7:30 a.m.

I’m sitting across from the Alaska Railroad depot, which doesn’t look even remotely like what I expected. I imagined a quaint village depot. No, it’s nothing like Grand Central Station, but it’s more like a small white office building than a train station. Until I saw “THE ALASKA RAILROAD” on the front of the building, I wasn’t sure I’d found it.

It only took 20 minutes to walk to the station through downtown Anchorage. Not the most modern and tall downtown I’ve been in. Newer office buildings are interspersed with businesses that look like they are in the original houses built on that spot.

The train station is crowded. I’m definitely in the midst of a lot of other tourists. This pretty much ends any illusion I had of visiting remote places seldom seen by others. It was a silly illusion to cling to anyway. But the train, which just pulled into the station, is cool. I have a reserved seat, and there was even a printed passenger manifest that the ticket agent looked through to find my reservation.

Margaritas last night were okay. About 8 or 10 people were there, some of whom didn’t know each other, so I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know people.

Afterwards, Kate asked me to help her figure something out on her computer. She offered to let me check email, but that’s the last thing I wanted to do. No encounters with reality until it’s absolutely necessary!

I could hear (and see, what little there was to see) the fireworks from my bedroom window. But I closed the blinds and went to sleep and they didn’t keep me up.

8:45 a.m.

The train is comfortable, and I think it’s more about tourism than transportation. Our car has its own tour guide, and he’s passing around books on wildlife and a personal photo album. The maximum speed is 49 MPH, though the route is too twisty to main that.

My seatmate, Ellen, is from D.C. She’s here with her husband and daughter, on the other side of the aisle. She and I both went to Syracuse University at the same time. They are also getting off in Talkeetna and going flightseeing.

There’s a little overcast today, but it’s clear enough to see Mt. McKinley.

There are four passenger cars plus the dining car and the bistro car, plus about 8 cars hanging on the back that belong to the cruise lines and pay the Alaska Railroad to pull them along.

I came up to the dome car, which has a nice view. The seats in this car, downstairs, must be first class–lots of legroom–although the seats in my car have perfectly adequate space.

11:15 a.m.

The tour guide’s name is Jordan. He’s 18, just graduated high school, and attending UA — Anchorage this fall. This is his second summer working on the railroad. He passed around a scrapbook of family photos. He grew up in Alaska, and his father was one of the originators of the Iditarod. He seems to have had a fascinating life so far and seems like a very nice kid.

3:20 p.m.

I’m not good enough with words, and I’m not a good enough photographer, to adequately capture the spectacle of flying over Denali. We circled Mt. McKinley and were able to make out some climbers ascending the mountain. We got as high as 12,500 feet, and it was hard to believe the mountain rose up another 8000 above that! We also flew over the base camp. We saw a number of glaciers and then landed on Ruth Glacier. After we took off from the glacier, we followed its valley all the way down, and that is a perfect way to see how a glacier carves a valley much like a river. I was lucky enough to win a coin toss and got to sit up front.

Now I’m at Mountain High Pizza Pie in Talkeetna, waiting for my slice, sitting outside in the shade. It’s WARM!!!

Talkeetna is essentially one street with shops, restaurants, and tour businesses. You can do almost anything from here–flightseeing, fly/skiing, river rafting, hiking; and this is the starting point for climbers. I think there are two resort-ish hotels here. I have to be at one of them to meet my 6:00 van to Denali. I guess I can try to kill a couple of hours in this town. Maybe get a beer, maybe some ice cream.…

Talkeetna

Good pizza!

4:05 p.m.

I have to reconsider whether I can really kill two hours in this town. I walked from the pizza place, at the far end of town, to the ice cream parlor, and it’s been just 45 minutes, including the time I took to eat lunch and write my previous journal entry. I bought some Alaskan-made soaps as gifts for Ursula (for house/dogsitting) and Joy (for airport duty). Maybe I’ll walk to the hotel instead of taking the shuttle and just relax there til the van arrives. A little down time would be a good thing.

8:00 p.m.

We left Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge 2 hours ago and have enjoyed some great views along the way. The spruce trees have changed. There are fewer of them, scattered about, and they are like toothpicks, with hardly any spread. Shorter too. There are some other trees, aspen I think.

The Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge was very nice, though a longer walk from the town than I anticipated. Made me kinda wish I were staying at a nice lodge in Denali, but I think the cabin will be fine.

World War II Memorial
World War II Memorial

10:15 p.m.

I have to get up at 4:00 tomorrow morning! They’ll bring me at 5:00 to where I catch the bus tour into the park.

The cabin is nice. It has TV (first I’ve seen all trip), phone, room-darkening curtains, 2 double beds, coffee maker, and full bathroom. The facilities here are very limited, though. No restaurant. They gave me a ride to a nearby place with a restaurant, where I got some food to go–a really delicious grilled chicken sandwich.

OK, lights out, so I can get up early and try to stay awake all day on the bus through Denali.

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