Alaska, Washington and Oregon
Sunday, Sept 13th

Back Porch of Trappers Trail
We awoke around 8:30am and marvelled at the morning view. There seemed an even mix of dark green pine and brilliant yellow birch - fall was in full swing here. The mixing of fluffy and spiky textures was wonderous across the mountains. Bob played with the TV and realized in surprise that we were watching live NFL games! The joy of Time Zoning. We took showers in the large bath and wandered up into the huge living room, which again overlooked Anchorage. Then we went onto the back porch and took pictures of the Canadian geese against the lake and huge mountains. One, Flattop, apparently is a favorite hiking spot for locals. They party on it at summer solstice (22 hrs light) and winter solstice (2 hrs light)!

Our hosts brought us way too much breakfast - bread, scrambled eggs with salmon strips, yogurt, more bread, coffee, you name it. We were stuffed. We headed out around 10.

The first section of the road was typical small town suburb - gas stations, small restaurants. And then, at the top of the Cook inlet, it all vanished. We were left with a one-lane road which led to Fairbanks through the east-west running Alaskan range. The medium mountains before this were breathtaking - in addition to the deep greens and bright yellows, now there were shorter, red brush to add more texture and color. Along the side of the road in this front section we saw a bald eagle sitting on a tree, just watching a person who had stopped at the side of the road. Maybe wondering if she was tasty! Then a little ways on, a female moose contentedly munched on grass at the other side of the road. I thought I saw many "moose shrubs" in the distance, but I think I was mistaken. We continued onward, accompanied by a reading of Starship Troopers.

The road was hemmed in with the birch and spruce, so the mountains were hidden. Luckily tour season was pretty much over, so the terror of "stacks of RVs clogging the highway" never materialized. We got to see white swans and a light brown owl by various lakes. Several black and white magpies hopped around. The clouds gathered around the Alaskan range, so the closer we got, the cloudier the weather. They began to tower over us, and their tops were quite lost in the fog. Even what we could see of them was immense. We stopped for provisions (gatorade and crackers) at an igloo tourist trap, and were warned that the snow started in 10 miles. Denali makes its own weather. Mt McKinley, at 20,320 feet, is the highest mountain in the northern hemisphere.

Sure enough, the snow started. The Denali Highway was under snow, so we passed that by. We didn't want to attempt stopping at the park today - getting to Fairbanks would be enough of an adventure. A short way past the park entrance (with the surrounding resorts and campgrounds), the snow stopped and wilderness again surrounded us. The mountains fascinated us - some were merely patchworks of colors. Others were black and craggy, while yet others were snow-covered and fog-enshrouded. Eventually the hills eased off, back into a variety of textures and colors, dominated by dark green and bright yellow. Simply gorgeous.

Lisa & Sarah

Eventually near 6pm we rolled over a hill and, suddenly, into Fairbanks - a quiet, poor town with very rough edges. Houses were small, with small lots and apartment buildings. We wended our way into it, down a small side street where we found that, yes indeed, Sarah lived in a small log cabin on a 'typical street'! A note indicated that she and Mike were out for a while and would be back. We figured at 7, when we were supposed to be here. We went out and around, through the short center of town, across to a Walmart for supplies. We noticed on the way out that every local car had a plug hanging out of its hood - for keeping the engine from freezing in the winter! An "Alaskaland" park was quite empty, another sign that tourist season was over.

We headed back to Sarah's, where I finally got to see her again after so many years. We went in and chatted with her and Mike for a while, in awe of their house. One room held the futon for sleeping, the second was the kitchen. The front room was walled on almost all sides with bookshelves and held the computer and a table. What a difference from the B&B! They could fit this entire house in the 'great room' of the B&B. Where the B&B was glass and open, this was warm, cozy, contained and insulated.

The House of Sarah

We were hungry, so off to dinner we went. We drove north further another 15 minutes or so, to Ivory Jack's. It was a "roadside bar" out in the country, with solid wood construction and various sizes of chairs and tables. They did have satellite TV though! We had a delicious dinner - Bob had a reindeer sandwich and I had the reindeer special. Quite good. We tried Alaska Amber Ale, too, also tasty. We had a great series of discussions - Mike has a doctorate in northern cultures and had all sorts of insight to the nomadic herders and fishers up here, and what they're going through right now. The salmon fisheries, like everywhere else, have been destroyed by overfishing. He's going in a week for 2 months to Russia to figure out which of their Reindeer herding techniques are working. Meanwhile, young natives don't want to learn about their boring elders - they watch 100 channels of cable and emulate the more intersting city people.

Sarah said, yes, you can throw a pan of water out the door in winter and have the drops freeze before they hit the ground. When they breathe, the breath condenses and falls to the ground as well. Ice fogs sit along the ground, thick enough to watch as you move your hand and body through them. It snows in Oct, and that snow stays frozen and sanded on the ground until, after a few more snows in March (with none between), it starts to thaw. In between, dawn is at 10am, dusk 2pm, and you can't see lines on the road because of the snow/gravel. Note that, because it never melts, the snow isn't "slippery". It's gritty, like dirt! Dogs and horses are scarce, as both are tasty "bear treats" and more likely to get you bad attention than help. Fairbanks is a cold, rugged town. And, out at the end of the US, the bar's TV showed Sosa hitting his 62nd run and the waitress took my VISA.

Eventually we headed out. A nearby house's set of dogs was barking up a storm. It was unfortunately too cloudy to see the northern lights, so we headed back to the cabin. We tucked ourselves in on the central floor with some of the warmest blankets I've ever been under. We fell quickly asleep.

Next comes Monday
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