September 3-September 30--Coastal Alaska
September 3 Broad Pass, AK to Trapper Creek, AK
Rick Ernst arrived, we prepared to ride the last three miles to his house, and Patti's brother Tom and his wife Michele surprised us by showing up in their truck. They had two freezers full of scallops fresh off of Tom's fishing boat in Homer, and were selling them to customers up and down the highway. They accompanied us to the Ernst's, where superior coffee and hospitality passed the evening quickly. Tom and Michele would have stayed, but the Ernst's off-the-grid, battery-powered home couldn't keep Tom's freezers running, so they said goodbye, after leaving enough scallops for a feast. Kathy & Rick's great cooking filled our bellies and the woodstove warmed our bones. Sleep came easily.
September 4 Layover, Trapper Creek, AK
September 5 Trapper Creek, AK to Talkeetna, AK
Along the road we got to talking about our trip and our plans for the future. We all want to spend the next few years supporting and participating in Patti's dream of racing in the Iditarod. A natural extension of this trip would be an around-the-world trip on a five-person bike, and we talk about that a lot. We would like to live in the Arctic bush for a year or two, another favorite topic. First we have to write a book about this trip and get it published. It certainly seems clear that our lives will still be busy, perhaps busier than before. We are really looking forward to the week after Christmas, a week when we traditionally do nothing but rest and eat. These are the things that occupy our minds and make up our conversations during this final phase of the trip.
September 6 Talkeetna, AK to Willow, AK
Since almost all travelers use the same few highways up here, many of the folks stopping at the store had passed us in their travels, some as far away as Haines or Tok, days or weeks ago. In fact, we ran into Erna and Karen, who had brought Ellie's gloves back to her at Kluane Wilderness Village in the Yukon Territory, about a month ago.
We camped by the Willow River after meeting a dozen more people on the highway who had seen us either on the road or in the media. Time spent talking is increasing as we near our destination. It's a good thing we enjoy talking as much as we do riding.
September 7 Willow, AK to Palmer, AK
When we arrived in Wasilla, we re-entered civilization as we know it. The first traffic light told us that, and soon we were at a small shopping center. At the first bike shop, we replaced the tires on the trailer, which were just a few hundred miles short of making the whole trip. At Palmer we found Gene and Priscilla Horner, our hosts for a couple of days here. Gene had rescued us from tire-killing road construction (and ridiculous mosquitoes) in Haines over a month ago. When he extended an invitation to stay with him in Palmer, he meant it. He has contacted us several times since then to be sure that we were on our way. I believe I have discovered a certain type of Alaskan, and Gene is a prime example.
A pile driver who has built bridges and piers and docks all over Alaska for the past thirty years, Gene is a big, burly, bearded man with a football player's physique. He dresses in dirty canvas work clothes, and his boots and gloves prove that he works hard. Yet, a few minutes of conversation with him shows that he is a thinker with a broad range of interests and a keen grasp of politics, philosophy, and the natural sciences. He does people's taxes in the spring and is handy with computers. His wife Priscilla says, "He's not nearly as dumb as he would like you to believe."
September 8 Palmer, AK
Palmer is situated in the most beautiful valley, nearly at sea level, with peaks rising up to 6000 feet to the south, the Knik Glacier to the east, the Talkeetna Mountain Range to the north, and beauty everywhere. Fifty miles from Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, Palmer and neighboring Wasilla are in the state's "bread basket" where much of the Alaskan-grown food is produced. Famous for their huge root crops and cabbages, the local farms are situated in dramatic surroundings. Several of the flat, bright green fields we saw were framed by the braided Matanuska River, with huge mountain peaks for a backdrop.
September 9 Palmer, AK
We also visited Gene's friend Kirk and his family. Today being Gene's birthday, we conspired to get him complimentary presents. Kirk lives up a road called Hatcher Pass. We continued past his house to the summit, where hunters now frequent old mining areas. Back at the Horner residence, a party took place in honor of Gene's fiftieth birthday. About 20 people, including kids, enjoyed a good time. All of them were nice. Nearly all got a ride on the quad.
September 10 Palmer, AK
September 11 Palmer, AK to Anchorage, AK
Anchorage is Alaska's largest city; nearly half of Alaska's people live here. We think it is a beautiful city, with the mountains and the sea nearby. In the bush and in the interior, many people were in the habit of bad-mouthing Anchorage, calling it "Los Anchorage" and joking that the nice thing about Anchorage is that it is only fifteen minutes from Alaska. (We have long heard the same joke about Burlington and Vermont.) Perhaps they express their disgust at Anchorage in order to proclaim their rugged individuality, their love of the sparsely populated areas they have chosen. But, as a city, we find nothing wrong with it.
Sammi entertained us with stories of the 1964 earthquake. She was a five-year-old, stranded downtown with her mother and sisters after the street they were driving on became impassable. There are still places in the area to see the effects of the earthquake now, some 35 years later. One stretch of highway passes through some flats with dead trees on both sides. The land sunk four feet as a result of the quake, and the subsequent flooding killed the trees.
September 12 Anchorage, AK
At an evening barbecue we met some very interesting Alaskans, mostly relatives of the Grahms. People from this state often have a story to tell, a fascinating occupation, an unusual residence, or something that makes meeting them memorable. Win flies experimental planes and just bought a farm, Dave operates a guided helicopter skiing operation, and does avalanche patrol for the railroad. Even people with regular occupations like teacher, doctor, or lawyer, have often spent time practicing their profession in places like Nome, Bethel, or Barrow, where planes and sleds are the only transportation.
September 13 Anchorage, AK
On the radio show, sister Christine called from Connecticut and we were presented with a surprise: KMXS radio is flying her out to Homer to see us arrive at our destination! It seems all of Alaska knew about it, and the Romp family were the last to know! This is so exciting to us. Christine has done as much work as we have to make this journey possible. We have dubbed her Mission Control for the way she takes care of all of our mail, bills, business, e-mail, web-page chores and phone calls. Hal and Holiday are to thank, and we are in their debt.
After the festivities, we made our way to the home of K.C. and Kathy Kaltenborn, who had met us on the road a few days ago and extended an invitation. They are bicyclists, athletes, campers, cross-country skiers, and musicians. Along with their teen-aged son Zach and eight year old Dominic, they live in a section of Anchorage called College Village, where we found them playing music and preparing the hot tub.
September 14 Anchorage, AK
Riding around Anchorage in the rain, we visited the bike shop and the chiropractor, and picked up a few foodstuffs for tonight. We stayed quite dry, despite the sometimes heavy showers, mostly because we were not working up a sweat, due to the flat terrain. We will really be using our rain suits and fenders a lot, since September is a rainy month here in coastal Alaska.
The feast at the Kaltenborns was massive. Late night talk tended to be about the Iditarod and health (K. C. and Cathy are both physicians). We have stories to tell, that's for sure, but we want to hear other people's stories more than we want to hear our own over again. K. C. obliged with dog-mushing and arctic camping tales, and told us what it is like being a cellist in a string quartet.
September 15 Anchorage, AK
And RAIN it did, buckets, cats and dogs, sheets, whatever! We returned in time to ride the bike back to the Kaltenborn's during a lull, and then went to dinner with Alisa, Wendy, their friend Lani, and a fellow cyclist from Tasmania named Matt. He's bound for Tierra Del Fuego, leaving tomorrow. Good conversation (during which I learned a lot about Tasmaina) persisted until the waiters had to throw us out so they could close the doors.
September 16 Anchorage, AK
Afterward we rode downtown for a meeting that is sure to be one of the most memorable highlights of the trip. At the Captain Cook Hotel's fine restaurant, we met with Colonel Norman Vaughan, polar explorer and 13-time Iditarod finisher. He is the Iditarod's oldest finisher, and he was a key member of Admiral Richard Byrd's 1928-1930 South Pole Expedition. At 96 he is still spry and sharp, although a recent operation has him using a cane, "Temporarily, that's for sure!" He and Patti talked dogs for two hours while the proprietor of the restaurant made us feel at home.
We were drawn to Colonel Vaughan because he shares our philosophy of believing in one's dreams. His motto is, "Dream big and dare to fail!" He has done more in his life than a battalion of average people, and he has inspired more adventures and dreams than anyone could count. I could say a lot about our meeting and our admiration for this great man, but this one detail will have to suffice for now. Upon our departure, he didn't hesitate to accept our invitation to ride on the bike, but laid his cane down and climbed aboard. Despite the obvious pain and discomfort that it cost him, he declared that, "The hurt was small compared to the enjoyment. Besides, when will I get another chance to ride with the Romps?" All of us, even Timmy, will long remember his hearty laugh. Colonel Vaughan plans to climb a 10,000 foot peak in Antarctica on his hundredth birthday. The peak was named for him by Admiral Byrd, and he is mounting an expedition to the peak in 2006. He has agreed to consider my application to be a member of the expedition. I couldn't be more excited.
This journal section continued on the next page...