Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sun, Aug 30: Fairbanks

Rain on the roof keeps us in bed until after 9:00am. We have nothing planned for today which is good because it is cold and rains all day.

We work on the RTW book and try to upload the first volume, but the internet connection is to poor, so all we can do is get the blog up to date.

After lunch, we pack what we will need for the next three days and get the rig set for our absence. We check in with the tour company about 5:00PM and learn that it is snowing in Deadhorse, but we are a go. They will pick us up at 5:45 in the morning here at the campground.

We fix a dinner of spaghetti and call it a day turning in to the sound of rain!

We may not be able to post until next Thursday or Friday...stay tuned, we will be back!

Sat, Aug 29: Fairbanks

When Dick gets up this morning, the rain has stopped but it is in the mid-40s with heavy fog. By 9:00AM, however, the fog is gone and it turns into a beautiful day with clear skies and white, puffy clouds. As usual, we get off to a slow start and do not move from the camp until nearly 11:00AM. We first take the motorhome and get the propane tank filled. Four point six gallons costs $16.10. We then fill up the rig’s gas tank at Sam’s at $3.119 per gallon. Once the rig is back at camp and connected to the utilities, we take the Explorer to get gas and do some more exploring of the area.

Our first stop is the Alaska Fur Company where we admire the clothing and animal skins they have for sale. Dick would like to have a wolf skin for in front of the fireplace but they run from $250 to $750 each, depending on the size and quality. He will have to think about that just a bit.
We then fill up with gas and head up north to Fox
where one can get up close and personal with the Alaskan Pipeline.While there, two busloads of Holland American passengers arrive to view this engineering marvel.We then try to visit dredge #4 but it is not open this season to solo travelers.That must mean tour groups only!

We then drive some 40 miles toward Circle and locate the campground where we spent a night in the rain in 2002.
It is much prettier today in the sun!This is a great road to drive in the sunshine. There are many pondsreflecting the fall colors and a pretty river weaving them together.We see many people out trying their hand at having a fish supper.

Returning to Fairbanks, with a brief stop at the Chatalinka Lodge and Liquor Store,and old mine site..dredge and all,we do a little supplemental grocery shopping and return to the camp ground. A tour group is pulling in and we visit with some of the people and admire their rigs before we cook supper.One couple is from Sugarland, Texas! Supper is trout, corn-on-the-cob, rice and strawberry shortcake. How rough is that? It is 9:15PM and the sun is just before setting. The weather is supposed to cloud up and rain. We will find some way to kill tomorrow and then Monday we will embark on our trip to Prudhoe Bay.

Fri, Aug 28: Fairbanks

The morning is mostly clear and sunny and we had said that if it was we would drive south to see if we could see Mt. McKinley. We get gone by a little after 10:00AM for the 120 mile drive to the park. The highway for the first 80 miles or so is better than we remember it being but it then deteriorates into a rolling sea of frost heaves. One could get seasick driving that stretch. At one point, something over half way into the drive, we catch a brief view of the mountain with no clouds and full sun. It is magnificent in its snowy blanket from some 70 miles away. It must be awesome on a clear day from a closer vantage point.

By the time we arrive at the park, it is sprinkling rain off and on with the clouds moving in from the south threatening heavier rain to come.
We are surprised that there is no gate or check point to pay your fees or show you pass. But, there is not and we drive the 13 mile stretch of the park road open to private cars. At the Savage River there is a check station and you may not drive a private vehicle any further with a few special exceptions.

During our drive in and out, we see some beautiful Fall colorsand three moose. It is the rut and two males are stalking a female on a hillside several hundred yards from us. We get photos with our 400mm lens and watch them until they move into heavy cover.Fortunately it doesn’t rain while we are looking and taking pictures.Back at the park entranceit starts to rain in earnest and we attempt to find out about making camping reservations for next Thursday and maybe Friday but the lines are long and we give up. We do watch a great film on the park and its seasons but leave without any firm plans to return next week.

We head back toward Fairbanks about 4:00PM and run out of the light rain after 20 miles or so. The drive back in uneventful and we are back at the rig by 6:15PM to find that there is no water pressure. It seems some idiot has backed his rig over the outlet in his campsite and they had to turn off all the water to repair the break. The water comes back on within an hour and Dick starts several loads of laundry at $2.00US each. Just after arrival, several women arrive and start filling the remaining machines. Two of the ladies are from North Carolina and Dick enjoys a visit with them. Upon returning to put the wash in the dryers, the husbands have arrived and one of them tells Dick that Spruce Pine, NC had a major fire this year and a significant portion of downtown burned.
We go to bed about 11:00Pm with clean laundry, clean sheets and rain on the roof.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thurs, Aug 27: Fairbanks

Dick is up at 6:30AM. It was raining when we went to bed last night but there is not a cloud in the sky this morning! After a light breakfast, we make reservations to take the 2:00PM cruise on the “Riverboat Discovery” and also make our reservations to take the three day, two night trip to Prudhoe Bay and back.

After renewing our lease on our camping spot through Friday night, we spend the rest of the morning working this blog and trying to get the first volume our Trip Around the World book ready to go to the printers. About 12:45PM, we finally come to a decision as to where to leave the rig and the car while we take our Arctic Adventure trip up to Prudhoe Bay. We have to move out of our current space by Saturday due to the arrival of a caravan. We decide to move to an available Chena River-front space now and book it through next Wednesday. We will leave both the car and the rig in that space with the rig hooked up to electricity. The tour group will pick us up here at 5:45AM on Monday morning and return us here on Wednesday evening. Carolyn takes care of the paperwork and we make the move before leaving for our “Riverboat Discovery” trip.

We make the short drive to the pier from which the riverboat sails. There are, ultimately, 14 tour buses from the various cruise lines who drop off passengers for the trip. The boat will hold 800+ passengers on four decks. Shortly after 2:00PM we head down the Chena River at a dead slow pace. We are treated to the first of the well thought out and well coordinated events of our trip. We have not gone 200 yards when we drift to a stop and watch a small float plane take off, landand take off again just for our benefit. The pilot talks to us through the PA system about the plane, flying in Alaska and his life as a bush pilot and mechanic.

Our moderator discusses the various houses that we see on both sides of the Chena River. They range from Alaskan Mansions with manicured lawns to shacks with yards full of junk. He says that river front property goes for $100,000 an acre and construction costs are about $150 per square foot. He also points out that Alaskans to not judge you by how much money you have but "by how much stuff you have piled in yyour yard!"A little further down river, we float to a stop at the Trail Breaker Kennel,the kennel of Iditarod Champion and Alaska legend, Susan Butcher and her husband Dave Monson. We see a wonderful demonstration by the dogs under owner, Dave Monson. Susan won the Iditarod four times, 1986,1987, 1988 and 1990. She died from Leukemia in 2006. When she won the first time, bumper stickers and T-shirts were produced that said: "ALASKA; Where men are men and women win the Iditarod". Her husband is also a well known dog team racer.

The next stop is to see some reindeer, or domesticated caribou, and then we have a quick stop to watch a fishwheel at workand a salmon drying demonstration at the Chena Indian Village. The young lady doing the talk is a local high school student and Alutiiq Eskimo.

We travel a little farther down river to the mouth of the Chena River and look out over the Tanana River
as we turn around. Here we are entertained by a young Bald Eagle and then get a fast look at an adult soaring through the blue sky and into the trees.
On the way back up river we stop for a tour of the Chena Village with talks on the Native Alaskan life style past and present. There are three”stations” and we are split into three large groups each lead by Native Alaskan young people.

Our group goes to the Athabascan clothing and hide display first and our guide, with help of a friend, explains how furs and skins are preparedand made into clothing and what the different bead work means. Then the guide models the “sun bonnet coat”,an absolutely beautiful piece of handmade work!The next stop is for a talk on ancient life with a display of several types of structures used then; the fur hut made on a frame of young birch trees,a temporary structure made of fir branches and a hut made of woven birch bark.There is also a birch bark canoe on display.
The last stop is for a log cabin, a trapper cabin and a food cache and fur pelt display.Here we learn about the different furs and how they are used in clothing and also a little about the changes in lifestyle after the Western culture was encountered. Our guide explains how the native people are maintaining the old ways and living a modern life style.It is a great tour...each demonstration area has plenty of log bench seating and the guides speak very clearly into a microphone so everyone can hear. The grounds are large and well laid out with several other demonstration areas one can visit... the dog team pen,the salmon drying area and several structures from the original Chena Athabascan Indian village which was located near by. The setting is wooded and bounded on two sides by the Chena and Tanana Rivers. The hour we spend there goes by fast.

Back on the river boat, we have a 30 minute ride back to the landing and enjoy the beautiful afternoon the whole way. Then we head back to the rig. One of the sites we passed on the tour was the Pump House which dates to the gold mining days. It pumped water from the Chena River to a gold field up in the hills. Now it is a restaurant. We go there for dinner and have a good hot spinach and bacon salad with blueberry vinaigrette and prawns with a crab meat stuffing.

Right on cue the sun slides below the horizon for a while and we have the pitter patter of rain on the roof.

Wed, Aug 26: Fairbanks

It is overcast and looks like it might rain again this morning. We get up and have a nice breakfast then just mess around on the computer until about noon. Carolyn gets everything put away and Dick disconnects the rig so we can take it to the shop for the 1:00PM appointment. The computer shop is just down the street so we stop first and leave the computer. At the computer shop, the lady tells us the computer will be ready in two hours. Since we are going to the movies, we tell her we will be back after 4pm and head to the garage to drop the rig.

We have a little time to kill before the movie starts so we go to the store. The sky is clearing and it looks like we will have some steak cooking weather later so we buy steak and all the trimmings including fresh corn and strawberry shortcake makings.

We then head to the theater and get tickets for Harry Potter. Dick doesn’t enjoy it as much as the first shows...he said it was to dark, but I think the fact that the three stars are not as cute as they were as kids makes a difference too.

While we are at the show the garage calls and tells Dick that there are some parts that need to be replaced in the wheel and, if they can find them, the rig will be ready this afternoon! Lovely! Dick tells them that the rig is our hotel and not to leave us stranded! OK, now lets enjoy the show!

We come out of the theater to blue sky and bright sunshine...nice! We pick the computer up... after this repair and the repairs on it right before we left, Carolyn’s computer has all completely new insides at no cost, only the case and the hard drive are original equipment! Warrantys are wonderful!

We head back to the garage and get the good news...the rig will be ready in a few minutes...all fixed and ready to travel...thank goodness. The couple next to us at the campground have been stuck in Fairbanks for 26 days and counting! They are in a fifth wheel and their truck engine died on them near Tok. They were towed to the campground for $2400 and are now waiting on getting the truck repairs finished. That is one of those Alaska trip horror tales.

Back “home” and all hooked up, we enjoy the beautiful afternoon. Dick cooks the steak and the corn on the grilland Carolyn fixes the strawberries and shortcake. It is a pleasant evening with all our known problems solved.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tues, Aug 25: Fairbanks

It rained softly most of the night. Nothing hard, just a pitter-patter on the roof when you thought to listen as you turned over. It was really rather nice. This morning it is in the low 40's, there are puddles everywhere and the awning off the rig is dripping in the low corner. The air smells of Christmas trees!

We manage to wile away the whole morning and early afternoon working on this blog and the hard copy book of our around the world trip. After lunch, we take off and check what is showing at the movies. The new Harry Potter flick is showing so we will probably catch it in the next few days. Then, on our way to the Visitor Information Center, the phone rings. It is a lady with the parts for Carolyn’s computer. It seems her business is just around the corner from Gabe’s Truck where the rig has a 1:00PM appointment to get its front end repaired/aligned tomorrow. We agree to drop the computer on the way to leave the rig for its repair. With a little luck, both the computer and the rig will be repaired and ready to rumble by this time tomorrow night!

We then finish our trip to the Visitor Information Center where we find out where to look for some of the First American wooven baskets. They make the baskets out of several materials, but we like the sweet grass ones. The pictures are quite beautiful and we would like to have one to add to our collection. We also talk to a provider of the trips to Prudhoe Bay about going there. They have room for us on Saturday or Monday. We would be on the road or in the air with them for two nights and three days! We will make final arrangements tomorrow if all goes well.

We then visit a shop that stocked some of the baskets, but theirs are way too expensive. While beautiful hand work, they are over priced for our pocket book. If I had the funds, I would buy a small gray and black basket made from whale baleen. It is about 3 inches in diameter and the same tall. It could grace my home for $2,200 and no tax! The sweet grass ones were very pretty too, but are $500 to well over a $1000. The work on them is much finer than the sweet grass baskets we have from South Carolina.

After finding out that the baskets are beautiful but over priced, we go to the local Sam’s Club and to WalMart to restock food and other consumables. I fill up the Explorer at Sam’s for $3.089 a gallon.

Back at the rig, we enjoy a cocktail and then have garlic spaghetti and a salad for dinner. It is now nearly 10:00PM and the sun is setting with a red/orange glow in the west. All in all, this has been a good day. Let’s hope that the repairs to the rig and the computer go smoothly tomorrow. Pictures are taken of the Chena River and rig in the campground tonight at 10PM with no flash.

Mon, Aug 24: Fairbanks

Dick is up early and gone by 7:45AM to try and find someone who can align the front end of the rig. His first stop is the local Ford dealer. The service writer is very nice but they do not have an alignment machine that will take the weight and physical size of the rig. He recommends two places in town that should be able to do the work. The first of these cannot do it for the same reasons, but the second, Gabe’s Truck and Auto, can do it and are a Good Sam Service location. They make an appointment to have the work done at 1:00PM on Wednesday, August 26. Now, let’s hope the problem is just an alignment issue and not something bent or broken.

Dick returns to the rig about 9:30AM to silence. He quietly makes a travel mug of coffee and then heads out to replace a digital camera card reader and to look for a single DVD disk onto which he needs to copy some photos. The reader is easy, but no one will sell a single DVD and the bundles of 10 that he finds are a little expensive. He will look some more later.

After putting gas in the Explorer at $3.139 per gallon, he returns to the rig by 10:30AM and Carolyn is up. We don’t expect the call from the Dell technician today so we plan to drive the 132 mile round trip to Chena Hot Springs just to get out and to see the countryside. We see some interesting signs and a couple of moosealong the way but the last 35 miles is under construction and we spend over an hour waiting for pilot cars during the round trip. Except for the construction the drive is nice. There is a little color in the aspen and the road follows the Chena River the whole way. Chena Hot Springs is nothing to brag about in the summer. It might be quite nice as a winter sports area.

We return to Fairbanks and restock our bar at a WalMart liquor store and then return to the rig. Dinner is baked chicken with Stove Top Stuffing and green beans. It might not be quite as good as the salmon and prime rib of last night but it tastes good just the same.

We continue to suffer from the sun’s refusal to go down and once again we go to bed with it quite light outside despite it being nearly 10:00PM.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sun, Aug 23: On the Road to Fairbanks

It is a little over cast this morning as we leave our little hide away about 50 miles south of Fairbanks. During the night another rig pulled in, but we never spoke to the couple before leaving.
The drive is uneventful and we get to Fairbanks about 11:30 AM. We check into River's Edge Campground after checking out the only other campground with full hook ups. Finally, we get set up after moving to a second site. The first one was really cramped, especially since we will probably be here all week. Last night Dick made contact with Dell Service and we should have Carolyn’s computer up and running by Friday if all goes well!

The rig and the car are covered in dirt and dust inside and out. Carolyn tackles the inside of the rig and Dick works on the outside of the rig and under the hood of the Explorer. It is getting harder and harder to get the drive shaft reconnected when it is unhooked and we want to drive it. There is probably road debris in the mechanism. The whole engine block has a half-inch of dust on it! Several hours later and a roll of paper towels sacrificed to the dust monster, we have a fairly clean “home” and the Explorer seems happier!

We then spend some time looking through all our stuff on things to do in Fairbanks. First on the list, without too much thinking, we elect for an early dinner at the all you can eat Salmon Bake at Pioneer Park. About 6PM, we head over to the Park. It turned cold and started raining about 4:30PM so we will eat inside, but we go to all the stations in the outside setting. Lets see, at the check in station, we are given a big fish shaped platter and go first to the sides station for salads, maybe eight different ones with baked beans and hot bread, of course. Next is the BBQ pit and carving station

where we are given a huge slice of prime rib and a huge piece of grilled salmon. That is topped off with pieces of deep fried Halibut and Cod! Dick gets our drinks and we go into the warm dinning room and eat like crazy. There is cake and coffee if we are still hungry...and, of course, we are! Heck we have just completed our trek to Alaska!

The food isn’t gourmet, but it is good and worth what we paid. After we eat we walk around since the rain has just about stopped. There are many pieces of equipment around the grounds that were used during the gold rush days and early mining period.Probably the most interesting is a steam shovel that was used to dig the Panama Canal and then brought north to Fairbanks to work the gold fields.
We drive around town after we leave because Dick wants to check out two places he found in the phone book to possibly get the front end of the rig checked out. He wants to be there when they open to hopefully get an appointment early in the week. Then it is home and a quiet evening.