Alaska is a state of contradictions. Those of us from Outside find ourselves scratching our heads, wondering things like, “Why would someone want to live out *here*?!?” Especially when “here” is someplace only accessible by boat or plane or train.
Yes, there’s a lot to be said for solitude — we’re all for quiet time, for getting away from the hustle and bustle. Remember, we’re RVers who will take the time to drive miles around a city rather than drive through it, if we can.
But Alaska…. well. That’s another place entirely. It gets really cold. It gets deadly cold. It’s the sort of place most people would appreciate some neighbors.
So who lives way out in the sticks (or “the bush,” as they call it in the Last Frontier)?
We thought we’d take one of the last Whistle Stop train routes in the country to find out. That meant an early morning drive from our spot in Wasilla up the Parks Highway to the turnoff to the Talkeetna Spur Road, then another fourteen miles to the village of Talkeetna.
We were surprised at the number of people roaming the town (maybe from cruise ships? They bus people all over the state…) and though we’d heard one spot was *the* place to have breakfast, it was so jammed we ended up at an empty restaurant across the street where service was friendly and fast, and the food was probably as tasty as the first place.
The terminal was busy too, but it turned out that most were waiting for other trains, where they moved from charter bus onto cruise-ship designated train cars, heading on to Anchorage or Fairbanks.
Our train was much smaller — two passenger cars and a baggage car. I’d read that dogs are often aboard but traveled in kennels in the baggage car. When we saw people boarding with their dogs, we asked about it and found out one car is designated “pet free,” so we boarded and settled in.
It turned out that most of the locals were in the doggie car, which was too bad, as much of the attraction of the Hurricane Turn train is that it’s one of the country’s last whistle-stop train routes and a chance to talk with people who can answer the question, “Why here?” This whistle-stop route is exactly what you’ve heard about from days long past (except here): riders get themselves to the side of the tracks where they hail the train, which stops and lets them board.
For people live along the route, this is their main transportation into and out of Talkeetna, where they connect with other trains to the bigger cities. We could have gotten off along the way, hiked or explored, then re-boarded when the train came back on the return route, but opted to stay for the whole ride.
We followed the Talkeetna River for awhile, and though we watched for wildlife along the banks, we only caught a glimpse of these fishermen tending their fish wheel:
The “mayor” came out and waved, then sold books to those who wanted to read her story of raising a family out here:
We passed over many bridges…
…and couldn’t help noticing that the fireweed bloomed in some spots…
…but had turned to seed on others:
Views out the windows most of the way were trees and fireweed, with occasional glimpses of water as the train chugged over one of the many bridges. Nearly at the Gulch, where the train stops and heads back, the woods broke open to some pure Alaska scenery:
Some passengers spotted a couple of bears crossing the rails from the doggie car, and since we’ve seen our share of bears, we let others crowd forward for their peek.
Our reward? These swans…
…and meeting a young couple with their toddler and infant, who were curious about our full-time RVing lifestyle and asked a lot of questions. That attracted some attention from a few other passengers. Curiosity, it seems, is infectious. Maybe some day we’ll see them again — on the road!