Up early to prepare
for the bus trip. After a quick breakfast of leftover pizza we grabbed
our packs and headed to the park. We had packed everything we thought
we would need for the 8 hour bus trip. There are no places to purchase
anything during the trip so if we did not bring it we would have
to do without it. After waiting in line we eventually boarded our
bus. The weather was supposed to be partly cloudy – it was completely
overcast. This made it cooler than they had predicted and that was
fine with me. The bus driver - Kim Turnbull - seemed nice and really
had a lot to say during the ride. There seemed to be plenty of wildlife
for viewing during the ride out to the 66 mile point. Most of it
was quite distant from the bus but I did get some of it on video.
Overall the trip was a good experience. We saw a large part of the
part of the park that is visible from the road – not a large part
of the park. The park has over 6 million acres (bigger than the
state of Massachusetts) and yet has only 90 miles of roads. On some
days the trip includes plenty of opportunity to view Mt McKinley
– it was not visible today due to the clouds. The ranger station
had a drawing on the window of what the mountain would look like
if we had been able to see it – thanks a lot! After returning to
the camper we chatted with the cats before setting out to find supper.
Since the pizza had been so good the previous night we went back
to Lynx Creek Pizza. It was just as good as the first time. After
supper we returned to the camper to watch some Deep Space 9 and
drink some beer. After several of each we headed to bed.
No reason to
get up early today. We only had a couple of things planned so there
was no rush. We had breakfast at a place just south of the campground.
We were too late for breakfast but the cheeseburgers and fries were
good. After returning to the camper I started the process of taking
the top down on the Jeep. A ride through the park was on the list
for the day and having the top down would make it more fun. The
weather was beautiful and we hoped that we would be able to see
the mountain. They only allow you to go about 15 miles into the
park unless you have a special permit. We made the trip in and out
without seeing the mountain or any wildlife. The smoke from the
various forest fires seemed to be creating a haze over the entire
area. We still had a nice time. After putting the top back up and
installing the windows we set off to shop the various souvenir shops
in the area. A few minor items were acquired before we returned
to the camper. It was quite warm in the camper even though all the
windows were open. We closed everything up and started the air conditioners
– much better. More leftover pizza for supper – still good. After
supper I dumped and flushed the black tank before putting the sewer
hose away in preparation for the morning move. A couple of unexciting
movies on TBS and some Deep Space 9 rounded out the evening. Tomorrow
we head out for Fairbanks. A short trip of about 130 miles.
We had met a
number of people in this campground from Wisconsin. They were all
going the opposite direction around the Tok, Fairbanks Anchorage
loop. We all got a later than normal start and left the park about
10AM. The road north was a bit rough and twisting at first but improved
along the way. The haze got worse as we drove further north. Eventually
the smell of smoke was everywhere. The road appeared to be in a
heavy fog but we pressed on to Fairbanks. The sun was a reddish
orange and the light coming in the windows looked very weird. The
campground was located on the far side of Fairbanks almost to North
Pole. We were assigned a nice pull through site and we parked the
rig with no problem. Fifty amp and fifty channels of cable TV –
much improved from the last campgrounds. After we got set up we
jumped in the Jeep and set out to locate lunch. We tried to find
a place called Katy’s but it had gone out of business. We took option
two and ended up at the Drop In Cafe – also known as El Sombrero.
The food was excellent and reasonably priced. The air was hard to
breath and the news was recommending staying inside so we returned
to the camper. Rita called her Mom while I collected the email.
This took almost an hour thanks to a slow connection and several
days of having no internet access. After I got back to the camper
Rita gave her sister a call and they chatted for some time. We had
to go outside into the smoke to make the call so we were both ready
to go in by the end. We settled in to watch some TV, have a couple
of beers and later have a quick supper. Tomorrow we plan to go to
Taco Bell in North Pole, the Harley Davidson shop in Fairbanks and
maybe even visit the ‘world famous’ Malemute Saloon in Ester Gold
Up and out the
door – we are going to Taco Bell!! The smoke was still everywhere.
The sun was a reddish orange and there was a haze everywhere you
looked. We took the back roads to Taco Bell in North Pole.
A nice drive of about 9 miles brought us into town. There seemed
to be many more businesses here than in the section of Fairbanks
we had seen so far. McDonalds, Wendy’s and Taco Bell – they had
everything. After a great lunch at the bell we drove around looking
for gift shops. We ended up at Santa Land. A very large shop that
seemed to specialize in Christmas items – big surprise. Rita settled
on one $3 ornament for the tree and we were off. We bought some
groceries at the local Safeway before heading back to the camper.
Once all the groceries were put away we once again jumped in the
Jeep. This time we were off to find the Harley store. It was located
in a run down section on the other side of town. A big store with
a large selection of t-shirts for Rita to peruse. One t-shirt and
one shot glass later we were back on the road. The Malemute Saloon
was a little further out of town. Once we found it we saw the ‘Tickets
may be purchased’ sign on the door. This explained why it was not
open – the place actually put on some sort of show they called the
Malemute Saloon – it was not a real bar. Disappointed and thirsty
we turned back towards Fairbanks. We didn’t know the location of
any bar but we had seen a turn for a University Avenue. Anywhere
you have a university you have a bar. At the intersection of University
Ave. and Airport Rd. we found Brewsters. A very nice restaurant
/bar combination with 22 ounce ice cold tap beers for $4. A couple
of beers and an appetizer later we were headed back to the camper.
The smoke had not changed much as the day wore on. You could see
it everywhere you looked and smell it in every breath. We have two
electronic air cleaners in the camper so the air inside was not
so bad. We had a couple more beers and watched some TV before heading
off to bead. Tomorrow we move.
Over 200 miles to drive today but we didn’t get started too early. The smoke seemed worse this morning and the sun had lost it’s orange. It was now just red and was not painful to look at. We finally got hooked up and pulled out of the campground about 10AM. Visibility on the road was poor, maybe about a quarter of a mile. We hoped the smoke would lighten as we drove south and after about 150 miles it did. It didn’t go away it just got lighter. We drove through Delta Junction (the official northern end of the Alaska Highway) without stopping to take any pictures. The place seemed crowed with other campers and we felt more like driving out of the smoke than finding a place to park. We found Tok another 100+ miles down the road. Overall the road had been in good condition all the way. There were a couple of spots of gravel and some areas where the frost heaves had made the road more like a rollercoaster but in some places we could actually go the 65mph the limit allowed. The smoke in Tok was not as bad as in Fairbanks but it was still evident in the air. We got checked in and parked in the site with no problem. We hurriedly settled the camper and then jumped in the Jeep to find lunch. A place called Fast Eddy’s was our favorite last visit so we headed there. We both had burgers and left the restaurant fully satisfied. After returning to the camper Rita continued with laundry. I worked on the dryer vent that had come loose and worked on the PC updating web pages and getting ready to get on the internet. The campground had a PC in the office that you could use and a second phone line you could use with your own PC. After watching a bit of news on the one channel we could get it was time for beer. The campground lounge opened at 4PM so we headed over to see what it was like. The bar area sat about 12 people. We had a couple of beers and chatted with the locals. They assured us that the road to Chicken was open but with some delays. They suggested that we take ice with us to Chicken as they don’t make there own and deliveries had been interrupted. The campground owner offered to provide the ice and some coolers. With the promise to tell the story of our trip the next night we headed back to the camper. Hearing the call of the internet, I picked up the PC and went off to the office. The updates went smoothly but took quite a while to accomplish over dial-up access. The email actually had one good email buried amongst the SPAM. It was an update to one of the web pages I had just updated – wouldn’t you know. I returned to the camper to watch a Jay Leno rerun – remember, only one channel – and go to bed. Tomorrow we attempt the drive to Chicken.