Day 5

8/5/95 - Saturday Lodging: Little Tonsina River State Rec. Site (near pipeline visitor's center)
Mileage: 44 miles


I awoke to the unusually quiet "sounds" of dry weather and the chattering of magpies poking through camp. As I lay in my tent contemplating the day, and the apparent lack of rain, I was excited to think that we would be able to see these mountains that surround this stunning campground. When I unzipped my tent I looked out into a world of damp gray wool. Thick fog! What a disappointment.

After hot oatmeal topped with the successes of another foray into the berry patch, we pedaled to the summit of Thompson Pass. Fortunately the road was wide with good shoulders as we were nearly invisible in the ground hugging cloud.

Down the other side, we quickly descended into clear sunny weather. Worthington Glacier was just ahead. We stopped to hike up to it and along the glacier edge. The same guy we'd seen at the Spenard Hostel and in the lunch line at Valdez was scrambling around the glacier with his crampons and ice ax. He's planning to leave for Chile in a couple of weeks, to play in their snowfields, and was honing his skills.

Lunch was at the Tiekel River Lodge. Freshly baked, still warm, apple pies were sitting on the counter cooling when the first of our group arrived. The lunch counter faced the cooling pies, and wafts of apples and cinnamon permeated the air. We were ready for dessert even before considering the lunch menu. The chili, served in a scooped out "bowl" of bread was excellent, and others said that the soup, also served in a bread bowl, was yummy. My warm apple pie ala mode was superb!

Everyone pedaled on, but two of us each opted for a shower, available here at the roadhouse. (Showers were not usually available in the state campgrounds, so we took advantage of the opportunity whenever possible - often at a town laundromat, or, in this case, a roadhouse.) Alaska doesn't seem to live by the typical Type-A hurry-up attitude often found in the "lower 48" - at least not like the "need it yesterday" lifestyle often seen in California. For our $3, we were told that we could shower for as long as we liked. I'm not over my California drought mentality, so my inclination is to hurry through a hot shower and use as little water as possible. Clearly, however, the couple who was first in the shower believed in a long soak. And we waited and waited and waited. The lodge is a small place that isn't connected to any power source - they use a generator for their power. One must be flexible in a place as large as Alaska, where modern electric power lines are not the pervasive umbilical cords from ugly poles to every roof top. So things "work" only as well as the generator works...for instance the pump for the water...which was being a bit quirky, and thereby lengthened the shower wait even more.

As I waited by our bikes for him to finish his shower, I saw out of the corner of my eye bright flashes of lightening up where we would be riding. Deep gray clouds spilled toward the road. But I was in the sun, contemplating the day. With luck we would miss that rain. (Another lapse of memory about my bike touring nickname....)

Along the way we saw a lone trumpeter swan floating lazily on a small green pond, a beaver hut partially blocking the river inlet. About a mile from camp, Little Tonsina River camp ground, I saw the infamous Alaska pipeline for the first time. Although we have been following it's path for a few days, it is usually nicely out of sight. The pipeline parallels the Richardson to Fairbanks. Here at the pipeline we were assaulted by those ominous gray clouds and resultant rain. I paused to suit up Rufus in his own version of a bear bag (a 2 gallon zip lock bag) and me in my rain gear.

After setting up camp, we went on another (unsuccessful) salmon expedition. So instead of fresh salmon for dinner, the evening's cooking duo steamed, in the steel wok, huge Alaska-sized flour tortillas and presented all of the fixin's for burritos: (instant) refried beans (just add boiling water...I've never seen these before), lettuce, tomatoes, mild and medium salsa, onions, green onions, and (ta da!) avocados (finger mashed into guacamole in a zip lock... to spare the dishwashers, of whom I am one tonight) shredded cheddar cheese (with our carry-along shredder). And of course, an easy camp drink: Kool Aid.

Amazing! What a morale booster out in the middle of nowhere. We all had to carry this stuff, but with 11 people to spread the load, no one was too burdened.

After dinner, I was part of the dishes duo. Fortunately the cooks used their "cook in a bag" sacks that were distributed to each person at the first group meeting... it kept clean-up to a minimum, making a potentially unpleasant chore quite benign.

Immediately after dinner, the rain came - hard. We finished the dishes while everyone else escaped to their tents. I thought I saw blue sky to the west between some mountain peaks, so I hung out under the protective awning of a cabin-sized unoccupied tent pitched not too far from our sites, and waited the rain out, writing post cards at a picnic table. Eventually an intense double rainbow swung between the far mountains, the green of the rainbows melding into the green mountain slopes. It was worth the wait.

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Copyright (c) Judith J. Colwell, 1995. All rights reserved.