Oh, my! the highly anticipated Adventurous Alaska trip was special! Fresh from hosting the trip and producing a DVD documentary of it, I wanted to share this Trip Journal with you so that you can get to know the amazing state of Alaska a little better. You will also get an idea of what this trip is all about as Edgerton's will have this trip again July 17-26 of 2013.
This 2012 Adventurous Alaska experience, managed by Sherrill Lee, started in the city of Fairbanks, known for serious temperature extremes! Fairbanks has seen 92 degrees in the summer and as low as 62 below zero in the winter!! It was pushing 85 degrees with 20 hours of daily sunlight when our group arrived in late July.
The Riverboat Discovery was first on the agenda for our group of 45 travelers from such places as Cassopolis, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Elkhart, LaPorte and all over. I got a kick out of the '40 below zero' experience that people could take part in before getting on the riverboat. There was a room built near the dock where you could saunter in and experience the 'invigorating' feeling of 40 below. It's free to enter....but $5 to get out. That's pretty clever!
Among the interesting tidbits I heard this first morning was that there are more retired veterans in Alaska per capita than any other state, and that the average age of those in Fairbanks is 27. You have a lot of young people come here to spend a few years in a setting unlike no other.
Speaking of those winters, the guide upon the Riverboat Discovery (that took us down the Chena River) said that while many have 2 pane windows, he has some 5 pane windows in his home to deal with the winters.
The Riverboat Discovery trip is top rate. A Piper Super Cub plan takes off and lands on the river right next to the boat. The pilot is hooked up to the audio on speaker so that everyone on board can hear him explain about bush planes. One out of every 60 people in Alaska can pilot a plane.
As the boat cruised down the river, our guide shared more really interesting insights into Alaska. It is so big that you could take every man, woman and child in the world and bring them to Alaska, and they all would have 2000 square feet of space. Much to the chagrin of Texans, their Lone Star state is much smaller than Alaska. Alaskans relish throwing zingers at proud Texans. One of their favorite things to say to a Texan is, "Bubba, if you don't calm down, we will chop Alaska in half and Texas will then be the third largest state!" Regarding the advancement of technology, he said 100 years ago if one ordered something by catalog to get to the Fairbanks area, it would take over a year to arrive. Now, something from amazon.com makes it in a few days.
I can't say enough about the Riverboat Discovery experience. Down the river, it stops at the training grounds of the late and legendary Iditerod racer Susan Butcher. Susan won that grueling dogsled race four times. She was so dominant that at the time they had a saying of 'Alaska: where men are men and where women win the Iditerod!' Susan died after a fierce battle with leukemia in her early 50's. Her husband Dave still runs Trailbreaker Kennels, which is right on the Chena River.
The riverboat stops and Dave comes out with huskies they are training. He has a microphone on and everyone in the boat can hear him as he shows how they train the dogs in the summer. They lead a 4 wheeler ATV vehicle around the grounds since there is no snow in July in Fairbanks. To see how excited those dogs are about training and racing is something else. Later, when the boat stops and travelers get off to see what an Athabascan Indian fish camp is like, Dave comes down to meet with travelers and sign the book Susan wrote on her legendary lead dog Granite if they want to get the book.
One of the unique experiences of this day was our group meeting 4-time Iditerod champion Lance Mackey after the riverboat ride. Mackey explained the bond dog mushers have with their Alaskan Huskies, and how loyal the dogs are to them.
"All I can say," Mackey said, "was that if you put your dog and your significant other (wife) in the closet and don't let them out for an hour, see which one is happiest to see you when you let them out!"
I think one would be licking you and hopping up on you (the dog) and the other would be either (A) hitting you with a skillet or (B) shooting you in the thigh with a gun.
Alaskan history is filled with characters. Fairbanks was founded by E.T. Barnette, who was later accused of embezzling large sums of money. Ironically, today Barnette Street in Fairbanks is the crookedest street in the city!
Early in this group travel experience, Edgerton's arranged for the group to travel across the Arctic Circle line. Half the group flies up from Fairbanks to Coldfoot in multiple planes, then drives back, while other half makes the four hour drive first, and then flies back. I was in the group that drove up first, and found myself fascinated by the constant Alaska pipeline that ran by the Dalton Highway. The road was built specifically to help with the construction of the pipeline. It is so neat to see the pipeline zig and zag, and at times disappear into mountains only to come out on the other side (photo below).
Our guide told us that 1.5 million people visit Alaska each year, and yet less than 1 percent go north of Fairbanks. That is sad. To really experience this state, you have to go north. Getting back to the massive size of this state, he said for years elementary students across the U.S. had been done a huge disservice by the maps that show Hawaii and Alaska in little boxes by the mainland. "They get no idea how big Alaska is," he said. "If you put Alaska in the lower 48, parts of it would touch both the east and west coast while touching the Canada and Mexico borders."
He's right. The 'Alaska in the box' in the school maps makes it look like a floating island.
At this point of the Journal, I ask that you picture the biggest dummy you have ever known (other than me). Okay. Keep that visual. I've got a fellow that might top yours. Our guide told us, as we drove by the Alaska Pipeline, that several years ago two hunters were out that had been hitting the sauce (drinking). One claimed he could shoot a hole in the pipeline. The other disagreed. Feeling a challenge, this character shot at the pipeline. Not succeeding at first, he shot again and pierced a hole.
285,000 gallons of crude spilled out and coated a forested area. Four hours later, the law was all over him. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison and has to repay the 17 million dollars it cost to repair the damages and clean up the mess.
Moral of the story? Don't shoot the pipeline. Actually, there is no hunting allowed anywhere near it.
We passed Olnes, Alaska. The population there is one! Later, our guide told us of a recluse that lived off the Dalton Highway that figured out motorcoach tour schedules. He would sit in a lawn chair by the road and wave at them. Then one day the motorcoach drivers were startled to see that he had decided to wave at them in his lawn chair buck naked.
You just don't see that in Bremen, Indiana.
Our driver talked about the remarkable amount of sunlight in Alaskan summers. He said his romaine lettuce regrows every five days and that he has eaten 68 pound cabbages. He added that they don't taste that great because they lose flavor when they get that big.
Of course the winters, especially in places like Fairbanks, are long, dark and very cold. Our driver told us most folks plug their cars in wherever they stop during the winter to protect the engine block heater and the oil pan.
"A lot of people have invested in auto starts," he said, "where you buy something that you put on your key chaine and allows you to start your car from inside. My wife has an auto start. Me! She sends me out to start her car!!"
He said a lot of people, if the temps get to 50 or 60 below, leave their car or bus going continuously. He said the school buses are diesel so when it 40 below or colder they leave them running 24 hours a day.
I asked him what people there thought of Sarah Palin these days. He was quick to praise her work as governor and how much she did for firemen and 1st Response workers. He had met her three different times when she was at events honoring those that serve the public. He talked about when she sold the private jet that the governor used and said most felt when she ran for VP it was a distraction for her governor work. He said the 'troopergate' situation where there were allegations a family member had a personal dispute with a trooper and Palin had overstepped her boundries had left some with a bad taste.
As our journey towards the Arctic Circle continued, we were driven past Grapefruit Rocks. We were told the story of an old prospector named Joe who had a loyal donkey named Grapefruit. One night they were camped on the ridge when a grizzly charged them. Joe fired three shots and killed the bear, but the attack was so sudden that it scared Grapefruit and the donkey ran off the cliff to his demise. Every mid September there is a ceremony where people go up and have toasts of grapefruit in memory of that loyal, hard working donkey.
Summer time means mosquito's just about everywhere, even in Alaska where everything is bigger. "You won't find a single mosquito here," our driver said. "They are all married with families!" There were some big ones there, but they never got too bad for me.
We drove by one roadside business that had a sign that read "Property insured by Smith and Wesson."
They don't mess around in Alaska. Forget buying regular insurance. You trespass on my property and I'll fill your butt full of buckshot, is basically the approach...
We asked him if they ever thought of moving the state capital from Juneau, which is so far south in the state and inaccessible by roads. "They will never do it," he said, "because the legislators from Fairbanks and Anchorage don't like each other and wouldn't want the other city to get it."
"Reminds me of the U.S. congressmen and senators," one of our travelers shouted out.
This Adventurous Alaska group trip is filled with unique experiences such as traveling this Dalton Highway. It is one of the few wilderness highways in the world. You can go hundreds of miles and see just one truck stop, up in Coldfoot. They have had to reroute part of the highway as one part was so bad that they called it 'Happy Man.' If you made it, you were a happy man.
While produced the DVD documentary I do on every 'Travels with Charlie' group trip, I continued to be fascinated by the pipeline. It runs 800 miles. Our driver said up to two million barrels of oil can go through a day with about 500,000 going through at the time we were near it. There are over 78,000 of the vertical supports that keep it well off the ground. 78,000! When it was built, U.S. Steel could not meet specifications for the pipe material, so companies from Japan and Italy were utilized. Our driver felt that was very sad for U.S. Steel and sort of a nail in the coffin for them as that would have been a big order.
The pipeline brought all sorts of people up to work on it. Most stayed down in Fairbanks where lodging got very expensive. Our driver said a Provost at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks said apartments were so expensive in town that workers would register as students, sign up for 12 hours of semester classes, and pay full tuition so they could live in the dorms.
As we motored along, we saw where a truck driver had spray painted on the Dalton Highway these words: "There is a sink hole developing here!!"
Upon arriving at the Arctic Circle, our driver got a red carpet out and took us the the actual line. He laid it down and everyone in our group crossed it in different fashions. Some danced and sang. Others hopped across it. Couples held hands as they went across. I thought it was a great example of customer service, as our motorcoach driver went out of his way to make the experience special.
This enchanting journey continued with a crossing of the mighty Yukon River. On the other side, we stopped at the Yukon River Cafe, where a picture of a bear's big butt was nailed near the front door! I do not know of any other business in the world that has a big picture of a grizzly's butt at the entrance to their business.
(picture of a bear's big butt)
But what a story there is to go with it...
In the brutal winter of 2004, the Cafe had been boarded up. An old grizzly came by and found that two other bears had created a hole into the place. They were in there for the winter. The grizzly promptly kicked them out and took over. He then proceeded to tear the place apart, ripping the fridge and oven open to look for food. He torn the freezer apart and ripped the ovens open. For all his work, he located one jar of dried split peas! He decided the large gift shop area would be his sleeping area and knocked all of the nice tshirts and sweatshirts off the rack and slept on them and did all his 'bathroom' duties on them.
A security guard for the nearby Alaska Pipeline saw this and told a state trooper. He got word to the owner of the Yukon River Cafe that a bear was wreaking havoc on the place. The owner had never fired a gun so he got a buddy who had fired one and they headed that way. When they arrived they realized that they had no key! The owner had forget it. Not wanting to knock in the front door and damage it, they crawled through the same hole the bears had created wearing only head flashlights (the electricity had been turned off). Thank goodness the bear was not by the entrance. The first thing they saw were all the shirts torn and soiled.
They slowly moved through the place eventually getting to a long hallway that has a row of showers. At the far end, two menacing eyes stared back. As it started to charge, shots rang out. The owner fired three and the more experienced guy fired three. They later found three bullets in the floor (by the owner) and three in the dead grizzly. As it was explained to me, in Alaska you can kill a bear when you are defending life or property.
After things settled down, the owner surveyed the extensive damage to the place. The large amount of shirts looked awful. Now, in that situation most people (including ol' motivational, positive attitude Charlie here) would have said, "Get those shirts to the dumpster."
Not the owner.
He had them thoroughly washed over and over to where there was no bad smell. When warm weather arrived and the tourists started coming through, word got around about the bear that had torn the place apart. The owner took every one of those shirts and sweatshirts and put them back on the rack, with a sign that read "Bear-ly Worn."
Every one of them sold.
It didn't matter if they had soil stains all over them or ripped sleeves. Consumers gobbled them up. The owner made such a profit that it helped with the costs of repairing the rest of the place.
That's the 'find a way' attitude. That's the 'let's make the most of this situation' attitude.
I continue to be amazed by the fire and creativity so many have within, and how their attitudes lead to positive results. No doubt, this story will be a part of the "How to Build an On Fire Attitude and KEEP the Darn Thing!!!" seminar I deliver to companies, schools and Churches.
Our group continued north, now over 200 miles past Fairbanks, and arrived in Coldfoot. Back in the day it was a big gold mining town that got its' name because of those that would get cold feet and leave the gold rush. It later became a key town in the pipeline construction. Edgerton's had several small planes waiting for us, and we were flown back to our hotel in Fairbanks. What a thrill. Going back over the Yukon River was exciting.
The next day Edgerton's had arranged a train to take the group south of Fairbanks to Denali National Park and massive Mt. McKinley. Edgerton's reserved the front gold car with large glass windows for excellent viewing. As the train moved south, the scenery was stunning. Off to one side trumpeter swans were in a small body of water. They are the rarest swans in the world, with 80% of them living in Alaska.
After a three hour trip, the train stopped in Denali, where a motorcoach awaited to whisk the group to its mountainside hotel. Denali National Park is about as big as New Hampshire. The next day would see our group go into the park, where bears, doll sheep, caribou, moose and other animals were waiting...
Group travel trips are built where there is time you do things as a group and plenty of time to do your own thing. The afternoon and evening was wide open, so my son and I went on a hike at Horseshoe Lake near Denali. Suddenly, we came upon the moose below, that was feeding off the bottom of the lake. We stood there quietly for twenty minutes, listening to it feed.
The next morning had the group up and and it really early. The best chances to see wildlife are early, so at 5:30 AM Edgerton's had a special bus waiting outside the hotel. With Alaska Fireweed blooming alongside the road, our driver took us into Denali National Park. It was like the entrance scene in the movie Jurassic Park. Our driver said there have been times where he has seen wildlife 45 seconds after entrance, and other times where they had gone 50 miles before seeing something large.
Our driver cautioned us not to pick the native flowers when we made stops. "One time a traveler came back to the bus holding several flowers she had pulled out of the ground," our driver said. "She asked me what they were. I said, 'a federal offense.'"
He had a coffee mug where the lower 1/3rd of it was sealed off, holding two moose poop nuggets. The mug read 'Keep your mug 2 Turds full!'
Amidst breathtaking scenery, the old bus rambled along until a stop was made to see the majesty of Mt. McKinley, the largest mountain in North America. Our travelers were blessed to see over 60% of it, as most days it is covered by fog, clouds or blah weather. Our driver said in one stretch of leading tours for 41 days, he saw a total clear view of McKinley for three of the days.
McKinley, which is called Denali by most Alaskans (meaning 'The High One"), is over 20,000 feet tall. Climbers have a season of basically May, June and part of July to scale it. Bad weather prevents most successful climbs. Many have died on the mountain. A month before our trip, four Japanese climbers perished during a climb.
The National Park Service said a five-member climbing team from the Miyagi Workers Alpine Federation was traveling at about 11,800 feet along the Alaska mountain's popular West Buttress route when the avalanche hit about 2 a.m.
The group, moving as a one-rope team, was swept downhill. The rope was severed. One team member, Hitoshi Ogi, 69, survived with minor injuries after being tossed into a crevasse, the Park Service said. He climbed out, and unable to find his teammates in the avalanche debris, descended alone to a base camp at 7,200 feet, where he reported the accident shortly after 4 p.m.
To stand there and view McKinley is one of the more breathtaking moments you will ever have.
Minutes later, back on our bus, doll sheep were spotting scaling the side of a cliff. There were reports of bears up ahead. As we anxiously traveled the winding roads, our driver gave us advice on what to do if ever confronted by a bear. He said don't run because that is what its food does. Don't scream. "A bear can run 35 miles per hour," he said. "You cannot."
He said to make yourself as tall as possible to the bear and not to make eye contact. He said don't say things like, "Please don't eat me. I don't taste good." His sound advice, delivered with a bit of wit, was entertaining. He said if it charges to hold your ground as many will stop. If it keeps coming, at the last second fall to the ground. It may keep going realizing you are not a threat. If it does bite, he said, give it one bite and not two. Fight back by poking at its eyes and nose.
"A grizzly has never attacked a group with a lot of people in it," he said, "so lets form a tight group with your driver in the middle."
He did say there had been '20 chewings' in Denali and left it at that. Our group was left to imagine exactly what a 'chewing' was and if he meant 20 all time or just that season!
Turns out, our driver for this day in Denali National Park was a Chicago native who had moved to Alaska years ago. Asked if he was a Cubs fan, he said 'unfortunately, yes.' Actually, he was more of a diehard Bulls fans and recollected with great relish the time he got to see Michael Jordan play from seats just 6 rows up!
He said there were not many bald eagles in the park because the silt in the rivers from the glaciers made it hard to spot salmon. There are more golden eagles at Denali. Getting back to bears, he said some eat 200,000 berries a day. A researcher followed a bear and counted poop. "Maybe he got his PHD from that," said our witty driver. "A real one. Not 'Piled Higher Deeper.'"
One of the things that makes this Denali trek unique is that the driver has a super powered video camera. If the group comes across an animal hundreds of yards away, the driver can get the camera out and zoom in on it. Monitors in the bus allow the travelers to get a great view. That came in especially handy when all of the sudden several in our group yelled, "Bear!"
The driver stopped the bus and pointed the camera at a massive brown bear on the attack. It was ripping shreds of ground out and tossing large rocks like they were beach balls. We were wondering what the heck it was doing! Turns out it was an arctic ground squirrel of all things! The bear had smelled it under the ground and was relentless in pursuit. This played out over ten minutes.
"The squirrel maybe has 2000 calories," said our driver. "The bear will probably spend way more than that, but he wants the protein."
The squirrel darted in its tunnels, but they soon all started to collapse. He shot out onto the surface and made a run for it. The bear whirled like a defensive back in the NFL and with two pounces caught up to it. His huge claw grabbed it and he woofed it down with one gulp.
I filmed the whole thing and you can see it on my facebook page. It is something else!
Our driver said the arctic ground squirrel and the bear are alike in they spend half their lives underground (sleeping). He said this squirrel gets down to two heartbeats a minute in hibernation.
As we drove down the road, hearts still beating from that raw look at nature, our driver explained how he makes signs to buses coming from the other way to let them know what animals are head. A claw made by his hand means a bear. Three fingers like a 'W' mean a wolf is ahead. If he puts his hand on his nose and pulls out, that means a fox.
One of the more exciting moments was a slow drive alongside a cliff. Suddenly a doll sheep appeared out of nowhere and scaled down the mountain below us. They are always on the look for wolves, as wolves want to get above them to chase them down to flatter ground. Our driver told us of the time he witnessed a wolf attack there during a tour. The doll sheep almost got away, but a wolf got its ankle at the last second and pulled it down. He also told of the time he saw a bear move in on a wolf kill and claim it. The bear put gravel and dirt on the dead animal and then lay on it, basically telling everyone "this is mine!"
He once saw a fox run right by the bus as a golden eagle swooped in for the kill. Thankfully for the fox, the bus prevented the eagle from finishing its descent and the fox got away!
Our driver continued on with his perspective on bears as the scenery outside the bus continued to be mesmerizing. He said he felt pepper spray was better than a gun if attacked, saying that most people round a turn and the bear is on them within seconds. "If you come around a corner and there is a mother bear, where do you shoot your gun?" he wondered. "With pepper spray, you just shoot."
"But you know," he said, "there are on average two bear killings of humans a year on our continent and 150 deaths a year where an animal hits a car and the driver or passengers are killed. That also leads to a billion and a half dollars a year in auto repair, but that doesn't make for a good story for the media like a bear kill."
This day turned out to be exceptional. Edgerton's arranged for it to be about a 9 hour trip, and it was fantastic. In all, we saw several bears, doll sheep, caribou and moose, all in their natural setting!
On many Edgerton's group trips, we have drivers or walk on guides for a day, and then often a main driver for much of the week. For this trip, Nick was our regular driver. The 34 year old world traveler had wonderful insights on Alaska and his years of working there. He had a special affinity for our next stop on this trip, Talkeetna. I took the picture below of the Alaskan pilot chilling out downtown there...
Not far from Mt. McKinley, Talkeetna is known for being a town the climbers love to visit before or after climbs. Remember that TV show "Northern Exposure?" Word is that Talkeetna was the basis for it. There are some hip folks in Talkeetna who have that "yo dude" look about them. They have an auction every winter where you can (seriously) bid on a man. They say for the ladies that 'the odds are good, but the goods are odd!'
Talkeetna is different. For starters, their mayor is a cat named Stubbs. Fifteen years ago the folks didn't like the two people on the ballot, so they wrote in Stubbs, who is missing most of his tail. He is popular because he never raises taxes. A bit spoiled, the drinks only out of a wine glass with catnip in it, and saunters around town in between naps. We wondered if we would see the famous cat (he has 6000 followers on his facebook page) and lo and behold we came across him. I took the picture below.
A popular place to eat is the Wildflower Cafe, where the former chef of the first President Bush prepares the food. The West Rib Grill features the massive 'Sewards Folly' sandwich. That thing is five lbs of burger, one lb of ham, 12 pieces of cheese, a half lb of bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and onions on a triple-decker sourdough bun. We stopped there to eat one day and our waiter said only two people had ever finished the thing, and one was a lady about five feel tall. He said she also ate the pound of fries that came with it! I didn't take on that monstrosity, but I did order a McKinley Burger, which was so big I couldn't eat a single one of my fries. I got a kick out of the waiter asking if I would like to see a desert menu, as I sat hunched over after tackling the burger.
The line from the commercial, "I can't believe I ate the WHOLE thing" kept going through my head, as I knew an afternoon nap was in store.
If you are thinking of an interior design change to your home, I encourage you to consider the design of the Fairview Inn. I took the picture below. Outside, a sign read: "No Fights. No Guns." I made sure not to start a fight.
The next day saw Edgerton's arrange yet another experience that makes the annual "Adventurous Alaska" group travel experience so special. We were driven to the local air strip where several bush planes and pilots were ready to fly us to glaciers. Boarding Canadian built Beaver Planes, we were soon flying low over Alaskan wilderness and getting amazing views of glacial rivers. I was on a plane with my son Jack and four others from our Edgerton's group. Wearing headsets, we could hear our pilot describe with great detail the glaciers, calling them the biggest bulldozer and sharing just how powerful they are with their unstoppable movements! They rip up everything in their path, with a blade a mile wide.
Had weather permitted, we would have landed on a glacier and also had much closer views of McKinley, but low clouds prevented that from happening. Safety always comes first, and if you do this trip you have to realize the weather can't be controlled. Some group excursions have to be adjusted. Still, this was fantastic!
After that experience, we returned to Talkeetna. I have hosted several group trips to Alaska and always love meandering through the streets of Talkeetna. They have a little historical museum there filled with pictures of the characters that have lived there. One is of Adolf Taraski, a miner who, the caption says, kept his house as clean as any woman would. The picture of Joe Giliski read that he and his partner 'worked hard and drank hard. Joe never took a wife.'
I would love to see that description of a Bank CEO or something back in Indiana or Michigan: 'Bob Timmons, our President and CEO of Star Bank, works hard and drinks hard. Bob has not taken a wife.'
My son and I found the local community theater, which was staging the Play "How to Make Love like an Alaskan" in the evenings. We did not see the play, which they say is hilarious. We caught the afternoon short video of legendary Alaska pilot Don Sheldon. Don saved so many climbers from McKinley. He once had four shotguns mounted on his wings so that he could shoot threatening wolves from the air. A brave, daring and humble man, cancer took him far too young at 53 in the 1970's. If you are in Talkeetna, I encourage you to watch the film.
Edgerton's had another special experience waiting the next day. It was a jet boat trip down the Susitna River. That thing could flat out fly. Early in the trip, we stopped underneath a massive eagle's nest. The guide on board told us how the nest weighed over 300 pounds and was 20 years old. She said most eagles laid three eggs and that sometimes the first born would push one of the others out of the nest in a survival of the fittest thing.
The jet boat took the group to where salmon were surging in the river, and through all kinds of wilderness scenery. The boat stopped once for a hike through the wild to see how native Alaskans used to live off the land. I took the picture below that includes one of our couples celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. It was yet another unforgettable way to see the rugged beauty of Alaska.
The next day saw Nick, our motorcoach driver, take us towards Anchorage and then down to Seward. At one point we got stopped for some highway work. "There are two seasons in Alaska," Nick said. "Winter and Construction!" We passed houses that had all kinds of junk in the yards. "People like to keep stuff in their yards in Alaska," Nick said. "They may use it one of these days!"
We drove through Wasilla, best known for the being the town where Sarah Palin was mayor. One thing that was interesting was that almost all of the signs by businesses were very low. That's because of savage winds that come through in the winter. No sign can be taller than its building. The McDonald's "M" sign was the shortest I had ever seen!
We passed a fireworks stand where Nick told us that some of the fireworks people in Alaska use are bad to the bone, the kind you would not see in Indiana or Michigan. As we neared Anchorage, Nick told us of all the moose that travel near the road during winter. They have a thing in Alaska where you can sign up for a moose road kill list. If one is hit and killed by a car and your name is next on the list, you will get a call and you have a certain amount of time to get out and clean the animal or the next person on the list is called.
Edgerton's arranged a visit to the Native Alaskan Heritage Center in Alaska, which was very interesting. We learned a great deal about Alaska's Indigenous people and the rich heritage of Alaska's cultural groups. Over the years the native people have hunted the Bowhead whale. Check out the jaw bones of that rascal. It has the largest mouth of any animal in the world. The picture below shows that I would be a tasty chicken tender for one of them! Keep in mind that I am six foot five and 230 pounds!
Nick pointed out that this past winter Anchorage had 133" of snow, 11 feet! We drove through the city for a bit and then headed south to Seward, passing a tiny town known as Moose Pass. Nick said that they thought of opening a gas station there but thought a place known as 'Moose Pass Gas' would not be good.
As we approached Seward, Nick told us of the annual Mt. Marathon race. The race begins downtown and ends downtown. It's the rest that is a bear! The halfway point is a stone marker atop Mount Marathon, 3022 feet above sea level, and a mile and a half from the finish line. The total race course distance is about 3.1 miles. Leading racers will typically reach the peak from the starting line in 33-40 minutes, and reach the finish line from the peak in 10-15 minutes. Average speed uphill is 2 mph. Average speed downhill is 12 mph. It is not uncommon for the racers who finish to cross the finish line injured or bleeding and covered in mud. Just weeks before our arrival, a 66 year old man had disappeared while running the 2012 race. Exhaustive searches still had not turned up anything. Nick thought that he had run off a cliff.
Edgerton's had arranged for cabin like hotel rooms deep in the northern temperate rain forest. The next day would see yet another remarkable experience for the group. Everyone boarded a mid sized boat for a tour of the Kenai Peninsula. Killer whales surged in an out of the water on the hunt alongside the boat. Later, a massive humpback whale came right by the boat as it heard a group of birds feeding on a pack of bait fish. The whale would later open its massive mouth and scoop up countless fish.
The colorful and clownlike Puffin birds were a big hit with the group! Other seabirds such as cormorants, murres and eagles were clearly visible. Dall's porpoises came darting by so fast that if you blinked you might miss them! Oh, this was amazing to be in the midst of all of this nature! Later, the boat slowed down as the massive Aialik Glacier came into view. With chunks of ice knocking against the boat, it glided towards the glacier. The thunder-like roar of the ice calving could be heard as chunks fell into the frigid water. Not far away, a playful otter floated on his back. Our guide said the sea otter has one million hairs per square inch. No wonder it didn't look cold! Stellar sea lions by the dozens lay sleeping on ice chunks. You can see by the size of a boat like ours, how massive the Aialik Glacier truly is....amazing!
After several mesmerizing hours, Edgerton's arranged for a group meal at mysterious Fox Island. Fog hid it at first, then it appeared out of nowhere.
The waters surrounding it were a rich blue green color with black rocks covering the shoreline. Inside, a feast of salmon and prime rib awaited.
The next and final day would see a short drive back towards Anchorage to catch the flight back home. A stop at the Portage Glacier was followed by one of the most unique experiences of any of my group travel trips. Edgerton's arranged for a tour of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where Alaskan wildlife are rehabbed and cared for. We saw two bears that had lost their mother to a hunter when they were cubs. They had not learned how to hunt yet, so one of them attacked a porcupine (!) and had hundreds of quills in its mouth. When discovered, it offered no resistance. Both were brought here where they live safe and healthy lives. I took the picture below of them. The one on the left raised up right in front of us and about scared the dickens out of me.
Sitka black-tailed deer, orphaned as fawns, were darting about. A bald eagle that had lost a wing from shotgun pellets was there, along with Snickers, the porcupine is a favorite at AWCC! He is a gregarious little fellow, having been raised in a home, and relocated to the AWCC. Snickers became a star, when a Youtube video of him went worldwide and received over 1,800,000 views! I shot a sixty second clip that is on my facebook page, along with video of the bears, deer and other animals. Be sure to check those out.
The caribou were rescued from Alaskan islands, which were becoming overpopulated and could not sustain healthy animals. To prevent starvation, some caribou were removed and brought to AWCC. Our group spent over three hours there roaming the grounds. I can't say enough about all the good that is being done there for animals, and how the stop is one of the things that makes the Adventurous Alaska trip such a special one.
From there, we were driven back to Anchorage where Edgerton's had arranged a Farewell Alaska dinner at one of the nicest seafood restaurants in Anchorage. Complimentary wine was provided by Edgerton's as the group laughed and shared stories from the week. Just out the window, fishermen could be seen lining the banks of a river winding through the city.
I can't say enough about this trip. Again, it will be offered again next summer, July 17th to the 26th of 2013. Contact your local Edgerton's office to get a deposit in to make sure you get a spot on the trip. The 2012 trip sold out six months in advance.
On this recent Adventurous Alaska group trip, I asked all 45 men and women to share something interesting from their life. The answers ranged from life accomplishments to unforgettable moments in their life to something funny! I wanted to share them with you because you will find yourself relating to them. These are real people with unique life stories and accomplishments. You will love these stories!
I will start with Fritz because....his story is hard to top! When Fritz was a County Commissioner, a terrible snow storm came up. A couple called him in a panic. The wife was going into labor and they could not get to the hospital. Hardly anyone could get anywhere. Fritz, though, had a huge tractor, the 'baddest' tractor in all the land. It could get him anywhere! He called a doctor and got a crash course in 'Delivering Babies 101' on the phone. He then plowed through the weather and got to their home. Doing the traditional things we see in movies, he got hot water, soap and towels and led the mother through delivery. When the beautiful little boy was born, Fritz slapped its rear and he started crying.
The overwhelmed couple was so grateful....that they named the child Fritz.
His wife Jill shared that everyone in her family has a name that starts with the letter 'J.' Her parents are Janet and John. Her siblings are Judy, Jack, Jim, and Joanne.
Jim has spent his career in real estate. Back in the late 60's he said women were severely restricted in being members of the Board of Realtors and women with children were not allowed to sell real estate. "I rewrote the by laws to get that crap out of there," Jim told me. Later, when he ran for president of the Board, the women vote was behind him as he won election. "Today women sell more real estate than men," said Jim.
Cindy was along with her husband Dan. Cindy has a passion for quilting. She entered a quilt in a show and won Judge's Choice, first place, out of 136 quilts. It was the first time that she had entered. A church secretary for 13 years at Trinity United Methodist in Fort Wayne, Cindy is a Lutheran. "I always told them I was there to keep those Methodists straight!" she said with a smile. Husband Dan has built all the cabinets in their kitchen out of red oak from the family farm in Kendallville. "My Dad was a wood worker," Dan told me. "When we weren't arguing, I learned a few things from him."
Leon, traveling with his wife Jane, shared how he once met and partied with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie in Chicago. "Frank introduced me to Jack Daniels," said Leon. "It is still my drink of choice today. I can tell you about that part of the party, but not the rest."
Jane chose a humorous moment from her past to share. She went to parochial schools growing up and in first grade had a Nun who, with a straight look on her face, would always point to a nearby water tower and tell the kids she slept up there. She said she would crawl up there at night and stay there. "We believed her," said Jane.
Fred, with wife Jeanette, shared how he once was captain of the Rugby Union Hall football club in England. During fierce competition, his spikes broke on one shoe. While out of the game, a teammate was brought off with a broken leg. "You won't need that shoe," said Fred, as he took off the fellow's shoe, put it on, and rushed back into action.
Jeanette told of growing up in a tiny town in Kansas that was so small that the streets had no names. She didn't know what they were until she was grown up.
Donna, along with husband Roc, has always had a passion for art. As a 9 year old she painted with mustard from the fridge. Her choices of what to paint on where not always the wisest, including the time she painted on her mother's wedding glove and furniture.
"My mother still felt I was the best child of 3," she told me. "I am not sure what that says about my siblings!" No matter what she painted on, she always danced and sang as she painted. She had found a passion!
Roc told of how he plays golf 4 or 5 times a week when he is back home in northern Indiana. Oak Hills in MIddlebury is his favorite course. "The more I play," he said, "the worse I get."
Sue and Tom, celebrating 50 years of marriage with this trip. When I asked Sue how their marriage had stayed strong, she said that she made a decision a long time ago that she was not going to change canoes in mid river.
Tom said that during their courting period, he was one of the few men in history to actually go out on a double date that included his future father-in-law!
Jack, traveling alone, told of how he flew B 29 bombers, the only pressurized plane at the time, which allowed them to get up to 30,000 and 40,000 feet.
Bev, along with husband Larry, told of how she used to write for a local newspaper. Her beat became Michigan, which led to once riding on the press train with President Ford. She spent time just talking with him as the train crossed the state.
Her passion is genealogy. Knowing that her husband had been adopted as a baby in Alberta, she poured herself into research. She learned that Larry's parents had stayed together after giving him to adoption, and later had another child, his brother. Larry met him 10 years ago and they are in each other's lives regularly now.
Paul shared how something you may not like at work may turn out to be the best thing for you! His senior year in high school, Paul worked for Western Union. He did not like delivering 2 star telegrams because they were always death telegrams, and he could not stand having to do singing telegrams. He said he got stuck with one to sing to a girl named Ernestine on her birthday. "I felt it made a fool of me," said Paul. At the time Paul was making 30 cents an hour (this was many moons ago). Ernestine's father, E.M. Morris, gave him a whopping $5 tip! "I ALWAYS wanted singing telegrams after that," said Paul, with a big smile on his face.
E.M. Morris was a prominent businessman and philanthropist having founded the Associates, and what is now 1st Source Bank. South Bend's Morris Center for the Performing Arts also bears his name.
Little Ernestine? She would become chair of the board of 1st Source Bank and is a philanthropist in Arts and Education. She is one of the most influential women in the South Bend area and has a chapter written about her in the book, '19 Stars of Indiana: Exceptional Hoosier Women' by Michael Maurer..
Paula, a lifelong teacher, shared of her passion of diving. Once during a on a drifting free dive off Cozumel, the black eyes of a shark were staring right at her as it came in her direction. At the last second, it swerved and went after a fish!
Her friend Jeannine, also an educator, shared the story of the time she was teaching 1st grade and it was show and tell day. A child brought the steering wheel of his Dad's car. The problem was, the Dad did not know and had to get to work. The classroom door burst open as Dad said, "Earl, do you have my steering wheel!" "Yeah, Dad," said little Earl, as Jeannine watched the father get the wheel and march out.
Elsie and Ralph are on their second marriage, both widowers. Set up by friends at their Church, Elsie shared how their first date was at their local Cracker Barrel for lunch after Church. "He couldn't go out earlier in the week," said Elsie, "because he had commitments with his kids. To me, that was an attractive quality that he cared so much about them. I got to Cracker Barrel and all these old guys were outside in those rocking chairs. None of them jumped out at me, so I was hoping Ralph wasn't one of them! He wasn't, and we have been happy ever since!"
Sharon told the hilarious story of going down the East Race waterway in South Bend when her son Ben was 10. If you have never been to the East Race, it is near downtown and kayakers and rafters go their in the summer to go down it until it reaches the St. Joe river. All kinds of folks watch from the sides. Well, their raft flipped and they flopped around. She learned that the bottom was very slimy. She lost a leather shoe. A guy threw a rope to her but she said she "couldn't haul her ass up there." She floated to the end as people took pictures from the sides. At the end, she had to walk back in the 'Walk of Shame' as people would say 'she's the one!'
Susan shared the story of when her and her husband were in their late 20's they traveled through Europe for 3 months. They bought an old VW and stopped at a dealer near Athens to get it worked on. They walked to a hotel but the operator did not speak English. Susan was trying to mouth 'need a room....one night....bed.' Her husband then started nudging her and saying they need to get out of there. It turns out it was a house of ill repute and the owner thought she was asking for a room for an hour or two!
Ron and Bernadine told of the time they went to Hawaii in 1996 for their 25th anniversary. There was a celebration of the show Hawaii 5-O going on and they got to meet James MacArthur, the actor that played Danno. He put his arms around them. Remember the line, "Book 'em, Danno!"
Ronda, along with her mother Arlene, has studied and learned 4 languages: English, Japanese, Spanish and French. Arlene, who has been on several Travel with Charlie group trips for Edgerton's, shared of her love of travel and all the places she has been in her life. Arlene told of the time she met Oscar and Tony award winning actress Patricia Neal on an Amazon River cruise, and how she had breakfast with her.
After appearing in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Neal had what was arguably her finest role, as Alma the housekeeper, in Hud (1963) opposite Paul Newman. The film was a hit and Neal won the Best Actress Oscar. In 1965, she suffered a series of strokes that nearly killed her. She was filming John Ford's film, 7 Women (1966), at the time, and had to be replaced by Anne Bancroft. Neal was pregnant at the time. She underwent a seven-hour operation on her brain and survived, later delivering her fifth child. She underwent rehabilitation supervised by her husband.
Arlene said that Neal could not have been more pleasant during that cruise, and she often stopped and chatted in the hallways with her.
Mel at Pat were among our travelers from southwestern Michigan. Mel works the family farm in the Cassopolis area that his Dad bought 50 years ago. His son works with him and his Dad is still active on the farm at age 86. Pat said she met Mel at church 37 years ago, and that she grew up a city girl in Elkhart and was now a farm girl in Cassopolis! She likes driving a tractor, she told me.
Sally, along with husband Bill, shared the ability to laugh at herself - so important in keeping a good attitude in life - when she rambled along when trying to share something about herself to me. "I like to eat, vegetables mainly," she said. "I like to shop. I like to talk. I like margarita's. I like gin and tonic. I like beer. Not all at the same time!! Oh my gosh, this sounds like I am a drunk!"
Bill recalled a story when they were fishing in extreme northern Canada. They got done with their charter trip only to find that credit cards were not accepted by the boating company. It had to be cash. They didn't have enough so they roamed all over for an ATM. They finally found one inside a bank entrance, but it was closed. They waited until an employee came out and grabbed the door before it closed and locked, and got to the ATM!
Bob, with wife Barb, told of the time he played a round of golf with former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz. "I am a sports nut," said Bob, "and to play 18 with him was such a thrill. He is so motivating. He was telling stories about growing up. Also, when I was a student at Notre Dame, my friend was friends with Joe Montana's family so I went to lunch with Joe."
Barb talked of meeting Bob and how much she loves their wonderful family. She said they went to South Africa a few years ago and it was a fantastic trip.
My 19 year old son Jack was with us. He told of the time he was on a walk with his mother and their dachshund Lucy. They were in a park and Lucy got off her leash. A pasture was nearby and she darted under the fence because she saw a horse. The horse charged her. Jack ran under the electric fence, getting shocked, and lunged for Lucy as the horse tried to stomp on her. Jack grabbed her and ran out as he horse kept charging. Lucy had injured ribs but is okay today.
Carol, with husband Jerry, said that 3 years ago on their 5-acre spread they had a puma kill. The puma had killed a 4 point buck and was eating it. They live in the Elkhart area and for years had heard of puma's roaming that area. She said they range 500 miles and are not seen much in Elkhart because they mainly move at night.
Jerry shared that his life dream had been to build his own log house. It was either that or by a used barn and convert it. He built their log home on a like near the Indiana/Michigan border.
Imogene, with husband Larry, told of how they raised their kids and then she went back to college to get a degree from Purdue. She went into home health nursing which took her into the wilderness and cornfields.
Larry comes from a family of 12! His mother is still clicking along at age 96. He said she lives by herself. He said they were raised well and that of the 12, there are only 3 you would want to stay away from!
Bob, with wife Linda, shared how he was refused for the draft in '59 because of a shoulder separation from football. He was never called to Vietnam and would have only in case of an emergency. He has had success in the electronics business and is one of the providers of equipment to WSBT. He ended up purchasing manager for AM General, so though unable to be in the service for health reasons, was later able to be a part of the company that makes vehicles for the military.
Wife Linda smiled as she talked about their son who said he would never, ever, never have children.
They now have 2 grandchildren....
Rocky, a retired marine, and wife Vi had great life experience to share. Rocky was on a hunting trip for Javelinas (a wild pig) in the Grand Canyon with his friend one time. It was a bow hunting trip. Night came and they slept in their tents. The next morning his buddy got up to make coffee and saw a javelina sleeping right by the tent, pressed up against something. He drew back his bow and was ready to take a shot when he realized the javelina was sleeping right next to Rocky, who was inside the tent! "I'm glad he didn't take the shot," said Rocky, "because if he had missed..."
Rocky's wife Vi isn't able to get all the grandkids together a lot since they live in Minnesota and Virginia, so when she does she wants to be creative and make the visit 'memorable.' When they all visited Vi and Rocky, Vi got an old water bed (this was in winter) and filled it with air from the compressor. She plopped the kids on their and slid them all over, one time all the way out to the fence! In summer, she turned it over and had all the grandkids lay on it. Vi and Rocky would pounce on it, causing the young ones to fly towards the moon. "They'd go way up," said Vi. "causing one of the grandkids to look at me one time and say, 'Grandma.....sometimes I worry about you...'"
This gives you an idea of the kind of good folks that make up our group travel trip. People like you and me, with unique backgrounds and stories. From partying with Sinatra to singing telegrams. From 1st place in quilting to helping a husband learn he had a brother, their stories remind us what a great adventure life can be as each one of you continues to carve out your own special life stories.
This group got along beautifully during the amazing Adventurous Alaska trip. Be a part of a future group. Come with us and see unforgettable sights and make new friends. Edgerton's takes care of everything so that you don't have to stress on your vacation.
Charlie Adams, speaker and Edgerton's Group Travel host