AlaskaThe Last Frontier (Part 2)
“The best thing about Fairbanks is when you leave Fairbanks”.
Who would have thought I could get a suntan in Alaska? As we waited for the train to arrive to take us to the city of Fairbanks, we had enough time to fall asleep in the sun for an hour or so, which was just enough time to crisp up our faces to a bright orange hue, not far off from Donald Trump. The train thundered into the station and we waited a few moments to let the perfectly crisp and clean hikers disembark who were making an assault on Denali National Park.
The train crawls out of the mountains and soon into the never-ending forests and swamps of the interior. Catching the last glimpse of Mount Denali and it’s surrounding peaks, we headed pass the small roadside town of Healy, which was made famous by the infamous Christopher ‘In to the Wild’ McCandless. We gave a salute, a nod, too such an interesting and young wanderer as are train carried on slowly.
Unlike Anchorage, Fairbanks isn’t known for it’s beauty, the Lonely Planet sums the town up, and I quote “The best thing about Fairbanks is when you leave Fairbanks”. Harsh, sure it’s not the prettiest city with it’s endless strip malls & industrial areas, but I’ve been to far worse, and in those two days I can safely say we had the funniest nights of the whole trip.
Let me cast your mind back to this blog post. The reason I bring this up is because we were meeting up with my old bunk buddy Chad, who I met in Mexico, and I had drunkenly promised that one day we would get drunk together again, but the next time it would be in his home town. Being a man of my words, that time had come, four years later.
He picked us up from the train station in the Clunge-Mobile (That’s what we decided to call his Jeep). We headed off to our hostel to drop our bags off, before heading into town for drinks and a catch-up. Drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea and that night it was proved to be the downfall for all three of us.
Entering the first bar, which in Guy’s words “It looks like the bar out of Terminator 2”, as heavily set bearded men wandered around the pool table in Alaska’s finest attire; Trucker caps, flannel shirts and Carhartt jeans. A very attractive lively young girl with ‘mountainous assets’ kept the drinks flowing, and her tip jar filled to the brim from over zealous college boys eager to be served, and more importantly catch a glimpse of that deep forbidden cleavage. Jager-bombs and multiple beers and Britain’s finest – The Vodka & Coke, it was enough fuel to get us on our way to the next port of call, the main club in town, Kodiak Jacks.
For us Brits the idea of a rodeo bar & country dancing club is rather alien to say the least, I have never experienced a place like it, and doubt I will again, not to say it wasn’t fun, oh no, it was bloody great, a riot. The club was huge, multiple bars dotted in various rooms with hundreds of TVs blasting out different American sports, In the corner of one room, a mechanical bull, spinning, gyrating, and bucking off drunken girls onto the inflatable mat below, locals, out of state students, and shaven headed marines stood around leering and cheering on, hoping for a quick flash of underwear or escaped boob. The DJ, well in to his 50s loomed over the dance floor with a god-like status, he drops a top country hit to the roar of the people beneath him. The dance floor suddenly fills up with a wash of cowboy hats, jeans and polished belt buckles. Guy and I stood at the side of the dance-floor, out of our depth and falling into a trance, gazing at the sea of bodies in perfect rhythm with each other, performing exactly the same dance moves. The country line dance is surreal to watch, it felt like we were watching a tribe from an unfamiliar land, ready to sacrifice one of its own.
The night rolled past 10pm and from that point, we had either been sucked into a black hole or abducted by aliens, as the next thing it was morning, and we’re all back at the hostel waking up in last nights clothes.
Over breakfast (A very late breakfast) of milkshakes and burgers we tried to piece last nights events together. This is what we came up with.
- We saw a bunch of US marines throwing darts at each other. When Guy questioned them they laughed and said did he want a go.
- I tried learning some ‘sick’ high fives with a bunch of marines. Much to their amusement.
- In the eight or so years of knowing Guy I had never seen him dance… until that night. There he was, on the dance-floor, being taught a line dance to achy breaky heart by a giant of a lady.
- Where on earth did Chad go?
- Guy was racially abused by a couple of marines when he ordered at the bar: Overheard “Marine 1, This place is full of fucking Australians”, Marine 2 “yeah, it’s starting to piss me off”. At least if you’re going to racially abuse someone, how about you get the right country first.
- We were kicked out of the club, hang on… let me rephrase that, Guy gets us kicked out of the club for falling asleep at the bar.
- I spend a gut wrenching $200 in one night. Now, that’s not clever.
- Where the hell did Chad go?
- I find an email address in my wallet written on a scrap piece of paper. Who was it? Nobody knows.
- I have vague memories of eating in a diner with Guy asleep on the table.
- Chad, where did you go?
With the hangover now subsiding we thought it was a good idea to go shopping, and what a shop we ended up in. Fred Meyer; The one stop shop. Now for all the Americans reading this you’re probably thinking why this is such a big deal? And I know in the U.K we have Tesco and Asda supermarkets, but our supermarkets don’t sell an array of weaponry including assault rifles, crossbows, and for the hunters wife – A pink shot gun with matching pink leather holster. Walking around this mecca, we thought it was time to embrace our inner Alaskan spirit and buy Carhartt hoodies, jeans, trucker caps and most importantly, a Sarah Palin calendar.
The evening was bearing down and we found ourselves drinking at the University of Alaska campus bar, happily named ‘The Pub’. Pitches of beer passing around the table easily as we were introduced to Chad’s friends; Henri from Estonia and Erik from Sweden. It was another messy night with us ending up once again at Kodiak Jacks. At first they wouldn’t let us in as we didn’t have our passports with us, but we soon found the fire exit and snuck in. Two minutes of stepping inside the club and one of the girls behind the bar recognized us “You guy’s were awesome last night, you looked like you were having so much fun” she said whilst high fiving and pouring us all shots. The night had the hallmark of more silliness, this time including the mechanical bull. I lasted about 8 seconds (Normal for me), Guy and Erik hit the 20 second mark, and Henri, coming in at 55 seconds, however he managed to break his thumb on impact. It was hard to see if he was the winner, or looser. Again… Where the hell did Chad go?
One thing I noticed about was the amount of people getting kicked out of the club, It was an episode of Jerry Springer. And by far the worst offenders were girls fighting over their men. Hair pulling, nail scratching young ladies fighting for the attention of their goaty beard loving men.
A bright Sunday morning greeted us on our final day in Fairbanks. The idea was to go camping with Chad, Erik and Henri somewhere in the Denali interior. After buying supplies (Meat and booze) we jumped in Chad’s Clunge-Mobile and set off south to the Denali Highway, a 135 mile gravel road which links the two main highways in Alaska together.
Reaching the highway, Chad pulls off the road after a few miles of gravel grinding and finds a tremendous camping spot next to the Nenana River. Setting up the tents, building a fire and generally chilling out admiring the stunning scenery around us. Chad’s BBQ ribs went down a treat, as did the Crown Royal rum with it’s almost ‘creamy’ taste. Watching Guy trying to eat a hot dog which he dropped in the fire and Chad falling asleep like a porn star were two of the many funny highlights from the night. However the incident that tops all of them was a conversation we had with a stranger that pulls into our camp. As the sun sets an old jacked up 4x4 pulls up to our camp and a shadowy figure emerges from the drivers side.
“Hey Guys” the shadow says in a friendly voice. We could only see the silhouette of him as he stood in front of his lights. “Can you get to the river down there?”.
“Yup, there’s a path leading right to it over there”.
“Awesome” In an excited voice “I’ll be back tomorrow morning, I have to float a dead moose down the river”. That’s the most Alaskan thing anyone could say to me. And I thank him for that.
Dawn was just emerging behind the Denali range before we crashed out for a couple of hours. We were all woken by last nights guest driving his 4x4 into our camp, and finally see who was speaking to us. This might sound a bit far fetched and like something out of a horror film, but he was wearing an eye patch and an oversized yellow fisherman jacket. I kid you not, Alaska really is like nowhere on this planet.
We pile in to the Clunge-Mobile for the final time and head to the small town of Cantwell on the edge of Denali Park. From here Chad, Erik and Henri would be heading back to Fairbanks and we would be heading south to Anchorage. How were we going to get there? The only way, we would hitch-hike.
Dawn was just emerging behind the Denali range before we crashed out for a couple of hours. We were woken by last nights guest driving his 4x4 into camp and finally see who was speaking to us. This might sound a bit far fetched and like something out of a horror film, but he was wearing an eye patch and an oversized yellow fisherman jacket. I kid you not, Alaska really is like nowhere on this planet.
We pile in to the Clunge-mobile and head to the small town of Cantwell on the edge of Denial Park. From here Chad, Erik and Henri would be heading back to Fairbanks and we would be heading south to Anchorage. How were we going to get there? The only way stupid backpackers know… We would hitch-hike back.