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Chris & Allyson vs. Alaska (2016)

Chapter Nine: Farewell.

Vacations have to end, or else they wouldn't be vacations. We thought long and hard about leaving our East Coast lives behind. I would work on a Bering Sea crab boat, while Allyson held down the fort on an offshore oil rig; during the off seasons we would live in a corrugated tin shelter on the edge of Gates of the Arctic National Park, with a team of sled dogs as our only way to reach civilization. We were ready to pull the trigger before we both remembered that we're allergic to dogs. Reluctantly, we went through with our plan to return to DC: An 8 p.m. flight out of Anchorage.

Checkout was 10 a.m. at McKinley Creekside Cabins. We enjoyed a final meal at the cafe (two bites of oatmeal for Allyson, banana chocolate pancakes for me), packed the car and said goodbye to Denali. Denali kept it real by continuing to rain on us. It was an uneventful drive -- the mountain didn't magically emerge from the haze in our rear view mirror -- and we found ourselves back in Anchorage at 3 p.m.

It was raining in Anchorage, so our last-ditch time-killer was an indoor activity. The Anchorage Museum is one-stop shopping for all your museum needs. It's not practical for a city that small and that seasonal to have an art museum, a science museum, a cultural museum AND a history museum, so they just put it all under one roof. But they did it in a very classy way. You know what it's like when they put a KFC and Taco Bell in the same building? It's not at all like that.

We started with an exhibit of Arctic-inspired art, including photos from the Diomede Islands -- two rocks on opposite sides of the Russia-Alaska border in the Bering Strait. The few people living on the Alaska side can actually see Russia from their front porch. We moved on to the "Alaskan history" gallery and its mash of extremely intriguing displays. There was a cross-section of a chunk of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which so dramatically reshaped the state's economy. There were cross-sections of various Alaskan dwellings, from native homes to the shelters of frontiersmen. (All that was missing was a cruise ship cabin.) We walked under a native whaling vessel, which seemed woefully undersized for hunting whales. Apparently the native Alaskans of the 19th century hadn't heard of the Powell Doctrine. Speaking of natives, the Smithsonian Institution chipped in a gallery displaying the stylish accoutrements of the various Alaskan tribes. Everything on display was quite beautiful -- even the waterproof parkas made from animal guts. The final stop was a "science" center, with an obviously slant toward kids. However, this is nothing to be sneered at. Kids need to be inspired to learn. And the display letting you make a large soap bubble around yourself teaches kids about ... uh ... soap? Be clean, is the point.

Learning made us hungry. We took one last dive into the guidebook to find a restaurant to Allyson's liking. And by that, I mean it had to have a funny name. Yak & Yeti is listed as a Himalayan restaurant, and neither of us could remember dining out at a Himalayan joint in the past. Is it like Chinese food, or Indian food? Is it mostly vegetables, or do they use the frozen corpses of failed mountain climbers as a protein source? It ended up being a delightful meal. I vaguely remember dumplings, which might or might not have contained hiker meat. Under the rules of the mountain, we're all happier not knowing.

We returned the rental car and checked in for our flight. Anchorage's airport is almost quaint by East Coast standards, so there wasn't much stress. We found the airport edition of Humpty's -- the great bar from downtown Anchorage -- and I had one last Alaskan Summer before the flight.

The sun doesn't really set on a summer vacation to Alaska, but our time was done. We headed home.

On to Alaska Chapter One

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