Then you can take the time to smell the roses when summer arrives

I would be willing to bet that about now, many of you probably feel hopelessly trapped in your homes by our seemingly endless winter weather.

As a died-in-the-wool, winter addict, I dearly love the cold days, the frosty nights, the frigid temperatures, the deep snow, the thick ice, the long hours of darkness and the starkness of our landscapes of wintertime.

However, I must honestly admit that sometimes our long winter season even gets me down a little bit. Especially when a series of storms roll in, one after another, and I can not get outdoors for long periods of time. Or if the storms hit on weekend after weekend after weekend, when many of my companions can normally take the time off to go outdoors and play. Then, winter begins to get a tad bit long for me, too.

Well, when I begin to feel like the walls are closing in on me I take some remedial action that I would like to suggest that you try.

Here's what I do:

I drag out all kinds of maps, brochures, pamphlets and advertisements, get on the Internet and start making telephone calls.

Then, by using all of those items, I stay busy for days at a time, working on any planned summer activities, vacations or fishing trips.

It's a great way to help pass the time, plus it is very productive and it can save you lots of money.

Then later, when summer does roll around, it is very gratifying to know that all of the necessary reservations and plans are solidly in place.

So, if you are thinking of doing something special this summer, why not take the time now to begin to work on the arrangements.

It's a perfect way to wait out the current winter weather.

If you do, here's a very important hint: this is also the best time of the year to get the best prices on things like summer airline tickets, car rentals and hotel/motel reservations.

On all of my previous trips to Alaska, I have worked like a little beaver at this time of the year to firm up my travel agenda, obtain information, purchase plane tickets, reserve rental cars, book hotel and motel reservations, select sightseeing tours, lock in fishing lodge commitments, etc.

Then, when summer rolls around, I just sit back, grin and go have fun.

If you have never traveled to Alaska, be advised that there is a huge world of difference between making all of your arrangements now as opposed to doing so at the last minute. Most particularly when it comes to the prices and availability of things like airline tickets, hotel/motel rooms, car rentals and sightseeing or fishing trips. If your plans are not locked into granite by the time summer arrives, you could have a very rude culture shock waiting for you.

For example, if you were to wait until the last minute, the price of your airline ticket could be as much as 3-4 times what you pay at this time of the year. Why pay about $1,600 for a ticket in June that only costs about $400 now? That doesn't make any sense to me.

Plus, if you make your reservations now, you have much more flexibility in setting your departure and arrival dates and times.

And, as another example of pre-planning, if you are thinking of taking a trip to Alaska that includes a sightseeing bus tour through Denali National Park, do it now. If you wait until the last minute, good luck, because you will need it. Your chances of getting on one of those buses when you want to go on a tour of Denali, is about as good as my chances of hitting another Royal Flush on a video poker machine: slim to none.

As a matter of fact, the sightseeing bus tour of Denali has always been the Keystone of all of my trips to the Interior of Alaska.

It is absolutely critical to have that tour in place and here is why:

We have always booked the 11-hour sightseeing tour from the park headquarters through the park to Wonder Lake and return. The tour that we select is the one that begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. We do so for a number of reasons:

The 7 a.m. departure time from the headquarters gives us time to get there from Fairbanks, where we have spent the previous night.

Then, the 6 p.m. arrival time back at the headquarters gives us time to drive to a small dot on the map called Cantwell where we have motel reservations to spend that night.

If you waited until the last minute, you would have a tough time getting hotel reservations in Fairbanks, you would not be able to book a trip on the sightseeing bus and there would not be any available rooms in Cantwell. Then you would really be in trouble. All for lack of pre-planning.

As another example of pre-planning, the rental rate of your car climbs dramatically when you compare making that rental at this time of the year to doing so at the last moment in June or July.

If you reserve that car or van now, you have a greater flexibility in specifying the type and size of the vehicle.

On a number of previous trips to Alaska, we have flown into Anchorage International Airport, picked up a rental vehicle and then begun an extended sightseeing/fishing trip that ended in Anchorage, many days later.

During one of those extended trips, we will have typically:

Gone sightseeing around town and stayed overnight in Anchorage that first night.

On Day No. 2, we will have driven to Fairbanks (340 miles) via Palmer, Wasilla, Matanuska Valley, Willow, Montana Creek, Talkeetna, Nenana, North Pole and then stayed overnight in Fairbanks.

On Day No. 3, we have driven the two hours to Denali National Park and taken the 11-hour bus tour. Then, we have driven to Cantwell to spend the night.

On Day No. 4, it was back to Anchorage for more sightseeing in the area and to spend the night.

On day No. 5, we have made the drive from Anchorage to Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula via the Turnagain Arm, a 2-hour tour of Portage Glacier and Soldotna.

On Day No. 6-7-8-9, we have fished in the salt water of the Cook Inlet for King Salmon and Halibut with the good folks from The Outlook Lodge.

On Day. No. 10, we drive back to Anchorage to spend our last night in the Great State of Alaska.

On Day No. 11, we go to the airport, turn in our rental vehicle, check onto our plane and fly back to Reno. Our friends or relatives are waiting to pick up us and our fish boxes for the return trip to Carson City.

This example should give you an idea of why it is so critical to do all of your planning and reservation-making at this time of the year. If you do so, then you can take the time to smell the roses when summer arrives.

-- Bet Your Favorite Pigeon

Bet your favorite pigeon that he can't tell you the quickest way to make a reservation to take a bus tour of Denali National Park.

If he grins and says, "Heck, that's easy. The quickest and easiest way to make that reservation is by way of the Internet," he could have already done so, himself.


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