Alaska State Fair

“Well, that’s embarrassing.”

Thus spake Leslie when she arrived home from work that night to see the sign and the balloon at the bottom of the drive. But the happy couple were delighted to pose for a photo. Happy Golden Wedding Anniversary, Leslie and Klaus!

Leslie and Klaus, 50 golden years

On the day itself, we were all busy getting stuff ready for the Garage Sale. Liesel took me on an adventure into the crawlspace under the house. She’d left a lot of old things there when she moved to England, 13 years ago, and it’s now time to decide: keep or discard?

Busy, yes, but not too busy to decline the offer of a quick walk in Kincaid Park. One path was blocked by a female moose, but we just turned and went a different way. And, maybe I’m becoming Alaskan, but I didn’t even bother to take a picture of her.

Then, a few minutes later, we found a few people taking pictures of a big bull moose. They were standing a lot closer than I would have found comfortable.

People and a moose

And, no, I’m not too much of an Alaskan to take this picture. He wasn’t bothered by the people, his ears were twitching away flies and he was eating: he was a happy bunny!

What a guy!

We found an old, thankfully unoccupied, wasp nest too. Fascinating.

Wasps’ nest

In the middle of the night, I was woken by Liesel. Preparation for the first day of the Garage Sale and Liesel needed help. 6am. I’d forgotten that such a time even existed.

It was a slow morning’s business. And cold. The coldest I’ve been since we came. I think advertising on Craigslist and one other listings site with just two days notice wasn’t good enough. Plus, it’s Labor Day weekend and many people may have gone camping.

I went with Klaus to buy and set up a couple more signs pointing people in the direction of the sale.

It was good to see some friends drop by, and we made plans to visit the Alaska State Fair. I wanted to go because it’s such a big event. Disappointingly, though, the monkeys dressed as cowboys riding dogs and herding sheep weren’t here this year.

Six of us went in Jyoti’s car with Monica driving. The setting is below Pioneer Peak in the Chugach mountains on a huge site which really becomes a small town for the duration of the Fair.

Floral display
Yesss! This is our philosophy!!

We walked miles and ate loads. It became cooler as the Sun set, but still not as cold as it had been sitting in the garage, first thing in the morning.

We saw some funny sights too:

Mick’s next haircut
Giant pumpkin

I thought, if I can’t get a nice, close-up photo of a dragonfly, I’d borrow somebody else’s! This was one of the prize-winning photographs at the Fair. Thanks to Jonathan Snead.

Dragonfly close-up

Before you ask, it was not me who tampered with this rabbit’s reason for winning…

Prize-winning rabbit
Five lovely ladies in front of the lovely Pioneer Peak

There were fireworks at about 10pm, just as we were leaving. Fireworks, even though it was still fairly light. The girls commented on the fact that they just don’t see fireworks in Anchorage in Summer, it’s just too light.

But the days are getting shorter. When we first arrived at the beginning of August, we had 17 hours of daylight. Now, it’s a mere 14 hours. And we’ll lose another 5 hours or more by the time we leave.

Fireworks

After dropping everyone off, Liesel and I picked up our car from Jyoti’s. By now, it was proper nighttime. I walked to the bluff, away from the city lights and, for the first time since we’ve been here, I saw stars in the sky. Nighttime and no clouds. A dark sky. I would love to have stayed stargazing for longer, but it had been a long, exciting and exhausting day so we went home.

Sunday was day two of the Garage Sale. We decided to put some items up for sale on eBay, so I prepared the descriptions and we’ll do that in a couple of weeks.

Old, old, old National Geographic magazines

Again, very few people showed up. We packed up and when Monica arrived, she, Liesel and I walked up the road to collect our Garage Sale signs. We walked to Kaladi Bros where we met up with Jyoti and Una. They’d been on a long hike while the rest of us were slaving over a not-so-hot Garage Sale.

At Jyoti’s, we sat outside, drank tea or coffee, ate cookies and scones and I nodded off while the ladies talked several hind legs off a donkey.

We walked up to the bluff, looked out over the water, looked for sand cranes and just absorbed as much heat from the Sun as we could.

Another beautiful view
A noisy raven

Postmen in the UK and mailmen in the USA deliver all kinds of crap. And the mooses know where to deliver their crap too:

Moose poop

La Vuelta continues and a Brit, Simon Yates is now in the lead, rule Brittania! He’s leading by one second.

Update from Liesel

So, has anyone wondered what I’ve been up to while Mick’s been out hiking, walking and generally sightseeing?

The majority of my time has been spent catching up with friends and family, sorting, and deciding what to do with, my childhood belongings, putting together a couple surprises to make my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary special, and addressing my back injury.

In my opinion, you know you have a good friend, or even brother for that matter, when you can just pick up where you left off the last time you saw them. Sure I’d like to know the ins and outs of their daily lives but that just isn’t how life works when you live so far away from your loved ones. We all have busy lives and no one has the time or inclination to talk or FaceTime for hours at a time. The thought exhausts me. However, I can spend hours, in person, and never tire but come away with a fulfilled feeling.

Thank you:

Mom for taking off work while I’m here, Dad for letting me disrupt his routine.

Aaron, Jodi, Asa and Gideon for allowing my invasion back into their lives/activities as if I’d never left.

Jyoti, Una, Monica and Pam for your unbelievable support, kindnesses, passion, food and time. . . It’s been such fun, so far!

My childhood belongings have been lovingly stored in my parents house for decades. Some stuff has been easy to get rid of e.g. old books and records to the 2nd hand book/record store. Other stuff not so easy, e.g. blankets knitted by my paternal grandmother, or beanbag and angel handmade by my maternal grandmother.

Liesel in her donut

As I was already in every nook and cranny (crawl space included) of the family home, my parents utilised the opportunity, to go through all of their stuff. We now have enough for a very large garage sale. Now all we need are people willing to buy all this stuff or take it away! This may take several weekends as this weekend is a long holiday weekend and most Alaskans are taking advantage of the sunshine to go camping, hiking, fishing, State Fair, etc and as a result we have had little traffic. We also missed the deadline for the local paper so we’ve only advertised online. . . If you read this please come and buy some of our ‘lovely stuff’.

Loads of stuff for sale

My parents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary on 31 August. To be honest, it hadn’t crossed my mind to do anything but go out to dinner as a family (all 8 of us!).

Eight of us at Orso

What do you do for a couple who have too much of everything? You certainly don’t buy them more stuff! In the end Aaron and I arranged: dinner out as family, a homemade sign for the front garden, two tiered (my parents have completely opposite tastes) wedding cake (they eloped to Reno and never had a wedding cake), and boutonnières for the five guys and corsages for us three ladies. It was a lovely evening enjoying each others’ company and sharing my parents special day with them. Very different than my memories of my paternal grandparents 50th party, held at the village hall with a live band and a hundred friends and family.

Leslie, Klaus and a two-tiered cake

Lastly, I’ve been dealing with my back and piriformis muscle problems. Two years ago I started having sciatic nerve problems with pain shooting down my right leg. This lead to the discovery of a slipped disk in my lower back, which inflamed the nerve, which inflamed my piriformis muscle, which inflamed my sciatic nerve. Typing all that makes me want sing about the old lady who swallowed the fly, oh my! Anyway up till now the suggestion has been to loose weight, exercise more, and treat the piriformis. Last week I’d had enough with pain and the fact I’m being left behind by my friends and husband who are going on hikes I can’t. So at a friend’s recommendation (thank you Melanie) and another friend’s nagging (Jyoti!), I made an appointment to see a physio here in Anchorage.

The physio here has recommended we start at the source, the slipped disc. Strengthening the area around the disc so that the surrounding areas do not get inflamed trying to protect the injured area. So, a new set of exercises to do, instructions to stop exercising when the pain starts (no more pushing through the pain), stick to short, off-road walking or hiking, cycling, and weights that I can do sitting or lying down. So basically completely different than what I’ve been doing for the last 2 years, which clearly was not working anyway. It seems for the immediate future Mick will continue to go on amazing hikes with my friends but hopefully I’ll be in a better place to towards the end of our stay in Alaska and ready to hike in Japan.

Shoe shopping and Sunday Soccer

One of my favourite things is shoe shopping. No, hang on, I mean: one of my least favourite things is shoe shopping. But today, Liesel took me to REI and we bought me a new pair of hiking shoes. I tried on two pairs, both fitted ok and were comfortable, so I chose the ones that were 0.5 grammes lighter. And $30 more expensive, of course.

I’ll never forget the day, nearly 44 years ago, when I went out with Sarah, one of our first dates. We were with Sandra and Nick, on one of their early dates. The thing is: we walked the length of London’s Oxford Street, along one side, back along the other, visiting every one of the 19 shoe shops and shoe departments in department stores, Sarah and Sandra trying on shoes in most of them. And we returned to shop number 1, where a purchase was made. Despite this, Sarah and I married a few years later. By comparison, today’s shoe shopping expedition was a breeze.

No. I was tempted to show you a picture of my new shoes, but unless there’s a real clamour, that’s not going to happen!

Instead, here is a shop that we didn’t go into, even though I thought a hash brownie would go very well with a cup of coffee.

Catalyst

In the afternoon, we went to watch Asa play soccer, at the arena in Kincaid Park. It was raining, so we dressed appropriately and took umbrellas with us. Unfortunately, it was very windy too, so the umbrellas spent most of their time being inside out.

The pitch was astroturf and surrounded on three sides by bushes and who knows what beasts were taking shelter there. The game was football, but it mostly seemed to be the blue team kicking the ball into those bushes and the white team going on safari to find and retrieve it.

Soccer
Soccer

I went for a wander, with a view to taking some spectacular photos, get some steps in and oh, alright, I’ll admit it, to try and find somewhere more sheltered from the wind.

There really is a ski trail called Toilet Bowl
Thank you to our sponsors
What a great idea: a bike repair kit

The really tragic news is that my Fitbit battery died and I lost three hours of data, which is probably about 50,000 steps, or 25 miles. I might be exaggerating.

How to open a bear-proof litter bin

In the evening, we went to Jyoti’s for dinner. It was a houseful. I’d met Suvan and Kayla before, of course, and Una. But this was the first time I’d seen Pam on this trip, and the first time I’d ever met Melanie, although I’ve heard a lot about her.

Sorry, there are no photos of the food which was all delicious, Pam’s cauliflower, Jytoi’s chole, Melanie’s kale, Liesel’s cucumber, Jyoti’s rice and koftes.

We watched la Vuelta on TV, despite the uninspiring commentary, before bed.

Hikes and bikes

I hope I never get bored with walking, hiking and generally welcoming the opportunity to be outside rather than indoors.

While Liesel stayed in with her Mom to start the process of ‘sorting stuff out (*)’, I accepted invitations from Liesel’s friends to join them.

Jyoti, Suvan and I had a nice walk in Kincaid Park, on yet another trail. Each one seems to be hillier than the previous one! We saw a moose and her baby but, other than a couple of birds, no more wildlife.

Moose and mooselet

Jyoti was kind enough to offer me fried eggs and toast for lunch and I’m too much of a gentleman to decline, so…

After a chat, we walked again, this time along the road where the roadsweeper swept by in a flurry of water and gravel from what may be a quarry over the road, or. more likely, a building site.

I turned left for home, Jyoti turned right to meet up with another friend. The rest of my day involved puzzles and looking at Liesel’s ‘stuff’.

(*) When I say ‘sorting stuff out’, I mean Liesel is going through her possessions deciding what to keep and what can go. At the same time, she is hoping to encourage her folks to get rid of some of their clutter too, 50 years of it.

This whole project will be a labour of love and hard decisions. Liesel and I spent two years selling things on eBay, giving away via Freegle (formerly Freecycle) and taking to charity shops. Sadly, some items ended up in a landfill site. Liesel’s parents’ house is even more chockerblocker fuller of stuff than ours ever was.

For my next hike without Liesel, Una and Jyoti took me to another skiing venue, Hillside. The only reason I didn’t have a go at the ski jump was, there was no snow. Also, the idea of climbing up that ricketty-looking structure is even more scary than actually skiing, never mind jumping. Plus, I’m not Eddie the Eagle.

Ski jump

It was great to see so many other people out today, too, mountain bikers, hikers, runners and I know that most of them are probably skiers in the Wintertime.

Back at home, the pile of stuff on the landing had grown. There is talk of a garage sale at some point.

Liesel and I went out to do some errands and we later watched Gideon playing soccer. His team won by a mile – but compared with the team he played with in Fairbanks a few weeks ago, they all looked so titchy!

Arsenal

The football pitch must be close to the airport, judging by the number of planes that flew over. We also saw a skein of geese. Flying south for the Winter? Not yet: they landed in the pond just behind the fence.

Gooses and gooselets

But most excitingly, my quest to take a good photo of a dragonfly continues. It they won’t land and sit still for me, I’ll just have to capture them in flight. So here are a couple of the best pictures so far:

Dragonfly

Liesel and I went to the gym where I spent some time on the treadmill, including a 12m37s mile. Liesel spent longer exercising here, but by the time we left, we’d both built up a good appetite.

It’s week two of the quest to acclimatise me to Japanese food. Tonight, we went to Sushi Garden. I thought I’d have a beer and asked for an IPA. I didn’t expect a bottle that big, a pint and a quarter of ice cold beer. No wonder I couldn’t finish my meal of two different vegetarian rolls. There was a lot of food there, to be honest. The first plate was enough for me but when the second plate turned up some time later, I knew then I wouldn’t complete the mission.

Then a lot of TV, more than we’d usually watch. Two early episodes of Father Brown but more interestingly, the first stage of this year’s Vuelta a España, the Spanish cycling grand tour. The commentary was cringeworthy but at least we found a way to fast forward through the adverts. And we turned off the annoying loud beeps that accompany every button press on the remote control.

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 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

Some of my Relatives are Aliens

Liesel drove Asa and me up to her old University to have a look around. There’s a spectacular view from the campus that Liesel enjoyed for three years as a student here.

What a view

The Museum of the North includes a history of Alaska from before even the Russians became interested in the land.

The art exhibition was interesting too, lots of items made by native artists, some of it very moving but all fascinating, being different from the western art that we’re so used it. Our friend Monica had recommended seeing the Decolonization exhibit that’s only here until September, so we were very lucky with the timing of our visit.

Decolonizing Alaska is a multimedia visual art exhibit featuring contemporary artists exploring and responding to Alaska’s history of colonization. A collaboration of more than 30 diverse Alaska artists, both Native and non-Native, the exhibit introduces new ideas around Alaska culture.

And it was very moving. Why westerners think it’s ok to go around the world trying to change other cultures is beyond me.

After a coffee and a cookie in the café, we set off for the excitement of shopping in Safeway. They’re very helpful, here, the checkout assistant scanned all the items while someone else packed them for us into brand new plastic bags. Lots and lots of plastic bags. We’re so used to not seeing this any more, we reuse our own ‘bags for life ‘ (aka ‘shopping bags’) but here in Safeway, USA, you can use as many plastic bags as you like. Who cares if they end up in the oceans killing the fishes and the whales?

We walked over the road to Fred Meyer, another supermarket. Yes, let me repeat that. We walked over the road. Walked. You just don’t do that in America.

We tried to get a local SIM card for Liesel’s phone but it’s an old one, only on 3G, but all the Alaskan providers are gearing up to be 4G-only. Using our phones here other than on Wifi will be very expensive, but we’re only out in the sticks, away from home for a couple of weeks.

Asa and I walked back to the campsite, not a long walk, but another welcome walk, and Liesel drove back later.

It’s been a bit of a disastrous trip so far, and I hope we can start it properly soon. I left my reading glasses on the plane into Seattle but didn’t realise until we were in Anchorage. Then we had the problem with Liesel’s 3G phone. Now, the Logitech keyboard has decided to play up. Some of the keys no longer work. We thought it might be a problem with the batteries, but sadly, not.

I felt eerily cut off, being in a campsite, in a strange town, with strange people (folks I haven’t seen for years, I mean, but come to think of it…), without free access to the internet, with a duff keyboard so I can’t easily blog. And without reading glasses so I can’t relax and read. Oh, woe, woe and thrice woe.

Showering in the motorhome is a different experience. There’s a limited amount of water, so you get wet, turn the shower off, have a scrub, then rinse off. And the control is very sensitive, just a half a degree turn between freezing cold water and scalding hot.

Aaron, Jodi and Gideon arrived in the afternoon having made really good time. They lit a camp fire in the evening, where we all gathered along with some of the other soccer players’ parents and grandparents. A sudden inability to keep the old peepers open drove us to bed again while it was still light.

Woke up and it was already light: still not convinced it really got dark in between.

I went for another wander around the campsite and saw the first real native wildlife. Only a grey squirrel, but it still counts. Not as exotic as a moose or a bear and not quite as big and scary, either.

Fireweed

Merry Christmas, everybody!
Silver birches

We watched the first football game of the tournament, The Alaska State Cup, today. Gideon plays in goal and sometimes midfield.

Later on as Liesel drove back into the campsite, we saw a pair of red-tailed squirrels. Still small but slightly more interesting.

Friday woke me up with my first mosquito bite. I’ve felt the odd tickle and brushed a few away, but this one snuck in under cover of darkness. If, indeed, there was any darkness.

We had another soccer game today, this time Asa was playing for Arsenal ’05. It was a much more interesting game, and I was pleased to get some good pictures. Klaus shouting out “Push it up, Arsenal” made me smile.

I think it’ll be a while before these English ears of mine, even though not belonging to a football fan, get used to hearing the score recorded as “four to zero” rather than “four, nil”. And when enquiring as to the name of an opposition team, “Who are we versing?”

Only recently have the local teams been using the term “soccer pitch” rather than “field”, even though that’s the usual terminology at home. I believe “nice hustle” means “that was a jolly good tackle, old chap”.

Asa taking a free kick
Gid taking a corner kick

Between Asa’s game in the morning and Gideon’s in the afternoon, Liesel and I visited the Rasmuson Library at the University so that we could borrow their wifi and catch up with things on the internet. Using 3G or 4G all the time is expensive: compared with the overall cost of this trip, it’s a minor expense but we do object to large telecoms companies ripping us off like that.

Aaron brought his boat with him and in the evening, he took Liesel, Asa and me for a quick trip up and down the Chena River. The water jet pushed us up to 40+ mph and we travelled quite a distance. Everyone else on, or by, the river waved, it’s a very friendly community.

I wondered why so many of the bankside trees were falling into the water. Then I realised: there were beaver dams and houses here and there, and it was quite a moment when we saw two or three beavers on a beach, looking quite toothy and pleased with themselves.

The wake from our boat caused a kayaker to capsize which wasn’t very nice, but then Liesel pointed out, he’d done it on purpose, just practicing his technique. When we passed him again on the way back, sure enough, he headed straight for our wake.

We went downstream as far as the Tenana river, quite wide in places and according to Aaron’s clever device, there were plenty of fish there.

We passed a ‘Fire Helicopter’: presumably it’s one that picks up buckets of water to dump on bush fires, something you wouldn’t expect to associate with Alaska, but it does happen. We saw the aftermath of a large fire on the drive up to Fairbanks.

Someone else had a water plane parked(?), docked(?), landed on his back garden next to the river.

A paddle steamer passed by us moving in the opposite direction and it left behind a long, long stretch of very bumpy water which would have woken us up if we’d been asleep.

There was a fish wheel, based on a native device to catch fish. Basically, they just swim into the bucket and the bucket is retreived. Easy!

There are lots of houses on the river front, some look in better condition than others, but some are just plain ugly. (I wouldn’t say that to an owner’s face, obviously, this is Alaska and everyone has really big guns.)

On the way back to the campsite, Asa drove for a while, not as fast as his Dad, but very competently, neither of us were at all worried.

Saturday morning was an even earlier start than the previous day. Both boys were playing a game at 8am. Asa’s team won but sadly, Gid’s lost quite badly. Very disappointing for him of course but he is learning that he has 8 other teammates on the field that the ball has to get by before it reaches him, the goalie, and if they are not working as a team the loss is everyone’s, not just on his little 9 year old shoulders. Nevertheless, he had some great saves today and stayed after his game for a friendly scrimmage. (We snuck off to a local bakery to eat lovely pastry. A reward for watching 8 am games!)

So it’s Saturday lunchtime in the University Library again, nice and quiet, I think there are only two other people here in this room and one of them is Liesel! It’s a cloudy day, much cooler than when we arrived in Fairbanks but it’s very pleasant.