The sun briefly set and quickly rose again. It started off as another work morning and we were in the trailer for a while before we checked out of the campground. Since it was close to lunchtime, we were on our food crawl for our one big meal of the day. We weren’t too far from the University Alaska Fairbanks, which meant that there were lots of food options nearby. We decided that we wanted pizza and found College Town Pizzeria on College Rd. It was fairly busy around town: people riding bikes or walking. Some college kids were having their weekend gathering with friends. Inside College Town Pizzeria hung pennants from other colleges far away: University of Florida Gators and University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Perhaps the best part of the establishment, besides the pizza, was their logo, which was a Boston Terrier, wearing a graduate cap. I wonder if he was a University of Alaska grad.
While we were in the parking lot getting ready to leave, I noticed these electrical plugs coming out from the front of the grills on the cars. It made you wonder if these drivers were carrying vacuum cleaners or other household appliances under their hood. Almost every car that drove by now had them. I hadn’t noticed them before, but Thomas said he had. Thomas and his usual thinking way realized that the cords were from engine warmers. It gets that cold here that you need an engine warmer. Brrr.
Along the way we drove past a town called North Pole. Naturally, a town called that would have a place called Santa Claus House. In 1952, Con and Nellie Miller had a vision that North Pole should have a Santa Clause House. After some time, they purchased a 42-foot tall Santa Claus that is adjacent to the building, making them both EXTREMELY visible from the highway. When we drove near Santa Claus House, I tried to take a picture in landscape mode and accidently hit the volume button on the side of my iPhone. I forgot this button also serves as a shutter. Therefore, while I was trying to take the picture of the giant Santa Claus, it sounded like an automatic weapon and I still ended up missing him. I did a drive by at the North Pole and I still didn’t shoot Santa Claus.
As we continued, we drove past so many state parks and recreation areas. Alaska is an outdoorsy dream. You could swim, fish and camp almost everywhere. It was a warm bright Saturday and a lot of people were already frolicking at the parks from what we could see. In the one stretch of highway between Fairbanks and Tok (our destination), it seemed like there was a park almost every mile. When I have spoken with a locals, they have all expressed how much they appreciate the summer as a break from the extremes of the winter. If you have to plug your car up to start, it is easy to understand why you would be want to be outside in the sun.
In a town called Salcha, we ended up pulling over for yet another killer view. It was a pull thru with a guardrail with a pretty steep drop off. Instead of a rocky drop, this decline down the hill was bursting with short trees and wild green grass dotted with flowers. From this vantage point, we were further away from the mountains than we have normally been when making these stops. Thomas was working on a panoramic shot and this view met most of his criteria. At the bottom of the green hill was water. Beyond that was a patch of more trees and green grass than water and a mud flat as far as the eye could see. Repeat until you reach more trees and the mountains. On this particular day, the sky was a lively blue that made the cumulous clouds practically pop out of the sky.
Clearly our travels are made up of frequent and unexpected stops. Things catch your eye that you want to capture and share. Our next such visual investigation was a small shed like structure that was a head turner. I find that Thomas and I often are on the same page for stops and we agreed that it was worth turning back around for. There was no “private property” sign posted near by or “no trespassing.” Thomas backed into the pseudo driveway and we got out. With cameras in hand we walked over to the worn brown and white washed structure partly surrounded by pointy pine trees. I walked closer through the super saturated grass. Around the structure was a make shift moat or at least that is what it reminded me of. The door was open and you could see how neglected it was. This structure now looks like it only housed randomness. I kept my distance and refrained from walking inside. It was hard to assess the structural integrity and the last thing I needed was to let my curiosity cause be the cause of harm.
Following this diversion, we travel to Delta Junction. In a way, Delta Junction is my motivation for this entire trip and documentary. As the official end of the Alaskan Highway, there is a monument that marks the conclusion of the 1422-mile stretch of highway. My grandparents would have stood in this exact spot had they not been turned around in British Columbia by a June snow storm decades ago. I now stand at this place where they could not. We were filming and Thomas was giving me direction. As I listened and tried to follow his direction, I thought about everything. I thought about how this idea has gotten me to this moment and how much I have wanted to do this for them. Feelings of joy and relief and other emotions I could not describe all rushed over me. I was overwhelmed.
I manage to get myself together. Thomas was kind enough to give me this time. I felt embarrassed because I felt so vulnerable. Low flying birds served as a distraction and I was fine. We took some stills at the marker and we left. From this point on we would be on the Alaska Highway until the town of Tok. Further down the road we did some additional filming on the nearly empty highway and I briefly got behind the wheel. As the sun slowly moved across the sky we approached a white truss style bridge that was beautiful in its own right, but what made it significant was the sign before it that read “Black Veterans Memorial Bridge.” I only slightly recalled reading about this during research for the trip. Quickly I got on my phone and looked it up. Built in 1944, it was renamed in 1993 as a tribute to the African American soldiers of the Army and the Corps of Engineers for their contribution in constructing the Alaska Highway.
108 miles later we arrive in Tok. The plan was to stop there for the night. It made since in the beginning. While we stopped to gas up, Thomas asks, “How are you doing?” I assumed he was referring to my show of emotion at the Alaska Highway monument. Apparently that question was code for “Can you hang any longer?” Thomas was thinking that perhaps we should push past Tok if we could physically stand it. His reasoning was that we should shorten the distance between Anchorage and us. At some point we tossed around the idea of ditching the RV a day sooner and renting a car to go south of Anchorage quickly. I said I could hang, or at least I thought I could. With this extension of a drive now approved, we go inside the gas station for snacks. Fueled by peanuts and trail mix, soft drinks and stuffs, and a few more off road stops, we ended up going another 3 ½ plus hours. The sky was now a little darker and the driving ended in Nelchina around 2:50 a.m. when we pulled into Slide Mountain Cabins and RV Park. We parked and checked to see if there was any sign on the office door about late registration. There was no information, but I figured we were ok to stay, we weren’t going anywhere, and we were good for the money. I am guessing a lot of people just pull on down there when they can’t hang anymore. I think it took less than 10 minutes to go to sleep. It could have been a record.