Greetings from Fairbanks, Alaska! I am up here traveling with Aunt Ruth, my 90-year-old great-aunt and we are both having a fantastic time so far! Many laughs and adventures and making memories that I will always remember. Alaska is beautiful and enticing in ways I had not expected. Broad skies, endless mountains, pristine forests, and sunshine that lasts late into the night. It is like an endless adventure beckoning us to join in.
I arrived in Anchorage late on Friday night. I decided to come up three days before Aunt Ruth to do some adventure stuff before she and the rest of our travel group arrived. Saturday morning, I left half my luggage at my hostel in Anchorage and took a bus ~ 120 miles South to Seward. That night at about 7 PM, I went on a wonderful 3-hour evening kayak tour of Resurrection Bay -- including a short hike into the woods to a gorgeous 100-foot waterfall and paddling with sea otters floating on their backs around us as the sun was beginning its’ slow descent. A very neat experience, indeed!
The next day, I visited the Sea Life Center (the only cold-water research center in the Western Hemisphere) and then hiked for a few hours up to glacier just outside of Seward. From there, I came back to town and hopped on the Alaskan Railroad for a 4-hour scenic ride back to Anchorage, considered to be one of the 3 most scenic train rides in the world. It was some of the most terrific scenery I have ever seen!
Monday, I rented a bicycle and rode about 15 miles on the Tony Knowles Coastal trail and around downtown Anchorage. It's been far too long since I’ve been on a bike and I forgot how much I truly enjoyed it. That afternoon, I also visited a Native American Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum of Art and History. Aunt Ruth and the rest of our group arrived up here very late Monday night.
Tuesday morning, we left Anchorage by bus for an all-day, 500-mile bus ride up here to Fairbanks. Along the way, we passed some breathtaking scenery, a few historical sites, followed the Alaskan pipeline, and even made a brief pit-stop at the North Pole! There actually is a town up here called North Pole, Alaska. This is the town where all the letters addressed to Santa from Children around the US are sent and answered. It is also home to the best Christmas store I have ever seen. Aunt Ruth's eyes lit up like a little girl on Christmas morning when she saw it! We got someone to take our picture in the sleigh out front and I can't begin to describe how much Aunt Ruth enjoyed shopping there. Her joy was very contagious! We arrived at Fairbanks late last night at around 8 PM. I had to celebrate our stop at the North Pole and got some reindeer stew at our hotel's restaurant. ;) After eating, we both went to bed for a night of deep and restful sleep.
This morning (Wednesday), we got up early to visit El Dorado Gold Mine, where we got a tour of the mines and then got to pan for some gold ourselves. It was cute to see Aunt Ruth having fun panning for gold and we both not only really got into the experience, but both of us found some gold as well!
After striking it rich, our group did a brief city tour of Fairbanks, ate a quick lunch, and then went on a 3-hour riverboat ride down the Chena river to an Athabascan Indian village. From the boat, we saw a team of sled dogs pull an ATV in neutral gear take off at blinding speed around a small lake. I've been reading "Call of the Wild" for my first time ever over the last few days. Seeing the dogs' hopping up and down in excitement before taking off with the ATV really brought so much of the story I'd been reading to life. After dinner this evening, Aunt Ruth and I also saw a slide show by Ken Anderson, who came in 5th place in the 2003 Iditarod dog-sled race. Very fascinating!
It has been a tremendous blessing to be able to see the sights we have been seeing. Alaska is a land of tremendous extremes. It is the largest state in the US with one of the smallest populations. It goes from almost perpetual sunshine to perpetual darkness. (It's very strange walking around at 10 PM with the sun still shining bright in the sky). The mountain ranges, huge lakes, tracks of untouched wilderness, and beautiful skies have all been spectacular!
As tremendous as everything has been, it is particularly wonderful to be able to make this trip with Aunt Ruth. I know these are memories I will cherish the rest of my life. Aunt Ruth is almost always in a good mood, enjoying whatever is before her. I feel as though she has much that I can learn from her. This trip marks her 49th and my 45th state.
We are traveling with a tour group from Kansas City, Missouri (where Aunt Ruth lives). I am the youngest person on the trip on the trip by probably at least 30 years. With the exception of the bus driver and two tour directors, I am also the only one on the bus who is not retired. It has been great! We travel down the road listening to music from the 40s and 50s with many in our group smiling with looks of remembrance and some singing along with the music. Occasionally, they will describe when they saw the singer performing in person back in the early 50s. Nearly without exception, everyone is tremendously friendly and easy-going. I am enjoying this immensely!
I had better close for now, as we strike out for Denali early tomorrow morning. Both Aunt Ruth and I are having tremendous fun so far.
I will write more when I am able.