Howard Delo

By Outdoors by Howard Delo

This year is unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes. The pandemic is affecting everything. Travel is a major problem, and that includes getting to go on that “once-in-a- lifetime” vacation. Since travel is problematic, many folks are opting for a “staycation” at home or within their local area or home state.

My wife and I generally don’t take vacations as such. If there’s someplace we want to go and the pieces all fall into place, we’ll go. However, this year, because of the pandemic, problems with travel, the fact that we are both older (I hope my wife doesn’t read this!), and my background health issues, we haven’t even discussed going anywhere on a vacation.

However, as we thought about things, we decided that if we stayed in-state and used our small RV to cut costs and minimize social contacts, we could still see Alaska. My wife was born and raised here but had never been further north than Byers Lake. We decided to take a quick trip to Denali National Park, figuring it wouldn’t be crowded. It wasn’t!

You know how some vacations go so well that you’ll remember that trip for the rest of your life. Then there’s the “normal” vacation where everything goes reasonably well, but nothing earth shattering happens. And that leaves the vacation from hell, where nothing goes right. This trip north was closer to the later than the first. It wasn’t a terrible trip, but things didn’t go well.

We left Sunday afternoon and the drive went about how I expected. We made the trip in a little over four hours in partly sunny weather. When I drove over the bridge at Hurricane Gulch, I only got a quick glance down, but my wife was quite impressed with the view into the gulch.

Of course, we ran into road construction, about 20 miles worth. The gulch bridge marked the end going north or the beginning going south. On the drive up on Sunday, there was no work happening, so other than the numerous pavement break, driving wasn’t too bad. Coming south on Tuesday, we ran into long delays and two different “follow-the-pilot-car” runs longer than either of us had ever experienced.

Sunday evening, we went to refuel the RV with gas I carried in a small trailer we towed behind the RV. I had installed a 12-volt DC pump system in the trailer to make refueling easier. It had worked fine for several years. Now, of course, it didn’t work, and we ended up hand-pouring gas into the RV, one five-gallon can at a time after filling the can from our fifteen-gallon storage cans.

Oh, did I mention the rain? It started Sunday evening and went none-stop through Tuesday morning when we left for home. I’m not a big fan of trying to see the sights through a sheet of rain and low-hanging clouds. My wife really wanted to see Denali, but the weather ended that hope.

We hung out in the RV all day Monday, reading and napping. I was watching for a possible break in the rain, but no such luck. Monday evening, when we were taking the three little dogs out for a walk, my wife slipped on the rain-slickened metal stairs while coming out of the RV, twisting her left ankle and cutting her right knee and left hand when she fell in the gravel. We got the cuts disinfected and bandaged and she lived with the swollen ankle.

With seeing Denali off the table, my next suggestion was to visit the Denali National Park Visitors Center for a little history and then drive out to Savage River Tuesday morning before we were planning to leave. I visited there on a backpacking trip in 1972 but hadn’t been back since. My wife had never been there.

We drove over to the visitor’s center Tuesday morning. Two National Parks rangers were manning the table in front of the entrance, handing out maps and trail guides. I already had the map and I wasn’t planning to hike in the rain. The ranger said the center was closed because of the pandemic. After telling me that, she mentioned that the Savage River campground was closed because of bears. She then wished me a good day and told me to enjoy the park.

I thought that comment was “classic” and a fitting end to our otherwise failed visit. We fired up the RV and headed south for home. Maybe the next trip will go better.

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