We wake to the cold and rain from the night before. It was Tuesday and that meant time to evacauate Seward and head back up to Anchorage (yes, they have had a tsunami). Our flight wasn’t until 11:50 pm but there was a still a lot to do. Seward really is not far from Anchorage if you don’t make a bunch of stops. The trip is technically only 2 ½ hours. On the way down, we managed to make it over 4 hours. With the long day ahead of us, we made sure to take advantage of our complimentary breakfast. The Today show was on the TV and I watched as I consumed the pile of square scrambled eggs, a bowl of cereal, an English muffin and turkey sausage, all washed down with coffee. I was hungry. This was our last attempt to pack our suitcases back to their original flight conditions. I stare at my opened suitcase and wonder why it always seems like you can never get your suitcase contents back in there as originally packed.
The Mazda is packed up. On the way out of Seward, we meander about one more time taking a road we had yet to travel. This particular road was one that took us further along the waterfront. As we glanced to our right, we noticed that there was huge waterfront campground with lines of RVs of all shapes and sizes hugging the harbor, capped by tents. I would have never known that there was a campground, let alone how full it would be. As small as the town is, we missed a lot last night. It is all starting to come together. I wish we had had the RV. Of all the campgrounds, this would have been the primo place to be had we been able to get a spot.
Not too much further down the road, we made a few stops. I wanted to get a picture of the National Park Service sign for Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center, which is based in Seward. This close proximity of the National Park may also explain the onslaught of visitors: a seaport, a national park, etc. Argh! There is never enough time!! You could easily stay in Alaska for a month and see something different every day.
Across the street was a "Before I die" board. I have seen this board before last October in Napa at a vineyard. I was extremely fascinated by the idea. This was brilliant. You are a voyeur reading what people have written but that’s what adds to the excitement. It also immediately plunks you in a moment of self-reflection when you think of your own reply or agree with some of the scrawled responses. Some are just flat out hilarious. (Line #1. Before I die, I want to marry Nicki Minaj.) Some are very true to the heart. They were all so different with this unspoken common thread. If you have not seen one, here is the website. I won’t do it any justice by trying to explain it. http://beforeidie.cc/site/. What would you write?
We have arrived back in Anchorage with a small list of things that we needed to accomplish. Items including the sleeping bags, pillows, sheets and blankets that were purchased for our stay in the trailer were not going to fly with us. They were going to have to get shipped back. The search on the phone directed us to the closest post office. It took a few tries around the block to get to address. We didn’t see it. It was a busy Tuesday afternoon and eventually we found a spot at a meter. Thomas got out to check on the address, since it was the same as the mall. He disappears for some time. I took that time to call home to try to set up a FaceTime call to my Grandparents. During the entire planning process of this trip to Alaska and Hawaii, one goal was to share the travels with the Grahams real-time via FaceTime and film it. Today was the last day in Alaska and we were in one of the few places during the trip that I was guaranteed to get cell phone service. In hindsight, I could have planned it better and made the call earlier in the trip, but things sometimes get past you and you do the best you can. My timing was poor. Of all the days to FaceTime for the purpose of showing them Alaska, it was raining. Alaska looked like one cold, wet blah. I waffled about the entire thing, debating if it was worth it now.
Thomas resurfaced from an entirely different entrance to the mall. The post office was inside the mall. Mind you, we have a crap heap of stuff. In order to get the items in to the post office that would require a major arm-filled trek that I was not looking forward to. Either way, we were going to have to get boxes and do this. I also informed Thomas that I wanted to make the FaceTime happen and I that I asked my parents to be at the ready for my text to make their way to the Grahams. Number two on the list was souvenir shopping. That didn’t take too long. The fleece jackets and coats were practically being given away. I really could have used one, but I was overwhelmed and trying hard not to shop only for myself. I eventually got myself on the straight and narrow and got everything for all on my list.
I press the issue of FaceTiming again since I realized that there was some miscommunication with my parents. I may not have been clear about my request to wait until I called or texted. They were now at the Grahams. I only had the one place in mind to show them and that was outdoors and it was still raining, which meant no cameras in the rain. We had to do some impromptu location scouting. Luckily the Alaska Rail Train Station was around the corner and after Thomas checked out the inside, the decision was made to film in the station. In all honesty, I was still disappointed with myself for not trying coordinate this better and with the Alaska weather for letting me down. I had to remind myself once again that this is all made up stuff; I am the only one that will know, let it go.
Inside the station was quiet. We were the only ones in there with the exception of a delivery and later, a person inquiring about the train. The high sheen of polyurethane on wood reflected the little bit of light that crept through the big windows. While Thomas was setting up the camera, I got the iPad out, turned on my hot spot on my phone and made a test call to the email address that I had for the Graham’s iPad. Nothing was happening. Great. I tried a few more things and a few more times. I was already feeling like too much time was being wasted and it was time to try something else. I knew my dad had his iPhone so I went ahead and used him as the FaceTime receiver. The screen would be much smaller on their end, but at this rate, I felt like nothing was working as planned so it’s better to have something than nothing.
Only after a few of those annoying but highly distinctive FaceTime rings, they pick up and I see their faces and my concern was all washed away. I told them what happened with the location and expressed my sadness that I couldn’t share with them the Alaska that we had seen, with them in real time. The conversation turns to the trip and what we have experienced. Eventually, I show them the inside of the train station and outside of the window. My grandparents were simply tickled by the fact that we could communicate from thousands of miles away, face-to-face. In the end, I think everything was fine. My grandfather is a train aficionado, so a train station at a place he wanted to travel wasn’t the worst place to be. The train station could also be a metaphor for our travel, where we have been and where have yet to go.
I end the conversation and we all say our goodbyes. Thomas and I gather everything and he dashed out while I grabbed some brochures about the Alaska Rail from the counter. It was now getting close to 5:00 pm. The second post office location that we were going to try closed at 5:30 so we had to boogie. I was happy that we no longer had to drag our stuff into a mall. This was a regular branch. We had the items loose on the back seat, but we had to sort and dump them into the leftover large trash bags we had from the RV. Quickly we scurried inside with our bags and get in line. Thomas looks for large boxes to use for postage amongst their offerings. They had none large enough. He than goes back out to the nearby stores to try to find some while I wait in line to ask the postal workers if they had any in the back. He returns empty handed. While we were waiting, one of the postal workers leaves from behind the counter with a tight look on her face as a few more people come in. She pulls down the gate, now blocking the one entrance and exit and was very obvious about her intentions to close at exactly 5:30 pm. By the time I get up there she wasn’t rude as I was expecting. She still made it very clear that they did not have boxes large enough, even if they did, they were not going to sit around and wait for us to do so, and the truck already left for the day. In a very helpful mood, she informs us that there is a branch at the airport that does not close until 11:00 pm. I kind of wish we knew this earlier; we were going to the airport tonight anyway.
Now we are getting to one of the most important parts of the day. PIZZA. Thomas and I were in agreement that we would find this darn Moose’s Tooth and be the judge of its greatness. It wasn’t too far away and there was a huge crowd swarming around this place, the parking lot was full, smokers were piled up in their small pen outside, many near misses between hungry drivers and full patrons. We lucked up and found a space in the lot proper without a lot of sharking. The parking lot could not fit the full capacity of cars, leaving the extras to make auxiliary spots along the side roads nearby. It was now clear why Matt made the other comments about cautious parking. I see how his daughter and her boyfriend had their cars towed. If you were going to be worm of a tow truck driver, the cars were an easy picking.
Moose’s Tooth was packed. It was a big restaurant, but as soon as you walked in loads of people were waiting for tables, loads were sitting down and another load was milling about. My conclusion was either everyone is in on a share of the profits when they tell tourists to come or this place must actually have the best pizza in town for all these people to be here. Neither one of us were interested in the long wait for a table. We just wanted the pizza. We go to the carryout section and place our order. In the meantime, while Thomas was checking out the beverage cooler, he acquired a large box from the manager for us to pack our loose stuff. When it was all said and done, we left the Moose’s Tooth with t-shirts, a sweatshirt, 2 fairly large hot pizza boxes, 1 extra sweet drink, and 2 large empty packing boxes. For the record, the pizza was very good. After we stuffed ourselves, we managed to stuff these boxes with our belongings and we were getting closer to ending our day.
The post office was right next to the airport. The third time is always the charm. It only took two other USPS stops to get this going. Fully prepared to simply pay and ship, we walk into this post office with a lot more confidence. There was a sizable line. By this time, we were partly delirious and had our stuff ready. Our “framily” antics seemed to have entertained the young woman and her child behind us. It is our time at the counter and our boxes get weighed and processed. Yikes and $$$. By no means was this a cheap idea, but we were paying for the convenience of not having to drag all this stuff thousands of more miles. We walk out of the post office 50 pounds lighter. Nothing left to do now, but to put some gas in the car and return it.
When we get to the rental car return, it all begins to sink in. I have just had such an amazing experience in Alaska that could stand on its own for a time of a life moment, but I am now on my way to the second part of this adventure-to Hawaii. I felt extremely fortunate and excited. As with most rental car return locations, we zigzagged our way to the finish line and parked. The rental agents greeted us. These guys were hella cool. It almost felt like we were returning our car to our buddies. They were both young and happy. Although we were already engaged in friendly banter with the guys, Thomas’ pelican case, starts the questions, which ultimately leads to my elevator pitch about the documentary. Both seemed genuinely interested. When we got to the part about going to Hawaii, our one buddy gave us loads of suggestions. He said that while in Maui, we must track down the Manapua man (local food truck) and we must take a trip out to the island referred to as the Chinaman’s Hat. The funny part was that he had just started working there, and he already seemed like an old pro. I gave him a business card so they can check out the website. I never asked, but I assumed he was Hawaiian; yet another connection between Alaska and Hawaii.
Inside the airport I made another snafu. I won’t make excuses but I would like a little sympathy from my fellow travelers. Our arrival was ahead of the 2-hour early schedule so we could take advantage of the wait time to get some work done. Long story short, the counter was not opened yet and wasn’t going to open until 2 hours before the next flight. People were waiting in line, including myself (Thomas was sitting working on deadline). The agent walking about to pre-assist realized that the flight was American Airlines, but operated by Alaska Airlines. Wrong place - over to Alaska Airlines. *Sigh. Why don’t they just put the one airline on there or put that one first. I don’t care who operates what. Tired, delirious travelers already have to go through too much to get in the airplane. Eventually we get to the right place and get our boarding passes and bags paid for. There was a separate area that you had to take your oversized bag, immediately next to the counter. They didn’t put it on the conveyer belt behind the counter. The TSA agent was a young guy very interested in what we were doing. Thomas had talked him up. People are so fascinated by the case. Before the agent was going to lift the heavy case onto the belt after checking it, Thomas noticed that the snaps weren’t completely down. It has a double locking system. The irony was that the young guy was so concerned about the safety and security of the drone that he suggested Thomas buy a padlock that he was almost the one responsible for the disaster had he not completely closed the case. That was too close of a call for me.
Alaska post notes: For a photographer, Alaska's landscapes are like your favorite girlfriend; it could never do any wrong and it will always be a beautiful mystery. As a curious minded individual, Alaska reminds me of my childhood backyard. Growing up, right outside the latch fence were woods and a creek and endless opportunity for adventure. In the morning you could journey out as far as you could manage and always experience something new. This is Alaska but on a scale too grand for your mind to see.
Alaskans love their espresso. I can guarantee you that there will be a drive thru espresso booth every mile or two on any given road in Alaska. Absolute bet. They are in parking lots in every kind of town, big or small. I even saw a self-serve stand in front of someone's home in their drive. Espresso not coffee. Shaped like little coffee cups or cabins, but all little stand alone trailers waiting for that new set of hands to keep warm. After living in Wisconsin and seeing all the drive thrus for coffee, and a Pizza Hut and such, I know the genius. It's too darn cold to get out of the car. It is much easier to stick a gloved hand out of your window than to brace for that cold smack of air on your exposed face. I know I have a tendency to over exaggerate, but don’t take my word for it. http://www.lastfrontier.org/coffeehouses.htm
The gate waiting area seemed pretty full. I always want to know why all these other people are going the same place I am. Thomas got some work done. I managed to slip away and buy more souvenirs at the stores. Somehow we had the very back two seats with an open seat between us. You can’t really recline back with the wall behind you, but I was happy to have some elbowroom and quiet. My plan was to sleep as much as I could on both flights since we would arrive in the morning in Hawaii. The first flight to Los Angeles was 4 hours long. It was 11:35 pm and it was my last time to remark on how bizarre it was that it was still light. I peered out the window a few more times with a weighted heart and heavy lids, sad to leave.