10 Days in Alaska…

were definitely not enough.

I left my apartment at 3:30am on Friday July 1st, to catch the Bloomington Shuttle up to the airport. My first flight left at 8:30am and took me to Chicago O’Hare. For the next 9 hours I read “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” by David Sedaris, a Time Magazine about Abraham Lincoln, and walked around the terminal. I finally boarded my second flight, to Anchorage, and left Chicago at 6:45pm. From Anchorage, I flew to Fairbanks and arrived at 1am, where the stunning Skippy was waiting for me!

We stayed in Fairbanks (which reminds both of us of Greenwood, Indiana) overnight, then headed to Denali National Park and her cabin there. After unloading my stuff and our groceries, we went over to the kennels to meet the dogs, and new puppies!

The kennels office

Patch and Arc say hi

On Sunday, we left for Anchorage, a nice 5 hour drive south of the park. Skippy checked us into the Inlet Tower hotel, which is an awesome place to stay! Dinner was at Dami, a Japanese restaurant on 5th Avenue. Good sushi, good sashimi, good wasabi!

Monday the 4th was my birthday. We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and then went to a grocery store and I picked out a cake. Triple layer chocolate mousse cake. More on that in a minute. After that, we drove to a park on the coast, and sat watching the bay and the city.

I’m 28, and life is really really good

Then, it was cake time. Check out those candles! 28 of them produce some light!


Tuesday, we got some more groceries and headed back towards Denali. On the way, we saw Mt. McKinley twice, which is pretty rare. It’s the tallest mountain I’ve ever seen. We stayed at a cabin outside of the park, and on the way there, I saw my first moose. It was huge! A mama and her calf, and the calf was already bigger than a Great Dane!

That’s a moose!

Due to it raining nearly everyday, and the sun being out at the same time, we saw quite a few rainbows. Here’s one of the brightest ones, on the way to the cabin.

At this time of year, the sun doesn’t really set up there. It sort of dips below the horizon for a couple of hours, so it’s never dark. At most, the darkest it gets can be described as “dusk.”

On Thursday, Skippy had to go back to work at the kennels. I tagged along, since she was scheduled to do a demonstration. There are three demonstrations per day, and on Thursdays and Fridays they are run by the kennel staff. The other days are done by the park interpretation staff. Busses drop off park visitors at the kennel entrance, and they come in and mingle with the dogs for a few minutes.

Usually 150-300 people show for each demo

Once demo time arrives, the people are directed to the stands, and the demo begins!

A pretty sizable crowd!

Skippy talked about the history of the park, and the integral role sled dogs played in its formation. Then she moved to the current role of the sled dogs, and why the kennel still exists in this modern, mechanized world. (if you want to know all this and more about the sled dogs, visit the Denali Sled Dog Kennels homepage) Skippy does an excellent job involving the visitors in the talk, and she gets them to laugh, making her demos among the very best done there. And that’s not just this objective observer’s opinion!

Anyway, they moved to the sled driving section of the demo, and hooked up a team of 5 dogs. Skippy then mounted the sled, pulled the anchor pins, and off they went! Yes, I took video. Yes, you can watch it!

Skippy’s Sled Run – Quicktime MPEG4 Movie 8MB
Skippy’s Sled Run – AVI Movie (lower quality, bigger file…sorry! Quicktime doesn’t like making AVI files) 30MB

Once the run was over, Skippy introduced each of the kennel staff and the dog team, and the dog team positions. She wrapped up by connecting the park’s mission to preserve the wild to the visitors individual desires to see it, and implored them to take that spirit of preservation home. Very nicely done!

It was then time for Q&A, and then the visitors were released to take more pictures, ask more questions, or go back to the busses.

I went in to the kennels all three days Skippy had to work, mostly because I wasn’t about to let a minute of those 10 days out of 4 months go by without her, but also because helping out at the kennel was really fun. Skippy’s talked enough about the kennels, and I’ve read enough, that I was able to answer lots of visitor questions. Which was strange, because except for the last day, I was just dressed in normal clothes, but they seemed to assume I worked there. I also got to help Skippy replace the plastic runner guard on the sled, feed the dogs (which is really funny, because they get really excited), and hand out puppies after the demos.

Saturday, after the kennel closed to the public, we took one of our favorite dogs, Yakone, on a walk. Walking a sled dog is unlike walking any other dog. They are really strong. If he decided to take off, there probably isn’t much I could do to stop him, short of dragging myself up the leash and grabbing his collar. This from a dog half my weight. Fortunately, they are very well trained, so my arm was only nearly jerked out of its socked a couple of times. :-)

On the way back to the kennels, I decided to sprint with him down the path, into the yard, and to his pen. He loved it! Next time I won’t do it in hiking boots.

Unfortunately, I was getting sick. I felt it Friday night, and by Saturday, it hurt to swallow. Yes, the dreaded tonsilitis. I really hate my tonsils. Saturday, after the walk, I took a nap. Skippy woke me up for dinner, and I felt good enough to give her some funny stories from my past. Then, I crashed. We crashed. She’d worked for 10 straight days before I got there, and we spent most of the week awake (easy to do with 22 hours of perfect daylight), so Sunday was lost to sickness and rest catchup. We rallyed late in the evening and took a trip down to the kennels to say farewell to the dogs, since I had to leave the next day. And we got some puppy love.

Monday, my throat still hurt like hell. We borrowed a truck, and drove to Fairbanks. We got some groceries for Skippy to take back with her, had a quick dinner, and then I had to catch my flight back home.

Skippy’s right. This “saying goodbye and flying away” routine is getting old. The next time I get to see her will be 2 months from now.

Update: I forgot to put a link to the full set of Alaska pictures. They can be accessed from my 2005 Gallery.

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