Currently: 34 degrees, snow, Healy, AK. Relaxing with a view of a lake surrounded by changing fall colors; listening to the sound of freezing rain falling outside.
What’d We Do?
Day 8, the sun has disappeared, the temperatures have dipped and the snow has begun.
Tonight I’m writing lakeside at an awesome bed and breakfast just north of Denali National Park. The scenery is trying to peek out from behind wisps of clouds and fog, and a light snowfall is just ending.
This morning was a bit of a contrast. We woke up in Wasilla, literally right next to Sarah Palin’s house. The hotel sat on a serene lake dotted with seaplanes, and we watched a plane takeoff over breakfast. However, the rest of Wasilla wasn’t quite as beautiful. We managed to drive through Main Street Wasilla, and let’s just say I hope Sarah was talking about a different “Main Street America” because her’s wasn’t so charming.
Our first stop of the day was to the Iditarod Museum in Wasilla to learn all about the legendary race. The review said it was a glorified giftshop, and it was, but we actually got a lot out of it. The museum was showing a 30-minute film about the culture of the Iditarod and it’s dog owners and talked about how much care each dog gets throughout it’s life. From the moment a husky puppy is strapped into it’s harness, it begins to pull. Running and pulling is in it’s blood and only dogs that truly want to pull will ever run the race. Dogs are also checked for health throughout the race by a huge team of volunteer veterinarians ensuring that their health and safety.
Outside of the museum a dog team was setup to show off their dogs and give rides to tourists. Today’s team was run by the Reddington family, and the son of the man that started the modern Iditarod Race was the one steering the sled. We admired their dogs and then headed next-door to admire their puppies. Three 7-week old husky puppies were curled up on top of one another, but seemed happy enough when picked up and pet. One puppy licked Kir all over her face. Normally she hates it when dogs do this, but the cuteness of the husky puppy stole her heart. The puppies also squeaked, yawned and just were generally adorable.
After we left the museum, we saw signs for the Alaska Live Steamers and naturally Kir made a quick turn and bolted down a dirt road in pursuit. Live Steamers are a hobbyist organization that builds miniature trains that a full-size adult can straddle and ride. We appeared to be the only guests of the steamers today and we talked with them about Kir’s family’s involvement with the F3 locomotives in Scranton. They then gave us a ride through their facility which encompasses 18-acres of wooded areas they’ve cleared and ran track through. They don’t currently have any live steam, but did have a diesel engine running. Decorating the sides of the track were a variety of comical setups: godzilla attacking the military, a herd of plastic dinosaurs, sled dogs in their kennels, a dragon castle and a tiny construction crew setup outside of a work site.
Our main mission for the day was to get to Denali, so we finally hit the road and headed north, but soon detoured to ride through the Hatcher Pass as Kir’s parents gave it a good recommendation. The drive starts by following a flowing creek or river and then winds through a valley with mountain views all around. The only directions we had for the ride was to head towards the town of Willow, so we turned onto a dirt and gravel road and started up a steep grade. The views from above were even better as the clouds began to clear and the sun emerged. After a few quick photo stops along the road, we decided to pick up speed in order to find lunch. Miles and miles later we turned on the GPS and realized we were still nearly 30 miles from the town all on a dirt road.
We figured lunch would be easy to find once we arrived at the main highway, but the only building at the intersection was a small espresso shop. So we continued north and researched a grocery store 30 minutes north where the Talkeetna spur road breaks off. We arrived at the store and filled out slips to order our sandwiches at the deli. While waiting for our orders we cruised the store in search of prices as we heard groceries could get very expensive up here. We found the produce was locally-grown, beautiful and very reasonably priced, but many of the prepared foods and canned goods were marked up slightly. Ice cream seemed to be the most ridiculous ($10 for about 64 oz). The sandwiches finally came out and we were shocked at how huge they were, we realized we made a huge mistake and set out to find a cooler for the leftovers, but apparently they’re at a premium in fishing season so that was a no-go. We ate lunch in the warmth of our car while people-watching cruise bus passengers entering the store, glad we arrived before them.
On the road again we made just a few more stops before arriving at our stop north of Denali. One stop was at Wal-Mike’s in Trapper Creek, a really odd roadside attraction that’s 1/4 gift shop and 3/4 junkyard. Outside was a collection of hubcaps, a kitchen sink and what appeared to be a bleeding moosehead. Inside was a small selection of postcards and t-shirts, and a couple rooms of odd items like a marijuana home drug test and some off-color home items and art.
Tonight we settled into our room as the snow snowed off and on all evening. We headed down the road for a late dinner at the 49th State Brewing Company which features the “magic bus” from the movie “Into The Wild.” The cold really cuts right through their steel building, but it was way more comfortable than the blowing snow that greeted us when we left the restaurant!
What We Ate
Sandwiches that were way too big from a grocery store. Buffalo meatloaf and a meat lover’s mac and cheese for dinner.
What We Learned
We learned that Iditarod husky dogs are not the big and fluffy huskies you might think of, but are much more lean and athletic and weigh in at around 50 lbs. A huge team of veterinarians check each dog’s feet, teeth, gums and eyes as well as taking blood samples to test for any abnormalities. Also, the Iditarod trail varies it’s route between a north and south route every other year, and has had to modify the route to leave from Fairbanks if there’s no snow (like this year).
You can’t purchase a cooler during fishing season, supply does not equal demand.
Wildlife We Saw
Yesterday’s dall sheep may have been microscopically small, but today beat that. A couple guys next to us at a roadside stop just south of Denali were carefully scanning the mountains with a telescope and binoculars. When I asked what they were looking for, they said “sheep, can’t you see them?” Even with a telephoto lens I said no. So I looked through their scope and the sheep were still just specs. Apparently that’s what they do for fun, no judgement.