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.

Light Relief

växjö-pendant-lampLast week, we bought a light fitting from Ikea. Yesterday, I installed it. We now have something remarkably like a flying saucer floating above the dining table. All we needed now was a lightbulb that would actually fit. None of our existing ones have the same fitting, of course. What we should have done last week was open the box in the shop, read the instructions and then purchase the correct, presumable Swedish screw-fitting lightbulb. Or read the instructions on the shelves telling us we needed custom lighbulbs. (There are no such instructions.)

So today, we returned to Ikea and purchased not one but two bulbs. Both physically fit but one is brighter than the other and we don’t really know how many candellas or lumens of brightness we need, nor power consumption. All we can say is, we would like it as bright as an old-fashioned 60-watt or 100-watt incandescent lightbulb.

On the way back home, my mind replayed the conversation that must have taken place one day in a dark, smoky room somewhere.

There’s too much CO2 in the atmosphere, greenhouse effect, global warming, we should do something about it.

Yes, I agree. But what?

How about these new energy-saving lightbulbs? We can force everyone in the world to use them instead of the old, reliable, bright, incandescent ones.

So each household will use less energy?

Well, sort of, yes, that’s right.

But they’re not very bright, are they.

We’ll get used to that. And brighter ones will come along soon.

They take a couple of seconds to light up when you turn them on, correct?

Yes, that’s to save even more energy.

Oh of course! But some people like to dim their lights at night, and you can’t do that with these new-fangled energy-saving lightbulbs.

Not all of them, no, but there are dimmable ones available. You just need to buy a special dimming device with each such bulb.

Won’t that use more resources when we’re meant to be saving on energy and materials?

A bit, maybe. The idea is to give people the impression that they’re doing something for the environment: they won’t necessarily be saving any actual energy, overall.

Oh, is that why they’re manufactured in China?

Yes: all the energy saved by not lighting up people’s houses properly is instead used for transporting lightbulbs half way round the planet.

Seems good to me. And when these bulbs stop working, they’re just thrown away?

No, they contain some very dangerous and rare elements and they should be disposed of in a controlled manner, not just thrown out with the rest of the rubbish.

Old lightbulbs came in a cardboard box, is that still the case?

No, of course not. These lightbulbs are much more expensive. They’ll be sold in non-reusable blister packs made from non-recycleable plastic. And there’ll definitely be no way to check that they work while you’re in the shop.

Hardly a giant leap forward, is it?

No, I think it’s fair to say, they’re not to everybody’s taste.

One more question, if I may?

Of course.

Lightbulb: is it one word or two words?