Friday, August 29, 2008

Day 13: Anchorage or Bust!

Our last full day in Alaska. Le Sigh. When I woke up, I almost forgot what state I was in. So thank God there was this lamp there to remind me.

And this chair.

And this other lamp.

Secure in the knowledge that I was indeed in Alaska, I packed up and headed for the shuttle. We spent the morning in Talkeetna, my favorite city. For breakfast I hit the Roadhouse, which is famous for - 14-inch pancakes! Yes! Someone is actually going to outdo that size queen The Elbow Room.

Speaking of elbows, I didn't have a measuring tape on me, and this one, although huge, just didn't FEEL like 14 inches to me. So I measured it using my arm, and it was exactly pinkie finger to elbow, which for some reason I know is just over 14 inches. So there you go, let me know when one of you tops that and I'll be on my way!

This blueberry monster was delicious - a little more eggy, like a crepe, perhaps with a little melted butter in the batter. So if it's thickness that counts, well, we're back to The Elbow Room.

Someone else from our pod teasingly asked me to photograph his food, so here is random guy's reindeer meatball sandwich.

While I was enjoying my giant pancake, Ralph ate a sausage from some hooved animal that we hadn't covered yet from this stand. He said it was delicious.

This is where President Warren G Harding stayed in 1923 when he went to Alaska to hammer in the Golden Spike. He had the nerve to room both his wife and mistress here at the same hotel. He died of poisoning in San Francisco less than a week later, causing some people to blame the hotel's seafood. But it is interesting that no one else in the party got poisoned except for the guy who brought his mistress.

I am going to miss Talkeetna, with its quirkiness and gigantic flowers.

Someone has evidently figured out how to tolerate the "Watneys Red Barrel" bus tours

With a perfectly clear sky, it suddenly started raining on us at the train station. Very Charlie Brown-esque.

As the train pulled out, we were instructed to look back for one last view of Denali. Now, everyone had been making this BFD out of the mountain for days, as it played hide and seek. Tour guide after tour guide pointed out, "Look, you can see just the peak... just there the right ..." All I ever saw were clouds.

There was even a Mount McKinley/Denali watch, where you could instruct the front desk to call you if the fickle mountain showed itself. So as I turned back, it was with great sangfroid. Then, peeking out of the clouds - wait, those aren't clouds. For a week, I had gotten used to the mountain line being fairly stable, like the horizon. Denali was like the giant grandpa looming over the rest, shrinking them to the treeline. Now I see what the fuss is about!

A sun dog

Once again, the food on the train was delicious, with the exception of the ribs. I don't recommend them. This is a very nice fish chowder.

After a week of breathtaking coastline and a second week of trees, trees, trees, it was a bit of a culture shock to arrive in Anchorage with its square geometry and block-like buildings. I can see why some people "go bamboo" and head back to the wilderness, never to return to city life.

I walked over to Glacier Brewhouse for a light dinner before turning in at the very strange Captain Kidd Hotel. Or was it Captain Hook? Captain Morgan?

From Glacier Brewhouse's website:

C A S K C O N D I T I O N E D A L E S *
Our cask conditioned ales undergo a secondary fermentation in the cask which creates a natural creamy carbonation. Additional hops are added directly into the cask to provide intense floral, citrus, and fruity aromas and flavors. Served from our beer engine at a traditional cask temperature of 52 F. We aim to always have a cask beer available. Frequently appearing styles on our beer engines are Amber, IPA, Stout, and other seasonal ales. Occasionally, we even run an oak aged ale on cask

Along with an order of delicious fish and chips *where are the chips??? Never mind, the fish was lovely), I enjoyed another Ice Axe, in one of only 2 restaurants that serve it (the other being at the base of Denali). They serve it in a snifter here since it has such a high alcohol content.

High alcohol, slightly malty, creamy, and smooth drinking. Technically dubbed the Imperial Blonde by the brewers, this light colored honey ale is also known as Ice Axe Ale. Make sure you are roped in for this one. Served in a snifter. 9.0% alcohol by volume.

I will end this long series of posts as our naturalist on the cruise did so poetically, if a bit melodramatically

...and these...are the echoes...of Alaska

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

day 12 The goddess of the log

The next day I took the shuttle into Talkeetna, the base for climbers up Mount McKinley (Denali). It is a laid-back town full of artists and outdoors types. It is the place I felt most at home in Alaska. This town was also the inspiration for the TV show Northern Exposure, although it wasn't shot there.

I ate breakfast/lunch at Mountain High Pizza Pie, which was to become my home away from home. Very cool, friendly vibe, lots of beer on tap, and some of the best food I ate this entire trip. Definitely a true Roadfood establishment.

One of their signature dishes is the Italian flatbread sandwich, which is made from their own dough and unlike anything I have ever tried before. This one is stuffed with delicious reindeer sausage.

They have loads of interesting pizza toppings, and you can make your own slice (which is so big it is really two slices). I went for Italian sausage, banana peppers and mushrooms. Swoon.

I wandered down to the river and happened upon a fallen log that fascinated me. A couple of girls were posing on it, and we started trading cameras, trying to come up with the best poses.

Of course, men just naturally know how to pose like they're on the cover of GQ

I found a .45 jacket and one of the campers said they thought they had heard firecrackers on the beach the night before, but apparently it was gunshots. I didn't see any aluminum cans or broken bottles. What the hell were they shooting at? Salmon? (Because if I were really drunk, the salmon were jumping, and I had a .45 in my hand - well, the thought might cross my mind). But it was dark at the time, and salmon were no longer jumping. Someone offered helpfully, "Moose? It is moose season." Who the hell shoots moose with a .45? It's a mystery.

For dinner I met up with my travel partners at West Rib.

Glacier Brewing Company makes a special high-test brew especially for West Rib called Ice Axe Ale.

You can also order "fat ass sauce" for your burgers - a combination of sour cream, bacon and jalapenos. I'm not sure it was the perfect topping for burgers, but may strongly influence my dip-making this coming holiday season.

Ralph got a surf and turf and immediately fell in love with the strong spices on the crab. The caribou was OK, but none of us will be rushing off to buy sides of caribou anytime soon.

I wandered around town taking pictures of giant flowers, then met up with my friends from the beach for beers at Mountain High.

There was a spectacular rainstorm, like nature showing off. It reminded me of the end of The Tiki Room when our sounds of merriment have angered the gods. After about 15 minutes, it calmed down and the sun came back out. It's confusing in Alaska because the sun is still up, and you want to hang out and party, but things still close down just like everywhere else.

The last shuttle back to the lodge was leaving town at 9:30pm and I had to be on it. I called the lodge to see if there was an alternative, and the desk clerk told me that the driver had my name and would not leave without me. There was no way I could just stay in town and get drunk. Costco holidays are great people to entrust your senile aunt to, because you can't even get into trouble when you are genuinely trying.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Day 11 On the Road to Talkeetna

Day 11 we woke up in Denali State Park, and Ralph and Mary Anne set off on their white water rafting adventure. It was tempting, but I didn't want to be a 3rd wheel and I think I prefer warmer waters - like the Colorado River. We met for breakfast (mine)/lunch (theirs) at the Salmon Bake since it had proved so successful the day before. If I stayed there for a week, I would probably still hang at the Salmon Bake every day.

I had reindeer or buffalo chili for breakfast - I had gotten to the point where it didn't really matter what creature I was eating. I mean, as long as it wasn't human. You never know with these mountain climber types.

I sampled my mom's fish and chips, which were totally killer.

But the pride of Salmon Bake may be their fruit pies. Sadly, they don't have ice cream. but pie this good has the confidence to stand alone. Ralph and Mary Anne split mixed berry

Mom and I went for blueberry. Niced thick crust without being heavy, just slightly sweet, surrounding super-ripe and sweet blueberries.

I had tried to avoid the nightmare "Watney's Red Barrel" coach trip, but soon we were lined up for the bus to take us on to the next lodge, outside of Talkeetna. The aisles were narrow, and everyone was pushing and shoving. I was trying to fit my bag under the seat, and it wouldn't fit. The crowd couldn't tolerate the delay and started pushing my mother. In response, my mother leaned over me, spilling the bottle of water she was holding all over me as she urged me to hurry and stow the bag. But the bag was just too big. I finally snapped and wailed, "Mom, I CAN'T do it." I didn't just mean the bag.

Just then Michael, the hippie, was passing by and said, "You CAN do it." At that moment, the bag slipped under the seat, I fell into my seat, my mom plopped down next to me and the crisis was averted. Way to give a hand up to a fellow traveler. He clearly heeded the word of Glen Campbell:

If you see your brother standing by the road
With a heavy load from the seeds he's sowed
And if you see your sister falling by the way
Just stop and stay you're going the wrong way

The driver tried giving a safety demonstration, but I was thinking,
"Just accept the fact that if there is an accident we are all going to die in a fiery inferno. Because how can you expect this group to wait and co-operate enough to pull the lever and push to the side when they are climbing over each other and stepping on each other's necks just boarding the damn bus."

My personal hell

Again, beautiful scenery. There were also bears in the road.

This is an igloo-shaped hotel that never quite took off

This lodge was much more rustic, kind of like summer camp. I just wish they had archery lessons.

What can you do to make a pelt look even creepier? How about sewing it onto a felt-cut-out that makes it look like it's lying in a pool of its own blood?

"Hey Bob, do you think there are any bears in this cave?"
"Well, I don't know, Bill, let's take a look..."

Long days and heavy rain make for giant plants

Once again we had a coupon for the lodge's restaurant. A pod member took me aside and pointed out the double-stroller. She asked, "Were you on the Denali Park Tour? Oh my God, those kids just did not stop! When I see that double stroller, it's's like..." she searched for the words. "Like a harbinger of doom?" I offered helpfully. "Exactly." I started my meal with goat cheese and crostini.

I had a nice salad to stave off scurvy. Mmmm, candied walnuts. Scurvilicious.

Surprise! We had gigantic crab legs again. They weren't as good as the ones at the other resort. They were a little drier, and pulling away from the shell.

I kind of never want to see king crab legs ever again. Everyone loved the blueberry ice cream.

My chocolate mousse, made with ale, was actually pretty darn good

Then we all snuggled up into our little beds for the night. The end.