Saturday, January 16, 2016

An Alaskan Adventure

Continuing my walk down memory lane I am going to tell you about my trip to Alaska.

It was the year 1997 when we were running a travel agency and a tour operator business from Norway. I have always been interested in exploring the farthest possible destinations (Why…?) and this time I had set my goal to Alaska. Traveling there on my own would have been forbiddingly expensive so I decided to arrange a tour for Norwegians with me being their tour director. With some advertising and visiting personal contacts I rounded up four (4) guys, all of them being “Mushers”. For the novice to this term: “Mushing” is the art to run a sleddog outfit.
One of my ingenious ideas to establish contacts was to attend a Norwegian sleddog race. I think it was January or even February (who would remember?) when I drove my JEEP over to the city of Røros. Røros is kinda one of the coldest places in Norway and not too far from the border to Sweden. I planned to stay overnight in my roof tent. That kind of contraption is mounted to a roof rack and can be foldet open to the side, giving room for 2 people. Well, I was all by myself so nobody to get warm with. Solution was to keep all clothes on and having a real winter sleeping bag. All was fine when I climbed the ladder to the roof and rested my head wrapped up in a woolen polar touque on my pillow.
Halfway through the night I awoke to some rocking movement. A great little snow storm had broken loose and by now my accommodation was most likely adorned by 6inch of snow cover.

But I digress, as I wanted to get you on a trip to Alaska.
The plan was to get to Anchorage in time to observe the start of the famous Iditarod race.
The Iditarod was founded in comemoration of the 1925 run to get diftheria antitoxin from Anchorage to Nome, where people were dying every day.
With some delay we got in to Anchorage International Airport from Seattle/Tacoma and it was about midnight.
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We had booked accommodations in a private B+B not far from 4thAve. Of course our hosts had gone to bed and needed to be hollered out of bed upon our belated arrival. After some 30hrs into our trip we were all tired and fell asleep pretty quick.  Next morning we went to pick up a rental car from Rent-a-Wreck. It was some well-used midsized burgundy coloured Chevy. We parked in a side street and went exploring the city. Now Anchorage is not very big and CAN be explored by foot.
1-DSC_0480                           4th Ave Anchorage on race day
                  No American parade without the police out front
The evening was spent in one of the bars along 4th Avenue. At that time Anchorage had no snow at all. That all changed from around 10pm when big trucks roared down 4th Ave. They were loaded with snow! They dumped their loads on the street and it was all dozed flat afterwards. Before the night was over we had a Winter-Wonder-Land on 4th Ave.
Next morning was full of bright sunshine and probably a few degrees above freezing. 4thAve was buzzing with activity. The startline was dominated by 50% busy looking  humans and 50% barking sled dogs.
1-DSC_0481The audience had already lined up along the way and some people were even hanging out from a big park deck to enjoy the scenery from above ground.
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Norway had it’s own participant but many other countries were represented. I was really excited, especially as I never would attend any other sporting event. But this was ALASKA, it was famous, and we had some great weather.
Now the Iditarod start on 4th Ave is for publicity only. It really is the next day that the final and real start of the race is going from Wasilla. Yup, that’s the place where dear Mrs. Sarah Palin is at home. By the way I went there that next day and the view over to Russia eluded me.
So after attending the start in Wasilla we went back to Anchorage.

We had booked a Cessna flight from the city to Skwentna Roadhouse, which happens to be near no road at all, but way out in the wilderness. However it becomes center stage when all the mushers arrive there for a pit stop. And I can tell you I have never seen any place being more packed than this place on that day. I could barely find an empty chair in the restaurant but was then served a hefty strong soup which still cooked after arriving in my belly. After dinner I got outside. A crystal-clear air with gazillions of stars overhead was amazing in itself, but when I reached the spot where the first mushers had already arrived I was transfixed to see the activity. Dogs were fed and checked upon, especially their paws. Som dogs get bloody paws if running through harsh frozen snow. A veterinary was on duty to check out every dog coming in. And first after all dogs were looked after the mushers were eating themselves. They only had a short rest though and many continued out into the dark wilderness, their headlamps lighting the way like dancing ghosts.
1-DSC_0470When it was time to find the cabin and our beds we got into an A-frame-style cabin where a typical Alaskan Barrel stove was putting out so much heat that my eye glasses were fogging over right away. My fellow travelers had already found their bed steads and one of them pointed to the underside of his bed. It had 3 legs only and the 4th corner was resting on a tin can!
My room was under the very narrow roof and an angled staircase was the road to it. My bed was right under the roof and it was the hottest spot in the entire cabin. Peeling myelf out of several layers of clothing I lay down for the night. My last thoughts were that I was part of a movie in which I had the starring part.

Later that night I found out that I had to go to the bathroom. Cautiously I ventured down the narrow creaking staircase. Arriving underneath I just heard a snorr from one of the others there, before I reached the end of the cabin. I opened the rear door to the bathroom and…..was stunned. Instead of a bathroom I saw the stars over a glittering frozen Alaskan taiga. What the heck….?  Well, it had to be done so I moved a few steps on to a narrow trail and that was it.

Next morning we got message that our return airplane was waiting on the runway.
We rushed out and boarded one of the most famous airplanes one can find in Alaska – an old BEAVER. Beavers have a record of being the safest bushplanes but they are also the loudest.
Shortly after we were back in the city where we started a road trip up to Fairbanks.
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We didn’t make the 560kms on that day and stayed in a roadside Motel for the night.
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                                                             Mt. Denali
1-DSC_0475         Busy street in Fairbanks
We saw Fairbanks around noon next day and went straight to our hotel.
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Next day we went to the airport where a Cessna waited for us to fly us west to the little village of Tanana near the confluence of the Yukon and the Tanana River.
Again the weather was of the finest, but probably around minus 15-20C (+5 - -4F.
1-DSC_0504         Pickup at the Yukon
At the Ralph Calhoun Airport an old shuttle van was ready to get us to our address, a wilderness trapper and musher living outside of town. Most of the town residents are native Athapascan Americans, except our host.
We found his place completely deserted, except that aTV-set was happily playing in the living room. The nearby cabins, our accommodations for the next few days, were cold and empty, but were equipped with woodburning stoves. We shouted and called but not even one of the dogs in the yard started barking a reply. Nobody home here.
Well, meantime we started busying ourselves by starting fires in 2 of the cabin’s stoves. It didn’t take very long and the interior was around 40C (104F) While examining the kitchen supplies (there was some coffee powder and dry soup bags) we heard a snowmobile outside. It turned out the trapper was home. He was very much astounded that we had already settled in, but what else could we have done all afternoon?
The next few days were spent going on sleddog trips, talking to our hosts and getting to know a few neighbours. It was a wonderful time and will always stay in my memory.
When it was time, we flew back via Fairbanks, Anchorage and Seattle from where our international flight was waiting to take us home to Oslo, Norway.

1 comment:

  1. It would be amazing to be in Alaska during the Iditarod races. I was in Anchorage in January and it wasn't too miserable as long as you were dressed for the weather.


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