Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Alaska: Not for a Woman

Last month my husband Mike and I went to America's last frontier--North to Alaska.

During the 10 days, we traveled 7,000+ miles (via plane, ship, train, motor coach, school bus, and 900-passenger paddle boat) and who knows how many miles by our own feet. This was a retirement gift to my husband from himself. Always been on his bucket list. Me, never!

We were told (by anyone who had visited) that the mountains were high (19 over 14,000 feet), the parks enormous, and the glaciers (100,000) and lakes (3 million) were aplenty. And there would be all kinds of wildlife (39 species of mammals) in that untamed wilderness. Supposedly there are  more caribou than people in Alaska.  A bus driver said about the wildlife, if you see them, you can view them.

Largest, highest and "only one" were often adjectives used to describe what we visited.
Mt. McKinley (Denali) is the highest mountain in North America--20,320 feet.
Tongass National Forest is the nation's largest national forest--17 million acres.
Denali National Park is 6 million acres.
Glacier Bay, 3.3 million acres, is one of  USA's 10 United Nation's World Heritage Sites because it is the largest non-polar ice field and the largest temperate rain forest in North America.
College Fjord (named for colleges) has 8 tide water glaciers.
Largest Begonias I have ever seen
Whittier is home of North America’s longest vehicle tunnel. 
You get the picture.

But what did I enjoy? The people and the educational aspects such as talks by historians, park rangers, and naturalists. The new words and definitions I added to my vocabulary. Fjord, calving (of glaciers), permafrost, taiga, cheechako (newcomers), isostatic rebound, cache, inside passage, sourdough, maitre d'hotel, and braided river, were just a few. Mike's favorite was the scenery.

Dog sled training
Hearing Libby Riddles, the first female Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race winner, talk about the 1,049-mile trip to Nome by 60 mushers and 800 dogs. Being inspired by the story of Susan Butcher, a 4-time Iditarod race winner.

Seeing the terminal in Fairbanks for Ice Road Truckers and learning that the train tour guide's son was on Deadliest Catch. Touring an Alaskan print shop.

All the history: 1964 earthquake with a magnitude of 9.2 when the ground dropped as much as 12 feet, WWII, the Gold Rush, Trans-Atlantic pipeline (helicopter constantly flies the whole 800-mile line to monitor the line), natives such as Athabascan.

The culinary demonstration by the ship's chef and maitre d'hotel and the galley tour where 382 crew prepare food for 2,000+ people. 975 pounds of beef and and 1,200 pounds of vegetables are prepared daily.

Ship food presentation (left)
and best meal of trip on right--
Seafood macaroni and cheese

Favorite meals: Salmon bake (complete with blueberry cake and marshmallows around the campfire) in Juneau where a Bravo's Top Chefs show featuring Emeril Lagasse was taped and Mike panned for gold. No gold! The best seafood macaroni and cheese and Caesar salad at a Denali restaurant. Rest of food was okay--nothing memorable.

Mendenhall Glacier

Favorite sites: Mendenhall Glacier (After you've seen that one, do you really have to view dozens more?) and vintage train to White Pass Summit on a rail constructed in 26 months against all odds (design challenges, granite mountains, step grade, cliff hanging tunnels and unimaginable weather) and that goes from sea level to 3,000 feet in 20 miles.

Least favorite: THOUSANDS of glaciers (I know that they might be melted in my lifetime) and a 7-hour tundra wilderness trip on a school bus in Denali National Park.
You be the judge. Do they all look alike?
Most disappointing: Lack of wildlife, especially moose. Saw one dead along railroad tracks--guess that might count for 1/2 a moose. (400 are killed yearly by the train so I was sure I'd see a moose.) So, I was forced to have my picture taken with bronze and stuffed moose. Similar to being on a snipe hunt. I'm lobbying to get my money refunded. Did see--but not plentiful--bald eagles, whales, seals, sea lions, otters, caribou, grizzlies and Dall sheep only with binoculars.
Only moose in Alaska?
 Amazed by:  Juneau is only accessible by air or water.

Non-existent: Cell phone and internet service; real TV programming. I did catch an episode of The Love Boat featuring Ricky Nelson. Remember him?

Trivia: Alaska has one mile of road for every 43 sq. miles of land, compared to the US average of one to one. Yearly Alaskans receive 25% of oil profit money. Individual payouts have ranged from $330 to $2,000.

Humor: (Hey, I did not make this up): What is the difference between reindeer and caribou? Reindeer are in training to fly.
What are grizzlie bears who have no teeth called? Gummie bears

Weather: On ship--55 to 62 degrees, partly cloudy and rain one day. Unseasonably warm--like 80 degrees-- in Denali with I swear humidity at 90 degrees +.  No air conditioning in lodges.

Sea sickness: Had none because of patches, bracelet and Bionne. Don't know which worked or if I truly needed any.

Ship: Room was slightly bigger than broom closet--217 sq. ft. including balcony. 2000+ passengers (including 41 kids) and 900+ crew. 16 decks. A mile was 2.8 times around the ship. Amazing features were the library and coin-operated laundromat (I lost a pair of socks here--yep, a pair!).

Inquiring minds want to know: Why would anyone love cruises enough to spend more than 365 days on them (That's about 1 year!)? Our dinner table mates held that record. Someone on the boat has spent 1,300+ days on cruises.

Trip started by spending a night in an Indianapolis hotel (always wanted to try a sleep number bed but unfortunately ours were broken--hint of what was to come) and up very early (many nights I'd barely be in bed at that time) to catch a flight to Minneapolis and then onto Vancouver, where we boarded our cruise. Nice balcony room but bed was warn--could see dents where people laid and sat on edge to watch TV. Pillows were nothing but plain flat. Just waiting to get cruise survey.

For you diehards who wonder just where did we travel, here is the itinerary:

Ketchikan (lumberjack show and salmon capitol of the world) in Tongass National Forest,
Juneau (the most isolated capital in US and Mendenall Glacier where we saw a porcupine),
Skagway (gold rush town),
Glacier Bay National Park,
College Fjord,
Whittier (home of a 2.5-mile vehicle tunnel that once was a World War II train tunnel and where practically everyone--all 225+--lives in one huge hotel looking building),  
Wasilla (Duct Tape Capital of the WORLD because Wasilla Wal-Mart sold the equivalent of 325 miles of duct tape or 314 feet of duct tape per person in Wasilla) and saw Sarah Palin's current and previous homes,
Talkeetna: Mayor (clockwise from top left), sample of food,
views from restaurant table--rested arm on pool table and
scenic view of technology in front of me,  and
homemade ice cream  with the help of John Deere.
Talkeetna (mountaineering gateway to the Alaska Range with a cat as mayor--seriously!),
Denali National Park (estimated to be home to 1,900 moose and 300 grizzly bears), and
Fairbanks (where they don't have 4th of July fireworks because it is never dark enough--only twilight for 2+ hours in the middle of the night--but they do have parking meters with plugs for car engine block heaters).

And why the title for this blog?  It's the name of a book written by homesteader and pioneer Mary Carey  (I am reading this book). Quite a colorful character, she was responsible for getting the Parks Road built. Connecting Fairbanks and Anchorage, the 358-mile road has 40 bridges. Ironically, there is a good possibility that we had met each other. In 1974 we both received national press awards from the National Federation of Press Women and I remember being impressed by an Alaskan woman at that North Dakota awards ceremony.

Oh yea, did I mention? I did not see Russia!

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