We began our day with a cruise on the Riverboat Discovery on the Chena River. We were accompanied by six bus loads of cruise ship passengers, but the boat was massive, with plenty of room for everyone. The tour company really has this trip well thought out. A float plane pilot performed two take-offs and landings right alongside the boat in the river.
The boat passed by the kennels of late Iditarod champion Susan Butcher, and her husband, Yukon Quest champion Dave Monson, showed off new puppies and demonstrated the power of a dog team as they pull him in an ATV around a pond. He then let them outbid their harnesses and into the river for a cool-down swim. We have seen a few other sled dog kennels, and this one outshines them all in dog yard living quarters, at least from what we could see from the boat. Note: sit on the left side of the boat from the beginning, as that is where most of the action is.
The trip included an hour-long stop at a replica Athabascan village, where we learned about the native lifestyle. Even better, the guides in the village were mostly college students who are from native villages themselves. I wasn't sure if the kids enjoyed this part until my little guy asked his dad on the phone if he would build us a fish wheel to catch salmon when we get home. He also remembered the floatplane pilot's name, who spoke with the boat captain over the loudspeaker.
Lance Mackey was even waiting at the dock when we returned, available to talk with tourists about his multiple Iditarod and Yukon Quest wins. The kids really wanted to talk to him, but the cruisers were top fast and too many for us to wait at lunchtime. All in all, a very impressive range of info from this family-run business!
We finally had time and hotel room for an afternoon nap, so we rested up before heading to North Pole. Not the actual north pole, but a town by that name about 15 miles from Fairbanks. I was debating whether it was a worthwhile stop to include, but several locals recommended a Chinese restaurant there. We have no Chinese restaurant in Homer and really miss it, so I can now say that I drove to North Pole just for the fried rice. The restaurant, Pagoda, was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives awhile back.
As an added bonus, the Christmas cheer in North Pole was so over the top (candy cane streetlamp posts on Santa Claus Lane!) that we couldn't resist a stop at the Santa Claus House for our moment to act like tourists. We met four of Santa's reindeer, and the kids spent a good amount of time calling to them through the fence to see if any of them would answer to "Prancer" or "Blitzen." They didn't. Inside, we met Santa and bought ourselves a North Pole, Alaska float plane ornament to add to our collection before escaping the store filled with expensive breakables placed on low shelves. This place was not actually set up with kids in mind, which struck me as pretty funny.
Everyone is now tucked in their beds with bellies full of lo mein, ready to start our journey back south tomorrow. Destination: Talkeetna, Mountain High Pizza Pie, and the Talkeetna Roadhouse.
Photos: the pups at the sled dog kennel, waves made by the paddle wheel (there's some math in there somewhere...sine waves, perhaps?), watching the river go by, Santa Claus House, and a ridiculously huge Santa with a teeny tiny sleigh-can you even see the kids in it?