The Fine Friendly Folk of Fairbanks

In Tok, we had gotten the idea to write to people on the Fairbanks, Alaska Facebook group about our housing dilemma. We had written to quite a few people when we were in Portland to ask around for a travel companion to Deadhorse, and given the many responses we had, figured we wouldn’t have an issue finding a host in Fairbanks. We were wrong. Everyone we talked to on Couchsurfing in Fairbanks seemed to be a) already hosting someone, b) out of town, c) too preoccupied to respond. We did get one offer but it was a dry cabin located out of town and far away from the main road, making it very difficult for us to reach without a car. As a result, we tried Facebook. Overnight, we had 3 messages from different people offering to host us, and many more likes on the post as we went on. We reached out to them, and soon got a place to stay. Our ride from North Pole brought us straight to Jamila’s place near the university. We joined them for dinner, and afterwards, someone we had met through the Facebook group came to pick us up. Kofan is a student at the university, and we learned a little about oceanography from her over some mouth watering ice cream at Hot Licks. We went back to her flat on campus after we scarfed it all down to meet her two cute cats, Ocean and River. We marvelled at how the cats have so far failed to snack on one of her other pet fish. She dropped us off at Oasis Restaurant and Lounge, which serves watered down, sub-par, flavourless “beer,” and Jamila picked us up soon after. We wanted a true Alaskan experience, so the next morning we tried our hand at self-sufficiency and went with Jamila, Hugh and Juanito to go blueberry picking on the back roads. Blueberries grow where old forest fires demolished a place, and in Alaska, those are frequent. We got immediately to the task of hand picking the blueberries, and with the help of a berry picker comb, filled up 7 containers full of berries in a short amount of time. The blueberries all tasted excellent. With that success, we had a quick egg salad lunch on the side of the road, and headed back to the house.

Wild Alaskan berries…basically the most welcome of all invasive species

This berry picker is especially efficient at doing its job

After a couple hours…enough berries to last for a month

Once back, we borrowed the car to go to the visitor’s centre, and gathered more information on the Chena Hot Springs trail and the Dalton Highway. We briefly perused the informative exhibit there at the Morris Thompson Centre, and headed to the largest Walmart Laurent had ever been in to pick up some food supplies for our upcoming hike. We made sure we were home for dinner though, since Jamila had promised to make some blueberry dumplings. These were apparently a common dish in the Czech Republic, where she is from, and she made them excellently. We scarfed them down. In the evening, someone who had messaged Laurent on Couchsurfing picked us up. He was planning to do our trip in reverse (from Alaska to Argentina) on motorcycle, and wanted to get some tips. We happily shared them with him over a couple of great beers at the Silver Gulch brewery. Since we had planned to do a hike on Tuesday with Tim’s daughter, who we had connected on the Facebook group, we spent Monday morning updating our blog. We had lunch at Bahn Thai Express and ambled towards Pioneer Park for our afternoon post-food nap. The park is very children friendly, but we managed to find a spot on a nice patch of grass between the large airplane museum and the tiny train filled with visitors touring the park. After our little snooze, we walked back to the university campus and did a rapid tour of the Museum of the North. On the bottom floor, there is a large exhibition on Alaskan mammals and wildlife, and on the top floor, there is a smaller exhibition on Alaskan art. We didn’t find the need to spend too much time there, and met Jamila in time for her to bring us back to the house where we just relaxed for the night.

Deceptively large building- Museum of the North

How we like our bears when they are less than 10m away from us

Early next morning, Laura, Tim’s daughter, picked us up and drove us to the Granite Tors trailhead for the hike. We settled on this trail instead of the Chena Hot Springs/Angel Rock hike, because this one was a loop and we would be able to end up conveniently at the car. The hike was approximately 15 miles in total and was fairly easy. It began with a well maintained trail with boards placed over the swampy area, and then inclined fairly steeply to get to the top of the hills. Once at the top, we had a fantastic view of the surrounding forests and the tors, which are rocks sticking out of the ground that occurred during glacial erosion. Above us, the US Air Force was flying around and its sonic boom surprised us quite a bit (and based on the activity on Facebook after, folks in North Pole too).

Very easy Granite Tors terrain

The trail was mostly very well maintained and marked. Most of the trail is extremely well worn down, making it difficult for anybody to get lost. In the area approaching the emergency shelter however, we got slowed down by the swampland and the lack of clear path. However, we were surprised to discover that the “emergency shelter” was really a covered cabin with a stove in front of it. Had we not been successful in finding a host, we probably could have hunkered down there for a night and our tent would have stayed nice and dry. After a quick snack there, we continued on our way past some silver birch trees back to the car.

Magnificent Tors

Silver Birch Trees towards the end of the counterclockwise trail

Tim had a nice surprise for us when we arrived back at the house. We were very glad to meet the extremely likeable and generous man who had invited us to stay at his place, arrange for his daughter to hike with us, and now, have a feast prepared. At the lawn of the church adjoining his house, we met members of the church community and his family, and munched on some delicious burgers and grilled salmon which Laura had caught recently. It was an entirely satisfying feast and we are grateful that Tim kindly organized this all for us.

Nomnomnom

The next morning, we headed out to Deadhorse. (More details about the trip are in the following post.) When we returned, we stayed with Sean and Sabrina in Tim’s extra house. The next day, Tim loaned us his car (thank you!) so that we could do the K’esugi Ridge Trail hike. (See later post.) Once we finished that fantastic trail, we stayed at his house again, and went for our post-hike tradition of eating a greasy burger. We met up with Chris again at Silver Gulch so we could all snack on one together.

Chris: More Alaskan than some Alaskans

Laurent’s dream of shooting a gun in the United States was fulfilled that night, thanks to Chris’ kind offer. We drove together to a valley where the sides were covered in dirt and trees, which acted as a natural barrier to stop any stray bullets from hitting an innocent passerby. The valley was littered with garbage which was ripe for target practice. When asked about the legality of this practice, Chris shrugged and said that the cops don’t seem to be minding too much about this…or it seemed from our experience, much of what happens in Alaska generally. Chris handed us three antique rifles and one police semi-automatic rifle for us to try. Laurent had a blast firing off the guns and even shot one straight on target at a suitcase. Emily was blown back a bit too by the experience…both in amusement and because of the recoil. After we had exhausted the supply of bullets Chris had brought with him, we said goodbye to him and wished him luck on his journey south. Thanks Chris for sharing with us a true Alaskan experience!

The shot that pierced a suitcase

Almost took Emily’s shoulder off

Rifle is size 1 Emily

We had one more scoop at Hot Licks before saying bye to Sean for now who had joined us on our visit to Silver Gulch and firing guns. We packed up our bags that evening and headed out of Fairbanks the next morning. Thank you to all the fine folk of Fairbanks who made this trip especially incredible, especially Jamila, Hugh, Juan, Kofan, Tim, Laura, and Chris!