After the North Pole we were both pretty tired, but I got some exciting news from my Mom. My Grandfather had decided to give all of his grandchildren a cash gift. First off, this is incredibly cool. As the oldest of many grandchildren I know that as much as it means to me, it means even more to the younger grand kids and since he and my grandmother were full timers for 3 years (and in no small part why I had the courage to do this) it made it very special. About a year ago he had done something similar and since I wasn’t working at the time I put the money directly into our general fund. I thought they would appreciate helping fund the lifestyle. This time though I decided to treat myself a little, and the timing couldn’t have been better.
For those of you who have been following along for a while you know how much I love wood, and in our travels I have seen many pieces done by the The Great Alaskan Bowl Company. When I discovered the workshop was in Fairbanks, I knew I had to visit it, but thought this would be another trip, like many others, to wood stores where I browsed, admired, but couldn’t afford to purchase. Really good wood pieces are expensive, but since I consider them functional art I totally think they are worth it. They just weren’t in my budget. So here we were less than an hour away and I got the news. OK, things just got serious! So we went inside and ooohed and aaahed over the wood. The staff was great and they allowed me to buy a packaged salad bowl set but I got to hand select whatever bowls I wanted. Lee and I spent a significant amount of time mixing and matching (Lee cares because he makes a mean Caesar salad) and finally found our set!
Afterwards we decided to complete the splurge day and eat at a Chinese Buffet and see a movie. In the lower 48 this would not be considered a splurge but at $16.50 each for the buffet and then $19.50 each for the movie it definitely was. The Star Trek movie was great and the 3D IMAX theater was awesome, but really, $19.50 for a movie?? Because Alaska.
Afterwards we went back to our hotel room, Hampton Suites, and just relaxed. I used the very last of my hotel points for the room and I have to say I felt a little sad. I spent a ton of my time in hotel rooms over the last 10 years and as much as work travel can be a pain in the butt, having a hotel room all to yourself isn’t that awful. I kind of miss someone else making my bed and I know I miss the bathtub. Oh yes, I made sure I had a room with a tub, and for the first time in almost a year I took a long hot bath. It was really nice. Not worth giving the lifestyle up for, but really nice. And sure, I remembered how stressful it could all be, and tiring, but as the mother of three teenage daughters some of those weeks away were a godsend. Just being honest and I am sure they appreciated the breaks as much as I did.
It also brought home the fact that from an employment standpoint my life had definitely changed. These moments of nostalgia do happen from time to time and rather than fight against them I just own it. Despite the difficulties I have been having getting used to a different type of employment, I have not regretted my decision to leave my former company at all. I do miss certain things associated with the work though and apparently staying in hotels is one of them. Go figure.
The next morning we slept in a bit because after researching how long the trip to the Arctic Circle would be (13 hours roundtrip from Fairbanks, and then another 5 back to Glennallen), Lee decided that was just too much. I agree, because although we are willing to do 12 hour days in the car, an 18 hour day is just too much for us. Instead we decided to go see the Museum of the North in Fairbanks which I had heard wonderful things about so we packed up and headed that way. When we were almost there though we smelled a strange burning smell like brake pads, and saw white smoke coming from the right side-wheel well. We pulled over right away and Lee checked things out. A very nice Alaskan also stopped to check on us, but we just weren’t sure what had caused it. As soon as we stopped the smoke and the smell were gone. I found some green liquid inside the wheel well, Lee was concerned that the caliper on the brakes might be sticking, and of course thoughts of engine failure were going through my head. We decided to forgo the museum and drive towards the Ford dealership. I will say that this really shows how much we have changed with this lifestyle. There was a time when we would have done what we wanted and damn the consequences, but that isn’t us anymore.
To be fair we have also had some pretty horrible examples to learn from this year. We are right off the Tok cutoff and have seen multiple rigs coming through with major, catastrophic mechanical issues that end up staying with us. The Class A’s seem to be getting the worst of it with two TOAD hitches breaking on the road (in both cases the tow vehicles went into ditches and didn’t harm anyone), a blown radiator (the part took a week to get in), and in one case a Class A where the toad caught on fire and ended up burning the entire rig to the ground. Thank God no one was hurt in that one. Trailers have had their share of issues too, and we have seen many with busted springs or broken under carriages. There is a reason a town of under 1,000 people have more than one full-time welder living here. In every case the person with the incident universally said, thank heavens I was close to somewhere I could get help, because we all know there are stretches of highway where there are no services or cell phone coverage, and a breakdown in one of these areas could be much more serious.
With those incidences in mind we drove the 13 miles to the dealer, which was indeed closed, and then decided to drive to the next Ford dealership in Wasilla which was sort of in the wrong direction. Even though it would add two hours to our overall drive we knew the road was heavily traveled (relatively) and if there was an issue, that Ford dealership was open until 8pm. This route was actually taking us on the other side of Denali and we knew those roads were in better conditions and in general had better cell coverage as well.
Since we were driving right by it, we decided to go ahead and stop at the Denali Visitors Center, which we missed last time. Lee liked it, but I was pretty disappointed. I have definitely seen better and the gift shop was really disappointing, probably for the best since I had already spent so much in Fairbanks and the North Pole. We also stopped at a couple of the local gift stores in town and I picked up a 30% club (for seeing Mt. Denali) T-Shirt. But it was a pretty brief stop and then we continued the long ride towards home.
After we left Denali it started raining and didn’t stop until we got home. Lee got pretty tired after we hit Wasilla (still no truck issue so we kept going) and I took over in Palmer. We believe the issue is related to the AC since the air conditioner is now not working. Perhaps a coolant leak of some kind in the compressor. We didn’t have the AC on when the incident occured and I didn’t catch the fact it wasn’t working until a couple of days later. AC is not needed much up here – Lee
I had never driven that section, and in the rain (and sometimes fog) it was pretty tough. Lots of curves, wet pavement, I really had to pay attention. We did have lots of time to listen to Podcasts though, and since I am newly a fan I wanted to take a moment to explain them. Podcasts are internet audio programs that you can download, and there are tons to choose from. They are way less heavy on data use than streaming a TV show or movie and are fun to listen to in the car. Lee started by downloading many of them of NPR, but there are other shows that famous people do via their websites. You can subscribe to them and they will automatically download to your phone when there’s a new episode, or you can choose to manually download them instead. There are thousands out there, and truly something for everyone. My recommendation is to just do a search on your phone on your computer for top 100 podcasts, and start browsing. My favorite’s are: More Perfect, Dear Frank and John, Still Untitled, Invisibilia, Freakonomics Radio, Hardcore History, Radio Lab, The Moth, This American Life, and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me- Lee t
The only good thing about the drive and me being hyper aware is I saw a beautiful female moose. She was on the other side of the road and I was VERY tempted to get out and take some closer pics, but really that is not a good idea. Still, any day that includes a moose sighting is a decent one, and despite the many hours in the car, I was glad we took the cautious approach and for once took the road more traveled!
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