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Gustavus and Glacier Bay

We wrap up our two-month road trip throughout Alaska with a stay in Gustavus (pop 428), a tiny town that stands near where Muir Glacier once dumped into the sea.

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In 1680, this area was a grassy valley full of salmon streams, while the glacier loomed in the background. The Huna Tlingit tribes of Alaska harvested salmon and forest delights until the glacier’s rapid advance in the year 1750 chased them out. The glacier advanced “as fast as a dog could run.” But the resilient Tlingit people returned as the glacier retreated and ultimately carved out Glacier Bay.

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Marilynn and I hop off the ferry and walk on land that used to be glacier covered. Now the land is growing a wide array of flora and fauna attracting ecologists from around the world. The ground itself is growing, rising several inches yearly, rebounding from the weight of the rapidly retreating glacier (isostatic rebound). While ecologists study newly forming forests, the native population recently won a lawsuit to claim this “new” land.

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We hike and bicycle around grasslands and forest, where bears forage and wildflowers explode into color. Of course, we manage to find the two places in Gustavus that serve alcohol, one of our honed travel skills, and chat with friendly folks who love living remote. Like much of Alaska, they work hard during summer tourist season to sustain for the rest of the winter.

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Okay, it’s time to splurge on a 55-mile boat ride from the lodge up to the tidewater glaciers.

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It’s the only way to see them, or by kayak, but that would take days. Oh yes, a cruise ship is another way as well.

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The struggle between preserving the environment and providing a tourist attraction is nothing new.

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Here the current agreement allows only two cruise ships daily to travel through the bay.

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Of the 300,000 yearly visitors here, less than 10% of them ever step foot on land.

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The Glacier Bay Lodge serves as a hub for tours and offers packages that include lodging and the boat tour.

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Just be prepared for everything to be overpriced, even by Alaskan standards.

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Glacier Bay National Park holds 3.3 million acres and is designated by UNESCO. Most of the glaciers are retreating, with only a few still growing.

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The array of wildlife, from marine mammals to grizzlies and goats and birds almost overshadows the glaciers.

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And then there’s the scenery. We just enjoy it all, knowing that we’re experiencing something special.

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Sometimes it’s just that simple. Thank you, Abundant Universe.

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Riding in Remote Alaska

Winding down our two months of truck tripping through Alaska, we venture into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the largest national park in the United States. Six Yellowstone National Parks could fit inside of it.

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Just when you see a sight on the Alaskan road that blows your mind, and think that nothing could top it, you turn the corner and delve into a different ecosystem.

Bears on way to McCarthy

Spotting roadside wildlife like bears and moose boils down to a matter of luck, but it happens.

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Running into Alaska’s unique characters along the way enhance the entire experience.

At the end of a 92-mile dead end gravel road, we park at a river and walk across a pedestrian bridge to the small town of McCarthy. Once the commerce center and a place to get a drink for the miners from the “dry” copper mining town of Kennecott eight miles away, the old buildings still stand. Quirky gift shops and other tourist support services now fill the old wooden buildings. Apparently, the saloon persists along with about 30 hearty, “unique” year-round residents, but we left before it opened.

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We walk the road to Kennecott, very aware of the large amount of bear scat along the way. (Probably should have brought the bear spray). After clearing the forest, we come across what we believe, at first glance, was the carnage and destruction left behind of huge mine tailings.

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Turns out it’s the Kennicott Glacier moraine. Moraines are accumulations of rocks and dirt that are on the surface of the glacier or have been pushed along by the glacier as it moves.

In this case, the ice is underneath, and it is one of the few glaciers that is growing rather than receding. Currently, it’s in a state of holding its own.

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Copper was discovered here in 1900. The copper in the hills in Kennecott was of such high quality that it was worth building infrastructure in these harsh and remote conditions to mine it.

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We set camp outside of McCarthy alongside a lake in the middle of nowhere. In Alaska, you can pull over and camp almost anywhere, free of charge.

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While we sit lakeside by the fire, a truck pulls in behind mine. An elderly man with a long grey beard gets out holding a .30-06 shotgun, wearing belts of ammo like suspenders. No doubt one of the areas “unique” residents. He walks towards me with confidence and I figure he’s going to kick me off his property or something. The only weapon we have with us is bear pepper spray.

“Do you mind if my kids swim here for a little while?”

“No, not at all,” I respond. “We don’t own this spot.”

“I’m Bud.” We shake hands. He apologizes for not shaking Marilynn’s hand. “I don’t touch women outside of my family.”

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About 12 children, dressed in traditional Amish clothing that covers most of their flesh, exit the truck and run for the water that was frozen not that long ago. Strange sight for us to witness young girls swimming in long skirts and hats, while boys swim in long sleeves and pants. One boy was dressed in shorts and I asked Bud why he wasn’t dressed like the others.

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“He’s not one of mine,” Bud responds. “We don’t care about anybody else’s religion as long as they don’t care about ours.” He looks into my eyes. “You have a shotgun out here don’t you?”

“I don’t go anywhere without a shotgun.” He says. Then he explains that they live in traditional Amish manner, except for the Iron Horse. “A horse and buggy just won’t work in the Alaskan bush.” A Vietnam Vet, he married at age 56 and made 12 children. We wonder if “Papa Pilgrim” is reincarnated. “I built my house with plywood from all the old mining shacks.”

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The children swim and laugh and play until their lips turn blue. They listen to Bud’s every command. Then his cell phone rings. It’s his wife. After they hang up, he yells to the kids, “Let’s go! Get in the truck and sit in the exact seat that you came out in.” The kids respond quietly, but I see that mama truly runs the show, just like most families. “Don’t you dare cough in front of your mother. I’ll be in trouble if you catch cold.”

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Meanwhile, we can’t bring ourselves to leave this beautiful spot. Guess we will chill-out lakeside next to the fire for one more night. What a privilege to travel without strict timelines. Thank you, Abundant Universe.

 

 

 

A Fish Tale (With a video)

After a late night of beers in the campsite, we wake at 4:30 AM to board Dusty’s jet boat. The four of us head out to fish for halibut. Jeff, “first mate” served in the coast guard with Dusty, and both guys are currently Alaskan firefighters. Marilynn and I are rookies out here in the saltwater, and figure that we are in good hands. Surrounded by fjords and glacier strewn mountains, the calm waters and eventually a rare sunny day indicate that luck be with us.

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Valdez Harbor

“There they are!” Jeff points to the floating buoys. I help him pull up 300 feet of nylon line with four shrimp pots attached. They’ve been soaking for about 12 hours. “We be having shrimp tonight, Baby!” Dusty laughs. “There must be about 50 of those monsters.” We re-bait the pots and drop them back in, to pick up about 10 hours later on our way back in.

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Shrimp for dinner!

We drop fishing lines about 40 miles out at sea. A sizable rock fish becomes first catch of the day. Then a small halibut (chicken). Marilynn pulls in a black sea bass, and then another. You never know what will be on the end of your line when fishing in the ocean!

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Black Sea Bass

“Wow! Look at that sea lion!” I yell as this huge animal circles our boat.

“Gun!” Jeff yells. “Get the gun!” Dusty pulls up the small halibut that was hanging alongside the boat. The sea lion disappears.

“My best friend died from a sea lion while fishing in Kodiak,” Jeff says. He explained that 2,000-pound stellar sea lion jumped onto his small fishing boat (like ours) and sunk it immediately. “You don’t have long to live in this glacial water.” Luckily, there was no need to shoot.

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Fishing not catching

Fishing isn’t always catching. As the day goes on, we move several times to try different spots and depths of water. The sun beats on us, rare for Valdez. We munch on black bear summer sticks, thanks to Jeff’s hunting and processing skills. Sometimes the best cure for drinking too many beers the night before is to, well, drink more beers.

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Rock Fish too small to keep

Jeff tells another story about a different friend, who was fishing alone in a small boat off Kodiak Island. He caught a huge halibut (tabletop) and gaffed it into his boat. Didn’t “boom-stick it” which is shooting it with a metal pole with a shotgun shell on the end of it. He gaffed it straight into the boat. The halibut flapped around and broke both of his friend’s legs, as well as tore up the entire dashboard of the small craft.

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Now everyone has caught something

“Damn it, I got a snag!” Dusty yells. We all reel in yet again. “Oh my God, it’s shaking its head!” Dusty gets animated. “Holy shit, I got a monster!”

At this point, I’ll refer the reader to the video below. Here’s a rare chance to watch a couple of regular folks catch a huge halibut, estimated weight between 80 to 100 pounds:

 

The end of our fish tale did not make it to video…, once halibut gets flipped over the side of our boat, double tied with thick nylon lines, Marilynn yells, “Sea lion!” She immediately grabs the .45 caliber hand gun.

Jeff pulls the gun from her, just in case, but the sea lion retreats on its own. He was heading for the halibut hanging off the boat (The Old Man and the Sea we are not), but Dusty pulled halibut onto the boat, where he and Jeff sit on its tail until the last of its nerves settle down for good. It takes a while longer for our nerves to settle too. Thank you Abundant Universe!

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Pretty good day of fishing and catching

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Shrimp and Halibut for dinner back at the camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wheeling Feeling in North Pole, Alaska

Although clouds usually shroud the 20,000 foot high Mt. Denali, the highest mountain in North America, the month of May offers the best chances of sighting the peak. We know it’s back in there somewhere.

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We camp overnight in Denali National Park to increase our time for chances of a view. In the frigid morning, we drive the park road as far as they allow private vehicles, and get lucky. Viola!

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The vastness of this land makes a big grizzly bear look small.

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Porcupines like to come out in the morning also.

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Continuing north, we brave the cold rain and camp several days along the Chena River. It’s well worth it.

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Where else can you wake and watch a beaver swim across a calm pond? I’ve never seen that kind of beaver close-up before.

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Time to go to the town of North Pole, where Marilynn’s nephew, Dusty, a lieutenant firefighter, takes us four-wheeling. Somewhere outside of Fairbanks where the sun never sets this time of year, we meet friends and set up camp.

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“I’m taking you to places most people will never get to see,” he says.

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We rev up the Armageddon survival machines that take us over steep rocks, through mud, snow, and boreal forest, all the way to “Suicide Hill.”

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We stop only to crack a cold one, or cut firewood for the bonfire back at camp.

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After a long day of four-wheeling, we sit around the fire eating moose burgers, feeling rather wild.

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“We have to get out as soon as possible to enjoy the short two-month season of summer,” Dusty explains. “After being cooped-up in the dark all damn winter, you have to take advantage of the sunlight.” Well, they have 24 hours of sunlight this time of year. Mare and I have no idea what time it is, or even what day.

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He tells us that to keep sane during long, frigid, dark winters, folks have roving potlucks, game nights, and snowmobiling to keep active. It’s also necessary to have indoor hobbies. Like his welding hobby turned business, where he produces creative, designer artwork. Without such activities it’d be too easy to drink all the time.

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Check out NorthStar Fabworks on Facebook or Instagram

Time for Marilynn and me to get a room at the Bear Lodge in Fairbanks for a much-needed cleanup. We’re due for some civilization as well. Hmm, we’re the only guests in this massive complex full of empty corridors. It feels like we’re in the movie “The Shining.” Then it gets really weird when I get a call the next morning from the manager.

“I’m calling because one of my employees told me that you said something that made her uncomfortable.”

“Geez,” I said. “I only talked to two people. The receptionist when we checked in and a security guard while I was outside waiting for Thai food delivery. What in the world could I have said that was uncomfortable?”

“She said that you asked her if she wanted to go pee with you.”

I’m speechless. Trying to think of what I could have said that could remotely resemble such a phrase. “I can’t imagine ever saying anything like that to any person in my life,” I respond. “What can I do about this?”

“Nothing. I’m just calling as a courtesy.”

What? Welcome to The Bear Lodge, I guess.

Time to leave civilization and go back into the wild, for some civilization. Let’s camp along the Denali highway, a 135-mile gravel road touted by Men’s Journal as one of America’s most thrilling roads.

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National Geographic Traveler magazine lists it as number two in “roads that are pure fun to drive.”

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They cleared this road for the season, opening only a few days ago. Sunshine, a full moon, and sweeping views reward us during our first day’s drive.

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While scenic and remote, we wondered where the “thrill” was?

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What a difference a day makes. When we wake in the morning dense fog covers our views, followed by snow and freezing rain. The road narrows and the ruts and pot holes in the gravel are accentuated as conditions deteriorate. Who knew that driving 135 miles could take so long? We’re in the middle of nowhere, off the cell phone grid, and have not seen another vehicle all day. It looks like we’re driving into a blizzard. Okay, no doubt a pretty “thrilling” ride.

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Once back on paved roads, we follow the Alaskan Pipeline south, camping along the way.

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This Pipeline runs for 800 miles, from Prudhoe Bay to the charming town of Valdez. In my opinion, the drive to Valdez on the Richardson Highway rates as spectacular and perhaps not long enough.

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Waterfalls gush in full force from the tops of fjords.

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Leaves begin to stretch out from green buds in the forest, and once the fog lifts we see a picture book town that reminds us of Haines.

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Thank you, Abundant Universe!

 

 

 

Road Trippin’ in Alaska

After a four-day ferry ride from Bellingham, Washington to Haines, Alaska, we embark on the maiden camping voyage in my new Toyota Tacoma. The plan is to drive the Alaskan roadways with at least an equal amount of camping and motel stays. It’s early May, and it has been a late spring, so snow and road conditions may be a factor.

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Beating the Crowds – Camping in Beaver Creek

Brrr…, we wake up to snow in Beaver Creek, Canada off the Alcan Highway. It’s warm enough in sleeping bags under the truck cap, but those nighttime bathroom trips are brutal!

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Driving the Alcan

Gigantic mountain ranges in the distance resemble a winter wonderland Christmas card.

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Just one of many

Moose and herds of caribou crossing the road remind us that being in pristine wilderness has no substitute.

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Blurry, but you get the idea

Well, it often rains in pristine wilderness, so we decide to “motel it” in Anchorage for a few days. Ah, creature comforts abound. We make friends during Kentucky Derby day at Darwin’s, a local pub. We’re lucky to be here in the off season, before crowds of cruise shippers take over.

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Derby day at Darwin’s Bar

Burn off those guilty pleasures with a “snow hike” up Flattop Mountain, where icy wind will awaken all the senses.

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Hiking the Flattop Mountain Trail

This great walking town offers many mountain hiking trails, along with civilized walkways and bicycle paths at the water’s edge.

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Walking the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Combine friendly folks and endless outdoor activities with an excellent craft beer scene and the best food options Alaska has to offer, well, what’s not to like?

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Enjoying the craft beer scene in Anchorage

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Oysters and Champagne at the Bubbly Mermaid

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Man does not live by seafood alone

On the way to a seafood market to buy fresh halibut cheeks, we mingle with the biker crowd at the annual “blessing of the bikes” that kicks-off riding season. We could live in this city.

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The Blessing of the Bikes

Time to hit the road for some more wilderness. We have the free, rustic campground in the historic town of Hope all to ourselves.

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Watching the tide – Turnagain Arm in Hope

On the edge of one of the lowest tides on the North American continent, we find plenty of logs for our first “hillbilly fire” of the season. Good thing that we have left-over halibut cheeks for dinner tonight.

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Camping in Hope

Rain pours again as we drive to the town of Homer, which has become quite the tourist carnival since we were there 20 years ago. However, the bars maintain a friendly feel and the fishing is still great.

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Halibut in Homer

We decide to get a room for off-season rates at the Land’s End Hotel on the end of the Homer spit. Heck, with a view like this let’s make it two nights instead of one. Hmm, the paper-thin walls allow us to hear all conversation and bodily function of the young couple next to us. When they have late night intimacy, repeatedly, we can’t get the Paul Simon song “Duncan” out of our head: “The couple in the next room are bound to win a prize…” Okay, we cancel reservations for the following night, so we can go camping in the cold rain and get a good night’s sleep!

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Homer Harbor

Onward to Seward, where a short hike brings us to the edge of Exit Glacier. This hike gets longer each year, as the glacier melts more quickly than ever.

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Exit Glacier near Seward

Scenically, Seward reminds us much of Haines, Alaska. However, it’s much bigger, and with more cruise ships, two of which just docked. Augh! Time to get out of this town.

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Seward

Although we’re getting used to camping in cold rain with 30-degree F nights, it does not mean that we like it. Weather forecasts up north show temps in the 60’s, so it’s off towards Denali we go!

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Time to get out of this rain!

Thank you Abundant Universe!

 

All Aboard to the Aleutian Islands

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We get bird’s eye views of the rugged, volcanic chain of the Aleutian Islands during the flight from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor, on Amaknak island in Unalaska, Alaska.

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In the northernmost part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the westernmost portion belongs to Russia, we expect harsh weather conditions.

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However, we didn’t expect to be held captive in our hotel room!

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Once on land, brutal wind blows rain sideways, pelting our hotel window and making eerie howling noises.

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Ah, saved by the complimentary shuttle, and we are off to the Harbor View Bar, which is attached to the only other hotel on the island.

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“What should we see here?” Mare asks the bartender. We often get better information at bars than visitor centers.

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“Nothing.” She frowns at us. “I mean it, there’s nothing to see. Though Summer Bay Road is a pretty drive and you can see wild horses. I like horses.” She looks down the bar. “Hey Bob, what’s there to see here for a couple of tourists?”

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“Some folks like the visitor center and museum,” Bob says. “But they’re closed. The Russian Church is the oldest Russian built church in Alaska, or so I’ve been told. I’m sure it’s closed too.”

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Another patron lifts his head and with a mouthful of fried halibut he says, “You could walk up Bunker Hill to see bunkers from the Second World War. That’s about it.”

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The rain turns to a sprinkle, so we take advantage and walk back to the hotel. Hoards of Bald Eagles spar around topless trash bins along the way. A fishery worker has to shoo them away in order to toss out trash.

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I hunt and gather at the hotel restaurant where a bottle of wine costs thirty-five dollars. Better make that two bottles, because we’re being held captive. For some strange reason, Marilynn and I love this. It goes back to what our friend Jack said, on a hike around Lake Baikal in Siberia, “Some folks just got to see it.” Click on these links to see those posts:   Lake Baikal   Siberia

Rained-in the next day, Eagles and Sea Otters put on a show in Margaret Bay outside our window. Small fishes, Hooligans I suppose, fill the bay where eagles steal catches from each other, and sea otters dunk underwater when the big birds try to steal theirs. More wine over here!

 

 

Viola! The sun sneaks out the next morning! We bite the financial bullet and rent a jeep for $125 to ride all 28 miles of Unalaska’s roadways. Feels so good to escape the confine of our room.

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It seems that the land population here do nothing but work most of the time. There’s no hunting to speak of, little wildlife, and no bears in this barren land. Wages are high and many include room and board due to the high cost of living.

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No trees either. Just mountainous rock covered in tundra up to the snow line. Rugged beauty. Fresh air.

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And on Summer Bay Road we’re lucky to spot a fox. No wild horses.

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We thought that there were lots of eagles at the trash bins, but the city dump marks the grand finale of the show. Eagles wait on the forklift for the next load.

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The hike up Bunker Hill gives great views, close contact with WWII memorabilia, and a long overdue heart-pumping. The Battle of Dutch Harbor was fought here in June 1942.

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We simply leave the rental jeep at the ferry dock, next to the abundant crab pots, the following morning. “Just leave the keys in the cup holder and please don’t lock it.”

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Fans of “The Deadliest Catch” will recognize this dock and the “Cornelia Marie.”

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Only 28 passengers ride on the Kennicott ferry, which could hold 499 max. Seas are relatively calm this first day’s ride, with spectacular views of countless tundra covered rock islands.

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We forgo renting a stateroom, and sleep on a cold, hard floor in the aft sun room the first night. The next night we head to the solarium, which is warmer, but the chairs were as hard as the floor.

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Other passengers remind us repeatedly why we travel the way we do, for as long as possible:

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An 80-year-old man from Oklahoma recently had his knee replaced. “I can’t walk so well or long anymore. So, we figured to take this ferry out as far as it goes. At least I can sit and see this fascinating area I have always dreamed of visiting.”

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A 70-year-old woman traveling with her 90-year-old mother walk around the deck every morning for 30 minutes. They are taking this same journey for the second time, and already planning a similar trip for next year.

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A 75-year-old, obese woman in a walker says with a smile, “I have always wanted to take this journey. My body doesn’t seem to have much time left, so I better do it while I can.”

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We swallow Meclizine the second day, on advice from the Captain over the loudspeaker: “We’re facing 25-foot seas for the next 24 hours or so. If you need medication, take it.”

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The man from Oklahoma advises us to put an earplug in one ear. “I don’t know why, but it seems to help.”

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With the exception of a brief stop at the town of Chignik, we bounced around all night inside of our sleeping bags on top in the enclosed, heated solarium.

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The next morning greets us with calm seas, and an early arrival to our destination, Kodiak Island, where we feast on “the deadliest catch.”

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Yes, there is a little more to our travels than just needing to see it. We’re in a race with time as well. Thank you, Abundant Universe!

Bada Bing Bada Boom, Bats & More in Battambang

Nobody knows exactly how many bats exit a cave in Phnom Sampeu, southwest of Battambang, Cambodia. Check out this short, albeit amateurish, video of the phenomenon.

The bats fly out each day at dusk to hunt insects most of the night. Some say millions of bats, other say tens of thousands. The mass exodus takes about 45 minutes to complete and attracts both tourists and locals.

Family outing

A tragic and more significant site, the Killing Caves, sit nearby. This area was a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge during the nightmarish civil war of the 1970s. Over 10,000 Cambodians were tortured and bludgeoned to death, and then thrown into the caves.

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A horrific statue display of these acts, followed by the cave itself filled with the skulls and bones of the victims, serves as a somber reminder of Cambodia’s troubled past.

The killing cave

Let’s lighten things up with a visit to the circus. Phare Ponleu Selpak, an arts education program for poor children, puts on performances several times weekly.

The circus dancers

The student’s performance provides for a most enjoyable evening. Filled with music, dance and acrobatics, it’s like a mini Cirque du Soleil.

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The following day, we sweat almost as much as the circus performers after climbing 358 stone steps in the stifling heat, to the temple of Prasat Banan.

Going up the 368 steps

Locals claim that this temple, built before Angkor Wat, provided Angkor’s plan.

Banon Hill Temple

Walking around the city of Battambang wraps up our three-week travels in Cambodia. The French colonial architecture and peaceful riverside setting make for a fitting finish, as we prepare for the long trip back home.

Battambang

There is much to love about Cambodia, including easy, affordable, comfortable travel. But foremost is the genuine kindness of its people. The combination of magnificent, ancient spiritual sites and a barbaric recent history, touches us down deep. Thank you, Cambodia. Thank you, Abundant Universe.

Kampot, Siem Reap & Temples of Angkor

As the hot Cambodian temperatures drain us, we head to the town of Kampot, known for its pepper.

Kampot pepper chicken

Chicken with Kampot Pepper

Before the Khmer Rouge Regime destroyed all pepper farms in the 70’s, Kampot pepper adorned tables of the finest restaurants in Paris. Today it has made a comeback, infusing delectable sauces with a variety of dishes.

Views from Kampot riverside

Outside of the pepper, we’re mainly here to walk, drink, eat, and people-watch in this laid back river town. We walk in the mornings, then hit one of the numerous restaurant/pubs that line the river later in the hot afternoon.

Kampot city

People watching never gets dull. We see many older white males with young Cambodian women. Other elders just roam around aimlessly, left over from either wars or the hippy era, and of course the young backpackers with dreads or the hair-in-a-bun (I Dream of Jeannie) look. Not a whole lot to do here. Not sure what they do every day, but the locals continually work with a smile.

Ron Riding

Enough laziness. We rent a motor scooter for a ride up Bokor Mountain through the National Park. When riding in Cambodia, size matters. The bigger the vehicle, the more right of way. Rare red lights and street signs have little meaning. I have 30 years of experience riding a big Harley Davidson, but this little automatic 125cc scooter with Marilynn on the back gives me all I can handle. Trucks, tuk tuks, carts, and other scooters pass on the left side, while scooters and whatnot approach head-on from the right shoulder, all on a dusty road full of holes and bumps. Exhilarating! Like being in a live video game.

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Once in the park, the road transforms to smooth pavement with little traffic. And guess what? As we twist up the mountain, the relief of cool wind blows us around! A monument of Lok Yeay Mao, the goddess of protector, greets us near the top. Hope she protects us on the way back down into the heat of pepper town.

Kampot riverside views

We chill along the river and enjoy a few sundowners (cocktails) and more local fare, lok lak (beef prepared in a sauce that includes Kampot pepper and garlic). Better than the tarantulas in the previous post.

Lok Lak

Time to travel north to Siem Reap and visit the number one tourist attraction in Cambodia, Angkor Wat. This enormous complex of temples sits on 402 acres and is an UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sunrise Angkor Wat

We climb into a tuk tuk at 4:30 am to catch a glimpse of the largest temple at sunrise. At first, we’re a bit dismayed by the hordes of tourists, like Disneyland or something.

Sunrise Angkor Wat

However, after sunrise the crowds dilute into this massive temple complex.

Angkor Wat

 

In eight-hours we explore four temples. First, Angkor Wat itself, which is the largest religious building in the world. Despite its overwhelming size, the details and carvings draw us.

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We hire a tuk tuk for the day for transport between sites. However, locating your driver among a sea of tuk tuks can be a challenge.

Bridge

The scenic ride rolls through forest, past lakes, and over picturesque bridges.

Bridge

In Angkor Thom we visit Bayon, a temple full of mysterious, smiling faces (216 faces to be exact) on 54 towers.

Bayon Temple

Every corner or window holds surprise or a smile.

Bayon Temple

Our third ruin, Ta Prohm, reminds me of how nature eventually reclaims everything, as the fig, the banyan, and kapok trees slowly swallow this structure with their massive roots.

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Angelina Jolie’s character Lara Croft picked a jasmine flower in the movie “Tomb Raider” at this location. (We haven’t seen the movie)

Ta Prohm temple

Our day’s exploration ends at a massive Buddhist Monastery, Banteay Kdei.

Banteay Kdel  Temple

Here, bright colors of lichen appear to paint the decaying walls.

Banteay Kdel Temple

I also received a Buddhist blessing here for the health and welfare of my parents back in the states.

Ron receiving blessing

Entrance fees recently rose to $37 USD for a one-day ticket, or $67 USD for three days. After eight-hours our minds could not comprehend much more temple stimuli, though you could spend a week here and be continually amazed.

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Time for drinks on Pub Street in Siem Reap.

Pub Street during the day

It’s still daylight, so we’ll start off with traditional Cambodian barbecue – frog legs, crocodile, pork, beef, chicken, and fish grilled at our table.

Cambodian BBQ

The bright lights inspire a round of drinks.

Pub Street Siem Reap

Then maybe a bit more barbeque from a fiery wok.

Street cooking

More drinks can lead to all kinds of chaos. Like how about ending the evening with our feet tickled by a school of dead-foot-skin-eating-fish? (Fish Can Do Massage)

Yikes!

Fishy foot treatments

 

Thank you, abundant universe.

 

Getting Our Travel Legs in Cambodia

After 24 hours of flying time (plus three stops), we arrive in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, around midnight. Full bore jet lag symptoms (nausea, exhaustion, and insomnia) accompany us to the comfortable and affordable G Mekong Hotel.

Not able to eat much of the included, fantastic breakfast, we walk in zombie-like state the next morning through a blast of infinite scooters that mingle with an array of vehicles. Traffic apocalypse. You must watch your footing on uneven ground with holes full of sewer water, look ahead for opportunistic gaps in traffic, and a “rearview walking mirror” would come in handy as sidewalks are not made for walking.Phnom Penh Somehow this mayhem works. Few accidents occur and road rage does not appear to exist in this gentle culture. We already know from similar experience in Ho Chi Minh City that you must walk with a steady stride so that traffic can adjust to your pace, and flow around you like a school of fish. Of course, we’re lost.  Phnom PenhWising up the following day, we take a tuk-tuk on a mission to walk along the Mekong River, where there’s a sidewalk. Slowly getting our legs back, but still delirious, we wonder if we’re getting too old for this type of travel. Nah, bring on the freaky food! On a walk back to the hotel, we do a reconnaissance mission seeking a restaurant that serves tarantula and red tree ants. Pure Cambodian country fare.Phnom PenhWe get bad news from back home in the states, as my father is hospitalized with serious health problems. Not sure if we need to fly back now or later, we debate our future. Finally, we decide to play it by ear and not make any long-range plans. Another night of insomnia, surely caused by jet lag combined with worries. Either way, it is time for an afternoon beer on a street known for its nightlife.

Cambodians are genuinely nice and non-threatening. Even in the large cities, robberies and violent crime are rare compared to the west. Ironically, our largest “threats” have come from “white” guys either on strange drugs or damaged by something we can’t begin to imagine. Being Adult Probation Officers in a previous life, every older white guy traveling alone must be a child molester in our mind’s eye. Perhaps an unfair assessment, but hard to shake those types of thoughts based on years of training and experience. Tarantula for lunchOkay, a few beers later we visit “Romdeng” restaurant to dine on tarantula with black pepper lime sauce, and red tree ants with beef filet and spicy basil stir fry. The sauce dominates the ant dish, and we have no need to eat tarantula again! This restaurant is staffed by former street youths with teachers that present kids with career training. We’ll return to support this worthy cause but will skip the creepy crawlies next time.Tree fire ants in basil stir fryHealth news from back home gets better, so we book a minivan for a five-hour ride to the small beach community of Kep.KepWe sit in our assigned seats, when two other travelers approach with the same seat booking. Turns out that I booked this ride on internet without noticing that the next available opening was several days away! If we were in the US, we would simply be kicked off the bus. In Cambodia, the driver says, “Oh, problem.” He then removes some cargo, flips out a bench seat for two in the luggage area, and squeezes us in. Resolves problem. Love Cambodia. Never been so happy to sit on the bumpy bench in the back.Views Kep NPKep. Wow! Laid back town with a small beach, surrounded by jungle covered hills and national parks. It has wide streets with sidewalks and an inviting waterfront where a person can sit with a cold beer and watch folks gather bamboo crab pots.  Kep Crab MarketA very welcome calm from city mayhem. We sit on the porch of our fabulous bungalow at “Atmaland,” and relax. As my father’s health slowly improves back home, we start to get our legs back. Kep Crab Market blessingKep, actually known for it’s crabs, lives up to the hype. The crab market has, well, crabs, everywhere, along with squid, octopus, fish, shrimp, sting ray on a stick, and other things we cannot identify.Kep crabsThese tiny blue crabs infused with Kampot pepper sauce demand a good bit of work for little payoff in meat. But then, we are spoiled as far as crab goes, from hanging in places like Oregon and Alaska. While the crab disappoints, the Kampot pepper sauce rocks.Kep crab with Kampot pepperTime for a shaded, mountain hike through a rainforest complete with monkeys and ocean vistas.Kep NPOur bungalow backs up to the Kep National Park. For only one dollar the Park’s five-mile loop trail makes for the perfect morning walk.Kep NPAfter four days of peaceful bliss, we’re hopping a minivan to the nearby town of Kampot. I got the booking date correct this time. Thank you, abundant universe!

 

Where Eagles Soar

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Chilkat River

Cold wind blows down from glaciers that separate jagged peaks surrounding the Chilkat River. We zip up and seal the gaps in our clothing during a brisk walk along the only river in Alaska that does not totally freeze solid, due to a glacial sediment alluvial fan.Eagles on the Chilkat RiverThis stretch of unfrozen water provides spawning ground for the final salmon run on the north American continent. That’s why an estimated 3,000 bald eagles converge here annually for a final feed every November, in Haines, Alaska.Eagles on the Chilkat RiverMarilynn and I have volunteered as caretakers at the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in Haines for two separate summers (Eagle Caretakers), and have seen many of the 400 resident bald eagles, but we have never witnessed the November convergence.  C’mon, 3,000 eagles? We’re skeptical, and expect that this phenomenon is probably over-hyped.EaglesHigh-pitched screeches in the distance call for us to pick up the pace, and break free of the woods obstructing our view. Viola! There be eagles, hordes of them!EagleSome soar down to the river to snatch a swimming fish with their talons, while others line up along dead-end channels that trap Coho and Chum.EaglesMany eagles perch in the trees to rest, or wait for an opportunity to steal another’s catch. Perhaps they conduct business in a language we cannot understand.Eagles on the Chilkat RiverThe eagles have arrived at their annual convention/feed. I’m not sure exactly how many have come. How can you count them all?Chilkat River during eagle festivalOutside of a few serious photographers, this week we have the place to ourselves. A handful of hearty humans shall arrive next week to enjoy this amazing event, and participate in the Bald Eagle Festival activities in Haines Borough for a final economic boon before winter.eagle eating and refelction 3We experience the gathering of eagles in one of the most pristine settings on planet earth. If anything, this phenomenon is under-hyped.Eagles on the Chilkat RiverThe cold wind blows down from glacial separated jagged mountains, and we seal the gaps in our clothing, looking forward to stoking up the wood burner back at the cabin.Chilkat River

Thank you Abundant Universe!