Travel Tales from the Alaskan Road

We intentionally chose Glennallen this summer because of its central location, despite many people saying it was “the most boring place in Alaska.”  Well, we have absolutely not found that to be the case, instead I would say everyone passes through Glennallen eventually because of it’s central location.  Not only has that given us the opportunity to see friends as they toured Alaska, but it has also allowed us to meet some really cool people.  These meetings are often brief, but always impactfull, so at the beginning of the summer I started keeping notes on some of my favorites.  Since our time here is coming to a close, I thought now would be the best time to share these little encounters with you.

7-21-2016 11-56-48 AM

Map of Glennallen showing it’s location to other major cities. Ignore the hour marker I wasn’t really sure how to get rid of that. 

The first couple that I met that made me start writing these down was a Finnish couple that spoke only a few words of English.  I got to see them three times, because they kept stopping back in as they traveled around.  We largely communicated through pantomime, try explaining shower tokens with no words, but I must have done OK though because they always had huge smiles when they saw me.  I think they were brother and sister, but honestly I am not 100% sure and I will say I was worried about them.  I mean seriously, who turned them loose on Alaska with no English?  But they did great, and from what I could gather really got to see some cool things.  I didn’t always take a picture of the people I met, but in this case I did take a picture and I will always remember them when I think of my summer in Alaska.

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The Finnish Couple

The next frequent visitors were Arnaud and Cyril from France.  They are adventurers who were hiking/paddling across Alaska.  Their blog is really interesting as they spent a significant amount of time going remote places I will never see and the courage and spirit of these two young men was inspiring.

https://facebook.com/greatnorthsurfexpedition

Arnaud and Cyril (Got these pictures from Facebook).  Here’s there blog info.  It does translate into English.  https://www.pureslo.fr/blogs/blog/172042567-great-north-surf-expedition-n-1

Arnaud

Cyril

 

Again I was pretty worried about these guys, but they seemed to have it together and they ended up calling Northern Nights “their home away from home” which was very sweet.  I may have mothered them a bit!

Not all of the encounters were that personal though, and some were very short.  There was a young couple biking their way across Alaska with a two year old in tow.  Yes, you read that right, a two year old.  He was in one of those baby bike carriers and I have absolutely no idea how they were making that work.  I wanted to go up and talk to them about it, but finally decided I just couldn’t ask the questions without letting out that I thought they were nuts so I let it pass.  Amazing though, really.

I also briefly met a couple who came from Seward where they had hit and killed a mother and baby moose that were lying in the road.  These folks were really shaken by the experience and I checked them in as efficiently as possible.  You could tell the husband was just sick about the whole thing and the accident had completely destroyed their drive shaft so they had to wait in Seward three extra days while it was repaired.  Later when I mentioned it to Kelly and Bill’s boss he said that had happened right down the road from their campground and that sort of thing happens more often than you would think.  Really sad.

There were lots of people who had major mechanical problems in Glennallen.  We are right after the Tok-Cutoff which this year was hands down the worst stretch of major road in Alaska.  Sections of the road required pilot cars and/or going 15-20 miles per hour and we many people who stopped in our campground had to have major repairs.  EGM is a repair place down the road and they sent many people to us, and I have to say almost everyone who had a problem just said it could have been a lot worse.  We saw three rigs whose tow apparatus broke and their tow vehicles went into ditches, multiple cases of structural damage to rigs, a broken radiator on a Class A that took 5 days to replace, and more broken windows than I could keep count of.  Yet in almost every case, the people made lemonade and again were super grateful they were safe and in a place as nice as ours until the repairs were done.

The people I got to know the best this summer were Sue and Jonathon.  She is from South Korea and teaches English online, and Jonathon, originally from Wyoming, met her there.  She lived in Seoul her entire life and never drove a car, and self admittedly used the Travel Channel to see the world. But after her mom died he talked her into this great adventure, and now they are full timing in a very nice tent.  Sue and I hit it off right away, and I had to show her how many other RV fulltimers lived.  We became Facebook friends and now I can keep up with their travels.   They aren’t interested in buying a rig because they plan to travel internationally as well, so the tent will work wherever they go.  I just was super impressed about the whole thing.  When I think about how much angst I went through to full time in my 400 square foot “luxury apartment on wheels”  versus her just jumping in, and in a tent no less…well lets just say I feel a little whiney. So very glad I got to meet them and hope we get to see each other again in the future.

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Jonathon and Sue

Most of the people were quick little moments, but the personalities of the people made enough of an impact that I wrote them down.  An example was Kathy Swenson who ran the Iditarod several times, and was one of the first women mushers.  I googled her after we chatted and found this article about her and her husband. She freely shared that she broke her collar bone while racing in  Europe 2 months after giving birth to her fourth child, and shortly thereafter her husband divorced her.  He left her with 4 kids and 150 dogs and she raised them largely on her own.  She was talking about writing a book, and in the short time I talked to her I absolutely encouraged her to do so.  Talk about a pioneer woman.

Kathy was only one of the very interesting locals I met here.  There was Kasey and Jay, a couple from Oklahoma who had moved to Alaska.  They were camping for the weekend and brought 8 baby chicks in their rig.  Apparently the chickens had just hatched and they couldn’t be left alone, so Kasey brought them and their heat lamp along.

My favorite local person though was Bob Tubbs, a young man who helps out around the campground with propane, welding etc.  He, his wife, and three kids live on 10 acres of land and are working towards “complete independence”.  He works for the forest service, as needed, driving a fuel truck for helicopters.  As he said, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to drive fuel into a fire area, but that’s what he does.   When they call he is gone for many days but is fairly compensated for it.  He worked 11 days while we were here on the Tok cutoff fire and made close to $7K.  In my mind he deserved every penny.  He and his wife have a large garden, she cans, they have egg laying chickens (they sell the excess) and next year he is adding a barn with goats and pigs.  Since milk costs $6 a gallon up here and they go through a gallon every other day, goat’s milk is an economic alternative.  Plus they are going to raise batches of meat chickens and every year he fishes his salmon limit and kills  1 moose and 3 caribou as well as lots of other game to stock his 4 freezers. He and is wife are truly are pioneers and I have a lot of respect for what they are doing. Plus he gave us a nice piece of salmon and some moose meat.  He even explained to us how to cook it.  Really nice young man.

My absolute favorite part of the summer though has been all of the international guests.  Most of these encounters are brief, but I have had the opportunity to meet people from Canada, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Amsterdam, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Israel, Sweden, Norway, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Korea, Brazil, Spain, Vietnam, and China.  I have been the most excited about meeting the people from China, because it is a dream of mine to go there one day, and they have all been extremely polite and very excited to be here.

So many wonderful people, but a few stick out.  There was the London couple who spend 6 months a year in the US and leave their rig in Louisiana when back home.  They are like our Canadian friends who snowbird except from England.  They have been doing it since 2003 and started when they were 42 and 43 years old.  Also, there was the family from China who had their 6 year old translate for them.  Her English was excellent (she attends English school every day) and she was polite, smart, and cute as a button.

Even Lee had a few moments, although he didn’t meet nearly as many people as I did, but one day while he was covering for my lunch he checked in Joachim and Christine Laute .  They were from Germany and had limited English, but Lee busted out his high school German and talked to them some.  Turns out they grew up in East Germany and were 20 when the wall was raised.  Their family wasn’t separated so they stayed where they were and lived their life in in East Germany.  She was a math teacher and he was a bus driver,  and they weren’t very political, so that was just their life.  Then the wall came down in the 80’s it took the 2 years (yes you read that right) for them to truly believe it.  They knew Reagan had come, but they didn’t even try to cross into West Germany, because they thought it was a trick.  Now in their late 60’s they are exploring Alaska and are very happy to do so.  What dramatic changes they have experienced in their lives.

I am not saying every person has been nice of course, but honestly the cranky ones were few and far between, and usually had good cause.  There were so many moments that I can’t possibly relay them all, so let me just leave you with one very special day.  Recently we had a caravan of 12 New Zealand couples who came through in rentals, and boy, were they fun. The rest of the park was filled with two RV’s from British Columbia, two couples from China, a solo Australian on a motorcycle, and a young couple who spoke very little English from Thailand.  There wasn’t one American in the park that particular day and I felt like I worked in the UN.   Showing those folks that Americans are welcoming and friendly and glad to have them here in the US was really fun, and made me feel great about how I spent my summer.  It was an unexpected bonus to working here in Glennallen this summer and I am very glad I got to experience it.


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14 thoughts on “Travel Tales from the Alaskan Road

  1. Tracy I totally agree with your post! Serving as camp hosts here at Capitol Reef has allowed us to meet some really awesome folks, American and otherwise. Every once in a while I get all sad because it seems like so many good folks are going in and out of our lives. Lots of stories shared, meals shared and travel blog info shared. We feel pretty blessed to have run across so many different and interesting folks from all around the world. We will be back in Texas November through April. Hope our paths can cross again.

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