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Day 8: Saturday, August 6, 2005
Fairbanks, AK

Awoke to the alarm at 5:00; went to the 24-hour Safeway for some cereal and milk and fruit for a quick breakfast. Met the bus at 6:30 (as arranged over the phone) and drove to the airport, after picking up two other couples at the River's Edge Resort. One lady in the seat in front of us turned around and abruptly mentioned hearing on the news about a Russian sub that had just gone down in Arctic waters like the Kursk had done, and that "we" were going up there to help them recover it—from her ambiguous wording, I thought she meant that the River's Edge tour to Barrow had been commandeered for an international rescue mission and we'd be donning diver suits off the coast of Kotzebue or wherever our diverted polar flight took us. But she was speaking in much more general, national terms, it turned out, much to my relief. Context is important in early-morning conversations when we're all still half-asleep.

The van dropped us at the Fairbanks International Airport where we were supposed to go through the ticket line and board the plane on our own. The experience was fairly similar to a place like San Jose, except the ticket line was very slow. We boarded the plane, which was a 737-200 Combi, with passengers in the back half of the plane and cargo in the front. We found that our assigned seats—19E and 19F—were already occupied; so we sat in A and B, and watched as the fifty or so seats filled up. Then it became clear that the flight was badly oversold—the people in our seats apparently had been booked straight through from Anchorage to Barrow, and thought they should get to stay in the same seats, regardless of what their tickets said. Paul and I were standing in the galley as the flight attendants bickered with the reservation agents; when they started mentioning that they could get us on tomorrow's identical flight and Barrow tour, as well as give us free travel vouchers to anywhere Alaska Airlines flies in the coming year, we decided to go for it and let the plane get on its way. That worked out fine, as we didn't have anything planned for tomorrow; we'd just swap the two days and make today the "do nothing in Fairbanks" day. Rainy weather in Barrow made me think it was worth trying another day anyway, but the forecast suggests that tomorrow might be even rainier. We'll see.

So we headed back to the hotel (River's Edge spotted us a ride) and watched DVDs; ate lunch at the Pho restaurant we'd seen right across the road, and it was very decent. Afterwards we got the car washed; two runs through the self-serve pressure wash and one through the automated/hand-dry one, and the car still has bug smears and dust streaks on the front and back panels. It'll be up for a serious hand-wash when we get home. So we then went to the University of Alaska Museum, which had lots of good human and natural history exhibits, but which is under construction and set to open a whole new wing in September. It'll be a lot bigger, but the building is one of those hideous Modern Pretentious architectural monsters with points and curves and slants everywhere—could not possibly look more out of place in Alaska. At least the inside is nice.

So we went by Safeway to pick up dinner—some monstrous sub sandwiches—and other foodstuffs to keep in the room to munch on. Tried once more to wash the grime off the car; then used the laundry room next door to wash a week's worth of clothes. Now it's after 9:00, and we're winding down for another early night—repeating yesterday's morning exercise. Oh, and I've got three mosquito bites on my left shin from Teslin that are getting unbelievably big and red; I hope one more night will get them on the road to going away, because they're starting to freak me out.

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© 2005 Brian Tiemann