Alaska

Trip Start Aug 01, 2003
1
16
Trip End Jan 27, 2004


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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Friday, August 1, 2003

Well this is it! A week in and already we have covered so much. I guess a good place to start would be with the group... (by the way our road trip covers approx 32,000+ miles!)

12 of us plus the leader - half of us going all the way to Argentina, the others leave at Quito and we have fresh blood. We have such a broad spectrum of ages - from 30 to 76!

Kevin - (28) Exodus leader - American (comes from Boston) - crazy, wild, nuts, chilled, calm. He's been travelling for 6 years and had a conversation with a guy in a bar who offered him the job. He needs someone to do his paperwork for him and we are all agreed that he needs an assistant so I am working on him to persuade him to make me his PA. He's passionate about travelling and is hardened to the outdoors. We all sleep in tents at night and he sleeps on the roof of the minibus under the stars. Even in this cold and wet weather!

Jo - (31) Good time girl from Farnborough, she's a giggle. Going all the way to Argentina.

Glenda - (37?) Complete nutter who calls herself fat bird, loves drinking and has the most wicked sense of humour in the group - she's had us in fits all week - in fact we have all said that we haven't laughed so much ever and it's none stop. Leaves us at Mexico City and joins another tour to do the South America trip.

Andrew - (40something) - Ex-city broker from Enfield - posh cockney bloke. Another one with such a sharp sense of humour and he and Glenda feed each other the funniest lines. He's a good bloke with a heart of gold. This is his 5th Exodus trip in the last year! Going all the way too.

Sally - (30) The baby of the group - GP from Southampton - really sweet and peaceful to be around - Sharing a tent with Sally at the moment as neither of us want to share with Glenda as she snores like a horse! Going all the way to Argentina.

Rob - (late thirties) - Well read, well educated, looks like a rugby player, sounds like Colin Firth (we call him Nancy) - his sarcasm is to die for and he constantly takes the rise out of everyone, particularly the Americans which goes right over their heads. Good value and great to have around when in public. Think he leaves at Mexico City.

A lot of people are leaving jobs or have been made redundant and have grabbed the opportunity to take time out. Some are on their own personal journey's but then aren't we all.

Adam - (early thirties) - Works for the government. Very quiet but soaks up all of the information so if we have any questions about the sights we are seeing who can call up all the history and stories behind everything.

Betty (Mum) & Geoff (sounds like George Fornby) - (late 60's) - Going on to Antartica after Argentina - They are incredible. Spend a lot of time travelling and doing these trips. They've been everywhere and are old hands at the living in the wilderness lark. Betty does the boys washing and sews buttons etc. Looks after us when we have hangovers!

Bob & Hazel - (late sixties) - Stange couple. Have done a lot of this kind of thing and are quite set in their ways. Keep themselves to themselves but are starting to warm to the group. Bob has a very abrupt way of delivering his conversation and he has pissed most of us off already but we're trying to coax him in to chilling out a bit and he's starting to warm up. Leaving us at Mexico.

Sonia (Mama Toast) - (76!) - Lives most of the time in Portugal - has been everywhere and is fitter than most of us youngens - She's absolutely ickle and sleeps in the back of the bus every night. We call her Mama Toast cos she stays by the gas rings in the morning to keep warm and keeps everyone plied with toast.

So, that's the 13. All crammed into a tiny air conditioned mini-bus and camping our way around Alasaka and Canada.

Ok, what have we been up to. Having the most fantastic time by the way and I feel as if I have been doing this for months already. Settled in to it straight away. We have 6 weeks of camping outdoors and then have 17 days in hotels (we're all looking forward to it already). In two man tents and have got setting up camp down to a fine art. Can already put up a tent in 10 minutes. It's been really cold in Alaska to the point where you can't even get undressed to get into your sleeping back, and it's been raining hard to everything gets wet as well as cold. It's been a really tough way to break in but Kevin assures us that the worst is over. Nothing like hitting the ground running. Starting to warm up already as we move down to Canada - even have sunburn on my face.

Flight out from Heathrow went via Chicago where I stopped for a transfer. Freak thunderstorms in the windy city meant that all planes were grounded for 5 hours. Amazing storms to watch out of the window. Finally flew in to Anchorage at midnight on Friday (the sun was still shining through the plane windows at 11pm!). 20 hours of daylight per day in Alaska at the moment which makes it feel like we have two mornings (one at 6am and one at 6pm). Alaska is 9 hours behind the UK and I got badly jet lagged. I was so tired on the Chicago to Anchorage flight as it was 3am in the morning and they were serving dinner at 7pm - this is how bad things were, I couldn't even eat my plane meal and you know how much I love those!

I was due to check in to the hotel at about 7pm where the group were meeting for a pre-departure meeting but I missed it. So went to my room and tried to sleep. Couldn't. During the storm at Chicago the bags had been left out on the tarmac as the lightening was too dangerous for people to be working out there. So by the time I got my back pack unpacked I discovered that everything it it had got soaked through. My sleeping bag, clothes etc so I spent a good couple of hours trying to dry everything out with a hairdryer! Knew it would be my only opportunity for a while to be able to dry things. Kept me busy I guess. Finished that and got into bed and suddenly felt incredibly home sick but only because I hadn't met with the group yet so was in no man's land.

Everyone made me feel really welcome and I felt instantly settled. We mooched around Anchorage for a while before driving to the Denali National Park where we set up camp. Denali is 6 million acres large! The weather was wet and cold but on the first day there we took a 3 mile ranger guided walk and took in the scenery... rivers and lakes (learnt what an Oxbow lake is - where a river breaks it's back at one point and some water shoots off into a small lake beside the river and becomes its own entity). Forest walk covered Black and White spruce trees plus squirrel mittens (they have their own territory and live in streets - all of their relations each living alongside each other. Got up close to a beaver dam and watched a live dog sled (huskies) demonstration.

Next day we took a bus deep into the park and spotted about 7 Grisley bears and 13 Caribou (reindeer), 1 Moose and lots of Doll Sheep. The deal is that we stay in the bus but the windows come down so you can look at the wildlife through binoculars (brilliant). What struck me the most was how incredible it was to see these animals in their natural environment. Strolling across creeks and rivers, foraging for food, mum with her bear cubs in tow and then two Caribou cross their path and you watch them tentatively as they check each other out then pass on by. Very special to observe.

The mountains are unbelievable. They roll on for miles and miles and miles until they disappear in a haze on the horizon. The scale is vast and it is standard to see glacier capped mountains in the background that look like chocolate bourbon biscuits dusted with icing sugar, in front of that are rust and yellow striped mountains that in contrast show blazing colour and in front of that...rich green hills that cascade down to a dried up creek of grey stone and pebbles.

After Denali we set off for some more driving via Paxson Lake where we stopped for a picnic lunch. Everyone crashes out in the bus at the moment. Probably getting over jet lag but you can't complain of boredom on the long journeys (up to 400 miles on moving on days to make up the 17,000 miles we will cover). You cannot help but be constantly impressed but what is out the window.

We stop occasionally at overlooks to take in the stunning views and look at waterfalls and glaciers (climbed into the cracks of one the other day) it's so impressive.

We moved on to a town called Valdez (still in Alaska) where, in 1882, a drunken captain set out in his oil tanker which spilled over just outside the mouth of the sea into the port. Very quickly Valdez become more densely populated as people moved in to the town to volunteer their help in the clean up. Now it is thriving as it relies on tourists to visit and take out fishing boats. By the way, it's Salmon season in Alaska at the moment so a lot of people have come up from Canada and the States for fishing weekends.

A quick beer in the evening (with the Motley Crew; Kevin, Jo Jo, Glenda, Andrew and Sally) turned into a mammoth session of southern comfort on the rocks and shooting pool which took us into 5am in the morning. Staggered back to our tents where we slipped into temporary comas only to get up again at 7am to go Kayaking!

In Valdez we took a day boat trip to go Kayaking through Columbia Glacier. The boat took us 4 hours out along the coast where we saw icebergs and sea otters basking in the sun (it's warming up now). From the boat we lowered ourselves into the Kayaks (Jo Jo and I paired up) and off we glided toward the glacier. I love Kayaking! Once you get the co-ordination right and the steering under the control and are in sync with each other then you can really motor. But all you can hear are the paddles slicing the water and the occasional low voices coming from the others who are spread out on their own journey toward the glacier.

We stopped at a beach where we had lunch and took a walk into a hidden lake and forest. Back in the Kayaks we then embarked on a beautiful and awe inspiring experience as we drifted into the glacier. This glacier was enormous. The toe of the glacier which was 8 miles away but looked a lot closer was actually 4 miles wide. So we are looking at this wall of ice and thinking it looks so small, it just doesn't compute when you see it. The 8 miles in between is also covered in moving ice and we kayak on the periphery where relatively small icebergs are coming away from the glacier. This enables us to meander in and around the floating chunks of ice (the size of cars). Jo Jo and I drift off down our own streets and bring our paddles in to listen to the sounds around us.... an eerie silence and the tinkle of crackling ice and drip drops of water melting from the tips and dropping into the water. the ice chunks are so blue (due to the compression of ice squeezing out all of the oxygen makes the blue so vivid - I believe that this is also because the ice absorbs all of the colours of the rainbow except blue which it reflects). I can't even do it justice by describing how stunning it was.

Reluctantly we made our way back to the boat where the guys on the boat had been catching salmon and halibut all day. They cooked us up the fresh fish which we ate out of our cold hands on the way back to the port. Big sigh!!!!!
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