Not your average travel blog
Clearly a blogging mix up in the last post, written by either a randy drunk or a lethargic halucenogenist. A cup of tea and a hearty breakfast sorts any Englishman out.
Travelling 136 miles east from Cantwell, the Denali Highway is 90% unpaved and climbs into and along the mountains of the Central Alaska Range. After a satiating omelette and a decent brew, KP steadily handled the chariot, while I enjoyed the bumpy but scenic ride. The road was empty as I checked on the flora, fauna, scoured slopes and distant glaciers, and the rains seemed content to soak the mountain sides, and not us.
At the end of the highway, we thought Paxson might be a small town with maybe fuel and a coffee, but there was nothing more than a derelict hotel, a couple of rusted, disconnected gas pumps, and a pile of wooden slats which were once a rustic cabin by the side of the road. It is too remote for squatters and no haven for an RV park, so it is desolate and simply a place where one gravel highway meets a paved one. If you can romanticise about roads…their meeting seems fortuitous, where all else has left and given up. However, there is nothing to admire and we pondered only what had led to the hotel’s downfall. Maybe she felt like the third wheel, to the two highway’s connection. I quickly stopped thinking about the affection of roads and jealous hotels and rejoined the real world. I took over behind the wheel, and began the drive west.
A detour we weren’t going to take, but possibly the most fun I’ve had driving so far. The experience of negotiating the Denali Highway is like kissing a new lover for the first time, who is competently aware of how to kiss. You know what it’s generally all about and you’re familiar with all the controls, but like the surprise of a full stocking on Christmas morning, this time it’s totally more fun than it should be, and you want more… The road was a little more dangerous than those more infamous northern tracks, the pot holes towards the east were wicked on the wheels, the wooden bridges are only one car width wide, the back end slid around like a drunk spider trying to climb out of a bath tub, some of the gravel verges were softer than a mink’s pelt and although enjoying his retirement, KP may have been biting his lip, reaching for a hold, and wincing as I drove us home. It wasn’t all Whacky Races though. We talked a lot as usual, stopped repeatedly for views, contemplative leg stretching and possibly a little lunging, fishing, and KP’s trailer of morning dreams – The Sluce Box – for obligatory gas, coffee, and the biggest home made cinnamon roll…or three…you’ve ever seen. It was the only manned stop on the 136 mile track. It had a run way and a selection of native gifts which were, for once genuine (bear claw necklaces, multiple hide clothing for the winter months, carved mammal bone and antler, even some whale penis. It wasn’t full of the usual plastic bumf you see at all the other stops. The only other existing man-places on the highway were two fishing lodges with a few, unsympathetically positioned, tiny cabins. Wives send their husbands here knowing they’d be remote enough to avoid getting into holiday trouble. Here, there is nothing but north country.
I treated my slightly relieved copilot to spicy beans and sausages for dinner, and some calming evening tea. We’re camping by the river in a very bear friendly spot. There are fresh berries on the bushes, ripe for the picking (a favourite seasonal and cultural survival chore and for both the bears and natives which live here). Blueberries are in abundance, cranberries make an appearance, some rosehip-looking ovals frivolously hang from dense bush, as do some unfamiliar red spheres just outside our back door. We’re smart enough not to take our chances, but bear, moose, deer and possibly my little ponies do often wander by in the night (honestly, we’ve seen wild horse signs). We see their territory marked when we get up at dawn to stretch our legs. At the moment, I’m sad with a stiff upper lip, and still mildly hopeful that I’ll see a summer-illusive caribou, although I haven’t spotted their pooh yet, so I’m not entirely optimistic.
Tomorrow we venture into Denali National Park and Preserve, and I have my fingers crossed for the normally cloud-draped mountains to beckon a few breezes. I’d like to see North America’s highest mountain peak…