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August 7, 2013

Alaska – Thursday, July 25

It didn’t take too long to get packed up this morning, and we continued the slow drive south. At least the spare tire was holding up well – I know one isn’t supposed to drive too far on those, but I had no choice. After a while, I came to another one of the Denali State Parks – this one was known for its southern view of Mt. McKinley. But once again, she was totally hidden by clouds, even though some of the surrounding sky was clear and blue. Tula and I walked on a short trail, and then I drove on to Trapper’s Creek, which didn’t have many buildings, and I didn’t see any tire repair places, so I continued on. I passed through Willow, which had been my unreached destination for last night, and picked up service on my ipad. So I was able to look up tire repair places and read some good reviews about the Midas auto place in Wasilla, which was the next town down. I found them and told them my tire was another victim of the road repairs (they do a LOT of tire repair work) and they told me they would be able to help me, as soon as one of the bays opened up. All of the employees were very pleasant, and they had a nice waiting area, and Tula came in with me. I was expecting a lot of tire damage, and a lot of expense, and in the end, it only cost $26 for them to plug and patch the hole (nothing was stuck in the tire, so they surmise it was a sharp rock) and they said it was as good as new; they put it back on; and they put a little more air in the spare and put that away. And that was that. I was expecting to have to pay for a whole new tire, and was really happy with their prices and their service. If anyone has car problems in Alaska, look up Midas auto repairs in Wasilla!

And then I called Toni – she had flown in to Anchorage last night, to meet up with her boyfriend John, who is an instructor for NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) and he had just finished several 3-week hiking and paddling courses with his students, and was finishing up his time in Alaska. Toni and I only figured out we were going to be in the same area at the same time a couple weeks ago! She didn’t know my schedule, and last I had heard, she was too busy to squish in a trip to Alaska, even though she really wanted to get up here. When we were talking one day when I was in Wyoming, we figured out that in all of Alaska, my donation place for tomorrow was literally 2 1/2 miles away from Alaska’s NOLS base, and that she was going to be there after all! What were the odds of that! She knew I was running a little late because of the tire problem, but that didn’t affect any plans today. Tula and I took a mile walk by the lake in Wasilla – kids were out swimming, although the water can’t have been very warm!

Then we finished the drive to Palmer and I found the NOLS base camp. John took us on a tour – it reminded me of a nice summer camp, but it’s really used as a base for a lot of different trips. Most of the students are college age, and many of them are earning college credit, and the instructors have to know who’s doing what in case they need to tailor any of the courses to the students’ needs. Many of the trips head out into deep wilderness for 3 weeks at a time – the students are not only working on outdoor skills, but teamwork and leadership skills as well. The instructors rotate around between hiking courses, paddling courses and climbing/mountaineering courses. The students have to share in responsibilities for food and gear, and many of them are up here for a whole semester. They might go out for 3 weeks of hiking, then come back to base to switch out equipment for another trip, and after a day or 2, they head out again. There were trips coming in and heading out while I was there, and equipment was sorted and laid out to be cleaned and dried, and tents were always set up to air out, and it was a busy place, with all the people coming in and out. NOLS is headquartered in Wyoming, and has bases in the US, Mexico, South America, Norway, India, New Zealand and Australia. The base in Alaska is only open in the summer; many of the instructors head for Mexico and South America during the winter months. On base, there’s a staff house, and about a dozen sturdy tents set up for instructors to use between trips, a big kitchen and dining hall for the people who are around, sleeping quarters for students before and after trips, a bathhouse, and a gear shed. And there’s numerous buses for transporting groups all around Alaska. They also have a big beautiful vegetable garden, with 8 foot fences to keep the moose out – the cooks make healthy meals with a vegetarian emphasis, and they use all their fresh produce, and eggs from their chickens, and they even raise pigs. When we were out on our tour, Tula and a pig touched noses through the fence – I don’t think she’d seen one before! I asked what all the flowers were used for, and they were edible flowers! It was fun to see the place, and learn more about the programs – I had never heard of NOLS until a few months ago, and in addition to the college students, NOLS does courses for the military, NASA, and corporate groups like Google and Amazon. I was happy to give NOLS my donation for today – they do a lot of good things for their students.

We decided to just stay on base for dinner, and it was okay for me to be there too. Dinner was great – a huge salad from the garden with homemade dressings, some kind of rice and chicken, and green vegetables that I thought was chopped broccoli, but it was something else that was kind of bitter, and we couldn’t quite figure out what it was. There was a big sheet cake for dessert, and we ate outside even though the heavy clouds were threatening rain.

The instructors who had just returned often need 2-3 days to kind of transition back into “normal” daily life, and they’re often short on sleep, so a bunch of them and some of the staff decided to just have a movie night in the staff house, and I was very content to sit in the house with the computer to catch up a bit. I’m falling behind with things with the lack of computer time in Canada and Alaska! And the storm came in – it absolutely poured all evening. I’m behind with my walking today, but I’m not too worried about getting caught up.

Originally I was going to stay in one of the tents, but it turned out to be so muddy and wet back where they were, that I just stayed put and “camped” in one of the little parking areas by the kitchen and dining hall. I was able to get set up between downpours and it was a cozy night.













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