It's our first night, shake down night, and we're heading for Hope, a tiny coastal village on the peninsula. At an all-but-deserted campground overlooking the water in the Chugach National Forest, we feel our way through the small challenges of making an RV work properly. I'm surprised to find myself delighted, with both the gizmos and the setting; I had feared a parking lot experience, paved and crowded and anti-natural. Instead, I marvel at one of the most secluded campsites I've seen in my life, a jaw-dropping view of the inlet made lovelier by the scent of garlic sauce simmering on the stove, the joyous giggles of two kids bouncing on the big double bed, and the indulgence of a wilderness cocktail hour featuring single malt and actual ice. Mechanized camping has its perks.
We learn more of them with every day and every mile. A three-hour forest hike the next morning - a cool muffled tramp on thick needles, under a soaring cathedral of old-growth evergreens - is all the sweeter knowing that drip coffee and pancakes await at the end. And then on to Homer, hours on scenic roads that are not the usual fidgeting ordeal. Instead, the kids play happily at the table, drinks and snacks at hand as the mountains slide by. We make a long detour to see our first glacier, and we stop once to watch a bald eagle pick apart its fish prey on the beach below.
Homer, a fishing haven stretched along a 5-mile spit into Kachemak Bay, is equal parts working port and tourist town. Men in yellow slickers ply the docks and wrangle the big winches of the seafood processors - the goggle-eyed halibut run to 200 pounds in these waters. Visitors in fleece and high-tech boots walk between the charter-boat kiosks and art galleries. Tents line the public beach, and pickups loaded with oversized coolers and fishing poles run up and down the two-lane highway. It's the first days of the king salmon run and business is booming.
"Oh, the tourists have been coming for so long, they're like part of the scenery," says the cashier in a small dockside shop that sells fishing lures, bawdy T-shirts, and frozen macaroni. "They're back every year, just like the salmon. We're just glad they find us way out here."
We set up at a wooded, town-owned campground overlooking Homer. The crack of bats and the shouts of locals drift over from the adjacent softball field and a float plane drones over to settle on the waters of a tree-lined cove. Isabel and Tyrie work on a puzzle just acquired at the worthy Pratt Museum of Alaskan history and culture. We cook our foil-wrapped salmon, halibut, and scallops, bought wet off the docks of Cannery Row.
It's nice carrying a full kitchen through Alaska - the spectacular seafood becomes sublime when it's that-day fresh. And on day three, we reach Clam Gulch, where fresh during the spring and summer months means straight from the mud to your pot. We pull into the gulch, about an hour north of Homer, and park at the end of a long line of campers - digging clams at low tide here is a pastime that stretches all the way to Anchorage.