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,  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. 

Read next: Week 5: Denali to Anchorage

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


Epic Road Trip to Alaska! – Week 3

This is the 3rd week of our Epic Road Trip to Alaska, if you are just joining us, be sure to check out week 1 & 2 in this series. This has been a week of ups and downs, literally and figuratively. The road from Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory to Alaska is notorious for a reason. Up and down, back and forth, at times I felt like we were in a sailboat and not the RV. The end of this past leg of the journey has been restful, we are in Fairbanks for a week and a half, so it has been nice to have the RV parked and to explore the area.

Wednesday, May 15th – Whitehorse, Yukon to Canada/Alaska Border 314 mi

     We woke up in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory with the exciting feeling that we were getting very close to Alaska. We made a stop at this cool old wooden bridge next to a turnout(rest stop) and decided to make a video with the fam.  We had seen so many black bears along the highway over the past couple days, so we were a little bit scared to stop…

Canyon Creek Bridge

     We made a short pit stop in Haines Junction for gas and coffee.  Matt talked to the owners about the wildlife in the area after seeing a legit bear warning sign on their door. They informed us that they don’t see as many moose in the area because the bears and wolves have been killing them. Scary.

     We had heard rumors that the Yukon Territory was very desolate, and it turns out that north of Haines Junction, this is true. The drive was still beautiful though. We really enjoyed driving around beautiful Kluane Lake. The road skirts almost completely around the lake. We drove right past Burwash Landing because we hadn’t been on the road that long, and had I been reading along in the Milepost instead of working on last weeks’ blog, I would have known that Burwash Landing is a great place to stop before driving the seemingly-never-ending wavy road that takes you through the Yukon Territory.  

     It is interesting to note that this portion of the Alaskan Highway has always been troublesome. The ground is swampy, and has thick layers of permafrost. There were many areas where little pink flags were put next to the road to warn travellers of frost heaves-unpleasant speed bumps where the road has buckled. The ground is swampy underneath the road and it freezes and then thaws, making it never-quite solid. 

    Beaver Creek is the most westerly Canadian community, only 20 miles or so from the Canada/Alaska border.  We stopped and stretched our legs at the visitor center and then had dinner at “Buckshot Betty’s”. It was a nice little break. 

     We took a picture next to the “Welcome to Alaska” sign and then proceeded to cross the border. The border patrol officers were friendly and asked us some questions. They were very thorough to check for forbidden Canadian groceries. They inspected our fridge and we discovered that the bell peppers and avocado we had left in our fridge could not be brought into Alaska. 

alaska sign

     Back on the road again, we stopped at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge visitor center for a quick photo op under what we later discovered is a cache (a small cabin-like structure on posts to store food and other goodies out of the reach of animals). We chatted with other travellers that were making the journey from the lower 48 and they gave us some tips about Denali National Park.  

scenes along the alaskan highway

     We drove another hour or so and found a large pull off that served as a boondocking spot for the night. We noticed an abundance of ” the Alaskan state bird”, otherwise known as mosquitos, buzzing around the RV screens.

Thursday, May 16th – Alaska/Canada Border to Fairbanks, Alaska! 296 mi

     We feel refreshed and ready to start a new day of driving knowing that we only have about 200 miles to go. Tok, Alaska is a great stopping point for souvenirs. We stopped at two gift shops and bought some postcards and an Alaska magnet for our state magnet collection. It was fun to talk to the owners of the sod-roofed Burnt Paw gift shop and B&B. They were very friendly and gave us some history about the area. 

    Onward to Fairbanks, where we would be spending the next week or two.  Matt is scheduled to preach at Harvest Church in South Fairbanks on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The pastor is very hospitable and welcomed us with some food so that we didn’t have to run to the store when we got in.  We appreciated it very much, it was nice to settle in, eat, and relax for the evening.

Friday, May 17th – Fairbanks, Alaska 0 miles

     Today we had a picnic lunch at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks. There is no admission to enter, and this park has playgrounds, museums, the SS Nenana (a large riverboat) on display, and cabins and older buildings from Alaska’s pioneer days. The cabins are occupied by various shopkeepers and artisans and arranged so that it’s like you are going through an old town – shopping and history in one!  There is also a carousel and train that you can buy tickets to ride. It is still early in the season, so not everything was open, we might go back next Saturday to see it in full operation.

pioneer park

     After our little excursion, the driving and time change hits us. We head back to the RV for an afternoon nap before tonight’s church service.  

     Church starts at 6:00pm and was a special service for the ministry teams at Harvest Church.  Everyone was very receptive and we had a wonderful time ministering here.  After service there was a cake/pie and ice cream reception for everyone.  We have decided to enjoy carbs again for the weekend and get back to Keto next week.

Saturday, May 18th – Fairbanks, Alaska 0 miles

     Today we slept in a bit and enjoyed our Saturday with no RV driving.  We heard great things about the Tenana Valley Farmer’s Market in Fairbanks and decide to check it out. This Farmer’s Market includes farmers and artisans across an area about the size of the entire state of Indiana! Being the beginning of the growing season, there was not a lot of produce, but there were lots of tasty things to eat and pretty things to look at.  We may have had a bit of a carb overload, but it was totally worth it. 

Fairbanks Farmer's Market

     Tonight’s church service was awesome, we were refreshed by the faith of this church! 

     We had heard that it would be daylight here most of the time, and I was a little over confident that my ability to sleep in most conditions would prepare me for the all-sun-all-the-time experience. I underestimated the effect that this amount of daylight would have on our systems. I am not complaining about the weather, the warmth and sunshine have been fantastic. It is just a bit confusing, 9pm feels like 5pm, and it’s actually 5pm back in Indiana. It’s strange.

Sunday, May 19th – Fairbanks, Alaska 0 miles

     Today was the last church service for us at Harvest Church and it was awesome, again! The pastor and his wife took us to The Cookie Jar – a local restaurant/bakery for lunch.  Guy Fieri, from the show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives made a stop here in 2009! They make huge, amazing cinnamon rolls, and the pastor ordered some as “appetizers” for our table. Yum!

    We went to the RV to have a carb-induced nap.  Afterwards we took the kids to a local park for a little bit. 

Monday, May 20th – Fairbanks, Alaska 0 miles

     Today Matt took all the laundry to a laundromat because he is my hero. Is it too much info to tell you that it was getting a little stinky in the RV because of the abundance of dirty clothes? Gross, but true. 

     We did our school work while Matt was gone. 

     I think now would be a good time to give a little disclaimer: 

     We are not on vacation, but our lifestyle is nomadic, and so some of the details of our day might be ordinary.  Even though we are in new areas most of the time, we are only sort of tourists. If we did all of the touristy things offered in each new area, we would quickly run out of money. I also think we get to know a little bit more about the authentic life for the people who live here when we do “normal” things.

    After our normal school and laundry routine, we went to the Pastor’s house for a moose burger cookout. Yum! The house was super cool – built in the side of the mountain and had a sod roof that we could walk on. There were families there with kids the same age as our kids, so we all had a great time hanging out and making new friends.  

     We then went to Fred Meyers(Kroger of Alaska) and prepared ourselves to jump back into our Keto diet. The carb roller coaster has been fun, but we know we need to get off this ride and get back to Keto. We were pleasantly surprised to find the grocery prices comparable to a Kroger back home, maybe a little higher, but not bad.

Tuesday, May 21st – Fairbanks, Alaska to North Pole, Alaska  13 miles

     Today after school we drove to North Pole Alaska.  We looked at the Reindeer at a tourist thing they had there, but opted out of the tour. There is a huge Christmas store there and we found some fun ornaments for this years’ Christmas tree. It was pretty fun.

North Pole Alaska

     After visiting the North Pole, we drove back to Fairbanks and went to Creamer’s Field, where there is a farm museum, walking trails, and large fields that have become a home to a variety of migrating birds. It was very peaceful and educational. 

Creamer's field Fairbanks, Alaska

     We are enjoying our time in Fairbanks, in many ways, it feels similar to the midwest. There are farm fields and suburbs, and lovely spring weather.  It is nice to be in one spot for a little while.

Thank you for reading along with our Epic Road Trip to Alaska! Be sure to check out the previous weeks in this blog series if you are just joining us. 

Read next: Week 4: Fairbanks to Denali

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