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Elaine and Peter’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 17 Jul 2019

Location: Fairbanks, Alaska, USA

MapA very early start today to travel up to the city of Fairbanks.

We pass through a landscape of seemingly endless forested hills, broad river flats and distant views of snow capped mountains, we are travelling into the essence of inner Alaska, an area where there are fewer tourists.

There are relatively few public transport links between these isolated communities and it is a real eye opener to learn how people survive and why they have chosen to come here in the first place.

The road to Fairbanks is certainly a tough place. We spot some float planes here and there, one in eighty of the population has a licence to fly, much needed in this environment.

The Worthington Glacier and lake was our first short stop for photos and then at the quirky Meiers Lake Roadhouse for a coffee break. This is aver isolated placecwhich served a wide area of individual homesteads.....providing anything ...guns, crafts, homemade pastries and ices, fuel, a chapel, post office, caribou hunting, anything you might need,

A very different way of life, indeed and not for the faint hearted.
Many of the cabins are known as dry cabins as they have no connection to water services, using a water tank to provide water for only personal needs.

But the government has encouraged people to come to settle here by setting up a grant called a Permanent Fund Dividend. This is money earned by leasing land to oil and gold giants. Residents can apply to receive free money ranging from five hundred to two thousand dollars per person depending on the five year average from the leases. Remember, no income tax here but it would be political suicide to abolish this fund to decrease the state debt!

Another reason people come here is the decriminalisation of the use of marijuana.

Then there is adaptation to make to cope with the harsh climate, very hot in summer, very cold in winter. Car winterisation is essential for dealing with sub zero temperatures. Most new cars have an auto start device which enables the driver to start the engine 20 minutes before ready to drive off.

The long hours of winter darkness are another thing to contend with. People suffer from a shortage of vitamin D and many residents winter in homes in warmer areas of the US which also helps improve low mood and mental health. In the winter in Fairbanks, there are only three hours forty minutes of daylight, from 10 to 12. For over 72 days of the year there are twenty four hours of sunlight.

We passed several signs en route to transfer stations. As there is no income tax to pay for amenities, there is no provision anywhere for waste collection, residents take their rubbish to these transfer stations for disposal. Like wise there is no
provision for the delivery of mail to individual houses. On the side of the roads, are lock up metal boxes where the mail is left, some people having to walk a mile or more to collect their letters.
Online companies do make deliveries of goods but these usually take at least a week to arrive.

Residents however make the most of the opportunities that this magnificent landscape offers. The many lakes and tarns formed by the lack of drainage of surface water from rain and melting snow caused by the presence of permafrost provide many opportunities for fishing. And there are salmon hatcheries along the way. Summit Lake and Isabel Lake at the Isabel Pass are the sites for the famous Arctic Man Classic held annually and is unsurpassed for sheer craziness. The event attracts world wide visitors numbering 15000 to the tiny hamlets. Each team consists of a skier and a snow machine. The skier hurtles down the slopes at 80 miles per hour and grabs a tow rope at the bottom. The snow machine again at 80 mph pulls the skier to the top,of the next hill where he lets go and hurtles down to the finish line.

Eventually we start to come into civilisation arriving at the cross roads of Delta Junction, home to a sizeable Russian speaking community reminding us how close we are to Russia. In 1867, Peter the Great introduced a beard tax causing the Orthodox to flee rather than to cut their long beards which was thought to be sacrilege. Many settled here and the language and culture continues to thrive.
Next stop was here for lunch at the Rikas Roadhouse. This was found in the Big Delta State Historical Park and incorporated a reconstruction of the original Roadhouse on part of the original trail. A fascinating place.

But the most quirky stop,of all today was in the region of Fairbanks atbthe town of North Pole, nowhere near the North Pole or the Arctic Circle. We had a look inside the large house of Santa Claus, complete with live Santa and his wife, with whom we had a photograph taken. The name is everything. Homesteaded in 1944 by a toy manufacturer, he renamed the town and enveloped a Christmas theme, with streets, such a Mistletoe Lane, Santa Claus Road and St Nicholas Street. Also Bonkers. Even the lamp posts are pink and white stripes like candy sticks.

So a very long but enjoyable road. The remaining days are not so arduous as we are now nearing Denali and the days will not involve such long hours of travel.
We have been so lucky with the weather enjoying hours of sunshine during the day. The temperature is warmer here than on the coast normally, but there has been unseasonably high record temperatures so much so that there were so many forest fires, making it highly unpleasant with so much acrid smoke and ash in the air that people had to wear masks to help breathing.

The forecast is for 76 tomorrow. We will see what that brings!