Continuing to spend their children's inheritance, on 4 June 2007, Grandma Bert and Grandpa Roy flew to Alaska, making a short stop to change planes in Anchorage and then continuing on to Fairbanks, from where their journey through the wilds (and not-so-wilds) of Alaska would begin. It was hot when they arrived in Fairbanks, 84 degrees. Grandma was worried that she had brought all the wrong clothes.
Grandpa had packed the liner to his jacket at the last moment and now wondered if it would be just extra weight to lug around for the next 2 weeks. As it turned out, they had not packed the wrong things and had brought just the right clothes, because except for that first evening, temperatures dropped!
After arriving at the hotel, Grandma and Grandpa were given their tour package by their tour director for the land portion of the trip. They had bought tour 18 with Holland America Lines, a tour that turned out to be so popular that it was broken into two subgroups. Grandma and Grandpa were in tour group 18A, along with their newfound friends from New York, Asher and Susan Banks. As it turned out, Asher had worked at one time for General Electric, the company that now owns the facility where Grandma Bert works.
Following a light dinner in the hotel dining room, rather expensive by standards in the "Lower 48" because all food is imported from elsewhere and there is only a 2 weeks supply in the whole state at any one time, your grandparents went to bed. It was nearly 10:00 p.m. (after midnight at home!) and it was still daylight! Grandma tried to fill the areas around the room's curtains in order to make it darker. Grandpa had brought two sleeping masks, but Grandma didn't want one. It helped Grandpa sleep, but he was aware he had it on all night. There were only about 2 hours of darkness, and those hours weren't really too dark.
Having finished breakfast the next morning, your grandparents took a bus to the steamboat landing on the Chena River where they boarded the Riverboat Discovery, a paddle wheeler that would take them into the wilds of central Alaska.
During their trip, they watched a bush pilot take off from and land back on the river. Later, another bush pilot airplane landed on a sandbar and then take off from there.
Grandma and Grandpa also stopped to watch dog sled teams being trained by the husband of the late Susan Butcher, who had won the Iditarod Dog Sled Race from Anchorage to Nome four times before her death from leukemia in 2006. The Iditarod is the world's longest dog sled race, stretching 1,100 miles over snow-covered terrain.
Another stop was at the Chena Indian village, where there were demonstrations during the guided tour of everything from training of dogs, through the preparation of food for the long, cold winters, to making clothing using skins of Alaskan animals.
The riverboat entered the Tanana River, the largest glacier-fed stream in the world, which was filled with silt in many places. It was on one of these silt-filled "sand bars" the bush pilot landed his airplane for the passengers and then took off again. The paddle wheeler turned around and after the stop at the Chena Indian village, returned to the steamboat landing, where Grandpa tried the excellent ice cream and Grandma Bert did her first shopping in Alaska.
The weather forecast had called for another day in the 80s, but as it turned out, the temperature never got above 70, plus it sprinkled some of the time. This first full day in Alaska turned out to be about the warmest, too, except for a couple afternoons later in the week.
The bus departed the boat landing and took tour 18A members to Gold Dredge number 8, where they had a delicious lunch of old fashioned stew in the old mess hall and a tour of the dredge, a large electric-powered monster that mined gold until some years ago when the dredges became both too expensive to operate and were forced to shut down for ecological reasons.
After learning how the dredge operated, your grandparents panned for gold the old fashioned way, actually finding $17.76 in gold dust that Grandma had made into a locket for herself.
On the way back to Fairbanks, they viewed the Alaska pipeline, which transports oil from the Alaskan oil fields to the sea, where it is then loaded onto tankers and shipped to the Lower 48. The pipeline is above ground much of its length to keep it from damaging the permafrost that lays below and to allow animals to migrate without it hindering their progress.
That evening, your grandparents and the Banks took a walk around Fairbanks, eating a late supper at an Italian restaurant. They finished supper after 9:00 p.m. and still could not get used to the fact that it looked like 4:00 p.m. on a July day at home. The evening was rather warm, so they ate outside.
On their walk they saw such things as an ice museum, a surprisingly high number of closed hotels, and more.
The next morning, your grandparents boarded the McKinley Explorer train that would take them on a 4-hour journey through the wilds of Alaska in a raised, domed rail car. A guide on board the car warned travelers when something of interest was approaching, and the side of the car it would be on. And everyone looked for wildlife, with screams of "three o'clock!" if something was seen out the right side of the train, or "nine o'clock!" if seen out the windows on the left side. It was a beautiful trip, ending at the main entrance to Denali National Park (formerly called Mount McKinley National Park).
After arriving, the checked into their very nice room where they would stay for the next two nights at the McKinley Chalet Resort a few minutes drive from the entrance to the park.
Once they have found thier cabin, your grandparents took a helicopter flight to a glacier, where they landed and explored for a short time. The flight was supposed to take them to land on a glacier on Mt. McKinley, but the weather was too poor around North America's highest mountain for a safe flight there and back.
Very early the next morning, 7 June, your grandparents took a Tundra Wilderness Tour by bus, deep into Denali National Park, where they saw many wild animals through their binoculars.
During the ride, some wolves that walked right past their bus.
Your beautiful grandmother was able to get some very good photos of Dall sheep during the tour. Altogether, your grandparents saw, in addition to many Dall sheep, a female grizzly bear and her cub, those wolves, elk, moose, fox, golden eagles, ground squirrels, and snow!
Yes, it snowed. And they walked in it and its accompanying high wind at several of the rest stops the bus made along the way into and back out of the park. The narrow road wound and twisted its way up hills and gave your grandfather palpitations from time-to-time. The trip into the park and back had lasted 8 hours, but they returned to the resort by 1:00 p.m.
After a short rest, Grandma Bert convinced Grandpa Roy to take the short bus ride to the park visitor center, which was only recently opened. They viewed the exhibits there and then returned to the resort, where they took a walk along the trails there before finally getting supper and packing for the next day's departure.
The next morning, 8 June, your grandparents caught the McKinley Explorer train for the long 8-hour trip to Anchorage. Just as the shorter trip from Fairbanks to Denali, the scenery was beautiful, but Grandpa was happy finally to get off the train and into the Hilton Hotel in Anchorage.
The following morning, your grandparents had some free time before they were to catch the bus to leave Anchorage, so they visited the open-air market across the street, where they purchased some souvenirs
and watched the world's strongest woman tear a telephone book in half.
From Anchorage they rode several hours further south to the Seward Windsong Lodge, where they spent their last night ashore before the cruise portion of their adventure. Along the way, they saw a town that was totally destroyed and never rebuilt after the 1964 Alaskan earthquake
and they visited a farm in the same area where injured and sick Alaskan wildlife are rehabilitated. They also learned that the Alaska had just had one of the coldest months of March in its history, so the mosquitoes only now were starting to appear. This fact explained why there had been so few mosquitos so far during the trip.
They visited several shops in the town of Seward, had supper in one of the town's better known restaurants and later enjoyed some Italian ice cream before returning to the lodge.
After spending the night outside Seward at the lodge, your grandparents took a walk the morning of 10 June inland along the Resurrection River until time to turn around and go back so they could catch their ride aboard a small boat for their tour of the Kenai Fjords National Park.
This boat was to allow them to see the wildlife in the fjord, which included hundreds of seals, killer whales, seagulls, a black bear, and puffins, a fat bird with small wings that flies really, really fast!
In addition, your grandparents were taken to the Aialik glacier which was calving. "Calving" is the process of large chunks of ice falling from a glacier as the weight of this continuously moving river of ice, sometimes a mile or more wide and several hundred feet "deep" forces the glacier forward. When a glacier calves, a clap is heard that sounds like thunder.
The little boat stayed a mile away from the glacier for safety, so the moment the "thunder" was heard, the ice already had broken away 5 seconds earlier and most likely was splashing into the water. The glacier your grandparents saw was so high that the ice appeared to fall in slow motion.
After viewing the glacier, the boat was to return the passengers to Seward so they could board the Statendam, the Holland America Line ship on which your grandparents were scheduled to sail.
As it turned out, the company who owned the little boat had three vessels in the water that day, and the second one broke down near the glacier. A rescue then took place. The third company boat took on as many passengers as it was allowed and then pulled away for the return to Seward. The boat on which your grandparents were passengers then pulled alongside to take on the remaining 47 passengers. It took some minutes to pull alongside and hook up to the other boat. Afterwards, their boat towed the crippled boat close to the shore where it anchored to await repair or towing by a larger boat.
This process was quite time-consuming and by the time your grandparents boarded the cruise ship, their names already had been called at the lifeboat drill. After racing aboard, your grandparents grabbed their life preservers and joined the crowds on the drill deck where they finally were marked "present."
Supper the first night aboard the Statendam was quite informal, the only time your grandfather on any cruise ever wore blue jeans in the dining room. All-in-all, it was probably the most interesting day of your grandparents whole vacation.