Dana and Walt Stoddard, an active couple from Loveland, Colorado, received a memorable gift from their four grown children for their 30th wedding anniversary- a surprise pre-paid trip to Alaska.
The Stoddards described the surprise, which their kids dubbed the “30th Anniversary Edition of the Amazing Race” on their last night in Alaska at Bear Lake Lodgings B&B near Seward Friday, July 18th following a helicopter ride and exciting ice climbing expedition with Exit Glacier Guides.
“We had no idea where we were going or what we were doing, they only gave us a packing list,” said Dana. She and her husband Walt sat at the lodge’s dining room table, with their neat pile of envelopes and cards, talking simultaneously about their trip to all who would listen.
The Amazing Race is a Reality TV show in which about a dozen couples compete to travel between various world locations in the fastest time as each couple’s journey is followed around by cameras that document the places and their trials and tribulations. The winner gets a million dollars, while the other couples are eliminated and sent to a luxury resort to wait for the others’ return.
“We watched Amazing Race, and for years Mom’s said that she wanted to be on it. So their 30th Anniversary seemed a great time,” said daughter Kim, contacted in Colorado by phone. The gift was a lot of work for the siblings to organize, but was well worth the trouble, she said, and it was fun to vicariously travel to Alaska through the photographs that their parents uploaded from their new pocket camera to the Cannon image gateway platform they had established.
Up until then, the couple had for the most part only been given anniversary cards from their children, Andrew, 29, Kim, 27, Tiffany 25 and Paul, 21. They began suspecting that their youngsters were planning a surprise trip for them when one of the daughters told Walt to make sure that they reserved an 10- day unscheduled period of time in mid-July. He didn’t tell his wife until it looked like Dana, an elementary school teacher, was looking into signing up for summer work at the school.
The children first began revealing their secret when the family gathered together in Indiana on July 4th for a dinner for their daughter’s college graduation via a suggested packing list. The packing list included hiking boots (rather than their normal wear—sneakers) and also some nicer clothing.
Next, arrived a 250-piece puzzle of Alaska that they had to piece together to discover where they would be going. Finally they were given a pile of sealed envelopes to be opened on each morning. The envelopes contained printed color-coded cards with Amazing Race titles like “Route Info, Detours, or Speed Bump, or Pit stop,” giving them places to go, tickets or reservations they’d need, and tasks to do along the way. They also received a little pocket camera and a plant identification book.
As of Friday, the next to last day, they had worn their hiking boots plenty exploring the Denali wildlife, trekking to Independence Mine, Hatcher Pass, and climbing Seward’s mountains, Mount Alice, Exit Glacier, and even up to the Harding Ice Field and Marmot Meadows, where they encountered a herd of about 20 mountain goats.
But they still didn’t know what the nice clothes were for. All of Walt’s guesses thus far-including that they would be taken on a cruise somewhere-had proved false. When they finally peeked, they learned they would be taking the a real tram ride to Seven Glaciers, Alyeska Resort’s 4-Star mountaintop restaurant on their final day.
Their trip has been an interesting, and different, they said. Definitely, it was a little more extravagant than their usual travelling lifestyle, and was one in which their days were dictated by their youngsters, rather than themselves. Walt, who described himself as a “planning freak” when it comes to trips, found it challenging not to know what they would be doing from one day to the next —especially when they discovered other things to do, such as taking one of Seward’s wildlife watching cruises. They even cheated in Seward and opened some envelopes early, to check whether their children had already planned out those activities for them.
Bear Lake Lodgings, which offers kayaking on Bear Lake and nightly home-made ice cream gatherings on the deck, was probably more upscale than they would have gotten themselves, as they travel cheap, and tend to camp out a good deal to keep costs down, Walt said.
“It’s been very special,” said Dana. “They’re special kids and we love them.”
“They picked some cool stuff,” Walt agreed.
Both had their appetites whetted by the slender view of Alaska that they had seen, and vowed to return on their own terms.
Of course, in keeping with the Reality TV show, their children topped off the trip with a surprise party with friends and family at the finish line when they returned home to Lovelace, Colorado.