Saturday 19th July 10:00 p.m Fairbanks, Alaska
I just realized it's only been seventeen days since I left Australia. It seems like a year. In fact it almost seems like my last trip seven years ago never ended, and I'm still on it. Everything is so natural and so right. You'll either know what I mean...or not.
Jeff and his family were great hosts. I had assumed that Jeff was one of the many hosts I had contacted through a hospitality exchange website. However, when I walked into his living room, I remembered the Mali connection. All around the room were Malian handcrafts; carvings, paintings, clothes, vases and bowls...you name it. Jeff had visited Mali quite recently, as part of a small tour group. Theresa, a reader of this website, was also on that tour, and contacted Jeff to let him know about my Mali photos and stories. That's how Jeff came to invite me to stay a night in his home. His wife Michelle had already gone to bed by the time they brought me home from the train station, so I didn't know if I'd get to meet her or not. I was actually hoping to ask Jeff if I could stay for two nights since I arrived so late, but he offered before I had the chance to ask.
Jeff had been involved in politics, but was displaced with the recent change of government. He's determined to take the summer off to catch up on doing nothing. Spending time with his family, reading the newwspapers, reading books, surfing the net, and just whatever he feels like. Michelle works for a large charity organization, whose name I forget, but if you're reading this Jeff or Michelle, feel free to email me with the name and I'll link to their website. Their son Brenn is moving to Seattle soon for university. He took me on a bike ride along the coastal trail, past the deadly mudflats to a bluff that looks out over Anchorage. That ride reminded me that I'm not as fit as I used to be. Then Thursday night we three boys went to a philosophy discussion, where you'll be pleased to know I participated enthusiastically and had my say for Australia. When we got back to the house, Michelle was home from a long day at work and was obviously concerned that what she had prepared for dinner wouldn't be good enough for 'a guest'. Despite my objections that whatever it was would be fine, she whizzed off down the road and returned with four gourmet pizzas. They were delicious, but my stomach was still recovering from whatever took hold of it the day before, so I could only eat three or four slices.
In between times, I caught up on things. I caught up on email, caught up with my journal update, caught up with my laundry- which is a frequent task when you travel with so few clothes- and caught up with my previous Anchorage Casey just in time to pick up my latest present. Arrived in the mail yesterday, a Camelbak Zoid. Zoid is the model, and if you don't know what a Camelbak is, click on the link. It's a beauty. I also caught up with the latest news; freak summer storm dumps heavy snowfall in Denali National Park to the north *where I'm heading* bear savages hiker in Kenai to the south*right where I just came from*
After such a relaxing but productive couple of days, I was ready to hit the road. I wandered into town about mid afternoon. On the walk into town I could see Mt McKinley hundreds of miles to the north, a shining white triangle against the cloudless blue sky. I felt fortunate to have even caught such a glimpse of the shy mountain. This was my last look around Anchorage. If you were viewing my 'Not So Savage' page on Alaska, you may have seen me walk by one of the live Anchorage webcams that I link to on that page. That day marked the first dollar I spent on transportation since leaving Brisbane; in fact $1.25- a one way bus ticket to Eagle River, just north of the city. Lisa, my host in Eagle River where I stayed a week ago, wouldn't be back from her job on the roadworks until about 10:00 p.m. so I left my backpack at the gas station and killed a few hours watching Terminator 3. The movie was mildly disappointing, but not as disappointing as the infant behind me who winged, cried, talked, walked up and down the aisle, and patted me on the back of the head during much of the screening. Kids! Sheesh....
Lisa had an eight o'clock dentist appointment this morning, which was perfect timing for her to give me a lift to the highway to catch my 7:30 Alaska Trails shuttle to Fairbanks. The Parks Highway Express arrived a little late, and the driver Tom was obviously a littled annoyed. I found out later that one of the passengers had been late arriving. Having driven for a living myself, I know how frustrating it can be to start the day behind schedule. Even fifteen minutes can be difficult to make up later. Tom gave occasional commentary as we drove, a few historical and geographical facts and regular updates as to our next rest stop and our remaining distance to Fairbanks. His wit was as dry as the dust on a camel's tail. My favourite of his comments was from early this morning, when he announced gruffly "My mood may improve as the day goes on. I haven't decided yet." I cracked up laughing almost every time he spoke, as did Tara a Hawaiian girl who shared the back seat with me.
Tom's mood did improve, I think largely due to the unusually clear views of Mt McKinley. I moved to the front of the bus for a while and hit him with a barrage of questions. He's been driving this route for eight years, and he said that of the 132 trips they do every summer, McKinley is usually only visible on about thirty of those occasions. In midsummer, it's normally clouded by a thick haze, but I guess the storm two days ago has left it clear. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
Alaska Trails runs seven of these vehicles all year round, covering the Anchorage to Fairbanks route each way every day during summer, and the Anchorage to Denali section twice a day! They also drive from Fairbanks to Dawson, Canada and are available for charter. Have a look at their website www.AlaskaShuttle.com Even Newman from Seinfeld rode this shuttle once, according to Tom.
Anyway, where was I? So we get to Fairbanks, and the first stop is Billy's Backpackers Hostel, where I have a couple of nights lined up for free. When we wheeled into Billie's, there was a band playing in the yard, a pig on the spit, a keg of beer by the wall, and tables covered in all types of food. Art, the owner's son greeted us at the door with a bone crushing handshake."You've arrived just in time. Leave your backpack and head out into the yard. There's heaps of food and cold beer!" Now, that's not the welcome I necessarily expect when arriving at a new place, but hey- who am I to argue? So I've spent a beautiful hot afternoon eating roast pork, fresh veges, pasta salad, cake and drinking cold *free* beer. A hilarious American guy turned up with two huge bags of marshmallows and set about toasting them over the coals, force feeding them to the rest of us and eating so many himself that he's still out in the yard on a sugar high, playing frisbee with whoever will take him on. I've met heaps of cool backpackers, mostly from the States but one from Switzerland and a crazy Japanese girl who reminded me of my ex-girlfriend Makiko. I'm in a small four bed cabin, but so far just myself and a girl from Kansas sharing. A handful of travellers have pitched their tents just outside our cabin, and there are at least ten more tents- and more going up every hour- in the back yard. I've heard that Billie has been running this hostel for thirty years, and has never turned anyone away! Oops...my roommate Laura has gone to bed so I better turn the computer off and stop this tapping.