Alaska: Denali and ATVs

   On our ATV wilderness adventure, dressed in our “Michelin Man” suits.
[from r-l] Ron Hopper, Gloria Herms, Rita Hopper, JR Watkins, Jackie Bontrager, Joe and Ginger Watkins
Sat. Sept 1st B:  Back at the lodge we chilled until it was time to meet up for our ATV excursion. We headed out on a bus around 7 pm to the Black Diamond ATV garage. We had to watch a safety video and don helmets and paper coveralls, like we were going into surgery.  With our layered clothing, coats and pants underneath, we all looked and felt like Michelin men rumbling around. Our group of seven and two other couples were all dressed for this adventure. Ron and Rita got a four wheeler with two seats and a roof, and the rest of us rode Kawasaki’s with handlebars like a bike. Of our group, Joe was the only one who had ever driven an ATV before, so we all paid close attention to our young bearded guide when he demonstrated how to start the vehicle, control the gas and, most importantly, use the hand brakes.  We took off in single file, one guide leading the way and another in the rear. It was a blast.  I was following Joe, who would slow way down, allowing the machine in front to get a good lead, then he’d gun it and fly to catch up. I followed suit and hollered WOOOO! WOOOO! as the wind and rain hit my face. The only thing cold on me was my but, since the seat was wet when we started.  I kept saying aloud, “I can’t believe I’m riding around in the Alaskan wilderness!”   We rode up and down muddy rutted paths, hills and valleys, over boulders and gullies, through running water and muddy puddles. I was surprised that the trail we were on was so unpredictable since we were all newbies. We traversed through loose sediment along gutted out paths where you had to balance on your seat as the vehicle slanted dangerously to one side and into deep mud holes that seemed to have no bottom. At one point, we lost Gloria, who was following me. Her engine cut out after going through a deep puddle that could have been a pond. She was rescued by the young guide with the Eastern European accent. Later, when we stopped to take in the view, we learned he was from Slovakia and was working here for the summer, heading back to med school in a few weeks. He told us he hoped to settle in Toronto when he was finished with school. JR teased Gloria, saying she only stalled her engine so she could be rescued by the bearded cutie with an accent

Jackie Bontrager ready to ride an ancient dog sled
Gloria Herms ready to ride her modern gas powered machine with four wheels.

After about an hour on the trail, we stopped at the Black Diamond Grill, located in a log lodge building, where we shed our muddy outerwear and sat at a long wooden table. JR said, “Hey, it’s midnight at home.” What? Home seemed so long ago and far away. We were in the wilds of Alaska now, waiting for our grub, hungry enough to eat a bear. The waiters brought out platters of smoked salmon, BBQ ribs, grilled chicken breasts, and corn on the cob, bowls of slaw, crab salad and hearty caribou chili with beans. To compliment the awesome meal, we had corn muffins, butter and hot or cold drinks.  As we ate we talked to our two guides and learned the other guy, the one leading our caravan, was from Serbia. The waitresses also spoke with an accent. In Alaska the tourist season is short, so it makes sense that the jobs would be filled by students, but I found it interesting that none of the workers we spoke to were American. As we finished our meal, we were surprised by dessert of fresh Alaskan berry cobbler.  Bellies full, it was after nine o’clock and still very light out. Land of the midnight sun.

Another Alaskan fact: The longest day of the year is June 19th with over 19 hours of daylight in Anchorage. But it never really gets dark, just dusk until the sun comes up again around 3:30 am. The days slowly get shorter until Dec. 21st when    the opposite is true. With the sun coming up around 10 am and going down around 3:30 pm, never rising high in the sky. In the winter Anchorage only has about 5 and half hours of daylight and 19 hours of dark.

We were back at our lodge by 10 pm, just starting to get dusk. We were exhausted and exhilarated. We all headed to our rooms for the night. Joe and I had trouble winding down and getting sleepy. Too much stimulation for old people.

Read Next Post Sept. 2, Seward and a Big Ship
Read Previous Post Sept. 1, Denali Wilderness Tour

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