Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"North to Alaska"...Day 50...Tuesday, July 22, 2013

It's 8:30AM...I'm awake in the camper...and my head hurts. That's the price that I am paying for last night's "indiscretions".
Bleary-eyed, I stagger out of the camper...men's room...stove, pot, water...coffee...ah. An orange juice gulped down...ah.
At 10:30, I start my laundry...one load of sheets and one load of "camping clothes". Wrong dryer setting...another 45 minutes...I'm not done until after 1:00. In between loads, yoghurt and granola for breakfast.
Laundry done, I make my bed and repack my camper. Then, it's over to G&P Tobacco to restock on cigars...50 Hondurans for $150.00. When I pull out my wallet, I discover that my American Express card is missing...this is not good. I retrace my steps from last night...Simon & Seafort's for dinner (I have a receipt)...then Darwin's Theory...all those shots...I have a receipt. I call Darwin's...Cindy has my card...whew! I drive to Darwin's where Cindy proffers my card with some advice..."Yo, dude, maybe you should limit your shots to five or less at any one sitting". Good advice, Cindy, really good advice.
Card in hand (wallet), I head to the local Best Buy and WalMart. I pride myself on having everything, and I mean everything, for camping, but cousin Bill has showed me a "weakness". I have an iPod boombox...great for music...and a Sirius radio boombox, but that doesn't work up here...I need an AM/FM/ Short Wave radio. Nobody has what I want...so...late in the afternoon, I return to my campground...shower...shave...change clothes.
At around 4:30, I call a cab. I head to the "Club Paris" where I'm meeting my best bud Roger's cousin, Renee, for dinner. They make a great Manhattan at the "Club"...I have two. Renee is there around 5:00. I first met Renee up here in 2008. I saw her at Don's party in June...and it's nice to see her again. She gets a salad and a filet...I get a Caesar Salad and Prime Rib(of course!)....my salad and beef are top-notch...my best yet. We wash our dinners down with Cabernet and Malbec.
After dinner, Renee walks me over to "Crush Wine Bar" and bids me farewell. At Crush, I do two "flights" of reds...Malbec, Pinotage, Barbera...you name it. But...I am not repeating last night's mistake...so...around 9:00, I take a cab back to the campground.
So...here I sit...beer in hand...listening to the soundtrack from the movie "The Descendants...why not listen to music from our 50th state while in our 49th state.
Lots of very cool cirrus cloud formations. More beer...maybe some CatDaddy...NO!!!!

"North to Alaska"...Day 49...Monday, July 21, 2013

Well...it was quite the night last night in Anchorage. But more on that later...

This morning in Talkeetna, it's bright and sunny. I have a few cups of coffee...yesterday's is still hot in my thermos...while I make use of my campground's excellent Wi-Fi.
I've acquired an extra shower token, so I take advantage of that with my second shower in as many days. A "first" on this trip!
Around 10:30 or so, I head out for the 120 mile or so drive to Anchorage. On the way out of Talkeetna, I stop at a pulloff on the Spur Road. I know from my last trip that this pulloff has a really great view of Mt. McKinley. But...because Mt. McKinley is said to create it's own cloudy weather, the chances of getting a good photo of the mountain are only one in ten. This particular morning, I'm in luck...I've got a great view of the mountain...so...lots of photos.
All along the drive to Anchorage, I've got Mt. McKinley in view behind me...more photos.
Around 2:00, I arrive at Ship Creek RV Campground...again I'm in luck...have a nice shady spot available for four nights. Once I set up camp, I unhitch the camper and head out shopping. The best cigar shop in town is closed, but I make a grocery stop for yoghurt, ice, etc.
Back at camp, I manage to get in a load of laundry and, while it dries, I make myself a nice big Manhattan. I'm less than a mile from downtown Anchorage, but it's a brutally steep walk up to the street...so I call a cab.
Soon, I'm relaxing at the bar at Simon & Seafort's enjoying another Manhattan. I strike up a conversation with Tom (Anchorage in the summer, Florida in the winter), and he invites me to join him at a table for dinner. Tom eats here every Monday, so he knows every waitress in the place. So, in addition to some excellent conversation, I also get great service. I get oysters (very good), a Caesar salad (excellent) and a large cut of Prime Rib (sublime). All of this gets washed down with several glasses of great wine.
After dinner, I head over to "Darwin's Theory", my favorite Anchorage bar. I have a couple of beers with more interesting conversations.
Around 9:00 or so, I cab back to the campground. I figure that I'll have a nightcap and head to bed early. Not a chance. I'm soon joined by Steve and Sandra...then Bob...all fellow campers. Iget out the iPod boombox...everybody loves "Girltalk"...more beers..."arthritis medicine" appears and gets passed around. Everything is going fine until I break out the CatDaddy. Everybody does a couple of shots of that...and...a half hour later...it's "lights out".
Around midnight, I slide into the camper for bed. I will pay for this night tomorrow morning...I know that.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"North to Alaska"...Day 48...Sunday, July 21, 2013

I've decided to spend another day in Talkeetna, so there's no hurry this morning.The sun is out and the sky clear as I make coffee in the French press...have some yoghurt and granola...relax.
After a shower, I spend some time on the Internet. This campground has excellent Wi-Fi, so I'm able to upload a lot of photos and download several weeks worth of podcasts (all techno) to my iPod.
Around 1:00, I take the nice 1/2 mile stroll into downtown Talkeetna.
I stop at Denali Brewing where Amber greets me by name. I want to have lunch at the little Thai place in town, but they are busy...an hour wait for food. Instead, I opt for pizza/Greek salad. There, I meet Amy...moved to Talkeetna eight years ago...loves it...drives a huge Crown Victoria.
After lunch, it's more bar-hopping...the Rib, the Fairview Inn, the Tee Pee. Around 6:00, I'm hungry again, so I head back to the Thai place for spring rolls and shrimp soup...both very good.
Close to 8:00, I hike back toward the campground...making one last stop at Latitude 62 for one last beer. Well...not the last one...I have two or three back at camp before bed.
I talked to Cousin Bill...he's feeling much better and has driven down to Denali from Fairbanks. He's got whitewater rafting and ATV excursions planned at Denali (those are not possible for me on my "austerity budget"). Tomorrow, I head to Anchorage for four days...Cousin Bill should be there on the last day. From Anchorage, we'll be heading south down the Kenai Peninsula.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

"North to Alaska"...Day 47...Saturday, July 20, 2013

It's that familiar sound of raindrops again this morning. Dash from the camper to the Explorer for a morning cigar...then dash over to the coffee shop for my morning cup.
There's no sense sitting around in the rain...so...around 8:00, I'm on the road to Talkeetna in a steady drizzle. The scenery on the drive is beautiful...what little I can make out of the clouds and fog. But, after 75 miles or so, I can see something way out on the horizon...something blue...it's clear skies!
It's about 12:00 noon when I pull off the Parks Highway and swing onto the "Talkeetna Spur Road". After this many straight days of camping, I'd like to stay in a hotel tonight. Unfortunately, my travel budget will not permit a hotel stay. The $2200 storage locker bill, the $350.00 cell phone charge and the $1500.00 in cost overruns on the skylight replacement at home...all of these "ate up" about 1/3 of the funds budgeted for this camping trip. So...I have been forced to "economize".
There's a nice campground about 1/2 mile out of town. They're "full", but for $20.00, I can park in the "overflow lot" where I'll have electric, but no water. I'll take it. They have excellent Wi-Fi here, so I take two hours or so to check emails, post to Facebook, pay a few bills.
Cousin Bill calls...he's feeling better, but still pretty sick. Sick or not, he's heading south out of Fairbanks tomorrow...maybe to Denali...maybe to Talkeetna. If we don't hook up in Talkeetna, we'll definitely get back together in Anchorage.
Around 2:30, I hike the 1/2 mile or so into Talkeetna. I like this town. When I was here in 2008, I stayed in Talkeetna on two different occasions...and both times stayed longer than originally planned. Talkeetna is a town populated by an eclectic mix of 1960's-era "hippies, artists, bush pilots and fishing guides. The people are friendly, the bars plentiful and the dining options surprisingly good.
I spend the afternoon "bar-hopping" before dinner. I start out at the Denali Brewing Company where my bartender, Amber, turns out to be from Livonia and a lifelong UM fan. And, while there is not a single lager or pilsener among the twenty or so beers on tap, I find a "Pilsener-style Ale" that is at least palatable. I meet the guy who owns the local ice cream shack...and we talk about ice cream, techno and Burning Man.
Next stop is the Wildflower Cafe with 40 beers on tap...and...there are several lagers and pilseners to choose from. I have several.
From there, it's on to the famous (or infamous) "TeePee"...perhaps the "diviest" bar in all of Alaska. Small, dimly-lit, and off the beaten track, it's a bar for locals...they keep it a secret from the tourists. I settle in for a few $3.00 pints of PBR...what a bargain. I listen to the local gossip..."'so and so' just passed away at age 92", "that little yellow house out on the spur road is for sale but it's got bad wiring", "'so and so' just fell off the wagon again". It's an hour and a half of great conversation.
I'm hungry now, so I head over to the "Talkeetna Roadhouse" for dinner...Hungarian mushroom soup, a Pasty made with ground reindeer meat/cheese/potatoes...a few glasses of lager...and a chocolate "turtle pie" for dessert. I'm still a bit hungry, so I stop at the "Wake and Shke" ice cream shack for two scoops.
Then...more bar-hopping...Twister Creek and, then, the West Rib Pub. I meet more locals...bush pilots, fishing guides, tour boat operators...more fascinating conversation.
Around midnight, I stagger the 1/2 mile back to my campground. It's been a good day and an even better night. I think that I'll stay in Talkeetna for another day. I like it here.

"North to Alaska"...Day 46...Friday, July 19, 2013

I awake to the familiar sound of raindrops falling on the camper...it's another cold and rainy morning. I may not be camping in the Park, but my location has some advantages. The RV Park is behind a row of shops and little restaurants...including a nifty little coffee shop. I dash over there through the rain for a very large black coffee and a big piece of cinnamon walnut coffee cake...both enjoyed in the warm comfort of the shop.
I'm not up for hiking in the rain, but I do want to see the Park. You can drive your vehicle about 14 miles in on the Park road. After that, you have to book passage on one of the many buses that drive you deeper into the Park. So...I drive the 14 miles...taking photos along the way. I see a few moose but, again, they're gone by the time I get my camera ready. I stop at a pull-off and make myself a ham sandwich for lunch...some chips...a Coke.
Around 2:30, I head back to the campground and venture out for a little shopping. It's very sad...while there are a few (very) shops selling "authentic" Alaskan products...most of the stores are crammed with imports from China. T-shirts, caps, coffee mugs, wood carvings, key chains...you name it...all made in China. And I'm just not buying any of that.
Around 4:30, I head over to the Denali Princess Hotel for cocktails. The bartender fixes a pretty good Manhattan, so I have two before dinner. I ask for, and get, the same waiter as the night before...Shannon...he's a good one. Another very good Caesar...seared Halibut in lemon-caper sauce (excellent)...a few glasses of Pinot Gris...some Huckleberry ice cream for dessert. Then back over to the bar for a few beers to kill some time before bed.
I checked the weather forecast for Denali this morning...it's rain, rain, rain for the next five or six days. And while I love Denali National Park, I just can't see staying here any longer in the rain.
I also checked the weather for Talkeetna...150 miles south...it's warm and sunny there. So...as I crawl into the camper to sleep, my decision has already been made. Tomorrow I head south to Talkeetna.

"North to Alaska"...Day 45...Thursday, July 18, 2013

am most definitely "paying the price" for last night's "festivities" as I grope my way out of the camper around 8:00. I stumble over to the restaurant for coffee. My New Jersey buddies are there, along with several other participants from last night's little "party". They all look like I feel this morning...which is to say...not so hot.
But the coffee works it's magic and, around 9:30, I'm on the road back to Fairbanks. I stop at the campground to see Cousin Bill. He went to a walk-in clinic yesterday, and a doctor gave him a scrip for antibiotics. He's feeling very slightly better, but still not well.
I'm pressing on to Denali today, so Cousin Bill and I agree to meet up again either there or, later, in Anchorage. After an obligatory stop at Hot Licks for another two scoops, I'm on the road for the 200 mile or so drive to Denali National Park. It's a cold and rainy day...temps in the 50's and a steady drizzle. The scenery is beautiful, but it's tough to see much of it through the heavy cloud cover.
Around 4:30, I arrive at Denali National Park and get some bad news. Every campsite in the Park is booked solid for the next seven days. So...I head for the closest RV park. There is a cluster of businesses about a mile from the Park entrance...a very nice Princess hotel, a bunch of souvenir shops, some fast food restaurants...and an RV park. I get their very last open spot.
It's still raining, so I don't even bother to unhitch the camper. Instead, I put on my rain jacket and head right for the Denali Princess Hotel. Inside the "King Salmon" restaurant there, it's nice and warm...there's a fireplace...and a nice bar. I order a Stoli Martini and sip that while I enjoy the great view out the back windows of the restaurant. I get a table...order a Caesar salad (very good) and a big slab of Prime Rib (just OK)...along with a big glass of California Cab. Dessert is a warm Apple Crisp with Huckleberry ice cream...yum!
After dinner, I head back to the bar for a few beers. Since it's still raining outside, I want to delay my return to a wet campsite. Eventually, I return to the campground and have a few more beers sitting inside the Explorer with the heater on. There are no AM or FM stations around here...and I lost my Sirius radio signal days ago...so I listen to music from my iPod until I start to feel sleepy. Then a quick dash through the drizzle from the Explorer to the camper. Inside, it's warm and dry...I'm asleep as my head hits the pillows.

"North to Alaska"...Day 44...Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The drive to Chena Hot Springs is only around 60 miles, so I can afford to sleep in this morning. I'm finally up and about around 8:00...coffee from the thermos while trying (without success) to get on the campground Wi-Fi.
I see Cousin Bill moving around two campsites over, so I go over to see how he's doing...not so good. He's still got that nasty cold, and it hasn't gotten any better. He's planning on napping for most of the day.
I've got to be checked out of the campground by 10:00...so...around 9:50 or so, I'm heading out. Not far from the campground, I pass a Falafel stand...hmm...I love falafel, and I'm really hungry. It doesn't open until 11:00, so I drive back and park just outside the campground. I get their Wi-Fi signal, so I check emails, post to Facebook, etc.
At 11:05 or so, I'm enjoying an excellent falafel sandwich...pita, falafel balls, lots of vegetables and hummus...very tasty and, for me, healthy.
Sandwich finished, I head out once again...but this time I pass Hot Licks Ice Cream. They open at 12:00...so...I sit in the parking lot for 35 minutes or so until they open. Two big scoops later (double chocolate and pistachio), I am at last on the road to Chena Hot Springs.
I head north out of Fairbanks and pick up Chena Hot Springs Road...a nice 55 mile drive through low mountains and lots of forests. Along the way, I see an adult moose and her young calf. They're standing in the middle of the road, but they bolt for the forest as I approach...so...no photos.
I get to the lodge around 2:00...register and park at my $20/night campsite...then head right for the hot springs. It's a big "pool", surrounded by huge rocks, with a gravel bottom. I'm wearing my hiking shorts and my "water sandals" (very handy). The pool is very relaxing...you can maneuver around until you get the perfect water temperature. So...for the next two hours, I'm 30 minutes in, ten minutes out, thirty minutes in, etc.
Then I'm out and back at my campsite for a nice Manhattan before dinner. I later head over to the lounge where the bartender, Natalie, makes me another Manhattan. Manhattans are Natalie's drink of choice, so she really knows how to make them. I get a big pile of crab legs for dinner...excellent with several glasses of Oregon Pinot Gris. I meet three guys from New Jersey...Mike, Mike, and the other guy. They're big Rutgers fans and looking forward to playing UM in the future. They are nice guys...they give me phone numbers..."Call if you need a place to park"..."Call me if you need tickets"..."I bartend in Manhattan, come by and visit".
After dinner, I head back to the springs...and things really start to "heat up". A bottle of Jaegermeister appears...some schnapps..."arthritis medicine" is passed around...several ladies have adopted a "clothing optional" policy. I stay way too long, but I'm having too much fun to leave just yet.
Finally, close to midnight, I head back to camp. I will definitely sleep very well this particular evening.