[My roommate for Cannonball just arrived and very generously allowed me to use her netbook since mine is misbehaving. Thanks, Starr!!!]
Sunday, 22 August 2010 – Denali National Park to Anchorage – 245.5 miles
There were three things I hoped to do today: (1) see Mt. McKinley, (2) attend the sled dog demonstration at Denali Kennel, and (3) ride to Anchorage.
Seeing The High One proved more difficult than I thought. I mean, it's 20,320 feet tall. That's almost 4 miles from the base to the peak. I ought to be able to see that, right? Last night, the bus driver told me I might get a peek at it if I ride out to Savage River or one of nearby the viewpoints. "In the morning," he said, "After 7:30 or so. But before 11. It might be clear."
It definitely was not clear when I got up. My camp neighbor said the weather was expected to be cloudy all day. Dang! She also said that of the 5 times she and her family had been to the park, not once was the mountain in view. I learned later you should consider yourself lucky if you actually see Denali. The mountain is so tall it makes its own severe, unpredictable weather. During the summer months, it's only visible about 20% of the time, making the questions "Is the mountain out today?" a very common one.
The sled dog demonstrations are held three times a day. I could have made the 10am but decided to ride over to the visitor center campus and take a look at the bookstore, the museum and the science center. It was well worth it! There are very informative displays, exhibits and film presentations. There's lots to learn here. Plus, there are ranger-led hikes and talks, as well as the evening campfire programs. And it's gorgeous. I could easily have spent a week or more taking it all in.
The bus to the kennels departed at 1:30. There were four bus loads of visitors. (Our driver said this was quite common as the dogs were especially popular with children.)
These Alaskan huskies, more simply known as sled dogs, are bred for specific characteristics: a thick two-layer coat, long legs for breaking trail through deep snow, tough feet with close pads, speed, endurance, a great work ethic and a friendly demeanor. Since they are not bread for a specific look, there is a wide variation in their appearance. Something else I thought was interesting – about a third of the dogs have blue eyes, the rest have brown eyes. Occasionally there are dogs that have one blue eye and one brown eye. Cool!
The kennel typically houses about 30 dogs. The number may vary slightly depending on how many puppies are born and how many older dogs are retired. They usually have new litter of about 3 to 5 pups in the spring or summer. The eight- or nine-year old dogs are retired and adopted out to park staff or visitors who live in a northern climate. They just had 3 pups about a month ago. They were snuggled in their house with their mom, so we couldn't get a photo.
Dogs have been a part of Denali for over 70 years. They are canine ambassadors during the summer months, putting on demonstrations like the one I saw. During the winter months they return to their real work with the rangers: hauling equipment and supplies, setting trails, monitoring park borders, assisting mountaineers, etc.
I rode back to the Mercantile because it was the only place in the park with WiFi. I sent a few quick e-mails and looked for a place to stay in Anchorage. Many of the hotels, motels and hostels were already booked for the night. Who knew Anchorage was such a hot spot on a Sunday night?! I finally found a hostel with one bed open. Whew! Now all I have to do is get there.
I was almost ready to go when three riders pulled into the lot - one KLR and these two BMWs.
One of the BMWs belonged to Amir. He's a physician, originally from South Africa and currently living in Prince Rupert. The other BMW belonged to his South African school chum who also became a physician and recently moved to Prince Rupert (which struck me as kinda funny). The KLR rider was a fellow they met on the ferry. That happens a lot - riders meet, chat, find they have a common destination and end up riding together. Sometimes for a couple of hours, sometimes for days. Anyway, Amir said their time was short (only 10 days) so they only rode to the Arctic Circle. That's still a pretty good ride, if you ask me! I hope you send me the video of your ride through the Rockies, Amir. Sounds like that was quite an adventure, too!
It was later than I thought when I finally headed out of the park toward Anchorage. The good news is I saw an igloo. Not a real one, and it was tattered, but still, an igloo.
I stopped briefly at yet another turn-out hoping for a glimpse of Mt. McKinley's peak from the George Parks Highway. I'd have to settle for the base and the information plaque.
I also stopped briefly to see if I could help a couple with a lovely yellow Harley Davidson. Their rear tire was flat. They had those shiny spoked rims (and tubed tires), so my plug kit was no help. Their phones were dead and holding all the phone numbers, so my phone was no help either. Oh, well. At least the tow service was on the way. I was happy to hear from them later - they got back to Fairbanks safe and sound.
The clouds were clearing and made for a very dramatic sunset at around 10:30pm.
I rode through Wasilla and took this photo for Liz and Julie. I looked among all the roadside political posters for "Levi for Mayor (or Governor, Senator or President)" but found none. Sorry, ladies. This is the best I could do.
It was very late and dark by the time I got to Anchorage. I was lucky that the fellow from the hostel was still there to answer my distress call. I had either missed a turn or taken a wrong turn and had no idea where I was. He gave me clear directions and even offered to drive to my location so I could follow him back. His directions were so simple and straightforward that I assured him i'd be there shortly. And when I rode up, he was standing in front waving at me. He also helped me get the scooter in the back yard - a more secure location for over-night parking.
The hostel was kind of like a fraternity house. Lots of people up and about late at night. And not the cleanest place I've been. But it was only for one night and every one was friendly. I took a shower (with my shower shoes on!), climbed into my top bunk and went to sleep.