The Finish Line, At Last!

While some of the ALCAN teams are home, for others the adventure is just beginning.

After hitching a ride to Anchorage with Jake he managed to help me find a clutch and flywheel available in Anchorage. Where you ask? At Alaska Clutch of course! (Right down the street from Alaska Brake and Alaska Muffler)

After picking up the clutch I checked into my room in Anchorage, rounded up as much of my luggage as I could, and freshened up before grabbing the shuttle over to the banquet. It was kind of bittersweet heading over to the banquet, knowing that the ALCAN adventure was over. It seemed like we’d come such a long way, and met so many interesting people along the way.

Case in point, at Alaska Clutch the owner apologized for not having a rebuilt clutch to sell me, and didn’t want to sell me the new flywheel since he was confident that I wouldn’t need it. He also took me into the backroom of his shop to show me his hobby, which was forging custom knives. (They are very, very, very sharp!)

That night at the banquet Gary won first overall, and made a magnificent speech to the group, reminding all of us that it’s an adventure first, and a race second. Mom and I got a DNF, which was expected but Jerry still gave us an Arctic Award glass for being such good sports.

Side note: Since the legendary Paul Eklund and R. Dale also finished with a DNF when people ask how the ALCAN went I can casually mention that well, I finished tied with Paul in the final standings.

Paul was looking pretty sharp in his tuxedo complete with matching bow tie and cummerbund that night, although it was a relief to find out that everyone else was wearing a t-shirt and jeans for the most part. (I’d read through Paul’s blog of past ALCANs to prepare for the most part, and bombarded Paul with long phone calls on a daily basis, so I wasn’t quite sure that the banquet wasn’t a black tie affair.)

The Marc/k’s generously kicked in $100 towards the purchase of a new clutch, which was greatly appreciated.

After the end of the banquet we decided to hit the town and see how much hell we could raise in Anchorage. Brian, Troy, John, Daniel, Ryan, Paul, and Nicki, and myself headed down to Darwin’s Theory on the basis of the front desk clerk’s recommendation.

With the Iditarod going on the bars where packed full of out of towners which meant that it was standing room only. And not just standing room only, but we were standing in the barmaid’s path, which meant that she pushed me aside nearly every four minutes as she made her rounds through the crowded bar. After a series of Yukon Jack shots (don’t get confused and ask for Yukon Gold, that’s a type of potato, and they’ll laugh at you) we stumbled out into the street.

We hit another bar, the F Street lounge, after a suggestion from a local, and although its clientele was primarily flight attendants and pilots we managed to make ourselves feel at home.

The F Street Bar also featured the largest block of cheddar cheese that I’ve ever seen sitting on the bar. On top of the block of cheese was a cheese slicer, and next the block was a bowl full of saltine crackers. Yet, despite all of the promises implied within, a large sign above the block of cheese specifically forbade eating the cheese.

Five shots of Yukon Jack and four Alaska Ambers to the good, I decided I didn’t care anymore, I was going for it

I ate the cheese. Surprisingly good, although a little warmer than I would have liked, which may be a result from it sitting out all night.  Forget popcorn, every bar should have a giant block of cheese on the bar.

Before too long it was getting close to the witching hour, and I needed to get back to the hotel to ride the shuttle over to the airport to meet Sara. Ryan graciously agreed to accompany me, and the rest of the group decided that they’d check out was rumored to be Alaska’s finest strip club, the Alaskan Bush Company.

Note: They found it, although not without a few challenges. At one point they became severely disoriented and managed to walk all the way from downtown Anchorage to the airport, in heavy snow (John wasn’t a coat) before flagging down a cab and riding across town to the strip club. Instead of heading back to the hotel like he said, Troy told the driver to take them to the nearest strip club. Once there, they had to switch Brian over to water immediately and on the cab ride home they were so drunk the driver took them on a ride around town, racking up a $25 fare before dropping them back off at the hotel. Considering the circumstances, I’d say it’s a miracle no one froze to death in a snow bank.

(John also reported that the strippers were not nearly as attractive as the cocktail waitresses, and none of them could hold a candle to the women of Whitehorse.)

Ryan and I took the easy way out. We picked up Sara, I fell asleep in the shuttle on the way back to the hotel, and then I didn’t even bother suggesting that we go back out.

Waking up the next morning felt strange. No car to pack, no coffee to gulp down, no TSD math to triple check. It reminded me of a scene from Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods. In the book, Bryson and a high school friend decide to walk the Appalachian Trail, from top to the bottom. After a month of carrying a heavy pack they finally reach a break in the trail where they’re able to do some laundry, make phone calls home, and eat at McDonalds again. For Bryson, the sensation of walking around town without the heavy backpack was exhilarating.

For us, the feeling was the same. We didn’t walk, or trudge. We strolled, we ambled with our hands in our pockets, and we took in the displays in store windows. After 9 days on the ALCAN running right through the world it was nice to have a day where we didn’t drive anywhere.

Tourism note: You can walk to nearly anywhere in Anchorage. Seriously, even in the winter. It’s not a very big town.

But, after a long farewell dinner with the remaining teams at the Benihana in the parking lot of the hotel on Saturday night it was time to face facts. There was a clutch kit and flywheel sitting on the bed in my hotel room and I had a date with destiny.

Sunday afternoon we packed up the rental car, and Mom, Dad, Sara, and I, with Daniel and Ryan from car 20 accompanying us headed back to Valdez to start the second part of our big adventure, the journey home.

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