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.
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!
The vastness of this land makes a big grizzly bear look small.
Porcupines like to come out in the morning also.
Continuing north, we brave the cold rain and camp several days along the Chena River. It’s well worth it.
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.
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.
“I’m taking you to places most people will never get to see,” he says.
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.”
We stop only to crack a cold one, or cut firewood for the bonfire back at camp.
After a long day of four-wheeling, we sit around the fire eating moose burgers, feeling rather wild.
“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.
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.
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.
National Geographic Traveler magazine lists it as number two in “roads that are pure fun to drive.”
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.
While scenic and remote, we wondered where the “thrill” was?
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.
Once back on paved roads, we follow the Alaskan Pipeline south, camping along the way.
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.
Waterfalls gush in full force from the tops of fjords.
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.
Thank you, Abundant Universe!