I slept badly, conscious of a horribly early 5am wake up call to board the 6am bus back to the park entrance. The same old dilapidated school bus that had trundled all the way into the wilderness turned up – a bit late – to trundle us back to civilisation.
It was cold and I was tired from a restless night. Even a good hot breakfast was not enough to lift my spirits enough to start to look forward to the day ahead. Travelling is like this, I suppose. There are always going to be parts of it that are uncomfortable, inconvenient, boring – or – in this case – all three! With aching neck and shoulder already a problem, this boneshaker bus with no headrests and tatty plastic seats was not in the least appealing to me.
When the driver announced that the heater and microphone were broken, it began to resemble a torture chamber. For this stage of our adventure, I armed myself with a feather pillow borrowed from the Lodge and a blow up neck pillow from my new fried Beth. I took some ibuprofen with a cup of hot coffee, lay back flat on one of the seats, closed my eyes and felt suddenly hugely homesick. I was glad to be on the return leg of the journey – with the luxurious part still to come.
The heater kicked into action part way through the journey and I swapped places with a fellow traveller sitting on top of it who preferred the cold. It is a good job we are all different. The heater gradually began to defrost my bones a little and I felt better. We were rewarded by seeing a family of three bears on the journey – a closer viewing than on the way out.
It was amazing to see this bear family walk across the road right behind the bus as though we were part of the landscape. We were told to keep arms etc. in the bus and not do anything to alarm the bear. Whilst I was very pleased to see the bears, I felt like an intruder in their landscape and pleased to be going away from it and leaving it to them, where it belongs. Soon, it will be Winter here and no visitors will come and that is how this place should be. I will be content to watch it on film in future, glad to have experienced it for long enough to appreciate its power.
The bus shook our bones for over 6 and a half hours with only two very brief stops as the weather was very wet and beginning to close in. If we hadn’t stopped and cleaned the windows down, we would not have not been able to see out at all. We arrived back at Denali Cabins and tucked ourselves into their warm lounge, finding a comfy chair to rest aching bones and turned several pages of a book while waiting for the 3pm motorcoach back to Anchorage.
The coach had soft, reclining seats, clean picture windows, movies and a friendly driver. What more could you ask! In four hours, we were back in the civilisation of Anchorage, dropped off right at our hotel. This is a better way of travelling than the railroad, in my view. More comfortable, better views and much quicker. There were some interesting shops along the highway that you would never see at home, including a taxidermist a furrier and a gun shop.
Tomorrow, we are headed out to Whittier to catch our cruise…