Sights and Bites

Jyoti came and took me for another hike in Kincaid Park, this time on the Mize Trail. In the Winter, most of these trails are groomed for Nordic skiing. I had a go once, several years ago, but I’m never going to be a champion skier. Trying to slide up even the slightest incline with shiny planks strapped to my feet is an impossible task. Fortunately, the snow hasn’t arrived yet so today we just had to walk it.

My legs were itchy from yesterday. Not itchy from the exercise nor from needing more exercise, not that sort of itch. I’d been bitten by mosquitoes. I’d caught a few in the act, but many more got through my defences.

Scratching is not an option, although tempting: no need to haemorrhage in Anchorage.

It was a nice warm day, and as I had my bag with me, Jyoti asked me to carry the hairspray. I thought it was a bit unnecessary to walk through the woods carrying hair product, but there are some eccentric people around. Then I read the label:

BEAR spray!!!

I think today’s trail was a bit more hilly than yesterday’s, but we were rewarded with some lovely views.

View towards the inlet

As we left the park, a couple were just beginning their hike, ding-a-ling, ding-dong: they were wearing bells to deter the bears. Jyoti and I won the no-bell prize by just not being at all quiet.

We’ll come back here later in the year to watch the colours change through Autumn, aka Fall, then if we’re still here after that, the views will be even more spectacular through the denuded trees!

But I won’t be skiing anywhere, don’t worry.

Archery here, frisbee golf there, we should have worn hard hats

In the afternoon, I exercised the old grey matter by completing a crossword and a sudoku. The first such puzzles for a month, so my new resolution is to get into the habit once again.

Today’s not really very scary thing was me going to a Japanese restaurant so that I can learn what is safe to eat before we visit the country. Ronnie’s is Klaus’s favourite resaturant but a quick look at the menu beforehand was disappointing for me. Nothing vegetarian. Even the bean curd dish has beef in it. The soup is all based on fish broth. In the end, I had a very nice selection of veggie tempura: but even here, the menu offered half veggie, half shrimp tempura!

Asa and Gideon returned home today as their parents are both back from their trips.

Children’s decorated stones in the park

Anchored Down in Anchorage

Mick is hoping to purge this earworm by mentioning it here. Anchored Down in Anchorage by Michelle Shocked is a great song, but I wish my mind would concentrate on a different one about AK or preferably, about something entirely different.

Monday was a day of rest. Asa’s interested in cookery and he scrambled some eggs for our breakfast. And we went out for some shopping, stopping at a coffee bar, of course.

Unfortunately named napkins

In the evening, we went to collect Gideon from his football practice. He enjoys playing in goal but for the time we were there, all the play was at the other end of the pitch. As I walked back to the car with him, he was dribbling his football and his control was very impressive!

The field has several colonies of mushrooms should they get hungry during a game.

The next morning, we went to the gym where our 12-year old Training Assistant, Hannah, got us to do some exercises. And tried to sell us more services, of course. We’d rather be outside walking or cycling but the weather recently has been a bit damp and the immediate forecast doesn’t look too good either. But we do need to build up strength and stamina before our long trek in Japan.

In the coffee shop afterwards (it had to be done!), we bumped into Suvan: we were planning to see him later in the day too at his Mom’s house.

In the afternoon, we took Asa and Gideon to the movies. Christopher Robin is very enjoyable, very gentle with some nice nods to the original Winnie the Pooh stories.

We went round to Jyoti’s in the evening for her gorgeous Indian food. Suvan was there too with his gorgeous new bride Kayla.

Liesel, Suvan, Kayla, Jyoti

We took Asa to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center at Portage. Gideon didn’t want to come because the animals make his hands smell. Which may be a euphemism for he wanted to stay in to play computer games. The weather was dry but a couple more degrees of heat would have been welcome.

The Center does take in orphaned and injured animals and, for us, provided a good way of seeing some genuine Alaskan wildlife albeit in an artificial setting.

Moose
Noncustomary speed limit
Musk oxen
Arctic fox
Sitka deer
Three-legged porcupine called Kit-Kat
Black bear
Black bear in the water
Wood bison
Not a real bear

On the way to AWCC, we stopped at the Alaska Bakery. I have never been defeated by a cinnamon roll before but this one was enormous. Cinnamon roll?It was a brick! I ate it in three sessions during the day. Yes, I should have taken a picture of it.

When we got back home, Liesel and I went for a quick walk up the road with the dog who was limping a bit and she knew when she’d had enough. It was just great being outside for so long today.

It’s not every day you get woken by the phone ringing at 7.00am. It was the crew delivering the new dishwasher and the new oven telling us they were on their way. We both stayed in bed until they’d gone.

Jyoti called as well to say she was coming over at about 9am and as it was 8.45, I knew I had plenty of time: she is Indian after all 😉 but she showed up just a few minutes later, and the three of us went for a walk to Kincaid Park and around the trails.

Asa and Gideon went for a quick bike ride to Kincaid too, and on their way back home, they told us that there was a moose around the corner with her baby. We didn’t know how the dog would respond so we turned back, and found a different rute through the park.

Jyoti and Liesel

We found Beercan Lake, aka Campbell Point Lake, the location of our marriage ceremony all those years ago.

In fact, we realised it was exactly our 12½th wedding anniversary, half a silver!

Liesel and Mick, without skis this time

After the walk, we went to a great resaurant called South for a late but very welcome breakfast. I liked one of the paintings on the wall but Liesel thought we probably wouldn’t be able to afford it. So I snuck a photo instead.

A terrific painting
Lending library, we’ve seen a few of these cute little boxes
Yes, we went into this shop

In the afternoon, we took both boys to Color Me Mine, a paint your own ceramics shop. It was a lot of fun but it’s fair to say that other customers had more artistic talent than we do. The items will be fired in the oven and we’ll be able to collect them in 7-10 days.

Like the local orange juice, 100% concentration
Liesel’s penguin

I don’t think I’ve played Monopoly for a quarter of a century or more but the rules came right back to mind. We played the Alaska edition which was fun, but the funniest thing was, Gideon’s cheating was more blatant than Asa’s. Even so, I was declared the winner in the end because I had more properties. But, really, the game lasts far too long for young folks and I even thought that when I was myself a young folk.

Monopoly

The Alaska edition has groups of land mammals, sea mammals, cities, natural features and the Chance and Community Chest cards have been given an Alaskan flavour. No “You came second in a beauty contest” here, it’s “You have won second prize in the miners and trappers ball costume contest”. You can go to jail for “exceeding legal fishing limits”.

Hope for the Best

Hope is one of the very early pioneer gold rush towns. Depending on who you believe, it’s named after one of the first prospectors or after the sense of optimism felt by the men. And the population was mostly men, just a couple of women to do the laundry and provide other services.

The population is now 159 according to the lady running the of Hope and Sunrise Museum.

Phil and Una have a cabin here which they share with three other families. They visit once a month and they invited us (me, Liesel and Jyoti) to join them this weekend. We’d had a late night Saturday, a good night’s sleep and a not too early rise on Sunday morning.

Taxi service in Hope

The rain was still falling, more drizzle, really, as we walked to Creekbend Café for breakfast. We hoped for an improvement in the weather because the one thing we wanted to do in Hope was to go for a walk.

After breakfast, Liesel and I paid a visit to the Museum. The history of the place is fascinating. We’re pretty well-off now in the early 21st century: we just can’t imagine moving away to a strange place, a new town even, hundreds of miles from home, on the off-chance of being able to find enough gold to make the trip worthwhile.

At the museum, there are some of the old huts and equipment. The huts were transported to the museum as they stood in the way of a new bridge built for the new Seward Highway some years ago.

Bigger than the one that used to be in Cedarcroft Road, Chessington
Quonset hut
Prospectors’ huts

I walked down to the campground, as close to the sea as I could get without squelching through the quicksand-like mudflats.

The view from Hope over the inlet

The weather had brightened so I was keen to go for a longer hike. So was Phil. But the three girls turned their noses up and stayed behind for girly time and girly chat.

Phil had recently heard of a trail that is only known by the locals, so I can’t reveal its top secret location. But it was a wonderful hike through the woods. And I can confirm that bears do do that there.

Bear poop, there was a lot of it

We looked out over the sea, The Turnagain Arm, from various places where the path approached the edge of the bluff. The tide was going out as revealed by the rocks and mud in the middle of the inlet. In fact, this is the site of the highest tide in the whole of the USA. There was a lot of fungi present, some edible, but I didn’t risk it. Where the soil had been washed away, trees now grow sideways out over the water.

A cartoon mushroom
My guide, Phil, a fun guy
Much more fungi
The inlet with mud and rocks revealed by ebbing tide
Tree hanging on by its fingernails

This was bear country, but we heard no animal sounds, not even birds, just the wind rustling in the trees. We turned back after a while and retraced our steps back to the car. On the drive back to the cabin, Phil showed me a log cabin newly built by friends of theirs. The logs used are from local trees.

There is another road that leads up towards the mountains. Phil has mountain-biked there, sometimes being taken to the top so that he can enjoy the ride back down. He offered to take me along this road, and it was indeed a very pleasant drive. Lots of fireweed, though mostly past its best. The sky by now was a beautiful blue colour and listening to Dark Side of the Moon was the unexpectedly perfect soundtrack to the ride.

Near the top of the road are some small lakes, known as tarns. This is a term I usually associate with the small lakes in the mountains in the north of England, it seemed odd terminology for outback Alaska. Beautiful, though, just the same.

Family of ptarmigan
Tarn

A campground was perfectly located, but again, the bear-proof food storage bins were a stark warning that we were in the bears’ domain.

Stream near the campground

On our return, the ladies had moved from the kitchen to the living room, but hadn’t ventured outside despite the improvement in the weather. Phil and I raved about the newly discovered and very secret trail. We decided to go back, all five of us this time, so that’s what we did. The tide in the inlet was even further out this time. The bear scat was still there, though I’m not sure Liesel believed me, or was impressed, when I said that on our first jaunt, it had still been steaming!

On the drive back to the cabin, we encountered real, live, actual wild moose. A Mum and her baby were eating the vegetation right by the road, although the baby retreated fairly quickly. It was nice, at last, to see wildlife land-based mammals bigger than squirrels and bunnies.

Moose and baby
Mama moose

Back at the cabin, we packed up for our departure but before that, we picked and ate tons of raspberries growing wild in the garden. Why haven’t the bears eaten them yet? Oh, they’d been by and had a few, aparently. I really didn’t expect to eat wild berries in Alaska, how can it ever be warm enough for such things to grow? This is my prejudiced gut feeling about Alaska but it’s not as bad as all that in the, admittedly short, Summer season.

Raspberries

On the drive back to Anchorage, we stopped at the famous Double Musky Inn in Girdwood. Liesel has been talking about, salivating for and lusting after their cheese jalapeño rolls, so that’s what we bought. Very nice, very tasty. Plus, on the way in, a strange young lady gave me a hug, her equally intoxicated partner shook my hand and again I thought, what a friendly place this is. Jyoti asked if I knew these people. Well, I sort of do now!

Hope and Anchorage

On Friday, we spent time with a defence lawyer and a newly appointed member of the Anchorage Superior Court. We weren’t in trouble, but this was the first opportunity to catch up with old friends Una and Phil. It was Una who married us twelve years ago on the frozen Beercan Lake.

While in Anchorage city centre, I got a new pair of prescription reading glasses to replace those I’d left on the plane. At last, I can reduce the font size on the Kindle to something smaller than headlines.

Also, don’t laugh, but we joined the gym. We plan to go every day and exercise. Honest. Our joint subscription costs less than a sole membership at David Lloyd: there is a reason why the phrase ‘Rip-off Britain’ keeps coming to mind. On the other hand, our subs here don’t include sun-bed or spray-tanning.

The second-hand book shop Title Wave is still doing well, despite the rapid expansion in the use of Kindles and other e-readers over the last several years. I could spend hours there, and in fact, I did make a note of some books that I now want to download.

We visited the Kaladi Brothers Coffee shop for a coffee: this is the branch where newly married Suvan works, although he wasn’t in today.

Liesel drove us in her Dad’s prized, orange sports car. After being in the motorhome for over a week, I couldn’t believe how low to the ground its seats were. It’s funny the things you get used to in a short space of time.

Earlier in the day, we emptied the motorhome. OK, I’ll admit, mostly it was Klaus and Liesel who did that while I was still in bed. So much food to take indoors and try and fit into one of the fridges or freezers or cupboards, all of which are already groaning under the weight.

After our evening meal, Liesel and I went for a walk. We’d had an administratively productive day but my legs were begging for a bit of exercise. And I’m sure I slept better for it.

Actually, it's do they can find the hydrant in the snow
American gnome with fishing rod

On Saturday there was an open house day at the local weather station. It was packed and the lady at the entrance seemed surprised that we’d walked all the way. We didn’t own up to the fact that we only lived a mile or so away.

This would, I’m sure, be a fascinating place to work. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monitor the weather, climate, volcanic activity, seismic activity, everything to do with a changing environment. A fascinating place to work, yes, but I’m not sure I’d want to be sitting at a desk looking at six or seven different screens all day. Lots of screens and lots of abbreviations to deal with. Bonus points if you know what these all stand for without looking them up: NOAA, WFO, WRN, NASA, NTWC, AAWU, APRFC.

Anchorage Weather Service

Dave Snider, a local weatherman, gave a good talk about his work and the work of the Weather Service here in Anchorage and in wider Alaska. Weatherman? That term’s doing him a disservice, to be fair. He talked about tsunamis, thunderstorms, the annual ice break-up in AK and the problems caused, mainly flooding. He was very kind to the lovely 5- or 6-year old girl who kept asking questions but was already quite knowledgeable about the subject.

Dave Snider

Every twelve hours around the world, over 800 weather balloons are launched simultaneously. We saw a launch this afternoon at 3pm. Five feet wide at ground level, the hydrogen-filled balloon’s latex expands to forty or fifty feet diameter at about 90,000 feet altitude, before bursting. The instruments, measuring temperature, humidity and more, continuously as the balloon ascends, fall back to earth, sometimes hundreds of mile away, with the help of a small, orange parachute. Only about 3% of the instruments are found and returned.

Some of the balloons don’t make it very far: a few trees had remnants caught in the branches, probably due to a rogue gust of wind. Also, you’re not allowed to smoke within 25 feet of the hydrogen tank.

Aaron and Jodi are both away for work this coming week, so Gideon and Asa will be staying with us. They all came round this afternoon for a quick visit.

Later on, Liesel and I drove over to Jyoti’s place to collect her. We were planning to spend time with Phil and Una at their cute, little cabin in Hope for the weekend.

Jyoti took us round to Suvan and his new bride Kayla’s place. She knocked. She called. She opened the door. Nobody responded. Their car was parked outside but they weren’t in. Weird. Gone for a walk?Nah.

It turns out they were in, hiding behind the sofa, thinking the neighbour was again here to tell them that their laundry had finished! I wonder if this neighbour is hard to get rid of once engaged in conversation? Very funny, though.

On to the Seward Highway for a nearly two-hour drive to Hope. The drizzle turned to heavier rain and it was still precipitating when we arrived.

The Sea View Café and Bar is just along the road from the cabin so we went there for our evening meal, the five of us. Beanburger, chips and beer for me, thanks for asking. And a live band too. A great way to round off the day and we didn’t get to bed until very, very late.

Sea View Café and Bar

Lu-Lu Belle

Wednesday was the thirteenth anniversary of Liesel moving to England. We didn’t mark the occasion, mainly because we didn’t remember until the following day. Oh well, maybe next year.

But we did have a fantastic and fascinating 9-hour long trip on board the good ship Lu-Lu Belle.

Lu-Lu Belle

It was raining when we walked across the road to wait, under cover, for departure at 11 o’clock. It rained on and off all day, but that didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the cruise and everything we saw. Captain Fred Rodolf has been cruising Prince William Sound since 1979 so he’s had plenty of time to perfect his commentary which was both informative and very funny.

He was very proud of the oriental rugs on Lu-Lu Belle, so we passengers all had to wipe our feet before going on board.

Just one of the oriental rugs

A boat’s wake is so-called because it wakes up any sea otters that happen to be asleep as the boat passes by.

And we did indeed wake up a few otters, in cold water, yes, but snugly warm with their 100,000 hairs per square inch.

Sea otters

We saw Valdez Glacier as we left the harbour, just, through the mist and the haze. Fred told us that the Valdez we’re staying in is not the original town. That was destroyed in the 1964 earthquake. But why is there a place here at all? Because it’s the northern-most, totally ice-free harbour on the Pacific coast of America. It gets very cold but the sea doesn’t freeze here.

We passed by Glacier Island where we were met by the sight and the stench of sea-lions, great big lumbering slugs lolloping on the beaches.

Sea-lions

Fred told us several times that sea-lions weren’t very popular because they eat the salmon. And the Alaskan salmon industry is second only in size to its oil industry. The salmon population is closely monitored and if one year, not enough salmon return to spawn, then the permitted catch is reduced accordingly.

Further around the island, the boat nosed into several caves, yes, actually into the caves, to try and find some puffins. It was delightful to see them high up, nesting in the caves but it was impossible to get a decent photo from a moving boat while looking up, trying not to fall over and desperate not to drop the phone.

It really is a puffin

Pictures of humpback whales turned out a bit better. There was more time, they were further away and I was more steady on my feet. One of the whales resurfaced pretty much every seven minutes, but where he would appear was anyone’s guess.

Thar she blows!

One of the other passengers was eating ‘gorp’. I don’t know if that’s a well-known term for it, but trail-mix really is a different animal in these parts. At home, trail-mix is just a mix of nuts and dried fruit. Here in AK, it has nuts and raisins, yes, but it also includes little chocolate chips as well as M&Ms.

As we approached Columbia Glacier, we saw ice-bergs. Mostly quite small but there were some large ones too. Their blue colour is lovely, brought about by refraction in ice when all of the air has been squeezed out.

Sunbathing otter

Ice-berg

Approaching the glacier was something I never thought I’d do. Columbia has retreated several miles over the last forty years, and the leading edge is a mile and a quarter wide. From a few miles away, we could see mountains behind but as we approached to within a quarter of a mile, its 200 feet height obscured those mountains from view. That alone gave us an idea of the immense size of the glacier.

We heard chunks of ice crashing into the sea before we saw any calving. As close as we were, sound still reached us too late to be able to turn and look at the right place. It was a bit of a guessing game, but I think everyone saw a few splashes. A couple were big enough to generate waves that reached our boat, but, thank goodness, not strong enough to threaten us in any way.

Captain Fred let us watch the glacier and the calving for a good hour and just as we left, a tall pinnacle detached and fell over, though not while I was filming.

Columbia Glacier

Klaus will talk to anyone and everyone and somehow the crew discerned that it would soon be his and Leslie’s 50th wedding anniversary. They wanted to do something to mark the occasion, but as only one of the happy couple was present, Klaus received the gift of a free muffin!

Yin and yang, though. At some point when Klaus was on deck, the wind carried away his favourite cap, depicting Oregon Ducks, the football team of Leslie’s alma mater. American football, that is.

In the evening, for the first time in AK this trip, we dined out. Fu Kung Chinese but also Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai and presumably other oriental cuisine.

Fu Kung good food

The following day when I went for a quick walk before leaving Valdez, I bumped into Captain Fred again. I asked him to keep a lookout for Klaus’s cap. He said he would, it’s probably being worn by a sea-lion though!

We had to check out of the campground in Valdez by 11am, much earlier than the state-run places, but at least we had good weather for much of the journey today. We had planned to camp one more night, by Lake Louise, but in the end, it was decided to go all the way back home to Anchorage. Klaus thought nothing of the four-hour drive, but then there is a lot less traffic here on the highways than we have to contend with on motorways between London and Manchester.

Being able to see the sights today was wonderful too. The Horsetail Waterfall was very popular with visitors.

We saw lots of lakes and glaciers and mountains as we drove westwards along the Glenn Highway. In places, it looked like a sheer drop to the left, the other side of the road.

The trees were noticeably different from place to place. Tall, bushy white spruce and birches were dominant in places. But in between, where the ground was swampy and the roots less strong, the trees looked really weak and feeble. These are black spruce.

Black spruce

When I saw black spruce a couple of days ago, I thought they were just trees recovering from a bush fire: not much foliage yet and blackened, wizzened trunks. But no, this is what they really look like. If you imagine a nice, thick, leafy spruce as being a healthy, well-fed fox’s brush, then black spruce are the tails of mangy foxes.

We were delighted to see a few groups of cyclists on the Glenn Highway, including one group of about six German girls. They were all doing well even though the road was quite hilly in places. Helped of course by the decent weather we were all enjoying.

I learned something else in the last few days. Where the road is rollercoaster-like bumpy up and down due to melting frost below the road surface, the term used is ‘frost heaves’.

We arrived back home about 6.30pm, and after a chat and something to eat, Mom and Dad went to bed and for the first time in nearly two weeks, the TV was turned on. 666 channels of absolute tosh. Liesel settled for a Harry Potter film.

Someone left the kayak out in the rain

Richardson Highway

Mick: What time does AT&T open?
Liesel: Eight o’clock.
Mick: Oh, perfect timing. It’s quarter to eight so I think I’ll go and get myself a new SIM card as using my UK one to access the internet is proving to be ridiculously expensive.
Liesel: OK, dear, have a nice walk, be careful.

So I walked over to AT&T, the closest telecoms shop to the campsite, only to discover that it didn’t open until 10. Oh well, the girl at Verizon was very helpful the other day, even if she couldn’t provide Liesel with what she needed. The walk to Verizon was a bit longer, across two main roads. But walking can’t be that unusual here, there are pedestrian crossings in all the right places.

The sign in the window said “Closed for lunch, back at 4.30” and I thought, I could work there with lunch breaks like that! The bad news was, this shop didn’t open until 10.30. The only other one I knew of was GCI, just along the road a bit. It opened at 8.30 so by now, I only had to loiter for ten minutes or so. Then I saw the sign: No Loitering.

While waiting for the shop to open, I used somebody’s wifi to do internetty things. By the time I went into GCI, two people were being served and there were two more in the queue. They must have opened early.

The guy with the orange shirt was still at the counter when I left, nearly an hour later. I guess his problems were more convoluted than mine. I was dealt with within ten minutes once Melissa called me up. So, I now get a month’s 4G for what I nearly spent in just two days. Marvellous!

How ironic then that later in the day, when we were on the road, there was often no signal at all, of any sort. Even the campsite had nothing. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

Before leaving the site at Fairbanks, we emptied the tanks, refilled with fresh water and I got bitten by a mosquito. I felt a tickle, brushed it off and it must have been full of my very best because it sprayed blood all over my hand. Ideal when you’re emptying that sort of stuff into a hole in the ground. The rain had stopped during the night, thank goodness, but the grey clouds were still hanging around.

Klaus drove us to the Richardson Highway which we then followed for the rest of the day. First stop: North Pole, AK, where of course we had to visit Santa Claus House. Here, it is Christmas all year round. We resisted the temptation to buy any ornaments or other tat.

Santa Claus House
Merry Christmas everybody

A well-known philosopher once said that Richardson Highway is just miles and miles of nothing. No, actually, it was Klaus who said that: nothing but trees and tarmac. On clear days, the views of mountains must be stunning, but we weren’t that lucky. The rain was back, often torrential. But at least the bug remains were being wiped from the windscreen during the day.

We drove by Eielson Air Force Base which has the second longest runway in north America, running parallel to the road.

We saw many mountains in the mist, and I realised that actually, they look brighter when you avoid looking through the van’s tinted windows.

Alaska is known as The Last Frontier, and it’s easy to see why. Apart from miles and miles of highway, there was nothing else manmade.

Apart from one of the wonders of the modern world. The Alaska Pipeline runs 800 miles from Prudhoe in the far north to Valdez. In places, it runs alongside the Richardson Highway and we stopped couple of times to get up close and personal.

Still no good at selfies

The suspension bridge over the Tanana is the second longest of thirteen major bridges built for the pipeline.

We decided to camp about halfway between Fairbanks and Valdez, in the hope that it might stop raining long enough for us to go for a nice walk. Plus, Klaus was doing all the driving while Liesel and I were looking through the windows imagining the views that might have been.

The pipeline again
An old roadhouse

The campsite at Paxson was right by the lake and we were sure the rain would deter the mozzies. Mainly because none of us were keen to go out much in that rain. But other than the rain, it was very quiet.

Sleep was interrupted by rain and by the motorhome’s furnace turning on every couple of hours to provide some heat. We weren’t even disturbed by bears trying to break into the nearby bear-proof, metal food containers used by folks camping in tents. Braver souls than we are, camping in a tent in bear country.

Did I mention the rain?

Liesel heard a chipmunk outside and we saw a pretty green bird in the trees, which we later identified as a yellow warbler.

Day two on the road to Valdez was just as disappointing as far as the weather goes. From one viewpoint, you’re supposed to be able to see three different mountain ranges.

We stopped for a break and I, the bird whisperer, according to Liesel, had a grey jay eating out of the palm of my hand. Although, not necessarily eating: they store lots of food in secret places, a bit like squirrels do.

No, officer, I didn’t really drive it
Grey Jay way

Some of the great sights we did see include the Worthington Glacier, Thompson Pass with patches of snow still on the ground in places, and Bridal Veil Falls. It turns out Thompson Pass is the snowiest place in the state.

Worthington Glacier through the mist

We’re staying in a site near the harbour here in Valdez for two nights. It’s a commercial site, with all the facilities, but it’s just a glorified car-park, really.

We went for a quick walk to the supermarket, after which I went for a longer jaunt around the harbour. The water was milky, probably the grey-green of glacial silt.

Valdez, harbour, boats, mountains

So far, we’ve not seen any interesting large animals, no bears, no moose, no wolves, no wolverines, no zombies, nothing except small rodents and a handful of birds. We have to be careful out in the wild because we look quite tasty to bears.

And if the bears don’t get you, the tsunamis might:

If the tsunamis don’t get you, the feral bunnies definitely will:

One thing I never expected to see in Valdez was rabbits. I thought there were just a few cute little bunnies on the campsite, but no, they are all over town and they are having a mixed reception here.

Fair enough

Liesel and I along with Klaus, Leslie and Asa had a fun afternoon at the fair. The Tanana Valley State Fair is half funfair and half agricultural show.

The highlight of the day was the Giant Cabbage competition. The heaviest one we saw was 61lb and the leaves were old, gnarly, green leather.

Where’s Asa?

Actually, another highlight was the one ride I went on with Asa. The Zipper. Two people sit in a cage which swings around an axis, ten cages go up and down like a zipper and around another axis of movement, very fast and at times, you are upside down. It was today’s scary thing. Liesel joined him on a different ride, Startrooper, which was less violent but Liesel still came off with sweaty palms.

Asa and Liesel
Zipper

Actually, another highlight was bumping into Chad Carpenter doing a book signing. He’s Alaska’s top cartoonist, famous for the Tundra cartoons for well over twenty years. He even remembered meeting Klaus and Asa before!

Chad Carpenter

There were plenty of animals on show, sheep, goats, pigs, llams, alpacas, rabbits, guinea pigs, cattle, nothing uniquely Alaskan on this occasion.

A big black cloud slowly approached and we feared the worst but in the end, I think we only felt half a dozen drops of rain.

We enjoyed fried zucchini (Scottish style), coffee and big, big bags of popcorn that was both salted and sugared.

In the evening, my itchy legs took me for a walk. I heard music close to the river and on investigation, I tracked down a Beer Festival at the Boatel, just along the road from the campsite. Did I have any cash on me? No, of course not, that would have required forethought and planning and I’d gone out on a whim, spontaneously! So no beer for me, nor I could I legitimately get closer to the live country music being played.

Later in the evening, Liesel suggested that we go over to visit Morey, Shylah and Addy. Morey is Aaron’s best friend from many years ago, Shylah is his wife and Addy is their teenage daughter who was also here to play football. I cannot vouch for the spelling of any of their names, I’m guessing, but someone will correct me, I’m sure!

We were offered wine or beer, I chose wine, Liesel declined, and we sat around the campfire batting away the odd insect and passing the time.

Sunday began with a drum solo on the roof of the motorhome. The long promised rain had arrived along with a much darker 8 o’clock in the morning than we’ve seen all week.

There were lots of us in the van for most of the morning and we saw the unusual sight of the windows steaming up. Lots of people plus a cooked breakfast.

The rain slowly eased off though: nobody wants to play soccer outside in that. And we weren’t all that keen on watching in weather like that, either, to be honest.

We stayed in the motorhome until we had to leave for the game: Asa’s last one. Unfortunately, they lost to the team that they beat yesterday, so the chances of playing in a tournament next year in Boise, Idaho, are vastly diminished.

We watched in dry conditions but the wind was quite strong. Fifty shades of grey were the clouds: much more texture than we usually have at home where cloud cover is often just one big sheet of metal grey.

After the match, Aaron, Jodi and their boys left for home: unfortunately, real life intervened and they have to go back to work tomorrow.

Liesel and I had a productive session in a local laundromat. What a big place, with over 60 machines in use. Back at home, we had pizza for dinner, our first takeaway this week. And it’s an American size pizza, wider, thicker, cheesier and way too much for this English person to eat in one go!

We heard some birds singing in the trees, but they must have been the native Alaskan bird of invisibility. Not like the ravens that flew around the football pitches, big and bible black against the clouds.

Sunday ended with another drum solo on the roof of the motorhome. Leslie is flying back to Anchorage.

And then there were three: me, Liesel and Klaus.