Denali

Off the peninsula and on to denali  

We drove the long road to Whittier, through the longest tunnel (at least north americas, at 2.5miles) and came out the other side to a landscape almost as dark as the tunnel itself. The entire are was covered in a thick, dense blanket of clouds and rain.  We drove around and explored what we could (there isn’t much too it), took every back road we could find to try and get above the clouds or find a place to stay that wasn’t the RV park staring at a cruise ship but the entire are is locked on one side by the sea and the other by a steep cliff/mountain. 

We started feeling a bit claustrophobic and decided to turn back around and get back through the tunnel.  While i don’t doubt the views here are amazing when the skies are clear…this was not the place we wanted find out we were stuck for a few days due to some storm or construction closing the tunnel.

Alyeska and the small town of Girdwood was great.  Had ourselves a nice layover and literally everyone we met here was ridiculously nice and welcoming.  Part of us wished we had found out about this place or hit it in the winter, so i guess we’ll just have to come back again later and experience it in all its snow covered glory.  “Steep and Deep” is its claim to fame.

We ended up staying a couple of days because as it turns out our survey was happening on the boat.  Completely without us present mind you… but we at least wanted to guaranty we had enough cell/wifi to text/call/facetime as needed to get the rundown.  This is all completely new to us, but the survey is essentially like the inspection before buying a house.  Your chance haul the boat out of the water, see whats underneath and to find out the true condition of everything both inside and outside, how well it’s been taken care of and what needs fixing/updated to be in top form.  Our broker, the seller and the surveyor all thought it was crazy that we wouldn’t be in person for this, but as much as we tried to figure the logistics out, us somehow finding a place to leave the van, someone to watch karma and coordinating last minute flights from anchorage to miami was simply not in the cards… so survey from afar it is!

Historically, we have a longstanding tradition of buying the most run down, in need of major help, most people think it cant be saved house with the plan to turn it into a thing of beauty.  Driven both by our lack of ability to afford anything else and by our belief that we might have the vision that others lack and willingness try to capitalize on the money to be made in the process.

We’ve done it with every house we’ve ever purchased, did it with the VW Bus, but then the sprinter was a bit out of our league.  A shiny new toy that we hadn’t planned on…but still provided an empty shell/canvas to work some magic on.

When it comes to the boat… we find ourselves in a bit of unchartered waters (pardon the pun).  There is no way to buy a seaworthy hollow boat that we could then build cabinetry inside of (I SO wish there was!), and trying to buy an old rundown boat usually means whatever seaworthiness it had in its prior days also no longer exists.  You can find houses with solid foundations and good bones that simply need some style and updated finishes…but at least in my search, finding a boat that needs cosmetic work also suddenly meant fear of everything else breaking – and at least if you’re us (a couple with no real boating experience) the last thing you need is a boat falling apart when you need it to keep you afloat or get you out of danger.

We ended up going after the newest boat we could afford.  Still not a new boat, we cant afford that, but went looking for the most affordable new-sh boat we could, essentially hoping for that model that already lost a lot of value after “driving off the lot” but where everything is as new as possible because its only a couple years old and hasn’t spent much time on the water (much like us).

Its definitely a break from our norm for us…but hopefully a decision that means (much like the “upgrade” from VW Bus to Sprinter) that we get to spend our time enjoying the process of learning to sail and our time on water collecting experiences rather than stuck in a hull trying to figure out how to fix whatever is broken (or at least more often than with an older boat). We’ll see how that theory plays out.  And what exactly i can find to occupy all the free time well have as a result. 😉

Survey complete (but we wont get the official report for a few days), we drove towards Denali knowing that its was a risk for us…  We had read that the park is almost completely closed off to vehicle traffic and that the only way to get access to see the mountain or the wilderness inside was to take a tour bus.  A tour bus that we’ve yet to meet a single person who said they thought it was worth it.  Its been described the same by everyone “several hours of waiting in line to board the bus, then getting onboard what is literally a crowded retired school bus and then spending the next 6-8 hours driving through the park with more time spent at the pullouts waiting on the line of people to finish using the portal potties than seeing the park or wilderness”.  Hmm.  yeah, that was a hard no for us long before we got anywhere near the park.

The drive to and around Denali however is fantastic and were glad we decided to go even with what we had heard about the tours themselves.  We made our way through the winding passageway and took in the fantastic peaks and valleys creating this landscape.  It was terrific.

We stopped and had a beer at Denali Brewing, we stopped again at 49th state and we planned on continuing onward, but as it turns out they were having their annual “Augtoberfest” (theyre close in October, so you can hardly blame them) party and we got lured into sticking around.  A great party, fantastic live music and good peops.  Fortunate timing on our part!

Party over, we continued on, deciding to head due east over the unmaintained dirt road of Denali Highway rather than continuing north to Fairbanks on the actual highway.  We had heard this stretch was beautiful (it is) and that it would be remote and full of wildlife… as it turns out we somehow ended up doing the drive exactly on the opening weekend of hunting season so instead of being alone we found ourselves darting between ATVS and spotting hunters in the bush rather than the wildlife they were hunting.  We decided not to risk camping along the highway for fear of an errant bullet from a drunken hunter and continued on through to the other side before stopping for the night.

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