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2004 Susan L. Stevenson
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July 1 - Thursday - A recap of June's month-long trip around the state

I'm happy to know that so many of you followed our day-by-day adventures while Steve and I explored this wonderful state we live in. Thanks for your comments! I wanted to take this opportunity to post some photos that mean the most to me and depict the many facets of Alaska.

It is good to be home. Last night, sleeping in my own bed felt heavenly. Moving through the house without feeling the floor shake was nice too. The camper is comfortable and suits our needs, but it's not the type of camper I could live in for months and months at a time. Thirty days is long enough...

We came home to horrible smoke cover. There are wildfires burning all over the state, but the one burning just northeast of us is causing breathing difficulties and low visibility here in Fairbanks. It was worse, from what I've read and heard from friends. I'm glad I missed the worst of it. I'm suffering slightly with my asthma now - last week, I know I would have truly suffered. Areas have been evacuated only 40 miles away. We need rain, and we need it now. The drive home necessitated the use of foglamps on the truck. The orange glow of the sky is downright eerie. I imagine this is what it looks like when a volcano erupts and the sun is obscured. Very disconcerting.

July 3 - Saturday

It's another smokey day here in Fairbanks. The fires all over this part of the state are still raging. We're most worried about the BOUNDARY FIRE.

My throat feels raw and I've been using my inhalator much more frequently. I will be happy if the rain comes as predicted. The winds have shifted somewhat and the smokiness eased up just a little. The ash is still falling - minute particles that look like tiny snowflakes. I hate to think what breathing it in is doing to my, and everyone else's, lungs. I have a mouth mask (like a painter's mask) and I use it when I go outside. I'm not the only one.

My friend Nikki and her family came up to Fairbanks from Anchorage. We met up with them when we passed through Anchorage in the middle of our trip, and had a wonderful hike on Flat Top Mountain. They got a campground site at Glass Park here on post. Steve and I loaned them our huge tent and some camping gear. They were going to sleep in their van, but I thought the tent would give them much more room to spread out. They have two children and a big German shepherd traveling with them. I would have put them up here at our house, but Sedona and Milo didn't get along too well, and Sedona was also acting a bit skittish around the kids. She's just not used to small children. I think they were happy to have their own space as well.

I met them this morning and we took off sight-seeing in town. The kids enjoyed sitting on Santa's lap at the Santa Claus House in North Pole. They also enjoyed feeding grass to Donner and Blitzen - two reindeer who live there. Then we went to the park and John entertained the kids in the playground, while Nikki and I took off with our cameras. We picnicked in the park before heading home. It was a good day. They'll be coming over on Sunday for a BBQ (which is quickly looking as if it will be rained on).

July 7 - Wednesday

The winds have shifted and the smoke and ash left Fairbanks on July 4th (how appropriate!). Unfortunately, my friend Nikki and her family decided to leave town because of the air quality and never got to see the sunny and clear weather. So, instead of having a few people over for a BBQ (another friend canceled as well and decided to go camping with her family when the weather cleared), we only had Marcella over. Brian is out of town for a month and she was looking forward to some company. We loved having her. Steve BBQ'd some steaks and we had fresh corn on the cob, au-gratin potatoes, and corn biscuits. It was delicious.

Steve and I cleaned up the camper. Thirty days of camping can take its toll on the floors, bathroom, etc. It's all sparkling and smelling fresh again. We had to take it into the RV place to have the refrigerator looked at. For some reason, the propane wasn't firing up to cool the frig, when we weren't plugged into an electrical source. It turned out to be a malfunction of a part (still under warranty) but we have to mail the part and a copy of the invoice off to the manufacturer to be reimbursed for our expense. What a pain!

Chris will be flying in on Friday night at dinner time. I can't wait to see him. I'm very excited about his visit! We'll be leaving on Saturday morning for Anchorage - an 8-hour drive. After spending the night there (and hopefully grabbing a nice dinner in town), we'll head to Seward. That drive won't be a long one, so we'll have a full day to sightsee after setting up. The next day, the three of us are going on a wildlife and glacier viewing cruise. It's an all day adventure and we'll explore Kenai Fjords as well as hopefully see whales and sea lions, etc. Steve's trying to schedule a fishing trip. While he's gone, Chris and I can go to the Sea Life Center or just hang out in town. We'll be back in Anchorage on the 14th and home to Fairbanks on the 15th (Thursday).

I plan to show Chris around Fairbanks on Friday and Saturday. He flies out late Saturday night (17th), so at least we have that whole day ahead of us too. I know the visit will go entirely too fast.

I don't think I'll be able to post while we're away, so news from his visit will have to wait until we get back.

July 10 - Saturday (3:53 am)

Chris arrived last night - an hour and a half late, and exhausted, but in good shape. He had an all-day adventure in airports and in the air. It seems the flight he was catching from Anchorage to Fairbanks originated in Seattle and was delayed 2 hours. The domino effect and all...

We grabbed fast food on the way home since it was late and we were all tired. Then we chatted a bit and finally Steve and I went up to bed around 10:30pm. And I'm up already.... dreams woke me. I don't even remember them. I'm going to try and go back to bed for an hour or so. Steve wants to get the camper fully loaded and hit the road by 7am. We have a long drive ahead of us today. Anchorage is about 8 hours from Fairbanks and if we stop along the way to fish or sightsee (especially if Denali is out), it will even be a longer trip.

Anyway, I just wanted to post an entry and let you know that Chris arrived safe and sound (and I'm SO HAPPY to see him after more than a year!). I can't wait to spend the next week with him, showing him around at least a portion of the state. You probably won't hear from me until Friday at the earliest.

July 10 - July 17 - Traveling around Alaska

I can't believe that our visit with Chris is nearly over. In six hours, we will be taking him to the airport to catch his flight back to Madison. The time went much too quickly and I am already feeling a bit sad about his departure. Here's a recap of the trip...

Saturday, July 10

We left for Anchorage a little later than we planned. Loading the camper isn't an easy thing to do and because we didn't make a checklist this time, we had to talk through our list of needs to make sure we didn't forget anything.

When we left Fairbanks, it was overcast and huge ribbons of clouds hung over the city. They stayed with us for miles - through Nenana, Healy... even as we passed the entrance to Denali National park. I was disappointed. I wanted Chris to see Mt. McKinley while he was visiting. It didn't look very promising at this point.

As we continued down the Parks Highway en route to Anchorage, the clouds disappeared and the skies turned a gorgeous cobalt blue. We still had a second and third chance to view Denali, as there were two viewpoints ahead of us that afforded views of "The Great One". I kept my fingers crossed. And then... there she was! Her snow-covered peaks shone in the early afternoon sun. From our vantage point at a scenic pull-out, she looked a lot smaller than she does closer to Fairbanks (due to elevation?) - however the scenic overlook was ringed with the bright magenta of blooming fireweed. With the pinkish/purple flowers in the forefront, and Denali on the horizon, it was a gorgeous combination of blues and pinks and greens. We stayed for a while admiring the view.

The traffic became increasingly more congested as we neared Anchorage. We were looking forward to getting to the RV park and setting up. We were also looking forward to having an early dinner in one of the many eateries we used to have at our disposal when we lived in the "Lower 48". We chose TGIF. I know most people would question the choice, but when you have been without these types of restaurants for more than a year, it's nice to eat at a familiar place. We indulged in greasy, but delicious, food and appetizers. What a great way to celebrate not only our arrival in Anchorage - but the arrival of Chris in Alaska.

After dinner, we went back to the camper and spent the rest of the evening watching movies on the DVD player. We were all exhausted by the drive (and Chris had been up for almost 36 hours straight by that time), so by 10pm we were drifting off to sleep.

Sunday, July 11

We took our time readying the camper for our departure to Seward. The drive was a short one, so we could take our time showering and packing up. We decided to go out to breakfast and enjoyed a filling meal at a local diner. Then it was off to Seward.

The views south of Anchorage always amaze me. The mountains rise straight out of Turnagain Arm and Cook Inlet and are snow-capped. They appear blue in the sunlight, as does the water. When the tide goes out, all that remains are mud flats - thick and deep enough to behave like quicksand. When the bore tide comes in, it comes in fast. Fast enough for some adequate surfing, if you catch it right. I haven't seen that phenomenon yet, but I've read about it.

We stopped at a few scenic pullouts to take some photos and read the informational panels. The morning was starting out sunny and warm and we hoped it continued as we headed south.

We arrived at our Seward campground (6 miles outside of town) by noon and set up quickly. After eating lunch and cooling off (we actually had to turn on the camper AC because the temperatures had risen into the mid 80's!), we took a drive into Seward - where the skies were overcast and the day was gray. Six miles sure made a world of difference.

We walked along Resurrection Bay and watched the tide come in. Steve tried his hand at fishing when a young boy informed him that the salmon sometimes come in with the tide. No luck though. We picked up our boarding passes for the wildlife cruise we were going on the next day, and Steve picked up his boarding pass for the fishing trip he was going on the day after. Then it was back to the camper to do nothing but watch movies and relax. Isn't that what vacations are all about?

Monday, July 12

The three of us went on a wildlife cruise today. It was an all-day cruise out of Resurrection Bay and into Prince William Sound where we explored the coast of Kenai Fjords National Park. Wildlife was abundant. We saw an assortment of seabirds - to include gulls, kittiwakes, puffins, cormorants, murres, bald eagles, and more. We were also fortunate to see dolphins, porpoises, humpback whales, sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, and a salmon shark. And the most incredible sighting was a black bear grazing on a bluff as we cruised by.

The landscape was amazing with glaciers everywhere. Steep cliffs rose out of the water and were striated with colors of brown and green and yellow and orange. Waterfalls fell in abundance as the snow on top of the mountains melted in the summer sun. In a matter of months, these waterfalls will disappear as the temperatures drop and things begin to freeze again.

I was glad I took some Dramamine before the cruise. I never had a problem with seasickness before, but several people on board did that day. There was a lot of listing back and forth at times, so I'm glad I played it safe. Although the Dramamine was supposed to be the 'less drowsy' formula, I actually took a short nap on our way back. At times it was difficult to keep my eyes open. I wasn't the only one playing the 'head bob' game.

We didn't get back to Seward until after 7. We headed back to the camper and I cooked a nice hot dinner. Again, we watched a movie and fell into bed exhausted by 11pm.

Tuesday, July 13

Chris and I got up early with Steve as he packed for his all day fishing trip. While I drove Steve to the dock to meet the rest of his fishing buddies, Chris got himself ready for our planned driving adventure to Whittier.

Whittier is about 93 miles from Seward and is reachable only via tunnel. The tunnel (one lane) has set times in which it is open to enter Whittier, exit Whittier, and to allow the train to come and go. (Everyone uses the same tunnel, so the traffic pattern reverses at strategic times during the day.) The secret is hitting it at the right time. We got there about 30 minutes before the tunnel would open for us to enter Whittier, so we went back to the visitor center to spend some time. I also took a few photos of Portage Glacier and the ice floes floating in the lake there.

When we finally got into Whittier (after driving through the narrow 2.5 mile long tunnel), we were disappointed to see all the roadwork going on in this tiny town. It was slow going and dusty - but that didn't really make a difference since the town is very, very small. We had seen just about everything we wanted to see in about an hour and were ready to head back to Seward.

When we got to the tunnel to leave, we were informed that in the afternoon, the tunnel is closed to exiting traffic to allow for the train to come in and out (which is strategically planned to coincide with the passenger ferry which arrived at about the same time as the train was due to arrive). We had to find something to do to kill an additional hour and a half! We weren't very happy about that, but made the best of the situation. We found a gravel road leading to a waterfall we could see from the road. The falls cascaded down the side of a mountain and flowed into a fast-running stream. The sound was deafening, but it was a beautiful location and we stayed for awhile. Finally we were able to leave Whittier...

We spent the drive back to Seward talking and listening to CD's and singing along with the music. The drive passed quickly for us. When we reached Seward, we continued to Exit Glacier and hiked the small path to the overlook. The flies were horrendous - as annoying as mosquitoes but without the bite (thank goodness). It was hot and the sweat poured off of us as our faces burned to a crisp in the sunshine. Sunscreen is a definite must up here. Without smog and pollution to filter out some of the harmful UV rays, a sunburn can happen in half the time.

After our hike, we had dinner in Seward and waited for Steve to return from his fishing trip. He arrived, tired and also sunburned - and bearing a bag of halibut and salmon filets. (The fish was cleaned on board. He caught three halibut and two salmon).

It was another early night for us. We were returning to Anchorage the next day.

Wednesday, July 14

We did absolutely nothing today. Our plan was to do just that - nothing. Being on the run for several days had taken its toll on us. We set up camp and plugged in movie after movie as we enjoyed the air conditioning and snacked on finger foods. At one point, we were discussing all of the wildlife we had seen on our cruise and Chris said, "Where are all the moose that you write about?" I wondered that myself. The moose have been pretty elusive lately.

A little while later, Chris was putting a dish in the sink and glanced out the kitchen window. There stood a young bull moose grazing on the grass outside the camper. A crowd of people had formed nearby and cameras were snapping left and right. Chris nearly dropped his plate on the floor and turned to me wide-eyed. "Mom! There's a moose RIGHT OUTSIDE the window!"

"Welcome to Alaska, Chris", I replied laughing. I did manage to get a few photos of this handsome young bull moose with his small rack. (Trip photos will follow these entries)

Thursday, July 15

It was another early day as we packed things up and prepared for the long drive back to Fairbanks. Denali was barely visible just north of Anchorage, but disappeared into the smoggy cloud cover as we got closer to Fairbanks. I had read online that the wind had changed and the smoke was once again blanketing Fairbanks. I wasn't happy about that at all.

The drive back was uneventful. And long... We stopped at The Monderosa just outside of Nenana for burgers and ran into some firefighters who had 'dropped in' via helicopter to enjoy a good meal and a cold drink.

It was good to finally get home.

Friday, July 16

Chris and I spent the entire day together today, as Steve had to go into work. We began our morning with a drive to the pipeline viewpoint, so he could see it up close. We were greeted by three tour buses of people who milled around like ants and took over the entire platform with the informational signs. We didn't stay long.

We then headed to the Large Animal Research Center to see the musk ox, but they happened to be in the lower prairie, so we struck out there too. Onward to the Botanical Garden, which was awash in glorious color and at the peak of its blooming season. I took lots of photos there and wished that I had a garden of my own. Maybe next year.

From there we began our shopping excursion. Fred Meyer first to pick up a few 'cheap' DVD's. Then off to lunch at Food Factory. From there, we hit Sam's Club in search of a home theater system. Chris told us he was buying us one - a belated Christmas gift - and would hook it up while he was in town. (COOL!) No luck at Sam's, so off to Walmart. We found a nice one there for a reasonable price. Our last stop was Home Depot to meet my friend Marcella. She wanted to meet Chris before he left town. Chris and she talked 'shop' about Home Depot for a bit and then we headed home to set up the array of speakers to make our movies sound like we're sitting in a theater. Let's just say that everything went well. I spent the bulk of last night watching war movies that nearly deafened me as explosions, artillery, and machinery made earsplitting noise all over the living room. Steve's a happy guy...

Saturday, July 17 Nothing much happening today. We're doing absolutely nothing but spending time enjoying Chris's company. I miss him already and he hasn't even left.

July 20th - Tuesday

I am gradually starting to unwind after six weeks of traveling and being constantly on the run. It's nice... I do miss Chris immensely and wish he could have stayed longer. I also wish that Brandon and Becky could have joined us on our adventures. Maybe they'll be able to come up next year.

Steve's back to work too, so I've had my days to myself. I haven't been totally alone. My friend, Marcella has come by off and on over the last few days. I like that she 'drops in' when she's on Post. She doesn't expect my house to be spotless or for me to be dressed impeccably with makeup on and my hair done. She's what would be considered a true friend - someone who comes by to spend time with YOU - not to look at the piles of laundry or the dog hair on the carpet. You can't have too many of those types of friends!

I've been spending a lot of time creating and printing out my digital photo album. I'm up to day 15 of our month-long trip. Fifteen more days to go and then I'll have to work on the pages from Chris's visit. Perhaps then I'll find the time to go back to my January - May photos and get them printed out on photo paper. I'm so behind on my album... I want to get it all printed out by the time I return to work on August 23rd.

Golden Days starts tomorrow. The Grande Parade is on Saturday. One of the highlights of Golden Days is the Red Green River Regatta on Sunday when contestants construct floating "vessels" out of whatever they choose, as long as the list includes the Handyman’s Secret Weapon - DUCT TAPE! We missed it last year. I hope to catch it (and get photos this year). This of course will all hinge on the air quality and whether or not I can be out and about without suffering an asthma attack.

The wildfires are still burning all over the state, and the closest one to Fairbanks (The Boundary Fire) has spewed ashy and smokey air over us when the winds have shifted. Today, the winds are blowing it our way again. Again, one of the neighborhoods about 30 miles north of us has been evacuated. When it's like this, I can't venture outside without suffering. Even wearing a mask doesn't help. If the wind doesn't shift again, I'm not going anywhere this weekend.

I wanted to share some photos I took while out and about with Steve last week.

Elegant Goldenrod - a member of the daisy family.

Butterfly tasting some Siberian Asters.
July 24 - Saturday

Sorry I haven't written in awhile. It's been raining on and off for the past few days and I've been working diligently with creating and printing out my digital photo album. It's very time consuming to lay out pages highlighting a 30-day trip (as well as an additional week on the road with Chris).

Yesterday, despite the rain, I grabbed my camera and took a drive to the Georgeson Botanical Gardens again. Flower colors are much more vibrant on overcast or rainy days. When the sun is bright and high overhead, it has a tendency to wash out the colors. I also wanted to play with my new filters (three close-up filters - like using a magnifying glass - and a polarizer). Here are some of the results of my rainy day in the gardens:

I was the only one there yesterday. It was very peaceful to wander between the flower beds and admire the colors. The vegetables that Chris and I saw last week are growing in leaps and bounds. The zucchini is quite impressive and I was tempted to pull a few off the vine and smuggle them home for Steve. (I didn't *grin*)

I was hoping for sunny days today for the Rubber Ducky Race so I could experiment with my polarizer and see how well it did in cutting down on glare and restoring some of the blueness to washed-out skies. I got my wish. We woke to a gorgeous sunny day.

Today was another celebration for Golden Days. The Rubber Ducky Race is always a lot of fun and thousands of people come out for it. You can buy chances on a duck (they are numbered) and $20,000 in prizes is given out when the race is over and the winners are declared. There were six thousand ducks released into the Chena River at 2:30 this afternoon. Steve and I found a nice grassy spot on the riverbank to wait for them to come around the bend. It was such a gorgeous and warm day and the sun felt fantastic on my face.

We took the time to wander the downtown streets, checking out some of the exhibits (motorcycles, restored cars, old farm engines, etc.) and the sales booths (food, jewelry, arts & crafts, etc.). It was an enjoyable day and I'm glad we got out. Tomorrow, we're picking up Susan and Marcella (both their husbands are away) and taking them to the Red Green Regatta with us. Here are some photos from today:

It was a lovely day and I hope for many more warm and sunny days before we start preparing for winter again.

July 25 - Sunday - The RED GREEN REGATTA

Another lovely day in Fairbanks! The sun was shining, the weather was warm, and the Regatta was a great time.

Steve and I picked up Susan (Marcella canceled this morning - too tired to go out), and headed down to the boat launch to watch the entrants put their creations in the water. The criteria? From the website: "Use of Handyman’s secret weapon Duct Tape, imagination, & the ability to stay afloat."

RED GREEN is a Canadian character - not just a combination of colors. This information found on the Red Green website about sums him up! So now you know why this yearly race focuses on duct tape.

When he works on his Handyman projects, Red is not stupid, he's just sort of lazy, impatient, and prone to substitute sub-standard items (such as using duct tape instead of nails, screws, bolts, glass, glue, rivets, solder, or welding) so Red's projects are always less than reliable and more than butt ugly.

Some of the entries were quite creative. Others didn't show much imagination, but seemed to be pretty seaworthy. Still others looked fabulous, but didn't appear as if they'd make it 20 feet down the river. Susan and I walked the shoreline checking out all the boats and rafts. About ten minutes before launch, the three of us went up on the bridge to get a bird's eye view of the race start. They got off to a slow start, but soon drifted into the channel and caught some of the movement of the river. There were some problems with leaking boats, and one entry flipped over before reaching the bridge we were standing on. But all in all, they seemed to be doing well.

We moved down to the finish line and joined the crowd already assembled there. It took about 45 minutes for the boats (what were left of them) to reach us there. The crowd let out a huge cheer as the first few entrants came around the bend. Everyone looked tired, but happy. Of course, I took photos of the festivities.


Putting the final touches on the 'Viking Ship'

Still in fine form at the finish line.
They came in third place.

This looks like a Huck Finn type of raft

Only about 100 yards from the finish line, it fell apart!

A floating picnic table, complete with umbrella

Oh, NO! Where's MOM?!

A fine rendition of Noah's Ark - complete with animals.

A true "float plane".

This "Enterprise" type boat used more than one roll of duct tape, that's for sure!

These kids built this castle of milk jugs - to simulate stone.
July 29 - Thursday - And the rain comes...

The wildfires are still burning all over Alaska, but fortunately the winds haven't carried any smoke our way. We've also been lucky enough to have a few days of rain over the last week, which has helped, although only minimally.

I've spent the majority of the week inside and working hard on my digital album. On the rainy days, it has seemed like a good thing to do to pass the time. On the sunny days, I just haven't found the energy to venture outside. I suppose it's not really a lack of energy. Perhaps it's a lack of desire. I've been enjoying my days of alone time - tending to my creative side and making the house more of a home (I actually hung pictures that have been stacked in a closet since we moved in a year ago!). It's almost like nesting syndrome. I feel the need to have everything complete and in order before I return to work next month. So far, so good. I'm making good progress. I'm also working on my own online photo gallery that I want to link to this journal and to my website (which I also hope to redesign). I have so many ideas and I seem to get sidetracked. I just have to believe that it will all happen in due time. I learned a long time ago that I can't force my creativity. I have to let it happen. I'm more focused at this time on my life with Steve, rather than expanding creatively. At least I've been finding the time to read - something I've ignored for some time, despite the fact that I've always been an avid reader.

I just completed a book called "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer. A very easy and interesting read about Christopher McCandless - a 23-year-old man who, in April 1992, hiked into the Alaska bush to "live off the land." From the cover:

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

The book was both compelling and tragic. I read through it quickly, admiring Christopher's tenacity and fortitude in order to survive in the wild alone. But it also brought tears to my eyes at the end when his parents came to the place where they found his body - after not hearing from him for months - and created a memorial for him. I'd recommend the book as an easy summertime read. I especially took interest in the descriptions of the Alaska landscape and would like to try and locate the Stampede Trail which Christopher hiked.

After completing Into the Wild, I jumped headfirst into Anna Karenina. I read this book in high school (many eons ago) and don't really remember it. It was probably one of those books that I didn't even bother to read - instead buying the Cliff Notes and fudging my way through any tests or book reports. But when I saw the Oprah show at the beginning of the summer and she chose this book for her book club, I thought I'd pick myself up a copy and give it another try. I've only dented a mere half-inch of this 3-4 inch thick paperback, but I admit the story is becoming much more interesting now that I've managed to get the characters straight in my mind.

I suspect I'll be doing a lot of reading over the next six weeks. I will be mostly alone as Steve's schedule is full of schools and training which will take him away from home. He leaves on Monday (August 2nd) for Fort Bliss Texas, and won't be home until late on the 25th. I'll have him with me for a full day (26th) and then he needs to head off for some additional training until September 11th. He'll at least be here in AK - a mere 150 miles from here - but the chances of actually scheduling some kind of meeting are nil. If it were possible, I would gladly drive to where he is, in order to spend some time with him. I'm sure some other wives would be willing to travel to their husbands as well. It's going to be very lonely around here without him. I am glad to have my pets. Especially Sedona (my shepherd/chow mix). I think she actually understands me when I carry on conversations with her. It's better than talking to a wall, right?

I expect that Steve and I will be spending this weekend alone with one other, trying to cram as much quality time into a few short days. The weatherman is calling for more rain, so we could just find ourselves 'holed up' in the house watching movies and doing absolutely nothing. Right now, that sounds perfect.