Epic Road Trip to Alaska! – Week 5

Sled Dog

 In this fifth week of our Epic Alaskan Road Trip we finished exploring Denali National Park, celebrated a birthday in Anchorage, and got to see what life is like in Houston Alaska.  If you are just joining this road trip story, be sure to check out Week 1, 2, 3, and 4!

Wednesday, May 29th – Denali to Houston

      We have another day to explore Denali National Park. The park offers a bus tour on a converted school bus, it is the only way back into the park past mile 15 in the summer. We considered doing this tour, but then decided against it when we discovered it was 6 hours long. Maybe when the kids are older and excited about a 6 hour long bus ride.  Instead, we went to the visitor center, gift shop, sled dog kennels, and drove around in our personal tour vehicle – our Honda pilot.

     The visitor center was really cool, there were a large variety of interactive displays that the kids really enjoyed.  We also stopped by the gift shop and picked up a cool vintage-looking print and some fun animal magnets for the kids.   We ate our lunch in the RV and then left the RV in the large parking lot there while we explored the park.

denali national park visitor center

     After lunch, we went to the sled dog kennels in Denali National Park.  We parked and then followed the wooded path to the kennels.  The woods are very thick and hidden about 20 feet off the path was a moose, lying down and watching us walk by.  We were hoping it wasn’t the aggressive moose that we had heard about – the one that likes to charge people on trails – I don’t think it was because this moose seemed to want to hide.  As we got closer to the kennels, we saw another moose, it was moving fast, but not towards us.  We decided to name Jessica our official scout because she has an eye for spotting wildlife – she saw both the moose and had to point them out to us.

     The sled dog kennel experience was a total win.  They have some very well behaved dogs that you can pet and they were very friendly.  I’m not really a dog person, but I couldn’t help falling in love with the sweet sled dogs.  There was also a sled-dog demonstration – a ranger explains all about the sled dogs and the dogs pull a cart around a track.  It was really interesting.  We learned that there are some areas of the park that they do not want machinery or vehicles driving through, and so the sled dogs are vital for carrying supplies back into the park.  We also learned that the dogs use their tails to cover up their faces to keep warm while curled up sleeping – cuteness!

Denali sled dog kennels

     After a bit more exploring and driving through the park, we left and drove south towards Houston, Alaska where Matt would be preaching on Sunday.  We stopped along the way at a turn-out spot and I made dinner.  We arrived at the church around 9:00. The pastor and his wife met with us and fed us all some snacks at their house, which was on the church property. 

Thursday, May 30th – Houston to Anchorage

     Today is our oldest child, Jessica’s birthday.  While on the road, we try to make birthdays special by letting our kids decide what type of day that will be.  Jessica wanted to go out for a birthday dinner and do some shopping, we decided that Anchorage would be the best option.  We left around lunchtime and the hour drive from Houston to Anchorage was very scenic. The area south of Wasilla is very pretty.  

     We went to a bookstore and Kohls and Jessica picked out her birthday presents.  After shopping, we went to Benihana’s for a fun dinner (they offer a free birthday meal if you sign up online).  It was entertaining and delicious.

Birthday fun in anchorage

     After dinner we did a scenic drive just outside Anchorage to let our food settle before we had birthday ice cream cake.  We saw two moose very close to the road.  We do a lot of scenic drives in our tow vehicle, it is able to go places the RV is not.  I think if you live in an RV, you have to like to drive (or ride in my case) and we do.  The kids do too, as long as the drive is kept interesting with stops at a park or for a snack. 

Moose

   Back at the RV we had super-yummo cookie dough ice cream cake and Jessica and Olivia watched a late-night movie with us.

Friday, May 31st – Houston

    This small town of Houston Alaska is what I had pictured in my mind when I thought of us coming to Alaska.  It is rugged, and I imagine that life here in the winter is difficult.  The pastor and his wife are pretty tough, although they would downplay this and consider themselves normal by Alaska’s standards.  We enjoyed listening to their stories of hunting adventures and were amazed by the ginormous woodpile outside their house for winter heating. 

     The church is having a garage sale today and tomorrow.  We don’t really do garage sales very much any more because of our limited space.  The younger three really wanted to go check it out and so I took them.  We found some doll clothes and some pretty doilies to use for the Barbie family that live in the RV with us.

     Today the pastor took us on a short walk through the woods, it was cool and a little scary.  These old cars were swallowed up by the wilderness. I think he said there used to be a mining camp here.

Exploring Houston Alaska

     We had heard the stories of the notorious Alaskan mosquitos and up until this point, we had seen mosquitos, and while they were bigger than the ones in Indiana, they hadn’t bothered us that much.  In this thickly wooded place of Houston, Alaska the mosquitos were fierce.  We put on bug spray (or dope as they call it here) when we went outside and they just swarmed around us but didn’t really bite when we kept moving.

Mosquito attack

Somehow, the mosquitos found a way into the RV.  Even if we were diligent to open our door and enter/exit quickly, they still managed to find a way.  They struck us at night, those little jerks.  I’m a pretty sound sleeper, but a mosquito buzzing in my ear is enough to wake me up.  Our poor kids were waking up with bites on their faces, hands, and feet.  I was getting bites through my clothes! Crazy. Anyway, we ended up spraying on bugspray before bed, to prevent more bites, it helped a little bit.

Saturday, June 1st – Houston to Wasilla

     Today we made a quick trip over to the town of Wasilla to run some errands.  We stopped at Lowes to pick up some beadboard to fix up the dresser at the foot of our youngest’s bunk.  We also picked up a cute rug to replace the one that has lost its luster after 7 people have wiped their shoes on it for 3 years.  

     We also made a trip to Walmart to pick up some groceries.  

Sunday, June 2nd – Houston

     Today Matt preached at Hilltop Assembly of God in Houston, where we have been parked.  It was a good service, the people were open to ministry at the altars after the preaching.  

     There was a pitch-in meal after the service.  The congregation brought some delicious food, including moose, elk and salmon, and homemade bread. We had a great time talking with the people, and hearing about their life in Alaska.

     Later in the evening, we gave the pastor and his wife a tour of the RV, it is always fun for us to show people our tiny home for the first time. We had a nice visit.

Monday, June 3rd – Houston to Wasilla

    Matt helped the pastor pick up a load of garage sale stuff today while the kids and I did schoolwork.  We are almost done with our school work for the year, and it feels like a milestone because this will be the first time since we’ve been on the road that we will be able to take a summer break.  The first two school years on the road we ended up just doing school year-round. It was difficult to learn how to schedule school time on the road.  We have settled into this life and I would say that our kids are able to work in all sorts of situations.

     After school we drove to Wasilla to visit Newcomb Park.  It had been sunny all day and it started to get cloudy right as we were leaving the RV. We were hopeful as we left because it looked sunny towards Wasilla.  When we got to the park, we noticed there was a little beach there for swimming or fishing.  It was maybe 60 degrees outside, but there were kids running around in their swimsuits and people wading in the water.  I would say these particular Alaskans had a different definition of swimming weather than me. 

scenic road to wasilla

     After the park, we drove to Three Bears Alaska to pick up a couple of things.  It was an interesting store, there were groceries, camping and hunting gear and household items.  They also had some stuffed animals on display.

     When we got back to the RV, the pastor stopped by for a visit and then gave the kids (and Matt and I) a music lesson.  He taught us some chords on the piano, and helped the kids to learn to play together in time.  We have a keyboard, two ukeleles, two guitars, and a tiny tamborine on board the RV, the pastor gave us some music to work on together, I am looking forward to hearing us all improve and learn more.

Tuesday, June 4th – Houston to Anchorage

     Today we said our goodbyes to the pastor and his wife and prepared to move our RV south to Anchorage for the night.  We stopped by Millers Market on the way out of Houston and had some lunch and ice cream – yum! 

ice cream collage

     We drove to Cabela in Anchorage for a boondocking spot for the night.  The kids always enjoy walking around Cabela, there are so many stuffed animals and interesting things to see. Hannah and Sophia were really excited about the large fish in the aquarium.  

     Tonight we met a lovely lady and her two daughters.  Matt gets to talk to all sorts of people when he calls churches, and this lady is a book-keeper at a church in Anchorage.  We had a connection with her in that she knew some of our friends in Iowa.  Anyway, she invited us over to her lovely home with amazing views for pizza.  We had a great visit and Sophia really enjoyed playing with her tiny dog.

     After dinner we went back to our boondocking spot for the night.  We are very excited for tomorrow because we are going down into the Kenai Pennisula.  We have heard so many things about this area being the most beautiful part of Alaska. Next week I will tell you all about our Kenai Pennisula adventures!

     Thank you for reading this week’s post about our Epic Road Trip to Alaska!  If you would like to know more about our ministry, Kingdom Pursuit Ministries, go to www.kpministry.org

Epic Road Trip to Alaska! – Week 4

  This is the 4th week in our Epic Road Trip to Alaska, if you haven’t been following along, check out week 1, 2, and 3!

     I suppose this week could be subtitled “Exploring Fairbanks”. In our travels over the past 3 years, we are frequently on the move. Sometimes we get to explore an area for a couple weeks or more, but often we are off to the next destination. As a traveling-evangelist family, our destinations are determined by the proximity to the churches where we are ministering. We have two churches in Fairbanks that have had us in, so we are able to spend more time in this city. We are happy about this, I love the familiar feeling that develops after being in a place for about a week. We have enjoyed Fairbanks this week.

Wednesday, May 22nd -Fairbanks to Ester

    We started our day with schoolwork. This extended time of being parked is helping us to catch up on the work we couldn’t get done while bouncing down the road. 

     Matt had read about an old mining town called Ester. After dinner we decided to check it out.  There had been a hotel and some other attractions in this tiny town. The hotel had a for sale sign in the window and the grass was a little overgrown. There is a little jewelry shop owned by artisan Judie Gumm. Unfortunately it is evening time and the shop is closed. Right now we are 0 for 2 as far as attractions in Ester. The town is situated on the side of a steep hill and so we decide to drive up. There were several really cool little cabins and other interesting homes nestled in the hill, it was a fun drive. 

     As we drive out of the “downtown” area we went to the Ester Community park.  The younger kids are always ready to go to a playground, but this one was a little extra special.  This community was determined that its visitors would enjoy the great outdoors!  There were bikes to use, basketballs and soccer balls to play with, and firewood to build a campfire in the firepit – all free! So we had a short impromptu game of soccer and enjoyed the playground. Thank you town of Ester!

Ester Park Alaska

Thursday, May 23rd – Fairbanks

     We moved the RV today around lunchtime to South Fairbanks Assembly of God. Matt will be preaching here on Sunday morning and evening. 

    We did our schoolwork and then took our trash to the “transfer site”.  In Fairbanks, there are several of these transfer sites outside of the city.  It’s like this, you drive into this area with about 50 dumpsters and you drop off your trash.  There is also an area for recycling your old junk – stuff that is not really trash but has some life left to it – like an old couch or tv.  Don’t worry about your old junk(and maybe trash) someone will be there to give it a new home.  When we took our trash, there were probably a dozen or so folks out there scavenging for treasures. 

     After the adventure at the transfer site, we went to the YWAM headquarters on Chena Hot Springs Road. We had a connection to the director of this YWAM through a pastor’s wife we had met down in Mexia Texas. The director graciously invited us to attend their prayer meeting tonight. A group was coming in from an outreach in Mento, Alaska while we were there. We had a good time meeting new people and it was inspiring to hear about the work that they are doing. 

Friday, May 24th – Fairbanks

     Our oldest daughter Jessica is currently working on a research paper and I thought it would be a good excuse to visit the local library. The Noel Wien Public Library in Fairbanks made for a lovely visit, my inner nerd rejoiced to go spend a couple hours in the quietness, finding books. It was nice. I even had a few minutes to spare to look over the books for sale and picked up a book full of fun facts and quotes from the 20th century. Did you know that the guy who invented Nachos was named Ignacio Anaya?!?! Does that sound familiar to anyone?

25 cent book

     A sweet couple from Harvest Church invited us to their home for dinner tonight. It was a fun drive up to their home in the mountains. They were especially considerate and made us a delicious meal that was also Keto-friendly. Lettuce taco wraps for the win!  We had a great evening, admiring their adorable kiddos and talking about life in Alaska with them. It is such a blessing to meet new friends, and to see first hand how people live in different places.

Saturday, May 25th – Fairbanks

    Today a cool guy from the Harvest Church took us gold-panning!  He is totally a pro, I didn’t even realize that gold-panning was hard until I tried to do it myself.  It is hard, let’s just say that we didn’t strike it rich. But, we did have tons of fun, especially Sophia, our 4 year old, who dug in the dirt and made mud pies all day. 

gold panning

     The gold panning place was right by the highway, and in the midst of our fun, we did witness a sad moose/motorcycle accident. It was actually really shocking at first. There was a loud braking noise, and then we heard the impact, and as we looked over the moose was catapulted into the air and the man and moose tumbled down the highway!  The man was wearing a helmet and he stood up and pushed his bike off to the side before some people helped him to lie down over in the grass. They took him by ambulance after a bit. The poor moose was just pitiful. The collision must have broken his legs, he kept trying to get up and run away. But he kept falling. It was so sad. Eventually an officer came over and had to shoot him. I took my little girls with me away from the area so they wouldn’t see it.  

    After things settled down, we went back to gold-panning. There were all sorts of antique equipment on the property. There was also this huge collection of Mammoth bones that they had discovered on their property! They let us walk through the Mammoth bones collection before we left. 

Mammoth bones

Sunday, May 26th – Fairbanks

     Today Matt preached at South Fairbanks AG, this church and pastor have a real heart to reach their community, which is in desperate need.  After the morning service, there was a potluck dinner, we enjoyed visiting with the friendly people from the church and met another family that is selling their belongings and will soon be hitting the road and living in an RV. 

     After our Sunday afternoon nap, Matt preached the evening service. Our gold-prospector friend came to the service as well as the super adventurous Brattrud family that is getting ready to hit the road in a converted school bus for a year while they raise funds for their mission work in Brazil with Fire International

     After church was out we noticed it was a bit smoky outside. I thought the neighbors were burning leaves or something. We all drove to McDonalds and noticed it was even more smokey on the outskirts of the city. The pastor’s wife told us that there was a forest fire, about 100 miles away. She said that there have been some summers where it was smokey like that nearly every day because of forest fires. I didn’t realize that this part of Alaska is such a dry climate and that forest fires are a serious problem.

Monday, May 27th – Fairbanks

      Thankfully the smoke has cleared by this morning, I don’t know if the fire was put out or if the wind direction changed. Today we decided to go back to Pioneer Park to enjoy their Memorial Day festivities. It was crowded, and we did have to wait a bit to ride the train, but we had a nice time. Everything at Pioneer Park was up and running, and the museums were all free (they did have a suggested donation box at the entry).

pioneer park

     We really enjoyed the pioneer museum with all the great history on display. I would say that Alaskans in general are pretty tough people, but these pioneer Alaskans were like, seriously tough people!  

    The older girls and I walked around the little cabin-shops while Matt and the other three got some ice cream. These little cabins and houses were not only adorable, they each had a sign describing the original use of the building. Some of the homes were full of period furniture, decorations, and pictures of the original owners.

     Bonus fact for you Indiana folk! Did you know that the city of Fairbanks was named after a Senator from Indiana, Charles W. Fairbanks? Yes? No? Well, neither did I!  He was also Teddy Roosevelt’s Vice President and is buried in Crown Cemetary in Indianapolis.

    After our fun and educational time at Pioneer Park, we went to a cookout. A family from South Fairbanks Assembly of God graciously invited us over to join their family cookout. They had a beautiful cabin and the kids all had fun playing in their backyard. We enjoyed hearing about what brought them to Alaska and we shared how we got started on the road.    

Tuesday, May 28th – Fairbanks to Denali National Park

     After doing laundry and saying goodbye to our new pastor friends, and picking up some groceries, we were on the road again. We have all enjoyed our time in Fairbanks, and it seems like we are saying goodbye to Alaska, but this state is huge and we still have two more weeks to explore!

     The Parks Road to Denali is a beautiful drive, and I didn’t find it too bumpy.  Matt and I were excited to go to Denali, and Sophia kept asking where Molly of Denali was because she had seen the commercials for “Molly of Denali” – a new PBS kids cartoon. I was also hoping that the Campground at the National Park would have a spot for us. I had trouble figuring out their website to reserve a site online. No worries, they had plenty of open sites, we stayed at the Riley Creek Campground, close to the entrance of the park. The lady at the front desk warned us to be watchful of a mother moose that was a bit aggressive and to keep our little ones close. The camphost told us that there had been a mother moose and her twin babies walking through our site the past few days, but not to worry because she is not the aggressive one (they spray painted a blue stripe on the aggressive moose so that people would be aware of her temper problems).

     It was a very wooded campground, and peaceful, the trees seemed to give us a bit of shade so it seemed more like night time there. They have no water or electric hookups. We didn’t have any moose visitors to our site. 

     I felt like I was battling with two thoughts while we were at Denali:

1. “I really want to explore this majestic, amazing place.”

2. “I don’t want to feed my kids to a grizzly bear, or be eaten by a grizzly bear myself.”

     I like to think of myself as adventurous, but I suppose I am a bit of a chicken when it comes to wild animals. I cannot say the same for the large amount of fearless hikers/backpackers/adventurers that we saw at Denali. These people were unfazed by the sheer volume of bear warning signs posted all over the park.  One sign said to keep 900 feet between you and a bear. No problem, I’ll stay in my car…

denali day 1

     We did explore a little, we did the scenic drive and spotted some moose. We saw just the tip of the over 20,000 ft high Denali in the distance, we were grateful for that because we had heard you can only see it on a very clear day. We spent two days at this National Park, and it was beautiful, I will finish telling about our Denali adventures next week.

Thank you for reading about this leg of our journey! Our Epic Road trip to Alaska continues next week as we drive to Houston, Anchorage and further south. 

    If you would like to find out more about our ministry, Kingdom Pursuit Ministries, go to www.kpministry.org