The next morning Kathy was going to the sled dog center so I dropped her off at the bus that took her there. I went off to find a coffee mug and pint glass. No pint glasses were to be found that morning, but I did find a couple koozys I liked. I also picked up a bit of groceries in the small “we gouge you” market.
Before noon the smoke moved in that Sunday morning and I was starting to wonder about the trip to the interior in the morning.
It was still pretty smokey the next morning as I was packing a lunch and water for the long bus ride as the paperwork said there was nothing available during the trip.
I got there early and was first in line. Of course, just prior to the bus loading, I was told there were two women with issues that were going to move to the front of the line. They weren’t there yet, so I assumed some very old folks. Then a few minutes later the women came back and asked if they could sit with their husbands too. I said sure but that I would board first. She agreed.
They finally got there and these two were in their 20’s with no discernible issues from what I could tell, and that proved out the rest of the trip. They all jumped up and were out of the bus at each stop before anyone else could even get their seatbelts unfastened, and were the last back on, usually almost running to get there before the doors closed as we would have to wait for them each time.
The road is paved for the first 15 miles, and right away we spotted a moose and her foal on the edge of the road just munching away on the weeds. She never looked at us, like she never noticed us even though we were just feet from her and the little one.
Not long after that we hit the dirt road and it was rough. The dust was like what we experienced on the TOTW Highway. Luckily most folks kept their windows in the bus closed. Now, these buses were really school buses with slightly better seats. Not much better seats, but they weren’t the bench seats from my elementary school days.
We made a few stops along the way on our four-hour odyssey to the Eielson Visitor Center. At each stop we stayed about 10 minutes.
After the first stop, the second was at a very wide riverbed which was about two hours into the bumpy trip. The road narrowed to little more than one lane, so one of the buses had to stop in a wide spot with their flashers on so the other bus could pass. Often it was the bus on the shear drop side that had to do the passing. I never did grok how it was determined which bus did the pulling over. It wasn’t always the downhill bus, which is normal for walking on trails. It seemed random. There were a lot of blind hairpin turns with a steep dropoff on one side, which didn’t seem so bad till we were coming back and were on the cliff side.
On the way out, we stopped to see Grizzly bears off in the distance foraging on the grasses. Did I mention the rough roads? The school bus was making such a racket as we went over the washboard that I was sure the front of the bus was going to break off. It was so loud I am confident you wouldn’t have been able to hear a train horn from 50 feet away.
Each of the few stops was like getting a reprieve from being waterboarded. We got to stop for a half hour once we got to Eielson Visitor Center. It was beautiful there. It was too bad there was so much smoke that we could not see the mountain, nor even tell what direction it was from there. I ate my packed ham and cheese sandwich sitting on a rock and looking at the closer mountains ringing us. It was a beautiful place. And we were off the bus, making it that much better!
The ride back was more hell and the road seemed a lot narrower as we were now on the cliff side. My seatmate was praying at each blind corner as we inched around it with the driver trying to see if another bus was coming. She kept saying, “Please turn” as we got closer and closer to the edge while the driver craned her neck to see a bit further around the corner. I must admit, there were so many of those corners and each time we seemed to get closer to the edge, it had my complete attention! Looking down each time was something I shouldn’t have been doing, but it was just there and impossible not to look.
After about 45 minutes driving on the edge of the cliff, we got down to where there weren’t as many cliffs and everyone gave a sigh of relief that we made it. The rest of the ride was a lot less stressful. We got to see the same animals as on the way out with one exception. There was a Marmot on the edge of the road that didn’t scurry away as we passed it this time as it had on the way out. I guess I was too preoccupied to take any pictures of the ride back along the cliff.
There was a curious sight. After coming around a corner, there was a caribou in the middle of the road and he walked right up to the bus. After getting a really close look at us and being unimpressed, he walked slowly off the road into the brush.
We got back to the bus depot just after 5pm. It felt like we had been on that bus for days. Eight hours in a school bus on bumpy dirt roads is an extremely long time. I wouldn’t do that again.
To my delight, Kathy was already there and waiting to drive me back to the RV!!
Later that evening I drove up to 49th State Brewing for a growler fill and to pick up a pint glass from the area. What a cool place, and it was a madhouse on a Monday evening, packed to the gills.
And outside was what looked like the infamous Magic Bus from Krakauer’s Into the Wild. That was the first Krakauer book I ever read. Turns out we were very close to the bus McCandless died in. It was maybe 10 miles out a trail that is so rough now even the tour folks only take Unimogs to it anymore.
I headed back to the RV to self-medicate from the torturous bus ride that day.
We were heading to Wasilla the next morning, skipping a spot I wanted to spend a couple days at called K’esugi Ken campground. It was just too smokey there and I could see on the Windy.com app that Wasilla would be mostly smokefree for the next few days.