Sunday, June 6, 2010

Friday, Saturday, Sunday

Day 1!
We got up, got the car packed, got the food ready, got the baby ready, got us ready, and waited for the diapers to dry. Wait, wait, wait. Ok, done. Finally. I guess we should have thrown them in the dryer before we went to bed last night. Whatever. Finally on the road!

Well, first we need gas and honey packets. Ok, you and the baby get the gas and I’ll run in to Starbucks and get honey packets. And employee was taking her break about 6 inches from the honey packets. I suppose 5 will be enough (instead of my usual 10).

Alright, driving away. It’s a beautiful, overcast day. Perfect for sitting in a cozy car with people I love. We drove until the baby got hungry and/or wet, and tried to take care of our own needs whenever we stopped for her. Turns out that wasn’t hard because she required lots of stops.

Oh Alaska, how I love you. After a family picture at Birch Lake, we found Summit Lake, which was still frozen over. Aren’t we into June? Oh well. Hey, look – their homes have doors on the second floor. I wonder if that’s a winter entrance. Distinct possibility.

Let’s try the Gaulkana River Trail. This seems like a good time to stretch our legs, keep the baby up for a few minutes, and enjoy a little Alaska from the other side of the car doors. About 15 feet into the trail we realize it is not a trail. It is a scramble. A scramble down sheer slopes that neither of us were competent to traverse even without a baby in our arms. It’s also a buffet for the mosquitos. We were DEVOURED.

Keep on keepin’ on.

Rocky Mountain National Park always felt like ‘our’ park. Maybe that’s why we got so excited about getting married there. Something about regularly driving in late at night, having our pick of all the campsites, and packing up to take on the park early in the morning makes the place feel personal. Or private. Or maybe we just built an association of intimate adventures there. Whatever caused it, RoMoNaPa became home. Most Alaska parks feel that way. The ‘crowds’ are so much smaller, and the mountains are still so inviting. They’re asking to be conquered. By climbing them we may get to know them better. The german language has two words that mean ‘to know’. Wissen means to know, inside and out, for sure. They way you would know a fact. ‘Ich weiss’ that a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis wet and deflated. The creature must dry and inflate to fly. I know this. I’ve seen it. I’ve studied it. It is true. Kennen means to know the way you know a person. Not completely, with no prospect of completion. ‘Ich kenne” my friend Leah. I know some things about her, I know that I enjoy her presence and have fun anytime I’m with her. I know some of her history, and some of what she wants for her future, but I will never know her entirely. Or for a fact. I think ‘ich kenne’ the mountains from a distance, and that they invite me to climb them and ‘weiss’ them. Even if I never see every face, or explore every tree and rock, a certain solid understanding is developed on the slope. Getting above treeline is an accomplishment, a step toward getting to know this beast, this creature of rock. Being at the mercy of the weather patterns shaped by the mountains builds trust. Reaching the top is a union of sorts. I’d been to the top of RoMoNaPa several times. Alaska extends or assumes that Kennen/Wissen before you’ve lived up to your end of the bargain. The land is so friendly.

Anyway, enough pontificating.

Growing up in the Midwest, I learned to draw mountains as triangles. With perfect, pointy peaks. The Rocky Mountains did not live up to this ideal. They were sort of empty on top. Crumbled and old. A haze from Denver’s pollution blurred their edges a little more, and made their presence less exciting and more like caring for an ailing grandparent. Once you were close enough to touch them, things changed. I forgot their sadness. Alaskan mountains are different. They’re fresh and exciting. And perfectly pointy. They have nice, neat little triangle tops. Love, love, love.

Day one, we drove to Liberty Falls campground. Fun drive, lots of beauty. Got to the campsite and we were blown away. In the lower 48, a waterfall by your campsite means a little trickle that is probably loud enough to hear from the viewing platform. But not your tent site. And the waterfall certainly isn’t flowing fast enough to be of any concern. In fact, most aren’t spilling enough water to take a shower with. I could do as much with a garden hose. Liberty Falls was deafening. Outside the tent, we couldn’t hear Adelaide crying inside the tent. We did not leave her unattended in the tent at any time, I’m just making a point. When Aaron was making breakfast outside the tent, he couldn’t hear her wake up, cry, or talk. And she is not a quiet soul. The white noise blessed us unexpectedly by putting Adelaide to sleep beautifully. I am one hell of a grump in the middle of the night after I’ve been sleeping on the ground though. Oh well, that’s why she has two parents. It was hard to check out of that site. I could have stayed there a long time.

Day Two!
On/In to the park! From Chitina (CHIT-na), drive the McCarthy road (60 miles/4 hours) to McCarthy. The road into McCarthy is an endurance trial. You’re driving slowly, looking desperately for sharp rocks and railroad spikes, thinking only of the stories about 3 flat tires one way. Plus, you’re going uphill. Plus, the views are pretty but limited. Plus, there are no resources along the way. Not even tourist traps for morale. But there is history, trees, and sense of being utterly alone. Finally, McCarthy. This was the town next to the money maker. Kennicott had the copper and the mining jobs (and therefore the money and the miners) and McCarthy had the wine and the women. Guess which town still has residents? McCarthy is cute, but not much to speak of. Then, surprise! Kennicott is actually 5 MILES away. Even though the travel books state clearly that the two towns are 5 miles apart, no one (including me) seems to realize that until peering down the road where Kennicott was supposed to be peering back. There’s a shuttle, but the drivers are salesmen who will sell you everything they can, and will take their sweet time driving, stopping to flirt with everyone they pass on the road. Sit back, get comfortable, you cannot hurry things along.

When we got to Kennicott, we were so glad we’d come. The town is beautiful, falling apart, painted, and rusted. And was clearly built for a purpose. The buildings and people were here only to get copper. That’s it. Though the hospital, inexplicably, had the first x-ray machine in Alaska. We have had awesome luck with Ranger talks. The National Park Service encourages Rangers to research an area of interest and speak on it. A Ranger in Kennicott was speaking about the people of the town, and she led us through the main street and into several buildings not generally open to tbe public. I’m pretty excited about the pictures I took along the way. The buildings were amazing. The hardware and metal pieces still left there were huge and pretty and ominous in a way. I loved it.

The drive out of the park was much better. Faster, less intimidating. We drove all the way to Valdez, site of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in ’89. Apparently, this is a sore subject among locals because even though they were awarded MILLIONS (lots of millions) in damages, the oil company has paid only a fraction of the money owed, and much of the clean up still hasn’t happened. You can still stick your fingers in oil if you move the surface layer of sand off the beach. Gross. Valdez is in the Alaskan rainforest. Rainforest. I stayed the night in a rainforest and my tent site was adjacent to a bald eagle sanctuary. Oh Alaska. Right as we drove in (maybe 20 miles out of Valdez) we saw a bear in the road. Suddenly, I became very nervous about camping. Twelve times the price of a tent site, we could get a hotel room with a locked door. Before I saw the bear, hotel rooms were for suckers. After, a hotel room was for me. But I sucked it up and pitched my tent. We had no problems. Sheer luck? Divine intervention? Maybe. I’d like to think the bear we saw in the road appreciated th way we slowed down and allowed him plenty of time and space to cross. I’d like to think he told all his bear friends to leave us alone.

Day Three!

Driving, driving, driving. Blah. The downside to a road trip is hidden right in plain sight. You will spend more time ‘roading’ than ‘tripping’. That’s why road comes first. So far, we’ve gone through some of the most incredible scenery on earth, seen a ton more critters, and stopped about a thousand times to change diapers. I’m proud to say that we’re still using cloth, we haven’t run out yet. Apparently, the kid pees less often in the car. Or something. Our stash doesn’t usually last very far into the third day at home, but we will definitely finish today in cloth. We may even make it through the night. Or we may put her in a disposable to see if she sleeps better. It doesn’t work at home, but we’re hoping it might in the tent.

We passed through Tompson (Thompson? I forget) pass. This pass holds three snowfall records for Alaska: Most Snow in a Season, Most Snow in a Month, and Most Snow in one 24 Hour Period. Not surprisingly, this area still had plenty of snow on the ground even though it was only 2600 feet above sea level.

Keystone Canyon. Is. Incredible. Sheer black and grey granite on one side of the road and on the other side of the river that runs along the road. Well, I suppose the road technically runs along side the river, but I wouldn’t put it past engineers in Alaska to move the river over to where they’d rather have the road pass. Anyway, I digress. The rock. The rock seems to spew forth life like some exaggerated Old Testament story. Around every corner you see a waterfall or a series of waterfall giving testimony to the snow melt happening too high above your head for you to see. The water sprays and drips and spills and pours. Then, crawling up and out of the rock is the greenery. Ferns and trees and moss and grasses and weeds and flowers and more green than I’ve ever seen. All trying to overtake that rock. So, you have black and grey granite, a white misty spray of water, and the shock of green pants. Did I mention the snow capped perfectly pointy peaks peeking out above all this? And the clouds patiently, calmly making their way over and around the mountains? I don’t think movie set designers knew they could dream this big and still resemble reality. They probably can’t. I was there and I still didn’t (don’t?) believe it. Holy. Wholly.

As we leave the rainforest, we see acres and acres and miles of black spruce. You can tell a black spruce by the twisted, crooked, spindly way it grows. It’s all thin and sinister looking. Like your Christmas Tree’s evil twin. All the evil twins live just outside the rainforest. They’re beautiful too though. These trees only release their seeds after a wildfire. Only after Hell on Earth. Tough critters. Or maybe they’re selfish? Refusing to give in to the next generation until theirs is completely wiped out. Leaving the youngsters on their own and taking every resource with them. Ah, black spruce.

We’re almost to Anchorage. Another 100 miles or so. Turns out, the baby is much happier if someone rides back here with her. Duh. That should have been a no-brainer, but it took us a day or so to figure out. Oh well, she’s happy now. And getting her rest. She’s cut tooth #5 on this trip, is working on tooth #6, and took her first few steps in the tent at Liberty Falls. She is my little Alaskan baby. She’s tough and a trooper. Wonderful. Onward, ho!

Well, we made it to Anchorage. After I figure out what and where we're doing tomorrow, I may upload pictures. Or you all may just have to wait until I get home. Bye!

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