Dear Alaska…

…I love you.
Seriously.
This might seem like a strange thing to say. After all, we barely know each other. We met early one morning, when the boys and I staggered off our flight in Anchorage and slept at the Fairfield Inn near the airport. We were so tired that I fear we didn’t make a very good impression, but the next morning, when we set out for Talkeetna, I got the sense that this could be something very special.
I was stunned by your beauty and poise, and I can’t wait to see you again!
Love,
-Paul

The drive to Talkeetna took us through Wasilla. Fortunately, we didn’t see any sign of Sarah Palin. We did, however, see some pretty scenery– a nice appetizer for what was to come. The weather was overcast and chilly, with scattered showers. We easily made it to the Swiss-Alaska Inn, had lunch, dropped off our bags, and went to the public boat dock to meet our charter guide. I’d booked our fishing through Fisherman’s Choice, based on the simple fact that they were the only charter outfit who returned my initial inquiry. It turned out to be a good decision, as they took great care of us. Terri, who runs their office, was quick to answer all our questions and made sure everything was in order.
The fishing itself was fantastic, despite the weather– just under 50°F, with a steady rain. Apparently the salmon didn’t mind, because we all caught some. Matt caught two big hookjaw; Tom and I each caught nice-sized silvers, and David caught a chum that put up a terrific fight but was, sadly, inedible. Every cliché you’ve seen of salmon leaping out of the water and twisting in the air is 100% true. That’s exactly what they were doing, at least every couple of minutes. I haven’t been teased so much since the junior prom. Luckily, we figured out that they would hit on salmon eggs after we spent some time having our spinner bait ignored. Mike, our guide, cleaned the fish for us before the boat ride back to the dock. The boys were thoroughly chilled and wanted hot showers, so we did that, then Matt and I drove the fish over to Talkeetna Country Smokehouse to get them packed. The lady who runs the smokehouse was a real sweetheart. We had a lovely chat with her and her three-year-old son while she was getting the fish prepared. When she said that we could pick up the fish on Sunday, “bot not between 10 and 5 because I’ll be at church the whole time,” I wondered if she was LDS. Turns out that she was, and she invited us to attend the local branch Sunday morning (more on which shortly).
Matt and I went back to the hotel. Speaking of which: clean, comfortable, basic place to stay. It was by no means fancy (e.g. no television reception, the world’s creakiest bed, baseboard heaters) but it was perfect for what we needed, and the rustic feel attracted the boys’ attention. The attached restaurant is quite good, though I thought it was a little pricey. I guess it must cater to the local tourists more than the local hippies. Anyway, since we’d eaten lunch there we decided to strike out into town for pizza. We ate at the Flying Squirrel Bakery, which had a big sign out front advertising their Saturday-only wood-fired pizzas. They did indeed, delivered in a beautiful open great room. The pizza was OK, not great, but we all devoured it with gusto. After that, we went back to the hotel and relaxed for a while. Everyone was in bed by 9pm, the earliest bedtime I’ve had in months.
Sunday morning I woke up about 0630, but I didn’t get out of bed for a while afterwards, as the boys were all asleep and I was reluctant to wake them until I needed to. Matt woke up and we chatted for a while. He’s decided to live in Alaska and be a wildlife biologist once he’s married. I allowed as how that sounded like a fine plan, as long as I could come visit. Eventually, though, it was time to wake the other two and get our day started. We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel, though it was interrupted promptly at 1000 when the waitress, cook, and front desk lady had to leave to walk down the street to the local Catholic church (the shepherd thereof having been in earlier for breakfast). That was fine, as they told us we could just pay when they came back. I took Matt and Tom down to the boat dock to skip rocks for a while, then we headed to the Talkeetna branch Sacrament meeting.
The branch is tiny– there were about 30 people in attendance when we got there, with one deacon, no young women, and only a few people who looked under 60. The meeting was quite nice, though it definitely helped remind us how fortunate we are to live in an area where the church has a strong, active, and large membership. We only stayed for Sacrament meeting, then we headed out to Denali. More on that, along with pictures, in tomorrow’s installment.

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