July 16th, 2009 4:20 PM CST, Depart: Birmingham, AL.
July 17th 2009 1:37 AM AKDT, Arrive: Fairbanks, AK.
This is the face that greets me:
I heard her before I ever saw her. It was late in the airport and the night was fairly quiet. As I made my way into baggage claim, I heard the thundering of feet the saw the quick flash of blond hair and gleaming teeth as Lena slammed into me at full speed, engulfing me in a hug that equaled a year's worth of missing each other. I might have gotten teary eyed...shut up.
I tried to keep it a secret that I was coming back and was successful for a number of months, but David let it slip to Heather who let it slip to Lena, who threatened them with death if they didn't pony up completely about if I was indeed headed back for another July in Alaska. Still, surprise or no surprise...it was good to be back. I don't remember all that much about the night other than Lena introducing me to her car and the absolute limit of its velocity. Then crashing in the spare bedroom of her house while we talked about how insane it was that I was back until I basically lost consciousness.
The next morning, Lena had to work so she gave me the car with the instructions to "go do whatever I guess" which worked for me. My first order of business was to find food. Any food would do, but especially food that didn't come in a small, unopenable packages with an airline logo printed on the side...which had been pretty much all I'd had since the day before. I had two viable choices...some local diner and the world's northernmost Denny's. I chose the local place where I waited over an hour for a giant reindeer omelet complete with toast, juice, and hash browns. I think I ate the whole thing in under a minute. After that, I drove around for a while just familiarizing myself with the city until I decided to go to Pioneer Park...
...where I happened upon such rarities as the Arctic Fur Bering Salmon...
...a Nordic Princess...
...and a map of all the museums in Alaska...several of the signs had been lost or stolen (including Dutch Harbor's.)
...an old, bleached whale vertebrae...
...and the throttle from the SS Nenana...which was still actually in the SS Nenana.
I spent a good portion of the day there just browsing around the various shops, exhibits, and talking with a local artist who invited me to dinner.
After Lena got off work, she suggested we head down to the Tanana for a little time outdoors. So we went, we walked, we communed with nature...which tried to kill us in the form of mosquitoes.
(obligatory gangster pic.) It was a good day at the river...but the best day at the river was still to come.
We also bummed around downtown, watched the hippies at the river, Lena waded around in a fountain, we ate some fudge and shopped at some eclectic little shops. Good times in FAI.
Lena's mom took us to dinner at Pike's Landing...which is this nice place on the river. She told me I was a good excuse to use the gift certificate that was about to expire. I'm always glad to be of service! Despite the fact that the kitchen lost our order and it took two hours for us to be served, the meal was delicious and the manager brought out free desserts as an apology.
We also managed to get down to Salcha and I finally saw Dave-O! yay!
...and a moose family! You can kind of see the southbound end of one of them here. Being back... it immediately seemed like I'd never left. It just felt so natural to be there...like I'd picked up a familiar book and started reading the pages all over again...