In Alaska is hard to get lost on the roads. There are only two roads leaving Anchorage, one going North toward Denali and Fairbanks and one going South towards the Kenai peninsula. Anchorage, the largest city in the state, preserves an atmosphere of small town. City tours, paid or public, were in full swing and we joined a park ranger who gave us a perfect introduction of the entire Alaska walking us throughout Anchorage small downtown. But as we were told by many, nobody comes in Alaska to stay in Anchorage but they leave right away to the wilderness. We followed the cue but not before stopping at the Russian Orthodox Church close to the downtown. The Christian Orthodox tradition is still strong in Alaska, a heritage from the time when the Russian Alexander Baranov was the Chief Manager of the Russian-American fur trading company. The forced assimilation of the native families can be traced even today by their Russian family names. In a couple of places close to the Kenai peninsula Russian language is still spoken. The Russian sold Alaska to the Americans in 1867 needing the money to cover the debt caused by Crimean war. But also their main concern was that one of their Crimean war enemy, the Brits, were making forays toward the territory through Canada that made the Russian prone to lose Alaska no matter what. The Anchorage church is filled with Russian icons and its beautiful altar was carved in Romania, mounted on top of a an old VW van and drove from there to Rotterdam where it was loaded on a boat and shipped to Anchorage.
We drove out of town towards Denali, 4 hours on the map, among trucks moving lumber or gear going to the Arctic Circle. But in this wilderness a good cappuccino is always available from a network of stands mounted on the dirt pull outs of the roads that are way more sophisticated than most of the places of the East Coast with coffee served on 8, 12, 16 or 20 oz with 1, 2 or 3 shots of espresso that can be combined with caf and decaf and soy milk, or skim, or anything else that you may imagine. Right behind the shack is pure wilderness….
The Alaskan roads are interesting even in rain. Somehow we should have driven to Healy, just 20 minutes from Denali Park Entrance, in about 4 hours but we ran late and finally we got at Mitch’s door of the Faith Hill Lodge around 8:15 PM. Mitch is a musician from New Orleans, transmuted into a cabin in the woods of Alaska. He sleep with a gun at his head and talk with the animals and is slurring the words that sometimes is hard to understand him. We chatted with him after dinner and he told us the story of his life, quite disruptive otherwise, that somehow made him land in the wilderness of Alaska. The web reviews for his B&B, Faith Hill Lodge, are mixed but Mitch proved a very interesting Alaskan character.