Saturday, July 7
I woke up at 05:50, and after dressing, went with Levi to the service desk to inquire about my stateroom bill. Because I linked a credit card with the account, I need no further action on the ship. We then went to the Horizon Court one last time. I ate a croissant to start, and drank some orange juice. But, I interrupted my meal at 06:15.
Bina was in the International Cafe, and I met her there to hug her “see-you-later.” The rest of her crew had left at different times. I want to keep in touch as friends! Returning to the Court, I got an omelette and a chocolate croissant, as well as a banana. We all finished by 07:00, and headed down to the Explorer’s Lounge for our “Brown 2” debarkation group.
Heading down to the Gala (4) deck, we approached the gangway. Alex was there to wish us safe travels, and I prodded him to “Batman-Flatman” once more. After we left the ship, we had landed in foggy Whittier. It took us through a tent and building on the pier that eventually led to a railway depot. The railway was the Alaska Railway! We all boarded the Nenana rail car, and ascended to the top level of the car to find our seats.
Our tour host for the land part of our vacation is Savannah, and our tour guide on the train is named Tricia. She seems to have a lot of enthusiasm, which will be a good thing for this ride! As the train started moving at 08:20, I took a selfie looking bummed with the ship leaving our view. The whole family didn’t emulate the same photo from 17.5 years ago. So it goes! As the train started moving, it went through a long 2.5-mile, one-way tunnel that can be used by both rail and automobile traffic. When we exited the tunnel, there was still a lot of fog, but the fog started to clear out as we got moving!
We were in the Bear Valley, as Tricia talked about glaciers in Alaska: there are over a thousand of them, and about half of them are unnamed. It makes me wonder how landforms get their names, or other geographical locations get their names. The fog really started to clear out around 08:50, as we went through the Skeleton Forest, which is a region of pickled trees, and I found that really interesting. On the “port” (i.e. left-hand-in-the-direction-of-travel) side of the train, the aquatic area was identified as Turnagain Arm, which was named due to old ships’ need to “turn again” in order to avoid mud flats in the region. The mud flats can quickly become like quicksand!
Before we made a stop in Anchorage to allow a few more crew members/passengers on the train, we passed through Girdwood, which has the only gas station between Anchorage and Seward. There was also Beluga Point, which I mention just because I like the word “beluga.” We also passed Mount (Redoubt?), which are some volcanic islands near the Interior of Alaska.
Within the city limits of Anchorage, Tricia brought our attention to some of the back yards: they had small planes in the back, and there was a long row used as a landing strip for airplanes! One in fifty-six Alaskan hold a pilot’s license, which is really cool. It’s necessary, since many places in Alaska are inaccessible via road or rail. That leaves air and sea. We also saw Mount Susitna, also known as the “Sleeping Lady,” and the urban legends about the giant that is sleeping within the mountain, and a peaceful era to come.
At 10:35, the train stopped for the aforementioned crew change. I stood up for the first time in two hours, and joined Dad on the connector between two cars of the train, in order to see the sights and feel the breeze. There was a lot of cottonweed flying, and it was nice to be there and get a different experience. Inside the car, the cylindrical roof reminded me of the observation car in the California Zephyr, but being outside was a good change of pace.
On our way, we saw a plane on fire on the “port” side, but it was a controlled burn, acting as a practice rescue for people in that area. It looks scary nonetheless, and I know that those situations probably don’t always work well. Speaking more of planes, Tricia mentioned that Alaskans can start training for a pilot’s license as young as 14 years old. This seems a bit like Nebraskan driving of tractors at the age of 12 or 13. (Of course, flying a plane has to be more dangerous than driving a tractor.)
We reached the Matanuska Valley around 11:40. This was established by people that had moved from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan many years ago. The colony was very challenging for them to start, despite the support provided by the New Deal. Illness wiped many of them out, and some did not mentally adapt. Giant vegetables also grew in this area, due to the inconsistent light. There were many world records set for the size of produce here.
Shortly thereafter, the train passed through Wasilla, which is the Duct Tape Capital of the World, evidently. It has its share of well-known businesses, and has a mall down the highway. I should mention that our trip has been fairly parallel with both a highway and the ocean so far, but the scenery is about to change, as we will be heading more into the wilderness during the rest of the trip. To prepare us for what was to come, Tricia gave us some of the history of Denali, which used to be called Mt. McKinley. The history of the names was given, and I prefer the fact that it has been renamed Denali, especially since McKinley never stepped foot in Alaska!
The next hour was pretty uneventful, but I do have some pictures that I took. We didn’t see any animals readily, but it’s tough to sight when the train is going quickly. Because trains go in either direction and most of the track is only single-track, we had to stop at the Wolf SDG, and Tricia suggested that we do the Macarena dance toward the other train that would pass by. Casey was very excited about this, and I got into the dancing too—great way to get out of my seat since I had been sitting for a while! Also, I merely snacked on stuff already in my bag—I chose not to buy the expensive on-board food. Though I am a captive audience, I try not to be captive with my food! HA.
About a half-hour later, we passed the area of Talkeetna, although not much significance of the place was given at this point. Since there is not much civilization in the Interior of Alaska, just mentioning the communities may have been the point. A little while later, one of the guides from another car, Catarrhina (sp?) talked to us about fishing. The conversation was interrupted as we saw a white area of the horizon which was not clouds, but was rather Mount Denali (formerly McKinley). It is often cloudy and/or foggy in this area, and so not all tourists will have a chance to see Mount Denali. Tricia said that we are lucky: part of The Thirty Percent Club!
We passed Curry, which used to be the halfway point between Fairbanks and Seward, but there is almost nothing there now, particularly because it was burnt down by a forest fire many years ago (way before I was born!) Now, all that is there is a train station, and once we got past there, we learnt about the fact that the Alaska Railway trains accept flag stops, where the fare is paid by the mile (or maybe the minute). It is convenient to be able to accept flag stops on a train. The railway also carries freight trains.
The next part of my account will be photo-based: we went past places such as the Sherman City Hall, Indian River Valley, Hundred Year Marsh, and Hurricane Gulch. The lattermost had a VERY high bridge, but I wasn’t scared as we crossed the gulch—I trust the train engineer! We also saw some houses that were in the middle of nowhere, and some of these houses do not have road access. Some might be completely off the grid too, and that is fascinating to think about.
A little bit later, our train included a dog musher, Ali. She talked about her history with the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest, which are both famous dog-sledding races. I of course knew about the former, but hadn’t heard of the latter. She and her husband are both very competitive in the races, but she has been “cursed” with three consecutive second-place finishes, despite running the same dogs that her husband had won thrice in a row with. The sport of sled-dog racing seems very intricate! The sport is the passion of the state, and she encouraged us to follow the Iditarod when she races it come March. If I get around to it, I think I will as it sounds interesting!
The train finally reached its destination in Denali Park around 18:00. We took a full Princess shuttle (#3) to the nearby Denali Princess Lodge. It took us along the road, Parks Highway, that we were paralleling for part of our voyage. No animal sightings here, but the scenery was really pretty. On the opposite side of the road as the lodge, there were a bunch of small shops and businesses that looked to be aligned almost like The Fort in Fort Dodge (but no buffer room between most buildings). We each dropped off our stuff in the lodge (Levi and I were in K-218; the others at various rooms in the K-2xx series). The food options off-campus appealed more to Dad, who was starting to get tired of food from Princess due to “uniformity.”
Ergo, we crossed the road and looked for eating establishments. We saw a ramp to The Crow’s Nest, and when Casey saw the Baked Alaska dessert, she suggested going there after dinner. We proceeded a little further south and decided on The Bake for dinner, which was a gastropub on the hill. Entering and being led to a table for ten, it appeared to be banked on a hill, and I was sitting in a way that I feared I would fall into the other side of the table. It did not help that I was also feeling the “post-ship ship feeling” as if everything were moving according to the ship’s motions. Inertia is a property of matter (bill-bill-bill-bill…)
I got cedar-planked king salmon with mashed potatoes and mixed veggies. Mom got some wings as appetizers, and they were all really good! The wait for the food was worth it. Molly and Brandon compared the interior of the restaurant, which had antlers all over the ceiling, as well as maps and old relics, to Ole’s in Paxton, NE. I would agree with that comparison! When Mom remembered that I had been there, she remarked on my courage for that experience. Other conversations included the story of Mom and Dad first meeting (including Gramma Lea’s chance encounter with Aunt Pam, who mentioned that Mom was seeing Dad), guesses as to which of me, Casey, Molly, or Levi will provide Mom with the first human grandchildren of the family, compliments on the music that we have heard throughout the trip, and much more.
After dinner, we were all pretty full, but we walked around a little bit through gift shops, saw the ice-cream store, and thought about places to come to tomorrow after our tour in Denali if time permits. By this point, it was 22:30, and although it was still fairly light, the wind had picked up and I think most people were exhausted from the light sleep the previous night and/or the train ride. Dad was looking at possible venues to eat off-campus tomorrow morning, and decided on The Black Bear, which is a coffee shop across the street. I’m amenable to that plan, but I would have been just as good eating on-campus. But, food isn’t my focal point of the trip, so I have that going for me.
Returning to my hotel room with Levi, I took a shower (should have done this yesterday instead :p), and the shower had push-button containers for shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, rather than the single-use disposable containers. That is an interesting idea, and I think it shows a commitment to resourcefulness. It was lights-out shortly after 23:00. Good night!
> TO BE CONTINUED…
Thirty Percent Club (Alaska: Part 8) #writephoto
Eau Claire: 12 days
Bridge Regional: 34 days
UWEC Begin: 48 days