The Rich is a very level road from here to Fairbanks, through North Pole. We were in North Pole in time for another meal. Sunday brunch was being served at the Elf's Den Restaurant when we arrived at 11 a.m. The town of North Pole (the touristy part of town that we were in) has taken the concept of year 'round Christmas and Santa to new heights (or lows, depending on your viewpoint). There are Christmas gifty-type "shoppes" galore, assaulting you with out-of-season decorations. I thought Christmas advertising in October was bad. Here you would never escape it! Even this restaurant is decorated with a lighted Christmas tree. We began giggling hysterically at someone's suggestion that we climb up on the three adjoining tables and break into a dance and soft shoe routine to "Up on the House Tops..." complete with toe-tapping effect for the reindeer, just to add the appropriate holiday ambiance to our meal. We were clearly beginning to lose it.
After brunch, the group convened across the highway at a North Pole gift shop, prowling for appropriate gifts to take home. Most are close enough to the end of the trip that there is now room in panniers for things other than group food and group gear. Someone noticed a book which may have epitomized the leader's experience on this trip, "Traveling Alaska With Kids." We set up a photo op, with him smiling knowingly and cradling this spiral bound book in his arms.
We pedaled into Fairbanks, leaving the Richardson Highway for the mandatory alternate cycling route, noting that it was raining along the mountain range to our left. We sauntered along believing we'd be untouched. Pedaling into downtown Fairbanks, I stopped to put on rain gear. Moments later, the skies opened up.
We arrived, in the rain, to a colorful building outside of which a woman asked, "Are you looking for the hostel?'
Yes, we were.
"Well, it's right here."
Oh. Looks rather unusual, to say the least. Flags from the US, Canada and Alaska fly along the front. Buildings dotted the property. Billie, the hostel owner, didn't know we were coming. She had penciled us in for the next weekend, not this. So, she was fully booked. She showed me around, trying to find a suitable bed. Eventually she took me to the A frame building away from the main house. One rider from our group already had gear on one bed, and two other beds were available. I dropped my packs and claimed a bed.
The leader of the North Star group recommended the Mongolian BBQ restaurant as an excellent place for cyclists. All you can eat for about $12. They surely lost money on us! We congregated around a great round table sharing a typical Chinese-style lazy susan presentation for soup and appetizers. The main course was choose-your-own veggies and meat, individually cooked on an enormous round grill by a chef stirring and tossing with a grand wood paddle. Midway through the grilling process, various liquids, chosen by the diner, were stirred into the food: soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and/or a variety of Asian hot sauces.
After dinner, we converged on Hot Licks for ice cream. Unfortunately Jeannie's blueberries from Summit Lake hadn't yet made it into the current choices.
Back at the hostel we had an "auction" of any group gear not being returned to Adventure Cycling headquarters. Oddly enough, no one wanted the frying pan that I had been carrying for 450 miles. It began the trip looking like a pretzeled wheel and didn't improve over time. Nor was it used more than once or twice.
The cycling trip is over. Just like that. Probably fitting that it is still raining. I'm depressed. These were great people to spend two weeks with, and I will miss them. And we never did see the northern lights. Next year!!
Copyright (c) Judith J. Colwell, 1995. All rights reserved.