Twenty-one hours of daylight in Alaska makes it difficult for a south Georgia couple to discern between “early” and “late.” However, B. J. and I excitedly rolled out of our comfortable king size bed at the pleasing Fairbanks Westmark Hotel at 5:00am. We pulled back the heavy smut black drapes to observe the sun shining outside.
We slipped into some casual clothes and boarded the elevator for the lobby. Adjoining the lobby was a bountiful breakfast buffet prepared especially for those of us who would be touring the Alaska back/high country.
The steaming buffet offered eggs prepared any way, hash browns, bacon, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, reindeer sausage (quite tasty. I thought about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer), maple syrup, a variety of jams, jellies, preserves, coffee, hot chocolate, lots of butter, and some other selections, but no grits.
B. J. and I were first in line at the buffet. We helped our plates and selected a table next to a window with a great view of Fairbanks. We had to eat, return to our room, shower and dress and be back in the lobby in time to meet our tour bus by 7:00am.
We chatted happily with our fellow travelers and our native servers as we dined. The food was fun-delicious.
Returning to our quaint, Alaska decorated room, we showered and clad ourselves in garb suitable for the Alaska back/high country.
At precisely 7:00am, we boarded our big Greyhound tour bus and located comfortable seats near the front. The driver told us that we were going into the back/high country and that sometimes we would be traveling over rough terrain and unpaved wilderness/mountain roads and the ride may prove scary. He informed us that wild Grizzlies, mountain lions, lynx, an occasional wolf, moose, bald eagles, etc. were around and that we needed to have our cameras ready.
Shortly, we were all aboard and our driver/tour guided eased the big bus effortlessly away from the Westmark, made a turn onto the main road and headed into the Alaska Wilderness, America’s last frontier.
Before long, the landscape began to change. B. J. and I had traveled in mountains from Hawaii to Europe and from the American Rockies to the Caribbean Islands but we would soon discover that the Alaska Mountains are different.
It soon became apparent that the ride was indeed going to be scary. The risky roads were often narrow and gravelly. The path frequently called for 5mph creeping speed. If we went over the edge, it was a long way down to the bottom. Our driver told us “There are Grizzlies at the bottom waiting for those who go over the edge.”
B. J., who was sitting next to the window, wanted to swap sides. She didn’t want to be so close to the edge. “Well, if we go over the cliff, both sides of the seat will go,” I told her.
That didn’t help. She wanted to swap sides anyway.
The trees and foliage are beautiful. Due to the cold climate and permafrost, small trees in the Alaska Wilderness may be hundreds of years old.
Suddenly, the driver stopped and called our attention to some trees off to our left. “There is a bald eagle in the top of that that tallest tree over there; aim your camera and focus in,” he advised us.
We did and B. J. and I got our first picture of an American Bald Eagle in its native habitat. We were almost in ecstasy. Some of the travelers wanted to exit the bus for a better view but the driver wouldn’t allow it. “One wrong slip on those rocks and you are a goner,” he cautioned. “There will be a parking area farther on.”
Then it happened. We met an oncoming bus on the narrow road. We all sat still and quiet. What would the divers do? B. J. and I had been in a similar situation on a mountain road in Italy.
For several minutes, the drivers of the two busses wiggled and squirmed the big busses to find wider places so that they could pass. We held our breath. B. J. squeezed my hand tightly and looked at me seriously as if to ask, “Is this it?”
Our driver muttered something at low breath.
After some meticulous worming and wriggling, the busses moved slowly past each other with only an inch or two between them. We breathed a sigh of relief when we were clear.
Whew! Our day in the Alaska back/high country was just beginning.