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December, 2009:

“The Great One” – My visit to Alaska – Thanksgiving 2009

DISCLAIMER: This blog entry is VERY long. If you are going to bitch about how long it is then you probably shouldn’t bother reading it. LOL. Or read some and come back again later. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!  For those that DO read it I hope you enjoy the story of my trip.

If you do a Wikipedia search on “The Great One” you’ll come up with one of those pages that says “The Great One” may refer to: — and have a list of several different things including Wayne Gretzky and Jackie Gleason.

Included in the list is the following description: “The English translation of the Dena’ina name ‘Denali’, a mountain in Denali Park, Alaska”.

“Denali” is The local Koyukon Athabaskan name for that mountain. “Denali” is also known as “Mount McKinley”.

It is the highest peak on the entire continent of North America. At 20,320 feet above sea level, it is slightly less than 9,000 feet shorter than Mt Everest. It’s vertical climb, however is greater than that of Mt. Everest. The base of Denali is at roughly the 2,000 foot level giving it an approximately 18,000ft vertical climb to its summit. Everest sits on the Tibetan Plateu at about 17,000 feet giving it about a 12,000 foot vertical climb.

The more I read about Denali, the more interested I got. You can read more about the mountain by clicking HERE.

This is a story about my first trip to Alaska. It was one of 15 states I’ve never visited. On weekends that I have nothing much to do I sometimes jump on a plane and go to one so I can knock it off my list.  Hopefully someone I know lives nearby so I can have lunch or dinner with them and maybe bum a sofa to sleep on.

Traveling is hard.

Alaska is a tough trip to make over a weekend. You don’t arrive there until about 3PM and by that time (in the winter) the sun is fixin’ to set. The flight back leaves at 9AM the next morning. So you could GO to Alaska over a weekend but you can’t really DO anything except grab some dinner and come home. (Not that I’ve never DONE that before. ) but still. It’s an awful long way to go and not visit anything in “The Last Frontier”.

I had just been down to visit my parents in Florida the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday. They were going to go to my aunt and uncles house for Thanksgiving dinner. Because it’s normally hard to travel standby over holidays – especially to Florida – I told them I would just stay home and see them in a few weeks.

As usual, as the weekend got closer I started getting antsy. I tried to think of something to do – of someplace to go. I posed the question to my friends on TRL.  Jen Hudson suggested I come to Michigan (another state I’ve never visited) to have Thanksgiving dinner with her, her husband Tom and their son Owen.

Jen & Tom are great people and I’ve been wanting to go visit them… And I will… very soon.

Mary thought I should go to the Grand Canyon.

Steve H. posted a story about how his mom tried to cancel Christmas the year he moved out. LOL. He said he thought of going to Alaska instead.

Hmmmm.  Alaska.  I’ve never BEEN to Alaska. (is this beginning to sound familiar?)

So I started looking into flights to Alaska. I found that flying standby to Alaska in November wasn’t really all that hard (can you imagine?)  I also found out that flying standby to Alaska on Thanksgiving DAY was even easier. :)

I did some more looking and decided that if I were going to go to Alaska I wanted to see Denali while I was there.

How hard could that be? In the winter? In the snow? LOL.

I found a website that showed the view of Denali from different locations. I figured ‘Heck, I don’t need to get right up to it. I mean it IS almost four miles tall right? Here is a view of Denali from downtown Anchorage – almost 120 miles to the South!

The site I found showed a town along the Parks Highway (which runs from Anchorage to Denali) named “Willow”. I’m pretty sure that Sarah Palin named one of her daughters after this town.  The view of Denali looked pretty good. Willow was about a 50 mile drive North of Anchorage. I then did some checking on Willow. I found out there is a whole lot of NOTHING going on in Willow. So I looked a little further North. That’s when I found the quaint little village of Talkeetna, Alaska. :)

Talkeetna has a population of about 700 people.  It is out in the middle of NOWHERE.  The there are several air taxi companies in town that mainly make their living ferrying climbers to the bottom base camp for their attempt at climbing Denali. Usually that is in the Springtime heading into Summer. Talkeetna is also on the list of ‘land side’ visiting places for the cruise lines that bring people to Alaska. So summer is a very busy time for them too.

There are lots of things to do in Talkeetna in the summer. River cruises, dry land dog sled rides, hiking and climbing… in the winter there is a whole lot of drinking going on. :)

The Denali Brewing Company is based in Talkeetna.  Very convienent.

I had decided that I wanted to go on a “flight-seeing” flight of Denali with one of the local flying services.  I contacted an outfit in Talkeetna named “K2 Aviation

Ok, so let’s see… where was I? Oh yeah, I also found out that at that time of year the sun sets at about 3:40PM and rises at around 9:40AM. Hmmm a six hour day?

I planned to arrive in Anchorage, then drive up to Talkeetna – about a 95 mile drive up the Parks Highway.

The closer I got to Thanksgiving day the more I realized that the weather wasn’t going to be so great in Alaska while I was there.  They were calling for snow showers over the four days and the highway report said that travel on the Parks highway was ‘iffy’ at best and to watch out for Moose on the roadway. (Huh?)

I figured I’d just spend the night in Anchorage and drive up to Talkeetna in the daylight on Friday.  In the meantime I’d been in touch with Elaine at K2 Aviation who must be the most optomistic person on the planet.  She was all excited to get a flight going on Saturday and was lining up some other people who planned to be in town. She told me that I could get a room at The Talkeetna Roadhouse and that there was a “band” playing at The Fairview Inn on Saturday night. She assured me that when there is entertainment at one of the local venues it is a pretty big deal and that the whole town would be out. :)

I really wanted to land on one of the glaciers on Denali but Elaine said that the snow was too deep in the winter for that. :(

Well, on Thanksgiving morning I went to the airport in Memphis and boarded a flight to Minneapolis. Being a light travel day, a seat was available in First Class.  Yay me.

Here is a photo of the Memphis skyline with the Might Mississippi River stretched out under it.  I took this from the aircraft just as we were climbing out of Memphis on the way to Minnesota and just as the sun was fixin’ to peek over the horizon.

I arrived in Minneapolis on time and had three hours to kill.  I had brought along my netbook to keep in touch.  I planned to use it on the aircraft but I had forgotten that it was a NorthWest flight and they have not been configured for wireless internet yet. Only the Delta aircraft.

Once I got to MSP I decided I’d spend less money ordering Boingo and a cup of coffee than I would’ve sitting in a bar for 3 hours. So I went into the work/wait area and surfed the net for a few hours and made some status updates to TRL and Facebook.

While in the gate area for the flight to Anchorage I started to realize I wasn’t really dressed for Alaska. :(

I was wearing my sneakers and a tshirt and everyone there was wearing heavy coats and suede hiking/snow boots. I’m from Memphis and Alabama man. Roll Tide!

I took with me a couple pairs of sweat pants, some Tshirts and my jean jacket. Heck I even brought along a muscle shirt and a pair of shorts for a photo op in front of Denali.

Oh well.  The cold doesn’t bother me much.

I had been told First Class was full, but I elected to hang out to be sure someone from First might not have made their flight.

Sure enough a flight was going to be late getting in so two First Class seats opened up and I scored one.  Awesome.

I really didn’t want to sit in coach for a 6.5 hour flight to Anchorage.

I boarded the aircraft.  It was a 757 and we boarded by way of the mid-deck door.  When you do that the coach passengers turn right and the First Class passengers turn left.  The flight had already boarded so I jumped into my seat and found one of the young guys from a hockey team that boarded (from Michigan) was sitting next to me.  He said he figured he’d just sit there since no one else was and asked me not to rat him out.  I just ordered a vodka tonic and told him that I couldn’t care less if he sat there but that I wouldn’t get too excited about it. The flight attendants tend to notice those sorts of things. LOL.  Next thing you know the flight attendant asked him if he was in the correct seat.  He said no and she shushed him off to his buddies back in coach and sat a pretty lady from Scotland down next to me. :)

I guess the gate agent had upgraded her.  She told me she was flying from where she lived in New Bern, NC to Fairbanks, Alaska to see her boyfriend.  New Bern, North Carolina.  Imagine that.  Funny thing. My parents had a time share in New Bern, North Carolina so I’d been there before.

I asked her how she ended up with a boyfriend who lived in Fairbanks and she told me she met him in Scotland that summer.  Go figure.  We had a nice chat and relaxed for the long flight to Anchorage.  About an hour later dinner was served.  Chicken Marsala, asparagus, cake and wine. Then a margarita and a vodka tonic.

After leaving MSP there really wasn’t much to look at.  Just a lot of flat land.

After awhile some snow started to show up down on the ground and then we didn’t see much but a bunch of clouds until we began to decend into Anchorage.  Soon we could start spotting chunks of ice floating in the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet.

Landing in Anchorage and taxiing to the terminal I saw a FedEx jet heading back to Memphis. A touch of home. LOL.

The terminal in Anchorage is surrounded by snow covered mountains.

I picked up my rental car and inquired about a four-wheel-drive.  No dice.  I figured if I could get one I’d head on up to Talkeetna in the dark.  Oh well.  I got my Dodge Caliper and surprisingly they don’t put studded snow tires on the rentals. Everyone ELSE in Anchorage has them but not the sub-compact car rentals.  Try to figure that one out.

My GPS would not work.  I think it should have but it was going to probably take a really long time to figure out where I was. So I got a map from the guy in the garage and he told me how to get to downtown.  I headed off and after 15 minutes of driving and seeing nothing but mountains in front of me I figured I was going the wrong way.

I didn’t want to pull over because I was afraid I’d get stuck.  It was snowing heavily and there was already 5-7″ of snow on the shoulder.

There isn’t much in Anchorage outside of downtown so driving til you find a bank parking lot or a 7-11 is pretty much out of the question. I finally found a flat left turn into a subdivision that was plowed and turned off the highway into an intersection and came to a stop where it was safe to read a map. Yep. Sure enough. Going the wrong way. I got turned around and headed back to Anchorage eventually finding the Days Inn I had made a reservation at.

I parked the car in the lot and went in. I asked the woman at the counter if there was a place to eat nearby that was open and she said ‘No’.

She said I might be able to find a Denny’s or something but I really wasn’t interested in driving around in the snow. So I asked if I could find a place to get a beer and she said “Sure!  The Polar Bar is just a block down!” So I put my stuff in my room and headed out into the snow with my jean jacket and my sneakers to find the Polar Bar.

The sun sets about 3:30PM so it was already dark outside.  I found the Polar Bar which was just a hole in the wall local bar.

In I treked and ordered a beer.  The Giants and Broncos were on NFL network.  Imagine that?  Directv in Alaska.  I asked the lady behind the bar if they had a menu and she said “No, but help yourself” and pointed behind me.  The locals had each brought a dish and there was a large table of turkey, ham, stuffing, sweet potatoes and apple pie.  Yum.  Turkey Dinner for Thanksgiving in Alaska.  w00t! 

I asked how much was dinner and she said it was free to anyone that wanted some.  Double w00t!  

So I spent the evening in The Polar Bar watching football and eating Thanksgiving dinner.

Several hours later I made my way back to the Days Inn.  I went up to my room, fired up the netbook and made a few updates.

Then I went to bed ending my first day in Alaska.

I woke up at 8 AM the next morning and it was still pitch black outside. It began to get daylight after 8:30 and it was easy to see that there was a small blizzard going on outside. :( They were calling for another 3″ of snow and the weather was definitely too bad for ME to drive a rental with no snow tires up to the wilderness. I had seen far too many Discovery Channel shows where they find the body sometime in May after the snow melts. :(

I began to work on a change of plans. I remembered that the Alaska Railroad ran one line a week in the winter from Anchorage to Fairbanks on Saturday – about a 12 hour trip – and then back again on Sunday. I decided I’d return the rental car since I didn’t need it anymore and take the train up to Talkeetna the next morning.  Talkeetna was a stop on the train to Fairbanks, Alaska at about the three hour mark. I figured I’d spend the day there… maybe get a glimpse of Denali if the weather cleared a little… and visit the local pubs and meet some fun people. Then I’d catch the train back to Anchorage at 5PM on Sunday. Sounded like a plan.

So… Friday was pretty much shot. At least The Iron Bowl between Auburn & Alabama was coming on at 10:30 AM.

Here is a view out of my room at the Days Inn.

There was a Country kitchen across the street. I decided I needed some pancakes and wandered across the street in the blizzard in my jean jacket.

I found out something weird.  People in Alaska just leave their cars running when they go into a restaurant.  There were a few SUVs and pickup trucks out front with their engines running and their owners sitting inside having breakfast.

A pretty girl named Janet sat me down and took my order.  She asked where I was from and I said Memphis, TN.  She said she was from ALABAMA.  Imagine that.  So I told her I spent a lot of time in Alabama too. Her dad worked for an airline and had moved to Alaska when she was a child.

The pancakes were good.  So was the reindeer sausage.

After breakfast I walked across the street to the Polar Bar again to watch The Iron Bowl. This is an Alaska Information Center I passed on the way to the Polar Bar.

Ah…. Magic. (I told you it was a hole in the wall. LOL.)

Oh yeah, in case you needed to get a new knife to skin grizzly bears with:


Ok, so… There is a mall in downtown Anchorage. It covers a couple blocks. And… just like at home… in Anchorage, Black Friday was a shopping day too.

The snow stopped in early afternoon and the streets were full of locals. People who came here from other places, people born here and lots of Native Alaskans.

I took my rental car back since I wasn’t going to need it for the rest of my trip.

I stopped at this light in downtown Anchorage on the way back to the airport.  I turned left here but if you go straight you run right into the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet.  This is where the famous “Bridge To Nowhere” was to be built.

I had a beer in a bar at the airport while I was at it. Then I called my hotel and Cynthia, the hotel clerk, sent the shuttle out to pick me up.

When I got back I took a stroll about 5 blocks down the street to the mall. Then I went out and walked the streets past a few little gift shops and then I saw him. Right there in his bright red suit. Santa. Thats right. Right there on the streets of Anchorage. WITH his sleigh… AND his reindeer! Eight beautiful reindeer. Rudolph must have had the night off.

I had never pet a reindeer before. They were so soft! And their fur/coat was so thick. It was like petting a soft bed. All cushy and stuff.

Santa was just biding his time waiting for the tree lighting ceremony was finished.

Huh? I started to hear beautiful singing. I followed the sound and found a park a block over where hundreds of people were gathering. A choir was singing Christmas carols. Teens were walking around the park with huge wicker baskets filled with homemade SUGAR COOKIES that they were giving away. There were senior citizens serving hot chocolate. Children were playing on a giant 12′ tall pile of snow.

An MC came out and introduced Dan Sullivan, the mayor of Anchorage. The mayor did what most mayors do out in public… A lot of talking.  He read the official proclomation and then he flipped the switch to light the city christmas tree! Everyone had a great time.

Of course my camera was back in my hotel room.

I walked back to my room and on the way back I picked up a new charger for my cell phone. :( I have about six of these at home but they wasn’t helping me now. $20.

When I got back I did some surfing and Facebook updating.  I found it interesting that at 9PM Anchorage time it was 38 degrees outside.  Back home in Olive Branch, Mississippi at the same time (it was midnight in Olive Branch) it was 33 degrees. Go figure.

The next morning I got up, grabbed my suitcase and went downstairs. The shuttle driver gave me a ride to the train depot. It was only about five blocks away. The snow had stopped but it was cold again and everything was pretty frozen. The lady had told me to show up about 7AM for the train. I tried the door. Locked. I looked inside. No one was there. So I wandered around in the freezing cold. I could see the dark blue and bright yellow ALASKA RAILROAD train on the tracks behind the station idling and ready to go.

Finally a railroad policeman walked across from their station and said hello. He asked me “Is the door locked?”. Then he pulled the door (the other door) and it opened. What a dumbass. I guess I should have tried both doors? Here I am freezing to death outside in the dark and the door was unlocked.

So I walk in and go to the window. The young girl is hooking me up with a round trip ticket to Talkeetna. She says to just show up at 4:30PM tomorrow and the conductor will have my return ticket on the train already. Cool. I know the ticket to Talkeetna from Anchorage is $70 each way. I mention to her that the lady said they had a discount for airline employees. She told me that she’d give me a better discount than that… then she said “$95″. $95? Round Trip? Awesome.

More people showed up. I guess there were 20 of us all together. Most of them were going all the way to Fairbanks. I would have liked to have gone to Fairbanks and maybe get to see The Northern Lights. But I didn’t have time.

I can’t recommend taking The Alaska Railroad enough.  What a great way to visit Alaska. On most of their trains they have these sort of ‘dome’ cars where the walls and ceiling are just plexiglass and you feel like you’re sitting up on top with nothing around you but the outside.

Our conductor showed us a few minutes later and introduced himself as Steve. He told us where to board and where to put our carryon. They had already loaded the suitcases into the baggage car.

Here is Steve and I preparing to board.

Steve even stood out on the platform and yelled out “Allllllllll Aboard!” just like you’d expect a conductor to do. :)

I boarded the train and sat down in my seat for a bit.  Here is what the inside of the passenger car looked like.

It was still dark outside so Steve turned down the lights. Unlike a plane, there wasn’t a panel over your head to turn on a reading light… but he had these small reading lights you could clip onto your book if you wanted to read. I didn’t.

A minute later, a voice come over the intercom and announced that it belonged to Chris, the chef. He invited anyone who wished to do so to come to the dining car. I got up and went to the dining car. I brought my phone charger and found a booth with an outlet and plugged my phone in to charge.

I’m not sure why this woman was wearing her lingerie on a train heading to Fairbanks, Alaska – but she was. :)

I looked at a menu and ordered a cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito (with reindeer sausage). A few minutes later Chris brought me out my burrito. It was rather large. It was also very good.

It was starting to get light outside. Off and on I’d see a moose or groups of moose in the fields along the tracks. The train was flying by and you could see them pretty good. Unfortunately they didn’t show up very well on a camera. But if you see some black dots in these pictures, those are moose.

Soon we stopped at the roadside station in the city of Wasilla.  I did not see Sarah around anywhere but I was looking.

Steve had told us that we’d be picking up a funeral in Wasilla. They loaded the casket up onto the baggage car and about 10 members of the family got on. They were taking the guys body up to Fairbanks for his burial. I tried not to stare or anything but I did take a quick peek when we pulled into the station. The ‘casket’ was just a cardboard box.

All I could think about was that if you were a smoker you went into the baggage car to smoke.  I was picturing the smokers standing there in the baggage car freezing cold next to a cardboard box that had a dead body in it.  Hmmm.

While stopped at the station in Wasilla I noticed that the Three Rivers Fly & Tackle shop was having a storewide “Black Friday” sale.

Soon we pulled out of the station and were on our way again.  Here is a river we were traveling alongside.

Off in the distance was The Alaska Range.  Steve told us that unfortunately due to the clouds and bad weather, Denali (Mt McKinley) is right there… but we just couldn’t see it.

I was beginning to feel rather bummed that it was beginning to look like I just wasn’t going to get to see Denali.

We rode along a little more and Steve got on the intercom and told us that about an old man who lived in a cabin along the tracks ‘in a few more miles’. He told us his name which I don’t remember but that he was 78 years old and that every Saturday morning some friends of his bring a box of groceries to the train station in Anchorage and give them to Steve. Then the engineer stops the train alongside the old man’s cabin when they get there. Steve hopped off the train with the box of groceries and walked up a path to the cabin – which was plainly visable. The elderly man came out and took the box of groceries and Steve waved to him and hopped back up onto the train. Talk about service!

A short while later we approached the village of Talkeetna and came to a stop at the station.  About six or seven of us got off and Steve introduced us to Jack, the station manager.  Jack jumped up into the baggage car and grabbed our suitcases off and then closed the door again.

This is the station in Talkeetna, Alaska.

This is Steve talking to Jack as the bags came off. (There’s a cardboard casket in there somewhere).

We watched Steve and the train take off to Fairbanks. Someone had stopped by from the Talkeetna Cabins and picked up the other folks that got off. I just walked into the village dragging my roller bag behind me.

This is Nagley’s Trading Post and the Talkeetna Visitors Center.  You can see a sign there for the West Rib Pub.  That is where I will begin my own personal pub crawl in a few hours.

Across the street from Nagley’s is The Fairview Inn – which I mentioned earlier. This is where my third night in Alaska (and my only night in Talkeetna) would come to an end in about 17 hours. :)

I found my way down the street another 100 yards to The Talkeetna Roadhouse.

Across the street from The Roadhouse Inn was “Mile High Pizza Pie”.  But they didn’t appear to be open in the winter. :(

I wandered in to The Roadhouse and introduced myself and asked about a room for the night. A young guy named Nick was behind the counter and fixed me up with a nice room down the hall. I had the choice to sleep in the ‘bunkhouse’ for $20/night or I could have a room for one for $42. The four bathrooms with showers were shared by everyone.  I opted for the $42 room. There was a woman standing next to me who was an obvious resident of Talkeetna. She was picking up some lunch and a couple loves of cranberry bread – The Roadhouse bakes all sorts of breads and pastries as well as serving all meals. She said hello and asked me about myself. Then she asked if I’d like to know what was going on it town.  I said “Absolutely!”. So she proceeded to tell me about the stores and shops. That there was a sort of local craft fair going on inside the city hangar at the landing strip in the middle of town. She also mentioned about live music that night at The Fairview Inn. :)

She told me I could go to the Trading Post and rent some snow shoes and go do some snow shoeing. I smiled and told her if I did any snow shoeing they’d be loading ANOTHER casket onto the train the next day when it stopped on its way back to Anchorage. She just looked at me like she didn’t have a clue as to what I was talking about and smiled.

I said goodbye and walked down the hall to my room and dumped off my stuff. I pulled out the netbook and Bingo! Wireless Internet at The Roadhouse! Yes!

Here is a picture of the view out of my room window.

Well about that time I decided to go take a stroll around Talkeetna and visit the Denali Brewing Company that I had seen on the walk in. Then I thought ‘Well I SHOULD call K2 Aviation just to be sure nothing was actually going on.’

I rang up Elaine at K2 and she said ‘Hi Bill! Did you make it to Talkeetna?’ I told her I had and was standing in my room at The Roadhouse. She told me to GET ON OVER THERE – that they were fixin’ to take a flight at 1PM. I asked her if she was kidding since it had been so cloudy and she said that ‘Chris, our pilot, has some reports and he says we’re still a GO.’ She told me that they wouldn’t be able to get to the summit of Denali, but they’d get up as high as 14,000 feet and get a good view of the bottom and of the glaciers and other mountains on the range. Woo-Hoo! I told her I was on my way.

Off I went, out of The Roadhouse and down Main Street.

Past the Trading Post, a right on the Spur Road, past the Talkeetna Travel Agency (?).

I took this photo of the sun. This photo was taken at about 12 Noon on Friday, November 27, 2009. THIS is as high as the sun will rise in the sky this time of year. In another month it will barely get up above the horizon.

I turned left at the Travel Agency onto 2nd Street, up and over the tracks and K2 Aviation was on the right. As you can see other people were beginning to show up for the flight.

I went inside and met Elaine. Then I paid for my flight. Since we wouldn’t be landing on a glacier (due to the snow of winter) and since we had a large group of 10 she only charged $235 for the flight. While Chris the pilot got the Otter ready I talked with the other passengers. Here are a few photos while we were waiting for the plane to be ready.

A few minutes later, Chris came and Elaine introduced him to us. I asked Chris what the chances were of sitting in the right seat of the Otter for the flight and he said ‘Great.  Just get on first.’

The Otter is a larger single engine turbine aircraft. That means it has a jet engine on it but it still has a propeller. There are Otters that have two engines on them but this was a single engine one. It was set up with skis to land on the glaciers and drop off the mountain climbers and their gear. It has a ‘high wing’ meaing the wing is above the windows. When you look out you can look directly down to the ground from the air and the wing is not in the way. It also had a ‘tail wheel’ rather than one under the nose. The passengers enter from the left rear and inside are 10 or so single seats with an aisle down the middle leading to the cockpit. Each passenger got their own window and their own headset (to keep their ears warm :) and to be able to speak together as a group without all the wind and engine noise.

Here are some pictures of the Otter.

This family (previous picture) was from Memphis, TN too. Another surprise. The woman is a school teacher in Shelby County near where I live. She took a year to teach Native Alaskans in Anchorage. Her husband had flown up from Memphis, her daughter from Chicago and son from California just to all be together for Thanksgiving. :) They decided to come up to Talkeetna for the same reason I had… to take a flight around Denali.

Chris gave his safety speech about what to do if we landed somewhere OTHER than back here in Talkeetna… and we climbed aboard.

Chris climbed aboard and fired up the turbine engine. After some warming up and going over some checklists we taxied to the runway and took off. Here we are heading down the runway. You’ll notice that the sky is turning blue and the sun is even beginning to shine.

I have no idea why, but the weather just magically cleared up between the time I arrived at K2 and the time we took off.  It was just wonderful.

Well we lifted off the snow covered runway and flew along the river as we climbed up to about 1000′. Then we turned to the North and I looked out in front of me. There. Sixty miles out in front of us she stood. Denali. With the sun shining on the side we looked out over the snow covered spruce trees that make up the Alaskan landscape and stared directly at the Alaska Range with it’s mighty centerpiece awaiting us.

It was about a 20 minute flight to get there and the mountain grew larger and larger in the windshield as we continued to climb. Chris was giving a ‘tour’ over the intercom but I wasn’t really listening much. I didn’t have much to say as I was just overwhelmed that I was actually here. In this position. About to visit “The Great One” as I had wanted to do so badly but didn’t think I was going to be able to. Here are just a few of the photos of the mountain as we got closer.

This is a photo of the Ruth Glacier flowing down from Denali

Almost the entire mountain was visible.  Only the top 2000 feet or so was still in the clouds.  It was marvelous.

This is Chris, our pilot, flying the Otter during our flightseeing tour of Mt McKinley (Denali).

We flew over some of the lower mountains.

This is Hunter Mountain.  It is a much more difficult mountain to climb than Denali due to the terrain.  Only 40 people summited it last year.  Mostly because the climbers come to climb the big mountain.  By the way about 1000 people attempted to summit Mt McKinley (Denali) last year.  About 600 of those people were successful.

This is a photo of the Kahiltna Glacier which leads up the SouthWest side of the mountain.

This is where the lower base camp is set up in the Spring.  They land on this glacier with the planes and drop off and pick up climbers for their expeditions.

THIS is a photo I found online of the HIGH base camp. It is located at about 17,500 feet and is the point that the climbers make their decision to go for the summit or not.  Notice how the climbers dig their tents down into the snow to try to protect them from the low temperatures, low wind chills and high winds on Denali.

On December 1, 2003, the weather station that is located at the 18,000 foot level recorded temperatures as low as −75.5 °F. On the previous day, November 30, 2003, a temperature of −74.4 °F. combined with a wind speed of 18.4 miles per hour to produce a North American record windchill of −118.1 °F.

Here we are getting ready to fly into a gourge between two lower peaks.

As we flew back out of the gourge the sun was setting behind the mountains.

One last look at the summit of Mt McKinley as we prepare to fly back to Talkeetna.

There were places where there were sinkholes in the glaciers where the ice collapsed back in.

After all the snow and clouds… the sun setting at about 2:30PM on the flight back to Talkeetna.

The group as we headed back.

Ok.  With my main objectives completed – 1) Made it to Alaska – cross Alaska off my list leaving only 14 states left to visit – and 2) See/View Mt Mckinley (Denali), the tallest peak on the North American Continent – it was now time to have some fun during the remaining 12 hours of my visit to Talkeetna.

What a better way to do that than to start my very own personal pub crawl.

Before that however, let me make a couple other comments about Talkeetna.  It was great visiting during Thanksgiving weekend… BUT if I’d waited only one more week I could have attended the world famous Wilderness Woman Contest.  Every year since 1986 the Talkeetna Bachelor Society holds a contest to determine the woman that a Talkeetna bachelor would find most desireable.  The contest is open to single women aged 21 or older. The winner gets a fur hat, a plaque, and sometimes a trip to Europe. :)

There is also the annual Moose Droppping Festival where painted, numbered & laquered hunks of moose poop are dropped from way up high and the winners are the poops that land closest to a bullseye target. :)

Here is a link to a forum post that contains photos of the Moose Dropping Contest.  I don’t know how long it will remain open but I’ll leave the link in case anyone wants to see some of the photos of the event.

It should be noted that the women of Talkeetna playfully rebelled against the Wilderness Woman Contest and started their own Mountain Mother Contest.

I bought a K2 hat and a postcard I’d mailed home to myself from Talkeetna to Mississippi.  Then as I wandered back toward the Roadhouse Inn from the airport I came upon Nagley’s.  As I mentioned before the West Rib Pub was behind Nagley’s General Store.  So I wandered in for a beer.  No one was there but the bartender whos name I’ve forgotten – probably because he was a ‘he’ – and had me an Alaska Amber.  This is the side entrance to the West Rib Pub.

While the West Rib Pub is warm and cozy inside – and you would be happy to spend hours here drinking and watching football – if you need to use the rest room you must go OUTSIDE to use them.  I didn’t venture inside but I’m guessing that it is not much more than a closet and NO HEAT at all.

After I finished my beer I walked across the street to the Twister Creek Restaraunt and Denali Brewing company.  A lovely young blonde lady named Tess waited on me, served me one or two of the Denali Brewing Company’s Stouts.  We talked about lots of things.  She was originally from Nebraska I think she said.  She asked me where I was headed next on my pub crawl and I said ‘Wherever you tell me to go’.  She told me I should try “The Teepee” next which was ‘down past the Roadhouse a street… turn left and go down two or three blocks and it’s on the right’.  Uh… Ok. :) She also told me that I should end up at The Fairview Inn last because that was where the musician would be later.  She said I should get there by nine so I could get a seat at the bar.  After finishing my beers I said goodbye and Tess said she’d try to get over to The Fairview later (I wish).  Oh… while I was here I overheard the manager talking to a couple locals about a poker game.  Apparently there is some late night poker going on in town that I meant to try to get into later that evening… but I was having too much fun at The Fairview by then. :(

On the way out I heard “Hi Bill!” and noticed the gentleman who was living in Anchorage (his name was Kevin I think) and his girlfriend and her daughter from LA.  They had come up on the train with me and were also on the flightseeing trip we took.

So I wandered out of the Twister Creek. It was now dark. Which meant it was probably only 4PM LOL. I wandered down Main Street, almost got run over by a snowmobile, past The Roadhouse and turned left. It looked mighty dark down that street. All I thought about was bumping into a grizzly bear or something. I thought to myself ‘Boy if a guy was walking back to The Roadhouse from The Teepee and slipped and passed out in the snow here he’d probably freeze to death rather quickly’.

There was a small house there (actually a log cabin) and a guy was out on the porch doing something. I asked if this was the street that The Teepee was on and he said “No, it’s one street over. You turned too soon. But you can go down that way one street and turn right and go to the next street and turn left.”. Hmmm.  Ok, Thanks!

I followed his directions and then I saw The Teepee – which was like an “A” frame building – on the right.

I wandered in and there was a pool table and a bar and a few locals. There was a big screen TV at one end and popcorn in bowls on the bar. A woman said to me ‘Welcome To The Teepee. Have a seat. We’re just getting ready to watch some boxing.’

Hmmm. Ok, sure. So I sat next to her. I don’t remember her name. She apparently was the owner of the place. She introduced me to Leslie the bartender. “Hi Leslie”.

I told the woman and Leslie that Tess from the Twister Creek had sent me down.  Leslie gave a thumbs-up and said “Yay Tess!”.

Leslie was very cute.  And very friendly. She tollerated my inquisitiveness very well.  I asked her where she was from.  Hmmm. Maybe it was LESLIE was from Nebraska.  Yeah.  Maybe.  Then Tess was from Chicago or someplace else.  I really don’t remember.

Hey, if Leslie from The Teepee in Talkeetna or Tess from Twister Creek / Denali Brewing Company in Talkeetna find this blog post during a Google search please post a comment so I can track you down.

Hey, who  knows?  Maybe someone who knows them will find this blog post during a google search - (This has worked in locating people before so don’t laugh).

By this time I’d probably had one too many beers and no food.

I watched boxing with the woman who I was sitting with and I flirted with Leslie for quite awhile.  I was pretty much ready to move to Talkeetna at this point.  I even asked Leslie the particulars.  She had just bought a house on the other side of town.  She told me you could buy a small house for 70k or so in Talkeetna.  I even asked about doctors and health care.  She assured me that there were some good doctors in town.  I was rollin’.

It was about time to leave so I said my goodbyes to the nice lady and to the beautiful Leslie.

I wandered back to The Roadhouse – again thinking of what would happen to me if I fell into the snow on that dark street – and sat down for some food.  Nick (I think that was his name) was still working and I ordered some lasagna for dinner.  It was very good.  Thinking back on it now I should have ordered something else though.  Something to help sop up all that beer.

After I finished dinner I went back to my room to clean up a little then wandered down the dark, icy street to The Fairview Inn for the final chapter of my pub crawl.

There were already a few snowmobiles parked out in front of The Fairview by the time I got there. Inside were some of the locals. One lady even had her Husky dog in the bar.

I had a seat at the bar with a view of the stage and ordered a beer.  I’ll be honest.  I don’t remember much about the rest of the night but I’m pretty sure I had a really good time.

We all sang along with the guy who was playing guitar on the stage as he played some Dylan songs and lots of other stuff. His drink of choice was a shot of Makers Mark and I believe the people at the bar had bought him quite a few of them as the night went on. I saw a lot of people who knew me… but I didn’t remember them…  “Hey Bill, how’s it going?” A young girl was sitting at a table next to me and she had her grandma and grandpa with her. They had a great time. Grandma was dancing with all the young guys. Grandma was nice but I’m pretty sure most of the young guys dancing with her were just using her as a stepping stone to get to sit down with her granddaughter. LOL. Grandpa on the other hand was just going to town. Here are a few pics of Grandma & Grandpa.

Somewhere during the evening I noticed Nick on the other side of the bar waving at me. I think I bought him a beer. I know I bought a beer for the granddaughter and her friend sitting next to me.

Later on a pretty young lady came and sat next to me. By this time I’d had one or two too many beers though and didn’t recognize that it was Leslie who stopped by on her way home from work.


I hope Leslie finds this blog sometime so I can apologize to her for not recognizing her when she walked in and blame it on the beer. 😀

Somewhere during the evening the bartenders changed and another very pretty lady named Marnie took over. She was very nice and very enjoyable to talk to.

Marnie gave last call about 4 times.

When it was finally time to leave I walked outside The Fairview Inn and a bunch of drunks on snowmobiles were drag racing down Main Street. LOL.

Did I mention that there is really no police presence in Talkeetna? They have these things called “boroughs”. In Alaska, the word “borough” is used instead of “county.” Like counties, boroughs are administrative divisions of the state, but whereas some states use a three-tiered system of decentralization—state/county/township—Alaska only has the first two tiers—state/borough. This is due to the size and nature of Alaska, especially its low population density.

Talkeetna is in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough of Alaska. It covers over 25,000 square miles! The Borough ‘seat’ is in Palmer which is like 83 miles away or a two hour and 15 minute drive. I THINK they said that there was a police presence about 14 miles down the Parks Highway from Talkeetna but for the most part there are not patrols and the police don’t really even show up unless something bad happens… which is rarely.

I wandered back to the Roadhouse and stumbled to my room. My cell phone said it was 4:30 AM.  If it were summertime it would still be daylight out!

I went to sleep but as you can imagine didn’t sleep very  well. I was up at 8AM while it was still pitch black and got a shower. I wandered down to the kitchen and quite a few people who I didn’t know said ‘Hey Bill… how was The Fairview last night?’. LOL.

The chalkboard on the wall showed Rasberry Hotcakes as the special. So I ordered them.  Well, when it showed up it was only ONE hotcake. It was on a 12″ diameter dish and an inch or so of the hotcake was draped over the edge of the plate all around.

I didn’t have my camera but it looked pretty much like this one on The Roadhouse website.  Only thicker.

After breakfast I decided to wander around the little village of Talkeetna. The train was due to pick us up around 5PM.

By the way, the railroad is a flag-stop line.

That means that nearly anywhere along the line, people can stand at the far end of a long stretch of track and wave a big white towel or flag and the engineer will stop the train and pick them up. How cool is that?

So, anyhow… off I go wandering around Talkeetna. It’s almost noon. It’s 6 degrees out.

I headed down Main Street to the (frozen) river. I heard that on a clear day you can see the Alaska Range and Denali. I posted this photo of a cabin just a few feet down from The Roadhouse to show the elevation that the satellite dishes have to be at to pick up a TV signal from the Sats that are in a geostationary orbit above the equator. They’re practically horizontal to the ground. You really need a clear shot to the horizon with NO trees or buildings to get a signal.

In fact most of the places use a much larger dish because of the signal being so weak.

So I wandered down toward the river. Past the Talkeetna River Guides, where in the summer you can take day and multi-day float and kayak trips on the river with views of the mountains.

I also walked past Sun Dog Kennels where you can take winter and summer dog mushing trips.

There were signs posted prohibiting overnight camping… just in case you were planning to pitch a tent!

The end of Main Street was just piles and piles of snow.

They told me to walk down the snowmobile trail at the end of the street. I guess this is it.

The trail came out of the woods into a open area along the river that looked like a frozen beach. In the distance you can see the mountains.

I wanted to get out on the beach far enough to see past those trees on the right. I got out there but it was sort of hazy so I could only see the frontmost mountains. McKinley is behind them but not visible in this photo.

So… SINCE you can’t see them in the previous photo, I found an aerial photo of Talkeetna with the Range behind it and marked it where I was standing to try to see Denali.  I also marked out the various other places I visited in this blog so that you might have a better understanding of the layout of the place.

I eased out as far as I could then I looked around and realized I was standing ON the frozen river.  The bank was a good 20′ behind me.  Ooops.

Oh yeah.  I found this photo on the net of the actual view standing on the riverbed at the end of main street on a clear day. :)

As I walked back into town I passed a little place that was closed called The Salmonberry Boutique.

Here is The Roadhouse Inn from the other side with it’s really cool icicles.

At the corner of Talkeetna & Main is one of Therese’s favorite spots.  Sparky’s Drive Inn.  Unfortunately for Therese, Sparky wasn’t serving any ice cream this time of the year. :(

Taking a look down “D” Street from Main you can see an open area and a small red sign.

Walking toward the red sign we can see that it is a warning about aircraft on the road.  This is a small landing strip right in the middle of town.  People use it all the time flying in to get groceries and then back out again to their homes in the boonies.

This is the sign along the Spur Road welcoming people to Talkeetna.  The Spur Road is the only way in and out of Talkeetna.

This is the office of another of the many flying services in town.

One of the ways that a lot of folks get around in these parts.

I wasn’t sure what kind of bird this was, but it was puffy and cool looking. :)

On my way back to The Roadhouse I stopped into Twister Creek again to grab a bite to eat and watch some football. (Yes, they had NFL Sunday Ticket in Talkeetna, Alaska!)

I also picked up a couple “Denali Brewing Company – Talkeetna, AK” Tshirts with a sketching of Denali on the back.  Awesome shirts.

I sat down and Tess handed me a menu. She asked how The Fairview was the night before. I said it was great except that I waited all night but she never showed up. :(

She said ‘I know!’ I had to close and then I was too tired. Story of my life. LOL.

I ordered some fried Halibut and it was AWESOME! I also had a bowl of Seafood Chowder. Now I have to tell you that it was the BEST soup of any kind I’ve ever had!

After saying goodbye and picking up my t-shirts I headed back to The Roadhouse. I sat in the comfy room next to a roaring fire and had a cup of coffee and surfed the net on my netbook.

I looked around the walls of the Roadhouse and thought I’d take a few pictures of the flags from the different groups of people how have come through and have summited Denali. This is the flag from an Italian group that had summited in 1995.

This flag was from the Denali protion of a “Seven Summits” expedition that some Koreans were doing back in 2000.  The “Seven Summits” is attempting to climb the tallest peak on each of the seven continents.

This is the flag of a group from Bavaria, but I don’t know the date.

And in 2005 a group from Mexico summited Denali and left their flag… along with these photos of them on the summit.

I also found this T-Shirt interesting.  It says “ALASKA.  Where Men Are Men and Women Win The Iditarod”. And then it is signed by Susan Butcher, only the second woman to ever win the Ididarod and only person to have won it in four of five consecutive years.

Shortly afterwards I grabbed my suitcase and bag, thanked The Roadhouse staff for the wonderful weekend and head off to the railroad station.

Jack was there waiting on the train. He said it was only about two minutes behind schedule. We chatted as the others showed up for the ride home. Right on time we heard the whistle of the train and saw it’s light as it rounded the far bend… then came to a stop at the station. It was good to see Steve again as the train was returning from it’s overnight trip to Fairbanks.

We hopped on board and headed back to Anchorage. So ended my trip to Talkeetna. Shortly after leaving I walked up to the dining car and ordered what I had not had a chance to have on the way up. Salmon and Corn Chowder served in a large bread bowl.

I just remained in the dining car for awhile and chatted with Kevin, the guy from California who was working in Anchorage, his girlfriend and her daughter. Kevin gave me his card which I have in my wallet. He said if I ever wanted to come back up and do some Alaskan Fishing to drop him a line and he’d take me out.

I just may have to do that!

After we got back to the station I said farewell to the folks I’d met on the trip including our conductor Steve. Then Kevin dropped me back off at the Days Inn so I wouldn’t have to wait for the shuttle.

I checked back in to the Days Inn then went upstairs to bed. I was pretty whipped.

I got up early the next morning and grabbed my stuff, checked out and got a shuttle ride to the airport.

We waited around a bit but then we boarded. Unfortunately First Class was full, but the gate agent gave me a seat with the middle seat empty.

We sat awhile as the 757 needed to be completely deiced. There were other aircraft waiting to deice as well. It delayed us a bit but we made up the time on the trip back to Minneapolis. The very attractive girl I sat next to slept most of the trip but the last hour or so we chatted. She was one of the few female pipeline workers on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

Arriving in Minneapolis was VERY weird.

We taxied out to leave Anchorage on 11/30. It was about 9AM and it was still almost pitch black. The daylight was JUST starting to lighten up the Eastern sky. We took off.  Then 5 1/2 short hours later we landed in Minneapolis and the sun was SET. It was pitch black out again! My word! What happened to Monday? I feel like I was robbed of an entire day of my life. :(

FINAL:  I was VERY happy with my improptu trip to Alaska.  It rocked.  If anyone has not been there I suggest you go.  Sometime.  I certainly plan to go back.  Perhaps in May or June next time.  I will also try to rent a car, take at least a week and hopefully two and DRIVE my butt around.  There is just SO much more I want to see!

Here is a link to ALL of the photos I took on my journey.  When you have the time please look throughtr them if you’d like.


ALSO.  I found this website that is titled Billy & Renae’s Honeymoon In Alaska.  They took a road trip adventure and there are some cool photos and stories here.  They also went up to Barrow and did the Polar Bear Plunge thing into the Arctic Ocean.  That sounds AWESOME!!!

Till next time!