Solo Chick Alaska Adventure

I'm making one of my dreams come true by doing a solo chick adventure to Alaska. I’ll chronicle my trip here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Learning About Dog Sledding

Sunday was my last full day in Alaska. It was raining when I woke, a good excuse to relax after my long, early day on Saturday. That evening I went to Ivory Jack’s for dinner. It’s a little out of the way but it was recommended as a more authentic Alaskan restaurant. Plus, it was on my way to learn about mushing. The restaurant was very down home and friendly with a big bar. The people seemed to be more locals, which was interesting.

From Ivory Jack’s I drove up to Mary Shield’s place, where she gives a Tales of the Trails presentation every night at 7:30 at her home. Mary was the first woman to finish the Iditarod, the world’s most renowned dog sled race – over 1,100 miles long – from Anchorage to Nome in March. Mushers travel from 10 to 17 days in temps way below zero and often enduring blinding winds. There are rules they must follow, especially when it comes to taking care of the dogs.

Mary is now 61 but still going strong. She still takes her dogs out when the snow comes and still loves her trips in the snow. After Mary gave us an introduction talk, we got to go into the pen with her huskies and pet them. You can see the love between Mary and her furry friends. They depend on each other on the trail. It was drizzling but we all wanted to see the dogs so we joined Mary with them. She takes excellent care of them and explained what they need to stay fit.

People are concerned about hurting the dogs by using them to pull the sled. Mary affirmed what I was told all along the way – the dogs LOVE it. As soon as they’re given the signal to run, they’re off. While they wait for the signal, they’re anxious to get going. Being sled dogs is what they’re bred for so it’s in their blood to do it. Mushers take good care of their dogs. During her talk, Mary explained how they do it. We got to see her sled and she explained life on the trail.

After an hour outside, we went into Mary’s log cabin home, which is lovely. We sat around her big table drinking tea and eating homemade cookies while Mary told us more stories about her adventures with her sled and dogs. Her descriptions were vivid and fascinating. She explained how the Iditarod works and about other races she did, including the Yukon Quest and Hope Race from Alaska to Siberia. We were all enthralled as she told what it was like dog sledding to Siberia in Russia and how she made friends with a Siberian musher who she kept in touch with for years, even though neither spoke the same language.

At the end, Mary showed us part of her video that was televised on PBS. It showed her actually out with the dogs in the snow. She sold some that night, as well as her books. She’s written 5. I got a copy of Sled Dog Trails. It’s an interesting read about her experiences on the trails with her dogs. Everything is offered for sale on Mary’s website.

I highly recommend Mary’s Tails of the Trail if you’re in the Fairbanks area. You’ll really get a taste of a special side of Alaska that most tourists never see.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Crossing the Arctic Circle

I’ve been so busy since returning from my trip that I didn’t have time to finish my blog. It took me over a week to recover from all the activities topped by a 15 hour overnight trip home. I left my hotel at 7:30 to return my car and check in. Then a short flight from Fairbanks to Anchorage. From there it was a longer flight to Chicago. I got home after 1PM on Tuesday. Slept for 10-12 hours each night for over a week. Never did that before!

Now to finish telling about my trip. My last Saturday in Fairbanks I took a full day Arctic Circle Fly/Drive Adventure with Northern Alaska Tour Company. They have a variety of tours up north of Fairbanks, including to native villages and the Arctic Ocean, by bus, plane or both. I went on my tour in a van bus. We drove to Coldfoot, north of the Arctic Circle and returned by air.

I had to get up at 3:45 AM in order to get there at 4:45. That was tough!!! There were 5 of us, plus our guide Justin, who was very knowledgeable about the region. We headed north in the interior region of Alaska and then beyond. It was rugged and bumpy, though we were told it’s a lot better than it used to be.

This was the unpopulated Alaska – rugged and stark. We left real toilets in Fairbanks. There were outhouses in other places but these were the toughest. In Denali Park they had dispensers with anti-bacterial Purell hand sanitizer. Here there was a door and stench. In the first one we went to, we laughed at the décor – paintings in each stall. It sure didn’t fit the rest! But one gets used to it if you want to explore this amazing state.

I almost said country, because Alaska is over one fifth the size of what they call the lower forty eights – the states except for Alaska and Hawaii. It’s a very big place – almost like a country on its own. Most people never see more than a fraction of it, even its residents. I feel blessed that I got to go on this adventure, despite the early hour.

The terrain wasn’t as beautiful as down south. But heck! I was going north in Alaska, seeing things I’d only read about and that always had a sort of mystical sense about them. We watched the Alaskan Pipeline wind it’s way up and down the hills bringing it’s black gold down from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean.

And I saw the Yukon River. Wow! It’s in my history books and in movies. But there I was, on its banks! And Hallelujah! They had real bathrooms at that stop, and the nice box lunches we’d ordered in advance. ☺ After enjoying having running water, we continued north and watched the scenery change as we went. Much of Alaska is tundra. I’d heard that word many times but never knew exactly what it meant.

I discovered that much of Alaska has areas called tundra, where soil grows over permafrost, a permanently frozen layer of ground which is often 2000 feet thick. After the ice age, soil was blown over the ice and eventually seeds were able to grow. But only plants with shallow roots can live there, so trees don’t grow too tall. But it does get green. We stopped at a place that had a small hole already dug and people were able to put there hands down into the mud to feel the ice below the surface. You can tell by the growth were the tundra is.

Eventually we reached the Arctic Circle. Justin put out a mat by the sign with a line down the middle and we all crossed it and got certificates showing that we had. It felt wild to actually be there. It really doesn’t change that much but the idea of going beyond the Arctic Circle felt surreal. The Arctic Circle! Yee-haw! I crossed the Arctic Circle and have a certificate to prove it. ☺

It rained/drizzled on and off all day. Justin was concerned that our plane wouldn’t be able to land. But I put my spiritual power to work and the plane arrived. It was a pleasant flight back and I had the evening free to chill and get to bed early.

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