Prolog: Given that this trip involved a two week cohabitation of six creative minds, you might expect a few "phrases" might be generated. They were; our social lexicon grew by leaps and bounds. Of course, these phrases will not mean as much to those who were not present in real time, but, hey, you never know. So here they are in no particular order and certainly not all-inclusive:
It's not dark yet.
We're living in a postcard.
I'm through with you.
Yin and Yang. So, hand me a Yang.
Michael row your boat ashore.
Tiny Chocolate doughnuts.
Tiny Powdered doughnuts (Preferred).
Fire on the mountain.....run, boys, run!
Borbo, uh...Bobo, uh.....OK. Intestinal gas (Borborygmus).
Geology is easy. See those light-colored rocks? Granite.
The blue ice tells you it's been glaciated.
Not that I know anything.
I am, therefore, you're not.
You can't get lost.
Aliens and Lord TecNu, the Gas Pump.
If it pisses you off, just shoot it.
Look at me!
Binocs glued to eyes. Will require surgical removal.
Where's my brain?
Tune 'em up. Let's get this over with.
And, that was a blank load!
Rippin' 'em off.
Big hat--one guitar.
You go this way or that way. That's it.
In the fullness of time.
Sit down to pee.
All this and we get _______ too?
One pawnshop to go and we'll be right there.
It's still not dark!
Rogue parking meters
F*cking Fred Meyers
Catching the birds' attention
Throwing caution to the wind.
I'm through with you. I'm done with you. I've had it with you.
Who ARE you?
Don't kill my buzz, Moha.
Port and starboard = porter and lager
DALAS, WALAS, CALAS, FALAS, SALAS
The tutelage has begun
There'll be some serious deprogramming
I was thinking in my mind ...
Do it AGAIN
A sign, not a saying: finger to the lips
Little dance, then "TaDa"; first to porter then to lager
The Alaskan Wave (shooing away mosquitoes)
And now for some context to go with those phrases:
6/6/03 Geneseo to Anchorage via Buffalo and Minneapolis
We spent the morning preparing to leave for Buffalo – leaving in the afternoon (6:45 flight) is very strange. Brian & Amy came over to shower and load the car. They are in the process of painting their bathroom, so having a paint-fume free shower was nice. We were off around 2:30.
Our flight took us to Minneapolis and then on to Anchorage. We had a one-hour lay-over in Minneapolis, so having noticed a Leinenkugel sign at an in-airport bar, we decided to have a tall cool one while waiting. It must have been the waiter’s first night on the job because he took a very long time getting our drinks. He seemed to spend most of his time trying to figure out how to enter the orders in the computer. We finally got them and had to practically beg for a bill. At first he gave us a bill that would have been a very good deal for what we ordered, but eventually figured out that it was for another table. We gulped our Leinies, paid and headed toward the boarding area, which, to our amazement, had cleared of people – they had already boarded. Wouldn’t it be fitting to have to call Bob and tell him that we missed our flight because we were drinking beer in an airport pub?
We were flying north and toward the sun – that’s how you get to AK, folks. Rousing chorus of North To Alaska here. Ok, that’s enough! We left MN around 9 pm and arrived in AK a little after 12 am. It was very strange; it got lighter the longer we flew. As we approached Anchorage, we could see ever-larger mountains covered with ever-larger glaciers. I had landed in Anchorage on the way back from Vietnam and had seen the same scenery. However, back in 1968, I had no idea what a glacier was and I was much more focused on getting home – I didn’t even get off the plane while it was being refueled. This time my arrival in Anchorage was a much more festive occasion. As we headed to the baggage claim area, we saw Bob parked at the curb in the "eggplant-colored van with license plate DUNNO" so we hugged and jumped around with him before finding Char waiting for us at the conveyors whereupon we hugged and jumped around some more. It was a joyous reunion presaging things to come.
6/7/03 Chugiak to Eagle River Nature Center
"Jane, Phil, look out back." That’s the first thing we heard on our first morning in AK. Bob had heard a noise while taking his morning pee off the balcony and when he checked, it turned out to be a bear of the average-sized black variety. It doesn’t get dark in June, so it was 0-twilight-thirty, and we were pretty bleary-eyed from yesterday’s translocation. However, we were awake enough to see the little devil drag Bob’s birdfeeder to the ground. According to Bob, you can’t make ‘em bear-proof, you can only make ‘em bear compliant, so there was no lasting damage done. The bear was very casual about the whole thing. S/he just reared up and pulled it to the ground, after which, s/he very casually sat down, stretched out a hind leg for an extended stay, and began to munch on sunflower seeds. S/he was cute – as long as there was a wall of glass separating us. PIC
After the bear sighting, we commenced to drink our morning beverages while munching muffins and telling stories. Yep, the story telling started right off. In fact, I was afraid we would exhaust our treasure trove of stories before the two weeks were up. Not to fear, as the days passed, we managed to accumulate more stories in our treasure trove, and we have more than enough old and new stories to last a lifetime.
Eventually, we got organized and headed out for a tour of Chugiak and Eagle River. Changing time zones – four of ‘em PIC – and the 24 hours of daylight made telling time confusing, but it must have been around noon because Bob was heard referring to the "noon balloon", which became a traditional occurrence. Thus, began our "driving around and lookin’ at shit" adventure in Alaska. For the sake of expediency, I will refer to it as DALAS.
Our digestive system was equally confused about the time, so B&C provided us with munchies, primarily a large bag of salted-in-the-shell peanuts, which were VERY good. We relived the times when we used to get fifty-pound bags of peanuts at Krema in Klumz back in the goodoldays. We left peanut shells everywhere we went – just so we could find our way back, right!
Our first stop was a car wash & duck pond. The pond supplies water to the car wash, and the owner, being ever creative, decided to stock the pond with ducks, geese, peacocks, and chickens. AK is truly the land of "anything worth doing is worth overdoing." So there we stood, eating peanuts, and watching peacocks strut about, roosters crowing from tree perches, violet green swallows plucking bugs from the air above the pond, and IDing some new-to-us ducks and geese. One of the new-to-us ducks was a "tufted" duck that we promptly renamed the Lyle Lovett Duck. Of course, Bob knows the owner, and when he drove up, we had a nice chat with the guy who has amassed a fortune one quarter at a time.
Oh, I forgot to mention the prominent landmark located at the entrance to B&C’s drive. It is an auto-body repair place with the must unusual name of Precision Guesswork PIC . Although the name conveys a sense of humor, it doesn’t instill confidence in their workmanship. Sure enough, the day we left for the airport, we noticed a For Rent sign on the wall.
We drove up Eagle River road, which ends at the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC). Almost all roads in AK end somewhere, some sooner than others (Dead End is a commonly seen sign). As Bob likes to point out, the town of Eagle River is located on the Eagle River that occupies Eagle River Valley, and originates from the Eagle River Glacier. The same is true of most glaciers, valleys, rivers, and towns in AK, so it became a joke: town of (fill in the blank) is located on (fill in the blank) river, which flows in (fill in the blank) valley, and drains (fill in the blank) glacier. PIC
ERNC is a nicely developed wilderness area rich in wildlife, trails, and water trips down the … what river was it – the one that drains the glacier, flows though the valley, and goes to the town? Although we didn’t see any eagles, we did get to watch some Dall sheep high up on the valley wall. The scale of AK is absolutely dumbfounding. You might expect AK to be cool and rainy, which it is, so you would also expect fairly high humidity. However, we experienced beautiful weather – better than here at home, I think – and the air is dry, which allows grand vistas of large expanses of terrain. AK is not only large in the horizontal sense – we were looking at a map of AK and down along the bottom was a little square labeled Washington … the state. AK is also large vertically. If you are not looking at the ocean, you are looking at mountains that appear to jump up out of the ocean and the peaks and ridges are separated by broad, U-shaped valleys, most of which contain active glaciers. The result is a crystal-clear view of huge expanses of land that disorients the senses. PIC
Being at sixty-some degrees N latitude means the tree and snow lines are only a little above sea level. Thus, the tops of nearly all the mountains are at least snow covered if not capped in permanent ice. The Dall sheep, being white, are easily confused with snow patches on the distant valley wall – until they move. So there we were watching these tiny little white dots moving around in the grassy area between the tree and snow lines. We all expected to see bear and sheep everyday – we didn’t, but we did see even more exotic things as the days passed.
We returned to Mizewell, as B&C refer to their lovely home (Should we put a picture window in that wall? Mizewell. Should we add a room here? Mizewell. Should we invite our friends to visit? Mizewell. Should we have a glass of wine? Mizewell.) We all collapsed on the deck bathing in the glow of the warm, but never setting, sun. It was marvelous to just lounge there sipping our evening beverage of choice and relaxing with friends. Bob fired up the grill and proceeded to cook up half a dead cow ground up to look like hamburger patties and presented to us on great and large buns (not his) with accompanying potato salad and bean salad ... and more beer followed by wine from B&C’s 2000-bottle cellar. Ah, sustenance for the troops and welcome rest. After cooking, Bob used a piece of moose femur to clean the grill. It worked amazingly well – must be why the burgers were so tasty.
There will be a theme of sayings and word-of-the-day as we proceed. The one I remember from this day was: What’s that bird? Hmm, must be one of those rosy-breasted mattress thumpers. Also, I spent most of the time at Mizewell and on Clementine ripping a sampling of Bob’s huge CD collection. There is a large military base near Anchorage, so the pawn shops are rife with $1 to $3 CDs. Bob has sampled them over the years, so his CD collection now rivals his wine collection. It is a very eclectic grouping, and I am anxious to sample some of it – more on this topic later, probably lasting well into the upcoming fall and winter. Oh, I managed to rip almost 4,000 tracks from his collection. Whew!
6/8/03 Chugiak to Eklutna Lake
We all agreed that our minds and bodies needed some down time, so we opted for a slow day to heal. Bob needed to do some work on DUNNO (leaky gasket thing) so he stayed home while the rest of us headed north of town for more DALAS and a relaxing walk along the shore of Eklutna Lake. Okay, quiz time. Eklutna Lake is in what valley? What is the name of the river, the town, and the glacier? Answer: Eklutna. PIC
We did a couple of miles along the lake observing any and all wildlife that got in our way. It was beautiful. When we got about halfway, we could see the glacier that fed it. The weather was perfect and the scenery was unimaginably spectacular. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife, mostly flowers and a few shore birds. However, the whole experience was wholesome and healing – just what we needed. PIC PIC PIC
We got back in the evening, cleaned up a bit, and headed for Wayne’s Texas BBQ PIC . Wayne’s would be worth the trip all by itself. You see, Wayne is a transplanted Texan who has managed to recreate a bit of home in downtown Anchorage. The décor is rodeo rustic and the food is traditional Texan BBQ. The best: brisket, spicy beans, jalapeno pepper laced corn muffins, and DesChutes Black Butte porter. PIC PIC PIC
In addition to the décor, food, and beer, there was a live band consisting of Keith Juneau, GW Powell, Sly Shulman (from Flushing, the toilet bowl of the world, as he put it), and three other players whose names we don’t recall. Aside: did you ever see a dead band playing? On the breaks, Bob and Brian struck up a conversation with Keith. It turns out he has played with (in a musical sense) lots of big names like Willy and Emmylou. He is a family friend of Vassar Clement’s and invited us to a big ol’ Texas fiddle conflab in Hallettsville, TX come April. We immediately began making plans for a grand tour: Geneseo to London Ontario to Memphis to Natchez (via the Trace) to New Orleans to Lafayette to Hallettsville to … You know you are having a good trip when you find yourself planning future trips while the current trip is only 2 days old. We never got around to asking Keith what the hell he was doing in AK. But as the saying goes, "Everybody’s got to be from somewhere".
In my opinion, the most interesting band member was GW. He was the oldest of the group and he was firmly planted in the Bob Wills style. He had a great cowboy voice and was nicely laid back as though he had been there and done it all before. You know it is a local band when the number of players and audience is co-equal. The audience consisted of the six of us and another five people: an older man and woman, a woman about our age who might have been their daughter and Tammy Fay Baker’s twin. In addition, and sitting right up front, was another couple. We learned his name, Lorenzo, when he just stood up, faced the audience and started singing Ghost Riders In The Sky. He looked like a truck driver who got lost in AK and decided to stay. Ah, but he had really nice hair. Jet black and combed back into what we used to call a duck’s ass – think about the do’s in Grease.
The band members had homes and other gigs to go to, so the performance ended around eight. However, the entertainment was only beginning because that was about the time Wayne showed up. Of course Bob knows Wayne, so he come over to our table to visit a bit. It was a hoot and cannot possibly be recreated in words – but I will try ;-)
Wayne is, I’m guessing, in his late fifties, fairly tall, and just a little wider than his big ol’ silver belt buckle. I never saw his feet, but I’m sure he was wearing Tony Lamas pointy-toed cowboy boots with riding heels. Wayne’s first question was, "Did you have the brisket? Ain’t it good?" Then he launched into a monologue about how he plans to market it worldwide. He is planning a TV ad and hopes it will attract enough attention to land him a spot on Oprah. Oprah? I missed a lot of the conversation that followed as my mind focused on the image of Wayne and Oprah talking about BBQed brisket on international TV.
I believe the connection between Oprah and brisket had something to do with the Atkins diet. It seems Wayne is a fervent believer in the diet, which favors protein over carbs and BBQed brisket is tasty protein. Bob mentioned that the Atkins diet was good, but following it for a long time could result in ketosis. Wayne face morphed into a very serious look and he turned directly toward Bob and said, "How do you know about ketosis?" as though it was some well-kept secret only he and Oprah were allowed to know about. We all nearly lost it. If Wayne had been wearing his guns, Bob would have been called out to the street.
Obviously the Atkins diet and ketosis were hot topics for Wayne, so we changed the subject to fishing. Wayne related a story about catching a 200 pound halibut – average by AK standards. It seemed that they didn’t have the tools (big club) to dispatch the fish properly, so they pulled out a small pocket knife and proceeded to stab it. Every time they got it to the surface, they would poke it with the knife as much as they could before the fish would descend to the bottom and "boil the sand." After several cycles of stabbing followed by boiling sand, they declared it "dead enough" and hauled it on board for filleting. From that moment on, "dead enough" became a standard phrase in our everyday conversation. We even increased the flexibility by substituting other words like drunk, tired, and full. For example, every time we found ourselves saying things like "I’m drunk enough; let’s go to bed", the whole halibut story flashes through our mind. Then there is, "Don’t kill my buzz, Moha", but B&A will have to tell you about that ;-)
There was a little pretend mutiny in the ranks when Brian turned to me one morning (or was it evening or afternoon? The sun was up, but that don’t mean nothing) and said, "I’m done with you." That phrase also entered our growing lexicon.
6/9/03 Chugiak to Anchorage
I began this day with a pantomime of throwing caution to the wind. It is difficult to describe a pantomime, but try to imagine an overly dramatic but graceful and somewhat effeminate flinging of the right hand from chest to arm’s length while executing a lithesome body stretch in the same direction. Then imagine that gesture being done by "a curious-looking little man". That was me throwing caution to the wind. As it turned out, it was a most appropriate gesture for what was about to unfold.
As you might recall, we bought B&C an external HD like I have here. I loaded it with all my music and sent it to them before we took off on the Nebraska trip. Once B&C get their music loaded on it, they can take the HD with them to the boat (Clementine). But before they can actually play it on Clementine, they need to get some sort of playback device like a compact stereo that can accept output from the notebook. Thus, we needed to go to Anchorage to shop for a sound system, adapter cables, and other "technical" paraphernalia. That was the goal for the day, which again began with the liftoff of the noon balloon. Yep, we were DALAS in Anchorage.
Here’s a flash: women can get extremely bored in an electronics store. We had money and wanted to spend it, but it just wasn’t happening. None of the fancy boom boxes met the conditions, and the fancy compact stereos were either too big or didn’t do what we wanted. Our frustration was nullified by the sights we saw. First, there was the sign at a used car lot stating: We sell your car for free. Hmmm, like the Precision Guesswork thing, these people need some marketing training. Maybe Wayne can help them get on Oprah, too. Then there was the nose picking incident. When we stopped at a light, we were offered the opportunity to watch this youngish fellow in a fancy car pick his nose, roll it, and flick it out the window. Nice.
At another traffic light stop, we were treated to a "face show" by a mother and her daughter. Apparently, the child had dared the mother to stick her tongue out at the eggplant van with the funny people in it, or maybe Mom was just trying to embarrass her adolescent daughter, or maybe the daughter was being tutored in obnoxious behavior. Whatever the reason, Amy just happened to look at the car as the woman gave us an Alice Cooper tongue wag, flipped us the bird, and laughed enough to giggle the car and mortify the teenager.
Yet another traffic light provided a glimpse of a dude crossing the street in front of us. You know how young people tend to wear these baggy pants oh so very low on their hips? Well, this guy had the lowest pants any of us had ever seen. He was wearing underwear, for which we were all extremely grateful, because the pants were well below the apex of his butt checks. It was downtown, so as he disappeared behind the corner of a building, we caught a glimpse of a right hand casually, very casually, reaching down to hitch up his about to fall off pants. Whew! Maybe we shouldn’t stop at traffic lights, eh?
Okay, it was getting late, and we hadn’t eaten – worse yet, we hadn’t had any alcohol. We just happened to be passing The Moose’s Tooth when the urge to imbibe became overwhelming. We were seated at an outdoor table – the weather was just perfect – and served by Mary, whose husband is from VT and likes Genny, of all things. We did our traveling road show routine, had roasted garlic with gorgonzola dip (yummy), garlic bread sticks with spicy marinara dip, and a marvelous green pizza with lots of veggies like artichoke, asparagus, and … more garlic. The Tooth is a brew pub, so we commenced to sample the artwork. The clear winner was the stout (best of the whole trip) with the porter being a good also ran. PIC PIC
After we left The Tooth, we were headed I don’t know where, but in the process we passed another brew pub, Rumrunner’s. Ah, that looks good. Bob abruptly turned into a parking space in front of the bar, up over the curb and down for a perfect four-wheel landing well within the lines. We call it "catastrophic parking." I opened the cargo door, looked up, and saw a guy standing on the sidewalk rolling in laughter about how we just leaped off the street into the parking space. We exchanged some friendly barbs like, "bet you can’t guess where we’re going" and headed for Rumrunner’s. PIC
We took up residence at one of those tall tables with tall stools arranged with three on a side. The table was designed to make you feel as though you were sitting at the bar. It was narrow with a bar-like brass thingy running down the middle and containers of salt, pepper, catsup, mustard, red and green Tabasco. Brian & Bob, who were sitting opposite each other with the brass bar between, began playing condiment chess. Bob invoked his famous flying Tabasco move and it looked like Brian was done for. However, Brian countered with a green chili sauce twisting, double back flip for the win. Brian’s training is going well, don’t you think? PIC
The table was outfitted with beer coasters advertising Arrogant Bastard. Although we didn’t know our server’s name, his resemblance to Keanu Reeves induced us to dub him Neo the Arrogant Bastard. He was actually not a bit arrogant, and fielded our parries and thrusts deftly. Our attention was drawn to an entertaining guy at another table who was in the process of eating one of those too-big-to-be-believed bar-burgers with steak fries. He went through two bottles of catsup as we watched. "Would you like a burger and fries to go with your catsup, sir?" We did our beer and decided that this particular day had turned into a brew-pub-hopping day, so we packed up and headed down the street to the Snow Goose. When Neo wanted to know which Arrogant Bastard gets the check, we all pointed to Amy.
While packing for the trip, I decided not to take a hat because I didn’t want to fool with it on the plane and didn’t think it would be so sunny in Alaska. Hey, doofus, the sun never sets in Alaska, you need a hat. So I borrowed one from Bob, and, as it turns out, it was a Snow Goose hat. Not surprisingly, Bob had visited the Snow Goose many times before. In fact, he and the owner have been known to pass out on the fifty-pound sacks of hops piled around the brewing vats. They were remodeling the downstairs and the smell of fresh paint was overpowering. The dishwater-blonde hostess-girl replied to our reeling at the fumes with a ditzy looking smile and the comment, "Fumes, what fumes?" That was the opening shot for what turned out to be a blitz of kibitzing.
We were seated upstairs – out of the fumes – in a glass-walled dining/drinking area. The boys didn’t make it past the bar with its large assortment of impressive beer taps. Free samples lead us to our beers of choice and eventually, the table where the ladies were ensconced. We got off to a rocky start with our server wench, Michele, by getting our own beers, and it went steadily downhill from there. It turns out Michele is a transplant from Arkansas – hey, everybody has to be from somewhere, right? – and her most endearing phrase of the evening was, "Who ARE you?", which was directed to ME. Can you believe it? Sweet, innocent me! Anyway, Michele had been ATVing with her boyfriend the day before and had injured her finger. It was badly swollen and purple-ish. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, it was her middle finger. At first, she was a bit reluctant to show us. As the evening wore on, she became more and more willing.
We decided to extend our sampling beyond beer, so we started tasting what they call halibut chunks, but we preferred to call halibut balls – it’s all in how you look at it, you know. They were light and fluffy with a delicate crispy batter – really good, as was the beer, but the Tooth’s stout was still the clear winner. But, if you can’t be with the one you love … PIC
In due course, the beer stimulated a trip to the restroom, and being a classy place, they had a newspaper tacked to the wall above the urinals – rather than the "rest head here" you see in those tacky places in the lower 48. The paper had a two-panel cartoon. The first panel had a baseball catcher with an umpire behind him, and the second panel had just the umpire without the catcher. The first panel showed a fast ball slamming into the catcher’s mitt and was labeled "With". The second panel showed the fast ball thumping off the umpire’s chest protector and trickling harmlessly to the ground below. It was labeled "Without".
As I stood there reading the cartoon in a state of semi-inebriation, I lost it. I was laughing so hard that I had trouble directing my flow, if you know what I mean. I found myself looking around to see if I was alone, but quickly realized that it really didn’t matter. The Mayor and Chief of Police of Anchorage could have been there, and I just didn’t care. I laughed until tears came to my eyes. You are only allowed such freedom when you are in a strange town, have no reputation to uphold, and no responsibilities other than having a good time. I laughed all the way back to the table where I tried to explain the reason to five fairly blank faces. I guess you had to be there, but I still get a giggle when I think about it: With and Without.
We sat and watched the harbor, gulls, and jet fighters landing at the military post nearby – not the harbor or gulls, just the jets, although there may be some gulls landing at the base, but we couldn’t have seen them … I’m digressing again. Of course there were stories old and new all accompanied by great brews and a feeling of who cares about anything beyond the range of our aura? It was the kind of feeling you need to experience every few years, and some of us are overdue on our fun quota – but we were catching up fast. Oh, I should tell you that we all agreed that those halibut balls were quite dead enough. PIC
Eventually, we had to cash in and bid farewell to Michele. We left a tip, but I expect she would have been satisfied with just our leaving. We headed a-foot toward the next destination: Glacier Brewhouse. On the way, I had an encounter with a rogue parking meter. It wasn’t entirely my fault, you see. There was this lithesome and scantily clad young lady who went whizzing by on roller-blades while carrying a hockey stick. Now you don’t see that everyday, so while my attention was diverted, I managed to walk smack into a parking meter – number 4713, and I know that because it is imprinted on my chest.
We were walking along this fairly narrow sidewalk two abreast in couple order: B&C, B&J, and B&A. It turns out that Amy had just narrowly missed meter number 4712 and uttered a barely audible "Oh" just before I THUNKED into 4713. Brian caught the whole thing: me collapsing around the immovable meter like a limp jellyfish then bouncing back with the look of "what the …" He began to laugh – laugh so hard that he wet his glasses and was forced to remove them to prevent further damage. Once I regained reality, I turned around to see what the hell Brian was laughing at. It was me, so I began to laugh too. Brian was doubled over in one of those silent laughs where you are laughing so hard you can’t breathe and when you can’t breathe, you can’t make laughing noises. From that moment on, all you have to say is parking meter or utter the number 4713 and Brian takes off.
Eventually we got to the Glacier Brewhouse. We had been moving steadily upscale from The Tooth, and this was the top of the heap. We all were a little trepidatious about our chances of being thrown out, but hey, we are tourists – with tour guides. We got our beers and the requisite halibut balls – neither was up to our previous standards. We also got some other stuff, but I don’t remember what it was. Our server was Wes, a transplant from TN who loves Malibu and Hawaii. What the hell? Is this guy some kind of masochist or what? Not surprisingly, Wes didn’t like Wayne’s. Malibu and Wayne’s are polar opposites, so Wes wound up at the bottom of our server list. It had been a long day, so we decided to head for Mizewell to rest up for tomorrow.
On the way out, we decided to make a pee stop before starting the drive home. Okay, this was an experience. The brewhouse is located in the ground floor of a much larger building and there were some shops, happily closed at this hour, between the brewhouse and the restrooms. The shops had plate-glass windows filled with items for sale. Two of the items for sale were life-sized, anatomically exaggerated, and suggestively clad female torsos that served as the base for what would otherwise be artistically designed lamps. Oh yeah, I would get a lot of serious reading done with one of those sitting at my side. Pass the corn huskers lotion and towels, please.
Once we got past the shop windows, we had to negotiate a narrow hall to get to the restroom. I found myself swaying from side to side as I walked down the hall. Hey, what’s going on? I retraced my steps to see what was causing me to tilt about – certainly it wasn’t the beer, right? My investigation vindicated my suspicion. The goddamned floor was not level. Now why would any body put an undulating floor between a brew pub and a restroom? Sadist. They must be sadists. Or maybe they have a video cam set up and sell their product to Candid Camera. Or it was a way for tourists to experience an earthquake without the trauma of experiencing an earthquake. Whatever, it wasn’t the beer, so I was happy.
Did you hear the story about the bungee jumper who did a 120 foot jump with a 126 foot bungee rope? B&A tried to recreate it with a stretchy tie-down they found in the back of DUNNO and the little hooky thing on the back of my shirt. I had been sitting in the seat next to the cargo door and jumping out of the van at each stop. Unbeknownst to me, B&A had attached the shock cord between the seatbelt support and my shirt loop. However, this time, for whatever reason, I decided to just slither out the door like Plastic Man after a hard day. Peals of laughter erupted from the back seat, which when I turned around to see the reason, provided enough tension to pull me back. Not exactly as planned, but a pretty good ending to a most enjoyable day. PIC
This was my favorite Anchorage day. It will live forever in my memories and salt my recollections (and stories) for the rest of my life. Good friends and good times cannot be beat. Oh, did I tell you about Bob’s method of beautifying the roadside by planting wildflowers with his 357 magnum? Seems he replaces the slug with little packets of seeds then drives down the road blasting them into the road cuts. Neat, hunh? Hey, it’s a tough life but someone has to live it. The education of Brian continues … Amy: "There’s going to be some serious deprogramming when we get home."
The upstairs floor plan of Mizewell is arranged along a common hall with the master bedroom (B&C’s, duh) at one end and the guest bedroom we were occupying at the other. In between were B&A’s room and a common guest bath. Needless to say, after all the gastronomic delights, especially the garlic and beer, B&C and P&J, being the more experienced of the group, slept with both windows and doors open. B&A opted for the isolationist solution and kept their door closed. At some point during the nighttime twilight, Amy needed to use the bathroom. She opened their bedroom door and was forced to rethink the whole process when faced with the gaseous emanations that were lingering in the hall. I don’t know if she actually got to the bathroom or not, but I can tell you her hair was nicely curled. Good thing none of us smoke ;-)
6/10/03 Chugiak to Anchorage
This day dawned with the utter surprise that we weren’t hung over – well, not as much as we expected. My chest? Well, it was a little sore. As we gathered in the kitchen to plan the day’s activities, I, for whatever reason, looked up into Brian’s face and declared, "I am … therefore you are not." It seemed insightful and profound at the time.
Yesterday was a fact-finding tour of Anchorage and today we were gonna spend some money, goddamnit. We dropped the ladies off at a shoreline trail for a wildlife walk (appropriately, it was spitting rain) while the boys looked for boy toys. Now that’s a switch: girls taking a hike while boys shop. Today, we had much more success with the sound system stuff, although we didn’t actually purchase anything. Brian didn’t find any cheap guitars or mandolins but he did score a good multi-meter. Before leaving, Amy channeled Brian’s brain with, "Brian Thomas, look at ME" whereupon she implanted the phrase, "My, that looks like a wonderful instrument at a great price, but no thanks. I do home improvement, or as we like to call it, catastrophic carpentry, and I’d much rather have something practical like a volt-ohm meter." Bob gave him his violin as compensation. Of course, the excursion involved a lot of DALAS between appointed stops.
When we got home, we discovered that the Buffett CD I bought for Bob in a pawn shop actually contained a Madonna CD. We all hate the bitch, but laughed anyway. Bob made a killing with a buy-five-for-the-price-of-a-three deal on DVDs. It turns out that the Soprano’s box had four disks rather than the two he thought it contained – an honest mistake that resulted in getting seven DVDs for the price of five. Sorta makes up for the Madonna thing, I suppose.
When we returned to Mizewell, Bob mixed up a batch of "Boat Dish" while we all listened to music and generally continued the laughter, gaiety, and merriment that we have been experiencing in the Hotel Sheets nightly – from an old 78 by Guy Marks: Your Red Scarf Matches Your Eyes. Most appropriate because at some point in the first week of over indulgence, I placed my face up close to Janie’s and asked, "Is there ANY white in my eyes?" It was a good day of fun and relaxation, which was necessary for the blitz that was to come.
This would be a good place to introduce "The Word of the Day" concept. As if our lexicon was not overflowing enough, I decided to introduce a word for each day. I can’t remember the exact day each word popped into my addled brain, so I’ll just list them here for your edification.
Lagniappe: A small gift presented by a storeowner to a customer with the customer's purchase. A little unexpected addition. We’ve used this word before on these pages. The word came up in reference to B&A. B&C had been beseeching us to come visit for twenty years, but we were too busy or too shy to do it – just plain stupid would better explain it. Finally, when we did visit, we brought B&A, a little lagniappe, you see.
Kafuffle/Kerfuffle: I can’t find it in any of my digital resources, and I’m too lazy to go look it up in hardcover. I think it can be used like brouhaha, fracas, or furor. Whatever, we had been in a kafuffle fog since leaving Geneseo. It CAN be a good thing, you know.
Interrabang: This is the punctuation mark that combines "?" and "!" into one symbol and would be used to punctuate statements like, "What the hell (interrabang ?!)" I recall it being introduced years ago and thought it was a good idea, although it never made it to any keyboard I know. Almost all of our AK experiences ended with an interrabang.
Hudespelder: I believe this is an Ohio-ism that can be attributed to my mother. It can be used like thing-a-ma-jig, as in "Where is the hudespelder that fits in this thing-a-ma-jig?" I have always pronounced it hudespelter, but Janie thinks it is hudespelder. I defer to her – always a wise course of action, if you are interested in saving your hudespelder.
Concatenate: To connect or link in a series or chain; to arrange (strings of characters) into a chained list. I first learned this term while reading IBM computer manuals back in ’83. It seemed to describe our configuration on Clementine. Not to suggest that it was cramped, but just that putting six people on a 40 foot boat involves some concatenation.
Borborygmus: A rumbling noise produced by the movement of gas through the intestines. This is a most appropriate term for the whole adventure. I’ve always thought it was borborythmic, which seems ever so much more lyrical, but the damned dictionary has it listed as borborygmus. What do they know?
Soooo, the lagniappes and we left Geneseo in a perpetual kafuffle to concatenate with B&C and play with Bob’s hudespelders. It was quite the borborygmic experience (interrabang)
Oh, there was another one: God damn it, Billy. When Bob was growing up, the parents of a boy living down the street had some trouble with their son, Billy. Bob was constantly hearing them yell, "God damn it, Billy" and "Billy, you’re going to be a goddamned faggot." Thus, when something unexpected goes wrong, Bob can be heard saying, "God damn it, Billy." There can be several variations depending on which word you emphasize. There are subtle differences between "God DAMN it, Billy", "Goddamnit, BILLY", "Goddamn IT, Billy", and "God damnit, BILLY". All have their appropriate uses. One morning I found myself sitting with a bad case of the chuckles while contemplating the subtleties of the usages. In fact, I have a Cheshire Cat grin right now. Oh, don’t forget the "Billy, you’re going to be a goddamned faggot" thing. That also comes in handy at times. Must have been a great family, eh? Wonder whatever happened to poor Billy?
6/11/03 Chugiak to Denali
The weather was here, I wish you were beautiful. We had been planning a plane ride around Denali but the weather was not cooperating. Well, today, Denali was visible from Mizewell’s front window, so Bob finalized the arrangements – longer flight for less money, how does he do it?! – and we headed for Talkeetna, home of Summit Air Tours.
Our flight was scheduled for 3 PM, so there was no need to hurry the noon balloon along. As has become our morning custom, we drifted in and out of the kitchen to munch breakfast goodies and engage in banter with whatever grouping was present. It became a constantly changing scene of story telling and idle prattle with the topic changing as participants faded in and out of the scene. I was constantly going to the computer/music room to swap CDs for ripping, and while I was going back and forth, there were conversations that I’m only now learning about. PIC For example, I missed the Amy to Brian "Look at me" exchange, but the several reenactments have burned it into my memory.
We headed to Talkeetna at a leisurely pace, you know, just DALAS. We stopped in Palmer for gas, and wouldn’t you know it, there was a Fucking Fred Meyers right next door. While Bob took care of the gas thing, Char went to Freddies to pick up some corn fritters (with lots of honey butter) and some grapes. I don’t know what happened to the grapes, but I do know the corn fritters were delightful, especially when dipped in the soft butter.
We took a little drive through Talkeetna – it took less than five minutes. Apparently they were having a fund-raiser for a radio station. We saw a beat up old truck parked by the road with a big sign on the windshield saying "Bid on this truck NOW." Talkeetna is a tourist town that serves as the staging area for those going to or just looking at Denali (locals still refer to it as McKinley).
Amazingly, we had arrived with time for a leisurely lunch at the Latitude 62 restaurant/inn/bar. Nearly every little town has one of these hybrids. Back in the days of traveling by dog sled, there were inns located at intervals of one day’s travel. Of course, modern traveling technology has increased the distance traveled, but some of the old inns or their descendants still exist, and Latitude 62 (longitude 150) is one of them. It is one of those places that didn’t need to order its appointments from a theme bar catalog; it all came natural: moose head, some walrus body parts, dart award plaques (seems there are only two teams in the dart organization, so you are perpetually either first or last), a rustically cozy bar populated by locals (we fanaticized that one of them might be our pilot and Bob told a story about doing shots with a guy who turned out to be a pilot), and happily obese career waitresses – ours was Candee who professed to be a local but seemed to have a bit of a southern lilt. PIC
Nearly all of us followed Bob’s lead and ordered the bacon-cheese burger with fries and a local beverage known as Pick Axe Porter. It was all very yummy. We tried to follow the lead of the guy yesterday and have fries with our catsup, but we clearly are not in his league. Now remember, this was BEFORE taking the flight. We were all a little concerned about eating before flying, but what the hell, you spins the wheel and takes your chances, eh? Don’t kill my buzz, Moha.
A lesson for anyone who tries to pick up the tab before Bob: After eating, Bob will feign going to the restroom when he is actually arranging with the waitress to cover the bill. When you are with Bob and want to exercise your Midwestern, guilt-reducing right of picking up a bill, you have to get the server’s attention first thing – just after being seated and certainly before ordering – and whisper in his/her ear, "Do NOT let this man pay the bill" while clandestinely pointing in Bob’s direction. Although I know this, it is ever so easy to forget when one is faced with the kafuffle of arriving with a festive attitude in a new place that offers fine food and drink. Your attention is clouded with anticipation and your thoughts are confused by a barrage of giddy comments like "look they have fresh oysters" or "look at those pies". Good lord, the mind reels with thoughts of succulent raw oysters and chunks of syrupy pie topped with mountains of whipped cream or fluffy white meringue. You just tend to forget about the paying thing, but Bob, being ever resourceful, has a plan and he almost always wins, which leaves the rest of us steeping in cholesterol-soaked guilt.
After lunch, we headed to the flight terminal at the airport, which happened to be located just behind the restaurant – Talkeetna is small, you know. We had to weigh in with all the gear we expected to take aboard. Okay, so that includes our clothes, right? Little, itty-bitty Amy was amazed by how much she weighed with her binoculars, camera, sweatshirt, and recently consumed lunch. The girl behind the counter found that humorous, and allowed as she always takes off her pants before weighing herself. She’s sure they weigh at least 30 pounds. Hmmm, we offered her the scale but she giggled demurely and refused to remove her pants. There was the usual blitz of activity, the kafuffle thing, but I managed to beat Bob with our Discover card, so I had a guilt-free plane ride.
We continued what we thought was witty banter with the help and each other and discovered the hats and tee-shirts for sale along the far wall. They had these really nice hats that say "Denali National Park". Well, that’s what I thought they said the first three times I looked at them. Once Janie pointed it out to me, I realized it said "Denial National Park." Well, I just had to have one of those – I think we bought four or five of ‘em – hey, they were only $6 and the Denali-Denial thing pretty much symbolizes the trip. I’m wearing mine at this very moment ;-)
We noticed a young, good-looking guy wearing one of those safari-expedition shirts sorta hanging around looking official. He turned out to be Trent, our pilot. The planes are ten-seat, twin-engine Pipers. Okay, let’s do the math. There are six of us and Trent makes seven. Thus, there must be three unfortunate souls who will be joining us – remember the beer and garlic of yesterday and beer and fries today. Bob, being the biggest and only flight-certified member of the passengers, got to sit in the co-pilot seat. When Trent learned that Bob was a pilot also, he asked if he had flown planes such as this. "Oh, yes, but they don’t allow me to any more since I tried to land without putting the landing gear down. Picky, don’t you think?" PIC PIC
The flight was beyond description. Trent took us to altitude by cutting gentle S-turns while going up large glacial valleys. We eventually got to 20,000 ft, but couldn’t see the actual summit due to building clouds. Trent apologized because we missed the summit, but we had a different opinion. We were very grateful for having missed the summit ;-) That’s just one example of the morbid sense of language associated with air travel: you make a "final" approach to the "terminal" and so forth … PIC
PIC-Page After circling around the only partially visible summit, we headed into – and I mean INTO – a large glacial trough, which I believe is the head of Ruth Glacier. Jason, this is for you: at one point, Trent took us to an essentially vertical 6,000 foot rock wall. I think it is called the Wickersham Wall. The glacier at the base is over 3,000 feet deep, so the entire valley wall is something like 10,000 feet. Whew! The size of the rock wall dwarfed our plane, so we felt like we could reach out and touch it. Someone asked how far we were from it, and Trent casually replied, "About a quarter mile." Hey, a quarter mile is only 1300 feet or about 4 football fields away, and we were traveling at 180 mph. That was close enough for me.
When you schedule a flight over Denali, you have the option of flying over like we did or actually landing on a glacier like Barone planned to do this week and maybe Gretchen will do next week. Lots of Geneseo people are touring AK this year. Trent flew over a couple places where they land on the glacier. He would say, "See the red plane just landing on the glacier down there?" We would strain our eyes and eventually pick out a tiny little red cross just touching down on the white glacier. Once we saw it, we could make out the plane’s ski tracks and where they turn around before taking off again. Once we got more accustomed to the scale (you never really get used to it, however), we were able to see a white plane landing on the white ice. I was a little put off that we were focusing on the human aspects rather than the grandeur of the natural scenery surrounding us, but it did provide us with a good visual image of the scale of the whole thing – it is HUGE.
The main glacial valley we were following was three miles wide. There had been a recent snowfall at the higher elevations, so it was a pristine white up at the top. Once we got below the snow line, we could see the huge crevasses that form over an ice fall. Each of the blocks must have been building size. One can’t imagine how they could be successfully traversed, but they have been.
A little farther down valley, we were treated to the amazing image of melt water pools on the ice. Melt water is laced with glacial rock flour, which gives it a milky appearance. When viewed from the proper angle, the water has a brilliant, jewel-like deep azure-blue color. This is due to the refraction of the various colors of the spectrum. The blue end has the shortest wavelength and is refracted less than the red end. Thus, the water appears blue, which is enhanced by the presence of the finely divided rock flour. The upshot is a pretty blue that stands out dramatically against the white of the glacier. These "little" lakes were the highlight of the trip for those of us whose minds are drawn to the small-scale oddities. However, these lakes are not little. Trent said he had a fantasy about kayaking one of them. "How big are they?" we asked. "Oh, big enough to kayak for days" was the reply. Scale, there is always a problem with scale in Alaska. [Here is how I started typing the last sentence: 23103s 57343n 9w808208q. Some kind of code? Nope. It seems I had my fingers one row too high, eh? Almost never a dull moment in my world.]
We could see a major storm brewing over the mountains in the distance behind us – right where we had come from. The weather can change abruptly in the high county. Even Trent was amazed. He told us how fortunate we were. The peaks were cloud covered while we were lunching at Latitude 62, they cleared for our hour and a half flight, and now they are clobbering (my word) up. We had a fortunate window to view one of the wonders of the North American continent. I’ve been teaching glacial features to introductory students for 26 years. Many of the pictures I used came from these glacial valleys. It was most rewarding to see them in the flesh, as it were. It was a spectacular over-flight that cannot be adequately conveyed in words. Even the pictures fall far short of what the human eye can perceive. You just have to experience it for yourself to appreciate the grandeur of such a natural wonder. It is humbling.
Trent brought us down slowly and landed masterfully. I was most impressed with his technical skills. Not only the flying, where he had to maintain a constant heading while tilting the plane so we could see what was below, but also with the explanations. He provided good detail while not constantly babbling or filling the silence with unnecessary imperative, which would have been easy to do: "Look at that HUGE block of ice." Bob had told him that we were geologists, and he didn’t seem the least bit inhibited, nor was he the least bit arrogant about his knowledge. This is an impressive young man with a bright future. Bob saw to it that he got a sizable tip for his effort. Trent was holding the door as we deplaned. Most everyone thanked him for a great flight (no barf bags needed). As I passed by, I shook his hand, paused a moment, and gave him a big hug. That’s how I felt about the adventure.
Oh, I should tell you about the gas masks. The plane is not pressurized, so we had to wear gas masks once we topped 10,000 feet or so. The gas masks cannot be reused because of the SARS thing, so we all opted to take ours as a souvenir. They provided complimentary containers of Capris Sun, which Trent suggested we sip on the descent if we are having trouble with our ears popping. None of us did, so we took that, too, and we put it all in the Febreeze scented garbage bag that served as the "emergency air sickness container". I quickly learned that the scent of Febreeze was more upsetting than any other part of the flight for me.
We had scandalized the flight operations room so much that they wanted to get our picture with Trent and the plane. We, of course, had planned to do it anyway with our cameras, but they wanted to take one with their camera for their "records" – or to document us as barf bag thieves. We drank our Capris Sun while we were waiting for everyone to get organized – I’m always wearing mine, so I don’t need to be organized, if you know what I mean.
As I was standing there with a disconnected gas mask in hand, the thought occurred to me that we should wear our gas masks for the picture. I put my mask on and found myself standing there with the disconnected end in my hand. Hmmm, it is a gas mask, and I do have gas, so I naturally reached around and placed the end in my butt. I found that amusing on a couple levels. What a way to commit suicide, was one of the thoughts, and, hey, so that’s why they call it a gas mask was another. I was standing there "connected" and amusing myself, or so I thought. Although it was a momentary, and private, gesture on my part, it did not go unnoticed by one of the maintenance guys who was standing nearby. Brian caught the whole scene including the maintenance guy chuckling up his sleeve, and he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. I expect the imagery was spread around the hanger area all afternoon. Oh well, it seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do with an unattached gas mask hose.
We gathered around the plane with Trent while Young Lady Who Takes Off Her Pants To Weigh In (her name was Amy, but to avoid confusion, we’ll use the more descriptive, Native American sounding name) took pictures with all of our and their cameras. No, I didn’t repeat the tube in the butt thing in any of the pictures, although Brian, dear boy, did demand a "repeat" performance once we got back to Mizewell. PIC
We had a few beers and relived the adventure with each telling their favorite part. It was a totally awesome day: the DALAS, corn fritters w/honey butter, the Latitude 62 experience, the flight over Denali, and the great beer Bob had in the frig just for us. We topped it off with a pizza, which Brian managed to pay for by intercepting the delivery guy in the driveway while pretending to practice playing his new fiddle. You see, the Tutelage of Brian is working ;-) PIC
6/12/03 Chugiak to Valdez
Brian drove B&C to Anchorage to catch a commuter plane to Cordova. You see, there is no road connecting Anchorage and Cordova were Clementine was docked, so B&C were going to bring Clementine to Valdez while we drove DUNNO over to meet them. Clementine can do about 7 knots; DUNNO goes a little faster. It was 300 mile drive for us (AK is BIG, y’all) , a shorter trip for them, and both trips were expected to take about the same length of time.
Amy, Janie, & I were up and packing when Brian returned. We had a bite to eat, loaded DUNNO, and headed out on our adventure – just DALAS, you know. Brian volunteered to do the driving, which was fine with me because I do the driving on our trips. With Brian doing the DA, I could do a lot more LAS. Bob kept telling us, you can’t get lost in AK. When you get to a main road, you either go this way or that way. If you get off the main road, it will go this way for awhile and then dead end, so you have to turn around and go that way to the main road. We went that way up AK 1, the Glenn Highway, retracing our route to Talkeetna. However, this time when we got to Matanuska, instead of turning on AK 3, the George Parks Highway, we continued on AK 1, to Glennallen where we picked up AK 4, the Richardson Highway, to Valdez. PIC PIC PIC
The quality of the road was amazingly good – much better than what we encountered in northern Maine. The scenery was spectacular, even by Alaska standards. Physiographically, we drove though heavily glaciated coastal mountains up to the central plateau and then back down through more glaciated coastal mountains to Valdez. The coastal plains and river valleys are absolutely choked with outwash derived from the mountains. The road from Matanuska to Glennallen follows the Matanuska River up to its source, the Matanuska Glacier – duh. Near its mouth, the Matanuska Valley is broad and flat with the river entrenched in the outwash. As we headed up the valley, it narrowed and eventually the glacial source revealed itself.
After leaving the Matanuska Valley, the road follows small, more rugged tributary valleys. At one point, there was a pull off with a sign explaining the gloriously colorful rock exposure on the valley wall. The exposed rock represents the upper portion of a pluton. The heat and fluids from the intrusion hydrothermally altered the overlying material forming gypsum which was turned red by oxidized iron. Mountain sheep come to the outcrop to obtain necessary salts. We all agreed that it looked a lot like the Big Rock Candy Mountain of the lower 48, although none of us know if the genesis is the same. PIC PIC
To paraphrase John Hiatt: She mighta run cold for you, but DUNNO runs hot for us. I opted to wear baggy shorts over midnight blue Jockeys. The shorts have a stretchy waistband and no belt. Whenever I wear them, I just can’t keep from slipping them up and down – it’s a freedom I don’t normally get to experience. Anyway, there I was absent-mindedly sliding my pants up and down when Amy caught a glimpse of what we later referred to as the Blue Moon. Whatever, I was comfortable and enjoying the hell out of myself, and the incident didn’t seem to bother Amy all that much.
They were re-engineering the road where it crosses a rambunctious stream near the summit. This spring, the stream had washed out one of the bridge piers, and, because they have to rebuild the bridge, they decided to re-grade the road in that area. Doing road work in such vertical terrain is a major undertaking. Abundant avalanche scars attest to some of the problem. There were signs warning travelers about possible blasting activity, so Brian was all excited. Alas, we didn’t get to see any blasting going this way or coming back that way. PIC
Eventually we went through a pass at the base of Gunsight Mountain and popped out onto the relatively flat inland plateau. PIC We had brought Bob’s gazetteer so we could get the names of the prominent mountains, lakes, and glaciers. When we looked at the map of the plateau area, it was shot full of little lakes – it looked a lot like those road signs that "sportsmen" blast with shotguns. The lakes are probably kettles formed during the last major glaciation. Lake Louise, one of the largest of these lakes, has been developed for hunting, fishing, and tourism and has a well-graded gravel road leading to it. We drove down the road a bit and stopped to relieve my full bladder. As soon as we opened the door, we were inundated with mosquitoes and gnats. What a coincidence: lakes and mosquitoes. We beat a hasty retreat back to the main road. Wimps, we are just wimps from the lower 48.
Glennallen, which is a little over halfway to Valdez, was the first town since Palmer. Janie needed some stamps, so we stopped at the PO. In our previous travels, POs were always easy to spot – just look for the prominently displayed flag. However, since 9/11 and the Iraq thing, there are lots of flags, so we had to do some exploration to find the PO. While poking around, we also looked for a place to have lunch. As it turns out, the one we picked was for sale, so we headed for the Caribou, a more touristy restaurant/inn/trinket place on the west side of town. We tested the Caribou burgers, which tasted like bad beef – maybe it was. We found the salad bar more satisfying. After lunch, the ladies checked out the gift shop while Brian and I picked our teeth and prepared our packages for the remainder of the journey. They reported that the most interesting thing in the shop was the Gray Poopon Mooseturd. We didn’t get any.
Amy was on the lookout for moose and bear as we drove through the plateau region. Bob had told us that we were likely to see some, but, alas, we came up empty. Amy got pretty emphatic, however, and resorted to staring out the side window chanting, "Here, moosey, moosey, moosey." We did see a dilapidated, out of business amusement enterprise that advertised "See the drunken forest – FREE." What’s up with these AK businesses? Up on the plateau, the unstable glacial glop tends to slump, which causes spruce trees growing on it to tilt, resulting in the drunken forest thing. You can see these tilting trees almost anywhere, so why would anyone stop at a fenced in area to see them – even if it is free?
As we drove through the Glennallen area, we could see three large mountains looming on the horizon: Drum, Sanford, Wrangell. It was awesome. PIC They tower high above the surrounding terrain and are heavily glaciated. We stopped at a pullout where there was a sign explaining that Wrangell is a large shield volcano – currently active. From that moment on, Amy changed her tune from, "Here moosey, moosey, moosey" to "come on volcano, blow." We all agreed that it would be nice to see a volcano vent, but only if we were clearly upwind.
The Alyeska Pipeline comes down from Prudhoe Bay to Glennallen and then follows the Richardson Highway to Valdez. The pipeline is only above ground, as seen in news articles and textbooks, where it crosses unstable ground or permafrost. Remember the drunken forest? Well, the unstable ground in the area requires the pipeline to be above ground, and we caught our first glimpse of it just down the road from Glennallen. We pulled into a roadside exhibit where you could walk right up to the pipeline and read the information kiosks that explained the main features. Brian had told Bob that he was going to play his new-to-him violin under the pipeline – and he did that very thing. A little farther down the road, we came to Pumping Station number 12. These pumping stations are huge. They not only pump the petroleum through the pipeline, they also have housing for maintenance crews and all the equipment necessary to keep it all going. Bob told us a story about the drunken native that shot the pipeline with his moose rifle and got splattered with hot petroleum for his efforts. Brian put his ear to the pipe and pretended to hear the petroleum pulsing through. The girls almost fell for it, until they remembered the sign saying there was over a foot of insulation around the pipe. Nice try, Bri. Oh, the pipeline motto is: We didn’t know it couldn’t be done. Look at that for a moment. First, it is a double negative. Second, ignoring the double negative, the only proper interpretation would be that it was not completed. But there it was in its full glory for all to see – and fiddle under. PIC PIC PIC PIC PIC
The most exotic wildlife we saw were two trumpeter swans in a marshy area along the road. PIC We did see lots of evidence of beaver, but none of the rapscallions themselves. We were running ahead of schedule, so we decided to poke around on a side road, which turned out to be an older, abandoned version of the Richardson Hwy. PIC Needless to say, there was no traffic. At one point, we had to get out and move some trees that had been swooshed onto the road by an avalanche. PIC We still didn’t see any moose, but we did see lots of mooseturds, from which the Gray Poopon is made, eh? Eventually, the road was covered with water, and we were fearful that the pavement might be undermined – hello, Bob, we are not lost, but we are stuck in a stream – so we turned around and headed back to the new Richardson. PIC
Just before entering Thompson Pass, we came upon Worthington Glacier, which has been developed into a park of some sort. The glacier used to come right out to the road, but has receded hundreds of yards since. As you enter the park, you pass an end moraine and a moraine-dammed lake, and then park essentially at the base of the glacier. It must have been around 8:00; it is difficult to keep a time perspective in the land of the midnight sun. All of the park facilities seemed to be new. There were nice benches with wooden slats attached to aluminum supports. The supports must not have been strong enough to support the weight of the 600 inches of snow they get there annually because some of the backs were bent down to a nearly horizontal position – they looked more like laid back chaise lounges than upright park benches. We hiked up a lateral moraine and took pictures of the little glacial valley below. It was like having your own pet glacier; very tame, but very accessible and containing all the characteristic features. PIC
Brian picked up a rock – shhhh, don’t tell the park people – that became the symbol for the trip. It was a piece of bedrock-quartz vein interface, so one side was dark gray and jagged and the other side was milky white and jagged. Thus, if you held it with the dark gray down, it looked like the snow covered mountains we had been driving through. If you turned it over with the gray side up, it looked like the mountains looming over PWS, which we were about to experience on our Clementine cruise.
We were treated to several little waterfalls as we descended from Thompson Pass and entered into Keystone canyon. The waterfalls can be called "little" in retrospect. Keystone Canyon is occupied by the Lowe River and the highway – that is all that will fit between the essentially vertical walls. The Lowe, though small at this elevation, was at least as large as the Genesee and moving a lot faster over a jumble of rocks. As we turned a bend and crossed over the Lowe one more time, we could see wet road and clouds of mist ahead. When we got a little closer, we caught a glimpse of the really big falls, Bridal Veil, as it falls hundreds of feet straight down the canyon wall. It is inadequate to call this a waterfall; it was much more like a waterbash. The water was not just falling on the rocks below, it seemed to be hurling itself like the end of a bull whip when it snaps. It was, like the rest of Alaska, difficult to describe and impossible to capture in a photograph. You will just have to go see it for yourself. PIC PIC
Shortly after exiting from Keystone Canyon, we crossed over the Valdez delta formed by the Valdez River that issues from the Valdez Glacier and ends in PWS at the town of … Valdez. We saw an eagle soaring over the delta, which we interpreted as a good sign for things to come.
We drove around Valdez, not realizing how small it is, while searching for the pleasure boat docking area. We could see several working boats tied up at the dock, but didn’t expect the pleasure and commercial boats to be intermingled. We stopped at the harbor master’s office, but it was after eleven, so it was closed. Fortunately, a man was walking by, and he asked if we needed help. Well, yes, we do. Where do we find pleasure boat docking area? He told us the transients dock at B or H. Ah, so all the boats dock here and the piers are designated with letters. How clever. We looked for Clementine, but she was not to be found. We decided to get something to eat and then check again afterwards.
While looking for the docks, we had seen an Inn with an attached bar and people going in and out. Bar food, we could do some bar food – and some hoppy water, for that matter. I went in to check it out and nearly lost the little bit of hearing that I still retain. There was a live band who made up for lack of talent with loud playing. Loud and bad is not a good combination for me – even Brian agreed – so we drove up to another bar. Again, I went in to check it out. It was smoky, but there was no loud music. I sauntered up to a couple of working guys sitting at the bar, put my hand on one of their shoulders, and asked where a guy could get something to eat in this town. The guy, in his thirties, turned slowly to face me while taking a puff on his nearly consumed cigarette. He looked me over and, I kid you not, uttered these very words, "Don’t ask me, I’m just a drunk."
Okay, we headed for the next bar, one we had seen over by the docks. Again, I went in to see what was going on. Good news, I saw a big ol’ pizza in one of those tres elegant stemmed pizza platters sitting on the bar. Again, I asked the two gents sitting near the door about the possibility of getting food. The guy I asked turned out to be visiting, so he referred me to his friend, who was a local. Although he clearly qualified as a drunk, he didn’t advertise himself as such and proceeded to tell me about Mike’s next door. Then he looked at his watch and said, "Shit, it’s almost 11:30. Mike’s is closed. Your best bet is the grocery where you can get some sandwich stuff, but it closes at 11:30, so you better hurry." Now that was way more articulate and informative than I ever expected. On the way out, I popped in Mike’s and was told that the kitchen was closed. Damn, because Mike’s was clearly the author of that delightful looking pizza on the bar. Off to the grocery and the attached liquor store, neither of which closed until midnight. The ladies got some eats while Brian & I picked up some brews.
We took our loot to the dockside parking area and watched for B&C while we assuaged our hunger – and thirst. Janie, who wasn’t hungry, ended up eating almost all the food while Brian & I drank most of the beer. Amy? What was Amy doing? Well, she was trying to figure out why the moon was moving horizontally. We were blessed with an Alaskan moon rise. This time of year it doesn’t actually rise, like the sun doesn’t actually set. Rather, an Alaskan moon rise occurs when the moon pops out from behind a mountain peak. We were treated to just such an occurrence while sitting in the parking lot eating and drinking. It was a pleasantly warm evening and we had DUNNO’s doors open so we got a good view of the moon rise. It came from behind one peak and moved HORIZONTALLY until it disappeared behind the next mountain peak. How the hell does that work? Amy started doing contortions with one hand being the sun and the other being the moon and proclaiming that she has it figured out. She patiently tried to explain it to us, but we were more interested in just watching – and eating and drinking. Poor Amy, she tried so hard, but the rest of us still don’t get it. PIC
We came to the realization that B&C were not coming tonight, so we started looking for a motel room. Negotiating is another of Amy’s many talents, so we unleashed her on a couple motel clerks. She learned that the cheapest room was $155 for four, but since it was already 1:00 am, we could have it for $99. Done. We quickly moved into room 117 and prepared for bed. Brian was just finishing up in the bathroom and the rest of us were already in bed when it happened. It? What was the "it" I’m referring to? It was a fairly loud noise like someone had dropped a heavy suitcase against the common wall. However, unlike a suitcase thunk, this noise continued for several seconds. Amy immediately said "earthquake." Ah, yes, that’s what it was. I doubt that we would ever have figured it out. When Brian came out of the bath, Amy asked if he had felt the earthquake. Brian’s response was, "Hunh?" We are so very glad Brian came along on the trip, even though he missed that part of it.
For $99 we got a relatively clean bed, a hot shower, and an earthquake. Good deal, eh?
6/13/03 Valdez to Galena Bay
We got up at whatever time … I suppose it was around 10:00 … showered and dressed for the day. I was the first out, so I walked down to the harbor master’s office to see if B&C had checked in yet. There was an amusing middle-aged lady there – the harbor master? – who, when asked if Clementine had docked yet replied with, "No, I don’t think so, but I think they said they’d be here Saturday. Do you want me to hail ‘em?" Hmmm, this was Friday (the 13th), so yeah, go ahead and hail them, whatever that means. "Valdez hailing Clementine … Valdez hailing Clementine … are you there Clementine?" Nothing. Must be out of our radio range or in a cove behind a mountain. Hmmm, don’t see how they could be behind a mountain, do you? The whole damned place is fringed with mountains. The radio must only work for the boats in the harbor, eh? Alrighty then, we can have some breakfast and check out the sights in downtown Valdez – in full daylight.
The motel (it was called the Totem Inn … get it, Totem Inn … heehee) had an attached restaurant advertised as serving breakfast all day. Our room was on the back side of the motel and a couple doors down was a door to the restaurant. Unbeknownst to me, this was the back door. I took a couple hard looks at it and, remembering my experiences last night, decided that this was not a place I would like to see in full daylight. Amy had seen the restaurant the night before – from the front – so she didn’t hesitate to go right on it. Hey, if it is Amy approved, I’m there, so we all followed. Sure enough, it was a nice, although touristy, eatery complete with display cases of walrus tusks and other exotic animal parts. Our table was right in front of the big ol’ fireplace, which isn’t in use in the summer, and directly under a large moose head. I sat in a position to receive moose drool if it had been a living specimen. We had a mediocre breakfast that was sufficient to keep us going the rest of the day.
After breakfast, we decided to split up and meet down at the docks later. I don’t know what B&A did, but Janie & I walked down Main Street and went into the Valdez Museum. There was an entrance fee, and, as fate would have it, Janie was the umpteenth visitor, so she was selected to fill out a questionnaire. You’d think there would be some reward like free admission or something, but no, just the honor of spending ten minutes answering a bunch of questions written by a sociologist: Did you parents ever have sex?" Things like that.
The museum was very interesting, and I’m glad we did it. First of all, there was the restored turn-of-the-century fire wagon. It looked like it was right out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or at least a Jules Verne fantasy or maybe even a Rube Goldberg drawing. It was red with gilt scroll work and the valves, dials, and other appointments were chrome. There were about four chrome lanterns, and, in the back, what looked like two large chrome beer mugs. If they had not been on a fire wagon, they would have been beer mugs, and I still think they were beer mugs anyway. I fanaticized that they were for celebrating a successful run. Whatever, it was an amazing piece of equipment for a period when things were hand crafted by true craftsmen. I got to thinking about giving gifts. How unusual it is today to give a gift that you made yourself. There was a day when it was equally rare to give a store-bought gift. Times have changed.
The museum had a display depicting the history of the Richardson Highway. The highway goes north out of Valdez to Glennallen and on to Fairbanks. It was originally a dogsled route that later became a sleigh route, then a motorcar route, and now a modern highway. They had a picture showing about ten people getting into an open sleigh for a trip to Fairbanks. All ten of them had less luggage than Janie & I, and they were heading out on a trip that would take several days – in an open sleigh – in the snow. Egad, I just had to read about this. The attached article explained that there were inns located a day’s sleigh ride apart and showed the rustic nature of some of them. They were basically low stone structures with wooden roofs. Outhouse? I expect they had one, and you could use it if the snow wasn’t too deep.
Okay, so I was impressed with the sleigh ride to Fairbanks until I got to the picture that showed them hiking up the Valdez glacier to the snow field that capped the fringing mountains and then down the other side on the Klutina Glacier. From there, it was an "easy" walk to Glennallen and onward to Fairbanks. After flying over Denali and seeing ice falls close up, I can’t imagine walking up or down a glacier as a means of transportation – while carrying goods and possessions. I suppose it was easier and safer than climbing the avalanche-prone mountain walls or ridges. Those were the days when men were men and women were men, too.
Eventually, we found our way down to the docks where we were hailed by B&A and B&C from the decks of Clementine. After a short reunion greeting, we transferred our stuff to the boat and got ready to go cruisin’ around and lookin’ at shit (CALAS). The weather all day yesterday and this morning had been tourist perfect (just another shitty day in paradise), but, as you might expect, it began to deteriorate just as we got ready for the cruise. The wind was picking up, which meant the swells were swelling. Bob estimated them to be 4 or 5 feet, so we were in for a bit of bumpy start. Hey, if I make it through this, I’ll be okay for the duration. Brian Thomas: Holy rolling water and waves.
Before we entered open water, we needed to get some gasoline for the dinghy’s outboard, so Bob pulled Clementine over to the boat filling station at the port entrance. There was the most delightful young lady attendant. She was tall, thin with curly blonde hair and all bubbly like this was the best job in the world. I grabbed my wallet to pay for the gas. She said come in here. Here was an enclosed office-like thing, which was necessary shelter during inclement times. Well, okay, I like being in cramped places with giddy young women. I was keeping up a constant banter while she was figuring out the amount. I noticed a container of money and a sign that said "How’d you like my service?" I mentioned that although I had not been completely serviced, the service I did receive was just fine, so I tossed a buck and change into the container. This was one of those times when I wish I were a billionaire so I could leave a $1,000 tip. She was just a delightful young woman, who like nearly everyone we met in Valdez, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying life. Yay, Valdezians, or whatever they call themselves.
Okay, this would be a good time to mention that I am aqua-phobic and have never been on a boat before. Well, I’ve been in a row boat, and I’ve been on ferries – as few as possible. But I’ve never been on an ocean-going vessel before, so there was the potential for a little trepidation in my pants, if you know what I mean. Just after getting the gas, Bob got very serious and gave us a safety lecture. There will be no peeing over the side while the boat is moving. If you fall overboard while we are underway, there is almost no chance we can turn around and recover you before hypothermia sets in. This is glacial melt water and just above freezing. When you use the head, you will sit down. If you are found standing to pee, your clean clothes will be placed around the head to soak up the spillage – and you will be assigned the task of cleaning EVERYTHING. If anyone goes overboard, don’t take your eyes off them. Holler and yell, but never lose sight of them. If you are the first on deck, you will throw the life preserver in the water and try to snag the person with the line. Just as quickly as the serious Bob had appeared, the normal Bob returned with, now, when we are stopped or at anchor, we will be behaving as normally as people like us do. But when we are underway … PIC
Oh, by the way, shortly after leaving the harbor, Bob’s depth meter started registering strange numbers like 4.5 feet. Clementine draws five feet, so I was a bit alarmed. Yo, Bob, what’s up with the depth thing? Not to worry, the depth meter gets confused in very deep water. So how deep is it? Consulting the charts showed it to be 900 ft. Whoa! Say Bob, how deep does it get? Just ahead it drops to 1500 feet. Okay, this is a real fjord, eh? Now I better understand why they picked it as the deep-water port for those giganto tankers, which look like toys in this scale-bending terrain. PIC PIC PIC PIC
We were off bounding through the PWS Narrows and heading toward Galena Bay for the night. PIC B&C had the sound scouted out, so they knew where the nice little coves and bays are. I believe the hierarchy goes like this: sound, bay, cove, puddle. Whatever, the sound is studded with lots of bays and coves of various sizes. B&C have picked the little ones that are protected from the wind and extremely private. So we go from 5 ft seas on the sound to mirror smooth waters of Galena Bay. The water was so quiet that it seemed like we were on a Canadian lake somewhere. But this is sea water and full of sea creatures, which Brian was eager to haul aboard.
I didn’t know that Brian was into fishing, or feeshing, as we started to call it. PIC The boy’s eyes got real big while Bob showed him his gear – that would be his feeshing gear, dude. He actually started to drool when Bob handed him a pole and said, "Go fish." In a matter of a minutes Brian had caught a foot-long rockfish. However, he was hoping for salmon, so he tossed it back. A bit later he caught an eight-incher ... then a six incher, quickly followed by a four incher. Yo, Bri, you’re going the wrong way on the fish scale. Bigger is better; we have six mouths to feed, you know. Did it get better? No. He caught or should we say sampled such exotic things as sea slugs, jellyfish, and algae. Ah, but your day will come, my friend.
While Brian was feeshing, the rest of us were eagle watching. We saw an eagle perched in a tree as soon as we entered the bay. Shortly thereafter, we observed a second eagle landing. Ah, two adult eagles so close together suggest the presence of a nest. Yep, there it was just over there. Every bay or cove we stayed in was "eagle approved". Although we saw several pairs and their nests, we never saw any eaglets. PIC They didn’t seem to be incubating the eggs, nor were they feeding young. However, they were certainly exhibiting nesting behavior. In the lower 48, they would have started breeding in February, and by now there would be young fledglings. But up here in AK, the timing must be different. Whatever, we never saw a single immature eagle, so I just don’t know.
While we were anchored in these placid bays and coves, we experienced a most amazing phenomenon. Currents formed by the interaction of tides and inflowing streams caused the boat to pivot slowly around the anchor point. The result was a constantly changing view of the surrounding terrain. So, as we sat there engaged in drinking and conversation, the scenery changed as though we were watching a slow-motion nature documentary. It was a little disorienting at first. I found myself getting disoriented. "Where’s the eagle’s nest?" "Oh, just over … hmmm … where is it now?"
With no fish for dinner, we resorted to a delightful boat dish topped with flavorful sauces and washed down with some wonderful wine and beer. PIC Then it was time to sort out the sleeping arrangements. Bob insisted that they, B&C, sleep in the pilot house "so he would be near the controls in case of emergency." It was useless to argue with him, so we accepted his dictate – and our ensuing guilt. B&A were assigned the forward sleeping area and we got the hide-a-bed in the saloon. I know all the guests slept very well, but I’m not too sure about our overly gracious hosts. PIC
6/14/03 Galena Bay to Columbia Glacier
I woke early and looked out the window to see a pair of loons cruising around just off our lager side (we renamed port and starboard to porter and lager … makes more sense to me). I watched them for a bit before they dove to catch breakfast. I had to pee, so I headed to the poop deck, since we were still at anchor. So there I stood looking out at this most idyllic setting when suddenly my attention was drawn to a blur of motion coming from under the boat. What the (interrabang)?! Now that my attention was focused on the water, I got a good view of the second one. The two blurs were the loons "flying" underwater just beneath my feet. It was totally awesome. Their black and white speckled bodies were flying underwater at least as fast as they fly in the air. With their wings spread and being so near, they appeared to be huge. It was so amazing that I almost forgot to pee.
As soon as Brian got up, he was feeshing again. This time he caught a smallish greenling and a Sunflower Starfish with 12 arms. Bob turned the starfish over on its back so we could be entertained by its "feet" struggling to right itself. This marine environment is all new to us. We have a lot to learn. Eventually, Brian caught a keeper: 18 inch Pink Salmon. Ah, we have dinner for tomorrow. PIC PIC PIC
After breakfast, we weighed anchor – it was still 150 pounds – and headed across the sound to the terminus of the Columbia Glacier. Most of the glaciers are receding and the Columbia is no exception. That means lots of calving and lots of ice bergs. As we headed toward that night’s anchorage, Bob had to thread his way through increasingly dense and ever larger ice bergs. PIC Amy wanted to sample some ten-thousand-year-old ice, so Bob instructed Brian on how to capture the little bergs. He learned fast, and soon the swim step was filled with an assortment of glacial ice. PIC PIC
Brian enjoyed snagging ice bergs nearly as much as catching fish. He was especially interested in a big one with gravel-sized ice balls on top. PIC PIC He developed the technique of snagging the berg with his fishing lure and slowly – very slowly – pulling the berg to the boat … or pulling the boat to the berg. Once it was along side, he scraped the ice balls off the top for use in drinks later. Janie even got into the game by catching the smallest ice berg. It was barely as big as her lure. PIC
We eventually got to the mouth of Number One River, which issues from and flows just to the east of the Columbia. We anchored and Brian commenced to fish. He caught a 3-inch Irish Lord Sculpin, a couple small cods, and a whole bunch of Dolly Vardon trout. Because we didn’t know the origin of the Dolly Vardon name and because he caught so many of them, we renamed them Molly Ringwalds. Yeah, you would expect us to call them Dolly Partons, but they ended up being Molly Ringwalds. Surely you have learned to expect the unexpected from us?!
Bob filleted the salmon Brian caught in the morning and put the carcass in a shrimp pot. He said he was trying to catch shrimp, but it turns out that he was just playing with Brian’s head. It took Brian a couple hours to catch his non-keepers. When Bob pulled up the shrimp pot, it had thirteen non-keepers. See Brian, it’s easy if you just know how.
There were the requisite eagles and nest at this anchorage as well. In all of our other travels, it has been easy to identify eagles. They are so much larger than any of the other birds and fly with their characteristic broad-flat wings. It just isn’t that hard to identify an eagle. Well, I’ve been having trouble identifying these Alaskan eagles, and finally decided it was the scale thing. You see, in the lower 48, eagles are large compared to their surroundings, and they seem out of place. In Alaska, the eagles seem small compared to the vastness of the terrain, and they seem to fit into their surroundings more naturally. Yeah, that’s it. The eagles are oversized for the lower 48 and just right for Alaska.
Brian broke out the guitar and Bob pulled out his harmonicas, so we had live entertainment to accompany our evening beverages. Afterward, Bob served up Brian’s salmon, green beans & bacon, and garlic parmesan bread. Yummy!
Somehow the subject of explosive devices and cannons came up. Bob mentioned
that he has a small cannon on board, and when he asked "Would you like to
fire it?" Brian was like a little boy in a toy shop. Bob dug it out,
measured out the charge, and allowed Brian to tamp it home. He then installed a
small wad of aluminum foil and headed for the bow. It seems Bob may have done
this before because attaching the cannon on the anchor mount seemed very
routine. As soon as Bob placed the cannon, Char was standing by with the bungee
used to secure it. Before firing it off, Bob had to don his pirate garb,
however. He has a three-corner hat, a stuffed parrot (named Compass Rose), an
eye patch (half of a pair of clip-on sunglasses) and a nose ring (actually an
earring, but the youngsters suggested a nose ring would make him a
"modern" pirate. It was ever so colorful and … authentic. However,
it was rather painful when he tried to remove the nose ring. Next time he’ll
probably opt for the old-fashioned earring use. Bob touched off the cannon,
there was a large boom, and the smell of gun powder filled the air. Lord Tecnu
is in the
building boat. PIC
Later, we shooed everyone out of our bedroom so we could get rested up for the next day’s adventures. Man, this is the life. PIC
6/15/03 Columbia Glacier to Hidey Hole
Go figure, it was cold parked next to a glacier. We warmed ourselves with tankards of morning beverage and planned the day’s activities. Although we were near The Columbia Glacier, we couldn’t see it for a mass of material that separated the glacier and the stream mouth. Our first goal was to pick our way through the sea ice for a better view of the glacier. We did just that, and it was well worth the effort – Bob’s effort, the rest of us just sat around LAS.
Next we headed along the shore toward our next anchorage at/in Hidey Hole. We passed a rock ledge which served as a beach for a large group of sea lions. There was one obvious beach master and the rest were his harem and a collection of juveniles. PIC PIC They were grunting and wallowing around – kinda like us after a big meal. A little further down the shore, we encountered a raft of puffins. Janie & I had hoped to see puffins, and this was our chance. We got good views of both horned and tufted puffins, as well as Pigeon Guillemots and Pelagic Cormorants. But the best was yet to come …
It was after lunch and some of us were indulging in a post prandial dip PIC when we were awakened by Amy’s insistent "Whale, Whale, Whale". Bob saw the spout and headed off in that direction. We got close enough to see its back and fin as it dove after surfacing to breathe. It even rose out of the water to spy us. The eye is too small to see from that distance, but we are sure s/he was spying us. We lost track of the whale when our attention was diverted by a salmon shark. Never mind, there will be more whale sightings. Stay tuned.
We made it to Hidey Hole and were immediately rewarded with the sighting of two eagles and their nest. Where’s the nest? See the tallest tree, down to the right, in the first tier of branches, that clump (neither of us can remember the exact wording; can anyone help?). This pair was in the process of building their nest, so Alaskan eagles must raise their broods much later than those in the lower 48. PIC
Hidey Hole – or Hidey Ho as some of us called it – was so spectacular that it seemed unreal. There are hillsides of dark rocks and green meadows backed by rock and white snow fields. It was low tide and the beach rocks were exposed showing their enormous color variations: organically blackened splotches contrasted against bleached white and weathered buff. Additionally, the rocks were highly fractured and some were shattered as a result of recent tectonism. These Alaskan rocks have been highly abused. Like the other sheltered coves, Hidey Hole was mirror smooth. The quiet water reflected the pattern of the rocks so the entire shore looked like a Rorschach. More to the point, it looked very much like a Bev Doolittle painting. That is very appropriate because we are financing this trip with the money you all donated for our retirement so we could buy a Doolittle. Although we may not buy one, we got to actually live in one for a few hours. PIC PIC PIC
Once we were anchored, the boat did its slow-motion drifting in response to the ever-changing currents, and we were treated with a constantly changing view of the Doolittle-esque scenery. We took more pictures than could possible be displayed, and none of them capture the real imagery. However, the pictures will serve to stimulate our memories of the real thing for years to come. PIC PIC PIC
Brain caught a large rockfish, which we decided to keep. PIC Unfortunately, Bob was already well along in that evening’s meal preparation, so the rockfish was stored for another day. PIC PIC We "settled" for chicken satay grilled on the cutest little grill that fits on the fishing pole holders. PIC The satay was accompanied by Thai noodles and the usual amusing wines, hoppy beers, and story telling. How long do you suppose we could keep this up? It was all so very surreal: being in Alaska with B&C, traveling with B&A, the Doolittle-esque scenery, the meals, the wildlife, the ... just another shitty day in paradise, or as Char says, "We live in a postcard." PIC
B&A rowed the dinghy around Hidey Hole and took some nice pictures of Clementine – our home away from home. PIC PIC PIC
6/16/03 Hidey Hole to Eagle Bay
On our way into Hidey Hole, we had stopped at Gil’s oyster farm. PIC First of all let me say that this is the first and only human habitat we had seen since passing the narrows. Secondly, Gil wasn’t home, so no fresh oysters for us. On the way out of Hidey Hole, we checked again, but still no Gil. He must be on vacation in CA or something. We had reached the apex of our cruise, and we all realized we were on our way back to Valdez and eventually the airport. However, we choose not to acknowledge that the trip was winding down. Rather, we saw it as an opportunity to see and do more.
We awoke around eight and sat on the poop deck watching the eagles, Stellar’s jays, an exotic Alaskan song sparrow, and a hummingbird attacking the bright red fishing lure hanging at the ready for Brian. It was a clear, bright morning and very peaceful and relaxing. Small fish were jumping around the boat, and as we headed out, we could see bigger ones flaunting their elusiveness. Brian steeled himself for a big day of feeshing. PIC
In the distance, about halfway across the sound, we saw a spout. Bob headed toward it, and when we got near, we were privileged to witness not one but two and later three humpbacks cavorting in the water. Amy went nuts. She and Brian were sitting on the foredeck watching for spouts, and when she saw one up close, she jumped up and down shouting "Whale, whale, whale" – unfortunately, one of her jumps landed on Brian’s foot – the poor boy was wearing sandals. We were treated to a whale spectacular. We all got "wheeplash" watching them … spouting, blowing, diving, flipping us off with their tails, and breaching. PIC PIC It was another of those unbelievable moments. Did it really happen? Were we really there? PIC
After the whales, we headed back along the northern shore to the place where the sea lions were. I had to pee, so I was in the head when I heard a great roar from those above. As an aside, let me tell you that the window in the head is amazing. If you look at the pictures of Clementine, you will see that the saloon is surrounded by windows, so you can get a great view even when you are inside. The head has one smaller window, and all of us commented about the great view from the bathroom window. Why is that? We’ve had a similar experience with the small kitchen window in RVan. I finally decided that these smaller, framed views confine your attention so you focus on a small portion of the larger scene. Whatever, I was in the head looking up at the nearly vertical rock wall when I heard the shouts. Eventually, I looked down at the water to see what they were yelling about. What I saw can only be described as a sea lion boil. There were scores of sea lions intertwining with each other like the snakes on Medusa’s head. And this was not way off in the distance; it was right next to the boat. Like so many other things, it was a surreal vision. PIC PIC PIC
I rushed topside for a better view. As I stood at the rail, one big ol’ boy rose out of the water and nuzzled the boat. Geeze, what if he had grabbed my leg? Goner, I would be, eh? The mass of what must have been playful juveniles collected at our stern, and Bob got the bright idea of tossing them the rockfish fillets we had stored in the frig. Now that was a hoot. They were obviously well fed because the treated the fillet like a football, passing it around from one to the other while cavorting in the water. Much like the loons I saw earlier, the sea lions fly under water. Unlike the loons, they twist and turn in what appears to be a spiral pursuit of pleasure.
We passed through puffins again and headed back toward Columbia Glacier. PIC The closer we got, the more ice bergs we saw. Some of them were groaning and others were collapsing and rolling. PIC Brian was trawling as we motored along. When you are trawling, if something takes the lure, you are supposed to shout "Fish On" so the pilot knows to throttle back and come help land the lunker. And lunkers there are. We saw an ad for a fishing excursion showing a guy and his 8 foot long, 440 pound halibut. Holy shit, that would fill the entire poop deck. Oh, in case you forget what you are supposed to yell in all the excitement of catching a lunker, it is printed right on the rod holder: Fish On. So, after a bit, Brian yells "Fish On" and starts reeling in what he hoped would be a big ‘un. He thought he could feel it run and such, but when he finally got it to the surface, it turned out to be a piece of kelp still attached to its anchor rock. He kept the rock as a souvenir.
Catching the kelp wasn’t Brian’s last or greatest fish adventure, however. I was in the pilot house with Bob while Brian was watching the downrigger on the poop deck. Bob remembered that we were crossing a sill, so he told me to go tell Brian to reel in the lines. Too late, Brian was heavily engaged in a "What the hell" moment. The downrigger pole nearly bent double and then the line snapped. Holy shit, what was that? Oh, you just caught rock bottom, Brian. And we lost most of the downrigger’s weight and several yards of line.
After the loss of the downrigger, Brian felt the need to redeem himself. He was a little hesitant to yell "Fish On" again, but this next time it turned out to be very appropriate. Brain is a novice fisherman compared to Bob, so when he hooked something that he couldn’t handle, he gladly passed the rod to Bob. This is literally the big one that got away. It was a real fish, not kelp or the bottom, and it took nearly all the line on the reel. Eventually the line snapped and whatever it was got away. Bob speculated that it might have been a shark, but we will never know.
All the excitement got to Amy, so she decided to try her hand at feeshing. She had fished before, but it was a long time ago, so it took a while for her to catch her casting groove. In fact, her first cast was pretty spectacular. She gave it a big ol’ windup and flung the pole to the porter side of the boat. Everything was perfect except for letting go of the line. We were all like those stupid dogs that watch the imaginary flight of a ball that never was tossed. The lure plopped innocently right below her feet. She noticed that fish were immediately attracted to it, so she just sort of swished it back and forth while chanting "Here, fishy, fishy." Eventually, she caught one of those exotic sea slugs and that was the end of her feeshing.
However, before throwing in the rod’n’reel, Amy did manage to master the casting thing. In fact, she got very good at it. Of course, once you get bit by the casting bug, you just want to cast farther and farther in ever-increasingly graceful arcs. The only problem is the backswing, which can be dangerous if you don’t pay attention. Amy would carefully bring the rod back in her backswing, check to see that it was clear, and then fix her eyes on the target before casting toward it. Unfortunately, just before casting she tends to pull the backswing a bit more. One of her casts actually managed to smack Brian with the lure. Fortunately, the hooks didn’t catch, so she almost but not quite managed to catch her honey for the second time. And she had been worried about Brian being a disaster waiting to happen. As it turned out, Brian should have been waiting for a foot-stomping, lip-snagging disaster to happen TO him!
Eagle Bay was approved in advance when we saw a pair of eagles perched on an iceberg just outside the entrance. PIC We later spotted an eagle at our anchorage so everything was as it should be. There was a little stream with a waterfall flowing into the bay, the whole bay was lined with cedars and spruce and there were Canada geese and mergansers near shore. It was another idyllic setting for our evening enjoyment. PIC Because we were saving the fish for tomorrow or to take home, we resorted to Costco "hot dogs" and German potato salad. Ah, but these are no ordinary hot dogs. They were scrumptious, as was the potato salad, wine, beer, ambience and company. PIC PIC PIC PIC
All day we had been seeing young salmon exercising their jumping skills in preparation for spawning. Every one made Brian twitch and want to cast in the fish’s wake. Eventually, we started referring to the jumping salmon as "localized tidal waves" just to keep Brian from jumping up and grabbing the fishing rod – you know, the one with the line and hook on it.
6/17/03 Eagle Bay to Valdez
Janie got up early and watched an eagle chasing the geese – unsuccessfully – along the shore. PIC This was the morning I told Bri, "I am, therefore you are not". Amy said she was going to wash the windows. A little while later, Amy was still sitting on the couch while Brian dangled dangerously above the icy water while scrubbing and squeegee-ing all of the exposed glass. When Brian wondered how that happened, she replied, "You are, therefore I am not." Oh, it must be nice to be young and ambitious. It was the last day of our cruise, and we all felt the urge to help clean up Clementine, though few of us acted upon that urge!
Brian and Bob did manage to catch several nice-sized salmon and one really ugly lingcod. Bob filleted all of them but one, which he left for Brian to fillet while he drove us to our next anchorage. I think the boy did a fairly good job, but what do I know? We saved the lingcod for our last Valdez dinner, and Brian arranged to have the salmon fillets flash frozen for the trip home. While everyone else was focused on fishing and filleting, Char busied herself baking up a batch of Ghirardhelli brownies. The smell wafting up from the galley was overpowering. The brownies may have been the best catch of the day. PIC PIC PIC PIC
The morning and early afternoon was consumed with fishing and getting back to Valdez harbor – slip C9. As we neared Valdez, Bob started listing all the things we didn’t get to do. It was an impressive list that included a place called Potters Marsh. However, I heard it as Potty Marsh, so I sez, "Hey, I have that in my pants". It’s very entertaining in my world. Bob called Nikki to invite her for our fish dinner and arrange a jam session for our evening’s entertainment. Nikki promised to bring a snack. As we passed the gas station, the young girl popped out of her little building and waved so energetically that it looked like she was doing jumping jacks. I yelled, "C9, dinner and music" but she had to work. Once again, I wished I had been a billionaire who could leave her a $1,000 tip. Then she wouldn’t need to work.
It occurs to me that I never told you about Nikki (or is it Nickie, Nicky, Nicki or Knickie)? I’m going with Nikki Newcome. Bob met Nikki when he was trying to buy Clementine. She is the daughter of a former mayor of Tucson and governor of AZ who moved to AK and was contemplating buying and rehabbing a boat. Bob told her to go for it and he would help. Unfortunately, Bob got involved in buying and rehabbing his own boat, so Nikki was left to do hers on her own. She has done a wondrous job with Zwerver, the youngest boat to be registered with the Dutch Barge Historical Society. To say that Nikki is a piece of work would be an understatement. She not only rebuilt her own boat, she also taught herself to play the autoharp and sing a variety of folk standards. She volunteers to play for people in old-age homes "because they are tied to their wheelchairs" and "sometimes they even stay awake"; she even flies to Houston to do it. Oh, she also performs at the Valdez old folks home, but that isn’t as exotic as going to Houston, eh? More on Nikki later.
The four guests took Char’s grocery list and went shopping while B&C did the things they do when returning from a cruise. We thought they might enjoy some time alone together, but on the way up the dock, we passed Nikki hurrying toward Clementine with her autoharp and cache of hors d’oeuvres. When we returned, the table was filled with the most delightful spring rolls and accompanying Thai dipping sauce. Bob was busy getting dinner, so the rest of us popped the top on beer and wine and dug into the treats.
As you might expect, Nikki attacks subjects with tremendous focus and energy. Her current passions are the autoharp and geology. Strange combination, but it makes for interesting conversation. She has devoured all the geology books she can find. B&C have a copy of Geology of Prince William Sound, which we had looked at during the cruise. Not surprisingly, the geologic story of any part of AK is extremely complicated. It turns out that the book was written by a guy who docks in Valdez … Nikki knows him and has read the book cover to cover at least twice. I found it tough going, so I’m impressed that she waded through it even once. I just retired from a period of my life where I had to do such things for my livelihood, whereas Nikki is doing it with the eagerness of a student. Well, not any of my students – if my students had been that eager, I might still be teaching. To show you how eager Nikki is, she asked repeatedly for a copy of our GSci100 CD. Strange woman, eh?
After decimating the spring rolls, a bottle of wine (mostly consumed by Nikki) and several DesChutes Obsidian Stouts, Black Buttes, and Alaskan Amber, we settled in for dinner. Bob had thrown together some risotto to accompany our three servings of lingcod, each of which was prepared slightly differently – and all of which were excellent, even for a non-fish lover like me. Lingcod may look ugly, but they eat good, y’all. PIC
After dinner, all hell broke lose. Nikki got her autoharp, strummed a few chords and we all yelled "out of tune". There are something like a gazillion strings on an autoharp. Some of them may be in tune with each other, but the likelihood of all of them being in tune with each other is small – especially in a weather intensive place like AK. Hey, no problem, this is folk music, right? Nikki immediately launched into a strident rendition of Michael Row the Boat Ashore. Brian did the rhythm backup while Bob struggled to find the proper harmonica to match whatever key Nikki was playing in. Tuning, key and tempo were problems that were easily overcome with beer and vigor. Nikki even has printed song books, which she distributed so we could pick the songs we like. Didn’t I say she was a piece of work? PIC PIC PIC
Nikki loves to fold things, especially clean laundry. She says she has been reduced to tears at the Laundromat when she sees people take clean clothes out the dryer and cram them in a bag. We didn’t have any clean laundry, but we did have some wadded up plastic grocery bags. Nikki eagerly grabbed and commenced to fold them with more grace and style than they were worthy of. It was amazing to watch. Apparently, Nikki makes elegant bags and packs and such, so folding things comes naturally, I suppose.
About halfway through the song book – and beer supply – we pushed the limit of craziness. Bob gave Janie his kazoo, which he keeps in the pilot house to "pipe dignitaries aboard Clementine" and Amy got a set of spoons. These were not ordinary table spoons. Rather, they were measuring spoons. There is a big musical difference, you know, especially when the spoons are linked together with a little hoopie thing. Charlene was having a religious experience – why else would she keep rolling her eyes and exclaiming "Je – SUS?!" For a person who can actually carry a tune (without a bucket), it must have been hard for Char to take/give/ignore/avoid/beat/join in. Janie was brilliant on the kazoo. I think she has found her instrument. She blows – or is it hums – equally well from either end. Hmmm, writing those words is getting me excited. I’ll be right back …
I don’t know how long the session went on – we nearly finished the song
book and Nikki peed three times, so it was into the wee hours, and Nikki had to
get up very early to get to the grid so she could scrape her bottom. Sounds
interesting, eh? The grid is a metal structure that is sturdy enough to support
a large boat. You take your boat over at high tide, position it over the grid,
apply support beams in the proper location, and wait for the tide to go out and
leave the boat sitting high and dry so you can work on the bottom – scrape it,
you know. Whatever, it was late and most remarkable that the harbor police had
not paid us a visit. I had noticed that everyone in
Our last boat day was over. We were now in the going home mode and it was time to rest up for the 300 mile drive back to Mizewell and the 12 hour flight that was to follow.
6/18/03 – 6/19/03 Valdez to Chugiak to Geneseo via Anchorage, Minneapolis, and Buffalo
This was a travel day unlike any other. Our schedule looked like this: drive back to Mizewell, clean up and eat, leave Anchorage at 1 am, 1 hr layover in MN, arrive in Buffalo around 1 pm, drive to Geneseo and home in the mid-afternoon. That’s several thousand miles and many hours of travel to be packed into a sixteen-hour day. We were not looking forward to it on many levels.
Alas, the last few hours on Clementine had arrived. We passed the time eating up perishables, packing, and cleaning. Dunno if DUNNO was happy to se us or not, but we not-so-happily crammed her full of the six of us and our baggage. We left B&C to do the final boat steps and went to do some final tourist shopping. Amy, Janie and I were amazed that the land seemed to be swaying. It seems we had acquired sea legs and it would take a few days to get our land legs back. Brian seems to be immune to feeling earth move – he did not feel the earthquake and now he did not feel the earth sway.
The drive back was just as spectacular as it was coming over. It must certainly be the most entertaining 300-mile drive we’ve undertaken. Again, Brian volunteered to do the driving while the rest of us kibitzed and relived our cruise. We stopped at one of those surviving lodges for lunch: Eureka Lodge. We posed the question: Is Alaska the only state with two panhandles?" After pondering the depths of such an inquiry, most of us ordered the AK standard bacon-cheese burgers – Bob & I got chili-cheese burgers. Moof was the word of the day after wading through these entrees. We were so moofed that we passed on the specialty: home made pie. These were AK-sized pieces of pie – each piece was a quarter of a whole pie. Looked good, but we were just not up to it.
We got back to Mizewell around six with enough time to transfer the music I had ripped on Clementine to Bob’s HD and order a Bella Vista pizza. We had a couple beers and piled into DUNNO for a last ride to Anchorage and the airport. We didn’t see any moose, but there was a beautiful double rainbow. The dry air allowed us to see the BIV part like we had noticed in Nebraska – when was that, a couple years ago? The rainbow was a nice ending to our Alaska adventure.
Heightened security does not allow for long goodbyes – maybe that’s a good thing. We were all sorta choked up, but leaving was inevitable, so we hugged, patted each other’s backs (no jumping this time), and headed into the terminal. The Anchorage airport is a crowed place – regardless of the time of day. It was one o’clock am, and the place was packed. Brian had to have his frozen fish inspected and put in an appropriate container. The NW Air people were willing to do this, but it turned out to be a Keystone Cops sort of activity. The tape roller/cutter thingy wouldn’t work and the attendant got progressively more frustrated and finally resorted to using a ballpoint pen to perforate the tape. The now separated tape was mangled and stuck to itself, so placing it on the package consisted of sticking and pounding it in place with his hand. Brian had serious doubts about the fish making a successful flight – but they did, or so we are told.
We all got through the screening area except Janie. She had a small carry-on that was chucky-jammed full with two pair of binos, a cell phone, and a collection of necessities for the two or us. They screened it twice, inspected it by hand, and on the third pass through the screener, it was declared okay to fly. The woman who unpacked it repeatedly remarked about the amazing amount of stuff in the bag. We knew we had several hours of sitting on the plane, so we opted to stand while waiting for our flight to board. Remember the sea legs thing? That made standing a constant reminder of our cruise, and we continued to talk about what a great time we had had and how lucky we were to have friends like B&C to host us.
So there we were at o’bright-thirty waiting to board our flight. The sun had been close to setting in Anchorage and tinging the puffy clouds a pretty pink. We flew east into the rising sun, so just as the trip up, the longer we flew, the more daylight we got. Minneapolis was a mere speed bump on our return. We passed on the airport pub and opted to stare blankly into space while waiting to board the final two-hour flight to Buffalo. We had an uneventful landing, retrieved our baggage, and caught a shuttle to the car. We loaded our stuff, took our seats, and put on our seatbelts for the final trip of the day. Just then, Brian uttered a barely audible, "Oh no" that was almost immediately followed by a "God DAMN it, Billy."
It seems that in our haste to get to Alaska, we had left the lights on and now the battery was dead as the once extant dodo. Our flight out took off at 6:45 pm, and we had arrived at least two hours prior to departure. It had been a bright sunny day, so why did our boy Brian have his lights on? Dunno, but rather than get upset, we all laughed at the "God damn it, Billy", and searched for a solution. An obvious solution would be to use one of our three identical cell phones to call for assistance. However, none of us boneheads had the foresight to bring a charger, so they were all just useless baggage. Ah, the car is a stick shift, and I recall push-starting many of my old VWs in my youth. We put Amy behind the wheel and pushed the car out of the parking slot. Amy could have turned either way, but she chose to turn so we would be pushing uphill. Granted, there isn’t much uphill to a large airport parking lot in Buffalo, but even a little uphill makes pushing more difficult. We pushed and Amy popped the clutch, but all we got was a little whirr from the engine. We decided to push it around to the next lane and give it one more big thrust, downhill this time. On the very last stride, I pulled a muscle in my calf. Great! I had been worrying about injuries during the whole trip and now, on the last day, I pull a damned muscle. God DAMN it, Billy.
Fortunately, one of the shuttle drivers, who sit around the parking area like vultures, had noticed our distress, so he drove over. Amy arranged with him to call some of the other vultures that handle things like this – apparently it is fairly common – and he returned to his roost. Shortly another vehicle pulled up, and a guy got out with one of those portable battery charger hudespelders. He attached it to the battery, Bri gave it a crank, and vroom, we were running again. Amy passed him a tip, and we were off for Geneseo. We had tipped the shuttle guy, who didn’t do anything but drive us to the car, and now we tipped the service guy. They were all wearing uniforms and driving official airport vehicles. Seems like they get paid to perform these services and the tipping is just a nice lagniappe. Ha, got to use it again.
On the drive home, we all remarked how different things looked. The leaves were not fully out when we left and now everything is green. We crossed the Genesee and noted that it looked pretty tame compared to the meltwater streams we had seen in AK. The closer to home we got, the more it seemed like the trip never actually happened. Could we have been in Alaska just a few hours ago? Maybe it was all just the product of wishful thinking.
That night it got DARK - the first dark we had experienced in two weeks. It felt strangely confining. Janie said she had to get up and go stand on the deck for awhile. It was still dark, but at least she felt less claustrophobic. I must admit I didn’t think it was possible to have more fun than we did in Nebraska and South Dakota. Not only was it possible, it actually happened. Now, I wonder if there will ever be a trip that can live up to the joyous memories we have of our Great Alaskan Adventure of 2003. Why did we ever wait twenty years? I can assure you, we will be going back soon. Now that I know a bit about the road conditions and such, I’m anxious to drive it. That will be the next great AK adventure for sure. A very big and heartfelt THANK YOU goes to our self-sacrificing hosts, Bob & Char. We greatly appreciate all you did for us. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You ;-) PIC