Last year about this time the people of University Baptist Church expressed their generosity to Melinda and me by giving us an Alaskan Cruisetour with the Princess line. It was a going away present after our partnership of nearly 23 years. I have told people they gave it to me for leaving, but that doesn’t sound quite right.
After a year of waiting and anticipating, the day finally came. On Sunday we drove from Waco to Dallas, flew on Alaskan Air from DFW to Seattle and then on to Fairbanks. When we left Seattle we were greeted with some amazing sights of huge mountain peaks protruding through the solid cloud cover and into the blue sky through which we were flying.
We were taken to the Fairbanks Princess Lodge at about 10:00 PM. It was still broad daylight, and remained so until nearly 1:00 AM. It never really did get dark.
Today, June 21, is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. The people of Fairbanks celebrate that big time. Yesterday they held a huge fun run (Midnight Sun Run) and tonight some semi-pro baseball players will play a traditional game beginning at 10:30 and played past midnight with no lights. At midnight they’ll pause to sing the Alaskan flag song and then continue with the game.
Fairbanks is a city in a valley of about 35,000 proper, with another 97,000 or so living in the surrounding hills. It is Alaska’s second largest city, behind Anchorage. Today was a beautiful sunny day, with temps in the upper 70s. It can reach 90 in the summer and -60 in the winter. We are only 200 miles form the Arctic Circle.
This morning we met with our tour group for breakfast and then went by bus to the river boat dock where we boarded the Discovery III, run by a family who has been steering stern-wheelers up and down the Chena, Tanana, and Yukon Rivers for 110 years. We paddled down stream for an hour and a half to where the Chena and Tanana Rivers joined.
Along the way we stopped beside the home of Steve Butcher, a musher and sled dog trainer who lives with his daughters in a log cabin beside the river. Steve’s wife, Susan, is a legend. She won the grueling Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race four out of five years in 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1990. She died of leukemia in 2006. Steve did a demonstration of his dog training and talked to us from the shore via radio. Later, when we returned, Lance Mackey, a four-time Iditarod winner and the current musher superstar was on the dock to greet us.
We watched a bush pilot take off and land his Piper Supercub on the Chena River and we ate some smoked salmon with cream cheese. We also docked at a replica of an Athabascan Indian village and debarked to visit the place.
After lunch Melinda and I took a shuttle to downtown Fairbanks and went on a walking tour of the city for a couple of hours, stopping for some freshly roasted coffee at McCafferty’s in downtown. Tonight we have a three course meal awaiting us and then we’ll hang out beside the river for another glimpse of the Midnight Sun.
Tomorrow morning we board a train for a four hour trip to Denali National Park. If we are blessed with another beautiful day like today, we will be able to see the mountain (Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley) that is often cloaked in a mist. More tomorrow.