We walked downtown and it started to lightly rain. I bought a nesting doll at a Russian shop, and had it shipped home. We then went to the Saturday Market, which sets up in downtown Anchorage near the water every Saturday during the summer. There were booths with crafts, food, and music. It was a festive atmosphere, and there were clowns, jugglers, and balloon artists. We ate funnel cakes with berries for lunch (like a fried dough but more of a lacey texture). We then saw an Ecuadorian band (Alma Andina) performing Andes-style music. There was a boy selling their two CD's, one which was "upbeat", and one which was "relaxing." We bought the upbeat one. They were very good, and as Craig and I have an interest in visiting South America someday, it was very interesting to us.
After the market, we went to Downtown Bicycle Rental to rent bikes for the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The bike rental shop had a mural of Fenway's Green Monster, and lots of Red Sox memorabilia inside, which we found very amusing. We donned our raingear and set off on the trail at around 1:30. It is normally pretty crowded, from what we understand, but I think the rain kept some people away. It was a gorgeous trail, which winds for 11 miles, starting in downtown Anchorage, winding out past the airport, and follows the coast to Kincaid Park. It is a bit hilly on the way out. We saw one female moose on the way out. She was about our height, and was eating vegetation to the side of the trail. She was not interested in us at all. We rested for a while in Kincaid Park, and on the way back we saw 5 moose! One was a male, eating off to the right hand side of the trail. I got off of my bike and stood on the other side of the trail from him, for Craig to get a picture. He started walking toward me, and ended up about a foot in front of me. I stood very still and eventually he moved toward the bikes. Craig put the bikes between himself and the moose, and the moose sniffed the bike tires. We waited for him to move before continuing on. It was a bit too close for comfort! Luckily, we didn't know just how dangerous moose were at the time that this happened, our we may have panicked. We finished the trail at 5:30, and we returned the bikes and called Duane (whom we met in Trois-Rivieres). We made a date to meet for dinner the following weekend.
Every restaurant was packed, and we were starving. We had wanted to eat at the brewery, but we would have had to wait for over an hour and a half. So we ate at the Solstice Cafe. It wasn't very crowded, but the atmosphere was nice. For an appetizer we had battered haibut nuggets and fries. Craig had salmon chowder and salmon with rice. I had a deliciously spicy buffalo meat loaf with mashed potatoes. For dessert we had a chocolate baby bundt cake with chocolate sauce and ice cream. We walked back to Susitna Place, arriving at around 9:00. We unwound a bit in the room and then went to bed.
We drove to Thunderbird Falls and did a one mile hike. There is a nice wooden bridge and lookout point at the falls. Joe told us about flora and fauna, saying that moose are probably more of a threat to hikers than bears. He told a story of a student who got stomped to death right outside of a building on the university campus. We were glad we did not know this during our previous moose encounter! It turns out that Craig had handled it perfectly, though. Joe told us that the best thing to do is to put something (in our case, the bikes) in between the moose and yourself. Even if the moose can still see you, it isn't smart enough to realize that it can still easily get to you. It is put off and will eventually go away.
After the short falls hike, we stopped at a grocery store and liquor store to get some final supplies. We then drove to Wasilla (about an hour out of Anchorage), the home of the Iditarod re-start. We went to the Iditarod Headquarters, and watched a film about dogs and the "Father of the Iditarod", the late Joe Redington, Sr. Joe told us that Redington had died a couple years before, and since the trail goes right past his house, all of the mushers laid a rose at the end of his driveway during the race which followed his passing. After the short film, we went outside where there were some tiny husky puppies cavorting around. One was asleep in a dogsled. Another was playing with a strap on the back of the sled, and in the process, kept hitting the sleeping one in the head. He kept waking up, looking confused. It was so cute! I got to hold a puppy. Then Raymie Redington (Joe, Sr.'s son) gave us a dogseld ride. There is a circular gravel track, and they put wheels on the back of the sleds for summertime rides. You get a real sense for how much power the dogs have, and how well they respond to vocal commands.
We then drove to Talkeetna (the place from which people fly out to climb Denali, aka Mt. McKinley). It looked more like a campground than a town. There is a town green where we had a picnic lunch (turkey and pepperjack sandwiches, carrots, Pringles, cookies, juice, etc). It really hit the spot! We explored the town's shops, etc, and just as we met Joe back at the visitors center it started to pour. From there we drove toward Denali National Park. Joe played the Alaska Hit Singles tape on the ride, and we were instantly hooked ("Spawn, spawn, spawn, 'til you die, baby").
We set up camp in a beautiful spot along the Jack River. It rained while we set up our tents, but it stopped soon after, and we went for a hike. We climbed up a ridge and then down the other side toward some little lakes. We saw a moose off in the distance. We learned that bears, like humans, have their own "personal space", and that the human voice is the best deterrant. Joe provided us with snacks to eat along the way (Fruitios rule!) We saw and sampled wild blueberries. We also saw dogwood flowers and mew gulls. The weather was gorgeous and there was a nice breeze. We hiked in short sleeves, jeans, and rainpants, as a lot of the vegetation was still wet. Joe lent us head nets for mosquito protection, and they worked quite nicely. We bushwhacked along the tundra, which was very spongy and required a bit of energy to hike though.
After about three hours we got back to camp. Joe made us a nice dinner of crackers and cheese, pasta, and garlic toast). Joe started a fire. We ate s'mores and chatted until around 11:30, at which time we went to bed. We needed to take all things which might attract bears out of our tent for the night. We knew the most obvious (food) but we had never thought of things like deodorant and toothpaste. We needed to put any scented items into the van for safekeeping while we slept in the tents. It rained off and on all night, but the tent kept us nice and dry!
After dinner, we settled into the McKinley Creekside Cabins. Craig and I had number 16, which was right next to the creek. We (minus Ruth, who seemed understandably to be wiped out by the all-day bus ride) went on a hike starting at 8 pm. It started out through some mud, where we saw wolf, caribou, and moose tracks, and Joe showed us how to identify them. We hiked up some hills to view ponds and lakes, and saw a moose and beaver lodge in the distance. It was a very nice hike. It started lightly raining at one point, but it felt more refreshing than anything else. We finished the hike at 11 p.m., and it was still fully light out.
We went back to the cabins, had a beer, a shower, and then bed soon after midnight.
We hit the road at 8:30 for the Denali Highway. It is a gravel road only open in summer, which supports a max speed of 40-45 mph. We stopped at the Gracious House roadhouse for coffee and restrooms, and browsed in their gift shop. Credit cards are only accepted for orders over $40, since they need to use radio phone lines. The weather was cooler but partly sunny. The highway wound through kettle lakes and there were gorgeous mountain views. We saw a moose in the road but it fled as we approached. We ate a picnic lunch at an overlook in the Tangle Lakes Archeological District (salami and pepperjack sandwiches, Pringles, etc) and then hiked the Osar Lakes Trail starting at 1:00. It was a nice trail with gentle ups and downs. We saw a ptarmigan and chicks (the Alaska state bird) running along the side of the trail. They have feathers everywhere (including on their feet) and they turn all white (feet and all) in the wintertime. We saw lots of kettle lakes (including some that had nothing but rocks left in them). The weather was gorgeous - sunny witha nice breeze. On the way back we saw a porcupine waddling around the trail. We finished the hike around 3:15 and then headed further along the Denali Highway.
After finishing our ride on the Denali Highway, we saw a moose in Summit Lake. Joe pulled over and we climbed on top of the van to get a better view. She was dunking her head in the water and making vocal noises as she walked. It was a great moose sighting. She eventually crossed the road and climbed a ridge out of sight. We drove down a gravel road to the former site of Isabelle, a pipeline town. When the pipeline was built, a lot of towns sprung up in various places. These towns had airstrips, houses, hospitals, shops, etc. The pipeline was built in sections which eventually met up, and the deal was that the towns could exist during the contstruction, but had to leave no trace afterwards. You could see where roads and the airstrip had been in Isabelle, but that was it. We camped at the end of the gravel road, below the Gulkana Glacier. We set up camp right along the Gulkana River (fed by glacial runoff). Joe made a nice dinner of pasta in a garlic, bean, spinach, onion, and pepper mixture, with garlic toast and salad. At 7:45 we began a hike to the glacier in the pouring rain. It was very rocky and you had to watch your step for fear of twisting an ankle, but other than that it was a pretty casual hike. At the start of the hike we had to cross a 150-foot Indiana Jones-style bridge, with steel cable "ropes" and classic wooden slats. Getting onto and off of it was a challenge, as it was pouring and the near-vertical wooden slats were quite slippery. Once on the bridge, it sways which each person's footsteps. When you look down between the slats, you can see the water rushing below you. It was unbelievably exhilirating. As we walked toward the glacier, lateral moraines towered on either side of us.
When we got to the glacier, there were amazing ice bridges at the terminal moraine, where the actual glacial runoff begins. We touched the water, which was silty and very cold. We crawled into some corners between ice chunks for some photos. It was lots of fun, and it had stopped raining by then. After some more fun at the glacier, we hiked back to camp. Three hours had elapsed. Though we got our boots full of water, our socks worked well and our feet still managed to stay warm.
At camp we had beers with Joe and stayed up chatting until 12:30, just Craig, Joe, and I. It was a lot of fun. A little field mouse kept checking us out.
We met at 7 pm for the one seating dinner at the lodge. When we had arrived we had to put in our order for either lasagna or beef stroganoff. Craig and I both chose the lasagna., It was delicious. Betty, the owner, had cooked that night. We also had salad, and blueberry cobbler with ice cream. The meal was fantastic by its own merits, but it was especially impressive when we learned how much time and effort went in to simply getting the supplies to McCarthy! Every week two people from the staff drive all the way down the McCarthy Road and then on to Anchorage to buy supplies. They stay overnight and load the supplies, and then drive back to McCarthy. Once their they have to unload the vehicles and transport all of the goods over to the footbridge, reload them onto a vehicle on the other side, and then drive them to the lodge and unload them again. The whole town is run off of generators, and their drinking water comes from streams.
During dinner, Joe told us a Shining-esque story of the McCarthy Massacre, which had occurred in the winter of 1983. One of the few residents of Kennicott had shot his neighbor Chris Richards in the face, pursued him and shot him in the arm, thought he was in theKennicott Lodge and burned down the lodge. He also killed five other residents. He was apprehended and the police learned he had a plan to blow up the pipeline! Chris Richards survived and now runs the McCarthy-Kennicott Wilderness Guides outfit. Joe said that we might run into him. I was quite intrigued by the story.
After dinner we went for an hour-long walk by the river, looking at tracks and flowers. When we got back, everyone was ready for bed, but Craig and I offered to buy Joe a beer and the three of us went into the lodge. I was amazed that a place like McCarthy would stock a hard lemonade drink, but they did (Glacier Bay vodka lemonade, no less), so I was happy. We talked with a guy who had entered the mines (even though it is not allowed) and he told us some amazing stories. We had some drinks and played cutthroat pool. Chris Richards, the survivor of the McCarthy Massacre, arrived wearing a lampshade-shaped hat and a machete sheathed in his back pocket, and we would never have known of his ordeal if Joe had not told us. As a couple guys rode up on their 4-wheelers, everyone rejoiced that Larry had arrived. Larry looked rather like Willie Nelson, with a long braided white beard, and he was just incredibly happy. He played pool against Joe, and Craig and I just sat and soaked up the atmosphere. After a while, the party moved out onto the porch, and Craig, Joe, and I went out as well. The locals started really talking to us. I was a little tipsy and I sat on one end of a bench, which immediately turned into a see-saw. Larry ran to my rescue and sat on the other end. Joe was dubbed "the English teacher," as that was what he cited as his profession. We were told of how the McCarthy/Kennicott area is a self-regulating community, and it seemed that most residents maintained a subsistence lifestyle. Larry told an epic story about trapping a wolverine, and a local guide told stories of the old hand-tram into town (after nights of drinking they would pass out in the tram and wake up halfway across the river). Everyone was very congenial and were happy to tell their stories to us. There were jokes of deet-flovored tequila shots, and by the end of the night Larry was offering to buy us drinks. Joe said that he meets Larry "for the first time" every week in McCarthy, as Larry never remembers him. Joe said to Larry that it wasn't the first time they had met, and Larry said, "You look familiar; where do I know you from?" I said, "Wasn't he your English teacher?" and Larry broke down into hysterics. He accidentally poked me with a pool cue later on, and instantly apologized. I put an arm around him and joked with him. He was such an endearing character! We finally staggered across the path to the hotel at around 1:00, and after quick showers we went to bed, having had one of the most fun experiences of the trip mixing it up with Joe and the locals.
The four hour hike ended at the Kennicott Lodge, and we met up with Lia and ate a picnic lunch on their grounds at 12:30. Joe had carried the lunch on our hike, and we had smoked salmon, bagels, reindeer jerky, string cheese, etc. After lunch we sat in Adirondack chairs and soaked up the sunshine, and saw Chris Richards playing chess with a friend in the guide office below the hill. Our shuttle picked us up and on our drive back to McCarthy we saw Larry and his friend Tim from the previous night riding their four wheelers. They gave a big wave. In McCarthy, I stopped in the gift shop, and Craig talked to Erin who had checked us in and brought our food at the lodge. Before we got into the shuttle, the bartender ran out and thanked us and said goodbye. What a nice guy! The shuttle dropped us at the footbridge and we walked over and piled into the van.
Craig and Steph are saddened to find out that Chris Richards passed away in a house fire in December of 2001. Information about him and a video clip can be found at www.mcarthylodge.com, and the folks of McCarthy have placed a short video of Chris on the McCarthy's Local Page.
On the McCarthy Road, Joe found us a railroad spike. We stopped to see the fish wheel boats (like a small paddle wheel that captures fish and drops them into a sluice box) and spoke to one of the fisherman. Permits for these boats are strictly regulated, and are usually granted to subsistence fisherman, and there are quotas for the max number of fish they can catch. Our trip on the McCarthy Road only took two hours today, and we stopped at a liquor store in Chitina to buy some beer. There was a cat and an adorable kitten which we played with in the store, and the proprietor tried to convince us to take it with us. After that, we stopped at a place where the pipeline was accessible from the road. We got out of the van and walked over to it. We touched the galvanized sheet metal which covers the 48 inch pipe. It was quite interesting.
We then drove through Glenallen, stopping at the Hub of Alaska for supplies. While stuck in construction traffic on a bridge, we saw a bald eagle. We drove to campsites owned by Todd and Barb (the owners of Adventure Alaska) overlooking the Copper River. The campsites were great. There was a firepit, a covered cooking area, an outhouse, and nice cleared sites for tents right on the ledge above the river. Joe made tacos for dinner. He also showed us how to make a wonderful dessert by slicing a peeled banana lengthwise (but not cutting all the way through), stuffing chocolate chips, buutterscotch chips, and mini marshmallows inside, wrapping in tin foil, and cooking extensively in the coals of the campfire. It was delicious! Most people went to bed soon after dinner, but this was our last night with Joe (who was going to be starting another trip the following day while we continued on with Barb and Todd), so Craig and I stayed up chatting with Joe at the campfire until around midnight.
After lunch we went for a hike at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus with Joe (he teaches outdoor education there). UAA and neighboring APU have an elaborate interlocked trail system, which is used for hiking in the summer and skiing, skijoring, and snow machine riding in the winter. It was around 75 degrees and sunny, so although the hike wasn't demanding, we weren't used to this kind of heat in Alaska. We then went back to the gear house and said a sad goodbye to Joe. We felt we had reall y connected with him, and it was rather sad for us to have to lose him before the trip was over.
Barb drove us around Turnagain Arm to the first Alaska goldrush town of Hope. On the way we saw some Dall sheep on cliffs by the side of the road, and they were scurrying down very steep inclines to the road below. We got settled in Todd and Barb's Discovery Cabins (we were in #3). They were gorgeous, and had nice large triangular windows. There were double-sized bunk beds, which we had never seen before. There was a separate building with laundry, two bathrooms, and a kitchen. Todd and Barb took us to the Sea View Cafe for dinner. We ate on the patio, where Jim Sandy was playing keyboards and guitar. Craig and I had reindeer sausage with onions, peppers, and cheese. We also had apple pie a la mode. Our spirits improved as we got to know Todd and Barb. They were very nice and a lot of fun. It would have been great if Joe could have shared the remainder of the trip with us, but Barb and Todd were excellent hosts and great guides as well. After dinner, we went back to the cabins. Craig and I sat in the hot tub, and we had some gorgeous mountain views. There was actually an earthquake while we were in there (we found out from Barb later) and Craig even felt it (he thought at the time it was something weird with the motor of the hot tub). We went to bed at 1:00.
We got back to the cabins at 4 pm and had our first down-time of the trip... 2 1/2 hours before dinner! The rest of the trip had been non-stop...it was great, because we never had time to think about work or other responsibilities at home. If we weren't hiking or camping we were on the road to the next hiking/camping spot, and everything was so beautiful that you never wanted to let your attention wander. So, on our first downtime we were still quite busy. We took a shower, did a load of laundry, and each called home while sitting on the porch of the building that housed the laundry and bathrooms. Barb found a hard lemonade and brought it to me! At 6:30 we had a barbecue dinner on the deck (salmon, beans, hot dogs, burgers, potato salad, etc). We all chatted with Todd and Barb for quite a while.
Everyone retired to their cabins, but Todd and Barb took us back to the Sea View Cafe for drinks. Jim Sandy was playing keyboards and Steve Snyder was playing guitar. The second song that they played was Tom Waits' "Semi Suite"! We talked to them between sets and told them how much we likes Tom, and they promised to play another song in the next set. Steve Snyder is the Tom Waits fan. We bought their CD, entitled "Don't Panic." We shared lots of laughs and stories with Todd and Barb, who left at around 10:15. We stayed a while longer. The band played "Warm Beer" for us. At around midnight we decided it was time to walk back to the cabins. As the summer was progressing and we were further south than before, it was actually getting dark. Although they were mid-song, Steve interrupted himself to say goodbye and thank you to us. Although Hope is a small town and it was impossible for us to get lost even in the dark, we did overshoot the cabins a bit. We backtracked a little and arrived at 12:30, after which we promptly went to bed.
We drove to Girdwood, a ski resort town 30 minutes out of Anchorage, and ate at The Bake Shop at the Aleyeska Ski Resort. There was a nice patio with lots of gorgeous flowers. Craig and I had roast beef and havarti sandwiches, with beef barley soup. After lunch, we hiked the Winner Creek Trail. It was a very well-developed trail, with boardwalks over portions of mud, etc. It was very woodsy, and gave me the feeling of hiking back home. It was warm this day as well, and I was wishing I had worn shorts. The footing was a bit difficult at times due to roots and things, but it wasn't a difficult hike. The trail led to a beautiful gorge. We hiked past the gorge to a new hand-tram. Craig, Lia, and I used the tram to get across the creek and back. It was wild! It was really high up and you had to pull a rope to propel yourself on the pulley system. Craig did most of the pulling, but Lia and I helped out as well. We then hiked back. The entire hike took about 2 1/2 hours. We stopped near the junior high school in Girdwood to see a beaver lodge and dam. Then it was back to Anchorage. We got to Susitna Place, and Linda had put us into a different room, with a huge bathtub, two shower heads, and two bathroom sinks. We each took relaxing baths and then called Duane. We made plans to meet him at Humpy's. We made plans to meet Lia and her high school friend Jim there as well. We had dinner and drinks together. I had a halibut burger and Craig had ribs. We had lots of laughs with stories of our adventures. We then moved into a different room to listen to Jim's friend Lisa Ballard playing guitar and singing. Duane left first, as he had to work the next day. Lia left a while later, and we ended up hanging out with Jim until around midnight. We walked back to Susitna Place, laughing at Jitters Coffee Shop as we passed it.
The next day we would embark on our Princess Cruise, and we were a bit sad that this part of the trip was over. It was amazing. We met so many great people. Joe had been a great guide, and Barb and Todd were wonderful as well. We would miss them all. The itinerary they had given us for this trip was spot-on, with a few minor weather-induced variations, and we were amazed that a trip that encompassed 1200 miles of driving and 40 miles of hiking could go off so smoothly. We always felt safe, and the hiking was very empowering. We feel that we truly saw the real Alaska, and we felt almost guilty to now be embarking on such a cushy and touristy way to see Alaska (the cruise). We highly recommend Adventure Alaska to anyone considering a trip to Alaska. They have an itinerary to suit pretty much anyone's needs. Their adventure trips (such as this one) involve hiking and camping, but if you prefer to stay in hotels or cabins all the time and don't care to hike, they also offer tours which cover pretty much the same ground.
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