So now we are in Talkeetna, just about 100 miles north of Anchorage. I'm sitting outside from a coffee house in the sun, and between the sunshine and the dust on the screen, I can't really see what I'm typing, so apologies if typos abound.
Talkeetna is a funky little town of about 800 people, depending on how many of the nearby backcountry hermits you count; a town of artists and tourist dives, bars decorated with furs and antlers and gift shops as far as the eye can see (which is about three blocks), reindeer pigs-in-a-blanket in the bakery and free cookies in the new/used bookstore. We have been in town for a day and a half now, and already we run into people we know at every corner. Today I tipped my hat at the mule wagon driver - we met each other yesterday - and just now as I was typing the owner of our hostel with her two young children came past to get ice cream and we had a little chat. It's a tight and friendly town, fake and real at the same time.
We are staying at the Talkeetna International Hostel, which caters especially to Denali mountain climbers. Some are just off the mountain, having made the summit or not, and since yesterday three guides have been staging the gear needed for a 12 person guided ascent. It's been fun watching and talking to them. They were much more generous than the sort of machismo I would usually expect, saying that I should climb the mountain...that I could climb the mountain. Ha ha. It warms my heart to hear it, though I suspect they're just tying to beef up their clientele. The backyard of the hostel is crammed full of mountaineering tents, so that our little three-person is nearly the largest thing there. (One and only one tent beats ours.) The porch is perpetually crammed with backpacks and ice picks, with sleeping bags, boots and tarps hanging down from the rafters. All in all, a pretty nice place to stay.
Talkeetna brags that it is the town that "Northern Exposure" was based on. I can see it, especially if I rewind the place back a few years to what it must have been like before the bigger crush of tourism came. It sits at the end of a 14 mile spur road, a dead end met by three converging rivers and the Alaskan Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks, and here also is the last place in the country where you can flag down a train anywhere along the tracks to stop and pick you up. There are liberals here, Obama signs on yards, and churches. We sat on the grass of the elementary school last night and watched a soccer game play to 10pm. Last night around 1am was the first time in at least a week or so that I noticed something approaching "dark" out the window. Still light enough to walk around without artificial light, but I could no longer read in my tent. Dark. I'm not so glad to see it again. Acouple of weeks is not long enough to miss the mood and stars.
What else to say? I am dozing in the sun. There is an amazing cinnamon roll sitting, waiting, across the table from me. I know it's amazing because I had one yesterday.
Now it's down south towards Anchorage, which is becoming less exciting the more I learn about it. I've heard things like, "Anchorage isn't Alaska, but on a clear day you can see it from there," and "The nice thing about Anchorage is that Alaska is only a half hour away." Apparently Anchorage is like any other generic sprawling fast food chained stripped malled commercial monstrous city down in the lower 48. Perhaps we shall give it a quick nod before going off in search of quainter climes. And salmon!