August 11-September 2--Interior Alaska
August 11 Snag Junction Campground, YT to Border City, AK
The border is fun with a straight line cleared through the forest for miles and miles. Customs was amazed to see us, and it was an easy few miles to Border City (not a city at all but an RV campground and gas station.) We camped with a motorcyclist bound for Michigan and a sailor from California, sharing stories and food.
August 12 Border City, AK to Northway Junction, AK
August 13 Northway Junction, AK to Tok, AK
August 14 Tok, AK
August 15 Tok, AK to Dot Lake, AK
August 16 Dot Lake, AK to Delta Junction, AK
We both shared the same goal, to make the best half-hour video documentary of the Wind in the Face Expedition as was possible in four days. So we agreed to do whatever we could for them, no matter how inconvenient or tiresome.
We started by filming our mock-arrival at Dot Lake. After about six takes, we proceeded to film Dale and Martha, and then rode in Dale's van to a spot on the road where the scenery was right, and rode up and down the road until Don was happy with the shots. We spent the rest of the day loading up into the van and unloading for a few miles of filming, until late in the day. We rode by a moose and calf by the roadside, and Greg managed to get us and them in the same shot. In Delta Junction we asked the fine folks at Kelley's Motel for a room. Sue and Sam (part of the family) immediately said yes, and agreed to say yes again for the camera (four takes later...). We finally fell into bed after a home-cooked dinner in our kitchenette. We were more tired from the filming than we would have been from riding fifty miles.
August 17 Delta Junction, AK to Salcha River, AK
August 18 Salcha River, AK to Fairbanks, AK
Cliff at Beaver Sports, Fairbanks' finest bike & sports shop, took good care of us, and Dr. Bill Tewson not only provided great health care for us, but good-naturedly did it over and over for the cameras. A great healer and a great actor! When the local TV crew was interviewing Patti at Dr.Tewson's, our Aussie film crew was filming them, and I got a picture of that. Great fun.
Our invitation for dinner and overnight came from Debbie, who learned about us from her son Charlie, who met us in Haines on August 2. The whole family, dad Bob, and kids Mitch, Destiny and Stephanie, with visiting Uncle Louie, prepared a barbecue feast at their log home. No mosquitoes, wonderful food, even better company. The film crew got great footage, and everyone was extremely happy. Bob explained permafrost to me and the kids, and told us how to catch more salmon than the average fisherman. We stayed up late talking Alaskan philosophy.
August 19 Fairbanks, AK
After giving the famous sled dog racers a ride on the quad, we were off to meet some home schoolers, do more filming, and eat some dinner. Jamie and her six daughters have a wonderful place 20 miles from Fairbanks in Two Rivers. Dad was off working in Haines. A big old log home, horses, geese, chickens, and lots of toys keep them busy on their classic Alaskan homestead. Jamie had gathered several home schooling families to meet us, and rides on the quad were a big hit. The Fairbanks area has a high concentration of home schoolers, nearly 13% of the school-age children, much higher than the national average, which I believe is about 2% or 3%. One of Jamie's friends invited us to stay at her house a few miles away, so a short ride in the 9:30 PM twilight brought us to the home of Jane and Joe Russo, where we made a real connection with a great family. Joe is a realtor and outdoorsman, and mountain biker, and he enjoys pointing out that behind his property is untouched wilderness, all the way to the North Pole! Joe and his friend Mike came out to meet us on their bikes and escorted us in. We ate salmon until midnight and stayed up so late that we considered skipping sleep. Then our kids and theirs played happily, and the Fairbanks area began to look very much like our kind of community.
August 20 North Pole, AK
An early departure in Don's rented truck brought us to Fort Knox, by far the largest gold mining operation in North America. We were met there by Tom, the operations manager, and Bill and Michele, who are environmental engineers. They treated us to an in-depth tour of the unbelievably huge operation, personal attention to our children, and genuine interest in our family and our tour. We can't get over how friendly, upbeat and happy the people there were. Morale seemed to be soaring, and that's something that can't be faked. The place was clean, and although it was noisy, it seemed safe and purposeful. It is a zero-emissions operation with a zero-injuries safety record. Tom, Bill, and Michele are understandably proud to work there. We saw the world's biggest dump trucks working furiously to supply the mill with 150-ton loads of ore every few minutes, and the processessing of that ore all the way down to pure gold, which was poured into molds as we watched. We got to hold a 58-pound gold ingot ($200,000 at todays price) and were given books and gifts. No free samples, however. The film crew had a fantastic time filming there. We came away with new friends and a completely revised impression of the mining industry.
After a few more riding shots, we were finished with the filming. We said our good-byes to the crew, and Don drove us to the home of Larry and Lisa Mitchell, who we met through the chiropractor. We made yet another great connection with a fantastic family. Larry and Linda had just returned from an overnight on their recumbent bikes, and had ridden 85 miles. Soon there was lasagna and neighbors and talk until midnight. True bike enthusiasts and home schoolers of Katie and Amy, these folks are another reason for us to move to Fairbanks.
August 21 Fairbanks, AK
Making our way into Fairbanks (fifteen miles), we were struck by the agricultural land, which reminded us of New England. This is a town we could live in, and we have already made several fine friends here. When we mention the possibility of moving here to Fairbanks residents, they always mention the winter. Summer here is glorious, winter is challenging. Even now, the sun sets after 9:30 PM. In mid-winter, it sets at 2:15 PM. The temperature drops to minus 50 Fahrenheit for days or weeks at a time. All I can answer is that we live in Vermont, where the climate is not mild in winter. Some have told us that despite the low temperatures, the sunny, dry, mostly wind-free weather here is easier to deal with than New England's temperature swings and wetter winters.
We heard great arctic and polar bear stories from John Moore at dinner, and enjoyed meeting his son Wes and friends. We met John at the Yukon border. He has promised to bring me up to the Arctic Ocean on one of his equipment-moving trips. Because he had a full house, we stayed at Dmae Binkley's house on the Chena River, a beautiful home in a beautiful setting. DMae's son Scott, works on the riverboat Discovery, a paddle-wheeled excursion boat that cruises the Chena River with tourists, stopping at Susan Butcher's for a sled-dog presentation.
August 22 Fairbanks, AK
August 23 Fairbanks, AK
We met the local Fox TV news lady, Tracy (who happens to be the wife of Cliff from the bike shop) and enjoyed filming an interview and ride at the city's Visitor's Center. After some errands, we rode out to the home of Wayde and Jean Leder, and their kids James, Barbara Ann, and Haley. We had met them in Northway, Alaska, a week ago, as they were heading south, and now they had returned from their camping trip and found us in Fairbanks. We watched ourselves on TV when we got there, the very best treatment that we have had on TV yet (THANKS, TRACEY). Salmon and moose from the freezer, kids the ages of Henry and Ellie, and talk of homeschooling and aviation filled the evening, and part of the wee hours as well.
August 24 Fairbanks, AK to Ester, AK
Jean drove Henry and me to the public radio station at the university at 9:00 AM for an interview with Noah Adams at National Public Radio in Washington, DC. That was fun, and took about an hour. Then after some last minute shopping we returned to packing and visiting and fixing a flat on the trailer, we set off into a light rain that increased, got wet, stopped at a store and laundromat to dry out and change into rain gear, and carried on. The few miles to Ester were punctuated by stops, mainly to talk to people who pulled over to meet us after seeing us in Fairbanks, on the TV or in the paper. Finally, Ted Sisson stopped us and said, "It's raining. Better stay in our cabin. I'll meet you at the post office in Ester." It was already late afternoon, so we jumped at the chance (the alternative was climbing a long hill and camping in the rain). Ted and Kay's "cabin" turned out to be a lovely small home that their son lives in on the land behind their house. He's gone to Valdez to do some work. Patti fixed us a dinner, Kay fixed us a hot tub and some popcorn, and Deirdre from the Ester Republic newspaper came over to interview us. Once again, we find ourselves the impromptu guests of wonderful folks. As I write this on Kay's son's computer, Patti and Ellie are going over an atlas with Kay, showing her all the places we visited on our trip.
August 25 Ester, AK to Fairbanks, AK (again!)
August 26 Fairbanks, AK to Nenana, AK
Near Nenana another crew waited by the side of the road. They were A. P., Annette, Matt and Dan, taking a break from their auto towing and repair business to welcome us. Annette arranged lodging for us in Nenana, nine miles up the road, in the church. Before we arrived there, Matt's family, the Krenzkes, extended an invitation, and we went a few miles past Nenana to visit this wonderful family. Fresh strawberries, beans, lettuce and carrots, and even tomatoes from their garden shattered our perceptions of gardening in interior Alaska. Mom Janice and kids Siena, Steve, Paul Rachel, and Matt made us feel right at home (Dad, Mark, we did not meet; he works three or four days at a time for Denali National Park). Sitting by the wood stove, drying my hair after a shower and sharing parenting tales with Janice, felt just as warm and natural as if we had known each other for decades.
August 27 Nenana, AK to Tatlanika Trading Company
August 28 Tatlanika Trading Post to Healy, AK
Lunch found us at a pretty overlook, where we cooked a warm meal and made some tea. A climb or two later we found Healy, a tiny town near the Denali National Park. We are in the mountains now, not just looking at them from afar; the air is cooler and the wind more likely to be strong from any direction. Wally at the service center and Sonny the State Trooper both directed us to the Totem Lodge, where Shirley gave us TWO warm, cozy rooms for free. It was great to be indoors after a day in the wind. We entertained the entire dining room with stories and Q&A.
We continue to be astounded and humbled by the hospitality that Alaskans have shown us. Although it is a gigantic state, it is small in population (about the same as Vermont, 600,000 or so). That population is concentrated in Anchorage (one half of it), along the coast, and along the few highways that penetrate the interior. So it's a small state when it comes to news, which explains why everywhere we go, people have already heard about us. In fact, they are often waiting for us to arrive. "Figured you'd be along here about now..."
August 29 Healy, AK to McKinley Park, AK
Just outside the National Park boundaries is a small cluster of tourist services; hotels, restaurants, shops, river raft guide outfits, aviation companies, outfitters, and the like. The locals call it "Glitter Gulch". It was the first such concentration of tourist commerce we have seen since...I have to think...Victoria, BC. Once entering the park boundaries, however, we returned to wilderness. The Lynns live in National Park housing in the most beautiful surroundings imaginable. A most challenging 10% grade leading up to their home put us there in a full sweat. We once again found ourselves surrounded by hospitality of the finest kind. Beth had invited a musher and his family to share dinner, Elwood had prepared their large fifth-wheel trailer to serve as our private chalet, and Elyse, 8, and William, 13, took care of Henry and Ellie, sharing books and teaching them rope tricks.
August 30 Layover, McKinley Park, AK
After climbing a small peak in the park, we drove down to Denali Outdoor Center, where Patti, Henry, and Ellie went on a guided river raft tour. As I sit here writing on Elwood's computer, I assume that they are having a great time. I will pick them up later and we will all go to a fund-raiser for Jimmie Hendrick, a local musher who hopes to enter the Iditarod. Patti will probably meet a lot of sled-dog people and we will all eat a lot of pasta.
August 31 Denali Park, AK
With one month to go, we find ourselves reflecting on the trip, the people we have met, the changes we have gone through in the last five months. Places like Vermont, Virginia, Missouri, even Colorado and Washington, seem so long ago. We will surely spend months writing to all of the people who have hosted us and helped us along our way. Sleeping in 150 different places, you might think the whole journey was a blur in our memory, but we remember each face and name clearly, as if it were just last week. Often, as we left our hosts, we would say, "We can't repay your kindness to you soon, so we will pass the kindness along to others." Now we think we will have to devote our lives to hospitality if we ever hope to erase the debt.
September 1 Denali Park, AK to Cantwell, AK
Leaving Denali, we rode into a stiff headwind to McKinley Village, where we had lunch and met some folks from the Denali Foundation. After lunch we were surprised by Arron Ernst, who was at our departure in Shoreham and had returned to his home state to lead Japanese tourists to Denali (Aaron learned Japanese at Middlebury College and in Japan). It was great fun to see him. His parents will host us in Trapper Creek in a few days.
In Ester a few days ago, Kay Sisson told us how to get to a cabin, owned by her daughter, that was used by various travelers. It was a fine place to spend a cold, rainy night, with a wood stove and gas range, lanterns, and, surprisingly, a telephone. We made a fire and dried out, cooked and ate, read by lantern light and slept in bunks. A light rain on the metal roof was our only music.
September 2 Cantwell, AK to Broad Pass, AK
A month ago we passed from the Pacific Ocean watershed, in Haines, to the Arctic Ocean watershed, in Yukon Territory. Today we passed over Broad Pass, a low pass that brought us back into the Pacific Ocean watershed. Although we still have plenty of hills to climb, it is symbolically "all downhill from here." A light misty rain increased, and the temperature was in the low forties. We pushed on to a place called Igloo City, which we read about in our guide book. It turned out to be closed, a deserted gas station, store, hotel, and gift shop. Huddled under an entryway, we decided to ride four miles farther to a riverside picnic area, and camp there. The next campsite was more than twenty miles, the next lodging more than forty. At the picnic area we found shelters, no walls but a roof with dry ground under it, and fire places. A couple named Otis and Pam gave us some firewood, and we were soon eating hot food and drying our clothes over the fire. It rained all night, hard at times.