After all of yesterday’s excitement, I decided today would be calm, relaxing, and slow paced. I needed to catch up on my blogging, so I went back to the McDonald’s and ordered another medium black coffee and a large soft drink, and the lady replied, “just like yesterday?” Maybe I need to try harder to be inconspicuous? In the event, I guess I was there nearly three hours, because I left at 10:45 and my receipt showed 7:58. There was time in between for a large crowd of seniors to arrive, conduct a round of bingo complete with the cage and numbered balls, then depart. I’m sure the staff were about to come over and inquire about whether I would be paying rent. But, I got two blog entries written, and that’s something. After I walked out, I realized there were relatively few mosquitoes about, so I took the opportunity to undertake a long-delayed reorganization of the car. Pretty much anything that requires the doors to be open for an extended period of time, I’ve begun doing at stores, preferably big box stores, because they have large open parking lots, far from mosquito harborage sites and usually windy as a bonus.
Around 11:15, I made the one mile trek up the hill to the University. I noted that none of yesterday’s mountains were visible, giving some validation to my decision to go to Denali. There wasn’t much to see at the International Arctic Research Center or the Geophysical Institute, although the buildings themselves were interesting and picturesque. They did have a few small and interesting displays in their lobbies. Looking at some of the photos, I realized that UAF is headquarters of HAARP, an ionospheric research tool widely considered by conspiracy theorists to be a mind control device. Sadly, it is only open to the public one day a year, and this wasn’t my lucky day. UAF has an attractive if small campus, but it was quite obvious that all the buildings I visited were working university building in summer recess, not really set up for tourists or visitors.
I crossed town and took the opportunity of buying some supplies and gassing up, then around 1 I hit the road to the Poker Flat Research Range, a rocket range about 30 miles out of town. Poker Flat launches scientific rockets into space in conjunction with NASA; some go as high as 1000 miles above the surface of the earth. Then they come down again, somewhere in Alaska. They have to be aimed such that they won’t hit anything “important,” and they are aimed to the northeast and can travel a few hundred miles. After they land (or crash, if you prefer), the crew from Poker Flat have to go try to find and recover them. Sometimes they are successful; sometimes not. During launches there can be hundreds of personnel around, but in between there is a skeleton caretaker staff of 7. One of these met me and a few other people for the tour that is offered on the first and third Thursday of each month during the summer, at 2 PM. For a couple of hours we wandered around the site, and saw the control room, the bunker, and the launchers (although we were forbidden from photographing those due to ITAR). The kids’ favorite seemed to be the “bone yard,” where tons of scrap that had flown in space and crashed back down had been piled up in a field. The kids wanted to touch it all to say they had handled something that had been in space. It was an enjoyable couple of hours, although the mosquitoes were especially terrible.
I came back to town and went to the campground to secure a place for tonight. While I was making arrangements, an airliner flew directly overhead just above the treetops. We must be very close to the airport. I noticed the airline was “Condor,” which I hadn’t heard of but it turned out to be a German discount airline. I guess we actually aren’t that far from Europe here. Up at the top, the great circle routes are both unexpected and short. After taking care of the campground, I went back over to the cultural center to take advantage of the great wifi. Then I wandered around Fairbanks’ rather small downtown on foot. There are some nice, picturesque buildings and the river walk is nice. The weather tonight was the perfect temperature. Around 7:30, I decided to call it a night.
I’ve been avoiding actually eating fast food up here, due to the uncertain effects on digestion and the even less certain availability of restroom facilities. But, for the last several nights I’ve noticed that there’s a KFC/A&W right at the exit to the campground. Tonight, I gave in and had a couple of pieces of chicken, plus a nice A&W root beer which I’m just finishing now. Will I regret this decision? Probably. But, hasn’t this whole exercise been about living in the moment?