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The Alaskan Wilderness Odyssey - Family Life on the Road

Part 4

We left our beloved Cottonwood Lodge on July 1st to head up into Alaska. As we pulled out onto the road, a grizzly bear ambled on the side of road not more than ten yards from us. He had a mangy coat and was eating grass as he walked through the ditch.

A little further down the road, we stopped at a creek mentioned in the Milepost Magazine (an absolute must if you're traveling up there) to pan for gold. We each took a turn panning, and every single pan had flecks of gold! We made lunch by the roadside and headed on. We ate lunch while sitting on the top of the pop-up camper. This seemed to be a "thing" when we wanted to eat or take a break. We also kept a frisbee handy for these stops to play catch.

After lunch, we headed on and by a nature preserve and some overlooks. There was an educational center there, and we watched a quick video on the area there. There was no one else in this little room where we watched the tv with the video, and a worker came out rudely asking, "Do you have a problem?" We were sitting there watching the video paying attention. The only thing we could think of was that the kids were tapping their feet to the music??? It was flat out weird!

We stopped at Tok, which is the first town when you drive into Alaska - sounds like Coke by the way. We stopped at an outfitters there, and we picked up fishing licenses. We talked briefly to a worker about out best fishing options on the route we were taking into Anchorage.

After this, we pressed on, getting to a campground just outside of Glennallen at about 10 pm. We stopped to talk with the campground host and decided to press on for an additional 2 hours, so we could be better located for what we wanted to do. We scarfed down a quick "dinner" since we were famished, and it was already 10. We turned our clocks back another hour, as we were now four hours behind our time.

At midnight, we pulled into our campsite at Glennallen, and Caleb and I set up the camper as quickly as we could. It had started raining on us, and the girls waited in the truck. In the last two hours of driving, we also saw multiple moose along the side of the road eating off in the swamps to the side. One ran across the highway in front of us. It was well after midnight when we were finally able to settle in for the night.

July 2 - It was sprinkling on and off. After breakfast start our devo book for the trip, "The Forgotten Way" by Ted Dekker, we collected fishing gear and all the dirty clothes. I dropped Jen and the girls off at the laundry mat, and Caleb and I went to get our lines wet for the first time in Alaska. This day ended up being a perfect re-coop day after the long drive from yesterday. It was drizzly all day long. I tried fishing again later on with Caleb and Karli, but the conditions were not good. In spite of that, we were able to catch a couple of Dolly Varden, our first Alaskan fish! Tara and Jen had decided to read and nap while we were gone. When we got back to camp after fishing, Karli, Caleb, and I decided to join them.

At about 7pm, we woke up and pulled out snacks and played games. We started a game of Rook, which later on, we decided to keep a running game that would cover the whole trip. I needed brushing up on the rules, and apparently my slowness in picking up on the rules of the game, was hilarious. I then became the target of a whole series of jokes for the duration of the trip....glad I could provide such solid entertainment for the gang!

July 3 - We decided to leave the camper in Glennallen while we took a side trip to Valdez, so we packed up our tent gear and overnight clothes. We drove down to Valdez, which was about two hours away. As we drove into the Valdez area, we could tell there was a beautiful view, but it was so overcast, it was difficult to see. There was a glacier up on a mountain pass before going into Valdez. We got out to go for a hike and layered up. It was cold enough for coats, hats, and gloves. We hiked a rocky river bed to climb up to the glacier. The water was rushing out of the glacier, and we were able to hike up over top of it on several ledges. It was slippery and cold, but it was fun being up inside the ice gorge with the water flowing out us down below.

After we got back into the truck, we drove through an area with switchbacks as we started to descend. Even though the view was foggy, we stopped to hike several overlooks. We could see the road snaking down below us, and in between the cloud cover, we could periodically see lush green hills surrounding us. We took some pics on rocky overlooks in this area with hopes of doing it again with better weather conditions. As we descended down to Valdez out of the mountains, we drove through a canyon right before town that had a huge waterfall right by the side of the road. We stopped to soak it in. The area seemed like a lush green botanical garden, and having the waterfall pouring down overhead was magical!

Right before town, we set up our tents at a campground. We drove into town to check it out. We immediately went to the visitor center, and they gave us directions to an area where the fishermen were snagging salmon. The fish were right by shore trying to find their way into the closest inlet. As we watched the fishermen, we immediately saw pods of seals and sea lions out in the bay. Beyond them was a beautiful snow capped mountain reflecting off the water.

We drove back into town and started walking around the harbor. The fishing industry is on steroids here - huge boats on every dock - each one equipped to go out into the ocean seas.

We overheard someone talking about his million $$$ season. We also met another gentleman who was from northern Michigan. He was an ex-corporate executive from the Detroit area who had retired and moved up north. But without the daily rush and challenges he was used to, he was getting bored with "Up North" living. He was watching late night tv when he saw an ad looking for people to go to Alaska and work in the fishing industry. His interest was piqued immediately, and after a conversation with his wife, he sent in an application to a fishing company in Valdez. He worked in a local fishing factory where they gut and cut up the fish that came in every day from the boats. A funny story that he shared was that the crew he worked with was pretty rough - keep in mind he was an executive in the auto industry. One day at lunch, all the workers were talking about how they got to Valdez. Our northern Michigan friend shared how he simply had driven from Michigan all the way there. All the workers started teasing him and called him out on a BS story. He couldn't understand why they thought he was lying, so he asked them and her was their answer, "Everyone knows you can't drive across Canada if you've had a felony." Apparently, everyone of the fellas he worked with had felonies and didn't have that as an option. He chuckled as he told the story. It was an option for him!

We also met another gentleman named Pat on the docks. He was one of the fish cleaners who waited at the docks for when the boats returned. If customers didn't want to clean the fish, they could hire any number of fish cleaners. Pat was quite a character himself. While we talked with him, some halibut was brought in from one of the boats and one of them was over 100 pounds!

We went over to the info center again to make dinner there (ham, instant potatoes, and green beans) and then went down the road from our tucked away campground. Another noticeable road sign before we got to camp showed the evacuation route for tsunamis and is different here. Anyway, the glacier lake near our campground had pieces of glacier ice floating around. Jen and I went back to camp to shower, but the girls and Caleb stayed at the lake for pics of fire and ice.

While waiting for the showers, I visited with a gal from Anchorage who gave us areas to check out in the area. When the kids came back, they showered and we had a campfire, as it was very cold (hats, jackets, gloves) and still overcast. We all crawled into our tents. Did I say it was VERY cold? The girls had a blanket in addition to their sleeping bags. We wore out wooly hats, gloves, with socks and a jacket over top of us. We shivered all night.

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