[Well, dear readers, I had 4 amazing days backpacking off trail in the Talkeetnas and am heading up north for a sightseeing train ride today. Meantime, I’ll play catch up on the blog as best I can before writing in the Wrangells. Many-an-essay has bloomed in my mind since the previous post. Bear with me as I sort my thoughts and update these pages in the coming days. Thanks to Joy for telling me how to put photos online…There will be many more to come in the following few days...Maybe even more tonight.]
Walking into the apartment of an Alaskan:
Compton lives near H Street just a short walk from the heart of downtown Anchorage. I follow three-paragraph instructions to find the right house, locate her downstairs apartment inside, and search out the spare key. The out door stairs are covered, a fact of the winter snow accumulation. Covered stairs means no shoveling stairs. Next to the doorstep? A cord of wood. Mind you, we are but a 15-minute walk from the business district of the city.
Entering, I note seven pairs of skis for one person, a handful of poles, and a literal wall of shoes upon walking in the front door. In the freezer is a trash bag full of frozen fish fillets—each individually wrapped, flash frozen, and in all varying shades of white, grey, and pink. The only other item in the freezer is a 10 lb. bag of chicken breasts. Space heaters are tucked inconspicuously in the corners of each room, a nod to the coming winter. Eleven o’clock at night looks like 5pm in the Appalachians. The neighbor is watering her garden as I’m trying to convince myself to fall asleep. Compton’s bedroom windows have black garbage bags taped over them from end to end. I take some sleep drugs and toss a pillow over my head.
First of all, my hiking partner and I are eating free-range, organic buffalo meat cooked-to-order at a local restaurant called Organic Oasis. Second, the salad comes with sweet yam vinegarette. Third, shopping for our backpacking trip, we weigh the pros and cons of traveling with “Alaska Chub” that contains “Real Reindeer Meat!” versus traveling with hard salami that contains “beef hearts.” In the end, we skip the meat altogether and opt for dried hummus, which is lighter and less attractive to bears. Fourth, Compton’s primary snack seems to be bite-sized King Salmon Jerky.
Oregon blackberries can be purchased in a can for $6. A grapefruit costs $2.99. The avocados are three times their natural size. Many people seem to enjoy dining on unique meats at restaurants that also feature full-mounted, stuffed heads of the animals on which they dine. Chocolate and espresso are, dare I say it, more abundant than in Portland, Oregon. Gluten-free products are in fact sold in Anchorage, however, one must be prepared to pay something close to $7 for five 2-oz. breakfast bars.
First, I’m concerned about bear bagging and rope lines to hang the food because we’ll be above tree level every night. “What’s bear bagging?” asks Michael, my hiking partner. When I tell him, he says he’s already called the local outdoor gear store and rented a “bear-resistant food canister” for us. Note the use of the word “resistant” rather than the word “proof.” Bear bagging in Alaska is so ineffective and/or impossible that even a hiking enthusiast like Michael hadn’t heard of it.
Second, I am distressed because I can’t find extra triple AAA batteries for my headlamp. “It’s never going to be pitch black,” Michael says. “The sun won’t ‘set’ until after 11pm and it will ‘rise’ around 5am. Call it a sustained twilight.”
Third, Michael suggests bear spray. Thinking back to the speech given to me by the local hunting shop manager, the rack of bear spray options at REI is in an entirely different league. We opt for the basic, which is almost as large as a can of spray paint and costs over $50 with tax. Michael says he’ll buy it since I can’t take it back with me on the plane. I tell him if we get attacked and survive, I’ll pay him back. He laughs a little, nervous laugh.
The City that Never Sleeps
Here are three demonstrative photos. The first is facing east from downtown Anchorage, looking into the front folds of the Chugach Range. The second is facing east into Cook Inlet. I was told these colors were just about as much sunset as you get this time of year and this night was an especially good one at that. The third is some alley art, a shot I took peeking off one of the main drags of downtown Anchorage. All of these photos were taken at 11pm.
Here I am the next morning in the Craigie Creek Valley, getting ready to head up an old mining road then into the bush of the Talkeetna Range. Four days in the backcountry, here we come!