Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Alaska - Last Days of the Trip

Let's see, where did I leave off??? I made it through Monday, Sept. 7th. That's right about where I lost all track of days and dates. But I did manage to make some cryptic notes on my handmade calendar within my journal.

Tuesday, September 8th, however is rather lost. I think we must have spent it doing mundane things around town.

Wait...let's back up and I'll include some photos of things mentioned earlier.

Beautiful Fall Colors

The Fisherman cutting down trees at Jerry's.

Note the difference in weather. Same day, just a couple hours later. The saying in Alaska goes, "If you're not happy with the weather in Alaska, just wait a minute; it'll change." These trees are on two different sides of their yard. I have a photo of The Fisherman in this second tree with nothing but clouds behind it. This blue skied photo was taken literally minutes later.

Here's the top of Bear Mountain overlooking Skilak Lake ...

Some turning fireweed leaves along the Bear Mountain trail.

Surprises For Me At The Cabin

Wednesday, Sept 9th we took our Alaska truck to Homer. We needed to drive all the gas ...excuuuuuse me, deisel.......out of it before filling it with fresh deisel for the winter. Yes, I've learned from friends that it's NOT "gas", it's "deisel fuel". Anyway, on the way to Homer, The Fisherman took me for a drive into a neighborhood with large parcels overlooking Kachemak Bay, green rolling hills covered also with red fireweed stalks. The hot pink flowers were all gone but the red stalks seemed just about as spectacular. In Homer we went to the Time Bandit store again. They said it was moored in the Deep Water Marina. The gal told us she thought they were on board and that if we hollered out they MIGHT let us aboard. We were excited and hopeful. But when we got there, we saw that ships were parked two deep next to the dock and unfortunately, the Time Bandit was on the outside. There was no sign of anyone in the parts we could see. But we did manage to get a few photos of it. We also enjoyed walking the dock looking at the big ships, some of them rusted and patched hulks that looked like they'd been there for years.

Afterwards, we headed to Pioneer Rd. for the art galleries. Mmm, mmm, mmm. I had fun. Saw some gorgeous scarves made out of super soft Italian yarn and one scarf that was "partially felted" loosely laid out silk yarns. Also saw the art of a Downs Syndrome young man. I bought the book about him.

On the way back we took a detour 8 miles off the highway looking for a Russian community with a highly recommended cafe we wanted to try. When we finally reached the community, we got some stares from the kids on bikes and ladies wearing their traditional Russian Orthodox garments. We got to the cafe and found it closed up tight. That must be why we looked so out of place; the cafe may have closed for the season days or weeks before. Not sure. On the way out on this long isolated road we stopped at the side of the road for a moment. Turns out we were right in front of a small side road. It was so much in the country at that spot that it didn't matter that we were blocking the road. But... as fortune would have it, I soon glanced out my window and saw an ATV ridden by a man and a child, and a team of seven sled dogs pulling them! We moved out of their way and they carried on across the road to a path almost hidden by tall grasses running parallel to our road. It was so fun seeing them. Summer training, I guess.

Thursday, Sept 10th we headed the opposite direction to Seward. Still had gas to burn out of the truck and wanted to have some fun, too. We walked the black shale beach of Lowell Point and were joined by a playful stray dog. This muttly looking dog was so cute and smart. He got himself a five foot branch for us to play fetch with him! He would trot up ahead of us about 15 feet, drop the branch, and wait for us to catch up. Of course, he was wearing his most expectant, playful, happy dog face as he stared alternately at us and the branch. This was no long twig. It was a beefy branch! Try throwing a five foot branch for a dog to catch! He was pretty smart, though, and knew how to stay out of the way as we tried to gently heave it. But as we walked somewhat apart from each other (The Fisherman and me) we'd have to warn each other that the dog was approaching from behind and about to whack the front person in the back of the leg with the branch. Turns out he belongs to the owner of the store down the road and is often found roaming around on his own. Hmmm.

Next we went to a favorite "snaggin' hole" of The Fisherman's. While he fished with the others lining the rocky shore, I wandered around in the other direction. This snaggin' hole is right in town so wandering around by myself was not dangerous as it would be in other spots. While we were walking the beach earlier we were looking at these giant drift wood trees washed up on shore. Roots and all. They are so cool. Many people haul them home and place them root side up in their yards. Some of them are short and stumpy but others are fully trees. We admired them and planned to someday haul some off ourselves for our own cabin yard. Well, when I was wandering around the snaggin' hole, I found a miniature version. "Hey, Honey! Look what I found!" We took it with us.

It actually does have sort of a "bottom" on which it can stand, which will be better once we take a saw to it.

Friday, Sept 11th was spent unloading most of the van, re-organizing, leaving some stuff in the cabin and loading some stuff from the cabin into the van. We took off toward dinner time. Stopped at Gwin's Lodge to visit and say good-bye to friends for the season. No telling what next year will bring. The lodge is up for sale by the family of the owner who died last winter. It may be the last time we hang out there. We just don't know. Fly Bob will continue to work there over the winter and we'll just all wait and see what happens. We also stopped at Jerry and Kim's to drop off some salmon and pick up some bear meat. Jerry gave us a pair of female caribou antlers. Love them! Drove to Anchorage and camped.

Saturday, Sept 12th
Did errands in Anchorage nearly all day. While driving into the Home Depot parking lot we saw about 40 Canada geese on a grassy peninsula surrounded on three sides by bustling Anchorage traffic. Beautiful and ugly. Serene and obnoxious. Nature and technology. Peaceful amid chaotic. Left Anchorage around 3pm. Got to Glen Allen, smelled burning oil and saw smoke. Yikes. We were leaking oil. The Fisherman tightened the oil filter as tight as he could and replaced the lost oil. We proceeded cautiously and camped a couple hours later 50 miles west of Tok.

Sunday, Sept 13th.
Took us ALL day to get to Tok! There were just too many pictures to be taken. We stopped at a lake that had 17 swans in it! It was so beautiful.

We stayed there over an hour. Lots of other cars stopped. We met another photographer who is from Virginia. This year he said he put his jeep and motor home on a ferry and came up the inside passage. Great photo ops! That's on our list now for someday. In Tok we found a mechanic who put the van up on the rack for us where we discovered that the gasket from the old oil filter was stuck to the mounting. The new oil filter, freshly installed the day before in Anchorage, could not seat properly and leaked. After getting the bothersome straggler removed, we drove on with much more confidence. We crossed the border into Canada around 6:30pm. Camped around 10:30pm.

Monday, Sept 14th.
Awoke to condensation inside the van again. It has happened often, but this morning it was frozen. 32 degrees inside. No wonder my head was cold during the night! I learned in Ski School when I was in High School that we lose 90% of our body heat from our heads. The instructors told us, "If your feet are cold, put a hat on." I keep a scrap of soft and thick flannel by my pillow when van camping in the far north. It really helps to put it over my head. That way I don't have to worry about suffocating underneath covers pulled all the way over my head.

Saw two deer roadside, a buck and a doe. Odd...the buck was still in velvet. I thought they'd be shed by now.

We were all off schedule for driving because of our late start and because we took so long getting beyond Tok the second day. We find we're driving through some of the most beautiful parts after dark. Dang.

Tuesday, Sept 15 and forward.
We drove...and drove...and drove. Passed some beautiful, beautiful territory but were very tired. Stopped for photos as they presented themselves. Buffalo, Stone Sheep, windows of blue in cloud laden skies, autumn colors, birch and spruce.

The Fisherman decided to drive through the night. This really confused me on what day it was and where we were. Without stopping at night to camp, I found I got pretty lost as to where we were. Pretty soon we found ourselves in Ft. Nelson. We stopped for gas and lunch groceries. On the way out of town, we saw a B&B that had a special stack of firewood. What was special to us about it is the fact that The Fisherman has toyed with the idea of making our "real" cabin home in Alaska out of stacked logs. The walls would be about 2-3 feet thick, stuffed, chinked and sealed over. The inside and outside walls would be the round ends of the logs, like this:

This design would be creative, different, super insulated, and inexpensive, too. (We have PLENTY of wood on our property!) We're excited at the possibily of having such a unique home. I guess it's not literally "unique" because it's been done before. (I had a college english professor who's pet peeve was people using adjectives in front of the word unique. "Something cannot be 'really unique'", she'd say. "It's either unique or it isn't.") Back to the story... We pulled into the B&B property and were quickly greeted by the owner who asked if he could help us. We told him we were just admiring his uniform stack of wood and our thoughts of building our home that way. He was very interested, said he just read a book about alternative homes, and saw one he really liked built by some guy in Arizona. Arizona? We're from Arizona! No kidding, really? We had a nice long chat with Peter. He was very friendly. He had some antlers around this beautifully stacked wall of wood, moose, caribou, deer. On a whim, The Fisherman asked him if he might be willing to sell us the moose antlers. He said, "Aw, you can just take them. They were given to me so you can just have them." WOW! We were exstatic! Those things cost about $500 at the antler store in Sterling. (Yes, there's actually an antler store. But it's not that unusual; there's one at home too.)

So, we managed to squeeze these giant moose antlers (connected) into the van. It was funny because the van was already stuffed - I mean PACKED - with other treasures we'd accumulated along the drive. Jerry's caribou antlers, some birch branches to make easels out of, and one giant beaver gnawed birch log that was just too cool to not have. I've created a monster, as the saying goes. For the first 20 years of our marriage, I was the one always bringing home twigs and rocks (still do). Now, The Fisherman is into it. Only in a man-sized fashion. He carried a 5 foot log 7 inches in diameter about a half mile from the river where we found it back to the van. Yes, we were stuffed with treasures. Some of them we will haul right back up to Alaska next summer for our cabin. We just acquired them while going the wrong direction. On that same hike (part of why it took so long to get to Tok) we saw tons of blueberries. We had fun picking and eating them.

Thursday, September 17th
Mom's birthday. And I missed it. I was so lost in what the date was, and even what day it was, that I completely missed her birthday. I suppose this can be looked on as a good thing. Birthdays of loved ones passed on are among the hardest things to go through, especially the first one. And I was completely oblivious. It was about 11pm when we were driving, again bleary eyed and exhausted, almost home, when I heard the newscaster say the date. I was instantly sad and my eyes filled with tears. I was so sad to have not known it was Mom's birthday. I felt cheated somehow, not being able to spend the day in some sort of intentional celebratory remembering of her life. Her love. My love for her. Memories. I felt cheated. I cried.

Friday, Sept 18th, 1:00 a.m. HOME.

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