The total Alaskan experience just couldn’t be better! Just let your jaw drop in amazement at this news, because I have lived alone for five years and have been perfectly content. I now live with a roommate and two other roommates share the bathroom in between our rooms. They are all in my age group, we get along fine and we all keep things clean. One works in the gift shop and two are Baristas. One is 6 feet tall and slender and is a high school principal in Pendleton, Oregon. One has worked in different countries, with the Peace Corp etc. Very interesting. The 4th one is new and I really don’t know anything about her yet.
I wear a uniform. I provide my own black shoes, socks and pants, and they provide the royal blue shirts, charcoal gray vests, Gore-Tex blue and gray jackets, and Aussie-style black rain hats. (I wear tennis shoes, jeans, t-shirts and sweatshirts on my day off)
There are laundromats at the end of each building. The housing is on two separate levels. One is referred to as “the park” (that’s also where they park the ten coaches.) I live on “the bench” down the hillside. There are approximately 300 employees at this location alone. We walk ten minutes downhill to the Lodge. The employee cafeteria is downstairs, where they also have 8 computers to share, half of which are always out of order. The food is about the same as I would fix myself at home; sometimes worse and sometimes better. It’s a busy place!
The Lodge is situated to have the ultimate view of Mount McKinley. It is awesome and people are disappointed when it is covered in clouds, as you can imagine. It is cloudy this morning. Yesterday was clear as a bell. Last week it was obscured by smoke from distant lightning caused fires, and then bad weather.
I get up around 5:30 a.m., and leave my roommate to sleep. She works from 2 – 10:30 p.m. I put my Bible in my backpack and walk on the trails in the fresh air. (It’s always light here!) If it’s too cold, I sit by the fire in the Lodge with a coffee or cocoa. As it warms up, I sit on the deck getting inspired by the mountain.
I get on the 9:30 shuttle for the one hour ride to Talkeetna. Because I travel this route twice a day six days a week, I ride with different drivers who are also guides and they give their individual talks. I have come to know them better by hearing the bits about themselves which they inject to add a personal touch. What a great variety of personalities to entertain me! My perspective has expanded considerably!
I open the office up again, because by now the staff is at the depot. They arrive early with all the orange flags, cones and magnetic bus letters; arranging the coaches to line up with the Princess train cars at the end of the Alaska Railroad train. There are also cars for Holland America and Royal Celebrity (a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean.)
The coaches take up to 400 people to the trains and pick up as many from the train. Many disembark in Talkeetna for a few hours before going the hour ride up to the Lodge. I work in the Guest Services Office in Talkeetna, where they come for information about the town, and or book the various tours. I coordinate calls between the Lodge, the train depot and the coaches, when communication is out of range. There are two trains a day, except only one on express days, Saturday, Monday and every other Wednesday, when the ships arrive in Whittier. The express train has an engine on each end. It brings passengers to the Talkeetna depot, where they get on the coaches. The people on the coaches get on the train and the other engine takes them to the ship from which it just came.
Every passenger receives a personal packet with room key and itinerary, and luggage is in their rooms when they arrive. It is an amazing process and for the most part it really works. We hear lots of raves about the service, but inevitably we have some who have had a bad experience. Lost luggage, misinformation, cancelled tours, bad weather, etc. I enjoy helping people. Sometimes I drive the van to the Lodge for special needs people.
I walk to the River on my lunch half hour. It’s the confluence where three rivers join together and flow down to Cook’s Inlet and into the Bay. There is a spectacular view of the McKinley range from there. Sometimes I get a fresh scooped ice cream at Nagley’s General Store and sit in the park in the town center. Everyone seems to enjoy strolling the few paved streets and the dirt roads, feeling as though they are on the set of a western movie.
Moose are spotted the most often in this area. Bear, eagles, porcupine, and wolverines are more likely to be spotted at the Denali National Park on all-day excursions. That’s a must see for one of my day’s off!
Available in town are vendors who offer Horseback Riding along the river, the Sundogs Iditarod Demonstration, River Guides do rafting trips, and there are Jet Boat Adventures, Alaska Sports Fishing, and the Flights over Mt McKinley. Besides that, the town itself is authentic and remains as close as possible to its original state, considering the massive influx of summer tourists. (Who, by the way, are always looking for a bathroom!)
I always direct people to the Ranger Station, the film about the famous Bush Pilot, the Chocolate House and the West Rib, which features real Alaskan food. Caribou chili, musk ox burgers, salmon and halibut dishes. The gift shops are tiny, and the museums are informative. Altogether lovely! I am enjoying this amazing experience!