Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Alaska Caper - Day 23

Posted by Steve

Dawson City, Yukon
Monday June 26th, cloudy, drizzly and 60 degrees F.

Rather than focus on major highlights, let me recount some of the little ones that I will carry with me forever. I have good news and bad news: The good news is we have had marvelous warm and sunny weather 90% of the time. Alaska is more wondrous and beautiful than words and pictures can capture, Dick and I have ridden the roads less traveled, safely, while obtrusively gawking, and this trip has been everything I had imagined and more. The bad news is we left Alaska yesterday on the 160-mile long graveled "Top of the World Highway" from Tok (neat little junction town) to the Yukon, I have gained some weight from maintaining my strict regimen of a double scooped waffle cone of strawberry ice cream every day to ward off strange diseases in these foreign lands, and our trip is nearing its end.

There are hundreds of little treats to savor, as well as of the big highlights Dick has told you about, so let me share some of the brightest with you. It's special to be on a barren, tricky gravel road in the veritable middle of nowhere and have miles and miles of lavender, purple, yellow and blue little flowered plants lining the sides of the road--like a wedding path of sorts--welcoming you and keeping you company as you travel on. It's special to have very friendly, interesting people from all over the world come to visit you and chat wherever you stop for a break. Some vivid memories? How about humpback whales broaching and diving with their tails in the air just like the pictures; beautiful black and white porpoises playing alongside the boat and whizzing across the bow, racing back and forth ahead of our course with their dorsal fins breaking the water as if to say with a smile, "Haha, we're a lot faster than you are..."; black bears feeding on the side of a very steep mountainside; sea lions and harbor seals taking a break on seaweed covered rocks; and how about a real, live glacier with a front 1500 feet wide and 200 feet high of million-year-old ice right in front of your very little boat, floating in miniature icebergs left over from the glacier's calving every few minutes? As the ice moves (less than a foot a year) down the channel it has made from its beginning way up on the mountain, it cracks with sounds like a thunderstorm and big chunks of ice fall into the sea to become water once more in an endless cycle. Up at the start of the glacier, it snows 400 to 600 inches every year. Alaska has hundreds of glaciers, and we saw just a dozen or so. The Matanuska Glacier is just a couple of miles from the side of the road from Anchorage to Tok, and as you cruise along this (my favorite) spectacular highway, boom, there it is facing you through the green forest, surrounding it as you come around a bend. It is goose-bump time to realize that the glacier has been there for thousands of years......and here I am, close to the middle of nowhere, amazed and stunned by it.

The little town of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula is like many towns in Alaska, built on small pieces of flat land at the edge of the volcanic mountains touching the sea. Skagway is another such town. I really liked little Seward; it had a charm and warmth that beckoned you and had a really interesting, old historic downtown section that was there from the beginning of its growth as a fishing village on the Kenai. The Renown Tours' 6-hour Glacier ride out of Seward was just wonderful--first rate, 6 stars. Murphy's Motel in Seward gets many stars too, as the man who runs it was a great help and the room was terrific. Homer was picturesque and blessed with Kachemak Bay and snow-covered mountains of the Kachemak State Park 5 miles across the water. That's the southern most tip of the Kenai. On the way to Homer, on the only road from Anchorage, in the little, amazingly preserved and authentic fishing village of Ninilchik, there is a very small, very old, and very original Russian Orthodox Church with its golden spires and all white presence overlooking the sea the early settlers fished centuries ago. If you've read Michener's "Alaska"--a must read if you haven't--you know all about the early Russian settlements in Alaska and how we bought it from the Czar in 1867 for 2 cents an acre. It was neat to see some of the early Russian influence still alive and visible.

I could go on and on, about the little houses along the wild roads in the interior with a Piper Cub under a shed and a short gravel strip next to the house--for grocery runs, I'm sure, about the incredible Yukon and Alaska wild country that stretches for miles and miles and miles on either side of the rocky road to Dawson, and my excitement of actually being in Dawson City today, with a day off, to explore the history of the 1897-8 gold rush, and the Yukon and Klondike Rivers that I read about when I was a kid.

Follow your dreams, make them happen and carpe diem. Aloha from the Yukon, and I hope we have passed along a little of the magic, beauty, and indescribable wonder of this trip. No kidding, it really was "the trip of a lifetime." A special thanks and love to our wives, Linda and Jacquie, for their understanding and support of this awesome mission. And, of course, Thank You, Lord, for making it all possible............hasta pronto, Steve

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