Some car woes, reindeer wows (ugh - that was bad) and fishing fun

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May 6th 2016
Published: May 6th 2016
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To Elysium or the Shire (take your pick)

Day: 17/18/19/20

Distance: 6580

Hi everyone! I dropped off the grid there for awhile didn't I? I actually had a blog ready to go on the 18th, but I couldn't get the map or the pictures loaded so I decided to wait until I found a better spot. I didn't. I'm now in Wasilla at a FredMyers superstore and let me tell you, they have the best darn Internet of all the places I have gone to. I'm amazed at how fast it is. Anywho, I'm guessing this blog will be extra large; maybe not since I didn't really do much yesterday. More on that later. A warning, my verb tenses may be mixed up since this is two blogs joined together. I'll try to catch any inconsistencies.

So I woke up Tuesday (in a Fairbank's hotel) in a nice comfy bed, not feeling particularly good. I had a headache and a little bit of vertigo. I hope I am not coming down with something. Oh wait, I remember. I watched 2 of the NBA playoff games the night before downstairs in the sports (ummmm -bar). That explains it. So after last night's brush with some of Fairbanks natural denizens in their natural habitat, I packed up and hit the road... to an auto glass repair shop. It took me over an hour to find one and then to make sure they were a preferred repair facility for USAA. Found one and got the chip repaired on my windshield. No out-of-pocket expenses, though with auto insurance for 3 cars, 2 adults and 2 youngsters, I couldn't say it was free.

So now I hit the road and started heading down SR 3 towards Denali National Park and Anchorage. I got up to around 50MPH and the car starts shaking like all get out. It felt like the car was going to fall apart at any moment. It just got worse the faster I went. Uh oh. I think perhaps the trip up the Dalton Highway was a little harder on ole' Blue than I thought.

Aside: I think I like Blue instead of the Blue Bomber. I met a couple who had a dog name Blue with them. Named, of course, after Blue from Blue's Clues which I thought was way cool. How many of you oldsters and youngsters know that reference? Ahhh, I miss those times. What's was Blue's friend/master's name? Steve? He had a couple over the years if I remember correctly.

Back on track: woah, I got off the subject there. Anyway, I tracked down the nearest (and only) Buick shop in Fairbanks (thanks for the assist Siri) and headed over there. I'm now paranoid that I'm about to drop an important piece of my car into the middle of the road. Well, at the Buick place, there was no place at the inn for little ole me until the next morning. Damn. OK, my first choice is out. So now I start looking for other auto service shops to see if anyone can look at it today (you sucked this time Siri) so I wouldn't lose more than a day. I finally found an alignment shop. I figured it was either the alignment or something worse like a bent tie rod, etc. causing the problem. The guy there was super nice but also had no room in the inn. He however said that I should check out a tire store before I spent lots of money or time. He told me to get the tires re-balanced first. If that didn't work then come see him the morning.

So I found a tire store (Siri, you were much more helpful this time) and had the tires balanced and rotated. After an hour and half, I drove out of there and hit SR 3 again (with a lot of trepidation initially). Well what do you know? It worked (a Monty Python "yeaaaa" goes here). Cost me $80+ to get it done but I figured it was going to be much much higher bill so I'll chalked this up as a win. I probably threw off one or or more of the balancing rim weights when I hit a particular bad pot hole somewhere along the Dalton Highway.

It's after 3PM but since I'm heading to Denali I'll be there in only a couple of hours. The drive was uneventful but one cool thing was that outside of Fairbanks, and for about 30+ miles, you are driving on a ridge. It slopes down and away from you on both sides. You could literally stop and take a panoramic shot that captures both slopes. Doh! I should have done that!

I arrived at the (only open) campground in the park around 5:30ish
My moose brothersMy moose brothersMy moose brothers

Look hard, they are there.
and stood up camp. I thought it wa perfect time to tour the park road. So I headed into the interior. It was a great drive. Almost no traffic or visitors.

The one great thing about going to parks off season is that access that is normally restricted and tightly controlled is lifted. I was able to go past the check point where only park buses are normally allowed to go, and drive, purdy much as far as I wanted to go (well, until the Park Road becomes a Jeep Trail and ole' Blue ain't a jeep, but that's 80+ miles in). This unfettered access to the parks has been true on all the national parks I have hit on this trip, both in the US and Canada (well, where the park itself wasn't closed for the season). Going off season, allows you an unprecedented and intimate access to the surrounding nature and wildlife not normally attainable without backpacking into the interior. I highly recommend it.

It took me about 2 hours to drive around 30 miles or so inward. The view of the Alaskan Range and Mount McKinley is wicked cool. Apparently 2 out of 3 days,
Camp on the Susitna RiverCamp on the Susitna RiverCamp on the Susitna River

The name of the state camp is Susitna Landing. You ever get a chance, camp there.
the view of the mountains around McKinley is shrouded in clouds. McKinley is so large and tall that it generates it's own microclimate and that can interfere with the view (ones gotta read those road side signs, very informative). I'm there on a good day and I could see the surrounding mountains.

Now I'm not sure that if I had taken the road all the way to the end it would take me to a trail head that leads to the base of McKinley. If I remember correctly, David and Richard climbed McKinley so they might know what's involved to get to the mountain. From my POV, the mountain was fairly far away and a long backpacking trip to get there.

It's getting late and cold so I turned around and started heading back to camp. On the way back, I spotted caribou on the slopes both above and below me. I thought that was cool. I was wrong. What was really cool, is when I rounded a corner, there stood a herd of caribou on the road. I stopped the car and they walked towards me. I can still hear their split hooves clopping on the gravel road. They got to about 20 feet from me and then split magically into 2 sections; one climbing above the car and the other descending below the car. They then reformed behind me into one group again. All of this is done under the watchful eye of papa reindeer (do they call them bulls?). He's the only one sporting a full rack of antlers and he's much larger then the rest. There are several yearlings with small antlers. You could even see the velvet covering them. I watched for a while longer and then continued back to camp. On the way, I think I spotted a badger or wolverine. Something brown and red flashed right in front of me going across the road. All I got was vague impression but it was low to the ground and somewhat spread out.

Back at camp I had dinner and hit the sleeping bag. I slept well but it was cold. All I can say is that it sure is nice to have empty water and gatorade bottles. They are a man/boy's best friend (when you are camping by yourself). I feel sorry for you poor women. 😊 What's the saying? "Boys rule, girls drool" (apologies to Cats and Dogs).

This morning I while I was making breakfast I hear a rustling behind me. I turned around and I am looking eye to eye with 2 moose. I think they were as startled as I was. We sat there and just stared. I could hear them talking in my head, something about being summoned by the wood goddess. Hah! Instead I went to the car and got my camera and of course they are already leaving. I got several shots but it would have been so much cooler if I could have gotten the clearer front shot. Of course the warning signs say we are supposed to stay 25 yards away from wildlife (bears are 300 yards). I suppose technically, since they imposed themselves on me, I should have backed up to the 25 yard (well outside of my camp). But what about my invite from the wood goddess? After shouting my goodbyes to my forest brethren, I packed up camp and headed south on SR 3 (Parks Highway). My goal was to find a spot for fishing and camping.

On the licensing for fishing subject I realized I wasted $30 on the king salmon endorsement for my fishing license. I'm strictly catch and release (where the hell would I put the salmon?). I only needed that endorsement if I was going to keep them (sheesshhhh, the things that pop into your mind in the middle of the night). I also found out later that it wasn't even season yet for the king salmon! The people at the Sports Authority should not have sold me that endorsement. Sports Authority, you owe me 30 bucks!!! (Where's my 2 dollars?)

I travel down 3 looking at the beautiful scenery (snow covered mountains on both sides of the road) and realize I had no idea just how big Denali NP is. I must have driven down the park boarder for a hundred miles or more. I could have easily found a spot for camping and fishing, but I wanted to get some miles under me today so I continued down Parks Hwy. Roughly between Talkeetna and Willow, I passed this really small state recreation sign. The sign has icons for a fish and a tent. I slam on the brakes (the stupid sign is like 10 feet before the entry) do a u-turn and go back to the entrance. The entrance leads to a gravel/dirt covered road and tree canopied. Curiouser and curiouser (and promising). So I drive down the road and I come up against an automated lift gate festooned with red LED rope lights. There is a small pathway on the right leading to a rustic building with a flashing red LED sign spelling out O-P-E-N. OK, this is eccentric enough that I am already liking this place. I'm greeted by a couple in their retirement years who are the, how did they put it, concessionaires of the park. I pay for a camping spot and found a great spot at the end of the park right on the Susitna River (based on their recommendation). The park is mostly empty (the way I like - pesky people and all that). I thought the park was private but it is actually part of the Alaska game and wildlife department and they picked up the 10 year contract. The family ran the park years ago and they just got back into it again as a retirement and keep busy and earn income plan. Their grandson grew up at the camp and when they got the contract again, he came back to help them run it. All of them were super friendly and helpful.

The main building, besides being used for checking in, acted as an espresso bar and camping supply store. I got me my morning lattes finally! Sweet. The one thing they didn't have was Internet/wifi. I also had no data cellular service. Since I was only staying overnight i figured it wouldn't hurt. Obviously that didn't work out quit the way I wanted it to. The reason it didn't work out was scenery (you can see the other side of Denali/McKinley, river access (just walk down the slope) and tranquility was close to perfect. It also didn't hurt that I was finally not freezing my boys off. A big plus. Nothing's perfect though and the first night the humidity must have been high because when I got up in the morning there was condensation everywhere. Ugh. Getting dressed when it's cold and damp is not fun. It makes you stay in the sleeping bag longer, which unto itself, is not a bad thing... unless mother nature comes a-calling. I'm 50, Mother Nature seems to call more and more often. --- My doctor laughs and says I'm getting old (the b@st@rd). It also got cold. It got cloudy and the temperature dropped 20 degrees. So much for idyllic settings. So it wasn't perfect; it was close enough. I ended up staying another day and didn't leave camp 'til today.

During the last couple days, I've fished, hiked, became friends with a beaver, reorganized my car, read and just generally chilled out. Very nice (no Borat accent this time). I caught several rainbow trouts and released them. On the subject of fishing, the regulations governing fishing (and I am assuming hunting) are very byzantine. It depends on the season, recent population testing, stretch of the river or lake, current water levels, which fish are spawning, which fish are running, etc. Some friendly fisher dudes told me using treble hooks was a big no-no. They also said at the current time, it is only catch-and-release which was fine with me. In a couple weeks when the king salmon start running then you can't fish for anything besides salmon. I'm not sure what the reason for that is. Another rule which was strange (maybe not) is if you catch a pike you cannot release it. It's against the law. You must dispose of the fish. The sign said (I swear), "disposing of a dead pike is ok". So essentially, take a bat to the fish and then throw it back.

My plan today is to head downward on SR 3 and on through Anchorage and travel the Kenai Peninsula all the way to Seward. Hopefully, I won't be as long an blog interval as the last few days.


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