Lessons about expectations

One thing I have learned in life is that perception is more important than reality, And your attitude can change your perception about an event. And missing your expectations can make it very hard to control your attitude. If we start with expectations, life might just go a little smoother.

  • … Here’s a small irrelevant factoid I learned today, Alaska is one of 2 states that does not have counties, it has Boroughs. It also has one very large (and not necessarily contiguous) Unorganized Bourough, which means it has no governing body between the state and the cities. Valdez, McCarthy, Cordova, The entire Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, etc, are in part of this unorganized bourough. The only reason this is relevant is I struggled with what to call this area in the blog. So, perhaps I’ll call it by the Glenn/Richardson highway area…

We had planned to be on this section of our trip to Alaska for about a month, but due to some other issues, we decided to cut about a month out of our trip and head South earlier. This made our time in the Glenn/Richardson Highway area very short. We spent a day at each place, when our expectations were to have a week at each location. In the end, we really are kamikaze travelers and we felt like we got to see everything we wanted to.


We buzzed out of Homer and stopped in Anchorage just long enough for a Costco run, then on to Palmer. Palmer was a complete suprise. We really had no expectations of this small town, but it was beautiful! It was agricultural, surrounded by mountains, within an hour of Anchorage (real shopping and Airport), golf, state fair grounds, centrally located, clean fresh town, not run down like so many small towns. We felt like if we were looking for a place to settle in Alaska (which we are not), Palmer just might be it. Palmer was our home for two nights in a brand new RV park that didn’t even have signage yet (Paradise Alaska RV Park). Beautiful park.

As we drove around to see a little of town at at one particular spot which took my breath away we stopped to fly the drone, and ended up meeting a couple from San Diego that were very similar to us, living in their RV full time about 1.5 years, getting into blogging, first time to Alaska, etc. They are professional photographers (unlike us). We ended up sharing stories for about an hour. They showed us their camera equipment and filled us with inspiration. What fun… definitely not within our expectation of the afternoon. We hope to run into them again and will be watching them on their blog ShootingNomads.com.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

The next day found us driving the Glenn highway to Glenallen. We did not have any expectations of this drive, but it turned out to be the most scenic drive we have taken in Alaska. Most of Alaska is covered with trees and you cannot see beyond the 20-foot road corridor. So perhaps the vegetation was different there were actually views. Perhaps it was passing by the glacier, or along the river, or the crystal clear river. Or perhaps it was the sight of Mt. Drum, a 14,000 peak in the Wrangell Mountain range buried within the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. But every turn throughout the day was wonderful.

Wrangell-St Elias National Park is 6 times the size of Yellowstone. The literature says it’s the says size as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Switzerland combined! It climbs from Sea level to 18,000 ft. It contains the largest active volcano (by volume) in the world and 9 of the countries 15 tallest peaks. AND we had never heard of it! Totally Unexpected! We drove on south close to the turn of for our two destinations in this area and parked for free for 3 nights at the Willow Lake Overlook (found in the Milepost) with a spectacular view of 4 of those peaks. How perfect is that!

Willow Lake Overlook - Beyond Expectations
Willow Lake Overlook – Beyond Expectations


After one night in our rest stop, we took the car and headed into Valdez for the day. It was a 2 hour drive and I wanted to catch a couple of work meetings one that started at 7:30am so we left the RV VERY early. But that’s ok… Because of course it was light! On a side note: it IS actually getting dark at night now, which is helpful for us… but it’s still not dark for long. We had no expectations of this day, in fact Mike thought this might be a day we cut out. But I just wanted to go. Valdez (most likely because of the oil spill) is one of the bigger names in Alaska to me, so we went. AND the drive was beautiful!

Thompson’s Pass

Thompson’s Pass was a highlight. Think Switzerland. Above the treeline, rugged peaks, gorgeous.

The Town

As we drove into Valdez we drove into the fog. So we went out to breakfast, I attended my meetings, went to the visitors center, walked along the marina, even went to a chainsaw carving contest. waiting for the fog to burn off. We just could not think of another thing to do so we started heading out of town and stopped at a lake at the foot of a glacier with large Iceburgs floating in it… at least we think that was the deal, unless we couldn’t tell through the fog. Then we drove around the other side of the sound to the end of the Alaskan Pipeline. Interesting to see.

Perhaps we should have gone to the museum, but I was surprised at the lack of reference to the Oil Spill.

The Fish Hatchery

Right at that end of the road also Salmon Fish Hatchery. They have a self-guided tour explaining the process and that was also very interesting. And then the sun came out!

Fish so thick you could walk across them

Sparkling, beautiful, breath taking! I took my next meeting taking in that view. I love my job!

On the way back to the RV we took our time, stopping for photos, stopping at the glacier, etc. A very nice day. Way better than we expected, because we had no expectations.

McCarthy and Kennecott

Our next destination was to go to McCarthy and the Kennecott Mine deep in the heart of the National Park. This is the only road into the park and there was lots of warnings about how bad the road would be : 4-wheel drive only! It’s 89 miles, but expect it to take 4 hours because you have to go so slow. Because of this we left the RV at the rest stop again and drove the jeep and made a reservation for the night at a local cabin in McCarthy. It was an adventure and we were mighty excited.

The Glacier at McCarthy

The Road

The guidebook touted this as the most beautiful scenery in Alaska and as mentioned above, this greater local area certainly did not disappoint so our expectations were quite high. Many people fly in for the day, flying out in the afternoon, there is also a shuttle for those who don’t want to pay for a flight and don’t have a car that will make it. Rental Car agencies have clauses that do not allow you to take the car on this road. In the end the road was no more treacherous than frankly a well maintained dirt road… A few pot holes, and a few washboards, but after the fact we wished we had brought the RV. It was not even as bad as the top of the world highway. AND the trees (again the damn trees in Alaska) blocked any view. It was a slow, boring drive in.

The Bridge

The road followed the old railroad path and there was one very high (238 feet high) bridge (Kuskulana Bridge) that was one lane, and until 1988 it had no guard rails and was a two track bridge. That definitely would have been very unnerving to not have guardrails! It may still have been pretty scary in the RV even WITH the guardrails. Apparently there is a catwalk for pedestrians below the bridge, and had we known that then I definitely would have stopped and walked it. Also, I guess there is sometimes, or has been bungee jumping on the bridge.. That wasn’t happening this day.

Our Cabin

When you get to McCarthy, you cannot drive into town. The road ends at a footbridge across the river. The Cabin host picked us up there and took us the 2 miles to the cabins. They had bikes you could borrow, but we didn’t feel confident riding strange bikes with our camera gear etc. So we walked the one mile back to town. We also were a little shocked when they showed us our cabin, and then showed us the outhouse (with no door!) that we shared with another cabin.

The sink in the room was fed by a hose with cold water that they warned us not to drink (they had a water purifying tank we could use) and a hot plate and kettle to make warm water. The had two outdoor showers but I never did figure out how to get hot water out of it. Overall, the room was clean, the hosts were great, but the $160 price tag for the night had caused me to have other expectations.


After the walk to town we took the shuttle 5 miles to Kennecott to walk around the town and see this old mining town. In the 25 years at the turn of the century this mine was in production they extracted nearly $200 million of Copper. This mine was the founding mine for the Kennecott mine in Utah, still the worlds largest open-pit Copper mine today.  We walked from one end of town to the other. Then up a hill and across a small bridge past the “elite housing” in town, Silkstocking Alley. I was thankful that the shuttle driver had suggested that to us.  The views over the neighboring glacier were great.

The Food

Another issue with McCarthy was the lack of options for eating. There was a bar, with bar food, which usually we tend to avoid, a fine dining option with meals for $42 a plate, a coffee bar, and a Burger place, (the Potato) which is where we ate. There was a good looking option up in Kennecott, but their dinner option was served at 7:00 and the shuttle stopped running at 7:30 which caused us to wonder whose bright idea that was. We alos intended to walk to the glacier (1/2 mile from the cabin) but after walking to and from town, around town and around Kennecott, we had no more walking left in us. And after a night in the cabin with no blackout curtains (more expectations) we were not up to it in the next morning either.

The host had offered to drive us to town for breakfast, but the only option open in town was the Potato, and coincidentally that is where we had breakfast in Valdez two days earlier and we just couldn’t manage the Potato 3 times in one week. No issues with the food, but that was just too much. So we skipped breakfast and hit the road early.

Back at the RV we made a meal of Alaskan King Crab legs.

Tangle Lakes and the Denali Highway

One last stop on our Alaska tour before heading for home was to hit Tangle Lakes on the Denali Highway. Some friends had recommended the Denali highway which goes from Denali to Paxson as a beautiful drive, and of all the research Mike had done on fishing (his kind of fishing) in Alaska it seemed Tangle Lakes was the best location. Once again, Mike thought this destination could be cut, but I insisted we go.

We got back to the RV in plenty of time to drive up to Tangle Lakes Campground. I worked most of the drive. We stayed there two nights and I worked the following day. I really thought Mike would take advantage and get out fishing. It would be his only day to fish in Alaska at all. I wanted to take the evening hours and drive down the Denali Highway, for as long as it intrigued us (Maybe even far enough to SEE Denali?) In the end the clouds settled in and it rained all day long.Mike didn’t fish, we didn’t drive, in fact I don’t even think we stepped outside.

So this ended up being another destination that didn’t meet our expectations.


Bottom line. The places that we were most excited about turned out not to meet out expectations. They were the places that most disappointed us. The places where we had low expectations surprised us and we will remember them fondly. Some of this is certainly beyond our control and I can’t say I have the answers (Sorry if you thought I did). But I do think this is worth putting some thoughts into. I think I’ll set an expectation that I’ll learn to manage my expectations or at least not to let them effect my attitude, thereby change the joy the journey brings. Because let me tell you, this great earth and it’s inhabitants are amazing. I intend to experience and enjoy as much as fate will allow.

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