Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Alaska Journal

Early morning wake-up call from the cell phone alarm - the call to get up and off my sleeping spot on the floor and pack everything in the roomette to depart the boat at Whittier. I jump in the shower, towel off with the miniscule cloth they gave us when we rented washcloths, bars of soap, and bedding. I take a peek out the window and notice that the weather's the grossest it's been since we've been in Alaska. I dodge my husband and son in order to stuff clean clothes and laundry to be done in the same bag, put the room to pre-arrival rights, and make sure all the rest of our crap is out of the room.

It's off the docked boat and into the van ride that almost wasn't - because 2 other people who'd made reservations by email like Dan did were no-shows, the shuttle service thought we'd be leaving them low and damp, too - but thanks to some deft work with credit card information transferred to the dispatcher through the driver's cell phone, we piled in with some backpackers from France and the UK in time to get a short tour of Whittier. We waited in line for the only way out by car: the over 2 mile long, one lane vehicular and railroad tunnel that connects Whittier to the Seward Highway. Yes, I said ONE LANE FOR CARS AND TRAINS. Cars are allowed out twice a day, but if a train comes along, it has priority. Thankfully, there are no problems getting us into and through the tunnel (25 mph speed limit - slow and steady won out). We were told about a guy who got into the tunnel and took the opportunity to use one of the turnouts within to change his clothes, never suspecting that there were security cameras mounted in the tunnel. Ooops.

We saw some sun for the first time in days after that. Along the highway to Anchorage, we saw lots of mountains (the Chugach range), the 20 Mile River and its mud flats, the tips of a few glaciers, and some blessed blue sky before we dropped everything off at a hotel and grabbed a late breakfast in downtown Anchorage. Got a table at the cafe just in time to see a fire truck pull up. Firefighters entered the place and headed for a room behind the to-go counter. Turned out an employee needed some medical attention - but while the wait was on for the paramedics, I spied some people using the sight of a parked Anchorage F.D. rescue truck as a background for a family photo op. Once the EMTs came, it looked like those people were going to go one crass step further with their cameras and take some shots of the employee heading into the ambulance, too. Who does that? I told Dan about it and he took it as an opportunity to inform me about which nations boasted the worst tourists (i.e., people from _______ country going to other countries). Although Americans are up there in the bad traveler department, the French are apparently the worst. It was of small comfort learning that as I watched the picture-happy crew pulling out in their SUV with local plates on it - the older ones, not the newer, spiffier Alaska Gold Rush Centennial ones.

We walked along touristy 4th Avenue (can't decide if it's Schlock Street or Tchotchke Row - but it's quite trappy) and found only one shop that had anything of interest - coloring books based on a parody of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue and t-shirts that said Alaska: I Can See Russia From My House on them. Our true destination: the postmodern-looking Anchorage Museum.

The little guy picked some tiny strawberries off the plants at the entrance, then, after our ticket purchases, proceeded to the Imaginarium, where, aside from one walk through the Alaska history exhibit, he stayed until we went to eat at the museum restaurant. Dan and I took turns with the viewing of the rest of the place.

We finally extracted our son from the interactivity and settled down to a nice meal, marred only by the presence of a mouse in the dining room. A nearby construction site was responsible for some of the little creatures sneaking into the place in recent days - we got free dessert as a result of discreetly telling the servers about the furry guest without alarming fellow diners. A brisk after-dinner trek was livened by a quest to find the Sun and the first four planets in a solar system "planet walk" that began at 5th Avenue and G Street and ended at Elderberry Park - which just happened to have a playground.

More thoughts later. I'm still feeling as though I'm at sea on the Kennicott, especially when I'm sitting down. Plus, we were informed while in the tunnel that a 5+ scale earthquake had hit the Anchorage area last night. Guess I'll have to take my cues from the moving furniture if an aftershock occurs - because something in me thinks the waves are, even now, softly rocking the earth on which I sit.

Anchorage Museum Shop books of interest:

Cold - Bill Streever
Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land - Walter Borneman
anything by Heather Lende
The Thousand-Mile War - Brian Garfield
Johnny's Girl - Kim Rich
Extreme Conditions - John Strohmeyer
The Spill - stories from local folks affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Trying to be a responsible girl and wait 'til I get back to a library so I can check the books out instead of buying them. We're now thinking of redoing the attic room in the house, since a) we saw my sister-in-law's nice basement renovations and b) we've invited a number of folks from the ferry down to our place for Mardi Gras. It's going to take some bucks to transform it from a repository for throws, miscellaneous crap, and a cat box into and actual guest area. Must...curb...book...addiction...

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