Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Giving Thanks - By Kevin

Not to be too cliché, but it seems like a lifetime since Larry and I started this trip. In actuality, we were away from home for about eight weeks. We puttered almost 10,500 miles on our single-cylinder, 650cc dual sport motorcycles. I’ve been asked, “Are you glad you did it?” Of course! Would I have gone on this trip knowing what I know now? Ignorance is bliss.

I started this trip greener than a spring pea fresh from the garden. I was a fair-weathered, newbie motorcyclist who knew next to nothing about riding in adverse conditions, and even less so on motorcycle maintenance. Larry was instrumental in helping me learn what I needed to know. Again, while I’d love to be cliché and say that he “took me under his wing”, it doesn’t convey the right fee

ling. Larry’s method of instruction, like many great teachers, is to throw you out of the nest whilst yelling down the instructions. Just do it and learn as you go, you might say. Thanks for your guidance, Larry. Thanks for the tough love.

As my own father is quick to point out, not many people have the luxury of taking an eight week vacation. It’s one of the many benefits of being Mr. Mom, the “Domestic Engineer”, as it were. But even with all the free time in the world, this trip would not have been possible without the help and fervent support of Ada and Laurie. Ada took my place in nearly all respects – cleaning, cooking, and keeping the kids in line. Laurie found some way to work eight hours, keep our finances straight and get the kids back to school. I was starting to wonder why she keeps me around at all! Without her encouraging words (OK, insistence) that I keep a photo log AND a blog AND a journal, many of the trip’s details would surely have been forgotten.

I would be amiss if I didn’t give credit to my trusty steed, the bike I now affectionately call “my little oil-burner”. That motorcycle cranked out over 240 million revolutions to get me from point A to point B, to point A again. Who needs a fancy BMW to ride around Alaska, anyway!

I was asked the other day to name my most favorite part of the whole trip. Was it the places we reached? Absolutely. Was it the people we met? You bet. How about coming home? Funny thing is, I can’t name just one favorite moment. It’s a package deal. You’ll just have to try it for yourself and find out.

As for Laurie – will she ever let me go on another long trip like this again? Give it a few years. Ignorance is bliss.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

My post trip thoughts

Well, the big return to Indianapolis has finally happened. When Kevin and I turned up Carvel Avenue, side by side, we looked up the street and could see the whole family was out in the street, hastily stretching out crepe paper ‘finishing lines’ for us to break. Cheers, whistles and screams I could hear as we passed by and my odometer was registering 10,300+ final miles of our trip. There was even a couple of bursting skyrockets left over from the 4th of July making a big bang of things and a sign in the yard welcoming home Dad and Grandpa. I have to tell you that I was energized all over again yesterday from all this, but not to the point of going even one mile more. A pizza party followed with lots of camaraderie, chatter about the trip and what we had seen and even some adult beverages. Quickly said, “it’s good to be home”.

A few of life’s motorcycling lessons I learned and want to pass along to anyone who cares to take a trip of this magnitude are:

If you see an open gas station, fill ‘er up.
Don’t let an opportunity to make a stranger a friend pass by.
Take care of your equipment.
Enjoy yourself and don’t let the little things bug you.
Savor the moments, they will last a lifetime.

I cannot add my final comments to this portion of our Alaska blog without some mention of the people who made this adventure possible and those who made it much more enjoyable for Kevin and me.

Tom Bernhardt

Joe Kramer

Tim McKittrick

Gary Soderlund

Jerry Watson

Tom Hendrix and Jeff Allen

Peter and Dawna Stenros

These people, now friends, offered accommodations for us for sleeping, washing clothes and ourselves, and even shop facilities and several times great meals. Before this trip we had never even heard of them, having made contact through a motorcycle adventure group on the internet. Thank you all, and, please, stay in touch somehow.

I would be remiss if I did not include in my appreciation if I failed to mention here my wife of almost 39 years, Ada…

and my daughter, Laurie, grandchildren, Jacob and Ella. Their support that Grandpa still had enough zest for life in him to achieve my lifelong dream of a motorcycle trip to Alaska was on my mind daily.

My final thanks is to my riding companion and son-in-law, Kevin, for putting up with me and my snoring.

Friday, August 21, 2009

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go Home! - By Kevin

“Just tap you heels together three times and say the words ‘There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.’”

Only one problem, Dorothy - we aren’t, never were, and never will be in Kansas anymore. We are in bloody North Dakota where the buffalo roam, the dear and the antelope play, and the freakin’ wind NEVER EVER LETS UP! My thoughts are on only one thing as I ride the motorcycle down this straight, desolate, never ending road. Get me the heck out of this state! Thus begins “The Great Push to Indianapolis”.

North Dakota does have some redeeming features, just none that I care to mention. And in all fairness, Montana gets flat pretty darn quick too. But Montana has happy horses. I watched them running together in groups, shaking their heads up and down, and cuddling up to one another. If there is a heaven for horses, this is it. North Dakota is where the bad ponies go.

So for the next three days, we ride our motorcycles along the entire width of both states.
I am grateful for the times when the road curves to the south. It gives me a short respite from the blowing winds. Fargo is the goal – on the border of North Dakota and where the road blessedly turns to the southeast. Fifty miles short of the border, storms stop us in our tracks. NORTH DAKOTA!!!

We end up finding a very reasonably priced hotel befit of its name – the O.K. Motel in Steele, ND. They’ve undersold it, actually. For fifty bucks, it was way better than “O.K.” It was clean, had two queen beds, a sofa and a color TV. They even let us park our bikes in their personal garage. Follow this with a night at the Amvets Club drinking beer with the local yokels and you KNOW you’re in small town North Dakota.

Thankfully, the weather was beautiful the morning after our motel stay. We have traveled almost 650 miles in one day, starting from Steele, ND and ending up at the Days Inn in Portage, WI. This breaks all of our previous distance records for the trip. Tomorrow, we will end our race to Indianapolis. Sadly, our Alaska adventure ends tomorrow as well. But to quote Dorothy one last time, “There’s no place like home.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where the heck have we been??

Goodness, Gracious! It has been way too long since there have been any additions! All our “groupie followers” must be ready to disown Kevin and me. I can tell you where we are right now, Malta, Montana, in a motel room that is infested with mosquitoes since ‘someone’ left the door open too long and now we are seeing how our aim with face towels are with the pesky buggers. We have decided (been ordered, actually) to make Indianapolis and the end of this journey by Sunday, the 23rd of August. Today we rode 488 miles, plus or minus one or two. There will be more of these long days from here on out to make the deadline mentioned above.

Since leaving Dawson City, we traveled to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, looking for a campsite for the night. We had heard that there was a public campground there which we thought would be reasonably priced since it was ‘public’. Right! Tent spaces were $18 Canadian, and, oh, if you put another tent on the same space it would be another $18 please, and thank you. Whitehorse rules, you know. Well, according to Kevin and Larry’s rules that would not do, and since Teslin Lake was only 100 miles away in the direction we had to go anyway, we started off. If you remember, we had stayed at this beautiful place on our way north and knew we would be welcomed at half the price and had free showers and internet which the Whitehorse one wanted to charge extra for.

My front tire was wearing very badly, I changed my worn out knobby for Kevin’s old street tire which we had been carrying around. Then we started down the road towards Watson Lake and the Cassiar Highway.

The Cassiar is a pretty good road, but we had been warned that there were long stretches between gas stops. We checked the map given to us at one of the tourist places and decided that we could fill up at Watson Lake., then Cassiar, then Dease Lake, which is about half way down this road. Were we surprised to learn that the ‘town’ of Cassiar is no longer there, even though it is still on the map. Seems it had bee bought out, lock, stock and barrel, and the name had been changed to Jade City. You guessed it, we blew right through there, thinking our gas stop must be just around the next bend. It never happened, but we still made it to Dease Lake on the fumes that remained in the tanks.

We decided to motel it that night and ran into a fellow Army man that was riding his Harley to his next duty station in Texas. It was nice to meet him again, since we shared a meal earlier in the week, now we decided to share the road also since we were all going towards Hyder, our next, and last, Alaska destination. Hyder is the most southerly place on Alasaka’s map that can be driven to, and, since we had already been to the most northerly Alaska road, this was a natural decision.

We parted company with Scott there in Hyder and headed towards Jasper and Banff National Parks in Alberta and British Columbia. These two parks are a must see for anyone who enjoys beautiful scenery. We have put pictures of these parks on the Flickr link. One great view after another….judge for yourself.

Coming into the USA at the border was a little unusual as the Border Patrol detained Kevin for a bit. Seems an Indiana car license plate with exactly the same numbers as his motorcycle plate was reported stolen, so, of course, it took almost an hour and a squad of para-military types to come the decision that this was not the guy they wanted.

Today we left Troy, Montana and a pleasant night plus a few hours with Dawna and Peter Stenros, one of my wife’s (Ada) cousins and their family. We were treated like celebrities (we are, really, aren’t we?) and we’re sorry we could not have stayed longer, but duty and Indianapolis were calling. So, here we are, 488 miles later in Malta, Montana. By my reckoning we have traveled about 8,500 miles on motorcycles since July 7th, when we left Indiana.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tastes Like Chicken! - By Kevin

Boy does it feel good to be headed in the right direction! Aside from a short jaunt to the northeast to ride the Top of the World Highway, Larry and I have begun our “descent” to Indianapolis. Every mile we travel is another mile closer to home.

While the Top of the World Highway took us a few miles farther, I’d have to say it was one of most enjoyable roads we’ve taken on our trip. Spanning sixty six miles from Dawson City to the Yukon Border, the road is a mixed-bag of asphalt, gravel and hard packed dirt. Throw in broad vista views, sweeping curves and just a handful of cars and you have the recipe for motorcycling nirvana. You won’t see Larry in many of my pictures; he was having way too much fun to sit still! For miles I tried capturing the essence of this road with my camera, to no avail. I ultimately decided to ride this thin ribbon of road, which hugs the sides of mountains, and enjoy every second.

Around the halfway point of the TWH, you find yourself in the quirky little town of Chicken, Alaska. Here in Chicken, they’ve taken tourist trap to a new level. You can get an education at “Cluck U” academy (Go Peckers!), brag that you “Got Laid in Chicken”, and (when nature calls) go to the Chicken Poop to do you business. They’re other claim to fame is their pies. We didn’t think much of them. Tastes like chicken.

While there, we ran into a man peddling a heavily loaded, three-wheeled recumbent bicycle. Over coffee we had a chance to chat. Christopher is from Germany and his business card says “extreme adventures”. This years adventure was bicycling around Alaska. He started in April and plans to end sometime in October. We laughed together as he told us how the trip was going so far. “This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever had. I am so brain dead!” Turns out that he had been on this particular road for four days already (going an agonizingly slow 2.5 kph). It was going to take him another four days to get off it – IF it didn’t rain. One advantage to going so slow is that you have plenty of time for pictures. To date, he has taken over 16,000 photos during his extreme travels. Jeez, I get scolded for taking more than 16!

After a fun day on the highway, we finished our day at a provincial campground just before Dawson City. The night was cold and neither one of us got a good night’s sleep. Dawson City is an old mining town and looks like the set of an old western town. In order to get into Dawson, you take a short ferry ride across the Yukon River. While there is much to do, and much money to be spent, Larry and I decided that getting home was much more important. We kept pushing on until we reached our favorite camp site in Teslin, YT. This is where I end today. Where will be tomorrow? Who knows! One thing is for sure – any town closer to home is a good town, indeed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Been There, Done That, Never Again - By Larry

Kevin and I have just returned to our host’s home in North Pole, Alaska from our epic journey to the Arctic Circle, Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Ocean. It took us two days to get there from here, stopping halfway, both up and back at Coldfoot, Alaska. We had gorgeous weather on the way up, and completely opposite on the first day of the return trip. All the predictions of doom and gloom about the road itself did not materialize, but we did have some “complications” with both motorcycles.

Where to start? To refresh my own memory I just went online and re-read the last posting, so I will take it from the North Pole and go north from there. It was quite exciting, starting up a road that has had an aura and mystique built up around it. We had been told (by many experts who had never been on this road before) everything from ‘we would have to have 22 ply tires’ to ‘we would be eaten by grizzly bears.’ Thankfully, none of that came true, but caution is the norm for all travelers who make this journey as bad decisions this far north could be a life changing experience.

This road is partially paved, I would guess about 40% of it. The rest is some kind of dirt. To be honest, where the dirt is hard packed it is a much better surface than many asphalt roads I could name in the lower 48 states. The state maintains this road (Alaska Highway 11) year round and is constantly working on it, even to the point of long hours for these workers, 7 days a week. I suppose if the road job is 200 miles away from their homes the state must have work camps along the way to eliminate any commuting hassles.

Anyway, back to my tale. The speed limit on the Dalton Highway is 50 miles per hour. For the most part we moseyed along at 40 to 45, just enjoying the beautiful scenery along the way. Boreal forests, rushing rivers, grand vistas, vibrant plants in bloom all to see, and then here comes a giant truck raising a veritable storm of dust behind it making visibility and safe driving impossible. What we did was just slow down, try to remember what the road looked like just before the truck came even with us so we could make an intelligent guess of where we were driving and go for it. I even held my breath so I would not have to breathe in so much dirt. Question: Would this dust still be “terra firma”, or “terra dusta”? Any answer you may come up with will do, no wrong ones here.

It is 400+ miles from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, at Prudhoe Bay. I don’t want anyone to think it was all dust, but it was a constant condition over much of it. We did not encounter any rain going northward, but the state workers are issued toys called road graders, and they seem to be more enjoyable to play with if LOTS of water is applied to the road just before digging it up with the giant graders. Not only is this a recipe for MUD, but now the road surface is also dug up to mix in the water making it quite soft and pliable. “Apply-able” is also a word I will use, as this concrete goop got applied much to every surface of the motorcycles as well to some of ourselves. I think they got a new recipe for making adobe bricks here, just use Dalton Highway mud!

Coming back south was a completely different experience. It was warm and clear on the way up, but it was 38 degrees and had been raining for 24 hours already when we started south. Winds were blowing from every direction of the compass at an average of 25 miles per hour. Sweet! This area is call the Northern Slope as for over 100 miles south from the Arctic Ocean and there is very little to stop the wind, and it didn’t (stop, that is). Travel by motorcycle is exciting, but we decided to heighten our enjoyment a little by have some mechanical difficulties along the way. Kevin’s bike must have gotten some water or mud where it did not belong and kept stalling and using gas at Hummer levels, so much so that after 150 miles or so he had to stop and beg 6 more gallons of gas from some caribou hunters just to complete the days’ ride to Coldfoot, AK. We think it must have been water related since once we had traveled over the infamous Atigun Pass, his bike seemed to perk up. The weather cleared up to blue skies south of the mountains and we had no further trouble with it after that point.

My problem came at a section of the road near Happy Valley (don’t look, it’s not on the map) where we had to stop at a road construction site. The man with the stop sign directed us to the side of the “road” where I promptly fell over, bike and all. This must have knocked a safety switch to the no-no position, since once we were cleared to go, my bike wouldn’t. It took me a little while to diagnose what had happened, but with the aid of the multitool my grandson, Jacob, had given me for Christmas I was able to do a patch job and get going again. Many prayers were pleaded, and answered on that day. Thank You, God!

One more note about Atigun Pass. This has to be one of the most enjoyable pieces of road to a motorcyclist. I could spend a week camped here and just continuously ride up one side and down the other. Not only is the road curvy and good surfaced, but, the scenery in both directions (even up to the tops of the rugged mountains) is nothing short of spectacular. What you see on the TV about all the trucks with their problems may be true, but I found beauty and enjoyment here.

OK, that is all I will say about the Dalton Highway…now on to Prudhoe Bay.

The first thing, and certainly the most favorable thing that happened was that we stopped to get gassed up - the bikes that is, not us since no alcohol of any kind is allowed at Prudhoe Bay. When we were in the gas station office paying, there were some people standing around just talking and “shooting the bull” as workers always do. Kevin asked if there was anywhere we could pitch a tent, hoping to avoid a $200 per night hotel stay . One of the office fellows offered us a slice of graveled area near one of his buildings and assured us that we need only mention their names if we were questioned. This building turned out to be an aircraft hangar where this man and his company were hosting a fun-run and cookout for the workers that night. We continued talking, joking, etc. and, as things always seem to happen on this trip, our accommodations got moved from NEXT to the hangar to INSIDE it if we could wait until 9pm once the party was over. By this time the rain and wind had started in earnest and a decision had to be made. Who are we to say no? NOT US!!!

A short time later before scoffing at the $22 dinner buffet, we run into the men again. “Come on over early and join us for the cookout!” As it turns out, we had been talking with two of the “headsheds” of Carlile Trucking who were hosting the party. And just to sweeten the pot, this is the same company that the TV reality show “Ice Road Truckers” uses for their popular show – and the stars of the show were there signing t-shirts and posing for photos.

So not only did we not sleep in a rain soaked environment, but curled up in a heated hangar big enough to hold corporate jets, and got to hob-knob with all kinds of personalities and just nice people whether they were featured on TV or not. When this ride is over and done with we will not remember the lousy ride in the snow and rain as much as the good people and the greater time we enjoyed with them at Deadhorse on Prudhoe Bay. A special and mighty big “THANK YOU” goes to Tom Hendrix and Jeff Allen, who by showing us their kindness, changed our visit to Prudhoe Bay from a dull, soggy and miserable trip to a pleasant and very memorable one.

The last thing we did before departing the area was to take a guided tour of the area, with all intentions of going swimming in the Arctic Ocean itself. Yeah, riiiigghhhttt!! We did the tour, but when it came to swimming, if going in to at least the ankles is good enough, then we did go “swimming”. Let’s just say that 30 something degree water and a 25 mile per hour wind blowing straight from the north pole was enough for us to change what the dictionary says swimming really is. There was one Canadian man on the tour that did take the complete plunge, however. Brrrrrrrrrr!!

I’ll add one last note about Prudhoe Bay. I have started describing it to others as a gigantic helium balloon with a very long string. Lots of activity at the top, yet the string is the Dalton Highway (the Haul Road) where you find very little except God’s beauty. But even a plain string can be beautiful.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

...Just Can't Wait To Get OFF The Road Again - By Kevin

The road to Alaska is paved; and up until now, Larry and I have ridden almost exclusively on asphalt. True, there have been short sections in the Yukon and Alaska where roads were being repaired that allowed me to gain a little experience on gravel roads – but this was nothing compared to what we were going to ride on once Laurie and the family headed back to Indianapolis.

Gravel roads don’t scare much. Throw in piles of loose stuff, cantaloupe-sized boulders, and potholes and I start to get a little nervous. Blessedly, the route layed out before us is easier before it gets harder. Our plan for dirt roads is as follows: Ride the Denali Highway from Cantwell to Paxson and head north towards the Arctic Circle. In fact, we’ve just completed the Denali Highway portion with little to-do (more on that in a bit). We’ll then ride to Prudhoe Bay or as far as weather will safely permit. The weather here changes quite dramatically. The current forecast calls for wind, rain and wet snow flurries – Hooray!). After Prudhoe (or not), we’ll back-track (ironically) towards the Top of the World Highway and Dawson City. We’ll end our off-road tour in Watson Lake (home of the sign forest) via the Campbell Highway (a long desolate road requiring extra gas cans for us both) or the Canol Road (a shorter more interesting road where getting gas is a little easier). Anyway you look at it, that’s a lot of dirt and dust. I should also add that Alaska is having its worst case of forest fires in recent history. The smoke is so bad that some businesses here and around the Fairbanks area are closed due to smoke.

So once again were on our own in Alaska. We happily returned the cumbersome RV with a clean bill of health to the rental company and borrowed Gary’s garage to make some suspension upgrades to Larry’s KLR – a new fork brace and springs. After loading the bikes, some pleasant conversation and eating some of the best strawberry-rhubarb cobbler I’ve ever tasted (thank you Gary and Diane!), we headed north to Cantwell where one end of the Denali Highway begins.

No day of this trip is without something funny or interesting happening. August 4th was no exception. Upon entering Cantwell and having dinner at the only gas station slash restaurant in town (hope ya like BBQ!), we noticed a recently burned up RV in the parking lot. Apparently, the owner thought it was smarter to DRIVE a burning RV to the gas station rather than put out the fire. Thankfully, everyone got out in time and the driver managed to keep himself off this year’s list for a Darwin Award.

Riding the Denali Highway put most of the anxiety of the gravelly, potholed road to rest. Aside from the occasional jet-powered SUVs and trucks that came flying down the road at us, the road was easy to travel at our 40 to 45 mph pace. Since we got such a late start, we decided to camp at a BLM campground 30 miles into the highway. We managed to snatch up one of the last remaining campsites hidden from the main road near a swiftly flowing stream. You could actually hear small boulders tumbling there way down the stream. We set up our tents on the grass surrounded by blueberry bushes – quite the idyllic campsite, actually. We capped off the night by inviting ourselves over to a fire that some nice people from Alberta had made. I still haven’t fully come to grips with what I call an “invasion of privacy and personal space”, but it sure beats starting your own fire!

After traveling some 4000 miles to Alaska, we decided to let the family take some of our “non-essentials” back home to Indianapolis. Among these things were packets of instant coffee and a camp stove needed to boil the water for said coffee. After riding hungry for an hour, we came upon one of the few-and-far-between lodges that populate the Denali Highway. A sign at the bottom of a long and steep driveway advertised that they were open. As fate would have it, we managed to find ourselves barging in on a group of paying guests just sitting down to a family style breakfast of bacon and eggs, corn beef hash, and toast. How could we say “no” to the manager’s insistence that we sit down and join them?! The lodge turned out to be “The Alpine View Lodge”, and for 99 bucks a night including a great breakfast, is a steal compared to a lot of the dives we seen or had to pay for along the way.

The remaining ride along the Denali Highway went off without a hitch and we arrived in Paxson on the other side. As seems to happen a lot on the (few) roads in Alaska, we ran into Ian Coates on his Honda Trans-Alp. When we left him, he was working his way down to Anchorage, thinking his next motorcycling adventure would take him into Siberia. If you’re reading this Ian, good luck and safe journey!

I end this extremely long blog today in North Pole, AK. We are hosted this time by Jerry Watson, a KLR and Harley rider, who has graciously offered us a couple nights stay in his camper. He also cooks a mean steak, second only to his wife Adelle’s cooking. We’re helping to pay our dues by helping Jerry change out his rear tire tonight. This will be the forth tire we (meaning Larry) will have changed today. Tomorrow we continue our long, dusty (and smoky) ride to the north…

Family Vacation Photos

I've posted a small portion (127) of family vacation photos on Flickr so grab yourself a cup of coffee and click here.

Also, I am posting this short video to help you get a better appreciation for the Denali park road...imagine the same bus seat on the way back!


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Family Vacation - Part 4: Epilogue

Laurie here, coming to you from home sweet home in Indianapolis. Our final days in Alaska as a family were spent driving back to Anchorage. The last time I remembered to check we put well over 1000 miles on the camper--good thing the scenery was worth it!

At the University of Fairbanks we visited the obligatory Museum of the North before making our way south. We camped at a beautiful wide spot in the road and caught a glimpse of The Mountain in morning. Attempting to fit as much into our last days as possible we pushed on and spent a few hours strolling through touristy-yet-quaint Talkeetna where we were graced with our most complete view of McKinley yet. Approaching Anchorage with far too much daylight left we took a pleasant detour to visit the Iditarod Trail Headquarters in Wasilla (no we didn't see Sarah...please stop asking now). To say they did it, Mom and the kids took a fun spin on an all-terrain dog sled. I was desperate to end our trip on a high note and was exceptionally pleased to have stumbled upon Eklutna Lake State Park. Our final campsite was nestled high up in the trees with a view of the green ridges that surround the lake. About 9:30PM (because the kids had way too much energy to burn) we decided to walk down to the lake to take a peak. It was pure serenity...well, the scenery was.

Tuesday was airport day. After we packed all the DIRTY clothes back into the suitcases we all took a hike to see Thunderbird Falls which I learned about from a bullet point on a tourism map. It was a nice way to cap off our family vacation before heading into the city, visiting Earthquake Park and enjoying pizza at the locally famous Moose's Tooth Pub. The guys said goodbye to us at the airport the first time around 9PM on 8/2 (the second time was when they came back an hour later for the camper keys I found in my pocket)! Mom, the kids and I got home in Indy 26 hours later!

We spent 12 days together hitting the highlights of South and Central Alaska. We may not have had constant sunshine but we saw our fair share of wildlife and we did have mountains every day. I think that's what I'll remember most. We've got ourselves a beautiful country and Alaska is a gorgeous example of God's handiwork. I'm already plotting ways to explore the "lower 48" (and Hawaii!) before the kids go and grow up on us.

So was it the trip of a lifetime? Absolutely! Was it good to sleep in our own beds again? Absolutely! Are we ready for the guys to ride their motorcycles home? You betcha!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Family Vacation - Part 3: Fairbanks

What I consider to be a highlight of this summer vacation is over, and it was with some regret that we left Denali National Park and Preserve yesterday. Such a grand place to see the natural wonder of our great world!

We spent last night in Fairbanks and today toured Ft. Wainwright, where I was stationed for 2 ½ years. Things have really changed there with new living facilities for our Army heroes, but we were still able to find the old quarters where we lived. Back then Laurie had to walk to school a half mile every day sometimes at –40 degrees F. We even verified the mileage to prove her claim! We also bought discounted Alaska souvenirs at the PX and just generally did the reminiscence thing for a while.

We then went to Fox, AK, to the Eldorado Mine, where we took a tour of a real, operating placer mine and got to do our own panning for gold. They supplied us with a small bag of concentrate from the mine and gave us all lessons of how to make the gold appear magically in our gold pans! We all found some, and of course, the three gals confiscated Kevin’s and mine and had some jewelry made from it. Jacob would not relinquish his claim—of all of us, he (the birthday boy) found the most gold and he is proud of it!

Now we are in North Pole, Alaska, camped at Santa Land RV camp “where Santa spends his summer”. This is one of the nicer commercial parks that we have been in. There are little signs of Christmas cheer everywhere and they even loaned us the movie Elf!

The most surprising part of the day happened while the gals shopped at Santa Claus House and Kevin and I ran an errand (escaped). Believe it or not, I spied a man who I met at Daytona’s Bike Week this past March who has been traveling the world on his own motorcycle for 10 years! I yelled a greeting out the camper window when we passed at a stop sign, then pulled into a parking lot and had a good chat with him. I will enclose a picture of him here. We are fortunate to have run into him since he is just returning from the exact routes that Kevin and I are planning to travel next week. He was a plethora of information about road conditions, where to pitch our tents and even how to protect ourselves from the rocks that will come flying from the trucks who are masters of the road to Prudhoe Bay and the oil fields up there.

We’re winding down for the evening now. Rain is falling. It will hopefully help the local forest fire fighting efforts and clear the smoke from the air for our last day in this area tomorrow.

Family Vacation - Part 2: Denali

Well, here we are in Denali National Park and Preserve. We have been here two nights already and tonight will be our last one here before we move along to the Fairbanks area. Yesterday we took a 10 hour / 100 mile roundtrip bus ride to the end of the park road at Wonder Lake (where all the reflective pictures of Mt. McKinley are taken). The road could be described as "dangerous as the dickens"—no guard rails, one lane wide, switchbacks around the cliffs, sheer drop-offs up to 1,000 feet and always the possibility of meeting another bus coming the opposite direction. If that did happen, one bus or the other would have to back up to a designated wide spot so that the two could pass safely. The beauty of the landscape far outweighed the journey’s risk. The picture I am attaching is one taken at Polychrome Pass, so named because of all the different colors of the surrounding mountains.

On our bus ride we saw lots of native wild life including moose, fox, caribou, ptarmigan, golden eagles, Dall sheep, and many grizzly bears (some with cubs). The bus driver also served as a narrator of the interesting facts for Denali, which made the long dusty bus ride much more enjoyable. Although we’re still bundling up in our fleeces and jackets the weather has been a lot nicer than what we experienced in the Seward area. Just guessing, the temp here in Denali has been in the 60's, very breezy, but luckily no rain other than a couple of 'spits' from the clouds.

After a week together in an RV we’ve figured out our roles in the camper: I have been doing all the driving chores, Kevin does most of the cooking, Laurie and Ada keep the place tidy and the kids stay out from under foot!

One more picture for you: sunset from our campground in Denali at 11:30PM!