Friday, July 4, 2008

Back to the USA

Alaska Highway/Yellowhead Highway

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Departing Fort Nelson we were both sad not only because we were leaving the Alaska Highway soon, but also because Fort Nelson’s the end of the mountains. As we’re gassing in Fort Nelson, we recognized the minivan with a kayak on top as people we had been following (or they were following us) for the last day or so. The kayak was enclosed with a protective covering. When we talked with them, we found out they had done the Whitehorse to Dawson City kayak race on the Yukon River. This older couple from Bellingham, Washington, came in second place for their age group on the 48 hour, non-stop, 450 mile race!! We read about in the Whitehorse paper when they had a story about a 50+ year old woman who, even though she had had a heart attack and hip surgery, completed the race in her best time ever. Just two more encounters or stories of old people staying active and going for it.

We got to Dawson Creek for the required picture of the beginning of the Alaska Highway. We traded picture-taking duties with Ed and his wife, from Bay City, MI, who were northbound. They asked questions about road conditions and we gave a few tips about what we had done. The rest of the day was spent in a fairly arduous drive through increasingly dense forest. We tried to camp at Fox Creek but it was full with mostly Canadians camping for their Canada Day holiday. We drove for another hour to Whitecourt where we stayed at the Sagitawah RV Park, owned by Hank Vos. Along with red, white and blue wooden shoe slippers, Hank had a variety of Dutch products for sale in the gift shop. We enjoyed the usual routine of grilled something (pork), Canadian Cabernet/ Merlot from Niagara, etc. Gary avoided a potentially dire situation when, without looking, he pushed the five minute light switch button instead of the ten minute light switch button, and in the middle of his shower everything went black. It was a touch and go moment until by touch and feel, he found the switch without opening the door (for all the world to see!!).

Stats: 549 miles; 53 gal; 10.4 mpg; 55 mph

Thursday, July 3, 2008

We headed out at 6:30 a.m. After fairly sparce traffic, we hit rush hour in Edmonton, Alberta. Edmonton isn’t a particularly attractive city, but you can tell its economy is going great from all the gas and oil activity. It was relief to get to the east side and back to light traffic and pretty good road. We both had the same feeling that even though there wasn’t a mountain in sight, the rich green fields interspurced with bright yellow fields of canola were in a different way as beautiful as the mountains. We stopped for breakfast at 9:30 in Vegreville. The diner was called Bamboo Chopstiks, a Chinese Canadian establishment. The young waitress who seated us asked if we wanted coffee. When we said yes, she asked if we wanted anything else. Mickey said yes, breakfast, so a menu please. As we looked around, her wondering if we needed anything else was apparent. The place was full of retirees having just coffee. The conversation among the retirees was loud and animated. Gary was reminded of the old guys having coffee at South Side Inn, telling their stories to each other just like here in Vegreville. No matter where you go, what people want to do is tell their stories, and for the most part (remember one-way Bob from Montana?) listen to your story. When we get back, and start sounding like one-way Bob with our Alaska trip stories, be blunt, tell us to shut-up, and tell us your story!

Back to Vegrevill, it is the home of the Pysanka Festival, which is this week. Neither one of us had ever heard of a pysanka, but we figured it had something to do Ukraine because from the signs we knew this was a Ukrainian area. The waitress at the restaurant enlightened us that it’s the painted egg that is part of the Ukrainian culture. Vegreville boasts that it is the home of the largest pysanka in the world.

Gary said to hi to Gerry and her son Richard, later joined by husband Elmer in the parking lot. We traded “where are you froms and what do you dos” and found out Gerry had worked for Air Canada, the last five years as a tour guide. They have a son in Whitehorse and were intimately familiar with Mom’s Bakery on the Klondyke Highway with the big cinnamon buns, which we enjoyed it seems like forever ago. Elmer was a retired school caretaker and Gerry told us about the Ukrainian connection with Vegreville and how they are known for being very close-knit families. This was borne out earlier when Mickey went to take a picture of the mural representing the founding of the town by Fr. Thomas Vegreville. While she’s taking pictures, there were a couple of young teens sitting on the park bench in the gazebo. He was on the bench and she was on he, facing he. They saw the camera and were visibly nervous that their “she on he” was going to be recorded for posterity’s sake. It was quite evident that teenagers in Vegreville are closely knit along with the Ukrainian families…which is, of course, how you become a Ukranian family! (Of course, if Gary had had the camera, he would have a picture to show you!) Elmer and Gerry wished us well and we got back on the Yellowhead.

After Vegreville’s Pysanka Festival, we noticed that almost every town is the home of or festival of something. In this part of Canada, that something is usually related to pioneering or farming. In fact, our lunch stop at Battleford, Saskatuwan, they had a whole museum that was made up of old cabins, barns and farm equipment. When we passed through Weyburn, its claim to fame is the home of the world’s largest inland grain terminal; i.e., they grow a lot of wheat up here. Oh well, I guess we better not make too much fun of towns trying to come up with an angle, after all Borculo has its Dandelion Festival and we have Tulip Time. Next to the grain elevator and train station in Weyburn were 50 feet high iron wheat stalks, Padnos-like sculputures, only, in our opinion, classier!

Mostly the day consisted of driving, sleeping (not when driving), potty breaks, breakfast and lunch breaks and looking at the GPS too often to see how far we have to go! Our end goal was an off-the-beaten-path campground called Mainprize Regional Park in Midale, Saskatuwan. We had a late arrival (10:00 p.m.), late dinner (11:00 p.m.) and a welcoming bed at the end our day.

Stats: 727 miles; 70.5 gal; 10.3 mph; 59 mph

Back to the good ole U.S. of A.!

Friday, July 4

Towards the end of our drive yesterday, we saw a lot of iron horses and drilling rigs. Several of the wells were recently drilled. With oil being the focus of so much of the news and the where-with-all of us being able to drive this trip, it was appropriate to get off the road and get up close and personal with one of the iron horses. Not that we’re going to make an offering to it like the Israelites did to Baal, but it was encouraging to see and we were grateful for production of this needed resource here in the U.S. and Canada. Pump on, Iron Horse!

There are probably over a thousand ports of entry in the U.S. For the third time we entered at the most appropriately named one: North Portal, Canada/Portal, ND. In our four border crossings (the first three were perfunctionary), this one was more thorough—they went in and inspected the camper. Gary’s concern was the Canadian cigars that we failed to mention; Mickey’s concern was the dirty laundry all over the bed. They must not have found any contraband and we were waived through. XM10 had non-stop patriotic country songs on all day and that, along with getting back to our own country, filled us with patriotic ferver. There’s nothing like hearing Toby Keith shouting out, “We’ll put a boot in your a__, it’s the American way!” (This one’s for you, Anna!)

Right after the patriotic ferver feeling, there was great sadness in the house. Two grouse flushed from the ditch along side the road, and the one smacked right into the middle of the windshield, bounced off the camper and ended up between the two windows. It’s these kinds of incidences that bring to light the difference between men and women. Gary’s concern was for damage to the truck or camper. Mickey’s concern was, if they mate for life, one of the birds is very sad. We pulled over, grabbed the broom and slid out the now-dead grouse. One of us experienced some sadness—which one do you think it was? Mickey is looking at it and saying, “You poor thing; I’m sorry!”

This is the third time that we’ve come down Highway 52 where we come through the Des Lacs River Valley. The gentle low hills on either side of the road and the clear water of the Des Lacs River make for one of the prettiest drives in all of the U.S. About half way down, we pulled over for breakfast, enjoying the scenery and the trains going by. We gassed up in Minot, ND and angled down to 94 at Jamestown. We had lunch here in Mallory Park. It was warm, quiet and relaxing. Mickey had lunch in the sun to catch a few rays. Gary had his picture taken by the All Veterans Memorial Bridge in the park. To illustrate the paradym shift, we both got real excited when we bought gas for $3.99 gal!

Our second sadness for the day was I94. The flavor, feel, smells and up-close sights of non-expressway travel are a joy to behold. We both talked about replicating Charles Kuralt’s Sunday Morning when we retire. Like him, the joy of this trip has been the common people of the U.S. and Canada who we’ve been privileged to see short snippets of their lives. For the most part, people are willing, interested and eager to tell you their stories. We found their stories for the most part to be imminently interesting. From Piper super cub, wolf-shooting rancher Melvin and his wife Helen to Gerry and Elmer in Vegreville, we have Mom’s (Tracie) Bakery on the Klondyk and so many others who have enriched our trip greatly. If there’s one sermon Gary would like to preach to you, it is: walk up to someone, introduce yourself, ask “where you from and what do you do?”, then take quick notes so you don’t forget!!! It’s really fun!

Stay tuned. In about six years you might be able to tune in on “Sunday Morning with Gary and Mickey” – we will need a bigger rig by then!

We have landed (7:10 p.m.) at St. Cloud Campground and RV Park in St. Cloud, MN. It’s a wonderful place, clean and neat, Good Sam highly approved. We were concerned about getting a spot on this 4th of July night and were happy when the owner said (when Mickey called) that he had a spot just for us. Very nice people! We stopped at Panera Bread to pick up dinner and have enjoyed it on our picnic table in 80 degrees. We can see fireworks from the yard (if we make it that long!) Home tomorrow…we are both very excited to get back!

Stats: 611 miles; 63.3 gals; 9.6 mpg (high winds today); 57 mph

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hail Canada

Hail, Canada!

Monday, June 30

This morning when we crossed the border, the Canadian customs guy asked the usual questions, one of them being, Are you bringing any large amounts of cash into the country? He probably didn’t know why we laughed, but we found Canadian gas prices drained cash quickly. The weather was good, allowing us views of the St. Elias part of the Wrangell-St. Elias U.S./Canadian Park. We did this stretch four years ago, and it was refreshing to not have to do it in smoke-reducing visibility. What was the same, however, was the terrible road conditions from the border to Burwash Landing. The road was a checker board of gravel and asphalt with pot holes thrown in for good measure. It’s also the part of our travels where you plan well for your gas stops.

Other than the views, the hightligh of the day was Mukluk Annie’s. The initial attraction of their ad was “free,” free camping, free boat ride, free RV wash. Their ad also had at the top “Jesus Is Lord.” With it being free and Christ-centered it was a natural stop. We had a beautiful view of Teslin Lake and our dinner of smoked salmon and ribs cooked on a wood stove in the center of the restaurant with a hole in the roof for the vent. We both like to eat, and eating at unique places like Mukluk Annie’s is one of the high points of the trip. When you come over, we’ll show you the unique/classy Mukluk Annie coffee mugs we bought. The free boat trip is captained by Mukluk Chuck!. We’d been riding all day and instead of riding on the boat, had wine, cigar (Gary), and skeeters on the camper porch. Gary’s carefully positioned cigar kept the skeeters of Mickey while she did her Sudoku and crossword puzzle.

Stats: 411.6 miles; 37.1 gal; 11.1 mpg; 50 mph

Tuesday, July 1

Couldn’t sleep, so went for a 5:50 a.m. road show with coffee and glazed donut for a kick start. No traffic at first and good road made it easy. Throughout the day, however, a whole lot of RV’s – big ones – headed north. Stopped in Watson Lake and had another picture taken for JP’s at the Signpost Forest. Mickey made bacon, eggs and pancakes. Gary got on line to check email. Dishes were even done before we headed out of Watson Lake. Our mid-day goal was Liard Hot Springs, which we met at 12:45. On our way to the hot springs, we were in woodland buffalo country when Mickey (who was driving) thought she spotted some. The buffalo turned out to be a large brown/grizzly bear with her two cubs, right on the side of the road. She woke up Gary and hollered, “grizzlies!” It was fun watching them eat and play while we clicked away.

The 120F degree hot spring water at Liard Hot Springs was just the cure for stiff necks and lower backs. It stinks a little bit, but we still came out smelling better. There was a boy about 8 or 9 who was the spittin’ image of Mitchiel deBoer at that same age. He had red hair, fair skin with freckles on his face and mannerisms that screamed “Mitchiel!!” Sorry to say, we didn’t have a camera or we would have taken his picture! Brought back lots of memories! This was definitely critter day! We saw a moose, black bear, several buffalo, two eagles, stone sheep, grizzly family and a dead moose long the side of the road that stunk to high heaven! Mickey saw one more black bear on the side of the highway which would have been fun to watch and capture on “film” but as usual Gary was going too fast! Ugh! We are now settled into another parking lot in Fort Nelson, at the Blue Bell Inn & RV. At least it has internet! Still no phone service, though. It has been a long day. We are about to sit down to steak, rice (with mushrooms, garlic and onions that Mickey added) and baked beans…with wine, of course. It’s finally hot here…84 degrees! We might even use the air conditioner tonight!

Stats: 501 miles; 46.1 gal; 10.9 mpg; 52 mph

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Denali Highway and Denali

Friday, 6/27 – On to Denali - Pictures to follow - bad internet connection

We woke up to a light rain at the Lake 14th Street Campground. There were some concerns that the motor homes would have trouble making it up the slick hill, but it worked out o.k. Took a break a much-needed outhouse break (there are not many along the highway and our campground site suffered as a result) at Clearwater Creek where we saw swallows’ nests under the creek bridge peeking out of their little mud nests. The rain continued, causing mud, which resulted in our average speed being about 20 mph because of the potholes. The potholes and washboard road was particularly hard on the motor homes because they are sitting in their kitchens with rattling pots and pans and everything else. At one of the stops, they discovered the usefulness of a bed pan in that they (the pans) all went on the bed, resulting in a more pleasant ride. The low ceilings cancelled out any spectacular views for the whole day. The rugged terrain and desolate country still gave our travels a thrill. We spotted a bald eagle that launched off a tree and flew parallel with us for about a ½ mile at a steady speed of 23 mph. The motor homes stopped at Gracious House, a lodge and restaurant for wonderful homemade pie. It turns out the friendly owners wanted to sell the place and retire a mile down the road. Lodge, restaurant, airplane and the recipe for the pie crust were included in the price. Bill and Di briefly thought about new career opportunities, but decided to press on.

The sense of accomplishment and relief of mastering the Denali Highway was palatable when we hit the pavement at Cantwell. We arrived in Denali’s commercial strip and camped at one of those famous over-priced Alaska gravel parking lot campgrounds, the Denali Rainbow and Village RV Park. After three days of no showers for most of us, token-pay showers were priceless. It was also an opportunity for everyone to get laundry done. Mickey finished hers up at 11:30 p.m., as there were only two washers for the whole park. We did dinner at the Salmon Bake, where Mickey and Sandy finally got their Alaskan King crab dinners. (It was fabulous, by the way!) Some of us made arrangements for a jeep safari the next day. The really brave made arrangements for a raft trip on the Class 4 Ninana River.

Stats: 119 miles; 9.3 gal; 12.8 mpg; 24 mph

Saturday, we checked into Denali National Park, Riley Creek Campground. We went on the Savage River hike right away. We say caribou and several small critters, but no brown bears. The Jeep tour was a drive-it-yourself tour along the same road that Chris McCanlis from Into the Wild took to his Alaskan desolate experience and eventual death. The road was rugged, and they weren’t pot holes, they were mini lakes that we traversed. Nathaniel, our guide, told us that the last people from Michigan named the big one Lake Superior. We couldn’t go too fast through Lake Superior or the others because your bow wave would flood the engine. At the end of the road, we were hosted by the cook, Scott, a Wisconsin native. Nathaniel said that Scott has lived in Alaska for 19 years, half of it in a tent! Scott lives in the bush six days a week and cooks for three tour groups a day. His peppery Alaskan stew and fried bread were fabulous. He told us he doesn’t walk from the tent to the kitchen area (a distance of 10 feet) without his two pepper spray canisters on the ready in case of a bear. In addition to the pepper spray he always has two air horns handy. One of the first things he did when he set up came was build a homemade ladder into a tree to escape the brown bears (Grizzlies can’t climb). Black bears can climb, but they’re not nearly as aggressive as the bigger browns and are easily scared away by the air horns. We asked him what he did on his day off and he said, go to town, buy supplies, do laundry and go to the bar.

Scott, along with other stories we’ve heard and read, leads us to believe that Alaska is a home for lower 48 adventurers, characters, a few misfits and others with colorful pasts. Nathaniel says that he heard when Federal marshals find out wanted lover 48 people are in the bush in Alaska, they make minimal effort to find them. They are hard to find and as long as they stay, why spent $35,000 a year to incarcerate them? We switched drivers for the trip back, crossed “Lake Superior,” survived the “Bobble Head” and were doing pretty good when Nathaniel said we had to stop for a moment. The motion got to one of the ladies in his jeep and she need to relieve herself. Afterward, Gary complemented Nathaniel on the professional and delicate way he handled the passenger with motion sickness. Gary also suggested they carry barf bags because getting in and out of the back seat of a Jeep at all, much less quick, is challenging for us old people. Nathaniel thought it was a good idea and would bring it up at the next management meeting.

Vander Veens (helped by no sightings of Denali and the continued forecast for dismal weather) decided to head back on Sunday morning. This was reason enough for a wine and cheese and cracker going away party with our friends who would be going on to Talkeetna and down to the Turnagain Arm. On Sunday morning, one more goodbye to the rafters who had a 7:30 a.m. date with cold, rough, silted-gray river water and gray skies. We did the campground cancellation paperwork and got ready to head out. Because it was Sunday and a new phase (home-going), it was appropriate to take time to remember to Whom we belong. We got the pictures out of Ike and Nan and her card and we gave thanks for their life together.

The shorter way back was up to Fairbanks instead of Anchorage. It’s shorter and much better road conditions. Like we did four years ago, we stopped at the North Pole for lunch and sign pictures. Mickey heard from Sandy that there’s $50 for a picture of you and your JP’s cup at different places. We were going to do this with Sandy, but we split up sooner than we thought. We might have to split the money, Sandy! Weather has improved considerably and the view of the Alaskan Range to the south was spectacular. Once again, Laurel, shortly after Delta Junction, we spotted a moose. And once again, Gary promised he’d stop for the next one!!! (It was right by the road, bigger than life…and he drives by!!!)

Stopped in Border City Lodge and RV Park for the night. Actually have grass on our site!

Stats: 422 miles; 35.3 gal; 12 mpg; 50 mph

Friday, June 27, 2008

Chitna, Liberty Falls, and Denali Highway

Chitina and the Liberty Falls hike; Start of Denali Highway

After leaving Valdez on Tuesday, we stopped for more picture taking at the Thompson Pass, had lunch at the Worthington Glacier, and proceeded to Chitina. Chitina is half way to the Kennicot Copper mine at McCarthy. The last portion of the road is over an abandoned railroad track, and as a result a lot of flat tires from the railroad spikes. We had hoped to take a rental van in but none was available, so instead on Wednesday we did the Liberty Falls hike.

A description of our Copper River campsite: The spots that were treed and had fire pits were owned by Ahtna Indians and they charged $40.00 per night. So, being Dutch, we went to the flood plain along the river for free. We had a beautiful view of the river, eagles catching salmon, and the numerous fish wheels that Alaskan’s use to try to get their fill of up to 500 salmon. These are strictly for personal use and the way the guy talked, for a lot of families a necessity to put bread and fish on the table. In the morning a rafting company set up for a trip down the Copper River with six customers for seven days – maybe next time.

Gary’s been reading a book on the Civil War by Bruce Caton where he describes the challenge that the army of the Potomac had in conquering Richmond. General Grant was hard-pressed to get his four top commanders to do all those things that are required to conquer a city, as in supplies, pencing movements, where to put the Calvary, what to do with the infantry and in a General-ly sort of way, keep the politicians happy. Well, with that lead-in, the 14th Street Brigade set about conquering Liberty Falls trail. Campground departure time slipped from 9:00 until 10:00. And a quick visitor stop for information turned into an hour long shopping stop at a Chitina local art store. Of course, we also had the usual morning post coffee potty stops, but we finally got going toward the trail. We passed the park entrance and it said closed. But the persistent efforts and observations of one of the Generals noticed that the trail was open. This required a complex outflank and reversal of men and women and equipment. The three pig pieces of equipment were corralled at a scenic lookout and all crowded into the smaller scout vehicle which, because of it’s nimbleness, could penetrate deeper towards the goal. After preparations, hiking poles (homemade and store bought), cameras, canteens, field glasses and bodily sustinence, we set out to conquer Liberty Falls.

Like Grant’s generals, we found the unexpected to be the norm. We expected horizontal; what we got was vertical. Our concerns for enemy carnivour were unfounded. There was, however, signs of their passing on the trail, similar to previous pictures you’ve seen. The view from above of the Copper River Valley, Mount Drum, Mt. Sanford and the active volcano, Mt. Wrangell, was inspiring. Inspiring enough for several to burst out in “Jesus is Lord!” “Halleluah!” and “Awesome God!” praises. After reaching the summit with almost all of our troup in tact, we rested up for the downhill campaign. As is always the case, downhill’s harder on 50 and some 60 year old knees. The hike once again proved that listening to suggestions from all the troops has great value. It also confirms that telling people where to go and how to get there is not gender-specific. However, there are some genders who do it better than other genders.

After a short drive up the Richardson Highway and a change of plans that dry camping, i.e., no showers, really wasn’t appropriate, we went for the high class, $15 a night campground at Sourdough Roadhouse. Along with the campground, the restaurant provided great blueberry and apple crisp pies that we bought whole for our dessert. It being Wednesday, we had a 14th Street potluck. Everyone brought their meal to the community picnic tables between the Ryckbost and Vander Veen campers. A good time was had by all. The excitement after dinner was provided by Mama Moose and her baby ripping through the campground. The baby did a 180 around Frieswyk’s picnic table, knocking off their gas grill, sprinted through the narrow opening between Frieswyk’s and Day’s campers, rejoined Mama, who then feinted toward Vander Veen’s, slid left toward the outhouse and exited out the back. The showers were cold, so some did and some didn’t, and it’s easy to determine who is whom! The other campground across the bridge that we turned down because it didn’t offer showers was a much prettier campground. However, we would have missed Mama moose and her baby, so it was worth the $15 fee.

Stats: 106 miles; 9.1 gals; 11.7 mpg; 36 mph

Thursday, June 26

We planned for a 9:00 am departure, and we were off at 9:05! We stopped in Paxon, the beginning of the Denali Highway, for supplies: water, beer and bread (and a cup of coffee). The café owner reported the road conditions as being dusty, go slow, which we found to be true. Our post lunch hike was the Maclaren Trail, two hours round trip. It was a valley walk between snow-capped peaks and on the way back, Lois met her first caribou. It had a small rack and a white butt, just like a white tail deer. We also saw a ptarmagon, male and female and chicks. Great colors and it was fun watching the male sneeking along, trying to hide in the bushes.

Our next pull-off was crossing the Maclaren River, where we toured the Crazy Dog Kennels. These are dogs who run the Ididerod. They breed one pair a year. The puppies were 25 days old and we each got to hold one. The dogs need to be held by humans if they’re going to make good sled dogs. At six months old they put the harnesses on them and see how they respond. If they are eager to run, they’ll make good sled dogs. If not, then the owners put them up for adoption. The kennel is also a rescue place. They take dogs from the Humane Society and from people who don’t want them anymore or are going to put them down. We talked to Lucas Peterson, who just moved here two months ago from Wisconson. He had gone to school with the woman owner and she had been wanting him to come work for them for some time. He finally came and loves it. He took his two dogs with him and lives in a little cabin on the property.

We dry-camped at Milepost 46.9, a large area between two unnamed lakes. After spending twenty minutes getting te motor homes level (because if they’re not, the refrigerators will “blow up”), we grabbed our chairs and started serious scenery watching by the lake we have not named Lake 14th Street. The lake on the other side also provided sightings of a wide range of water fowl. Trout were rising for the numerous bugs. Suddenly there was a strange sound and we looked to the south and there a water spout swirled into the air! It started with pulling water up into it, but it progressed across the lake in a circle (no water in the air) all the way to the other side. The ducks that were in the way of it moved or went under water. It was incredible!! Later, Bill was glassing into the distance when he spotted the moose. Even though it was long way away, we all were able to observe its beautiful rack as it bathed in the lake. It was a huge moose! After dinner we gathered at the Frieswyk RV to review the last couple day’s pictures. Instead of popcorn we had leftover pie from the Sourdough Roadhouse. It was just as good the second time around. We were even able to gather some brush for a fire that night. Didn’t see any more wildlife.

Stats: 85.9 miles; 7.6 gal; 10.7 mpg; 19 mph

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cruising Prince William Sound

After enjoying the Saturday night salmon fish fry and pot luck, we went to church Sunday morning at the Epiphany Lutheran/Episcopal Church. Jean the Episcopal Pastor warmly greeted us and we heard a great message from Lutheran Pastor Phil. After church we did a drive up Mineral Creek and as Gary took a nap, the gang showed up. After warm greetings and refreshments and war stories, we read a note from Nan Vanden Berg, causing us to remember Ike. Nan, it was a Sunday....Great is Thy Faithfulness/Amazing Grace!
On Monday morning we did the Stan Stephens cruise of Prince William Sound. We all agreed it's the best money spent so far. We saw humpback whales, sea otters, harbor seals, bald eagles, horned puffins, steller sea lions, black bear and amazing glacier shots. It was nine hours long but a great lunch was provided. If you're going to do Alaska glacier cruising, this was better than Seward or anything else we've been on. Long learned personality characteristics are being displayed along with the joshing and joking that goes with a fun group of funny people - with that lead in can you spot the picture of the "two queens and a princess," and who's who?
It was cool at the end of the day, so we jammed into Rykbost's RV for the cheese and wine post picture review. First Gary's computer pictures of the day and then Bill's. It was great fun and a little old people crazy - good thing our kids weren't there. After the morning hike we're headed up to Chitna today to do the bush. Next p[ost in a couple of days.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Anchorage, Seward and back to Valdez

Anchorage, Seward, and back to Valdez

Thursday/Friday, June 19/20

On Thursday morning, we had breakfast at our campground and Mickey got to talk country /bluegrass with both waitresses, comparing the merits of Vince Gill, Carrie Underwood, Trace Adkins. But according to the bluegrass waitress and Mickey, the best groups are Nickel Creek and Bela Fleck! (Ahh, someone speaks my language!) We hit the Glenn Highway (there are only five of them in Alaska—highways, that is) and proceeded to the big city. We had about a twenty minute wait for construction - at night they close the Glenn altogether for blasting.The incongruity of Anchorage with its traffic, commercial, not-very-pretty setting versus the rest that we’ve seen of Alaska made us hurry on through. We did stop at a Fred Meyer (think Walmart, but three times more upscale) and bought some staples: caulking gun, putty knife, tripod and the wine was10% off if you got six. The Turnagain Pass, also known as the Turnagain Arm, was named by Captain Cook when he had to turn again because this wasn’t the right passage to wherever he was going. The Turnagain Arm is noteworthy in that if you walk out on the tidal flats, the glacier sand and silt has a quicksand quality and over the years several tourists have been lost to a terrifying drowning death as the tide comes back in. The local rescue department has developed a device that pumps air down around the legs to break the terrific suction. Like with so many things in Alaska, it’s beautiful but also potentially dangerous. We saw several mountain goats along the cliffs and had lunch at a beautiful turnout setting.

The drive to Seward is spectacular and special for us in that it’s our fourth time traveling to Seward. We stayed in the same campground that we did eleven years ago, right along the water, with sea otters eating lunch right outside our back door. The first time we came, we camped in a small tent and the wind was so bad and the tent was so small, we both got beat up. Tonight, after a wonderful crab and halibut dinner at the Crab Pot, we enjoyed the small boat harbor walk around and saw the results of the returning fishing boats. Seward is home of the Mt. Marathon, where a marathon is held every 4th of July. It’s a climb up a steep slope of 3,000+ feet and back, and the record is 42 minutes. Look closely at the one picture and you can see the thin outline of the trail. In the past we’ve seen a movie of the race and when they come down, they’re not running but doing 15 foot leaps from spot to spot. We saw our first bald eagle on our way to Seward! He was flying and so graceful.

Stats: 238 miles; 20.6 gal; ll.4 mpg; 46 mph

Friday morning Gary tried unsuccessfully for an oil change while Mickey slept in. Keep in mind, sleeping in meant 7:00. Six am wake-ups have been the norm for our entire trip. The Alaskans refer to it as “you can sleep in the winter time; play in the summer.” We experienced the usual construction traffic stop of twenty minutes for road paving, waiting for the pilot car. We buzzed through Anchorage again and found a Midas in Palmer for an oil change. While driving up the Mat-Su Valley, Gary missed a fantastic show of a mountain because he wouldn’t stop…he was too busy composing this journal entry. Even with Mickey typing for him, she was able to see the beautiful possible-picture and was looking for places to stop. She told him to stop in a driveway, for crying out sideways (Kristina’s favorite saying), but his brain was totally focused on dictating his journal!!! As is often the case, we’re on the road going to “we don’t know where!” Rough planning, but not exact “where are we going to stay tonight” has served us very well. We were especially happy to hear from our friends last night, that they have arrived safely, and we look forward to meeting them in Valdez Sunday. And for you 14th Streeters, we were excited to hear about the apartment building vote. For us especially, the email voting option was much appreciated.

You know you’re in Alaska when:

· There are bullet-riddled road signs

· Classifieds have more airplanes than RV’s

· Fishing report is front page news

· High prices for everything

· Frost-heave roads

· Friendly people

· Constant road construction

· Big Beauty

· The lady governor’s as good-looking as our lady governor

Our evening stay was Squirrel Creek Campground…unbenounced to us, the same place that our friends had stayed at four years ago. It had the usual: rushing water sound, mountain views, even a pond outside the door. Just a normal Alaska camp sight for only $12.00. Actually, Mickey picked this spot. Gary had picked the RV place just across the Creek because it had WiFi, but it was a dusty parking lot! Nuts to WiFi!

Stats: 370 miles; 32.5 gal; 11.4 mpg; 42 mph

Saturday morning we departed for our shortest travel day yet. First stop was the Worthington Glacier. The beauty’s a given. What is noticeably different for this spot and most of our trip compared to four years ago, hardly anyone is here. During our 40 minute glacier observation walk, there was one other soul hiking the glacier. Excitement for the morning was Gary getting dive-bombed by a seagall; must have gotten too close to the nest. Education for the morning was on types of glaciers: cirques, inside and outside crevasses, moraines and other interesting facts. We did see a moose and her calf, having just crossed the highway and entering the woods. The calf was bigger than we would have thought.

Thompson Pass and this whole section of the Richardson Highway is the most beautiful drive we’ve been on, so far. Shortly after the Pass, we passed through Keystone Canyon, home of Bridal Veil Falls. We’ve seen several bicyclists tackling incredible hills on this trip, but the first one we got to meet was Fuzzy Mitch, a 60+ year old classic Alaskan. Fuzzy lives in Homer, but over here to kayak the Copper River. He drove to Valdez and dropped off his bike, then went back to Cordova. He then did the 60-some mile Copper River run. At one point he said he was thirty miles away from any civilization and was concerned because he was in a side channel and the water was getting shallower and shallower. Fortunately he made it all the way to Valdez and we saw him biking from Valdez, sea level, to Thompson Pass, 2,160 feet and the rest or the way to Cordova. He let us know he was originally from Colorado, but continued the theme that we’ve heard so often on this trip ” it’s too close” in Colorado so he moved up here six or eight years ago because it’s more open. We’ll add “open” to “clean air” and “more air” as reasons for moving up north.

We are in the Eagle’s Rest RV Park in Valdez for the next three days. The "look up to the Heavens sign" was at the local Catholic Church. We did our short afternoon hike on Mineral Creek. It was somewhat disappointing, so we’re back at the camp, typing and drinking. We’re looking forward to the campground-sponsored fish fry tonight, king salmon they caught just this morning. We bring a dish to pass. Having a wealth of experience on church potlucks, I’m sure we’ll come up with a possible dish (meaning Mickey will). They're preparing the gas grill for the fish right ouside our camper. Mickey over heard the two employees talking about a camper who was complaining about somebody's dog stealing his sirloin right off his grill. The complaining camper was obviously not a dog lover. The employee and pointed out to the Raven with a satisfied look on his face as the real thief- watch out for those birds. Once again, we ran into Hollanders, as in The Netherlands, Michel (a guy’s name in The Netherlands. Mickey liked it because it was spelled with one “l”! She told him that was her name, too!) and Cindy. We told them about Holland, Michigan, and when they get back from their cruise, we’ll show them Tulip Time pictures. Just can’t get away from those Hollanders! It was a beautiful day for traveling today. We had sunshine the whole day and the views were spectacular. We haven’t had this good of a day since we left. However, the weather hasn’t stopped us from doing anything we had planned to do. Our God is an Awesome God!

Stats: 85.6 miles; 6.9 gals; 12.4 mpg; 46 mph