Day 1 - Our flights to Fairbanks with a
quick connection in Seattle were great yesterday. Flying over
the mountain range covered in snow that seemed to go on forever was
incredibly beautiful. We arrived in warm, clear weather and
checked into our wonderful suite. Mom was pretty tired, but
Evelyn and Jeannie browsed through the tour books. After
talking with some native Alaskans on the plane, we were convinced
that we should skip the North Pole and Santa's village, but instead
take the Riverboat Discovery tour. Jeannie hooked up her new
netbook using the free wifi in the room and we sent an email
requesting the afternoon tour. We couldn't get over how
beautiful our view from the room is. We are overlooking the
Chena river and even at midnight it's sunny and warm with people out
riding bikes, jogging and enjoying the long summer day. I guess
they squeeze out every drop of sunlight since they are living in
darkness 9 months of the year. We close our room-darkening
blinds but the sunlight is still sneaking in and we close our eyes
and drift into la-la land. Jeannie wakes up at 4, still light
outside, but tries to get a little more sleep so as not to wake Mom
and Evelyn. Hmmm. 5am and still gazing out.
Day 2 - 6am, that's it! We're getting up, going down to breakfast to a very nice buffet then taking the hotel shuttle to Alamo to get our rental car at 8am. Everyone we meet is so helpful and nice. We see a few clouds and the weather is forecast for showers. We spend 3 hours at the Univ of Alaska Museum of the North. They provided Mom a wheelchair and we practically have the museum to ourselves. It has wonderful exhibits which acquaint us with Alaska and we watch a couple of documentaries about the Aurora Borealis and Winters in Fairbanks. Jeannie is now planning a return trip to Fairbanks in March 2012. That is when the solar sunspots will be most active again creating solar winds which interact with the gravity of the earth and creates the dramatic light show in the skies. And, what a great excuse to experience the Iditarod, the 1049 mile dog sledding race that takes place each March. We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the grounds of the University which sits on a hill overlooking Fairbanks with views of the snow covered mountains in the background. Stunning! Then, on to our next adventure - the Riverboat Discovery tour on a large Sternwheeler paddle boat. Although 7 bus loads of cruise passengers boarded with us, there was plenty of room both indoors and on the decks to enjoy the sunny weather, informative commentary and the sights along the Chena River. We stopped at Chena Village where they had demonstrations of native customs of trapping, tanning, fishing and life in Alaska which has been kept alive using sustainable practices. We also saw a dog sledding demo, a small caribou herd including a baby and a chance to take pictures of moose and bear. Oh my! After disembarking, we were ready for the next adventure of the day. We took a short drive through the bush enroute to mary Shields homestead where she has her log home and kennel for 10 huskies. Mary is 64 years old and still mushes with her dogs but she no longer competes on the extreme races. She was the first woman to participate in the Iditarod in 1974 with a team of 8 dogs and it took her 28 days! What a woman! We had a very private "tour" (just the 3 of us and one guy from NJ). We spent over an hour with the dogs. it was wonderful and very obvious that they are well cared for and loved very much. All training is done with positive reinforcement. We sat around her kitchen table for a couple of hours eating home baked cookies and listening to her stories of living in Alaska. She has participated in these endurance dog-sledding races in Alaska, Canada and Siberia! She is also an author, especially for children's books encouraging them to love animals and enjoy nature. Again, we were impressed with her spirit of adventure and love of life with utmost respect for her dogs and other wildlife. Our 2 hour tour turned into 3 hours and she even invited Jeannie to come back and stay in her guest room when she returns in 2012 for the Itidarod! We had one more visit with the dogs and said goodbye by "howling" and they howled in return stopping in unison as if on command. This will be a day to remember!
I don't know how I forgot to mention
our fabulous dinner spot. We asked the staff on the riverboat
for a suggestion where the locals eat and they suggested Pike's.
We didn't find it in the AAA book or the tour guide, but decided to
try it anyway. We enjoyed fish and chips and Mom had a Salmon
Caesar salad. We sat outside overlooking the river where we had
just been on the boat. We really enjoyed our meal and glad the
prediction for showers never materialized. Just warm, beautiful
sunshine! and a great recommendation!
I will try to update you tomorrow. It is always nice to hear from you!
Sunshine and happiness begins our
morning. We took our rented Kia and drove 60 miles to Chena Hot
Springs, a resort at the end of the road. It was a beautiful
drive and we practically had the road to ourselves. On arrival
we checked out the hot springs "lake" but decided against
swimming. We walked around the grounds of the resort while
waiting for the 11:00 tour to begin at the Ice Museum.
What a unique experience! The Ice is preserved year round by
using HOT water resources. How weird is that? The owners
built a two-stage ammonia absorption refrigeration system to keep the
museum at 15-20 degrees. Don't ask for scientific
explanation but somehow it works. Inside is an ice bar where
appletinis are served to patrons sitting on ice stools covered in
caribou. They have elaborate ice sculptures including a huge
chess set of which the pieces are ice carved polar bears, totem
poles, etc. They also have 4 bedrooms which they rent out to
daring couples (maybe the ones who got married in the Ice Chapel)
We had a nice picnic lunch. Then while Mom rested, Evelyn and I took
a great walk on a nature trail. We felt like we were in the
middle of a forest all alone and it was beautiful. We came
across a beaver den built on the edge of a lake and watched the
beaver swimming around. We also saw fresh moose droppings
but no sign of the animal responsible, As we wandered back toward the
resort we heard lots of barking and found about 100 dogs at the
kennel which is on the route of the Yukon Quest, a 1000 mile
dog sled race similar to the Iditarod. It was a beautiful
walk. Then, we finished our day at Chena with a tour of the
geothermal plant that provides all the power usage for the resort and
also warms the greenhouse for year round vegetables for the
restaurant on the property. On the drive back to Fairbanks, we
stopped at an observation area of the oil pipeline. It extends
for over 800 miles and Fairbanks is about the mid-way place. It
is rather imposing. After we arrived back at the hotel to look
at pictures of our adventures and enjoy a cup of tea, we went to
dinner at the Salmon Bake. Pioneer Park is like a
mini-Disneyland and this was opening day with a special buffet of
fresh BBQ'd salmon, prime rib or halibut along with tasty salads,
etc. Yummy! Then, we returned our rental car and returned
home to pack for an early train tomorrow.
I wonder if we will get Mother Nature's wakeup call at 5:30 like we did this morning when a 3.7 earthquake rattled our beds but not our nerves! After all, we are from California!
We are looking forward to our train ride through Denali and hoping for another clear day so Evelyn and Jeannie can take the flightseeing adventure around Mt. McKinley on arrival.
So..... until next time.....
Day 4 - Train to Denali
We have breakfast in our suite then the hotel shuttle delivers us to the rail station. There was a little model train layout which showed the different scenes along the route. The town of Fairbanks, the coal mines, the oil fields,the mountains and rivers and gorges, etc. It was all done in HO scale (Evelyn knows more about this since she and Peter had constructed one when David and Stevie were kiddles) The train had assigned seats but we were free to move about once tickets were collected. Again, it is nice travelling off season since there were very few people. We spent several hours in the observation deck car before retreating to the dining car for a nice lunch of the Engineer's special, pot roast and mashed potatoes (oh yeah, cheesecake, too!). The train was very quiet inside, but it was fun to stand in the breezeway between the cars to get fresh air and see the views without glass between us. Took lots of pictures. The vastness of Alaska is so apparent on this ride and Denali National Park is truly amazing. It would be stunning in any weather,, but we are not complaining that the sun is shining and it is short-sleeve weather. Upon arrival in Talkeetna, Mavis greeted us and drove Mom in her beatup pickup truck to our little cabin in the woods. No room for all our luggage and passengers so Evelyn and I opted to walk the 5 minutes from the station to the cabin. We have lots of room, a nice fireplace and little kitchenette and a glider on the porch! How cute is that? Now, let me tell you about Talkeetna. Imagine "Northern Exposure" which is an imaginary location in Alaska in the remote wilderness. The town is about 5 square blocks and caters to fisherman, hikers who scale Mt McKinley, flightseeing enthusiasts, ecoadventurists and isolationists. Getting the picture? We will do a walking tour of town later today, but yesterday our host took us on a brief "tour" and had to put her pickup in 4 wheel drive to make sure we didn't get stuck. Yes, that is downtown! This will prove to be a wonderful truly Alaskan adventure. Evelyn and I had the privilege of taking a flightseeing tour into Denali Park and landing on the Ruth glacier. We could see Mt. McKinley with it's head in the clouds. Impressive in size, but all the other peaks in the Alaskan range are equally grand! We flew over the Ruth Gorge, the deepest in No America and filled with nearly a mile thick river of ice. We saw climbers that were camping on the ice and can not imagine what that experience would be like. We landed on a glacier for about half an hour and watched the changing shadows on the mountains and snow. What a feeling of serenity when you got away from the planes and people. There were 10 people on our plane but we each had a window for viewing. Jeannie was co-pilot on the outbound flight. Other than seeing the "Fuel Level" signal flashing and pointing it out to the pilot, Paul, it was fun to see all the buttons and gizmos in the cockpit. I was careful not to touch any of them. We could not believe how warm it was even on the glacier. We didn't need jackets but the booties they provided made it easier to walk on the snow. Upon returning to the cabin, we found Mom listening to her book on tape. We fixed a quick meal in our mini-kitchen then watched all the photos and videos of the day! We took lots of pictures and many will go to the "delete" file but we have some great shots to remember our day in Denali from trains to planes!
Day 5 - Talkeetna
As I mentioned before, this little town has one paved road, Main Street. The locals are very friendly and down-to-earth. Evelyn and I walked into town and browsed through the Memorial Day Open Air Market. It was locally made arts and crafts, mostly jewelry and hand-sewn stuff and the usual T-shirts. We got the walking map from the museum and found a trail that started at the confluence of the 3 rivers, then paralleled the train tracks. Before we left our cabin, the owners suggested we borrow their can of bear spray and showed us how to use it. It was basically a big can of pepper spray. So, off we went remembering Ron's words to Jeannie about keeping our distance from wildlife. We were hoping for some scenic vistas of the mountain range and especially Mt McKinley because we were once again blessed by sunny weather and the peak was visible. But, the trees blocked the views. The trail was also used by ATV riders, bicyclers, etc. and we asked a couple nice guys on ATV's where the trail went. They were both visiting from Anchorage for the holiday weekend as they had a cabin down the road and were going into town for gas and food. One young man was a firefighter and he had gone to college in Redding at Shasta college because they had a good firefighting program. The other man worked in heating and plumbing and moved from Minnesota. He had some interesting stories about how they had to put large filters on the stores, like Walmart, to prevent the ash from Mt. Redoubt volcano from ruining the heat and a/c units. He said the ash is not too bad right now unless they have another major eruption. I asked them if I could get a ride on their ATV for a few yards as I had never been on one. We had observed they were careful drivers and nice guys, so we didn't hesitate when they told us to both get on and they would take us as far as we wanted. Well, it was so much fun that we rode all the way back to town, probably 3 miles where they dropped us at the grocery store. We had enjoyed meeting them and thanked them with the 2 Power Bars that I had in my pack. We did our minimal grocery shopping at the historic (and only) store in town. Nagly's carried about 2 cans of everything, a small freezer section, a little coffee corner for the Starbucks type, a little deli for made to order sandwiches and a cooler for drinks. In a separated area, people could "order" alcohol. We don't know if this is state law or just convenience for this tiny store (total size estimated at 1500 sq ft! The fresh produce cooler was quite interesting as it appeared that someone must have driven to Anchorage to Costco then packaged small quantities of carrots, spinach, beans, etc. into smaller ziplocks. They are marked with a felt marker as to what it is and how much it costs but no weight or nutrition info. Rather ingenious! Evelyn and I checked out a couple gift shops and the pizza place that was recommended. We knew Mom could only have a small piece of pizza due to the high salt, but we ordered a pizza to go and thought the fresh spinach from Nagley's would make a nice addition to our lunch. We returned to the cabin, eager to share our stories of the morning with Mom while enjoying our pizza. We walked back into town with Mom so she could "experience" Talkeetna. We stopped at the Roadhouse restaurant to check out their entrees for lunch tomorrow. They cater to climbers of "The Mountain" and have pictures, stories, etc. posted everywhere honoring those that achieve their dream of making it to the summit and those who perish in the attempt. We walked to the Ranger Station and met a couple men from Poland getting ready to climb the next day. They were in their early 50's I would guess since they have been climbing all over the world for 30 years. This was one man's second attempt at McKinley. He had to turn around last time due to bad weather. We saw a great video about how the climbers scale this 20,330 feet peak as well as the more challenging adjacent peak called Mt. Foraker (elev of 17,000+) All climbers must register and pay a fee before being allowed to climb. They must bring out ALL waste, including human! We talked with the rangers about the challenges faced and decided this was not an activity we were ready to embrace. After wandering around town a bit longer, we walked back to the cabin to get ready for our next adventure. Since this area has so many rivers, we've signed up for the 6pm jetboat tour with Mahay's. They picked us up at the cabin and we had plenty of seating on the large window encased boat. We noticed many trees fallen over along the banks and heard that 3 weeks ago there was a large ice jam in the river that had rammed the trees when the jam broke loose, knocking over large trees like matchsticks. We also saw the beaver activity, a replica of a trapper's cabin (sod roof and raised food cache and all), a couple of bald eagle nests (one of which had the mama bird in it) but the highlight was the sighting of a mama grizzly and her 3 cubs. They were at quite a distance away so the boat tried to get closer but they got scared away. We were able to see them very well with the binoculars, but couldn't get pictures. We returned to our cozy cabin for a bite to eat, watched the pictures of the day on the TV screen, took bubble baths then had a group hug. Jeannie got online to secure her reservation for her Paris 2010 return trip on American Airlines. It's always fun to be planning another trip. Lights out (well, not really because God doesn't turn off the lights outside this time of the year in Alaska). Another great day!
Love and hugs, Jeannie and Evelyn and Mom
Day 6 - Train to
Day 6 could be considered a rest day. We slept in, played cards in our cozy cabin and enjoyed the luxury of a late checkout. About noon we walked into town for one last look around and lunch at The Roadhouse. This historic eatery has been, and still is, a popular place for the climbers. We enjoyed a hearty lasagna, pulled pork on bun and chicken salad. We had an enjoyable chat with a young man from Italy who had "conquered the summit". It took him nearly 3 weeks including the mandatory time at base camp for acclimating. He had 4 days of windy cold weather but was happy to have fulfilled his dream of climbing the highest peak in No America. He is an athlete in the Italian military doing climbing in the Alps in No. Italy and cross country skiing. That's a pretty exciting military assignment! We then went to Nagley's grocery store for salad greens to make to-go meals for the train ride. We returned to Denali Fireside cabins and finished our card game before Mavis took us to the train station. We allowed for the requested 1 hour check in but the train was half an hour late so we were there nearly 2 hours waiting. Luckily the weather was nice and we had a shady bench to wait on. Our 4 hour train ride was still nice but not the exquisite scenery we had going through Denali. Our shuttle from the Clarion was waiting for us when we arrived and we settled into our nice suite. Evelyn and I went for a quick swim and did some laundry. We looked through pamphlets and maps to preview our plans for the next few days.
Jeannie and Evelyn and Mom
Day 7 - Anchorage to
After a delicious breakfast at the hotel, we call for a pickup from Enterprise. The PT cruiser they offered us could not accommodate our luggage so we upgraded to a minivan. Now we have lots of space and Evelyn likes sitting high above the road to see the traffic. Did I say traffic? Silly me. I think we've seen fewer cars on the 3 hour drive to Seward than we see on Sierra College Blvd. in an hour. That's fine with us! The scenery is spectacular but unfortunately we had our first day of drizzley weather. So, most of the mountains were shrouded in clouds. We followed a little dirt road on the outskirts of Seward to our Alaska Paddle Inn "suite". The owner, Alan, greeted us shortly after our arrival. He is a contractor who built this 2 unit cabin. We have the lower unit with a front porch and full-length wall of windows looking outside at the water. Wow! The interior is charming, but lacks a few amenities such as tables, drawers and closets. It must have been designed by a MAN! While Mom cozied up on the futon couch, Jeannie and Evelyn went to town and did some grocery shopping at the full-service Safeway. We enjoyed a lovely dinner of rotissiere chicken, baked potatoes and salad. There is no TV here which we haven't watched in a week, so probably won't miss it at all. But, we are clueless what is happening in the world. Suppose we could do an internet search, but sometimes ignorance is bliss. We have seen a few seals frolicking around in the bay and hope to see whales, sea lions and calving glaciers tomorrow when we take an all-day cruise around the Kenai Peninsula. We will report more tomorrow about what interesting things we see. If we don't see anything, we will make something up so our story will be exciting!
Jeannie, Evelyn and Mom
Day 8 - Beautiful
Resurrection Bay in Seward
Our cabin has a front row seat on the bay and we woke up this morning to lots of Stellar sea lions barking and splashing very close to shore. At first we thought they were small whales, but later learned that the sea lions are mating and they flap around their fins. We watched their playful antics for about an hour. They stayed right in front of our window and with the binoculars, we could practically see their whiskers!
We made waffles with fresh blueberries for breakfast. Yummy! Again we have drizzley conditions, but Jeannie decides this is nice weather for a run while Mom and Evelyn scout out the Sea Life Center in town. Jeannie stops at a couple kayak shops to inquire about tours on another day. She also discovers a trail at the nearby State park and follows it until it gets rather rocky and a sign indicates 4 miles to the scenic overlook. Since no one knows where she is and the bears love to munch on defenseless walkers, she grabs a couple of cans and bangs them together as she heads back to the trail head. At the campground she sees a trail that leads to the beach and there she is awestruck by another large group of sea lions playing close to shore. This is so exciting and unfortunately the battery on her camera ran low just before the big finale! She gets back to the cabin and makes grilled cheese sandwiches and fruit for lunch. While waiting for Mom and Evelyn to return, she checks emails and is so happy with her new little netbook and the wifi in the cabin. It is great to be in the Alaskan wilderness and still connected to friends and family. We always enjoy getting emails from "home" while on the road.
Evelyn and Mom really enjoyed the Sea Life Center which is sponsored through a Trust as a result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill about 20 years ago. They do marine research and rehab and have a great display of different salmon, birds of the area & their babies, an aquarium, etc. They really enjoyed watching a darling baby sea otter being rehabilitated after being rescued half frozen and clinging to a pier.
After lunch Evelyn and I went into town to check out the boat tours and got tickets for an all day cruise to see wildlife, sea life and calving glaciers for tomorrow. We also saw ground zero (Mile 0) for the start line of the Iditarod. Can you imagine the excitement departing from Seward knowing you have 1049 miles to go? This makes running a marathon look like a walk in the park. It takes tremendous endurance to participate in the "Last Greatest Race in the World". The area looks so small for all the dog teams, the spectators and the media.
Jeannie and Evelyn took a brief trail walk before returning back to our cabin. I picked up several sticks to play keep-away with Sunny and Tonka, the owners doggies. They are very friendly and fun! Mom enjoyed cuddling under a blanket with the fireplace warming the cabin so she is getting a nice nap. No excuses for being tired when it comes to another challenging progressive rummy game. Since I am the author of this travelogue, I can insert whatever I want. Let's just say that I have won the most card games so far. But, there are many more days ahead for my competition to catch up.
After a healthy chicken salad for dinner, we enjoyed reading, crocheting and looking through the books provided by the owners about sights in the area. So many places, so little time. But, it all looks good and will have to make some choices.
Until next time, Jeannie and Evelyn and Mom
Day 9 - Sunny
There are two words for today "WOW" and "OMG"! We woke up to unexpected sunshine. We're happy to see clear views of the snow-capped mountaintops while looking out our picture window and enjoying breakfast in our jammies. We are very excited to share stories of our all day cruise in Resurrection Bay (out of Seward) and the Kenai Fjordlands National Park. We enjoy an uncrowded boat with a lovely window booth and plenty of space to move about to see the changing scenery. The park ranger narrates as we travel along the towering fjords describing the geology of the area including facts about glaciers and the 1964 earthquake that devastated Seward and much of Southwestern Alaska. The captain slows frequently when sea life is spotted. We enjoy watching the lazy sea lions sunning themselves on big rock outcroppings near the shoreline. I think they are getting a suntan and hoping to catch the fancy of the females during mating season. The variety of birds is amazing including funny looking puffins that can barely fly after gorging themselves on herring. The murres lay their pear-shaped eggs in cracks on steep cliffs rather than in nests, the kittiwakes sit in groups of thousands on the water waiting to meet their mate and fly away to the cliffs, and the cormorants that have no protective oils and their feathers soak up water so they spread their wings to dry out while on shore. Then, the parade of whales started with the fin whale which is the 2nd largest whale in the sea, then the pod of humpbacks which put on a show for a long time right next to the boat and finished with the orcas (killer whales) that played with their babies and swam close by for us to admire. The Stellar sea lions with males weighing up to a ton were pretty lazy and the little sea otters floated on their backs which we found rather amusing. Evelyn spotted a lone harbor seal perched on a little iceberg at the base of the glacier. They are very small and look like a dot in our pictures of the massive glacier that we watched calving into the bay. The ranger told us that with all the water content of the worldwide glaciers, most of which are in Antarctica, comprise 75% of the world's fresh water. Can someone google that and get back to me on that? The deep fjords were quite amazing and since we could only believe that sometimes what we couldn't see below the water was sometimes greater than the steep cliffs above sea level, they are geologic wonders. Who needs to go to Norway to see fjords? Well, maybe Jeannie because she likes to go see amazing things anywhere! We had a light meal onboard and especially enjoyed the hot beverages that awaited us after standing on the cold and windy open deck getting the best pictures possible. On our way home, we stopped to pick up a lovely salmon fillet to BBQ. The fish lady is a friend of our host at the Alaska Paddle Inn and she even gave us some lemon to squeeze onto our salmon. It was wonderfully delicious along with salad and corn-on-the-cob. Are you getting hungry reading this? Oh, I almost forgot.... when we pulled onto the little dirt road of our cabin, 2 big bald eagles were in the trees. Unfortunately they flew away before we could get pictures, but we will certainly be on the lookout for them again.
We will play cards again tonight and Evelyn is hoping for a victory. And, if we still have energy after games, Jeannie will probably go out for a little walk. Ron, I promise not to get close to any bears because I do not want to come home as bear poop. I have learned NOT to bang cans and make noise that attracts bears. I think the person who told me to be loud wants to minimize the tourist trade. Oh well. I'm still here! Tomorrow I will hike the accessible Exit glacier with Evelyn and weather permitting will take zillions more pictures. Thank goodness for digital cameras!
Jeannie, Evelyn and Mom say "HI"
Somewhere in here, Evelyn's camera battery died.
Day 10 - Seward - Exit
What happened to our sunshine? The rain has returned, but Evelyn and Jeannie are determined to get in a hike. Our first wildlife sighting came driving a block from our cabin. The resident bald eagle that we watched yesterday was back. A raven (or crow) about half the size of the eagle was harassing Big Bird. The eagle was not intimidated, but it was comical to watch the raven dive bombing and cawing at the eagle who seemed disinterested. We drive about 10 miles to Exit Glacier National Park in time for the ranger led nature walk up to the receding glacier. Along the way, we see evidence of moose such as the alder and willow trees whose bark has been stripped and their pecan shaped scat in neat little circles. However, the moose allude us one more day. The glacier has lots of crevases so it is not possible to walk on it, but it was very interesting to see how far down the mountain the ice used to come compared to today. It recedes about 39 feet per year and there are signposts along the route showing where the toe of the glacier was over the past couple hundred years. This glacier is one of many attached to the huge Harding Icefield. We took the trail part-way to the Icefield but were told it was slushy near the top of the trail and also snowing. We opted to go a couple miles to a meadow then turn back. We saw a marmot who basically ignored us while it munched away on new shoots of leaves. The trail was quite steep and Jeannie led the way, not too far in front of Evelyn, but when she turned around, Evelyn was no where to be seen. What was she doing that took so long? Jeannie heard her talking to other hikers and headed back down to meet her. Well, this is where the plot thickens. She was waving her arms and shouting that a BEAR had crossed the path between us. I had not seen it behind me, but Evelyn had a clear look into the big brown eyes of an adult brown bear about 20 feet in front of her. How cute is that? Of course, she didn't get a picture so Jeannie was a bit skeptical. Evelyn knew that staying in a group was a good idea so she teamed up with another couple who also spotted the bear. That was their story and they were sticking to it. We decided to all stay together and make lots of loud conversations along the trail to keep the bears at a safe distance. We saw fresh bear scat, but no bears. When Jeannie called Ron after this adventure, he asked her to be more careful. So, from now on I will hold my big sister's hand when we go into bear country. We had fun sharing this story with Mom when we got back to the cabin. Now, a moose is the only wildlife left on our list to see. Yes Ron, I will be careful!
Some great news! Evelyn won the progressive rummy game today. She really skunked Mom and Jeannie, but after a losing streak, she was feeling a bit cocky. Next challenge will be a game of backgammon between sisters.
Despite the rain, we took a short walk on the beach near our cabin hoping to see the Stellar sealions again. The tide was high but I showed them where I had walked a couple days ago during low tide. Someone had left a campfire burning on the beach so we huddled for warmth wishing we had marshmallows to roast.
Tomorrow we will leave our little nest in Seward. We don't have too far to drive to our next destination, Girdwood. It will be nice to see new territory but will miss the views of the sea and mountains from our front window.
Here's to another great day from Jeannie, Evelyn and Mom
Day 11 - Seward to
It is a bit sad to leave our little cabin on the water, but it's time for a new adventure. We thank Alison and Alan for their hospitality and pack up our van. We stop at the Wildlife Conservation Center enroute to Girdwood to observe bison, elk, bears, coyote, moose and other local species that have been rescued. It is kind of like an animal shelter but you can't go adopt these wild animals as pets. However, this was a safe way to have a bear encounter. We arrived in the ski resort village and check into Hidden Creek B&B mid-afternoon. Once again, the sun goddess is shining on us. This seems like a good opportunity to take the tram up Mt. Aleyeska for 360 degree views. The glacial peaks and the valley below with Turnagain Arm, the bay which comes into this valley spread out before us like a postcard, we take in the views then head back down the mountain tram to get out of the cold. This reminds us of Tahoe or Vail or other nice alpine areas. In town we find a casual restaurant, Chair 5, which is a sports bar, pool hall and eatery. Great food but quite noisy. After devouring fish and chips and a wonderful rib eye, we mosey on back to our suite at the luxurious B&B. We admire the detail to perfection, the spacious room, utilize the washer/dryer and draw a bubble bath in the enormous jacuzzi tub so Mom can relax. Well, Evelyn and Jeannie laughed till our sides split because Mom was covered in about 6 feet high mountains of bubbles. What a photo opp! But, even with the candles glowing, the bubble bath proved a bit too bubbly and Mom took a quick shower then it was jammy time for all. We put a great Disney DVD on our TV called "Snow Dogs" and enjoyed it very much! The lighthearted tale takes place in Talkeetna where we recognized the tiny market, the Roadhouse cafe and other "landmarks". It is a story about dog mushing so that was also quite fun to see after learning so much about the sport. We turned out the lights at midnight and slept very well. We appreciated the room darkening shades.
Day 12 - Girdwood and Whittier
We couldn't believe we slept until 8am. Michelle and Ron are wonderful chefs who prepare a gourmet breakfast for us. There are 3 suites in this purpose-built B&B and we meet a couple traveling from Montreal. We enjoyed our special breakfast of lemon or blueberry pancakes, eggs, reindeer sausage, potatoes, fresh fruit, spicy cornmeal muffins and beverages. WOW! We could get really spoiled with this (and fat!) We are happy to be on our way to take the boat tour around Prince William Sound out of Whittier. We allow plenty of time to get there including planning for the passage through the one-lane tunnel shared with the trains which opens for car travel for a few minutes every hour. When we get to the van, we notice our rear tire is very flat and we ask our B&B host, Ron, for suggestions. He doesn't think we can safely drive on it and there are no repair shops in Girdwood. We have road coverage with Enterprise so we call them for ideas. They are happy to bring us another car, but it would take a few hours for them to arrive from Anchorage so Ron offers to put on the emergency spare tire for us so we won't miss our boat tour. We have found Alaskan people very nice and helpful. We made it to Whittier with lots of time to spare and no problems with the tire. Our 4 hour cruise on the glacier studded bays was outstanding. Again, we practically had the boat to ourselves. For anyone thinking of coming to Alaska, we highly recommend shoulder season. No crowds and good weather have followed us everywhere. We didn't see much sea-life, but the incredibly beautiful glaciers were very active. It is quite surreal to be sailing in an ice-filled bay with huge cracking noises preceding huge chunks of snow/ice falling into the water and sending out little waves. It was brisk outside, but worth every goose-bump for seeing this spectacular display of nature up close! We travelled back to our wonderful B&B and caught up on the diary and reading. Pizza is planned for dinner in a few minutes. Then, will it be the hot tub under the stars (oh wait, can you see stars when it's light outside?) or will we choose the luxurious jacuzzi indoors? How about both?? We will get our suitcases organized tonight because after breakfast we will drive to Anchorage, return the rental car and fly to Juneau. Yippee, another adventure!
Missing you all .. Jeannie, Evelyn and Mom
Day 13 - Girdwood,
The day started out with sunshine and the bluest skiis possible that accented the white mountains! Stunning! Our plans for a relaxing morning prior to driving to Anchorage started out a little differently than expected, but all turned out well. Mom woke up early morning to go potty and on her way back to bed, her right leg gave out on her. She was close enough to the bed so she didn't fall, but we were all concerned what it could be, so played it safe and called 911. Jeannie took pictures of the Girdwood EMT crew (4 handsome young men!) as they lifted Mom onto the gurney and transported her to the Anchorage hospital 35 miles away. Evelyn and I followed in our van. Michelle and Ron, our B&B hosts, were wonderful in preparing a breakfast to go and even other guest helped us load our luggage to get us on our way. Once at Providence Hospital, the nicest staff attended to Mom. The X-rays showed no broken hip and the Dr. determined it was an inflammed hip flexor muscle. Runners know the pain of this injury but we also know it is treatable with ice, ibuprofen and a low dosage of Valium at night to help with sleep. We assume this "injury" may have been a result of getting into the fancy jacuzzi tub the night before. It was so high we helped lift and push Mom's leg up and over the edge of the tub and might have strained it. We could probably come up with a more exciting story like she was skiing down a glacier, but that would be an exageration. We outfitted Mom with a walker so she could relieve pressure off the leg and we got a little step stool to help her in and out of vehicles, etc. We short folks sometimes need an extra boost. We made it to the car rental at the airport. They were great to deliver us to the check-in gate and a porter helped us with the luggage. Once in the wheelchair, Mom was treated to a new experience. The aircraft we were boarding was on the tarmac & required many steps to climb. So, they put Evelyn and Mom into a special lift vehicle which they raised to plane level and loaded them on. Jeannie was going standby on the flight for a discounted travel agent rate, so was waiting to be boarded. The flight from Anchorage to Juneau was spectacular. Who needs to take a flightseeing trip when we had clear views of the most incredible scenery from our commercial flight? Our hotel shuttle greeted us on arrival and we checked into our suite at BW Country Lane Inn. It looks perfect for our next 3 nights! We let Mom rest and Evelyn and I take the shuttle into town to explore. We watch the many cruise ships going in and out of port and the seaplanes landing a few feet from them. We also go to the Visitor Center to get information and stop at the office where we have tickets for our Thursday cruise on Tracy Arm. Everyone is so laid back but friendly! Returning to the hotel, we are hungry and choose to have dinner delivered from a nearby restaurant. That worked very well, as we have a little kitchen and table in our room. After dinner we play rummy and cut Mom no slack when she thought she was supposed to be saving books and it was really runs! No sympathy here since she usually wins! Well, it was lights out at midnight again so can say that the day ended well and we're happy to continue our adventures!
Love you all, Jeannie, Evelyn and Mom
Day 14 - Juneau
We kept Mom on the go all day today and she came home and crashed on the bed! We started the day by picking up a rental car and headed to the Mendenhall Glacier. WOW! I know we have seen glaciers before and we will see them again, but this one is so accessible that Mom was able to enjoy the Visitor's Center and views. Evelyn and Jeannie took about an hour walk out near the glacier and a huge waterfall. We took Mom back a piece of ancient ice from the glacial lake, but it mostly melted before we got back. It was over 80 again today! Then, we went to the Glacier Gardens. To be honest, it was a bit overpriced for what we saw, but it was pretty. It was greenhouse grown plants that had been added to the rainforest with pretty babbling streams. The most interesting part were the uprooted dead trees which had been "planted" upside down and filled with fishing net, moss and soil and planted with colorful flowers. Very unique! We had one more tour for the day at the Alaska State Museum. They had a wheelchair for Mom which was great and the displays featuring different clothing, tools, etc. from around Alaska were well done. We were all running out of steam after that and decided to just drive around the hilly areas of Juneau and "explore". We stayed in the car so no bear encounters! A short stop for lunch stuff before heading back to our hotel. Evelyn read a book, Jeannie checked email and wrote the diary entry and Mom slept. We need to get her up soon for dinner. Tomorrow will be a long day on the boat tour but promises to be spectacular! We will try to send an email tomorrow night but don't know if we have internet on the ferry the next couple days. So, if you don't hear from us.... don't worry. Mom's hip is still hurting but she did quite well today and will probably be even better tomorrow.
Amen from Grandma, Evelyn and Jeannie
Day 15 - Juneau
It was another WOW day! After breakfast we embarked on a 45 passenger boat from the port on the Captain Cook. With Steve as our able captain, we traveled through gorgeous bays and past zillions of waterfalls, many of which fell over 4000 feet down vertical walls carved by the glaciers. As much as we love Yosemite, we had to admit the scenery we saw today made Yosemite look miniscule! The water was very calm and a beautiful greenish blue color. The captain slowed to observe a few humpback whales. He maneuvered past icebergs, some of which had seal colonies perched on them. Jeannie reached out from the boat and touched the rock wall while watching a waterfall splash into the bay from high on the cliff. We had planned on seeing the Tracy Arm with magnificent glaciers, but on departure, we were informed that so many icebergs had calved off the Sawyer Glacier that it had blocked the entrance to the narrow passage and we would be detoured to Hawes Glacier in the Endicott Arm. We saw some huge chunks fall off the glacier which rises about 200 feet from sea level and extends back for 25 miles. It was a mile wide and fun to watch the splashing of new icebergs into the water. Don't worry; we were at a safe distance! We picked up a couple of kayakers on the return. They had been out for a week and loved it and were grateful for the nice weather. Upon our return to port 10 hours later, we took a short drive to see the Shrine to St Therese. The gardens had lots of tulips and daffodils in bloom and we are reminded this is spring in Alaska. A simple chapel is built and the Catholic Church has a retreat on the property. It is a lovely place to walk and thank God for making our vacation so wonderful and to be grateful for all of our blessings. We paused to reflect on the beauty God created in this vast state of Alaska. And, we thanked Him again for a sunshiny day to enjoy the grandeurs all around. We will not have internet on the Ferry the next couple of days so this may be my last update until we arrive back in California. We will be happy to get our hugs soon!
Love ya, Jeannie,Evelyn and Mom
Day 16 – Ferry Juneau to Ketchikan
It was a case of “hurry up and wait” this morning. We had breakfast and took the hotel shuttle to the ferry terminal. We had been advised to check in about 9:30 for an 11:30 departure to allow time for wheelchair assistance onto the boat. We arrived at 9am and no one was in the office. Hmmmm. We found an employee who said they would have the ADA van load us after all the off-loading vehicles and passengers disembarked. That worked fine so after waiting 2.5 hours in the lounge, we got on board. We had been instructed to talk to the Purser on board about our cabin assignment. So, we proceeded to the Purser’s desk. No one was there. Hmmmm. We found an ADA room that was empty so we moved in and we were able to rest and wait ANOTHER 2.5 hours until the ferry finally left. Thankfully the weather was beautiful, which we have come to expect at this point. We have been informed the reason for the delay is due to another ferry arriving late that 19 cars & passengers need to make the connection. Staff and locals do not seem to be excited about this delay and they were able to make up time during the night for an on-time arrival in Ketchikan. The ferry boat is large and very few passengers so we mingle with the passengers and play a game of rummy as we enjoy the sandwiches we prepared. We never tire of watching the gorgeous scenery of the Inside Passage go by, listen to the Forest Rangers on board give info about the whales, towns and other subjects pertinent to the area. We spot several porpoises, seals and whales enroute and the sunshine persists. We brought on board left-overs from dinner last night to be reheated in the ferry’s microwave. So, we assemble our pasta, pork chops, bread and potatoes and find out the microwave is dead. Hmmm. Cold pork chops? Heck no, we ask the galley to heat it for us and appreciate that service. After dinner, we go on deck to see the full moon shimmer and reflect on the water. What a night! Then, we retire to our cabin which is very spacious with double bunks, a full bathroom and a picture window.
Day 17 – Ketchikan to Home
We have breakfast before disembarking the ferry. The ADA van transports Mom off the boat and we take a taxi to the nearby airport. This airport is on an island and only accessible by a small ferry. This is the location that Gov. Sarah Palin tried to get funding for the “Bridge to Nowhere”. We understand the cost and complexities of building and maintaining a bridge to the airport, but it makes it very difficult for disabled people with luggage to get there. Jeannie took the ferry which runs every 15 minutes to get a wheelchair and luggage rack from the airport to return on the ferry to get Mom and Evelyn. Hmmm. They usually don’t allow wheelchairs to be taken out of the airport, but it would be impossible for Mom to hike the ¼ mile uphill and we would be unable to roll the luggage without a cart. Once again, we discover the nice people of Alaska help us. The airport Customer Service rep comes on the ferry with Jeannie to bring the wheelchair. The luggage cart system is jammed so we asked a couple of nice guys getting onto the ferry if they could help us roll the bags up the hill. It all works out, but we are glad that we have allowed LOTS of time for these maneuvers. Our flights will take us to Seattle where we connect with our final leg of our journey to SMF. We have been blessed with great weather, comfortable accommodations, friendly people, beautiful vistas and most importantly, we have spent mother-daughter-sister time together. Priceless! Thanks Mom for the memories which we will always cherish. We hope it was as meaningful to you as it was for us!
Where to next?