Day 29: Slowly Leaving Alaska
Today wasn’t our last day in Alaska. Or even our next to last day. We’ll be in Alaska for at least part of each of the next three days. But our time here is wistfully winding down and except for what I expect to be a short but exciting adventure in Haines, we’re at the end of our too-short, two-week stay in the incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring 49th state.
We have closed a road-trip loop that began two weeks ago at the same place I am right now: the crossroads town of Tok, which frankly has little to recommend it except some hotels and roads to other parts of Alaska. From Tok we went to Fairbanks (flight seeing), Talkeetna (hiking), Seward (aquarium), Soldotna (fishing), Palmer (history lesson), and Valdez (kayaking and glacier hiking). And everywhere we went we saw breathtaking scenery. And everywhere we went we met amazingly friendly and helpful people–both residents and visitors. And we still have two adventure-filled weeks and almost 5,000 butt-numbing miles remaining.
After days of rain, today was nearly dry. Overcast but non-precipitous skies bid us adieu as we rolled out of a chilly and water-logged Valdez and back up to Thompson Pass. We stopped briefly at Horsetail Falls, then again at the summit to take in six glaciers at once from the spot where gold seekers in 1899 trekked to distant Klondike gold fields.
Another short stop gave us a view of Mount Wrangell, the largest active volcano in North America, which was topped with clouds today, and Mount Blackburn, at 16,360 feet, the tallest peak in the Wrangell-St. Elias sub-range of the Alaska-Yukon mountain range. That giant was also covered with clouds. But we could see snow-clad slopes up to about 11,000 feet and they were impressive as they disappeared into the clouds. Apparently, these two landmarks are often cloud covered, which seems to be the case with many Alaskan peaks.
By the time we reached our half-way point today, the threat of rain seemed to be gone, so, for the first time in a week, we rode unencumbered by bulky rain gear. Unfortunately for us, another 100 miles down the road, storm clouds again appeared on our horizon and we suited up again for the final dash to Tok. We skirted most of the rain and ended up with only about five minutes of soft showers to spoil an otherwise pleasant ride.
Tomorrow, federal border control officers permitting, we spend the night in Canada, then back to Alaska the day after, then back to Canada the day after that and remain in Maple Leaf country for the next four days.
The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but memorable routes require zigs and zags, twists and turns, ups and downs and the occasional fortuitous detour.