Thursday, July 13

An Athabaskan parka In the morning we drove by bus from Denali to Fairbanks. As we entered the historic section of Fairbanks, our driver pointed out some of the old "grow cabins," homes which began life as just a single room and later had more rooms added on as the number of family members increased. Our first stop was the University of Alaska Museum. The museum contained a hodgepodge of historical, cultural, and biological artifacts. The parking lots on the university were interesting. Every few spots had a pole with electric outlets, where students can plug in their cars to keep the engines warm all day while they are in class. It is not unusual for temperatures to go below -60 Farenheit, and so cars are in real danger if they go unprotected for any length of time. We ate lunch at the Pump House Restaurant. The pump house used to be used to pump water from the Chena River to the Chena Ridge for use in gold dredging.

In the afternoon we took a long ride on the Riverboat Discovery, a large boat that holds up to nine hundred people. We passed by a number of luxurious houses along the Chena River. About halfway down, we reached the point where the Chena River merges with the Tanana River. The water at that point is fascinating because the Chena is fed by springs and has a muddy brown but otherwise clear color, whereas the Tanana has the opaque gray color of glacial silt. In the middle of the boat ride, we all stopped off on an island for an hour to see demonstrations on dog sledding and traditional Athabaskan life.

Dogs and puppies eager to run The dog sledding presentation was given by an Iditerod champion. His wife has won the Iditerod four times and the two of them run a dog breeding business. We learned from him just how physically and emotionally challenging the thousand mile race can be. During the race, the day is broken into chunks of four hour periods. The dogs race for four hours and then rest and eat for four hours, with five minute snack breaks on the hour while they are running. Although the dogs get up to twelve hours of sleep each day, the human spends the rest period untying and tying the dogs, cooking dinner, and making sure that everyone gets fed. Thus, the person gets only about two hours of sleep each day, in forty minute intervals. Before the presentation began, we got to see the exercise wheel used to keep dogs in shape when they are not racing. Each spoke of the wheel has a platform and a doghouse. When several dogs are leashed to the wheel, they treat it sort of like a merry-go-round, some of them pulling it around in circles while others relax on the platform for a while and enjoy the ride.

Merry-go-round for dogs

In the evening, Joel went to a wine and cheese reception while I took a nap in our cabin at the River's Edge Resort. (Too many early morning wakeup calls were wearing me out!) Dinner was meant to be a "goodbye" celebration for those on the land tour, but it actually gave us a chance to meet for the first time a family who had been with us all the way from the cruise on Prince William Sound.

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Julie Kerr, July 16, 2000