Monday, June 3rd
Denali - Fairbanks

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Postboxes don’t grow in the wilderness.

I wake up and look out the window of our motel room.  A Black-capped Chickadee is sitting on the railing of the terrace.  It’s a small bird, like a finch, and he is of the opinion that we should have been out of bed for a long time.

We visit the Denali Visitor Center.  For those who want to explore the park on their own, this visit is really a must.  As matter of fact, we should also have done it that way.  Instead of being locked up in a bus full of American tourists, we should have taken the green shuttle busses and doing possibly some parts of the road walking.  Then we would easily have reached Wonder Lake and Kantishna. But we don’t have time left to do this now.
The only thing we can satisfy ourselves with is a drive into the park with our own car.  Maybe we are able to spot another bear much closer than yesterday …

The weather is beautiful, the sky is blue with some small clouds and there is a gentle breeze.  We drive upon the Denali Park Road. Up to Savage River without permit is no problem.  Hilde searches zealously to moose and bears, the species we didn’t got to see closer yesterday.
And yes !  On the bank of Savage River a bear is poking around.  He is not really close to us,  but this time we don’t have a bus of hysterical Americans around us.  We take our time and our binoculars to observe him in calmness.

We drive out of the Denali Park, direction Fairbanks.  While crossing the Nenana River, some rafts are launched into the water.  We start thinking about our upcoming canoe adventure  ...

Stampede Lodge in Healy14h25
The Stampede Lodge can appease our hunger with a real home-made hamburger.   Sometimes those things can taste very good !
When leaving the restaurant there is a huge truck in front of the lodge, as if it is a knight in shining armour.  I’m feeling a bit uneasy, thinking of Spielberg’s movie ‘Duel’.  You never know …
Fortunately, I parked our dusty Chevy at a distance, the contrast is somewhat too big.
We continue our journey along Healy and Dry Creek.  It is difficult to imagine that the last one ever had some water streaming ; there is now even a road on the riverbed.

U2 sounds on the radio, we’re back in civilization on about 100 miles from Fairbanks.  In fact, we’ve never been out of the inhabited world.  There are always two things you find back besides the road : trees, mainly birches and spruce, and mail boxes, the typical American round-shaped US-mail boxes.  And the latter don’t grow in the bush, just like that, do they ?  Generally, the have been put there to receive mail.  So, we can assume that there are people living somewhere between the trees, and that they want to receive mail.  This region is definitely The Interior, but not the complete wilderness !
Moreover, there are traffic signs for school buses ; they don’t pass here to pick up a moose, do they ?

The Tatlanika Trading Co. pops up out of nothing.  “Not just another gift shop, but an experience” I read in The Milepost.  We jump in to take a look.
The experience is that we discover nothing more than just gifts in the shop.

Bear Creek with swans on a pond nearby.  The poor animals aren’t aware of the danger.

Nenana.  A village of 360 souls and once the railhead of the Alaska Railroad.  The Nenana and the Tanana River come together here.  In het Visitor Centre I learn that Nenana is known all over Alaska for its “Ice Classic Guessing Game”.  It’s a gambling game that consists in guessing the exact point of time the ice breaks on the Tanana River.  Therefor a tripod with a flag is being put on the ice.  The pole is attached with a rope to the clock of the Ice Classic Tower on the bank of the river.  As the ice breaks in spring, the tripod falls over and the clock stops automatically.  The player who is the nearest to this point of time wins.  You pay 2 dollar per guess that is registered in a voluminous book of 30 by 45 cm and at least 10 cm thick.  The yearly bet is about 150.000 $.

We visit the Alaska Railroad Depot.  Once an active railway station, now just a museum, the train doesn’t even stop here anymore.
“This is the gift shop, there is the museum” a lady says at the entrance.  I’ve understood : smart Americans can make money of everything, even an abandoned railway station.

Our journey continues through the Tanana Valley and so we leave the Alaska Range behind us.  The Tanana River is a wide stream that leads us to our today’s destination, Fairbanks.

View over the Tanana Valley at George Parks Monument18h20
10 miles before Fairbanks we make a stop at the George Parks Monument.  The highway that brought us up to here bears his name, but apart from that he had nothing to do with the highway itself.
The good weather makes it possible to look over the Tanana Valley and to admire the Alaska Range behind it.  Looking as far as 100 miles is really no problem here.

Fairbanks gets us to know the fuss again.  Well, fuss is maybe a big word : 5 cars were in front of us at a traffic light !
We decide to look for CanoeAlaska first, just to let them know that we will be there tomorrow morning.
After a search we finish up at a house in a quite neighbourhood at the banks of the Chena River.  We just got out of our car when a man walks towards us.
“Hi, I’m Ron.  You must be the guys from Belgium we are waiting for!”
We are definitely at the right address.  His wife Lou also is happy to meet us :
“I’m so glad you’re here !  This is really nice !”
A dog with a ‘frisbee’ in his mouth wants to play with us.
“He always wants to play.  It’s not our dog, he is just staying in for a while.”
We immediately feel at home at this place.  They are both over 60 en have a passion for canoeing and kayaking.  Originally from Minnesota, they live here for 43 years now and run their CanoeAlaska for more than 20 years.
“But we changed our name recently”, Ron says pointing at their brand new van with the logo ‘Alaska Paddle Sports’, “our son Josh started also with rafting trips.”
After a pleasant chat we arrange to meet tomorrow morning : 9 o’clock, breakfast at their home.

Midnight in Fairbanks We have a delicious dinner (yes, really !) in a kind of trendy Italian restaurant and make a walk into town afterwards.  I find it strange that the center seems so abandoned, not realizing that it’s almost midnight when the sun goes down. It’s obvious that everyone has gone to sleep already.  The dusk continues till dawn and it never gets dark here.  The sun comes up around 4 o’clock in the morning.  Now I realize the effect of the short nights in these northern regions.

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