As I’ve aged, I have noticed that some things just don’t come as easily to me any more. One of those things is the physical and mental stamina I had three or four decades ago.
To wit: I was traveling on the Unlimited Hydroplane circuit in the summer of 1981. My sister Terri called me late one evening as I was getting ready to go to sleep at The Executive Inn in Evansville, Indiana. She told me that she had two tickets to see Pat Benatar at The Coliseum in Seattle that I could have. The problem was, the concert was less than two days away. My best friend Ian, who was my partner in crime on the circuit, immediately jumped up and started throwing his clothes in his knapsack.
“What are we waiting for?” he asked.
“Bro,” I said, because that’s what we called each other, “We’re in Indiana. There’s no way we get to Seattle before the concert.” The issue was complicated by the fact that Ian didn’t drive. That meant i would have to drive, non-stop, over 2,200 miles, then have the energy to enjoy a Billy Squier/Pat Benatar double bill.
Long story short, we made it with a few hours to spare. We never stopped for anything other than fuel and bathroom stops. The kicker was, when the concert was over (Pat was incredible, I wasn’t all that crazy about Billy Squier) I didn’t even feel tired. That’s what it was like being 21 years old.
I mention this because I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard since I left Seaview ten days ago. Not only have I averaged more than 400 miles per day, but a lot of those miles were over roads that made for pretty challenging driving. Today, I discovered once and for all that I am no longer twenty-one years old.
When I woke up this morning at 5:15 a.m, I could barely move. Maybe I should say, I didn’t really want to move. Instead of being up and on the road by 6:30 like I normally am, I was still laying in bed at 8:00. Eventually, I did get up and motor on down the road a few miles, but I knew when I got to Anchorage, which is just a short drive from Wasilla, I was done for the day.
I did find a couple of cool things on the road today, along with the spectacular scenery I have now come to expect from Alaska. Somewhere along the Glenn Highway, I pulled off into the small village of Eklutna. Eklutna isn’t big, but it is hardy – it’s been continually occupied since 1650.
In the 1830s, Russian missionaries built this little church:
If you’re thinking it looks pretty good for a church that’s 180 years old, that’s because it was remodeled about fifty years ago. The old Russian Orthodox church is obviously very cool, but it’s the cemetery that is attached to it that puts it over the top:
Those brightly colored little houses are actually burial spirit houses. It’s as if the traditions of the Russian Orthodox church combined with the traditions of the native Danaina tribe. At first, I thought it was a little odd that many of the burial houses are in such poor repair. I wondered why – had the families moved away or died out? A little research has led me to believe that the native culture believes that things that come from the earth should eventually be allowed to return to the earth, so they do no maintenance, and instead let the small houses crumble back into the earth over time.
Another thing I noticed was how unusual the crosses were that decorated most of the spirit houses:
Apparently, the top crossbar represents the inscription over Christ’s head, the middle bar his outstretched arms, and the lower bar his footrest. I don’t know if this is common to Russian Orthodox, or somewhat unusual, but I’ve never seen it before.
Before I left, I took one last picture of the cemetery, and I love how the shadow of the church encroached on it:
I left Eklutna and drove on to Anchorage. The last two days, I’ve driven around and through the Matanuska Valley, which has only confirmed my belief that it is among the most pristine, beautiful places on earth. I am so happy I got to see it again.
On my way to the motel in Anchorage, I saw an odd piece of sculpture in the heart of Anchorage:
Of course, I had to stop and take a closer look. Luckily, parking is still easy to find in downtown Anchorage. At first glance, it’s just a sculpture of a whale. Nice enough. When I looked a little more carefully, though, a bigger picture emerged. First, there was the expression the sculptor put on the whale’s face, which struck me as oddly self-satisfied:
Okay, so the whale is pretty pleased with itself. When I look at the top of the statue, though, it gets more interesting:
The circles obviously represent the water’s surface. Looking closely, I could see that one boat full of tiny, annoying people was already sinking and another was holding on for dear life. No wonder the whale is smug. I knew the best picture would be if I could shoot from an upper window of the building you can see behind the sculpture. So, I went inside to ask people if they minded if I took a quick shot from their window. Not surprisingly, they were not on board with that. Lawyers have no sense of humor or appreciate the value of good art, I swear.
And with that, I was done. I checked in to my motel, laid down on the bed, and I was out cold. Two hours later, I still feel whipped, so I might take it easy tomorrow as well. I’ve accepted a consulting job with a cable channel that I am not at liberty to reveal, so I think I might hang around Anchorage another day to work on that and get my legs under me again.
After that, I get to head down the Kenai Peninsula. For me, traveling down the peninsula is the part of the trip I have been most looking forward to. That’s where I spent three summers of my teenage years. Seward, Seldovia, Soldotna, Homer, and Kenai. Names from my childhood. I feel like I could spend another summer just visiting those locales, but I know I’ve got to move through them and get home. I’ve got a grandbaby on the way, and I can’t miss her arrival.
Thanks so much for following along, commenting, and being part of my trip. You are much appreciated.
Cheers, and safe travels,