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Archive for the ‘Alaska’ Category

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

—Helen Keller

We’ve been home now for several weeks, and a new school year is getting underway.  I am way overdue in putting up a post to wrap-up our summer odyssey and had better do so now before the teaching treadmill picks up too much speed.

Denali Highway, Alaska: a long, long way from home.

Looking back over my posts from the road, I’m struck by the way they fizzled out toward the end, partly due to technical issues but also partly due to languor, the daily demands of logging significant mileage often leaving little time and less energy for blogging at the end of the day.  Compared to the posts from my 2008 trip with the boys, a journey with no real agenda or timetable, the writing just didn’t measure up.  And besides the tyranny of the timetable, there was another significant difference with this trip: I had adult company for the duration.  After the boys went to sleep, I still had someone to talk with.  And, while my dad was with us, someone to knock back a few Alaskan Ambers with.

Anyway, unlike my blog posts, the trip most definitely didn’t fizzle out toward the end.  In fact we ended on a real high before I put Belinda and the boys on a plane in Salt Lake City and drove the rest of the way back.  But more on that later.

First, a couple of general reflections: (more…)

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oh, and by the way . . .

We did finally catch fish in Wrangell last week.  Six of them.  Given our luck, we didn’t come up with the king salmon that we paid good money to go out with a guide and fish for (they were inexplicably non-existent that morning), but at least we didn’t come back skunked.  We kept the largest of the six sea bass we pulled in, and my dad cooked it for dinner on the camp stove that night.  It was delicious. And fishing isn’t ruined forever; the boys had a blast.

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Watch a native Alaskan fish for a while and he’ll offer you some salmon to take with you.  Worked for us on the Chilkat outside of Haines a couple of days ago.

Other than that, I have no idea.  The boys still want to fish at every opportunity, but they can sense my patience is wearing thin.  Today’s attempt, at Ohner Creek on Mitkof Island (even with the full benefit of local insider’s knowledge), was the most demoralizing yet—and try as I might I’m afraid my own frustration is starting to color their experience.  I’m hopelessly out of my league and feel like a bad dad.  It’s like I’m trying to teach them to drive a manual transmission but don’t know enough to tell them to release the emergency break.

Tomorrow we move on to Wrangell for a couple of days—it’s time to hire a fishing guide to do some damage control before I ruin fishing forever.

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We’ve listened to a lot of radio in the nearly 6000 miles we’ve covered so far, typically alternating between small-town NPR on the left end of the dial and small-town country music stations on the right.  The emptier the country, the more interesting the seek-button results.  Because every station goes fluttery within half an hour at best, there are no keepers, but here are a few high points from our catch-and-release airwave trawling:

  • Driving across northern Nebraska with a signal from the Rosebud Indian Reservation across the border in South Dakota.  The young lady behind the microphone read a surprisingly long listing of all job openings in the immediate area and then, to open the daily “Birthday Show,” announced the names of everyone celebrating a birthday on that particular day. The first birthday song request, from a grandfather to his grandson, was the theme of SpongeBob SquarePants as sung by a Blackfoot Indian powwow drum group.  The boys were both fast asleep in the car at the time and missed it.
  • In Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, I heard “Electric Avenue” for the first time since perhaps 1983 on a station that played wall-to-wall reggae music seemingly without commercial interruption or commentary or station identification of any sort. Whitehorse also had a Caribbean eatery. I reckon the idea of the tropics has a powerful hold on the imaginations of those who live in this part of the world—three days later in Fairbanks we came across a twenty-piece community steel drum band (players ranged from preteen to septuagenarian) jamming away in the downtown riverside plaza.
  • Local public radio in Haines, Alaska, treated us to an involved and entertaining local crime story from Skagway about two Canadian men caught trying to smuggle marijuana over the border in the tool box behind the cab of their pick-up truck.  When the news report was finished, another voice came on to let us know we had just heard a re-broadcast story from 12 years ago in their “News from the Past” segment.  I guess little enough happens in Haines (and I mean that in the best possible way) that a recycled narrative of a decade-old drug bust can still retain some novelty.

But our best (semi)serendipitous listening experience didn’t come over the airwaves at all.  In one of the Yellowstone visitor centers I impulse-purchased an audio copy of Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage (about the Lewis and Clark Expedition), which proved to be the best-possible companion for our drive north towards Great Falls.  To a surprising degree, the boys were swept up by the narration.  Too bad I hadn’t thought about audio books before we left . . . right now we should be listening to John Muir’s Travels in Alaska as we island-hop our way southward.

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We made it to Fairbanks.  In fact, we’re about to leave again after a busy 36 hours.  Dad has the boys downstairs in the hotel pool while I scrape together a quick update.  It’s funny how quickly the time seems to go up here, even when the daylight lasts forever, as you’re tempted to keep cramming in activities and stay on the move.  Following dinner last night, we left my brother’s apartment at nearly eleven with the sun still up and would have probably stayed there and kept talking until the wee hours had the boys not kept us honest by looking tired.

The Alaska Highway took us a leisurely four days, and I might have a lot to say about the drive if I had more time.  On the other hand, how much is there to say, really, about a drive?  In general, the road was emptier and prettier and in better condition than I expected once we got beyond the surprisingly busy and refined Dawson Creek and Fort St. John area.  Our campsite at Muncho Lake will undoubtedly be a highlight of the trip.

Every chance they got in this campsite, the boys would say “You know where we’ll be” and disappear to the lakeshore to journal, skip rocks, and fish. The boys have now fished unsuccessfully in Wyoming, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory.

We saw lots of wildlife, including this black bear right at the side of the road who probably would have let us hang out with him all afternoon.

Hey, BooBoo.  Let’s go get us some motorhome tourists!

On all accounts, the drive out went astonishingly well.

So now we begin the slow road back.  We’re heading toward Denali and will then take a few days to reach Haines.  From there,  several short ferry hops through the southeast islands will take us to Prince Rupert, BC.  On the 12th, Belinda will meet us in Vancouver and I’ll kick my Dad out of the car so she can travel with us for a week or so.

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