Return to Civilization
Today's walk from my tent to the dining hall was different than it had been the previous 45 mornings. I took one last look at my surroundings and marveled at how after such a long period I still had the same level of appreciation and wonder that I did when we arrived back in early June. I loaded my bags on the truck and ran in to grab a quick cup of coffee and say some final goodbyes. It was sad to see our friends gathered on the steps of the dining hall as we pulled away and began our long drive back to civilization.
We drove through Atigun pass and over the Brooks Range. Trees quickly began to reappear on the south side of the mountains, and they were a really strange site after nearly 7 weeks in the tundra. I had become used to being able to see for miles in all directions. The trees really limited my view and made the road feel closed in and tunnel-like. The trip south was considerably faster than the trip we made in June. Everyone was anxious to get home and we barely slowed down to look at a moose, or to look for the brown bear that crossed the road in front of us.
Traffic, stop lights, television, noise… it all came rushing back quickly as we drove into Fairbanks. I enjoyed the longest and best shower of my life before meeting back up with my friends for an elk burger and more goodbyes.
Denali, July 21
I slept in, took another long shower, and appreciated the luxury of flush toilets and running water. After lunch I drove south to Denali National Park. The drive was considerably different than when I did it back in February. I explored the park a little and was surprised to walk out of the education center to see a "current research" poster to find a picture of Amanda! I spotted a caribou's antlers sticking up out of the grass and spent nearly a half hour watching it move about and hoping it would stand up. I gave up on the caribou and drove a couple of miles out of the park to stay with my PolarTREC friends Matt and Sarah at their cabin. It was a great to catch up with my Alaskan friends! Next stop: Talkeetna, Anchorage, and the Kenai Peninsula!