Scandal

Liesel’s birthday was celebrated in style. Her Mom made her famous pull-aparts for breakfast! No birthday cake, though. One highlight was a video from lovely Martha wishing her Oma a happy birthday.

Gita took us to see Josh, who was working today in the nearby Nehalem Bay State Park, with plenty of food for his very late breakfast. His commute between here and Portland is quite a long one, so he sometimes kips in the car near the park. Staying in a house with us all for a few days was luxury.

I walked back to our accommodation, not sure whether I should be talking loudly to myself or singing: I didn’t think to ask if there were bears in the area.

But there are elks. I didn’t see one, but I did see the warning sign on our drive to Seaside later in the day.

Gita drove us: it rained a lot on the way. The main attraction for the ladies was the outlets. I didn’t need to see any shopping centres, I’ve seen the mall, as they say.

So after agreeing to meet up with them two hours later, I went for a walk. I was on the search for coffee. What a disaster that was. Number 1 didn’t look very nice. Number 2 looked interesting from a distance but was closed due to refurbishment. Number 3, despite calling itself a café, only sold wine and beer. And Number 4 was a drive-through coffee shop and I would have felt totally stupid queueing behind a huge 4×4. So, no coffee for me, at that time.

But I did enjoy the walk to the actual beach, infinitely more enjoyable than walking round shops when you know you shouldn’t be buying stuff!

I would have gone for a dip… but…. shark??
Mountain mist

It’s halfway through September so I suspect this little front garden cemetary has nothing to do with Hallowe’en:

Spooky

On my return to the shops, I met Liesel, Gita and Jyoti. Liesel had bought me a couple of shirts (hooray!) and some other bits and pieces for the little people we know back home.

I described my lack-of-coffee experience so Jyoti used her nose and her phone to Google local coffee shops and found one a few blocks away. We drove there and had a great coffee. The barista was very cheerful, happy and smiley, jolly and full of fun and laughter, with red hair and tattoos. I asked for a latte with whatever drugs she was on. (No, of course I didn’t, but I thought about it.)

Seaside Coffee House, a fun place

We’ve noticed that as well as playing Beatles and other British music, many coffee shops support local artists by displaying their works. Most of it is fantastic, some (to me) is nothing special but every now and then, we see a picture that we’d really like to own.

Happy eagle, sad fish

The weather had changed for the better, so on the drive back to Manzanita, we were able to see things. beautiful things, the sea, stacks, so we stopped at a few of the viewpoints and wandered down to a beach.

Liesel and Jyoti with a sea stack
The Oregon coast is wonderful: trees right up to the beach

We didn’t see elk or any other wildlife larger than a seagull and a squirrel. The most unusual creature was a hairy, yellow caterpillar just over an inch long.

It was too cloudy that night to try for more photos of the stars. And the next day, we had to leave this little paradise and return to Anchorage.

Liesel drove along The Pacific Highway, 101, most of the way back to Seattle International Airport.

The music played by my phone was different today. We heard songs from people we hadn’t heard before on this trip. Tom Hingley, Terra Naomi, Bic Runga, Tom Robinson, Pink Floyd, Björk all made a welcome appearance or two. Mary Hopkin’s new recording of Those Were the Days is stunning.

We stopped to have a look at and climb up Astoria Column for a terrific view all round.

I counted 164 steps up the spiral staircase only to find that at the top, every one of those steps was numbered and sponsored by an individual.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge
Astoria Column
Detail from Astoria Column
A windy selfie

We’re planning our 2044 holiday already. We want to be here for the opening of this time capsule:

One surprise was when I looked down at the GPS display and it told us we were at Lake Tahoe. I thought we were driving north to Seattle, not south to California and Nevada. How do you explain this? No prizes, just for fun.

Lake Tahoe

We drove over a really long bridge into Washington state: another fantastic feat of engineering.

Astoria-Megler Bridge – the longest continuous truss bridge in north America

Autumn really is coming on, here, the leaves are turning yellow and are just waiting to be blown off the trees.

Our GPS had a couple of hiccups. After we joined the I-5, it tried to take us off on and drive an extra loop before rejoining the highway. Not once, but twice. And as we drove through the Lewis-McChord military base. the GPS displayed no features other than the road itself. Everything else was greyed out.

We dropped the car off, and entered the airport. Good news: the rocking chairs were good fun. Bad news: we sat to eat at a table that was located right by the toilets.

Rock me gently, rock me slowly
Breast-feeders in here

It was nice to see facilities provided for breast-feeding mothers. Or: it was very disappointing to see that breast-feeding mothers are supposed to hide in a cupboard in case somebody takes offence at the sight of a baby with a boob. The hard plastic seat inside didn’t look very comfortable, either.

Well, the flight was OK, I played a couple of games, thrashed the aeroplane at backgammon, I listened to the new album by Florence + the Machine, the one that Felix had played for us the other day. And I read a lot.

Florence

Liesel’s long time friend Amy was kind enough to come out at nearly midnight to pick us up from Anchorage airport. Liesel and I are spending a couple of nights at Jyoti’s house as our room at Liesel’s parents is currently occupied by two young German visitors.

I incurred the first serious injury of the trip when the car boot door tried to break my nose. Fortunately, my glasses were not affected.

We’ve had a couple of relatively quiet days based at Jyoti’s. Reading, listening to radio programmes, binge-watching old series of Scandal. I walked up to the bluff for the scenic view, and into the woods a bit.

A quick walk in the woods

I would have gone further but I kept hearing animal noises. Scary.

We set out to walk back to the folks’ house, a couple of miles away, but Klaus drove by on his way back from the supermarket and gave us a lift home. On the path, though, I did manage to get a couple of photos of dragonflies. Not the pretty blue ones we’d seen close to water. And not on a nice, green, leafy background either. But it was good to see that they can sit down and have a little rest for me.

Dragonfly (good) (background rubbish)

After a sandwich at home, Liesel drove to the physio again for more dry needling. I walked to a coffee shop and met Liesel at Carrs for more food shopping. I was pleased to see the full and correct name of a popular time traveller:

Upstairs to the Tardis?

Today, we went out for a walk with Una at noon along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. We passed many other walkers, runners and cyclists. In fact, at one point there is a display showing how many cyclists have passed by today, this month, last month and the yearly total.

Countless cyclists
Eagles

The photo doesn’t show the display correctly, but there were over 700 today and 58,000 this month. Quite impressive.

Una returned to work at the courthouse and Liesel and I went for a brunch / lunch at The Beartooth.

At Kaladi Brothers Coffee over the road, I confirmed why the world is in such a mess, Bexit, Trump, everything. Someone summed it up in one succinct scrawl:

Reality TV –> Apprentice –> President Trump

Liesel dropped me off to buy some apples and I walked the last mile back to Jyoti’s

Jewel Lake

Jewel Lake is a very pretty lake and there were a few people fishing from the jetty. Close to Jewel Lake, we find Emerald Drive, Jade Street and Topaz Avenue. There’s a theme here, I thought. But I was walking along a big spelling mistake: W Dimond Boulevard. Oops, no. It’s named after Anthony Dimond, a local politician from way back.

Oh: Lake Tahoe. No, we weren’t there, obviously. The screen also displays the name of the song being played at the time and Lake Tahoe is by the fabulous Kate Bush.

Anchorage to Seattle

Liesel and I both had a long lie-in. Neither of us wanted to be the first to get up. Our goal was to be in Anchorage at midday. But a few more minutes reading in bed wouldn’t hurt. We managed to time our visit perfectly.

We met up with Monica for a lunchtime walk. Or, we met Monica for a lunchtime walk. It was another pleasant day and we were limited only by the fact that Monica had to get back to work, at the museum. We’re still planning to visit the museum of course, but we’re waiting for a cold or wet or otherwise unpleasant day outside. But today, we had a nice wander around the park.

The Inlet from the City
On the way back to the car, Liesel and I walked through the Federal Court. A little intimidating, to me. A little bit scary, even. Yes, we were security-checked but the officers were very friendly. This art work inside was intiguing: trompe-l’œil, it really is flat.
Tlingit – Robert Hudson 1980
In the evening, we went round to Monica’s house for a home-made pizza. Liesel pointed out the peacock outside the front door. Neha was doing some homework, Gregg arrived home from work and a work-out. The pizza was great and the broccoli salad that Liesel made was terrific too!

In the evening, I received a message from Jyoti. She’d captured a picture of a dragonfly that landed on the book she was reading. I’m still hoping to see such a thing myself, but meanwhile, I’ll enjoy other people’s photos of dragonflies.

Jyoti’s dragonfly
On Friday, while Liesel was back at the physio for another dry needling session, I packed for our trip. I left a shoe-box full of stuff behind, to be sorted more thoroughly later, but we both took our backpacks with us, with approximately a week’s worth of clothing.

So far, neither of us have bought enough new stuff to warrant taking an extra bag with us on our travels. Liesel has started a collection of things to take back to Manchester, but whether this is posted, couriered, or we come back to Alaska to take it back in person, we’ll have to see. The items include new clothes, old clothes that have been replaced by new ones coming with us and some of Liesel’s old stuff from her parents’ house. Things such as the big brown donut we’re still thinking about!

Klaus took us all to the airport, me, Liesel and her sore derrière. She didn’t fancy sitting for too long so of course, we boarded the plane on time, sat, waited, and finally took off more than half an hour late.

The third seat in our little row was occupied by a sportsman. I didn’t recognise him, of course. He texted his wife, though. I know that becaue the name that came up on his phone was ‘Wife’. He asked the attendant for a scotch and water and she asked to see his id. She obviously recognised his name and asked if he’d played this weekend. He had. He didn’t look big enough to be an American football player, nor tall enough to be a basketball player so I wonder if his game is baseball? I didn’t ask. I guess I’ll never know.

Seattle was a little cooler than Anchorage and a little damper. We had checked no bags, so nothing to pick up and no customs to go through. To me, it felt weird being allowed to walk out of an airport withough having somebody give us permission.

It was a bus ride to the car hire place. While Liesel sorted that out, I tried to get my phone to work. None of the providers wanted to give me service. In fact, two of them said that my phone wasn’t suitable for their service. So again I recalled the definition of ‘technology’: stuff that doesn’t work properly yet.

Because neither of our phones were working, we couldn’t use Google Maps. So, we needed a GPS in the car. We could hire a stand-alone GPS at an extortionate rate, or, we could hire a car with a built-in GPS. One that is much larger than we’d planned for and more expensive, of course.

We’d started out with a notional daily budget when we left home, and I think we’re a few weeks ahead already. Oh well!

It’s a comfortable car though, and easy to drive. While Liesel drove, I tried to get the GPS to work, the radio and connect my phone by bluetooth. Two out of three ain’t bad. We knew where we were going, and we listened to jazz on NPR. But the music on my phone stayed there.

It was very noticeable how much earlier and quicker the Sun set here, fourteen degrees south of Anchorage.

Oh, here’s a good idea from Anchorage: if the bin’s full, tell someone. Not like Kingston: if the bin’s full, just leave your rubbish on the ground nearby.

Lost Lake Traverse

Jyoti picked me up at 8am. It was an early start to what would be a long day.

What to expect – a long, long, long climb

We were planning to start at the southerm trailhead, walk to the peak, and back again. Doing the whole traverse would involve having two cars and a bit more organisation. We were taking the slightly less steep route upwards.

We were joined by friends of Jyoti’s, Gretchen, who we picked up, Lisa, who we’d met yesterday and her friend Angus, a young man from England who’s been in Alaska for a month.

The drive south towards Seward was the first drive Liesel took me on, all those years ago. Then, it was December, everything looked white and forbidding to this Englishman so used to seeing less than half an inch of snow once in a while. Today, the sky was blue, the Sun was out and we were going to have a good time.

Missed the mist when the road turned

We saw banks of mist on the inlet, smoke on the water and we saw some beluga whales in the water. Up on the mountains there were dall sheep, but I missed them.

We stopped at a ‘donut’ place for coffee and hot doughnuts, though I could only manage to eat one. This is where we met up with Lisa and Angus.

View from the road

The views from the road were spectacular. Even the locals were gushing in praise of the local landscapes.

We stopped just a couple times more on the long drive. I was in the front passenger seat the whole way and no-one took me up on my (half-hearted) offers of swapping places.

On arrival at the trailhead, we prepared for the hike itself. Bear spray, water, walking poles, back packs all sorted. I was carrying my ‘manbag’ full of water, snacks, spare clothes, phone, money and notebook. It was heavy, man.

I’m not a big talker at the best of times, and when exercising, getting slightly out of breath, I’m even less inclined to talk at the same time. But this is bear country, you’re supposed to make a lot of noise just to let the bears know you’re there. Luckily, Jyoti can talk and talk. The two of us often found ourselves dropping behind the rest. The trail was mostly uphill, unrelenting at times. On my own, I would have stopped more frequently to catch my breath, but not here.

I learned about someone whose job seemed to be waxing the skis of an Olympic ski champion. What a very specialised job, I thought. But there are several kinds of wax, each used for a different temperature, different kinds of snow, different slopes, different skis.

As we walked higher and higher, the view changed. Lower down, we were looking through the trees, but suddenly I realised, we were above the tree line. That meant one thing: put on the hat to protect my head from the Sun! Actually, it also meant unobstructed views of the slopes, the mountains, the glaciers, the valleys. All larger-than-life postcard images.

Mick crossing a stream
Moss on the trees
Scree on the hills
Gretchen, Lisa, Angus on the stream
Wow, a stunning, early view

I was glad that the path wasn’t maintained perfectly. It is cleared of overgrown vegetation each year for the race along the whole Traverse. But because of all the tree roots, rocks and other obstacles, I was very conscious of picking my feet up more while walking than I would usually do on a residential pavement, for instance.

On the other hand, some parts of the trail had a precipitous drop to one side that I was wary of. I probably wouldn’t fall far if I slipped off because of all the trees and plants growing there, but I did tend to keep to the other side of the track, while my sweaty palms dried out.

Not a bad safety net, really

As time went on, I had to stop more and more frequently. I started to feel angry. Angry about my inability to catch my breath, about my inability to keep up with the others, about having to watch every footstep to avoid tripping over rather than looking at the view, about the walk being too long and steep, about the medical profession for giving me drugs that seem to have messed up everything in my body (Note 1). Ah, angry, cross, irritated. That usually means I need food. I’m glad I brought so many snacks. I needed sugar. And carbs.

Cotton grass
The very patient St Jyoti
Michaelmas daisies
The source of Donald Trump’s hair

The cotton grass was pretty as were the Michaelmas daisies. And Resurrection Bay way over there!

Resurrection Bay in the distance

As we neared the summit, I had to stop more and more often. We caught up with Lisa, Gretchen and Angus but I needed to eat again. The three of them went ahead, while Jyoti stayed with me, deciding not to go all the way down to the lake itself. I’d decided I needed to minimise my exersions so if I could miss out the 3 extra miles to the lake and, worse, back up again, I’d be happy.

We picked and ate blueberries as we’ll as salmonberries, which look like yellow raspberries but they’re not as sweet.

Despite my mood, I loved the views. Jyoti pointed out the hill in the distance that was to be the end of our hike. It looked miles away, the small objects on top were, apparently, people. So much more uphill to go. I need bigger and faster acting lungs.

Jyoti has the patience of a saint, though. She let me walk in front, so I was going at my own pace. I realised it was slightly slower than Jyoti’s, and that one of the reasons I kept getting out of puff was because I was going too fast, trying to keep up with someone else.

We passed and were passed by many other people on mountain bikes and on foot and they all looked like they were having a wonderful time, and here I was, feeling that I was struggling to make it to the top of the longest hike in the world, ever.

In fact, I think I heard myself tell St Jyoti at one point that I never wanted to do another walk like this, ever again, ever.

But I conquered Mount Everest eventually and one of the first things I did was to lie down and have a stretch!

Mick having a rest and a stretch – Jyoti’s photo

The 360° view was stunning, beautiful: mountains, valleys, glaciers, waterfalls, the sea, Seward and of course, why we were here: Lost Lake, at the bottom of the hill. Next time, I will go down to the lake, but now, today, I didn’t want to push things too far. On the summit, Jyoti and I ate a mix of cheese, breadsticks with cheese, nuts, craisins, pop tarts, bread, chocolate. All the while, looking around and gaping at the view, enjoying the blue skies. Having a nice rest while I reset my brain to get rid of the negativity.

Mountains and glaciers
Lost Lake
Deep grooves with waterfalls

Looking to the south, we could see 11 or 12 glaciers up in the mountains. There were small patches of snow still on the higher slopes. There were signs of many landslides too on the upper slopes. We could see and hear water running down the ravines, but it must have been disappearing into the ground because there was no sign of water where you’d expect to see it at the bottom.

I crouched down to take a picture of the ground cover, where the leaves are changing colour from green to red. When I stood up, the world went black, I heard water rushing, and all I could think was, you’re having a dizzy spell, don’t drop the phone and oh no, there’s nothing to lean against. That was my first dizzy spell for many months (Note 1).

Autumn colours at ground level

The others walked down to the lake which, I must admit, did look inviting. Angus had a dip in the water while Lisa and Gretchen went in up to their ankles.

They re-joined us at the top of the hill and, feeling revived, I braced myself for the long walk back. I expected it to be mostly downhill but I remember from long bike rides that you don’t always notice the easy parts on the way out but they sure bite you on the way back. Today, however, it really was downhill pretty much all the way. In places, I was able to keep up with Angus and we left the girls a long way back.

We again went past the crew who are repairing a part of the trail. On the way up, they’d been having a nice rest, but they were now working as we passed them again on the way down. It would be a terrific commute, walking several miles before doing a day’s work, but they were in fact camping nearby.

Trail maintenance crew accommodation

We stopped and ate more blueberries on the way down and despite being already weighed down, I picked some to take back for Liesel.

The hardest part for me was crossing a couple of streams using haphazard stepping stones that I just hoped wouldn’t give way or move.

I survived. Yes, I got all the way down without falling over, without getting my feet wet and apart from a couple of skeeter stings, no injuries. Plus, bonus, I only had to pee once in the bushes all day. I commend my bladder.

It was nearly dinner time, and we decided to drive the few miles into Seward for a meal and a drink. I didn’t recognise the town itself, I’d not seen it without snow and ice everywhere. We went to the Seward Brewing Company where I had cauliflower tempura with a spicy shoyu sauce plus a glass of stout, which was served not ice cold, unusual in America. Whoever wrote the menu has a great sense of humour:

The menu
The view from upstairs that we only found after we’d eaten downstairs

It was a long drive back to Anchorage and I’m so grateful to Jyoti for driving. We had to stop at the doughnut shop again where Lisa had left her car.

No, we didn’t, we just parked up for a moment

What a fantastic day, a wonderful hike, great company, superlative views and an enormous sense of well-being.

If you’re not a Fitbit nerd, look away now: go straight to the next paragraph, do not collect £200! I think today’s hike was the longest I’ve done since the day I walked from home in Chessington into London. It was certainly much harder due to the terrain. When I got back home today, I was pleased to see that I’d walked over 30,000 steps, about 14 miles. And I still had to walk upstairs to bed! During the day, I took my 16,000,000th step since I started using the Fitbit soon after my 60th birthday. I fully expect to receive a useless pretend badge from Fitbit soon, it makes all this walking worthwhile.

I felt pretty good when Jyoti dropped me off at home, a bit tired, but no real aches and pains. I stretched all the leg muscles, took a preventative anti-inflammatory, had a shower, a long, hot shower and climbed into bed and chatted with Liesel for a bit. I expected to fall asleep more or less straightaway, but my mind was all over the place, mainly punching the air mentally, thinking what a great day it had been, and, despite what I may have said earlier, I’m really looking forward to the next challenging hike.

Note 1: A recap on my medical condition. I had a ‘free healthcheck’ when I turned 59 and was diagnosed with high blood pressure. This is a bad thing as it can lead to strokes and heart attacks. I was given medication. Very quickly, I realised that I had no energy, no stamina. From completing a 100-mile bike ride, I could barely ride 10 miles without becoming breathless. The GP prescribed a different drug but I was still unable to do as much exercise. I was feeling ridiculously tired after a day at work (I was a postman). I was told that because I was so active, I was aware of these changes to my body. Most patients with high blood pressure are sedentary and can’t tell the difference.

I followed the advice to cut down on salt and caffeine intake and little by little, my BP came down.

But something else was happening too. Now, if I stood up suddenly, or if I ran up the stairs after sitting down for a while, I would feel dizzy. My head would go all mushy and I would have to fight myself very hard not to fall over. I held on to whatever was close at hand, a wall, a tree, a person, until I came back to normal.

This is the sign of low blood pressure, which the GP confirmed is as bad as, if not worse than, high BP. I said, well, can I come off the drugs, then? Not straightaway, she said, but the dosage was halved.

A few months later, after a number of ‘normal’ BP readings, I came off the drugs completely. I thought that I would soon be as fit as I was before. I thought my strength and stamina would return.

And to be fair, it has improved a lot since I came off the medication. But I can’t say I am back to normal. The fact that today, I couldn’t catch my breath for long periods at a time while walking up a long hill and that I had couple of dizzy episodes tells me that my body chemistry is still messed up from the blood pressure medication.

I don’t mind getting out of breath and I don’t mind having limited stamina, but I know what my body used to be capable of, and it’s just not as good as it used to be. And I certainly never used to have dizzy spells. I had two today, the first in many months.

I said as soon as things started going wrong that I was much better off when I had ‘high blood pressure’ but just didn’t know about it. And I still feel that way.

I have a theory that my BP might be ‘high’ by some standard or other, but it’s ‘normal’ for me. And that what is considered ‘normal’ is too low for me. Plus, now, something’s been messed up by the medication, maybe permanently.

Still, it was a good, long, hard day today and I’m glad I did it. I think I learned a lot, and one thing is, I have to tell people if I can’t keep up. They’ll just have to slow down a bit, or at least allow me more frequent stops so I can catch my breath.

This is the background to why I got a bit cross a few times on this hike. And why, despite everything, I’m not going to let this experience put me off doing things.

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.

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

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.

Wonder

Living in a new place or maybe the air quality or the different impurities in the tap water has affected my dreams. I wake up with a feeling of, that was fun, that was strange or that was exhilarating or whatever but with no recollection of what it actually was.

Saturday morning though, I remembered enough for it to make some sort of sense. Hah: a dream that makes sense? That’ll be a first.

A boy was seeking attention by repeatedly knocking on our door. He was about 13 or 14 years of age. He claimed to be a cycling champion in his age group. But he wouldn’t give us his name. We met his Dad at the gym. He’s been discharged from the Army, he said. While chatting, he was plucking the odd hair from his chest, the waxing wasn’t 100% effective. He didn’t seem to be all that proud of or supportive of his son, which we thought was a bit of a shame.

At home, we looked up ‘cycling champions’ and we found a photo of the boy straightaway. He went by the professional name Mex Tex and that made sense, his shirt had had the word Mex embroidered on the chest.

The next time we met his Dad in the gym, we said we’d found his son on the internet but weren’t sure of his real name. He blanched. He said that he was trying to keep a low profile and that was why he’d changed his haircut and was attempting to alter his whole appearance.

He said that he’d tried to impress on his son the necessity to change his appearance too. But so far, all he’d done was to change his name to Mex Tex, a ridiculous name.

We asked why it was so importent to look different and he blanched again. He told us that he wasn’t discharged from the Army, he’d deserted, and if he was caught, he would be shot.

That’s when I woke up. I would love to see the movie.

The weather had changed. It was raining when we woke up and it was still raining after breakfast. Even after a nice, long chat with Roseanna, we didn’t really want to go out.

I’m not generally one to knock religion, but as I walked up the stairs, I very nearly knocked a picture of Jesus off the wall. Oops!

We stayed in our b&b until noon and set off for Covent Garden for a coffee at the London Transport Museum. The plan was to meet Helen and Steve and watch the end of the Prudential 100-mile bike ride and the professional race afterwards. But the weather was unreliable. Instead, we walked along the Strand and over the Millennium Bridge again (no Bob Marley today), to the Southbank Centre. It’s Chorus Weekend, and we enjoyed listening to some choirs in the Riverside Terrace Café.

In fact, I joined one. Yesterday, I’d turned down the opportunity to learn some Spanish dance steps outside the National Theatre. My two left feet would have stomped too many other people. Today, though, we members of the public were invited to form a choir, learn and perform a song. I can’t sing for toffee, but I reckoned I wouldn’t cause anyone any actual physical damage. And someone said, once, a long time ago, that we should all do something scary every day. Well, this was my scary thing today.

First we had to do some strange choreography, though. Moving feet, stamping, kicking out, waving arms in the air, not my thing at all. Fortunately, this did not form part of the eventual performance.

The lesson was led by a guy from The Choir With No Name. Another member, Brian, sang bits of old songs while we volunteers joined in. Lazy Sunday Afternoon was fun. ‘’ello, Mrs Jones, ‘ow’s your Bert’s lumbago?’ he sang. ‘Mustn’t grumble’ three of us responded in an old lady’s voice!

We learned the Emeli Sandé song ‘Wonderful’. It contains a variety of whoas, woahs, oohs and other woah-oohs. Three part harmony, and I was with the lowest of the three, bass baritones, tenors and me. Whoa, oh, Whoa, oh, we ain’t falling under. Whoa, oh, Whoa, oh, we are full of wonder.
The final performance was helped out by a professional singer doing the solo parts, thank goodness. The thought occurred though that I’m glad to be leaving the country tomorrow, before I’m arrested for offences against the musical arts. If you ever come across a bootleg tape of The Riverside Terrace Café Choir, you can choose to leave it where it is or acquire it and I’ll sign it for you!

The Riverside Terrace Café Choir

We were joined by Helen and Steve for another farewell. We watched and sang along to the West End Musical Choir, still in the Riverside Terrace Café.

Afterwards, we went to Giraffe for our last supper in England for a while. The rain was still on and off and the farewells were again a bit emotional adding to the precipitation.
Monday morning arrived after a very fitful sleep, I got up 99 times to visit the loo, I think. Liesel, once she drifted off, slept quite solidly until it was time to get up. I set my own alarm this time, thanks, Martha, but in the end, I was up

well before it went off.
No time for breakfast at the b&b, we packed, repacked and left for a packed tube train to Heathrow. Butterflies were kicking in so thoughts of a really big, substantial breakfast dissipated and I just had a vegetarian sausage sandwich.

Red sauce, brown sause or no sauce at all? No, no and no: I had Tabasco. Liesel had eggs.

We have bulkhead seats on the plane, so we have plenty of legroom, but unfortunately for us, on this Boeing 787-9, the toilets are in the middle, not at the back. Right near us. As I type, we’ve just entered Canadian airspace. It’s dark on our righthand side but still bright out of the other side.

Going back to cycling again. Geraint Thomas did win the Tour de France, the first Welshman to do so, and a very popular winner too.