Monday, July 04, 2005

You Think These Things Just Grow on Trees?

A road trip in Alaska has a slightly different meaning that in other places. When you can drive for ten hours in any direction (assuming there are roads, which is an iffy thing around here) and still not leave the state, road trips take on new meaning. My kids are painfully aware of this and when we announced we were taking to the road this weekend they were sceptical about how the trip would rate on their fun-meters. Heading south onto the Kenai pennisula we drove straight to Exit Glacier on the north side of the city of Seward. Glaciers are really a dime a dozen here, but Exit Glacier has roads leading through Kenai Fjords National Park right up to the foot of the outwash plain and trails leading from the parking lot on up to the glacier.

Last year Grace and I had visited Exit Glacier as part of an overnight school field trip, but the trip hadn't been timed too well and happened to coincide with a foot race starting at the glacier and running 10 miles down to the main road through Seward. We'd had to pull off to the side of the road and wait for the race to start and finish before we could drive up to the glacier so there we were, parents and kids and teachers milling around along the side of the road as the racers started trickling in--adults and kids and moms with strollers, there were people of all different abilities coming past us and the spectators were cheering as each runner came into view around the bend and ran down the last stretch to cross the finish line.

After a few minutes the lead runners had finished and there were people starting to walk back and forth across the road, and lots of cheering as more runners showed up. Grace, however, started to get a little jumpy beside me and finally confessed that she needed to use the bathroom. Make that DESPERATELY needed to use the bathroom. It might have been the middle of nowhere by many standards, but hey, I figured that SOMEWHERE at the finish line there's got to be a bathroom and I pointed her toward the finish line, telling her to start walking that direction.

Minutes later she reappeared with embarassment flushed on her face. Turns out, she started off toward the bathroom in a bit of a panic and while running was mistaken for one of the racers. People saw her running and started clapping and cheering her on, "Come on! You can do it! Just a little more! Keep going!" She was slightly confused and in her panic tried to explain as she passed that they shouldn't clap for her that she wasn't really racing, please don't clap but wasn't really getting her point across.

She returned very embarassed and worried that somehow the race police would cart her off for impersonating a runner or something. Hmmmm . . . that would have been rather funny if she'd finished first in the kid division and then had to explain the story.

But regardless of past experience, this time we were able to get right up there to the honest-to-goodness glacier where the trail winds through rock that has been scraped and gouged by the ice, dragging long striations that are only just here and there starting to produce tiny shoots of green plant life.

After the hike to the glacier we stopped in Seward for a trip to the boat harbor for those of you who thrive on the smell of fish. But there's something about a harbor that even my city-kids could appreciate and what's not to love about 300-pound halibut and dead salmon sharks? And after time at the harbor we treated the kids to a scenic view of the city, complete with the ever-so chic Buoy Tree (I had mental images of a father asking his kids that standard parental question: "What do you think, that these things just grow on trees?"--evidently they do) Turns out the kids were all VERY impressed. All the wonders of nature and scenic beauty to behold and my little pagans get excited about a spruce decorated with dead buoys. How'd they get 'em up there? And more importantly . . . why? Must get pretty dull around there in the off-season.