We knew it was a slow day, so we slept in, took it slow, had breakfast, and headed out at a leisurely 10am or so. So nice to change it up a bit.
Breakfast was interesting, if only for the scenery. The food was tasty, mind you, but I kept getting distracted by the GIANT STUFFED MUSK OX in a box just over Paul’s shoulder. Let me show you:
Once we’d shooed off the zombie musk ox and eaten our (quite tasty) sausage and eggs, we rode down to Denali. It was just a couple of miles.
An aside about the weather is in order. On the way down to Denali, it was sprinkling but mostly dry. Paul opted to wear his dry weather gear, accordingly. There was initially some confusion about whether the predicted rain had actually come to Fairbanks, calling into question our snap decision to drive to Denali fairly late into the night at the end of a long day. We later met a woman in the park who had driven down to the park from Fairbanks that morning. She assured us that the skies had opened up last night, and in fact it was still pouring this morning. She said that the drive down in her rented truck was a bit hairy. We hadn’t regretted the decision to come down in any case, but the news certainly prompted a new round of self back-patting.
Once in the park we decided to drive in as far as possible, which is only about 10 miles. Unlike the other parks we’ve visited on the trip, Denali only allows private vehicles in to a certain point. We drove all the way in, got turned away by the rangers, and drove back out to the Visitor’s Center. We checked out a map and hit the souvenir shop, where we were told that in order to go any deeper into the park we would have to take a park-operated bus from the Bus Depot. We dutifully headed to the bus depot to find out what was available. Our only viable option at that point was a bus leaving in an hour at 2pm for a…wait for it…8 hour ride in and back. As Melissa said, “Fuuuuuuuuck.”
All right. If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. So we took it. We had an hour before the bus left, so we boogied back to the visitor’s center and grabbed a quick lunch of beef stew. We also grabbed some sandwiches for the bus, just in case. We headed back just in time to jump on as the bus was leaving. While I didn’t capture a picture of the “tour” bus, I found this accurate representation on the internet:
Luxurious, no, but the ride up was fairly uneventful. A couple of wildlife sightings, including a moose mama and calf, and a close-up bear foraging on a hillside. Paul and I both nodded off once or twice, befitting of men of our advanced age, but we were mostly awake. At least for the good stuff. As we rode along the weather worsened. Pretty soon it was a steady rain and a very low cloud and/or fog cover outside of the bus. About 2.5hrs into the 4hr outbound leg of the bus ride we were about done, so we jumped off the bus at the next rest stop and grabbed a returning bus back to the bikes. The rain continued throughout the ride, increasing early on to “steady downpour.” It then ramped up to “deluge,” followed by periods of “torrential.” Paul began to ruefully joke with the other passengers that “at least my rain gear is warm and dry at the motel.” Ha ha.
The return bus had its benefits, though. First, the wildlife sightings were great. Close-up caribou running away from the bus. A very close moose lady browsing on some brush right by the road. A few Dall Sheep identifiable but at a distance. And best of all, a group of four bears that were foraging together on a slope. Paul and I were pretty sure it was one bear we had seen on the trip up which had been joined by a mama bear and twin cubs. Regardless, pretty cool.
Another benefit was the driver/guide. He took it upon himself to make dinner/drink recommendations for after the bus ride. We followed one of his recommendations and it was amazing. (More on this in a moment.)
The downside was that I no longer had my own row. I had to share with a young woman from Maui that was staying in Fairbanks. This woman could not shut up. Or if she could, she opted not too. Functionally equivalent from where I was sitting. It was nooooooonstop. Paul later complemented me on my restraint in not murdering her where she sat. He did appreciate the fact that one of my few contributions to the conversation was a joke (really) about my twin and I being identical, except she has the bigger penis. It was meant to generate a shocked silence. It didn’t work. Sigh.
But soon enough the ride was over. We were back well before our 10pm anticipated arrival, and early enough for dinner. Unfortunately the rain was still pouring down, but it was set to taper. Paul again declared that he had left his rain pants at home so we wanted to minimize the distance in the heavy rain. Which let to us taking the guide’s suggestion and going to Prospector’s Pizza. Neither one of us was in the mood for pizza, and we wanted to get back to the hotel, but it was just soooooo wet out that we took the compromise.
I would’ve driven past this place 100 times out of 100 without the recommendation. But that would’ve been a mistake. A big one. We ordered beer, of course, but also a pizza for dinner. While they had “normal” stuff, we went with a pizza with elk sausage and reindeer pepperoni. It was awesome. Possibly the best pizza I’ve ever had. Just magic in your mouth. Put simply, go there if you’re within 100 miles. Period.
And that was about it. We drove back to the hotel and crashed out around midnight. On the way in to the room Paul looked in his saddlebags and realized that he’d had the rain pants with him the whole time. But I didn’t make (too much) fun of him, because his mistake led us to the best pizza ever. And that was fine by me.
Starting Odometer: 37,088
Ending Odometer: 37,145
Daily Total: 57
Running Total: 4,582