April 14, 2014

Alaska Trip-- An overly long blog post

A few weeks ago, my sister was complaining about having no one to drive down the Alaska Highway with her and I looked up tickets to see how much it would be to fly up there and drive down with her. Initially, I was looking for my other sisters, but when I called to tell Clover about it she said it was a brilliant idea and why didn't I do it? I like to deceive myself into thinking I am actually a spontaneous and adventurous person who is constrained by my admirable maturity and responsibility from doing fascinating things. Ha! I am boring as all get out. As soon as this idea was tossed around, I was equal parts excited and having minor panic attacks. I couldn't possibly! Could I? Justin was working in his wood shop in the basement and I ran down to talk to him, then back up to talk to my sisters. Then down to Justin, then back up. Down and up, down and up.... Combined with the frantic house cleaning that ensued when it was decided that I would leave the very next morning (due to cheap tickets) I got quite a bit of cardio in that evening. Justin was in an in-between jobs point right then, so he told me that if I wanted to do something like this, this was the time to do it. He was heading down to Clover and Evans for two days work that week, but Clover said she could kindly watch my kids for me while Justin worked. The prospect of cousin time made my kids so excited, they hardly noticed me leaving for the airport. Weep, weep. I have never left my kids like that. Never. There have been overnights here and there, but never thousands of miles between us. As I walked to my first flight, I felt a little like a teenager again--setting off on adventure by myself. Except for that nagging Where-is-the-rest-of-me? feeling.

I really dislike flying. While I was waiting for my first flight, the TV was on and the newscasters rehashed every possibly scenario in the missing Malaysian airliner. Experts weighed in on all the things that can go wrong with airplanes. I felt this was in bad taste at an airport with an anxious, I-just-left-my-whole-family-and-now-I-will-never-see-them-again, person who was doing her best to be sophisticated and adventurous sitting right there. Miraculously, the worst that happened the whole flight was turbulence right before we landed. Which meant I had to consider discreet options for vomiting if it came to that. Finally, after my second flight, while I wandered around Denver airport (oh the memories that airport brings back!) I broke down and bought Dramamine. I shared with a fellow passenger who sat on the floor with me and shared the electrical outlet under the pay phones and reassured me that Dramamine was actually harmless and would not cause some weird, fatal reaction in me. (After spending a week and the Alaskan Highway with me, Lindsey has decided that I get more neurotic and anxious when Justin isn't around. It is not my fault.) Dramamine made the six hour flight to Anchorage perfectly nice. Turbulence was not a problem. I watched the northern lights out my window, the bright stars, the mountains, and finally, finally, the lights of the valley, then Eagle River, and then, Anchorage.

Lindsey and Nina (my best friend who had been planning on travelling down the highway with Lindsey, but had to bow out at the last minute, due to a job offer) met me at the airport and were flatteringly amazed at my compact packing skills. (Actually, they made several, are you nuts comments, but that is just their quirky I-have-known-you-forever-and-ever way of being flattering. Ha!) At this point, I had had four hours of sleep in the last 36 hours, so I was deliriously tired. But I had to watch for all the familiar land marks and then explore Lindsey's wee little house before going to bed a few hours later. The next morning, my Eastern Time zone body was awake and ready for action at 6:30 AM. Oh time changes!

Having my sister and best friend in Alaska with me was pretty super. Nina had never been to Alaska before, so we did some sight seeing and visiting of old Alaskan friends mixed in with lots of talking, arguing, and laughing as you can only do with an old friend and a sister. We drove up to look at Denali, which was amazingly clear. Living in Alaska, with an easy view of Denali, I knew how infrequent clear days are. Apparently this year, they have not been as infrequent, but I decided to ignore that and pretend that Alaska was just being on it's best behavior for me. Then a supper with people I haven't seen in about 6 1/2 years. The next day was just went around Anchorage, stopping at my favorite book shop, a cafe, and then Moose's Tooth, my favorite pizza place. Then it was time to take Nina to the airport, which was sad.

The next day was spent getting ready to head down the highway. Lots of packing, cleaning, sorting, organizing, errands, etc. Then an afternoon with one of my best Alaskan friends and her sister and babies, and then a gospel meeting, where I got to quickly say hello to a lot all my old pals.

The next morning, Thursday, we set off at 6:30. We drove until around midnight, 1,000 miles completed. We stopped for the night in Watson's Lake, staying at the Dragon's Den, a combination Chinese restaurant and hotel. After a quick trip to see the visiting rural doctor (a UTI. In the middle of the Alaskan Highway. Thank goodness for doctors and antibiotics.) we set off again, driving until about 3 in the morning, where we ran out of gas near Bird Lake, BC.  The doctor was from Vancouver, but he loved rural medicine, so he has "eager young puppies" take care of his Vancouver practice and he sets off north for a few weeks of the month. It was a combination doctors office and a teeny tiny pharmacy in a house. Apparently whenever anyone needs medical attention in the Yukon that goes beyond the scope of rural doctor and tiny pharmacy, they have to travel 4-5 hours or fly to Vancouver. And the provincial health care covers all their travel costs. Fascinating stuff.

Now, back to that running out of gas bit. We did. We finished the highway in Dawson's Creek and had half a tank, but were planning on stopping for the night soon, so didn't bother topping off the tank. Then we somehow just didn't stop at the last big town. And we didn't stop at a hotel either. I think at this point, we were just too tired to make rational decisions. And we were listening to books on tape, (once we managed to find a power inverter in Fort Nelson to plug Lindsey's computer in. Seriously, I thought everyone knew what a power inverter was, but apparently no one in convenience stores along the highway had ever heard of them.) so our mind was not entirely on the state of our gas gauge. Soon, it was drawn to our attention, as we stopped at one of the many towns in northern BC that seem to exist solely for the purpose of a gas station. It was closed up for the night. So we tried the next one. Closed as well. We thought we might be able to stretch our gas 35 more miles to Bird Lake, but no go. A mile and a half away, the car finally sputtered and died, after driving on E for about 30 miles longer than we had any right to expect. There was no cell phone service and it was three in the morning, so we dug out sleeping bags and cozied down for a long winter's nap. I was convinced I was near death's door (my adventurous spirit had apparently called it a night a few hours earlier) but Lindsey said it was 25 degrees, my sleeping bag was rated to -40, the car was warm, we had food, bears were still hibernating and we were fine. Amazingly, we did survive. Rather comfortably. Around 6 we flagged someone down who went to Bird Lake to get us gas. The station was still closed until 7, so we thanked the guy and snuggled down for a wee sleep again. At 7, we flagged down another guy, who took Lindsey and our one gallon jug off to the gas station. They came back, glugged in the gas and away we went to Bird Lake. The guy who drove Lindsey to the station told her it was a good thing we hadn't set off walking because the wolves travel in big packs in that area. I felt like I had missed a great opportunity for worrying, since wolves had never even crossed my mind.

We drove all that day and dragged into my brother Tyler's in Oregon at 1 in the morning. Exhausted, but definitely alive. After a good sleep, we spent an awesome Sunday with the Oregon Vaughan family and I left early the next morning, flying home to my wonderful husband who picked me up in Syracuse and drove me north to our little family that Justin had done such a great job taking care of. He even folded the laundry I didn't fold before I left. He braided the girls hair, helped Elsie adjust to Mommy-less bed times, kept Gilbert in line and continuing to potty train. Really he is amazing. I love that guy.

It was an awesome trip. It was beautiful, it perked me up mentally after a long, cold winter, and it was so, so  nice to see everyone in Alaska again. But oh, the coming home. To love and kids and hugs and kisses. That was the best part.

It was weird to see Alaska without Justin. So much of our important life events happened there. Met, started dating. got engaged, got married, finished college, got our first jobs, our first house, had our first baby.... I realized I had never been in Alaska without Justin since we started dating. Never. I have a terrible memory and I tend to remember some of the highlights and not many low points. Which is good, but over the past few years, I have sometimes wondered about leaving Alaska. Should we have? Going back settled all that. It was good to visit, but it isn't home. Driving out of Anchorage I remembered the feeling of claustrophobia I used to have--the realization that going anywhere required hours of flying or days of driving. I remembered the time when Orianna was two months old and I did not see a patch of blue sky, not even a break in the clouds for two solid weeks. Alaska is a beautiful place and it was so good to us. However, we left for good reasons and the life we have, the beautiful, disorganized, love-filled life we have now is exactly the one I want to have. When you get into a rut, as I got this past winter, it is easy to think life would be better if I was--- or if I had---- or if we lived--- or.... on and on. And this trip made me realize I have exactly what I want. Life isn't perfect, but those inperfections give us something to look forward to overcoming, challenges to surmount. And I love that. I love this life. And I am sorry to get all philosophical at the end of this very long blog post. But then, probably some of you just glanced at the sheer volume of words and moved on to pictures. Because pictures are the point of posts like this aren't they?

Pictures. I was a really lame-o photographer this time. I didn't stop the car for pictures, my camera battery died half way through the first day and my charger was at Lindsey's house, I got so busy remembering things and thinking of things that I forgot to take pictures, etc, etc. But as they are, here are some pictures!

We had to stop at a gas station before driving out to the valley and Denali, and I took pictures while Lindsey and Nina went in. Seriously. You can just take pictures like this at a gas station in the middle of town. 

I thought it was a little excessive, but terribly kind of them to put this sign up for little ole me. 

Very familiar view--on the Glenn about the head into the Palmer Hay Flats from Eklutna

Side trip to see the old Glenn

Nina and Lindsey at the very, very windy pull out

And there wasn't even a great view from the pull out. 

Nina, excited about the possibility of being blown off the cliff

Tromping to look at Denali. I have approximately 50 pictures I took on the way up to this viewing point, but I decided to spare you all the pain of wading through them

Ta-da! Denali

Lindsey in her cool boots


The photographer

Lindsey's profile picture. Get it? We are so funny.

Lindsey's You-are-being-silly-now look

And now, two days later, a sliver crescent moon by Pioneer Peak as we were leaving. 

I can't believe that I didn't take pictures for two whole days in Alaska. 

Sun getting ready to rise

Sunny peak

Sunny spots

Sunny road and dirty windshield

Matanuska Glacier

Scrubby black spruce. Black spruce can be over half dead and still considered healthy. This makes them one of the ugliest trees I have ever met.

Doodads that assist the snowplow in some way which I fail to grasp

A herd of caribou. Just a word of warning, my wildlife pictures will astound you. This is only a tantalizing sample of my prowess. 

Our trip mascot. This cow was given to Lindsey when she quit her job ("Out to greener pastures") and so when her friend broke her arm (I think it was her arm) she filled it up with flowers again. However, we didn't have time to get it to her, so Lindsey was going to throw it away. It seemed like a waste of flowers, so I decided to adopt it as our mascot. Lindsey was thrilled to bits.

Coming into Glenallen

Alaskan Road

The road goes on forever. It really felt like that at this point. Several hours between bathrooms. And I was drinking a LOT of water. 

We stopped in Tok to eat a hamburger at Fast Eddies. These two women, who just have to be sisters, were sitting across from us two sisters, talking and eating and I liked them. 

The Yukon!

A gravelly bit

Lines of Robert Service poems were running rampant in my mind at this point. 

The spell of the Yukon....

When we were driving, this space was just perfect for storing our flower cow. We had to lift it up onto the dashboard to put the car in park. (Insert mutterings from Lindsey)

Afternoon mountain shadows on the lake, which shall remain nameless, since I will probably guess the wrong one and look silly. 

A young entrepreneur in Dawson City. And yes, those are my shoes at the bottom. I did the highway in hot pink Sanitas. Why not?

Graffiti in the bathroom stall in Dawson City--Date, name, where you are moving to and from. 


The placemats at the Dragon's Den. Clearly wellness is a concern for the local community. 

Buffalo wallow/trample area

Oooh! Look! Three quarters of a buffalo!

Some dazzling shots

Listen! If you had been driving for hours with nothing much to see, you would take a lot of bad pictures of buffaloes too!

I could just call this a herd of grizzly bears, and even a biologist would be incapable of proving me wrong based on this picture. 

One, two, three!

Look how teensy the tractor trailer is compared to the mountains.

A line of buffalo.

A closer version

Some rocks I mistook for buffalo. This makes me laugh every time I see it. 

Ice fishers. In the middle of nowhere.

A moose! What? You can't see the moose? Obviously on the right hand there, a slightly different brown from the surrounding other brown... 

Toad River, where we once stayed the night. It was around midnight when we got there. A big sign told us to grab a bed from any room with an open door and settle up in the morning. So we went through two different rooms, trying to find a bed that wasn't gritty with dirt or hair before giving up and sleeping in the least dirty one. Ick, ew! Hygiene clearly takes a back seat to sleep when you are stark-staring exhausted.

That isn't a sun spot, it is actually a meteor streaking across the sky. 

And finally, Dawson Creek. Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. After 1600 miles. 

After this picture, we drove until we ran out of gas. 

This guy was hauling snow. Seriously. Just snow. 

Ha! This picture is the sort of picture you get in a driving car. 

This was Southern-ish British Columbia. It reminded me a lot of the American West. Probably beacuse it is  the American west, just on the wrong side of the border. 

See? Cowboys. 

A funny tunnel thing for the train

Getting into the rainy part of BC

A lot of tunnels in this part

Oh, green grass. How I have longed to see you!

Blooming trees! Oh! 

Spring trees

Some kind of bird flock. Impressive, right?

The way Seattle looks at twilight when you don't use your flash--sort of jittery.

I particularly like the way the lines on the road rise up and wiggle in this one.

After meeting on Sunday

My monkey nephews




Stripes and talking

Teensy daffodils. 

Tyler and Lisa's new kitchen. And the appliances they replaced.

I really love it!

Levi's lego machine gun

Silly boy, Andy

Running to bed. I didn't get a single picture of Breanna. Maybe because she was my sidekick and was near me when I was taking a lot of these pictures, sweet girl that she is!

Mountains from above.

Sunrise on the flight home.

My homecoming. Happy sigh.... 


Geri Douglas said...

This was worth the long wait! It was like a cold drink of water after a drought! So glad you went and it will be nice to see Lindsey one of these days!

LJ said...

I laughed at your picture of the rocks too... :-)

Olivia Vaughan said...

Gorgeous! I'm pretty jealous, I have to say!

Virginia said...

My one complaint about blogger is that you can't comment on each individual photo! Although that probably is a good thing for you haha! I looooooove the pics! I'm so sad I didn't get to do the delirious road trip w/ you guys and get to run out of gas and sleep in the car and everything cool like that! But it was a fabulous 2 days together, pal! So worth it! Don't let your inner monologue tell you you're not adventurous, you wild woman, you! Exclamation points! Also, I'm glad to see that my gray hair isn't as obvious as I think it is from behind!