Monday, June 13, 2005

Anderson to Anchorage

What is it? Well, if you COULD see it, Denali (Mt. McKinley) would be right behind the peak in the center of this photo, but three times as high. It's up there in the cloud. (You can just see one of its flanks in the left center background.) I understand this is a fairly typical view of the mountain.

Last night in Fairbanks, rain moved in from the east (unusual for me!) I checked out the Chana River campground (which was right around the corner from the "Super 8"). Posted $15 at the sites (though at the entrance a permanent sign indicates fees are $10. It appears someone is doing a little gouging!) The available spots were within 100' of a thoroughfare. "This isn't camping."

I left town after midnight, driving south toward Anchorage. There was one park symbol on the map, not far from town, but I never found the park. Drove for an hour through a strange land. Many roads were cut off the highway, back into the trees. Most lead to a clearing, many of which are filled with derelict vehicles, junk piles and dilapidated structures. No obvious sign of a lumber industry, just small cleared plots.

Growing weary, I was happy to find this "municipal" campground in Anderson, on the banks of a river. I appeared to be the only camper!

This morning, a car pulled into the campground and stopped just a short distance from my tent. I heard a woman, with a heavy accent repeating "Hello? Hello?" She was trying to talk to someone on her cell phone. She left after a few minutes.

This woke me at about 10:00 a.m. after a restless, rainy night.

It took about an hour to pack up, in the process accumulating another five or ten mosquito bites. They were pretty vicious here on the river. Driving out, and passing through "downtown" Anderson in daylight, it was difficult to understand what drew people here. It's far from the cities, in a rather scrubby, soggy landscape. I just don't get it.

A short distance up the road, I stopped for gas, and then for breakfast at the "Totem Lodge". My waitress coughing loudly and regularly. Delightful. The waffles I ordered were nasty, almost inedible. Read of the big news in Fairbanks: Eielson Air Force Base may be on the chopping block. 3,000 jobs are at risk.

The town of Denali National Park is dominated by the "Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge". Another Disneyesque monstrosity. Dozens of tour buses filling their parking lot. People never need leave the lap of luxury to enjoy "wilderness". I think the folks at Princess have designs on turning the entire corridor from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay into one grand "wilderness" theme park.

Looking beyond the micro-managed environment of tourist resorts, the rivers flowing through this area provide white water rafters quite a playground. Many outfitters and river guides are based here.

Though a lovely day, there was just enough cloud cover hanging over the Alaska Range to obscure Denali (Mt. McKinley). I couldn't be too disappointed, since I was forewarned that this is typical.

I met a couple riding a Honda Goldwing. They were on their way to Talkeetna, the staging area for expeditions to Denali. I had not heard of this town, and it sounded fascinating, but coming to the turn-off, I couldn't break the momentum. I kept on toward Anchorage.

Hordes of people driving on the George Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, most heading north, it seemed. Bicyclists carrying nearly as much gear as I, motorcycles, campers, motorhomes, canoes and kayaks strapped to all kinds of vehicles. An outfitter's dream! I was happy to be riding south.

Entered Anchorage on a mission: to find at least one of the restaurants Jason Hill had recommended. First on my list was "Humpy's", his sponsor. I spotted a BMW automobile dealer and pulled in to see if they could help me find the BMW motorcycle shop. The first young salesman I met said there isn't one in Anchorage.

Feeling a slight panic, I asked "are you certain?" He wasn't. He then asked his manager, who pulled out the phone book and located the listing for "The Motorcycle Shop", which works on many makes, including BMW. They gave me directions to both the shop and to "Humpy's". When I remarked about the traffic coming down here, they said there are many tournaments and events in Fairbanks at this time of year. That's probably why so many are headed north.

Anchorage is not at all what I expected; a modern city, that showed some wealth and sophistication. (I still had images of the shattered single-floor storefronts and buckled streets that appeared in newsreels after the March 27, 1964 Alaskan Earthquake, only four days before my father died.) The downtown shopping district with its mall straddling the main boulevard, has all the trappings of big cities in the lower 48.

Easily found "Humpy's", clearly a popular spot right downtown. They were so busy, in fact, the host barely acknowledged my dropping "Jason's" name. Having failed that little trick, I conducted myself as any other tourist.

Lunch included "Moose's Tooth Polar Ale", and a house specialty, Halibut and Chips. Very good food!

Alaska has a vitality and intensity (at least at this time of year!) that I don't think I've felt in any other place. The big news here are the claims that this might be the worst mosquito season on record!

Found myself once again riding late in the day without any clear idea where I would be camping. But the map showed a state park just south of Anchorage. It was worth a try.

Riding in the golden "late-afternoon sun" (9:00 p.m.?), I felt a burst of emotion as I reached open water, the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. The highway crosses the incredibly rich Potter Marsh wildlife sanctuary, a birder's paradise.

I realized there has been little emotion present lately. Just movement and instinct. Right now, I don't miss anything except comfort and certainty. My life has been reduced to these basic elements.

At Bird Creek Campground, I was able to score one of the last remaining campsites. What on the map looked like a sleepy little highway to Seward is a frickin' freeway! And the campground is barely off the shoulder. But I was too tired to protest; happy to have a place to rest my head.


cathie said...

I suppose they named the mountain after the SUV?

Newmania said...

Hey timetravler!

I love the pictures! Keep it up! I maintain and I added you to my blogroll.

timtraveler said...

Thanks, "newmania"!