Tuesday, 4 September 2012

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 5: Hike in the mountains of Girdwood

In the local newspaper, the first sentence reads: "Summer is upon us..." Well, you can't believe everything you read in the newspaper! I woke up to what would be my 5th day here in Alaska, and my 5th rainy day in Alaska too! Not feeling the urge to get out quickly, I slept in and made use of the comfy bed that Girdwood Hostel provides. It's not pocketspring like mine at home, but it doesn't squeak as badly as Anchorage Hostel beds, and doesn't therefore wake you up every 15 minutes.

I spent most of the morning at the hostel, doing some much needed admin on the computer. Emails to reply to; virus scans to run; blog updates. As I was sitting there, I did get the feeling that I was the most cheerful man in the hostel, as the other guests were crashing out on the sofa or their own bunks, frowning and not replying to my message of "Good Morning". Maybe it's just me.

I left the hostel and made way to breakfast at the 'Bake Shop'; a small little eaterie that I visited yesterday for dinner. It was on the way that I started to feel a little emotional; as if the whole scholarship had suddenly became reality. I've been away now for less than a week, but am still getting used to it like any traveller, and on the whole, it's all going great!

Breakfast was slightly special this morning; my very first American pancakes, with egg and bacon. With a hot chocolate, the whole meal went down a treat, and I'm sure I'll be going back there tomorrow. During breakfast, I got talking to a couple who had spent a night at the hostel I'm staying at. I caught 'Laura' as one of the names, and unfortunately didn't catch the second, but both were extremely nice. They come from Southern California and were suggesting loads of brilliant places to visit, and one of the things that I noticed was how proud they were of their own country. It's a rare thing these days to find people proud of the place they live in, but this made a welcomed change. Their off to Fiji to live soon; lucky people!

I set off after breakfast in what could only be described as manageable drizzle; (I could still take photos and stop at information points without being blown away!) One of the first stops I made was a gift shop called Jade House, and outside I noticed some large Jade boulders. Jade is used to describe two metamorphic rocks that are composed of silicate materials. Amongst the Jade, the other interesting photo opportunity were the hand crafted statues that apparently were crafted from eskimos themselves. I didn't call this phase of the gap year 'The Cultural Tour' for nothing!

Onwards, towards the Ayleska Hotel and Tram, I came across a familiar name. Here it's just the name of a road; back home, it means quite a lot to me!

I took the back entrance to the hotel and tram this time, although there wasn't anything particularly special about this new route. It turned out the hotel has quite an extended car park and I am sure, in the heart of the tourist season, this large parking facility is very much needed. What struck me, by this point, is how Girdwood wasn't affected by Labour Day. I know it would have in Anchorage but here in Girdwood, the shops were open, restaurants were serving, buses were travelling and the hotel was very much alive.

Inside the lobby, is a very large (possible life-size) model of a black bear. I noticed a man taking a photo for two ladies who desperately wanted a photo with both of them in it, and so I politely asked him if he would do the same for me. Luckily, he said yes!

I spent about an hour trying to dry off in the hotel cafe, and it gave time to browse through the Turnagain Times for information about Girdwood. It turned out to be a very educational spot; I never knew that Girdwood was once called Glacier City, but only renamed Girdwood to honour James Girdwood who arrived around 1900 and became a top prospector. With the drink finished and the reading complete, I decided to go to the gift shop before heading outside again. The shop holds some lovely stuff; great to see my Osprey Bag is being sold. The lady on the counter, Donnazasue, comes from Japan, grew up in Canada and visited Alaska on a holiday for two weeks. The holiday turned out to extend to 14 years and she now lives quite happily in Girdwood. She, along with everyone else, was very knowledgeable about the local area and offered me maps and suggestions for my couple of days left here.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon hiking; firstly taking a tram towards the top of the Chugach Mountains and I decided to do the trail that eases its way down the 2000ft mountain. What a trail! It offers great views, every minute, and also some great geography. A slate outcrop was the fist thing I noticed, and later a storm channel. The trail gives really good views of the surrounding town and the Turnagain Arm, and I think I may be right in saying that today was much clearer than yesterday which helped photo production. I met a lady on the way down who was holding some cow bells; a lot of hikers use these to alert bears of their presence. I, unfortunately didn't have them, but I think my singing was enough to make any bear run away!

 Upon reaching base level, I made my way to the 'Bake Shop' again and was planning on a sandwich of some sort. I was eventually tempted into the 'Sweet Roll and Butter' which was much more interesting than it sounds! The main ingredients are cinammon, raspberry sauce and raisens. There comes that point when you know you can't eat anymore, and I'm afraid it happened to me!

Making my way back to the hostel, I discovered my phone wasn't in its usual place and so made a quick dash to the Hiking Day Centre Toilets, and after 2 hours of it being there by the sink, it was still there! I only assume that there weren't many male hikers today, or at least, male hikers who badly wanted a phone!

Back at the hostel, this evening, I've become acquainted with two new guests and it just so happened that they were staying at the Anchorage Hostel and was on the bike trail a couple of days ago! What a small world. Tonight has been quite a night; I've watched illegal drug dealing taking place and discovered the man who sleeps on the bunk above me was once in jail for 19 months! Whatever next?

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