Gill Dewdney

Joined August 2017
  • Day18

    Off to collect hire bikes today from by Victoria Seaplane Harbour. We are being taken up the peninsular and dropped off just outside Sydney and cycling back. Roger, our driver gives us a few helpful tips on the route and when we get to the drop off point there are 3 local, retired guys happy to give some more advise and after a mile they turn up again and show us the way into Sydney, point out the best coffee shop and bakery and, would you believe it, one of them use to work for Esso!

    We bought a cake and coffee to go and sat down in the sunshine in a park by the sea and listened to a school band playing. Sydney is a very pleasant coastal town which apparently has a microclimate. Our route, called Lochside Trail, took us along the coast with views of the mountains and Gulf Islands, through quiet residential roads and farm land. When we reached Cordova Bay we stopped at Mattick's Farm (recommended by Roger).

    As we were making good time we decided to go around the headland so cut across and over Mount Douglas to the ocean. We passed Victoria University and dropped into Cadboro Bay to stop at the wash rooms (!), then continued onto Oak Bay via Beach Drive where some of the houses were almost Beverley Hills size. We stopped at a tearoom but they didn't serve English breakfast tea (I ask you - call them self a tearoom!). The road around the headlands and around Beacon Hill was undulating but lovely views of the ocean and mountains on the mainland.

    We made it back to the bike rental shop by six and had a look around the Harbour area, Empress Hotel an Legislature, followed by a quick trip to the supermarket.
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  • Day17


    June 10 in Canada

    Early morning start today, the airport shuttle picked us up at 3.30 am for 6.00 am flight to Victoria via Seattle. Needless to say it wasn't a good night's sleep, not only because of the short duration but the usual waking up several times, concerned that we might oversleep. On the plus side, waking up what seemed hourly was a good opportunity to check just how dark it gets this far north and I can personally witness that it doesn't. The sun might slip down to the horizon and slide out of sight briefly before popping up again but in that time it stays light. Imagine how light it is half an hour before dawn or after the sun sets at home and that's probably darker than it ever gets here in Alaska in summer.

    So, with a few other bleary eyed travellers we headed for the airport and be reunited with our luggage which had been collected a 11pm the night before (actually about 4 hours earlier) not sure why we couldn't just take the cases with us, the coach was big enough, but that's not how it's done. Stranger still because this way you don't see the people handling the luggage so there's nobody to tip (surprised these guys missed that opportunity) it just magically disappears from outside your room and appears in the next one, or in this case, on the pavement (sorry sidewalk) outside the terminal building. Fortunately the checking in staff didn't ask "could anyone have tampered with your luggage?" So I didn't have to "Well yes, anyone really".

    Tired and grumpy doesn't make for a good travelling day but, I have to say, it went pretty well like clockwork, we made the connection in Seattle and were reunited with our luggage again in Victoria, had a very pleasant immigration control man and then we were in Canada. A quick adjust of the luggage (getting some heavy stuff out of the hand luggage which was needed to scrape the checked luggage below the weight limit, as usual) and headed for the bus into had just gone and, because it was Sunday, the next one wasn't for over an hour. The helpful information lady said "you've got wheels on the luggage it's just about a 10 - 15 minute walk to the hub where you can get the bus into town....yeah right!

    Eventually we found our way out of the airport after touring the car park, sheltering under a tree from a torrential hail storm, walking up a cycle track and having to turn down an invitation to a Jehovah's Witness party that a kind lady stopped her car to give us and there was the bus hub with not a bus in sight. We were just trying to work out which stop we needed when there was our bus going passed on the street by the side of the hub and at the top of some steps! But the bus driver spotted us and waited whilst we "ran" over and up the stairs.

    An hour later we "debarqued" the bus (well that's what they call it when you get off the ship!) and had a short walk, really this time, to our apartment, well almost to our apartment in Chinatown. The address looked correct but the man behind the desk said "what are talking about this is an art gallery!" Just in case you're wondering why we couldn't tell the difference between an apartment complex and an art gallery, our first hotel in Vancouver was an art gallery AND hotel it wouldn't be without precedence. Anyway, we finally found the back alley approach to our apartment, put in the code to the gate and we were in, the cleaner, who couldn't speak English, was just finishing up so Gill got to practice her Spanish. We got some washing on, found some basic supplies, cooked a meal and thankfully went to bed pooped to get ready for the bike ride tomorrow.
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  • Day16


    June 9 in the United States

    Today's excursion was an excellent finale to our Alaska Experience.

    Our coach driver Emma also offered us a musical safety announcement and sang us the Alaskan National song en route to our first stop, the Alaska Pipeline and Gold Dredger 8. Our guide, Tim, filled us in on the details of the pipeline. Oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay in 1968 and the Alyeska Pipeline Company started designing the pipeline in 1970. The pipeline was an epic feat of petroleum engineering. The pipe diameter is 48 inches, spans 3 mountains, 30 rivers and streams and terminates in the ice free port of Valdez. Construction lasted from 1974 to 1977 and cost $8 billion. The pipeline included many elevated crossings to avoid disturbing movement of big game herds and areas of permafrost.

    We boarded a replica train of the Tanana Valley railway and before setting off we were entertained with music performed by Emma's (the bus driver) Dad. During the train journey we had a informative talk and stops explaining how much water was required for the dredging operation and how in 1929 the Davison Ditch was built to carry water 91 miles from the headwaters of the Chatanika River to Fox where the dredger is today.

    Gold Dredger 8 was built in Pennsylvania, dismantled and transported to San Francisco, then shipped to Seward, and finally taken by train to Fox. It operated between 1928 and 1959. The dredger mechanically dug into the bank, scooping up the gold bearing gravel, it then went into the trimmer and stacker to separate out the gold. The gold was then heated and made into gold bars and finally was posted off to the federal bank.

    When we arrived we were given a poke sack of pay dirt and a pan. We were seated at a trough of water and taught how to pan for gold. Tony and I ended up with $28 of gold which we had put in a locket and stuck on a magnet. We also received free coffee and cookies. We were entertained by fiddle playing on the train before we set off back.

    Our next stop was for lunch by the stern-boat dock. Our lunch was a stew made to an original pioneers' recipe. We boarded the stern wheeler boat for our 3 hour cruise and were told about the Binkley family who own the boat operation. In 1898 Charles Binkley hiked over the Chilkoot Pass (the Pass we saw near Skagway on the cruise part of our trip), he became a respected pilot and boat builder. His son, Jim Binkley followed in his footsteps and piloted freight vessels on the Yukon and Tanana Rivers in the 1940's. This was a challenging 2,000 mile round trip and involved working with native Alaskans, trappers, traders, miners, missionaries and prospectors. By the early 1950's the railroad and airplanes were taking most of the freight so Captain Jim and his wife Mary started a river boat excursion business in Fairbanks. Initially they purchased a 25 passenger boat in 1950 and went on to build Discovery I their first sternwheeler in their backyard. Their sons and grandsons have continued in the business usually starting from the age of 10 working in the gift shop and eventually becoming qualified captains. There are 11 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.

    The first entertainment on the boat was to watch a bush pilot takeoff and land a plane on the river. We then stopped at Susan Butcher's Champion Sled Dogs Kennel, and were shown some cute one month old husky puppies by Tekla, Susan's daughter and watched an Experience dog team race around the property. Susan won the 1,100 mile Iditarod Dog Sled Race 4 times and led the only climbing party to conquer by dog team Mount McKinley. Sadly she died of Leukemia in 2006 but her husband has tutored their daughters to become accomplished mushers and the championship kennels continue to flourish. Our final stop and disembarque was at the Athabaskan Indian Fish Camp, here we learnt about how they smoke the fish to feed the dogs and themselves throughout the long winter. We saw how they hunt the game and use their pelts for clothing and bedding and how they built their houses since western men have been in the area and also how they built canoes and dwellings before western men and when they were nomadic. We returned to the boat and enjoyed complimentary coffee and blueberry doughnuts and then sampled smoked salmon and cream cheese on crackers. We passed by Mary Binkley's house and she gave us all a cheery wave. Jim passed away in 2003 but Mary, at 92, still plays an active role in the company.

    We returned to the hotel for a quick supper and the quest of ensuring our check in bags only weigh 50 pounds!!! Tomorrow we have to be up at 2.30 am to get the 3.30 am shuttle to the airport, a short night but we know it won't get dark as we are now up to about 20 plus hours of full daylight.

    Before going to sleep I took a little time to reflect on our Alaskan experience. Alaska is a state (even though most of the time if feels like a separate country from the lower 48), a place of splendid natural beauty and teaming with magnificent wildlife. It has a feeling of being remote, some places are still only accessible by bush plane or boat, even towns like Fairbanks don't have gas supplies and there are plenty of people that live in dry houses with no running water and just an outhouse. For year round residents Summers, which are short, are about preparing for the long hard winters. Summers is a time for repairing the roads damaged by the winter weather, plentiful seasonal jobs for the tourist industry and 20 plus hours of day light. There are no school snow days in winter you just get your snow shoes on or jump on your snow machine and daylight is between 11 am and 2.30 pm! The Alaskans are a hardy bunch some native First Nation, others with family lines going back to the pioneers of the Gold Rush era and others just came here fell in love with the place and stayed. We 'lucked out', as they say in the US, we had clear blue skies most of the way which certainly adds to the experience but is not normal out here. It is definitely a place for wearing layers, you never know from one minute to the next what the temperature is going to be.

    If you have not been, put Alaska on your bucket list!!!
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  • Day15


    June 8 in the United States

    Our departure time from Denali is 2.30 pm so we have a leisurely morning to enjoy our last day in the Alaskan mountains. After breakfast we strolled around the shops and galleries in Denali. The shops are just for the tourist season and even the traffic lights are turned off when the tourists leave. The galleries of native arts and crafts usually have some very beautiful merchandise but with our luggage allowance restrictions we have to keep our dollars in our pocket! After shopping, we walked along the Nenana River nature trail and enjoyed seeing and reading about the native plants and trees which are blooming rapidly due to the long hours of daylight.

    Our bus driver, Faith, delivered the bus safety announcement in song accompanied by her yuk - a novel idea. We had another moose sighting just by the highway. Faith was in her early 20s and was up in Alaska with her husband (who was driving the bus in front) for their 1st season. Faith had already picked up some amusing stories including one about the little town of Ferry which originally had houses on both sides of the river but when the Alaskan railway was built they built a bridge over the river and the residents were initially allowed to use it but it was then decided to be too dangerous so crossing the bridge was banned. The residence were most unhappy about this decision and their method of protest was for them all to line up when a train came through and they dropped their pants to moon at the passengers!!!! Alaskan Railways quickly decided to reverse their decision. But every 4 July the residents come out and moon for the train passengers and tickets for this journey have to be booked well in advance.

    We stopped at Nenana for coffee and super big cakes and biscuits were on offer. Nenana holds an annual competition where people can buy a ticket for $2.50 and have to guess the exact date and time the ice will break on the river (this usually happens late April/early May). The prize money is usually around $200,000. Nanana had also been a first stop for the Iditarod mushers race.

    After the stop Faith arranged an Alaska trivia quiz with 'gold' chocolates (Rolos) as the prize for each correct answer. Faith also sang the Alaskan national song to us. It was an entertaining journey and Faith earned her tip.

    When we arrived in Fairbanks we walked downtown and saw the square, fountain, clock and old style shop fronts. We didn't find any of the restaurants too appealing in town so we returned to our hotel and enjoyed a meal there. Fairbanks, like most other Alaskan Towns, was established due to the Gold Rush. There is a large military presence in the area and the town flourished when the 800 mile Alaska Oil pipeline was under construction but then declined. Tourism is a major but seasonal industry here. There are a number of smarter and more modern shopping plazas out of town and the town has a university and an international airport plus a bush plane airport. The town is in the interior, only120 miles from the Artic Circle and has a dry climate and less snowfall than other areas but temperatures in winter are still 30 or 40 degreesF below zero and people and planes get around on skis, snowshoes or snow machines.
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  • Day14


    June 7 in the United States

    Our Tundra Wilderness tour departed at 6 am this morning, no time for breakfast just time to grab our lunch boxes and one last visit to the restrooms as comfort breaks are limited. We boarded our school bus style vehicle and 'were on our way' (a phrase frequently used by tour guides!).

    Our very knowledgeable guide, Brian from Kentucky, has been in Alaska for 15 years and really loves the wilderness. Our journey would take us 62 miles into the park (and 62 miles back) and take approximately 7 hours. There is only general admission to the first 15 miles, then entry is strictly by tour bus or by foot. A maximum of 160 buses per day are allowed into the park. The park covers 6 million acres and has been a national park for 101 years. The park has remained relatively pristine, and has not been invaded by non native plants and animals, it is a haven, not only for individual species but for intact ecosystems.

    Charles Sheldon, a conservationist, fought to create Denali as a national park as he was greatly concerned about the hunting of the Dall sheep and was anxious to protect them and the imposing mountains and rugged landscape of Denali.

    Our journey took us through Igloo Forest, Sable Pass, Polychrome Pass and over several rivers to Stoney Croft Overlook at mile 62. The gravel road in its entirety is 90 miles to Kantishna.

    Our first spot of the day was a moose (at last a good view and picture of a moose). We then saw Caribou, a ptarmigan bird (Alaska's national bird), a beautiful red fox, then, sat on a hill next to the road were some female Dall sheep with babies. Then our prize spot, a mama grizzly bear with a last year's cub. The pair were golden brown and right alongside our bus, we could take pictures out of the open window and it was very exciting and maybe a little scary to be so close to a 300 - 400 pound grizzly!!!! We also saw some artic ground squirrels nicknamed cheese pizzas because that is what they look like if they don't cross the road carefully. Hopping around were many snowshoe rabbits which, at this time of year, have white lower half and grey top half bodies, I think we have been told they are all white in winter and grey in summer to blend in with their surroundings.

    The scenery is just magnificent, majestic mountains, glacial rivers, fresh green shoots on trees and shrubs, mountain flowers, water running out from underneath patches of snow, animal tracks in the snow and sightings of animals and birds in this vast wilderness, the air feels so fresh and clean. We reached an elevation of 4000 feet and were above the tree line for some of the journey. On the return journey we had a further sighting of our 2 grizzlies and an example of how quickly the weather changes, the blue skies disappeared, it started to rain, then hail, then sleet. The only thing we didn't see was a view of Mount Denali but, as we have been told before, only 30% of all visitors see any of the mountain and half of those get to see all the mountain, we were so lucky,as when we were in the lodge near Talkeenta, we saw the whole of Mount McKinley and the entire mountain range.
    This tour was another great highlight of the trip.

    We returned to the hotel for a snooze before the evenings activity which was a trip to the Golden Nugget Saloon to attend a dinner show. We walked down to the Denali Square were seated by Miss Molly and introduced to Miss Kitty our server. We had a good meal followed by an excellent show which told the story of the first climbers to reach the top of Mount McKinley. Walter Harper was the first, with Harry Karstens, Hudson Stuck and Ribera Tatum. It was appropriate that Harper was the first to stand on top of the mountain as he was half Athabaskan and the Athabaskan believe the mythical Raven created the mountain by throwing his spear so it is a spiritual place for them.
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  • Day13


    June 6 in the United States

    Our schedule has us leaving the Lodge at 11 am so we had time for a leisurely breakfast and another walk on the Lodge Trail to take some pictures and spot some more moose poo. It was a 45 minute journey to Talkeena railway station were we boarded the train for Denali. The first section of the trip is a flag down route because there is only trains that travel this route, no highway, so people have to flag down the train to travel around in this region. We saw more spectacular Alaskan scenery and wild life spotting of moose and bears - I even caught sight of the backside of a moose but all happened too fast for a picture. The domed carriages were perfect for viewing. We had lunch on the train with another couple from Florida and enjoyed some time on the outside platform. The second two thirds of the journey did follow the highway so we had plenty of train toots as we crossed over the highway. We had a very short journey to McKinley Chalet situated just outside the national park.

    We had a quick turnaround and were then in a bus to catch a covered wagon pulled by 2 horses to take us out to a remote cabin in the forest for supper. We had a pleasant ride through the countryside with one moose sighting and quite a few mosquitos! Our guides were a french lad, a Slovakian lad and a girl from Vermont - not exactly locals but very personable. The meal was delicious, corn, salads, ribs, chicken and chilli followed by dessert. We returned to our accommodation at 10.30 pm in broad daylight!
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  • Day12


    June 5 in the United States

    We left Anchorage around 9.30 am and set off on our three and a half hour drive to Mount McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, near Talkeetna. The route was mainly on a two lane road and we went through a couple of little towns including Willow and Trappers Creek, again we followed the rail route and spotted a train today. There was a considerable amount of damp meadow land, ideal for moose, and plenty of road signs saying look out for moose but despite all my best efforts I didn't see one, still on my to see list!

    The Lodge is in Denali Park and it is another beautiful and clear day so we have had great views of the mountain including Mount McKinley, also known as Mount Denali, which is the second highest mountain in the USA and the Alaskans claim from base to peak it is bigger than Mount Everest.
    After eating lunch, sat outside with a great view of the mountains, we went on a very interesting and amusing nature walk with a park ranger. She was bought up in Alaska on the army base in Anchorage. She told us how Alaska has a very quick switch from Spring to Summer, it was snowing here just a few weeks ago but now the sun is out and there is daylight for 19 hours everything bursts into life very quickly, for example, she saw no forget me knots (Alaska's state flower) in bloom yesterday but today they are blooming all around the property. A number of the birch trees show signs of where the moose have eaten the bark during the winter when nothing else was available. We can also now recognise moose poo!!! There are plenty of ferns in the forest, lupins, geraniums, elderflowers, alder trees and lichen. After this walk we set off on our own to walk the hill trail, we read the instructions about if we saw a bear we made lots of noise to let him know we were there, if it was a big brown bear and he attacks just curl up and play dead, if a moose's ears go back he is going to charge so go and hide behind a tree!!! Ok we know what to do! We set off on the trail, enjoyed visiting the tree top house and looking at the magnificent views of the mountain range and returned to the lodge with no wildlife encounters. We were told by a member of house keeping she had just seen a moose at block 20 and she showed us a picture, we rushed over there but 'mooseteriously' it had disappeared.

    We had a delicious (and expensive) meal at 20,320 Alaskan Grill which included salmon with blueberry sauce, chocolate s'mores, lemon cake and huckleberry ice cream. We watched photosymphony in the Hudson Theatre which was pictures of the Aurora set to music.
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  • Day11


    June 4 in the United States

    This land part of the trip is not as efficient as the cruise. The speakers on the bus didn't work well yesterday, the toilets were closed on the first wee stop as they couldn't be pumped out until the spring thaw (best not to dwell on that one!) and the driver can't handle our surname so tends to pass over us on role call! The hotel is lovely but the front desk seems to make up any information they don't know, when we asked about using the bikes they told us the rental shop was open 10 am - 6 pm, in reality it is open 8 am - 8 pm! Also there was a 20 minute wait to be seated for breakfast in the dining room so we opted for the Star Bucks cafe. Our co-travellers (using the US term) are not very tolerant of poor service and are getting their dollars out of their pockets less than usual for tipping.

    We collected our cruiser bikes and set off along the bike path, passed Moose Meadow (unfortunately no moose spotted yet) into the 'town' of Girdwood. Another very small, rural town which hasn't changed in years. We went into a little cafe and observed the locals, everyone seemed on 1st name terms and we were definitely the only tourists present. There is a much higher percentage of native origin people here than in other parts of the US but 'out of season' life must be tough up here with heavy snow falls, very little day light and limited supplies etc. so only the real Alaskans are up to the challenge.

    We boarded the bus and sampled true Alaskan weather for the first time, it started to rain. Our driver had mended the PA system which proved to be a bit of a mixed blessing! He told us some bears had been scratching at the bus during the night. We only had a short journey to our first stop at Portage Glacier where we went on a boat ride out to see the glacier. One of the crew spotted a bear so we stopped to watch him on the hillside. All the bears are quite thin this time of year and very hungry as they have just come out of their winter hibernation. We had a quick food break at the visitors centre then went onto the Alaskan Wild Life Conservation Centre where injured animals are looked after. We saw black and brown bears, moose, elks, reindeer, wolves and a porcupine.

    Our journey took us along Turnagain Arm. Captain Cook was trying to find a north west trading passage and when he reached this area he kept having to turn again as there was no route through. Cook never returned to England as he was killed in Hawaii. George Vancouver was on Cook's expedition and when he returned to this area he named the bay Cook Inlet. This area has one of the biggest bore tides in the world reaching up to 10 feet.

    We arrived in Anchorage around 6 pm, it is definitely the biggest city we have seen with some smart residential areas, a few skyscrapers, parks and some shopping malls. It felt a bit like when we were in New Zealand and we arrived in Wellington and suddenly there were modern malls and shops instead of the original style settler buildings. Anchorage also is surrounded by mountains (and active volcanos!) as well as being an earthquake zone!

    We had a quick supper then went on the trolley bus tour. Like many other towns Gold played a part in the first settlers coming here, followed by the construction of the rail road, then the military were posted here and finally the discovery of oil caused another influx of people. In 1964 Anchorage was hit by a 9.2 earthquake which lasted over 4 minutes and land dropped by several feet in parts of the town. A significant rebuilding programme was required. Our tour guide pointed out where the earthquake hit, we visited Earthquake park where houses were buried. We saw the old railway station, Captain Cook's statue, the meadow area where the urban moose are often seen, the lake where the floatplanes take off and the land planes runway which crosses the road!
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  • Day10


    June 3 in the United States

    Last morning on the ship so we took the opportunity to have a last breakfast in the dining room. We then caught the shuttle bus into Seward, another frontier town which hasn't changed much over the years even though it experienced a major earthquake in 1964. Another town with a very low population in winter but numbers swell when a cruise ship comes in. Also it seems a very popular venue for RVs to stop off. I had a very nice coffee at sea bean cafe. We walked around town and along the coastal path passed all the RVs and watched a whale in the bay who did breech for us but we didn't get a good shot. We saw Marathon Mountain which is extremely steep but every 4th July they have a running race up there and people have completed the course in just over 40 minutes - amazing.

    We had a last snack in the Lido then joined our bus heading for Alyeska Resort. The scenery en route was magnificent, snow capped mountains, blue glacial rivers and lakes and bald eagles gliding up in the blue skies, again it was a sun drenched day and again we were told this is not usual weather in Alaska. Our lodge has a stunning location in the mountains and when we arrived we took a ride up to the snowy mountain top in the tram (cable car), walked in the snow and had our supper up there in the Bore Tide Deli, not fine dining, the silverware was plastic, but the portions were large. There was a fiddle event taking place in the grounds so our ride was accompanied by some country music sounds.
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  • Day9

    A leisurely get up and then off to the dining room for eggs benedict! Our breakfast companions were a couple from Vancouver who are hiring a car and doing 2 weeks independently taking in Whitehorse and Dawson City, they said June is the best time, especially for wildlife spotting, so they have inspired us to take another trip to Alaska! I took part in the 5km walk around the deck which was a fund raiser for Cancer Research. I got chatting with Rebecca Burke from Dallas and I think we were so busy talking we did 10 circuits rather than 9 as the cookie and lemonade stand had packed up when we passed it for the final time!

    We looked at the cruise photos, had lunch then started our packing. We arranged to meet with Cheryl and Ted for afternoon tea and said our final goodbyes but have exchanged email addresses so we can keep in touch.

    When we returned to the cabin we had been delivered a voyage log which informed us we had travelled, 1,771 miles on the ship and it had consumed 205,000 gallons of fuel, there were 794 officers and crew, the crew had 35 different nationalities. We are just over a week into our holiday and have already travelled 7,000 miles.

    We had our last cruise dinner in the dining room, completed our packing, put the cases outside the door and are now ready for our land journey adventure.
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