Year 2 Summary – Part 2

It is an amazing thing – that we have been full-time RVers for 2 years!  It’s been 2 years since we have owned a house and had all the things that go along with that – taxes, yard maintenance, cleaning nearly 3000 sq ft of rooms.  That is the stuff I DO NOT miss! 

To be completely honest though, there are things I do miss.  I miss entertaining my family and friends, be it for holidays or just a summer-time BBQ.  Bill and I always had someone at the house, sometimes for a night or two or three and sometimes longer, up to 2 years!  Our door was always open!  

Overall, we are very happy with our choice of lifestyle.  Some people are very supportive and understanding, others not so much.   Some people admit a bit of jealousy and wish they were either brave enough or financially in a place that they could do it themselves; others think we are off our rockers!   We accept all perspectives, and try to listen then ignore naysayers and negativity.  

Our lifestyle has allowed us to spend more time with family and friends than ever before in year 2.  Although, interestingly we have not seen any immediate family in quite a while, due to our current summer location of AK.  I am very much loving being here, living like a local in Seward, but it must be acknowledged that it is FAR from everywhere else!   Can’t drive a few hours and see my parents or kids or siblings.   

Not physically seeing immediate family in a long time has proven difficult for me.   This could possibly be due to all that is going on that I am not there for.  My son has been experiencing some difficulties, as has my sister.  It is hard being away from them.  On happier fronts 

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Tracys Birthday Celebration in Valdez

 

Before I start, I have to give credit to Ben Brilhart for the pic of the puffin I’m using as my featured pic (above).  I had a hard time deciding since there were so many great photos this week!  Read on and I share all the best ones!

So, we left off last week, literally, on our ride to Glennallen. We had stopped for the night at the Eagle River Fred Meyer, a grocery store.


We woke in the morning to mostly clear skies and SUN!  We had not seen sun in what felt like forever!  I was so excited!

The drive to Glennallen was very nice – gorgeous scenery and SUN!  And blue skies!  There were still some clouds, but the nice white puffy kind, not the dark, rain threatening kind.

pretty

I took a pic of my shadow – its been so long since I’ve seen it!


We arrived at Northern Nights CG about 12:45pm; Jo & Ben had beat us there by about 1/2 hour!  Hugs all around was such a nice welcome!  I didn’t realize it, but Tracy & Lee had the day off!

We did have a weird thing happen in the rig on the way to Glennallen that I’m going to share to maybe help it from happening to someone else.  When we arrived, Bill hooked up the water and realized he heard water running somewhere, which he shouldn’t have.  He entered the rig and realized our shower was on – weird!  We keep our hampers in the shower (just remove them into the bedroom when we shower) so all the clothes in there got soaked!  UGH!  He quickly realized the culprit was a soap container came down out of the shower caddy and must have knocked into the water handle on its way down, turning on the water!  So – I had an unexpected load of laundry to do!  Lesson learned – take everything out of the shower caddy when towing!

After a short “what is this week going to look like food wise?” chat, us girls headed to the liquor store and the local IGA.  It was so nice to have some girl time!  Tracy got carded at the liquor store and we learned why – I mean Tracy doesn’t look old but she is clearly over 21!  Seems that some people in AK have their driver licenses marked in some way that they aren’t allowed to buy alcohol!  None of us had heard of that before!  Alcohol and drug problems are huge up here and it’s one way the state of AK has chosen to deal with it.  Wonder if it actually helps?

We enjoyed the rest of the day and into the evening – we were able to eat dinner outside!  We had yummy chicken (thanks Lee!), steamed broccoli, and roasted potatoes (thanks Tracy!).  We actually had dessert first – red velvet cookies – courtesty of Bridget (Tracy had the dough in the freezer from when she and Lee visited her a while back) (you also may remember Bridget from one of my February posts – Bill and I had dinner with her one night while we were in New Orleans!) and I quickly whipped up some cream cheese frosting!  They were YUMMY!  Thanks Bridget!  We just love how our whole RV Dreams family stays connected!

Peyton puppy kisses

frosting the cookies

hanging out

good one of Ben

dinner time!

sunset – we haven’t seen a sunset in a LONG time!

After dinner we had a FIRE!  First time in a LONG (too long) time! We sat out with our wine til it was almost dark (keeping in mind it still doesn’t get fully dark until the middle of the night)!  What a perfect ending to a most awesome day!

The plan for Sunday was to have a relaxing start, coffee and cinnamon buns (thanks Jo & Ben!) and let Tracy & Lee pack up (something they haven’t done in months!) – we were going to Valdez!  New territory!  Some place new!

Tracy & Lee were just about ready; Bill decided he wanted to fill up on fuel.  We drove up to “the hub” on the corner – what a crazy busy place!  The plan had been Tracy & Lee and Jo & Ben  would come up the road and we would pull in behind them and we’d be on our way.  Tracy had a bunch of stops planned along the route of things to see.  Didn’t quite end up that way.  We had synced our walkie talkies so we could communicate on the ride and as we pulled away from the pumps, we got a call that Tracy & Lee’s brakes and lights weren’t working – ut oh!  We headed back, hoping for an easy fix – but there wouldn’t be one.  Took the 3 guys a good chunk of the afternoon but we (Tracy, Jo & I – sitting at a picnic table out of the way!) finally saw the blinkers and brake lights!  The pull-check confirmed the brakes were also working!  Just like that – it was time to go!  We did have to pull over for a quick tweak a bit later on, but all was good!  YAY!

The ride down to to Valdez was beautiful, In spite of the clouds.  There were areas that were more bumpy than others, but overall the road was ok.  We made a few stops to see things, again, in spite of the rain/clouds.

having some Mexican from the local food truck – YUMMY!

we’ve been on better, but also worse, roads – see where the frost heave was fixed?

amazing views everywhere

don’t see this every day!

three men and a glacier

waterfalls everywhere!

Us!

all lined up

info about the tunnel

I didn’t want to go into the tunnel

3 ladies and a waterfall

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We arrived at Valdez Glacier CG, a military CG that allows the public also.  The sites are large and have lots of screening.  They are so large that Jo & Ben decided to share our site!  We set-up right across from Tracy & Lee.  It was dinner time by the time we were all settled in, and we enjoyed a delish meal of pulled pork that Tracy had made ahead of time.

The following day, after yummy biscuits and gravy, bacon and pancakes, out we went to see some sights!  Bill & I and Jo & Ben decided to also stop at the local museum to learn some Valdez history.

salmon are spawning

closer view

Valdez

the birds would fly under the bridge, land then ride the water to the edge then fly back and start again – they are eating fish eggs

it is amazing how determined the salmon were to get up there!

salmon spawning

this guy didn’t make it – got stuck when the tide – this is a Coho or Silver salmon

barge and tug in Valdez harbor

inside view of the pipe scrubber – commonly called a scraper pig

side view

inside the museum – example of a typical cabin

this is a cute little bunny

this bar was brought in and is in the museum in Valdez

more museum stuff

says it all – as a side note – this is the owner of the cruise to Columbia Glacier we went on


Later on, after dinner (hamburgers, hot dogs, brats and salad), we headed back to see if we might see some bears feasting on salmon.  Someone had told Tracy the best time was mid-tide, but I think when we were there the tide was out.  No bears, but we did walk over to the fish hatchery to see that.

I just love waterfalls – and they are everywhere

we had been hoping to see bears fishing – but no

this is part of the salmon ladder

info on how the hatchery works


Tuesday was Tracys BIG 50! She had picked going on a glacier cruise for her birthday – so we took advantage of an offer in the TourSaver book – a 7 hour cruise with Stan Stephens.  We arrived on time for the required 10am check-in, and then hung out til they started boarding at 10:30.  Exactly at 11am, we were underway.  The sun was peaking out a little bit, and clouds were higher than the previous day, so we were all hopeful none of the predicted rain would fall!

Valdez harbor

the birthday girl

be sure to read ALL the rules! ha!

Prince William Sound

unbeatable scenery

we only got little peaks of blue sky

 

glacier and waterfalls all over the place!

The crew served us our lunch of hot clam chowder (Ben opted for the veggie Minestrone), bagel with cream cheese and Oreos for dessert.  The bagels were more like round bread, but the chowder was good and hot, a nice choice considering the chill in the air!

3 BFF’s

the views don’t quit

just a little bit more blue

love this one how there are white puffy clouds below the dark stormy ones

The mountains were all around us as the captain (who looked about 12 years old!) steered toward the Columbia Glacier.  We started seeing ice chunks in the water, some were fairly small, some were real iceberg size!  Captain Ben told us about the glacier as he dodged the larger pieces, and pushed through the smaller ones.

blue ice chunks everywhere – there are different categories – growlers, bergy bits, small, medium, large and very large icebergs

OTTERS! so cute!

they are so adorable

this pic is courtesy of Ben Brilhart - Columbia Glacier - almost makes me want to spend $2000 on a lens

this pic is courtesy of Ben Brilhart – Columbia Glacier – almost makes me want to spend $2000 on a lens

there were lots of ice floating in the water – the captain navigated around the larger pieces and just knocked the smaller pieces out of the way

the dirty ice is ice that has cut away at the ground as it went down the mountain

We spent some time at the face of the glacier, snapping pics, in awe of it.  This glacier is not as high out of the water as the other one we saw, but much wider.  The crew told us at the highest point, it is only about 200 feet above the water, but about 600 feet below.

me, Bill, Ben, Tracy, Jo and Lee

the face of Columbia Glacier

was a bit chilly by the glacier – the temps drop about 20 degrees when we got that close to it

 

glacier ice the crew fished out of the water – notice how clear it is

the blue ice is so cool!


Next stop was Bullhead Point, where Stellar Sea Lions were lazing around and Puffins were buzzing about.

this shows how icebergs have so little above water while there is so much below the water line

goodbye Columbia Glacier!

Stellar Sea Lions just lazing about – we learned that these do not bark like California Sea Lions

juvenile bald eagle - pic courtesy of Ben Brilhart

juvenile bald eagle – pic courtesy of Ben Brilhart

mature bald eagle - pic courtesy of Ben Brilhart

mature bald eagle – pic courtesy of Ben Brilhart

these guys must have been up on this buoy for a while, they were dry

more gorgeous views

yes – that is Bill out on the bow!

We were disappointed not to see any whales, especially after a lady who had gone the day before told us they saw many orcas.  Wild life that is truly wild is kind of like the weather, we get no control, they go where they go and sometimes they are where we can view them, sometimes (like our day out in Prince William Sound), they aren’t.

For dinner that night, we enjoyed chicken fajitas, with the cheesecake Tracy had chosen for her birthday cake.  We were all stuffed!  Happy Birthday Tracy!

It was time to pull up jacks, dump our tanks and head out in the morning – we had another glacier to get a close up view of!  We lined up for the drive with Jo & Ben in the lead.  The clouds were higher and sun was more visible, so we were hoping for some better views on our drive out.

Jo & Ben’s leading the way – gorgeous scenery!


The Worthington Glacier is not as large as Columbia, but we got to walk right up to it!  Even Jo, who is still nursing a broken ankle!


Before heading out, we decided to have our lunch, while still able to see the glacier.  Can’t beat that view!

We got all set-up back at Northern Nights by about 3pm.  Plenty of time to chill before making Tracys “official” birthday meal of king crab and steak!  She borrowed a pot from her boss so we could more easily steam them, and we had 2 grills going with steak and chicken.  I made enough salad for everyone.  Needless to say – it was all delish!  Thanks for treating us to the crab Tracy & Lee!

Lee started a fire and we sat and chatted til about 10.  It has been a long few days, but every minute was wonderful – spent with great friends – celebrating a special time!

Today Bill and I have a long drive back to Seward.  I’ve been asked a few times now if we are still enjoying our time there or are we ready to move on.  It is difficult to answer frankly.  We generally don’t stay put this long, since we have been full-time RVers, so part of me has a bit of hitch itch, as we call it.  The other part of me is thinking “how can we ever be ready to leave this amazing place?”  Where do we go after this?  Spending this summer in AK is the fulfillment of a life-long bucket list dream – and its come true!  How does one get ready to end that?  I know as the weeks continue – I will “get ready” because I have family to see – and that will motivate me to “get ready”.  I can totally understand how people come here and never leave (bear in mind I haven’t seen a winter), as AK is a magical amazing place!  Would I return?  You betcha!  Might take awhile, as there are so many other places we haven’t discovered yet back in the lower 48, but it will be hard to not come back to this final frontier.

Mt Drum – from the driveway of Northern Nights CG in Glennallen

on our way back to our AK home

beautiful blue skies!

Sheep Mountain Lodge – our second visit to this great breakfast/lunch/dinner stop

Bill making friends with the grizzly

that grizzly was BIG!

Peyton was very curious about the moose

selfie with the moose!

Mantanuska Glaicer

four friends

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More of that Four Letter Word…

As a disclaimer – the title of this weeks’ post is not meant to imply that work (the 4 letter word) is a bad thing.  On the contrary, for us, where we are, in AK and even more specifically Renfros, is a wonderful thing!  I am using it mostly due to a comment when I posted  the post “hi ho hi ho it’s off to work we go!” on FB, some one referring to it as a four letter word – for some reason it stuck in my head.

This week has not been very exciting, I’m sad to report.  That doesn’t mean we haven’t had some good moments, but it’s mostly been about that four letter word – work – and getting ready for our upcoming week!  That means next weeks post should be a fun-filled good time!

Here at Renfros, it’s been a feast or famin week – with either a whole lot of cabins to clean or one day we actually had 0!  As in not one cabin!  That’s a first for us!  Another day we had one!  Another first!  One slightly busier day we cleaned 3!  Then the other days were 7,7,5, and 6!  So like I said – feast or famine! But it’s all good – we just do what needs to be done!


On our zero cabin day, we started the day with a pancake breakfast, complete with homemade pancakes – courtesy of Gary (using his Moms recipe!), bacon – thanks to Bob & Marna, Bill & I brought OJ and Cinnamon Buns.  Not world famous cinnamon buns that are all over AK and BC – just plain old Pillsbury pop-n-fresh kind out of that can that goes “POP” when you peel the label off.

we all wore our Renfros T-shirts that Marna designed and ordered for us! It was my idea to add the year

After breakfast, we headed out on a mission – BLUEBERRIES!  There is a trail nearby, the Victor Creek Trail – like literally across the street – and there are tons of bluebery bushes back in there!  Last years Workampers, Trisha & Justin (remember we met them at Amazon?), told Gary where to find the mother-load! We set out with our bear spray, rain jackets and containers, intent on picking at least enough for a pie!

this is as close to a beach as we’ve seen – and it isn’t sand – its glacier silt – its why the creeks and lakes are the color they are

interesting mushroom formations on the fallen trees

Gary getting off the trail

Bill watching for the best bushes!

more mushrooms

whos got the most? do we have enough for a pie?

cool looking tree roots


We were out about an hour and a half, with the rain holding off thankfully, and brought home plenty for a pie, and extra for the freezer!

After we got back, Gary headed to Anchorage, Bill & I cleaned the bathouse and did a few other things around the place while Marna researched blueberry pie recipes!

Later that evening, we gathered at the lodge for the pie!  Marna, who is known for her desserts, outdid herself!  The pie was delish!  At Gary’s suggestion (ok – maybe insistence!) she made a homemade crust – the whole thing was finger licking good!  She even brought vanilla ice cream to top the still-warm-from-the-oven pie!  Perfect!

she even braided the crust!

YUMMY!

There are a lot of mushrooms around the property – I assume due to the abundance of rain we’ve had.  Have I mentioned there’s been a lot of rain?  Like everyday? Except Wednesday – Wednesday we didn’t get rain – and even got a glimpse of -gasp! – blue sky!  We were so excited!

Momma mushroom and baby mushroom

Gary says the red ones are poison

just a plain brown one

I was so excited to see the blue!


Wednesday, we were so happy we decided to celebrate no rain by going to dinner – and after some deliberation – Thai food was the winner!  Gary suggested Woodies and off we went!

thats Bills “hurry and take the pic so I can eat!” face


By the time we got there, we were starving!  I had pineapple curry with chicken and Bill had red curry chicken.   We also ordered their version of crab Rangoon for an appetizer.  The whole meal was very good – we hadn’t had Thai in a LONG time!

After dinner, we had another stop to make.   We were picking up crab legs for Tracy, to celebrate her 50th birthday!  She wanted to treat us as part of her birthday celebration!  Well, we arrived and the only people there was the night processing people, who basically had nothing to do with the retail area.  We quickly learned their FB page was not kept up to date and they closed an hour earlier than stated there.  Ok – we will go across town and get them at the other recommended place in town.  Sadly, they were closed also.  Interestingly, their out front sign says “open: 6:30am  close: when the last boat comes in”.  Another trip into Seward would be needed – somewhat annoying but not a huge big deal.

The following evening after work, Bill got our dinner started and I (after calling to confirm their closing time and that they had what I wanted) headed into Seward, back to the Mermaids purse.  The place was packed!  The lady at the counter was very helpful, she did a thorough search of the freezer and came out to tell me there wasn’t any – could I come back tomorrow?  Ah – NO!  I explained that this was my second trip here and I had called in advance to confirm.  OH!  Ok – she then decided to drive over to get some from the commercial location – good idea!   I waited about 15 minutes and there was my crab!  Now we’re talking!   Stephanie decided to round down the lbs to account for the “excessive” ice (I don’t believe there was .23lbs of ice – but who am I to argue?), and she also gave me 10% off for my trouble of having to come back, and aplogized for the website being wrong.  I thanked her for her consideration, packed my crab into my cooler and back to Renfros and my waiting BBQ chicken I went!  Whew!

performing surgery on the bear proof garbage can


Today, Friday, We had 6 cabins.  Bob & Marna helped us b/c originally we were supposed to have 8, and Gary decided since we wanted to get done and leave, he would not cancel their assistance.  The extra help paid off and we were done by 3!  Dinner finished, showers had and packing up complete, we were on the road by 5:30!

 

Playing with the PAN feature on the phone camera


We’ve stopped for the night at the Eagle River Fred Meyer, done some shopping and had some pizza (nothing exciting, just the frozen kind).  We will finish the trip to Glennallen in the morning!  Sunday we drive down to Valdez – new territory!  It’s going to be a great week!

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Sometimes You Just Gotta Go With It…

Before I start, I want to say YAY ME!  This is my 100th post!  How cool is that!?

So, after our amazing weekend with friends, the balance of our week didn’t go quite as planned.

Monday, it was – guess what? – raining!  Bill and I figured it was a good day to see the Sea Life Center.  It was smaller than I expected, but very informative.  We got to see puffins up close!

Captain Bill

shrimp

starfish

puffins!

I had no idea there were so many different kinds of salmon

silly seal swimming upside down

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crab!

crab!

Tuesday we had been hoping to earn a bit of extra cash.  Gary’s neighbor, Jan (pronounced Yohn), had rented out some of his property to some photographers who were taking pictures of models wearing jeans for the clothing line Garage Jeans.  They had told Jan and Gary they may need help with some stuff.  We didn’t have much planned, just some chores, which did get done, but the photo shoot stuff didn’t pan out.  They did bring a bunch of food to the lodge, since Jan’s cabins don’t have electricity, therefore no refrigerator.  The wraps and seafood chowder were delish!

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Wednesday we were up and out, making our way to Anchorage.  I had an appointment for a follow-up mammogram – YAY ME!  NOT!  Anyway, that took longer than expected but all is well!

love how the fog is just sitting on the lake

love how the fog is just sitting on the lake

Our next stop was Sam’s Club for getting the front tires rotated and to pick up a few things.  There are two Sam’s Clubs in Anchorage and we decided to try the one we hadn’t been to yet, mostly because it was closer to the Imaging Center.  We dropped off the truck and headed into the store with our list.  About an hour later, we were all checked out and Bill had gotten the call that the truck was done.

When we stopped at the tire desk, we were given some bad news.  The tech who worked on our truck had stripped one of our wheel studs.  NOT COOL!  They apologized profusely, saying they would pay for the repair and we would get a gift card for our trouble when we brought the receipt in.  Ok – s*** happens sometimes.  We looked up the closest Ford dealer and plugged the address into the GPS.

The Ford dealer got us in almost right away, even after saying it would take an hour.  Seemed like our quickly souring day was looking up again!  Except they didn’t have the correct part and needed to wait to have it delivered from their other location.  Longer story short, we were there 2 1/2 hours!  I was NOT happy! It wasn’t their fault, but our day, which I initially thought would include a small blip, was essentially shot now!

See – after Sam’s Club, we were supposed to head back south toward Seward (which I should probably mention was an hour and a half drive away), and make the following stops:  Indian Valley Meats, Alyeska Tram and Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.  Doesn’t that all sound wonderful?  I thought so also!  Another point I’d like to make is the weather was fairly good for the earlier part of the day, but then getting more cloudy as the day went on.

We go back to Sam’s and there is no one in the tire department.  They are clearly still open, but no one around at all.  Instead of standing around, we go in search of a store manager.  Tiffany was the manager on duty and we gave her a quick run down on what had happened.  She knew nothing about it, but took our receipt and said she would be right back.  How long would you consider “right back” to be?  Maybe it’s just me, but I seriously thought it would be something less than half an hour.  By the time she got back to us, I was HOT!

So, she had cash to pay us for the repair and said we would have to walk over to customer service for our gift card.  I HAD to speak up.  I was very calm and polite.  I let her know how we were very grateful that the tire department had told us about what had happened, instead of having us find out by having a problem or at the next tire rotation.  Next, I let her know what my day was supposed to look like (see above) and compared it to what it ended up looking like, sitting in the Ford dealer.  I also emphasized that the “oops” that occurred with our wheel stud was 100% preventable, had the lug nut been started by hand instead of with the air gun!  She readily agreed that sucked and apologized again, asking if $150 cash would help.  I said yes, that would help a lot, thank you very much!  So, we walk over to customer service desk and walk away with our $150 in cash!

I was still disappointed to not have our planned for day, we even thought we may still be able to do the Alyeska Tram, but it has clouded up so much, didn’t seem worth it.  Indian Valley Meats had already closed by the time we went by and we wanted to spend more than the half hour we would have had at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.  I know there will be other days, but August is a very rainy month here on the Kenai Penninsula!  Not sure when we will be able to make it happen!

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The one thing we did do was stop at the Fish Viewing area at the Trail Lake Hatchery, which is just north of Moose Pass.  The salmon are coming in to spawn, and it was pretty cool to see.

there were lots of fish

there were lots of fish

Thursday we had told Gary we would work, since they had all 8 cabins to clean. It was pouring down rain most of the day anyway, may as well work.

we have to coolest looking mushrooms all around the property

we have to coolest looking mushrooms all around the property

check out this one!

check out this one!

this one is as big as Bill's hand!

this one is as big as Bill’s hand!

all of us enjoying the photo shoot left-overs for lunch!

all of us enjoying the photo shoot left-overs for lunch!

Today, Friday, we had a lazy morning and since the rain wasn’t awful, we thought we would go see Exit Glacier.  We got in the truck and got down there and the light drizzle rain turned into a much heavier rain.  We decided to wait for another day.  After a quick stop at the liquor store, we are back at home, getting ready for some dinner and a quiet evening of movie watching, or maybe a binge night on “The Americans”.

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 A Very Fun Friend Filled Weekend!

Our week off started about 4pm on Friday and after showers – we were outta here!  Linda & Steven were making dinner and we were bringing the HH apps, queso and guac with chips!  They were staying about 30 miles up the road at the Kenai Princess RV Park.  This was their last night on the Kenai Penninsula, the following morning they were heading to Anchorage and then back down to WA.

Ok – so we arrive and ate and drank and talked for hours!  The evening went by so quickly – we completely forgot a pic!  Us!  The selfie queens – how could this happen?  We were just focused on the fact that this would be our last evening for – well – we don’t know how long!  How sad is that?  VERY!  We had hugs and “see ya laters” and will hopefully catch up next spring on the east coast.  Neither of us has a definite plan – but be sure that all possible efforts will be made for paths to cross!

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this was not taken during our last visit, but is one of my fav pics of the 4 of us, taken during Happy Hour on our first day in Haines AK!

Safe travels guys!

We got home late – around midnight! – exhausted!  We had started early (7:30am!) so we could get done early and I struggled to stay awake on the ride home!

We slept in a bit Saturday, but not too late – I had cleaning and prepping to do!  Tracy & Lee were coming and spending the weekend with us – in our rig!  A double feature sleep-over!  There was an extra special occasion – Lee’s birthday!  I wanted everything just right!  This would be the first time having someone other than family stay with us.  There was some concern about the “closeness”, but we were willing to do whatever to make things go smoothly.

Our guests arrived around 4, while we were up at the lodge checking on the ribs that were slow cooking in the oven.  They came in and met Gary and looked around the lodge before we headed out to see the rest of the property.   All cabins were rented out, but #5 hadn’t checked in yet, so off we went to see it.

Northern Nights has cabins for rent, but they are very basic cabins, not “hotel room quality” cabins like we have here at Renfros.  Tracy took her shoes off and looked around inside, Lee preferred to peak in the door and admire the views outside instead.  Can’t say I blame him!

Gary had graciously agreed to let us have dinner in the lodge, and after making the potatoes and cole slaw, we headed up there.  Bill and Lee already had the grill set up and charcoal was getting hot.  A guest in a cabin had left us a bag of charcoal and we decided to use it for finishing the ribs!

We enjoyed a delicious dinner (if I do say so myself!) and conversation never slowed down.   Plus the added bonus of getting to watch Lee eat the ribs is awesome in itself!  That man loves to eat and enjoys every bite of food like its his last!

everybody is too busy eating to even look up for a pic


see what I mean?


After filling our bellies with ribs, potatoes and cole slaw, we headed down to Seward to show Tracy & Lee around town.   We walked around the small boat harbor, I was secretly hoping we would see an otter.  Well, not only did we see an otter, but we got quite the show as he/she munched on a halibut carcass.  He sure did enjoy it!  Bonus – he was so close – the following pics aren’t even zoomed in at all!

how cute!


looks like he’s posing in this one


he’s so hungry!

Next, we drove over to the other side of town, near the Sea Life Center and looked around there a bit.  Tracy & Lee really liked the vibe of Seward and wished they could spend more time.

a couple of the shops in town


this ones for you, Greg!


Bill was thinking he might shave his moustache to look more like his friend – I put a stop to that silly thought

We arrived back at Renfros and it was time for birthday pie!  Lee’s fav dessert is pie and Tracy came prepared with an apple and cherry!  We stayed up way too late, considering we had a fairly early start the next day.

We were up and out the door, after coffee and some toast, by 9am!  That’s not hard for Tracy & Lee – they are early birds by nature – Bill & I – not so much, but we can manage it when we need to!  We had a train to catch in Whittier!

We left Tracy & Lee’s truck at the Portage Visitor Center and all piled into our truck for the ride through the tunnel.  Our timing was perfect and we only waited about 5 minutes.  I don’t think Tracy was a huge fan of the tunnel, (she’s claustrophobic) but Lee thought it was cool!

there were much bigger chunks of ice in the lake this time


Thankfully, the weather had improved and we were able to have lunch on the picnic tables by the harbor.  It wasn’t as clear a day as last time we were there, but it wasn’t as hot either.  We enjoyed our lunch and then decided to finish with some ice cream!

see what I mean about the clouds?


water was very calm


had to check out this cute little shop!

We drove around town a little (there aren’t many places to go – only a few roads).  We walked up to the stream and took some nice pics there.  We drove by the Walking Dead building (that’s not really what it’s called – it’s my nickname for it!) and stopped where we had views of the harbor and surrounding mountains.  The clouds were very dramatic and Tracy was impressed with how many glaciers were visible.   I was just so happy there was some blue sky showing through.

selfie! didnt realize Lee was an unintentional photo-bomber!


one of my fav’s of them!


Tracy snapped this one for me!


I’d have to look back to be sure, but I think I took this exact same pic last time we were in Whittier! Love it!


looks like a big cotton ball sitting up there


love this one!


Soon it was time to go check in and catch our train!  After a phone call to verify where we needed to go, we parked right at the train “tent” and waited til it was time to board.  We booked this tour using our TourSaver coupons, BOGO!  We had no idea what it would be like, but we were all excited to find out!

The train made a couple stops to pick up others before we got to our destination, Spencer Glacier and Lake.  After disembarking, we followed a National Park Ranger on a short walk to see the lake/glacier.  As we walked, you could feel the air temps cooling off, and it was already a cool day.  The ranger stopped a few times to give us information on how glaciers were formed and how they effect the landscape, etc.  For example, mountains that are rounded were at one time under a glacier, while pointed mountains were not.  “U” shaped valleys were cut by glaciers.  It was all very interesting.

getting ready to go through the tunnel


check out how blue the ice is in this glacier!


took this while the train was going through the tunnel – guess we were going too fast to get a pic of the wall!


view out the 3 o’clock side of the train

the only way to reach the hike we were going on is by train


Mya, our tour guide, knew a lot about the area


Chugach National Forest is about the same size as New Jersey

some trees are already turning


these plants that grow on the rock eventually break it down


Spencer Glacier


there was lots of ice floating in the lake

the ice was very clear – no air in it at all



The train ride back didn’t take quite as long since it didn’t stop as much and we made it back to Whittier just in time to leave through the tunnel at 6.  We were somewhat concerned we might have had to wait until 7, skipping that one stop helped us out a lot!
That evening, we enjoyed another awesome meal of fried halibut!  Bill cooked it just right, it was moist and tender!  I had made tarter sauce and cocktail sauce and we had potatoes and cole slaw as sides.  Followed up with – you guessed it – pie!

We all went to sleep just a little earlier than the night before – it is safe to say we were all exhausted!   Tracy & Lee had wanted an early start but that was not to be, since we all slept in!  We even skipped the eggs and bacon breakfast so they could get out of here and not get home to Glennallen at midnight!

We had such a great weekend, which started with Linda & Steven and ended with Tracy & Lee!  It is so amazing to me that we have as busy (sometimes more so) a social life out here on the road than we did when we lived in one place!  But – don’t lose interest yet – we have this whole week off!  You’ll have to check back and see what other trouble we can get into!

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Hi Ho Hi Ho – It’s Off to Work We Go!

To break up the trip back from Denali – we decided to spend the night at the Elks Lodge in Wasilla.  Friends, Steven & Linda he stayed there and said they allow non-members.  We are probably going to be joining the Elks, as we have learned the Elks allows members to stay the night in their parking lots across the country for nominal fees or even free.  A lot of them have dump stations and some have partial or full hook-ups.  I’ll keep you updated as we investigate and go through the process.  


Our site was ok – the bartender only charged us the member rate of $15 for the night.  We had issues with the electric in the first spot Bill backed into, but the second one was ok.   We could have stayed at Walmart in Wasilla or even Cabelas in Anchorage, but with all the clouds and rain, Bill would have to set-up the gennie for power, but for $15 it was worth it to not deal with that.  

view while exiting Wasilla Walmart – how awesome!

view at the Wasilla/Palmer Elks

the small stream going through the property


We made our way home to Seward and Renfros and got parked and settled in plenty of time for dinner.  We had been concerned about running into fires that had been burning south of Anchorage, but rains had dampened them and helped firemen in getting them under control.  

a lot of what you see is clouds, but along the inside ridge is smoke

home sweet AK home!


For the last couple days, I’ve been considering what this post should be about and the answer came while going about a typical work day.  

I’ve been asked more than once – how is the job going and what exactly is it we do?  I’ll probably expand on that a bit to include some suggestions for anyone staying in a cabin or campground.  Take what you need and leave the rest sort of stuff.  

Bill and I will generally only approach a cabin if we know for sure the guests have checked out. Well – Gary doesn’t require guests to officially check out, but a lot of the time they will have mentioned their expected time of departure or they will stop at the office and say goodbye.  The official check out time is a generous 12 noon, with check in at 3pm.  That could get dicey if we have more than 2 or 3 cabins to turn over and no one leaves til noon and everyone arrives at 3.  Each cabin, as long as it isn’t a complete disaster, takes about an hour and 15 minutes for us to clean and ready for the next guest.  

We usually start by doing an initial sweep, as most people do not remove their shoes, as suggested by these cute signs out on the porch.  Gary doesn’t want us wearing our shoes inside, but since going barefoot doesn’t work for my knees, I have outside and inside shoes.  


Suggestion #1:  if the sign asks you to remove your shoes, please do so. 

Next we divide and conquer.   I will generally start in the kitchen.  I will check in the frig and cabinets for anything that may have been left.  Sometimes people leave food and other items.  If it’s open, we pitch it, if closed we may keep it or give it to Gary or Bob & Marna.  We’ve gotten bacon, sausage, milk, oil, all kinds of things. There is sometimes dishes to wash and/or put away, and the table needs to be remade.  Gary likes the table made so it looks welcoming when the guests enter.  It’s a casual setting with a placemat, dinner plate, lunch plate, bowl, fork (with a paper napkin under it), knife, spoon, mug and water glass.  It does look nice.  Sometimes the stove/oven hasn’t been touched, sometimes it is an awful mess.  Sometimes people will wash their dishes and properly use the drain board, sometimes they don’t aim the drain into the sink and water is all over.  Other times (seems like a lot lately) they will attempt to wash dishes and stack or put them away wet.  Who does that?  Do you do that at home?  Sometimes they rinse out a pot but don’t take a scrubby to it and there is yuck still in it.  This past week, someone actually put a very dirty skillet pan away in the cabinet and  put the smaller pan on top of it.  If we weren’t doing a deep clean on this cabin, I wouldn’t even have looked at it.  YUCK!  Can you imagine, as a guest, finding that?  I would NOT be happy!  It was bad enough finding it as a staff member.  One time, someone put all dishes back as we had them (set the table) with dirty dishes.  I will also wipe out the frig and microwave, if needed.  

Suggestion #2:  don’t put half clean or fully dirty and/or wet dishes away in cabinets.  It’s just not nice.  

this is the table made with added Honeymoon decorations – and no he doesnt charge – he will actually surprise people with it


While I’m in the kitchen, Bill will resupply stuff, like coffee, cappuccino , strip all the dirty bed(s) and get the dirty towels.  The larger cabins have a queen bed up in the loft area, a full size futon and twin bunk.  We make the beds a certain way so it is easy to tell if it’s been slept in.  We have all linens for the futon folded and put in totes a specific way so we can tell right away if it has been touched.  If there is any doubt, it get washed.  Bill will wipe down the shower with a towel to get off any water, as it makes it easier to clean when dry.  


One of us will clean the bathroom while the other makes the bed and makes sure the futon tote is good to go.  If the twin bunk needs to be made, we will usually do it together as it is much easier.  The lakeside cabins, which were remodeled this past winter, all have plain full glass shower doors, which look amazing, but are not the easiest to clean.  Sometimes the bathroom barely looks used, other times it is a train wreck.  More than once we’ve had people that must have showered with their shoes on, b/c there mud and/or tree needles in the tub.  Who does that?  Sometimes there is toothpaste on the mirror.  We have not had any issues with the toilet, thank goodness.  Once, while working for a CA State park, friends of ours walked into the bathroom to find – you know – poop – ALL OVER!  EWWWW!  Since our guests are not anonymous, I don’t think we will have that kind of problem.   Although, our co-workers had one of our cabins where someone had puked and not cleaned it up.  Really?  I’d be mortified!  Sick or not sick – I wouldn’t have anyone finding that!  

Suggestion #3:  don’t wear shoes in the shower.  

extra supplies


Some people will attempt to remake the bed.  I have no idea why, I mean the thought is nice, but we just have to unmake it and remake it.  Some people will just sleep on top of the quilt.  Yuck!  In the futon tote, there is a mattress pad, fitted and flat sheets, blanket and quilt, folded in that order.  Some people will just use the mattress pad and use the blanket, skipping the sheets.  For the record, we do wash the mattress pad and blankets and quilt but not usually as often.  Those items are part of the deep clean process.  Now – if it is clear someone slept directly on the mattress pad – it will get washed right away.  

Suggestion #4:  don’t sleep on the mattress pad – make the bed using the sheets provided.  

Suggestion #5:  if you really want to be helpful – remove the sheets – save yourself the trouble of making the bed with dirty sheets.  

we get 2 totes for each cabin

since this is for cabin 8, we only get queen set and a full set for sheets; cabins 1 through 6 would also have a twin set

the second tote has towels in it – cabin 8 only gets set up for 3; as would #7, #’s 1 through 6 would get 4; there are also kitchen towels


After kitchen and bathroom are clean, and beds made, the last thing inside is the floors.   They get vacuumed and swiffered.  If there are any stubborn spots, we have magic erasers and/or 409, which will usually cure any of that.  We end the cleaning of the inside with a dose of Febreeze.  

Outside the cabin, we wipe down the chairs and grill, checking the grill for use and disposing of any charcoal remains.  We sweep the porch and steps, Bill checks the fire pit to make sure there aren’t any embers still burning.  We also check for any garbage that may have been dropped on the ground.  We like everything looking neat and tidy for our guests!  

When all cabins are ready for the next guest, we move on to the RV Park bathhouse.  There are 3 separate rooms, a bathroom (with a toilet and sink), the laundry room (with a washer, dryer and wash tub type sink), and finally there is a shower room (with a shower and sink).  Usually I will get the laundry room and bathroom done and Bill does the shower room.  It hardly takes any time at all, except when someone has gotten into the shower with their shoes on – which happens sometimes – who does that?  If you use public showers and don’t want to get in barefoot, which I totally get, get flip flops just for that purpose.  

laundry

bathroom

shower – plenty of hot water and pressure


Next, we check garbage cans, which are located throughout the property.  They are all bear proof.  The cabins all have a container for recycles, but the RV park does not.  We also switch out reservation papers, they are attached to a wooden site identifier, and have the name of the guest assigned to that site, along with their check in and out dates.  We also make sure there isn’t any garbage on the ground anywhere, Bill checks if pedestals not in use are off, and sometimes needs to shut off water spigots.   We then head up to the lodge to let Gary know we are going to the transfer station (community garbage collection area).  Sometimes there is enough recycling to bring, if so we bring that also.   

Suggestion #6:  do not wear outside shoes in the common shower, if desired, get foot wear to wear only in the shower.  

General CG ediquette suggestions: 1)  do not use the ground as a garbage can, especially when there are cans available right nearby – and yes – cigarette butts ARE garbage.  2) teach your children that walking through a site not your own is the same as walking through your neighbors yard – it’s bad manners unless invited.  3) don’t play your music loud past quiet hours so the hosts have to get out of bed to remind you of the time. 4) pick up after your pet!   5) keep your dog on a leash.  These are not a lot of rules to remember.  It’s all common courtesy.  Gary doesn’t like a lot of rules, he wants everyone to have fun and not be bogged down, he expects most people are decent and will do the right things.  He’s right, most do, but those who don’t can make life uncomfortable for those around them and it isn’t nice.  

That about wraps it up.  I realize it does not sound very glamorous and it isn’t, it is not a career for us, believe me.  What it is is a job that is allowing us to do what we want, which is to continue to live our lives the way we want to.  One of the biggest components of that is to be where we want to be – right now we want to be in Alaska – and here we are! 

Something I would like to be clear on is that while our jobs here are not a career move type position, that doesn’t mean we do not take pride in our work.  We do.  Everyday, whether we are officially on the clock or not, we strive to make the guests time here at Renfros more comfortable and enjoyable.  Renfros Lakeside Retreat has been #1 on TripAdvisor under “other” hotels for the last 3 years.  Gary has only owned the place for 5 and before he took it over, it was #20 or something.  To say he has kicked it up a notch would be an understatement!  Here are a few samples of the reviews people write on TripAdvisor: 




We are very proud to be able to say we contribute to these reviews in that we are the ones making the cabins immaculate and helping when and however we can.  
Who wouldn’t be proud and excited to be a part of this place – even just for one summer?

In closing – I just want to say to Gary (I know sometimes he reads my posts) – thank you for taking a chance on us and having us in your wonderful location for the summer!  We will always be grateful!  

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DENALI!

Our time in Trapper Creek complete, we continued north on the Parks Hwy until we turned left onto Denali Park Rd.

We checked in at the registration desk and went to find a spot in Riley Creek CG. We only reserved an “A” spot, which is the largest sites they offer, then you drive around and find one you like.  I’m actually not a huge fan of this, Thousand Trails CG’s are like that and I found it annoying.  It was MUCH easier when we had the car with us.  In spite of their system, we found a very nice site and Bill got us backed in in no time.  There was very little set up since all sites are “dry” – no electric/water/sewer.  Knowing this ahead of time, we drove up from Trapper Creek with plenty of water.  There is a convenient dump station we can use on the way out.


The goal for the rest of the day was to get to the center where you sign up for park tours.  The options are almost endless.  I should mention that some sort of tour is needed if you want to get more than 15 miles into the park.  In a lot of parks, 15 miles in might be plenty – but in Denali – the 92 mile park road is barely the tip of the MASSIVE iceberg!  So – decisions, decisions, decisions!  Thankfully we know a few people who’ve come to Denali before us and we had somewhat of an idea of what to expect.  Sort of.

Visitor Center

heading in

loved the stain glass windows

There is basically 3 ways (for those of us not interested in backpacking) to get into the park past MM 15.  One way is to stay at Teklanika CG, which makes you eligible for a Tek pass.  The Tek pass allows you to get on the shuttle during the length of your stay – since that is the only way you can leave the CG.  Staying in Tek means a minimum 3 night stay, with only one IN and one OUT – hence the need for the Tek pass for the shuttles to leave the CG.

Everyone else needs to decide if they want a detailed naturalist on board type tour ($$$) or just a ride out to their destination, hopefully with a shuttle driver that does more than drive (look-out for and stop for wildlife and tell you info about the park as they drive along).  Both options need you to choose your final destination, how far do you want to go or better asked – how long do you want to be on the bus?  Shortest ones for the Eielson Visitor Center (8 hours), then Wonder Lake (11 hours) and finally Kantishna, at the end of the road, 12 hours, 92 miles). The miles noted are one way.   You may be asking why does it take so long to drive 184 miles!  Well – it isn’t a road like the kind you are used to driving.  It is gravel and has pot holes and switchbacks, where one direction needs to pull over to allow the other direction to pass.  They cannot drive very fast; they shouldn’t for safety road conditions, also we are on the look-out for wildlife!
Considering weather conditions, rainy and cloudy, we opted for the shortest trip on the shuttle, out to Eielson Visitor Center.   We had learned that if weather conditions improved and we wanted to go further, out to Wonder Lake, we could upgrade there.  I wish I could be typing that’s what happened, but it was not to be.  Our best mountain sighting was the pic from my last post on our day in Talkeetna.

We did see some wildlife, which was nice, some up close – some pretty far off.  We were told they were sheep, but all I saw was little bitty white dots, which more closely resembled sheep with the binoculars.  We saw some of the beautiful area, but a lot of it was obscured by clouds.  Oh well – can’t control the weather.

our shuttle bus driver, Tracy, whos lived in AK for 26 years and worked for Denali NP for 4 years

this is part of why they drive slow – if we had been going faster – could have driven right past this moose snacking on the willows

thankfully she came out and posed for us for a minute

we saw this bull moose feeding down the road a bit – he was further back and this was my best pic

it was defintely not a sunny gorgeous day, but I’ve always loved clouds

loved these braided rivers

thankfully at the stops we made, there was water and squeegies available to wash off the windows – or we wouldnt have seen anything!

95% of the road is like this view

see how tight it is? the other bus is pulled over to allow us to go by

this was taken at Polychrome Pass – no colors today

I’ve seen amazing pics of Polychrome Pass – sadly this doesnt do it justice

I swear there are 2 ptarmigans in this pic!

Toklat stop

Toklat

Toklat

Bill trying on antlers – I think hes got them backwards

they are heavy!

there is a bear down there – a grizzly bear

50% chance of rain and their wrong at least 50% of the time – why not today!?

to give you an idea of where the road goes

the BIG one lives right there – its there – damn clouds!

Denali gets its own weather station

loved the braided rivers

there is a grizzley down there!

this female sure was hungry

We started our second day in Denali at the Visitor Center, as we hadn’t seen all of it when we had stopped in before.

good luck ever seeing one of these this close up!

wouldn’t want to see this guy this close up!

items used by the natives that live in this area

sample of what a prospectors cabin looked like

would have loved to be able to post a pic of a real wolf!

The Rangers do a free sled dog demonstration and talk, we decided to check it out.  These dogs are Alaskan Huskies and look like you would expect sled dogs to look, unlike the dogs I saw at Seavey in Seward.  They are also larger.  I asked the ranger about it and he said it’s because those dogs are bred and raised strickly for speed, while the National Park dogs are work dogs and are bred and raised for strength.   They work throughout the winter months in the park, bringing supplies out into the park after the road is closed.  They also do patrols.   It was very interesting to see the differences between these dogs and the Iditarod dogs.  Also of note, there weren’t any puppies there – yet.  They only have one litter a year and it hasn’t been born yet – the mother dog, Annie, is due next week.  The one thing I did noticed that was exactly the same was how excited the dogs got when they were being chosen to get hitched up to the cart.  Crazy jumping and barking!

the little dog houses are nicer than the ones at Seavey

Bill making a new friend

this one was very friendly – wish I could remember his/her name

checking out the sled

sled dog office

Ranger Stony telling us about the dogs – he was very passionate about the whole thing

pretty dogs!

more dogs!

the ranger went over all these rules – but people still don’t listen – one kid about 8 had half his body inside one of thr dog houses after the dog went inside to get away from him


Since the rain had stopped, instead of taking the bus back to the visitor center, we took the 2 mile walking trail back.   It was nice to be outside with nature around us.  Bill even picked some blueberries that were growing along the sides of the path.  Too bad we didn’t have a bowl with us!  I would have loved some blueberry pancakes for breakfast!

employee housing

picking blueberries


That evening, we took a ride up to see the Grande Denali Lodge.  It looked so cool sitting up on the hill – we had to check it out.  What we didn’t expect were the signs we would see – see them for yourselves!  They had us cracking up!



we were told never to run from a bear!

nice entry

beautiful lobby

Bill says it looks like real log contruction

loved the fireplace with display shelves


Bill thought it would be nice to drive out ourselves the 15 miles we are allowed to drive into the park.  We hoped to see some wildlife, but not this time!  I got out at the final lookout spot and snapped a few pics.

we’ll have to get our pic in front of the sign next time when it isnt rainy

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We never lost hope that the skies would open up and we’d get a view of the mountain, but it was not to be this trip!  I’m so glad we got the glimpse of it on our day in Talkeetna with Tracy & Lee!  While this is not the exact post I had hoped to write about our visit to Denali National Park, we still had an enjoyable time seeing what we could see!

I’ll leave you today with these pics of our final few minutes in the park.  They were taken while at the dump station right in Riley Creek CG!  It brightened our day to see this momma and baby moose!

you never know what you will see at the dump station!

you never know what you will see at the dump station!

got a little closer

got a little closer