Interior Alaska
5-12 September, 1997

September 5

A long day leaving Atlanta in the afternoon, layover hours in Salt Lake City, midnight in Anchorage, and finally Fairbanks with no baggage by 1:30am. Doris from the wonderful Fairbanks Hotel is there waiting and I crash at 2:00am (6:00am EDT).

September 6

 The hotel is a wonderful place on 3rd Avenue, just a block from the Visitor's Center and the Chena River, right in the middle of downtown shopping (beads, furs, prints, sculptures). My first appointment of the day is with JCPenney's, five blocks away, to buy jeans and a shirt to compensate for my still-lost luggage.

I spend the afternoon on the Riverboat Discovery drinking Alaskan Amber Ale and standing on the upper deck in the glorious autumn weather.

Then back to the hotel where luggage is still missing, but after a few nasty phone calls to Alaska Airlines and 45 minutes, the suitcase is finally delivered around 6:00pm. Now it's a mediocre dinner at Soapy Smith's, then to early bed around 9:30pm.

September 7

Up with the sunrise on another beautiful day, so I walk several blocks to a grocery store where, to my delight, I smell muffins. I buy two of those, a six-pack of Tab (joy!), and a pint of chocolate milk.

Although I had planned on a busy day, I decide instead to spend the day walking, window-shopping, and relaxing. I bring one of my purchased books down to the riverfront and spend an hour or two on a bench reading.

At 5:00pm, I walk over to a terrific Italian restaurant (Pasta Bella) and have tortellini with cream sauce and 2 glasses of Columbia Crest Merlot. I waddle back to the hotel and sit in the lobby watching TV, chatting with the woman behind the desk, and working on baby Jordan's new Christmas stocking. I'm to bed early again around 10:00pm.

September 8

Bright and early down at the transit depot just a few blocks from the hotel to purchase a one-day pass and catch the bus to North Pole, a small town about 12 miles east of Fairbanks. It was here that my great aunt Pauline ran a "distinguished" establishment: Pauline's Rainbow Bar. The trip is uneventful but I spend a relaxing 90 minutes at the North Pole Coffee Roasters watching the Today Show and reading the Daily News.

 Back on the bus and up to a ridge overlooking Fairbanks to the University of Alaska. Looking to the south, I join lucky others who can catch a glimpse of Mt. McKinley on this abnormally clear day. After buying a souvenir sweatshirt and a postcard to send to alumna aunt Ivette, I buy a slice of pizza at Wood Hall, finish a few more chapters in a great book and catch the afternoon bus back to the hotel.

Tomorrow will be an early and busy day so I decide to walk down to the grocery store again to stock up for the train trip and get a bit of something for dinner. Joy! Smoked oysters and Wheat Thins! I walk to the hotel happily. No, trauma and anguish! They don't open like sardine cans, they need a dratted can opener. I sit on my hotel bed not happy with my predicament. But the apples, leftover muffin, and Tab keep me sated.

That night, following earlier instructions, the guy at the lobby desk knocks on my door around midnight to say there's a great display of Northern Lights that evening. I sit on the curb outside the hotel for nearly 30 minutes -- beautiful.

September 9

 Off to the train depot to catch the 8:15am Alaska Railroad express to Denali National Park. The ride is lovely -- first through the foothills covered in yellowing birch and green spruce, then to the more rugged peaks in the Alaska Range. Again, I am one of the lucky 30% who see Mt. McKinley from the train route and am handed a souvenir "I saw Mt. McKinley" photo from one of the ARR tour guides on the train.

We arrive at noon and I'm off on a 2-hour rafting trip down the Nenana River. The weather cooperates again though the water splashing on us in our large orange coveralls is only 37 degrees. We see some of the first Dall sheep of the season high above us on a rock outcropping, but no other "wild" life to speak of.

 Back to the Denali Park Hotel and again, no luggage. So, when will I learn? This is the first trip I've taken in years when I decided to act "old" and check a bag. I have learned my lesson, no more. After 45 minutes of glaring and snide remarks (made by me) the bag is unceremoniously dumped at my feet while I'm on a pay phone to the supervisor of the idiot baggage boy.

Shower, change, then off to a big salmon dinner and two Alaskan Ambers. The weather is turning colder and cloudy, but I take a short hike down a couple of trails as the sky darkens around 9:00pm.

September 10

 A drizzly day dawns, but I head down a few more of the hiking trails. Take a few pictures, then return to the hotel for lunch and check-out. Back to the train depot for the trip back to Fairbanks at 4:15pm. While waiting on the depot porch, the ever-present tour guides play trivia contest with us. I mumble answers to the first two questions and only when the silence is deafening on the third question ("Which state is named after a president?") do I yell "Washington!" and receive my reward -- a gold painted iron railroad spike.

 Now the day is clearing again as the train chugs out of the mountains, past the Nenana River and its rapids, over the bridges, and out into the flatter hills near Fairbanks. I have a wonderful smoked salmon sandwich in the dining car, more Alaskan Amber (good stuff!) and we arrive promptly at 8:15pm. I share a taxi with two older women also heading toward the airport. The flight from Fairbanks to Anchorage-Seattle-Atlanta leaves at 11:30pm.

September 12

Try to sleep on the plane as it stops in Anchorage and Seattle and catch 30 minutes here and there. We arrive in Atlanta around 2:45pm and... you guessed it -- the bag has arrived, but the baggage cart hasn't made it. Three for three on checked baggage. The young lady in the Delta Airlines baggage claim office offers me another baggage cart she finds in the back in exchange for my lost one. Is this legal?

I go home to catch a few winks and am out until late that evening, just in time to open the door for the baggage man who delivers the cart.