Author: Terry Paul
Date of Trip: August 2013
What comes to mind when you think about our largest state: unique world class vistas? Jaw dropping viewing of wildlife in habitat? Abandon 90% of your hope, all ye who journey here.
Most of your days will be spent in standard issue heavily forested areas much as you’d find in Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, or even southeast Ohio except for the tree types. Nothing at all that special. If you’re expecting absolutely breathtaking views, those knock your socks off landscapes of your mind, take a cruise. You’ll see more of the truly spectacular stuff in 30 minutes there than on this entire trip. Most of the lovely places you’ll pass thru with Backroads, like miles of impressive snowcapped peaks, are taken in almost entirely from the van. In which incidentally, you spend an average of about two hours a day.
What about all that wildlife? Almost completely missing in action. We caught a few glimpses of eagles and otters but were amazed at how little animal activity was around us. Our best results were at the Sea Life Center in Seward, but you have to go there on your own dime. We saw more wildlife from the tourist trolley in Anchorage (moose in meadows) than in six days with the group. In general our time was much more productively spent on our own, working from a guide book than under Backroads’ very expensive wing. To experience the wildlife of Alaska go to Denali; you can combine that with an inside passage cruise and have a lot of money left over, compared to this tour.
Now on to the daily activities. For each day that is almost always singular, with a total of seven scheduled activities over the six day period. You can choose your own pace from intense to leisurely, continuing for a longer time or cutting things short. But the sheer quantity of what’s offered is surprisingly small- sometimes as little as three hours for the whole day. The quality of these experiences range from enjoyable to exasperating. But there will never be a day when you exclaim “Wow, did I get my money’s worth!” Not even close. For a couple, the cost is about $500 a day per person and you’ll feel very short changed from the get go to the finish line.
There is loads to eat- like cattle at feedlots amounts and the quality is good but in no way sensational. After a while you notice that breakfasts and lunches are pretty much the same every day. At these prices is something distinctive or at least different too much to ask? Dinners are more varied. You’ll never be hungry except for the cheesiest moments of the week, when dinner is not provided. At these prices is “all meals included” unreasonable?
Two words about equipment provided by Backroads: barely adequate. The catalog describes their bikes as if they’re Tour de France ready. Our plain vanilla 2 wheelers at home are in better shape. Realistically, the company bikes get a lot of heavy usage, especially on other tours. We got the clear impression that this tour is allocated the bottom of the barrel equipment because there isn’t that much mileage to be biked.
I’m all for exercising to a very heavy sweat. My wife and I do that six days a week at the gym. But on a trip of this kind you want to knock yourself out in fantastic settings, to experience a great payoff all around you. That’s what we paid through the nose for, but in vain.
A sidebar note here. Our guides were very good at their jobs. Beyond their technical competence, they were ever patient, attentive, and responsive. I actually was sorry for them after a while though, as they felt the constant need to inflate modest moments, to hype what was coming next, etc. Like the Backroads catalog, the overselling never stops.
Accommodations were fine but nothing to write about.
To summarize: What’s seen on the Travel Channel and described in the Backroads catalog is Alaska’s breathtaking A game. On this tour you get the state’s C game for scenery and its F game for animal life. The trip is breathtakingly overpriced. Alaska is a magnificent place to visit but avoid the Backroads version like the plague.