nice because it is small, you can buy what you need and enjoy the amenities of a city but the surrounding area is still accessible (and no doubt the reason most live there).
We met an interesting character in one of the outdoor stores when we were stocking up for Denali National Park. We wanted some bear protection so were looking at bear spray and bear bells. This guy kept repeating something like this; “Bear in mind that bear spray is the bare minimum of what you should take with you into bear country.” You could tell he would have been more comfortable selling us a gun than bear spray. But he knew his stuff and gave us some useful advice, noting that bear spray is only effective when sprayed directly in the face of a bear (eyes and mouth). He suggested closing one eye while spraying incase of back spray or wind dispersal, and warned us that the smell of the spray could attract bears so not to be stupid and spray it on the tent or our clothing (It’s an intense pepper spray, not an insect repellant).
Other than the outdoor shops I really enjoyed the supermarket. US supermarkets are different to Canadian ones, certainly different to New Zealand ones, they’re possibly unique in the world and I was happy to find that Alaska is definitely a US state from the quantity, selection and price of the candy aisle. I really can run around an American supermarket like a kid in a candy store, sometimes agonizing over which size m&m’s to purchase for an astounding amount of time.
Out of town we drove down the Chena Hot Springs road to do a short hike. On the way we spotted a couple of moose, but just fleetingly before they disappeared into the bushes, but they solidified our arrival in Alaska. Special thanks to Paul for lending us his car – pretty much a necessity for seeing anything in the Fairbanks area.
We did the short hike up to Angel Rocks, it was our first taste of the Alaskan outdoors and we were pretty excited. We tested out how quickly we could access our newly purchased bear spray along the way and certainly got a few funny looks from locals on the way down as we came ‘jingling’ past with our bear bells ringing loud – but better safe than sorry.
My last memory of Fairbanks, and no doubt one of the best was enjoying a nice T-Bone steak Kiwi (& Alaskan) style on the BBQ cooked outside at Paul’s place, washed down with a nice bottle of New Zealand red.