Rhonda and I had been on the road less than twenty minutes Saturday morning when we topped a rise just past Cantwell and were greeted by this welcoming sight.
In a mostly gloomy sky, crowded with dark clouds promising rain or worse, there was suddenly the mood-lifting phenomenon in the distance that my Mom used to call a “glory hole”. A glimpse through the darkness to the light above.
My heart lightening, I put my foot to the pedal and headed towards the light!
As I knew would surely happen when I began this adventure, as we continued journeying north, the skies steadily brightened.
Once we passed the entrance to Denali National Park, the change was dramatic.
The rest of the drive north to Fairbanks was one big smile after another as the sky became bluer and the temperature elevated. By the time I stopped for lunch in Nenana, I was all but floating away on a bubble of 70F happy sauce.
In spite of several stops for rest, photo ops, potty walks and snacks – Rhonda and I were settled into our campsite at River’s Edge RV Park, along the beautiful Chena River in Fairbanks, by 3:00 pm on Saturday.
Talkeetna is a fun place to stop in late August and if it had not been raining, I might’ve been tempted. The worst of the summer tourists have moved on, most of the shops and cafes are still open, and the town folk are mostly friendly.
However, as I bopped along the Parks Hwy and approached the Talkeetna cut-off, windshield wipers swishing steadily, this turn in the road held little appeal. Nope, that’s gonna be a hard pass. It was raining as hard here as it had been at home.
More determined than ever, I drove on. My weather apps all indicated warmer temperatures and no rain … if I could just drive far enough north.
My only goal this day was to outrun the rain before I stopped for the night. I wasn’t sure how realistic the goal was – the weather was lousy and I was running on flagging energy reserves.
As you can plainly see from these screenshots … the sun WAS out there. So, onward I traveled, slowly but surely driving towards a break in the gloom.
Trapper creek was another possible stopping point for the night. The Trapper Creek Inn and RV Park was, I knew from previous stays, quiet and woodsy, with ample drive-thru sites and full hook-ups if I wanted them.
But no … darn it. Although the rain had lightened in intensity by the time I passed through Trapper Creek, it continued to fall, so I pushed on, giving the charming but very damp RV Park a regretful glance in passing.
At this point, I knew the foothills of the Alaska Range were in the distance and would normally be a lovely sight about now, but I might as well have been in “Anywhere, USA”. Dark clouds obscured any glimpse of mountains.
It wasn’t until I was actually starting up the first pass and saw the small brown sign announcing entry into Denali National Park and Preserve that I realized I was nearing my next two options for an overnight stop.
With windshield wipers on a slower tempo, but still in use, I decided to stop for a rest break and potty walk at Denali View South. It was only sprinkling, I reasoned with myself. Maybe it would stop.
A short, brisk walk brought me to the [usually] breathtaking stone platform high above the expanse of forest encompassing the huge nature preserve. On a good day, the panoramic vista of the entire Alaska Range, featuring Denali front and center, would draw oohs and ahhs from the admiring throngs. Today, the gloomy view elicited a disgusted “Bleh” from me.
Clouds, clouds and more clouds – not a mountain in sight. Rhonda gave an equally disgusted shake of her whole body, pointing out that the sprinkle was quickly turning back into rain – and she was getting wet!
K’esugi Ken State Campground (one of my favorites) was just up the road from Denali View South and turned out to be no drier, so Rhonda and I motored on. This was turning into a long, wet day.
On the bright side (very literally), twenty minutes later, I was finally beginning to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel/rainstorm. Look closely at the horizon – I wasn’t sure whether to be thrilled or horrified. I could see the first signs of blue beyond the storm clouds … but, oh geez. Is that snow I’m heading towards?
With the rain seemingly behind me, it felt prudent to go ahead and find someplace to pull in for the night before heading any higher in elevation. It might be sunny and warm in Fairbanks, but I needed to climb higher before descending into Alaska’s Interior. Tomorrow would be soon enough.
With 160 miles to my final destination, I pulled into a Rest Area about 15 miles south of Cantwell, Alaska. Not exactly a campground, but there was an attached, way-side behind the Rest Area, which is a sort of an unofficial free camping area.
After slowly idling through the small way-side loop, noting a travel-trailer and two tent campers already settled in for the evening, I deemed it good enough.
Choosing site #10, I parallel parked on a happily level, paved pad, with my RV facing towards the highway. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to be ready for a quick departure if needs must.
We even had our own picnic table and fire pit, although having seen a rather large brown bear just off the road’s edge only a mile back, we eschewed eating dinner in the woods. One quick potty walk later and Ronni and I were safely locked in for the night.
Pleasant thoughts of dry, sunny Fairbanks lulled me into a blissful sleep. We would be there tomorrow.
Last Friday dawned, if you can call it that, with clouds so low they touched the treetops. The rain, having been a persistent if unwelcome companion for most of the past three weeks, continued to pound relentlessly outside my window.
I’d been stuck at home, recovering from covid, for the past week. I had napped a lot, worked some simple jigsaw puzzles (little ones that I could do on a lap table), listened to a series of Audible books by Dana Stabenow and spent time spinning. And listened to the blasted rain.
Fortunately, it was a fairly mild case of covid. Some super-meds and an inhaler were kicking the last of the cough and lung congestion, leaving me mostly just tired.
On Friday, my doctor told me (via tele-med) I was no longer contagious and just needed to finish out the round of medications and recover my strength. “Stay warm”, he cautioned, “and take care of yourself”.
I looked again with disgust at the rain smeared window. Oh, I was so sick of the rain.
I noticed the multitude of various shapes and sizes of mushrooms sprouting not only in the dripping undergrowth along the driveway, but right out of the soggy gravel driveway itself. I eyed Baxter’s and Rhonda’s raincoats hanging in the mud room to dry. It was all too much.
Enough already! I felt as though I was about to start growing mushrooms in my lungs if I had to breathe any more of this miserable, chilly, moist air.
I marched into the living room, where Jerry was ensconced in his recliner, watching a rerun of Battle-Bots, and announced that I was heading out to find sunshine and warm air so I could feel better.
He laughed and said, “Good luck with that!” And then did a double take when he realized I meant it.
He asked if I felt good enough to drive, and when I said I’d pull off the road and rest when I got tired, he nodded and asked one last question. “Do you actually think you can find any?”
It was a legitimate question. I had already checked the weather forecast for all of my favorite destinations. It was not just raining at home – it was either currently raining or about to rain (again) in Anchorage, Whittier, Seward, Cooper Landing, Soldotna, Kenai, Ninilchik, Homer, Valdez, Talkeetna, and Trapper Creek.
The forecast pretty much everywhere was for continuing rain for the next ten days.
I donned my raincoat, tucked Rhonda under my arm, and nodded.
“Yep”, I replied. “It’s sunny and 70° in Fairbanks.”
Of course, pretty much anyone who knows me knows I wasn’t likely to make it to Fairbanks in one day, even at my healthiest. Heck, I didn’t start out until two in the afternoon.
It was a long, wet drive, but at least I was heading the right direction. I knew there was sunshine and warm temperatures to the north.
Planning a camping trip reminds me of blowing up a big red balloon. The more you blow, the bigger it gets, all shiny and full of … hot air. 🎈
Let go of the balloon at this point and it shoots all over the room, exhaling air with a loud “Phuuuu!” and landing, limp and empty, on the floor.
Prick the shiny, full balloon carelessly with a misplaced needle and with a loud “Pop!”, it explodes in your hands, leaving you with naught but a bit of ragged red rubber for all your effort.
But, with a deft twist of your fingers and a gentle tug, you could have a big, beautiful, shiny red balloon that will last for days, bringing smiles and happiness.
Say, what? Where is this going?
Really though, isn’t this true? It is for me. When I first start planning an RV trip, it’s like beginning to blow up a party balloon – it fills my mind with anticipation and happy expectations. The more I expand my plan, the bigger my [virtual] balloon grows. Oh, so pretty!
If my plans fall through, for whatever reason, I can almost feel the air expelling from my balloon … “Phuuuu.” Disappointing, but hey, the balloon is still there. I can pick another date and try again.
Sometimes my plans are coming along like gangbusters, everything is looking bright and shiny, and then someone or something comes along and “Pop!” I find my careful, happy plans suddenly and unexpectedly laying in tatters at my feet. I really dislike sudden, abrupt “Pops!”.
But if I’m lucky, my plans might all come together; the weather cooperates, the pantry is full of yummy stuff, my spinning wheel is safely stashed and a happy dachshund is manning the navigator’s post … if all that happens, you might just see me careening joyfully down the highway, big shiny red [virtual] balloons dancing behind me on strings made of hand spun yarn tied to my bumper!