Our next destination was the city of Anchorage, with over half of the population of Alaska contained therein. Someone at one point had said (with a bit of a sneer) that “Anchorage is only an Hour From Alaska;” the clear implication that it is not much like the rest of the state. They meant it not in a good way; but rather in a deprecating way – since MANY Alaskans are here to get away from civilization, live close to the land, away from other people, etc., that would be true. Liz and I enjoy cities and commotion and all the attendant challenges these entail, so we were quite looking forward to our brief exit from Alaska into Anchorage.
But first, we had to arrange for our Salmonfest tickets.
A while back on this Alaska Adventure, we had attended a music festical called “Chickenstock.” There we met a BUNCH of locals, and several recommended a music festival later in the summer, called “Salmonfest.” This was as “bigtime” as Chickenstock was not. National Acts, an order of magnitude more people, etc. Even a bit of weirdness and overindulgence in completely legal hemp-related products could be expected. Not by us, of course, but by other festies. All of this down on the Kenai Peninsula.
I had forgotten all about this, until Liz and I saw the board advertising Live Music in Talkeetna. I remembered the suggestions from earlier, and went online (reasonable WiFi in Talkeetna!) to investigate. What I discovered was an alignment of time and place that made Salmonfest MORE than optional – it seemed an imperative!! Music, Camping and no doubt magnificent scenery in an area we were already heading for at about the right time! It seemed like an EXCELLENT bookend to go with Chicken – starting and ending our Alaska Experience (even though we’ll be traversing the State for a few more weeks) with music and fun. I went online and booked immediately, and Steve did the same.
Also while in Talkeetna I had discovered an RV Spot IN the City of Anchorage. As I have mentioned MANY times in these pages, inside-the-city RV spots are rare, and we cherish the opportunity. I called and booked – the voice on the phone told us of an REI across the street in a great mall, and a bus that would take us downtown. Sounded GREAT! He said the park had full hookups for a quite reasonable price. “No WiFi,” he said, “But there is free WiFi at the shopping center across the street.” I should have been suspicious immediately when they said, “Plenty of space, no worries.” We have been finding that RV spots up here are NOT readily available – usually we can get in, but it always takes some machinations by the clerk to find a spot. Not this one.
Well, as it turned out, THIS RV Place was a lesson in how online dating can go VERY wrong…
Liz and I looked at each other and immediately came to the same conclusion: even if we lost the deposit we had given them, we were NOT staying at this park.
We pulled into the “Campground” through an alley that lead behind a very shabby shopping strip. There were three or 4 trailers that obviously had been there for years. Junk all around them, blue tarps protecting roofs that I am SURE leaked badly. Unkempt parking spots with overgrown weeds between. There were NO RVs or trailers or vehicles of a recent vintage or anyone that I would describe as a “normal” camper. The clerk came out to meet us, apologizing that she was going to have to move us from “our spot.” This did not concern me – in fact I wondered why she had even bothered to tell me – as far as we know, we have no “spot” until we check in. Then she went on, “The last person in your spot dumped sewage on the ground and left.” i.e. could not be bothered to connect or did not own a hose for this purpose. And/or possibly may have left with the local constabulary?
I’d have felt bad about leading them astray had I BEEN AWARE WE WERE LEADING THEM AT ALL!
Then, pulling in directly behind us were….OUR FAVORITE STALKERS, Bob and Kathy Purcell. YIKES. Bob’s comment through a window rolled down a crack only was, “You’ve really found a nice one here, Dan!” I’d have felt bad about leading them astray had I BEEN AWARE WE WERE LEADING THEM AT ALL! We did not know they were coming, though I suppose we must have mentioned the campground in a text or an email, as we have been keeping in touch with the Purcells. The theory being that if you are going to have creepy stalkers, you might as well tell them your itinerary!
JUST KIDDING, of course; we have grown to love our groupies – good AND fun people!
NO PROBLEM on a refund. In fact, she actually looked RELIEVED that we were not going to be staying.
I told him we were NOT staying, and in fact I had noticed and already called a place about a mile away. I had the little matter of our deposit to try to get back; Bob, I don’t think, even wanted to get out of his truck so he took off immediately for the other park. I walked back to the office to talk to the clerk. She said NO PROBLEM on a refund. In fact, she actually looked RELIEVED that we were not going to be staying. She may have been worried about us, who were a different sort than the park’s usual patrons. You can take that any way you want to, we chose to take our refund and leave immediately!
We arrived at Creekwood RV Park and Motel, which was less than ½ mile from the toxic waste dump RV Park, where we found Bob and Kathy just ahead of us, getting established in their site. The Creekwood was just a gravel parking lot with very small spaces and tight maneuvering, but this was TOTALLY FINE. The office staff was friendly and helpful, and there were several other RVs there. In fact, there were people we had met (besides Bob and Kathy) at several other places along the way. We even managed to arrange RV WHERE YET to allow just enuf space for picnicing. The only ”problem” with this park was the highway noise, which was substantial. But this does not bother us, so we set about to enjoy Anchorage!
Our first step was to call Keith Clark, a fellow Bluebirdbrain who lives in Anchorage. I had been communicating with Keith for at least a couple months via the WOG (Wanderlodge Owners Group) Online Forum and by Email. We’d agreed I would call when we arrived, and he’d tour us a bit. Turns out he had family in town, but still managed to MORE than squeeze us in. He stopped by immediately and gave us a brief driving tour to get us oriented. He showed us our access to a network of Bike Trails, right by the RV Park, that would get us downtown and to several other places worth investigating. Said he had dinner plans but we could reconvene the next day at the Anchorage Weekend Market, right downtown.
He also said, “Want a Chicken?”
I said, “Excuse me?” In all of our wanderings and among all the kind and generous people we have met along the way, we have never been offered a raw Chicken! Of course, there is a story…He said he had purchased a chicken to BBQ with his visiting family, but they had instead scheduled all sorts of meals out, and he was leaving for Seward the next day. Chicken was going in the garbage if we didn’t take it. So, of course, we did!
And I figured out how to make a YUMMY “Beer-Can-Chicken” on our new grill for a collective meal with Bob, Kathy, Steve and Kathy-two. That required some imagination, because the grill area is just about as tall as a beer can, but no taller, and a chicken would normally be taller with its beer can inside. I was able to cut and disjoint and mash the consolidated can/bird just enuf to close the lid. The result was YUMMY!
The next day, we rode our bikes to the Downtown Market to meet Keith. This was, I would say with some level of experience in the matter, a better-than-average Flea Market with lots of interesting food options. Too bad Liz and I had eaten breakfast at a local diner before meeting Keith. We determined to return to this market on the next morning – the Salmon Quesadillas looked (and ultimately were) AWESOME.
After wandering around the market a bit (Liz even bought a souvenier – a tiny carved bone-zipper-pull), Keith took us on a driving tour for a couple hours.
First stop was Chugach State Park, where there is an overlook on Flattop Mountain. From there, we could see, with a brief respite from Fire Haze, all of the basin where Anchorage is located. Couldn’t QUITE see several of the mountains and volcanoes, which we saw later as we drove down the Cook Inlet towards Homer. One, Mt. Redoubt, with a cloud of steam. Keith said you can see the Alaska Range, and even Denali on the rare CAVU (clear-air-visibility-unlimited) day. But GORGEOUS, nevertheless!
After the mountain, Keith took us by the headquarters of his Ham Radio Club, which was QUITE FASCINATING. It seems the club has created a mesh network and mobile capabilities that can be used by first responders and others in a disaster scenario.
And then, Keith took us past “Randy Dupree’s Favorite Burger Place,” the Arctic Roadrunner. WOW! Randy is another Bluebirdbrain; founder of the Wanderlodge Owners Group and kind of a legend in his own mind, if not the Bluebird Community .
Just kidding…Randy is a prince of a fellow…always willing to help Bluebird folks with technical problems, travel advice, redneck engineering and philosophy! Since we are again a couple weeks behind on these posts, you’ll have to wait for another story about Mr. Dupree — the ULTIMATE STALKING STORY! I know, the SUSPENSE is almost overwhelming!
Keith apparently introduced Randy to this place a couple years before. I could HARDLY WAIT to experience RANDY’s FAVORITE BURGER! We laughed about that, but later Liz and I made a special effort to go there, and I had a REALLY EXCELLENT burger (Liz had a Cod Sandwich).
This place is one of those local traditions that Folks who leave Anchorage for jobs or school or whatever else, make sure to visit when they return. Like we do with Hot Dogs, Pizza, and of course BURRITOS when we return to Chicago.
While we were in Anchorage, we also looked up Anne and Charles McMurrough. These were the folks we had originally met in Talkeetna, while enjoying Mario Carboni’s music. We promised we’d call when in Anchorage, so we did. They came over for an evening BBQ at the bus and we had a delightful conversation. Charles, it turns out, is someone I could learn a thing or two from! It seems he has retired no less than FOUR TIMES, so we agreed he might be finally getting good at it!
By way of explanation, he retired from American Airlines in 1999, back when 60 was mandatory retirement for Commercial Airline Pilots. He came to Anchorage with the intention of fishing, hunting, trapping, etc. Instead, he got “coerced” by a friend into moving to the North Slope and flying for a regional commercial operation up there. That lasted for 7 years, after which he retired (again). Shortly thereafter, a friend asked him if he would fly Float Planes with Hunters etc. as a fill-in on the staff during busy times. He agreed; and eventually became their chief (and full-time) pilot. Retiring (again) from that, he went on to become a Float Plane Instructor. FINALLY retiring from that, he now is (for the moment) ACTUALLY retired! (Apparently, strike 4 and you’re out!)
In fact, they came to the BBQ at RV WHERE YET almost directly from 3 days of fishing. I was a bit confused, though. After 3 days of fishing, they brought EXCELLENT Sausages for the grill, making me wonder where one catches those, and why one fishes at all?!
Anchorage, being a “big” city (about 375,000), presented its share of quirkiness. At one point, we observed a peculiar traveling concoction – one part Redneck Engineering (though, apparently a German Redneck Company) and one part Vampire Tour Bus.
This clearly well-thought-out, custom Tour Bus had me staring a bit. The front was a “typical” tour bus with large Windows and seating. The rear was a series of – and I can describe them no other way – coffin-sized “trays” for sleeping. The back of the sleeping area had a huge “door” that opened up to provide a cover for an outdoor eating and cooking area.
It seems these tours take visitors around Alaska, incorporating all necessary elements of existence on one Chassis – sort of like RV WHERE YET for a crowd. I wondered for a moment how Vampires COULD tour Alaska in the summer – with sunlight virtually 24 hours a day…
Anchorage also has several airports – the busiest by far is the Private Plane Airport (I was told busier than Chicago O’Hare some days) – Merrill field. Since getting to most of Alaska is done by Plane or Boat, it is not surprising at all that people come to “The Big Smoke” this way. There is also an international passenger and freight airport. The latter component is VERY SIGNIFICANT – lots of big freight planes depart every evening for Asia; some of them carrying Alaska-based products such as Seafood, but also transhipments and consolidated freight from the lower 48. And, there is a big Air Force Base here, so lots of air traffic.
From Anchorage we moved onwards towards Homer, which is way at the bottom of the Kenai Peninsula. Looked like a beach community with a fishing problem, or maybe the other way around. Anyhow, something that seemed ideal for a few days, enhanced greatly by the weather, that has been the “best” experienced in Alaska in at least 25 years. Unfortunately, 75F and sunny every day contributes to fire season, so “best” is not always BEST, in fact.
Homer was more than Ideal, it turned out – but you’ll have to wait for the next post to understand why!