Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Eight Hours to Fairbanks
FAIRBANKS, Alaska -- So I arrived in Fairbanks after 8 hours of flying from Chicago. As I get older I lose another half inch of sitzfleisch a year, and by the time the 737 landed in Fairbanks the well-worn seat cushion felt as if it were composed of coarse gravel.
But the flights on Alaska Airlines were good -- the cabin crews were actually friendly and efficient, and my reservation was marked as "Handicapped" so I could point at my ear, mouth "Deaf" and board with the babies, scoring scarce overhead bin space early. (United and American, however, caught on to the scam long ago and it doesn't work with them anymore.)
Fairbanks, as Alaska metropolises go, is a bit of a northern dump. It looks like a fast-food strip ten years after the disappearance of humans. The Westmark Hotel matches the ambience -- it's a spartan Motel 6 sort of place. But it is supposed to be one of the top hostelries in town, and it is quite adequate. It has to be; as I write, an Alaska Airlines flight crew is checking out at the front desk.)
The king size mattresses are really very comfortable. The cuisine is all right -- the elkburgers are tasty enough.
What am I doing in Fairbanks? Would you believe I am on a mission to Blomkvist the state's passenger railroads? No? Well, yes, it's a Holland-America tour, and it involves three rides on the Alaska Railroad (Fairbanks-Denali, Denali-Anchorage, Anchorage-Seward, and a round trip on the White Pass & Yukon). And six nights at sea.
Today the agenda is a riverboat, a little train, and panning for gold in what I have heard is a Potemkin village expressly designed for Holland-America tourists.
The real journey doesn't begin until tomorrow when we board the Alaska Railroad for Denali.
More later, if Lisbeth Salander doesn't hack into my netbook. (Yes, I'm reading Stieg Larsson's latest on the iPod Touch.)