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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

ANCHORAGE TO McKINLEY--a rainy day adventure

We transfer to the Captain Cook Hotel where we join our Princess tour and leave first thing the following morning for McKinley Wilderness Princess Lodge, our first overnight stop. Despite its size, Alaska has only 13 highways, and as we set out on this new journey with our friendly, knowledgeable, entertaining driver, we get to see some famous Anchorage sites.

We pass the starting point of the Iditarod at the 4th Street Theater in Anchorage. Later we pass the original starting point of this famous 150-mile race to Nome at Lake Susitna. We pass lakes where floatplanes park in front of the houses. We drive through Wasilla (no, we didn’t stop to say hi). On either side of the highway are paths. On one side is a bicycle path, and on the other is an ATV and snowmachine (don’t EVER call them snowmobiles up here). Kids ride on snowmachines, park them by the highway and catch the school bus.

Here’s another bit of Alaskan humor. We pass signs urging this: ELECT DOYLE HOLMES TO THE ASSEMBLY. Ha Ha Guess his mother had a good sense of humor to give him that name.

It drizzles throughout the day. No problem as it is a travel day. Alaska gets 14” of rain in August and September. Come prepared for it. We did with Columbia jackets made of breathable, lightweight, waterproof material. They served us well.

There’s a light rain the following morning; Rob and I are grateful when our 4-hour rafting trip is cancelled. No fun in a raft slowly filling up with cold, Alaskan rain water. We're surprised to learn our trip is not cancelled because of rain; it is cancelled because we are the only two who want to run some rapids in that cold Alaskan water in the first place. LOL On this day we are thankful for small favors.

Instead we board the shuttle and head for the nearest town—no village—no hamlet—no something that vaguely resembled a movie set I once drove to somewhere five miles into the Utah desert. This is Talkeetna, AK, the inspiration for the TV show—one of my favorites—Northern Exposure. They actually filmed a few episodes here before they realized it was too expensive. I have a hunch they longed for a more LaLaLand environment. We have a terrific time in Talkeetna although Rob suggests they must have cleaned the place up for Northern Exposure.

Talkeetna, meaning “River of Plenty” in Athabascan, was settled in the early 1900s, and people still live in those tiny cabins. The population is between 450 and 700; the wide range in number is caused by sustenance living and people not showing their faces in town for years. This fellow has everything he needs: transportation, rubber boots, fishing gear, and some protection from the rain.

Everything in town is very moosie, but we didn’t see any. The shuttle driver had hopes because a moose ambled down Main St. earlier in the day. There are several micro-breweries, a mile-high pizza joint, lots of Alaskan gift shops with very impressive work by local artists and artisans, and a slew of guides—fishing, glacier flights, hunting, etc. President Warren Harding stayed at the Fairview Inn here. NOTICE THE "NO DOGS ALLOWED" SIGN AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE INN. (on the wall to the right of the dog----LOL)

We skip the History of Talkeetna Museum with its $3.00 admission and one-room exhibit, but we do see the local people, and they say it all. It took an hour to get to Talkeetna (the nearest town) from the Lodge, a touch over an hour to enjoy the town—and we really did although we got a bit muddy because not every street is paved—and an hour back. Definitely time well spent. We spend 25 minutes in the Denali Micro Brewery tasting room where Rob samples and likes their IPA. The stout is a bit weak for his taste. I nibble on peanuts and take photos.

Talkeetna reinforces my positive reaction to Alaska. The area appears to be inhabited by independent, free-thinking people who are content to follow their dreams, and who are not afraid of work or of the environment where the winter might bring 28 feet of snow. I feel as if I am in another world, and I am glad I have the chance to visit.

And then in the evening, another glorious sunset.

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